Kirstie Dedman: “My press is a spoon, used with grit and determination…”

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Kirstie Dedman’s linocuts make me feel serene. Usually still life pieces from in the home, or shots of rolling landscapes, the hand coloured linocuts and reduction works feel, well, peaceful to me.

But there’s also something satisfyingly graphic about the work, which makes sense when you learn Kirstie is a trained graphic artist and also a freelance illustrator. But linocut seems to be a calling for her. “I first did it at Harrogate College doing my Art Foundation Course. It wasn’t something I’d ever done before, and I loved the different stages to the process,” she explains. “I particularly loved using the huge presses there, and the ability to create huge pieces. I seem to remember spending a lot of time with inky fingers and trying to get clean with Swarfega – and badly cut fingers!”

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Kirstie says her inspiration comes, as you might expect, from the outdoors – but also more retro bits and bobs too of late. “I live in the countryside and have two dogs to walk, so lots of inspiration comes from those walks. I also love looking at other artists works and trying out new techniques, this can lead to new ideas. But my latest works are of kitsch ice lollies, that idea came from walking past an ice cream van. I’d been doing some logo design and wanted to print something in quite a Pop Art style, then I saw the ice cream van and had my lightbulb moment…”

Like many of us, Kirstie has been using online channels to distribute her work. “I sell through Etsy, Folksy and ArtFinder,” she explains. “They take it in turns to give me sales. I sell best when people see the prints in real life. I recently did a local exhibition which was really successful. I much prefer events where you are not charged up front, but give a percentage of your takings. I find at those events everyone works harder to get buyers through the door!

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Another feeling many new printers will be familiar with is that which comes from a home printing set up. “I’m using a spare room as a makeshift studio, but when I have lots of printing to do I often use my dining room table. I’d love my own studio, but that’s just a dream currently. My press is a spoon used with grit and determination,” she says.

Even as Kirstie continues to work on her lolly series, more ideas are forming. “They should be finished in the next day or two – but then I have an idea for a more conceptual piece about how time disappears in a day… that’s still in the planning stages, and I have Christmas cards to design, so lots to do. I find it better to have a few things on the go at once, at different stages, that means no down time, and keeps my energy levels up.”

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You can view and buy Kirstie’s work HERE. Go immediately.

 

 

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Dave Flitcroft: “Slowly but surely the art-making surfaces are taking over”

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Isn’t it great when life flows around, buzzes along, only to return to something, maybe an un-accomplished goal?

It happened that way for printer Dave Flitcroft, who I discovered through Twitter and who stood out because – as his handle and the name of his Etsy shop implied – he worked from a bike shed.

I like a bit of constriction, me. Working against the odds and all that. But Dave wasn’t only working from a shed, he was also selling a great quantity of his prints too. And as you might expect, cycling was a key influence.

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I first did linocutting at school and sixth form college in the late 70s – we used a couple of cast iron book presses. I really liked the medium and the effects I could create,” he remembers. “I left school in 1979 and joined the Police. Art took a back seat for the next 30 years, but it remained an interest. In fact, I found a cast iron book press in an antique shop in the early 80s and bought it intending to continue linocut print making. I used it with my kids when they had art projects during their school days, but otherwise it was a heavy lump that always lived in the bike shed.”

Next came retirement and a major life change, Dave explains. “I retired from the Police in 2009, moved to France and after the initial rush of house renovation I set the book press up in the current bikeshed (really an old hay barn) and started linocutting again – at last. After a while I opened a shop on Etsy called Art From The Bike Shed.”

Cycling, then, was now a facilitator as well as an influence. “Cycling through beautiful countryside on quiet lanes and tracks and wanting to capture the feeling is my key influence,” Dave says. “But also, the pen and ink drawings of Frank Patterson, the cycling artist of the 30s and 50s are inspirational in the way they capture the mood of cycle touring but the line drawing technique doesn’t work for linocut,” he adds.

“I was learning from the style and technique of Paul Nash, Edward Bawden and Eric Ravillious – the greats of wood and linocuts are a strong influence on me. I particularly like the paintings of Simon Palmer. They seem influenced by Nash and the subject matter of sinuous country lanes in a stylised countryside really resonates. I love and aspire to the colour work of Carry Ackroyd, perhaps my favourite artist.

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So, it really all happens from a bike shed nowadays?

“Yes, in fairness my bike shed now is an old, wedge shaped hay barn. It’s not an ideal studio because it lacks a lot of natural light. It’s south facing and most of the year I work with the door open. Slowly but surely art making surfaces are taking over. I still use my cast iron book binding press, but most printing is now done using an A2 size etching press purchased from Gunning’s Art Gallery in Ironbridge.”

Dave says that, as well as cycling, there are other elements he sees – while out on his bike – that influence his prints. “Landscape and nature are really important to me, but I experience them mainly from a bike, or tandem. I love to read about, research and then ride old routes, roads and tracks. They naturally find their way into my sketches and prints.”

Dave says he is also constantly on the look out. “I keep a sketch pad of ideas and also use the Procreate app on iPad. My usual approach is to develop a sketch or sketches into a print size drawing, then trace the key elements and transfer it onto lino. I use the original drawing and photographs as references rather than drawing a lot of detail onto the lino.

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“I also often use rough watercoloured sketches to inform my colour palette as the print progresses. I often photograph the in progress print and import it into the app to trial the next cuts, gouges and colours. Being able to flip the image in that app is really useful.

Next up came the potential to sell work, egged on by the online community. In February 2014 I opened my Etsy shop following requests to purchase some work I’d shared on Twitter. I’ve sold some early work prints to an online bike shop called Cyclemiles, but otherwise all my sales are via Etsy.

“I’ve sold more than 400 prints and sold out a few limited editions. Recently I created a special souvenir print for a long distance bike ride, London-Edinburgh-London. The edition of 100 sold out within three weeks, which was great, but became quite hard work in terms of packaging and postage. I know many people dismiss Etsy as an option for selling art, but my personal experience has been really positive. It allows people to buy direct from the artist at a fair price avoiding the huge commission charges of galleries and art shops.

But it’s back to nature next for Dave, he says. “I’m currently doing a 40x45cm reduction print of a tree tunnel holloway. I think it will lead to a series of similar pieces, but there are also some other drawings waiting on the cutting pile. ‘Sunflowers’ was a reduction print I made a couple of years ago. It quickly sold out as there were only eight in the edition. I’m currently using the final remains of the lino to make smaller watercolour tinted prints. I’m experimenting with colour combinations to inform a new Sunflower reduction print I’m working on…”

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You can visit Dave’s Etsy shop here and he’s also on Twitter as @Artfrombikeshed – and there’s a Facebook page at @DaveFlitcroftisartfromthebikeshed.

Nell Smith: “I get quite excited when I get new ideas…”

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 10.54.11Manchester’s Nell Smith is one of those annoying people who’ve found a real identity through their art, who can create across different mediums and yet still retain a sense of it being ‘her’ work. I was attracted to the lincouts though because they seemed to be alive, as if they were fizzing out of the page (or screen, in my case).

Nell can still remember, and in fact still has, some of the first prints she ever cut. “I first got into linoprinting at school, I did a three colour reduction cut made up of four blocks as it was so big – quite ambitious in retrospect! I still have some of the prints, inspired by a trip to see family in Mexico, they’re quite cool and I’m pretty proud of 15 year old me….”

Nell works in large form sketching as a genesis for her prints, but also runs a business that produces baby clothes. It’s a point worth noting, as I think a childlike fun is found in the prints of hers I’ve seen online. That, and a love of animals.. “My main influences are probably the natural world, I love curious creatures and old engravings. Also just the process of lino, it’s so quick when you get into it, really physically and mentally engaging, I find it quite meditative,” she says.

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Nell also says that speed is of the essence when an idea grabs her. “I get quite excited when I get new ideas, so I work quickly, doing a few sketches and then going straight to the lino, not over working too much. I like to keep that sense of energy, and I think that works well with my Staffordshire pottery prints, I love the expressions on the faces of the figurines, and wanted to capture that oddness. I’m not interested in perfection.”

One character of Nell’s I particularly dug was a slippery looking customer called Pizza Girl. “Pizza Girl is me! I was thinking one day, if I eat another pizza I’ll turn into The Incredible Pizza Girl, and quickly drew her. I was thinking of doing a range – Pizza Boy, Pizza dog, but I haven’t got round to it! I move on quickly from one idea to the next, I’m quite impatient, because my mind is so full and frenzied a lot of the time…”

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On top of her whirlwind of ideas, Nell explains the more ‘regular’ jobs that take her energies up, as well as a heavy amount of promotion of the printmaking craft. “I’ve been self-employed since 2008, working and selling from Manchester Craft and Design Centre,” she says. ” I’ve always done some teaching alongside selling, running printmaking workshops in various places in the North West. I’m actually leaving after Christmas, I’ve been a member of Hot Bed Press printmaker’s studio since 2014, and have just moved into a big new studio there, so I’m going to be making the most of 24-hour access to the print studio! It’s an awesome place, full of lovely printmaking equipment including Albion and Colombian presses, I love it. We’re having open studios in November, so swing by if you’re in the area!

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Next for Nell is a project with a definite scientific leaning. “I’m working on scientific illustrations for Manchester Science Festival – we’re running Scientific Studios at the Craft Centre in October, I’ll be showing people how to use my mini etching press and then overprinting with my Adana letterpress, which should be fun.”

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You can have a gander at Nell’s work on her website, nellsmith.co.uk and she’s on Instagram @nellsmithprints. She also has work in the National Centre for Craft and Design, Bury Art Gallery and Museum and the Royal Exchange Theatre shop. Also, most of her wares are on etsy, here.

Nell will also be at the Manchester Print Fair from 21-22nd October and Etsy Made Local Christmas Market 1-3rd of December at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. “Come say hi!” she says.

So do. If you’re in the area of course. Or even if you’re not.

Sangeeta Bhagawati: “A break is sometimes refreshing…”

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Sangeeta Bhagawati’s linocuts are heady mixtures of a number of techniques – but all grounded in linocut.

Be it chiné-colles or collage or colouring that takes the prints into new places, the effects are always charming and with a cool, measured life of their own.

As someone who only works in one medium at any one time, I approached Sangeeta to see how the process goes for her.

 

Hello there Sangeeta – what are the main influences on your prints?

My practice is dictated by an urge to make motif prints by combining linoprint and chiné-colle techniques to create a palimpsest like effect. I’m very much influenced by the techniques of collage and pattern making on which I relied before turning to printmaking. I regularly incorporate chiné-colles from vintage magazine pages and Japanese origami papers into my linocuts to create the motifs and patterns I desire.

How did you come to be a linocutter? 

I started with a beginner’s printmaking course in 2014. The course introduced me to all types of printmaking processes and I soon became hooked. After a year and a half I became confident to work independently and started concentrating on linocuts more.

I think it’s the best medium to work on as it gives me the freedom to play with colours. I also find it easy to combine linocuts with other printmaking techniques, especially chiné-colle.

My work’s evolved to the point where I’m concentrating solely on the potential of linocut and chiné-colle and experimenting with various types of paper to create my signature motifs.

Nature plays a key role in your work, but also the man made world?

My prints constantly highlight the interaction of human world/nature with urban life/man-made life. My series Métropole explores this plurality of modern life, parodying a patchwork style to give a feel of fragmentation.

Your colours are so restrained and well thought out – is there a lot of trial and error?

A lot – especially when I’m working on reduction prints. Sometimes the layered colours I thought would work together turn out to be otherwise. I’ve scraped and thrown innumerable prints into the bin just because I couldn’t get the colours right. I’m still learning how to make colours work.

I also like how you can do something as vivid as a human face, but also a starker piece like Métropole – do you like to alternate to keep things fresh?

Yes – a break from what I usually do is sometimes refreshing. For example, currently I’m taking a break from my linocut and chiné-colle to do a bit of monoprinting. This happens when I hit a creative block with a certain project – like when I print a linoblock and then can’t decide how to best proceed with the chiné-colle on it. This will last for a week or two and I think it’s essential as small breaks often give me some space to come up with new ideas for my main project.

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What’s been your experience of selling your work – what methods do you use?

I mainly rely on exhibitions to sell my prints. I put them up on social media as well but since I mostly produce series of limited editions I prefer not to sell them via social media. I’ve been in a couple of exhibitions since 2014 and have seen good response from the crowd and sold well.

What sometimes hampers sales through exhibitions is if I’m exhibiting somewhere which is not exclusively for printmakers. In those cases, sometimes the audience doesn’t know what printmaking is and don’t appreciate the toil behind each print.

My good friends have suggested I have a small video installation in my exhibition space to show the process behind each print. Some exhibitors also exhibit their lino blocks along with their prints and I’ve learned this gets a good response.

What sort of printing set up to you use?

I basically work on an Albion press for my linoblocks and an etching printing press for my chiné-colle work. I’m a huge fan of the print room at Morley College in London. I’ve been going there since 2014 and it’s become my comfort zone as it contains everything necessary for any printmaking technique.

Plus, I get to work under my mentor David Holah who taught me the A-Z of printmaking. Sometimes I also use the print rooms of East London Printmakers as they’re very welcoming and they have quite a peaceful set-up.

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What are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished working on a series of monoprints titled Passage. I’m still deciding about the direction of my next project which will obviously include linocut and chiné-colle, and will probably include some botanically inspired prints.

Where can we see your work?

You can visit my Instagram (@_amoort_) and Twitter where I always put up my latest work. YBut yu can also visit my Tumblr where I often discuss the process behind my prints and even put up videos.

Haggy Tea: “In an increasingly insane world, observing nature keeps me sane”

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Sometimes a print just speaks to you. You see it, it grabs you and then you want it. Before you know it, all your walls are full up and there are prints on top of cupboards and behind the sofa and under the bed.

What I mean is, when you see a print you want, it sort of haunts you for a few days. I had that with a piece by the elusively named artist Haggy Tea, and her two-colour print of a bird on a spade’s handle really stuck out as I browsed online. I’m wasn’t even sure what the bird was – I’m not Bill Oddie.

Then, on further inspection, I discovered birds were her ‘thing’ – and I really admire people who specialise like this. So you can guess what happened next…

 

Watcha Haggy. When did you start linocutting?

In 2014, after being bought a one-day black and white linocut workshop taught by Nick Morley, aka Linocutboy, as a birthday gift from my boyfriend. Unlike many people I’d never done it at school, so had no previous experience, but I instantly fell in love.

I then received the two-day colour linocut workshop for Christmas 2015. Together, the workshops taught me all the fundamentals. I’ve been pretty obsessed ever since. I have a lot to learn still, but I can see real progress in my work and I just love printing.

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What influences your prints?

Most of the ideas start out with the desire to create an image as a gift or greeting card to give to a family member or a friend, or just for personal interest. From the beginning I have particularly enjoyed printing images of nature and book-related images – nature and books are great loves of mine.

Recently I’ve experimented with a print of a local manor house, which was my most challenging and largest linocut to date, but I was very pleased with the outcome and it’s encouraged me to keep trying new things!

Why are birds so important in your prints?

Over the last few years – lefty that I am – I’ve been increasingly feeling like the world is on the edge of a political, environmental and societal crisis, and in direct correlation to this feeling my love of nature has grown.

In an increasingly insane world, observing nature keeps me sane. Nature carries on, I take heart in it buzzing and tweeting around me. In this time, I’ve become more and more interested in birdlife. I’ve been trying to get better at identifying birds and birdsong, and essentially I just think birds are incredible in their behaviours and intelligence.

My favourites are Corvids (Crows, Ravens, Magpies), Owls, and Swallows/Swifts. If you read about the intelligence of a Raven or the flight/sleeping behaviours of a Swift, you can’t fail to be amazed! It’s become a bit of a running joke with some of my friends that I have some kind of condition where I can only linocut birds. I have linocut other things!

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You have a very nice minimalist approach to using ink, why do you think this is? There’s never too much on the page…

That’s an interesting observation. Partly I think it’s because creating clear prints is very important to me, but partly I think it’s because I seem to have a bit of a hang-up believing that starting with a black background and essentially drawing with the tools to create white lines on the background is kind of cheating – I think this might be linocutboy’s fault!

I sometimes wish I could work larger block areas into my designs, but they always come out minimalist and line-y. I guess it’s my unconscious style. Often my prints seem to be one item in the middle of the page, so one of the reasons I was so happy with my latest Country House and Barn Owl print was because it was my first linocut of a large and complex scene which filled the page.

What sort of printing set up do you have?

I’m lucky enough to have a room I can use pretty much solely as a studio – it’s a cellar room but it has a window. I have a table and two desks down there and a cupboard of materials.

I started out printing using a wooden spoon, and then progressed to a Jackson’s Art Supplies 10×8″ lever press, but last birthday my boyfriend (he really has been instrumental in my progress as a printmaker) bought me a Victorian Book Press from eBay. It’s a beautiful cast iron press in perfect condition with its original paint job. It would have been used to bind books the old fashioned way. I’m restricted to A4 prints with it, but that suits me fine. I use Pfeil tools and battleship grey lino and I print using Caligo Safe Wash Relief Ink, which is a lovely pigmented ink made of vegetable oil that can be cleaned up without the use of harmful solvents.

What methods do you use to sell your work?

I started selling at the very end of last year as a way to pay for my materials and make my hobby self-sustainable, and because it’s fun and so lovely when somebody wants your artwork enough to part with cash for it.

I started out by selling a few Christmas cards through a local gallery. Since then I have sold work through my Etsy shop and I’ve had a stall at three craft fairs. People often discover my work through my Twitter and Instagram profiles.

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What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve had a few weeks off recently to enjoy the summer, but I’ve just started working on my Christmas card designs. So far, I’ve sketched four designs onto pieces of lino. Surprisingly two designs feature birds!

Once I’ve got my Christmas Cards printed, I have many, many other ideas to be getting on with. I have too many ideas and not enough time!

Where can we see your work?

The best place is online on Etsy, Instagram and Twitter. I’d love to have some of my work in a gallery or have my own exhibition some day, but I haven’t been brave enough to go down that path yet. One day…

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Steve Shaw: “I wish more people would have a go at creating…”

I really just do printing. After years trying other things – writing, drawing, weaving, running – anything to keep my mind active and all with a pretty low level of success, I’ve settled on the relief printing medium to keep me sane.

Not so for potter, painter, draughtsman and all-round amazing beard wearer Steve Shaw, whose recent ventures into linocut he says, are merely the next step in an ever-evolving artistic journey. Probably by the time you read this he’ll have become a glassblower and a fine jeweller – but I caught him in ‘linocut mode’ – and struck with my questions while the iron was hot…

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Hi Steve, can you remember your first impressions of doing linocut?

I’ve only been doing it for about 18 months, so yes! I loved the process straightaway. I’m a potter and the person who taught me pottery was a copper engraver for the ceramic industry. I used to watch him engrave and thought I’d like to do something like that, plus people told me I should have a go. Then I was at the art shop and it seemed everyone was buying lino, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I was looking for another medium to try and this was ideal – so different to just painting. I like that it’s such an old technique but I also think you can feel the history in the process.

As a potter I draw on clay vases then graffito it into the clay (scratch in the line drawing). Lino printing has been the nearest medium I’ve found that gives me the same excitement when I’m decorating pottery. I don’t think there’s any part of the process I don’t like, but my favourite is the engraving as it’s so therapeutic. I like the fact you’re not strictly in control of what the finished image will look like – again like pottery when something goes in the kiln. I don’t like to push the medium so I tend to use one colour printing. I want it to look like a print. I want my printing to have a different look than any other medium I use. The effect I’m getting from lino is completely different and unique. I couldn’t get that same feeling or effect using any other medium.

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Are you trained at all in the arts?

No. I’ve always loved the arts, be it music or painting or drawing. I had a wonderful teacher at school who introduced me to all manner of arts. I can remember doing scraperboards. I use the same disciplines for my lino printing.

My philosophy for lino and all the mediums I use is to just have a go. I’ve found all I really need is a basic ability to draw, and that can see you through. I wish more people would have a go at creating art. I don’t like the elitist way the arts are sometimes treated. I think everyone should get involved in some way – they just need to find a medium that suits them and believe me, there should be a medium out there for them.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I know it’s a cliché, but everywhere. Music is my main inspiration. I used to paint portraits all the time, especially musicians. The only problem was I could never convey the excitement I felt for the music in the finished portrait.

The answer was to depict the lyrics or the excitement of the song in a single image. I started to paint whatever ideas I had. I found this very rewarding and liberating. I use the same to do my printing. I was really influenced by the punk movement and especially the DIY attitude. When Buzzcocks bought out their Spiral Scratch EP I couldn’t believe the fact they’d done everything themselves down to the sleeve.

DIY fanzines came out at the same time. Using basic printing they created some stunning graphics. They were a great influence for me. Again, it’s that ‘go out and get involved’ attitude – you will be rewarded in so many ways.

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Do you get those days when everything goes wrong?

I think every artist has those days. I’ve found especially at work where I’m being paid to create artwork, I have to carry on even when things aren’t going well or not coming together as well as I may want.

Usually you’re told to walk away and come back to it later, but this doesn’t work for me. I find I can often get over it by persevering. You have to find your own methods to get over days like that.

What I would say though is art should be fun – it’s not the end of the world when things go wrong. In fact, I’ve had some happy accidents. Things haven’t gone the way I was thinking but have turned out better. I tend to go with the flow.

How have sales been going?

Really well. In fact, the lino printing has allowed me to get into more art shops, as well as showing and then selling my prints on social media. I also have exhibitions at the gallery where I show my artwork. I’ve got to admit, competitions and exhibitions are not my thing. I really like the process of creating artwork – that’s the thing that keeps me excited about art. I like turning my ideas into images. If someone else likes the result enough to buy it, well that’s just a bonus.

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What sort of printing set up do you have?

I really like the results I’m getting with the simplest of tools. I use Essdee handles and blades, Sea white water based block printing ink and mostly easycut lino, although i’ve just acquired some of the canvas backed artist quality lino to try more detailed work. I’ve also just invested in an Xcut Xpress die cutter which I use as a press. This was after being asked to do some lino printed greetings cards – 30 in all. Using the spoon method was really, really tiring (and as i mentioned earlier art should be fun).

I’d thoroughly recommend the Xcut as an economical press. I still use the spoon for the bigger prints. I tend to use Bristol board or card, as I do like the way the ink sits up on top of the card – very tactile.

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What are you working on at the moment?

It’s been very busy just lately. I’ve been working on some portraits recently of John Lennon and Ian Curtis. I’ve found lino printing has given the portraits a lot of atmospheric feeling I haven’t been able achieve with painting or drawing. Especially on the Ian Curtis print, I had to resist the urge to tidy the many lines on the face as I would in any other medium. These lines give the portrait an edgy, troubled feel, even though his eyes are closed, also giving a sense of relaxation of someone in the zone. These feelings then compete giving that edge to the whole print. This was one of those happy accidents – the lino printing took over and you can’t ask more from a process than that.

I’ve just started doing screenprinting too, which although a completely different medium demanding differing skills is so enjoyable.

I’ve also recently attended a local festival. I’d already engraved a piece of lino and I got the people who attended to have a go at printing from it. They first had to ink the plate then take a print using the spoon method. It proved very popular, the reaction to lino printing really surprised me. We had to get extra tables to let their prints dry out. I do hope that they go home and have a go at lino printing themselves.

Where can people see your work?

The majority of my artwork is on show at Theartbay Gallery in Fenton, Stoke-on-Trent, and this includes drawings paintings and lino prints.

http://www.theartbay.co.uk

My lino prints are available from the Art Department in Hanley. This is an independent art materials shop and gallery in Stoke-on-Trent. I buy all my materials there – it’s such a friendly inspirational shop.

http://www.theartdeptstoke.co.uk

What he said! Steve’s also on twitter as @ShawSteve5 of course. 

The Iron Frog Press: “It’s allowed me to contribute to the advancement of printmaking”

Even now, three or four years into my printing life, I’m still trying to find the right tools for the craft. My baren – the actual thing you press and smooth the paper onto the plate with – leaves a lot to be desired.

I know people use wooden spoons for home printing, but I can’t really get with that, so I use one of those ‘my first baren’ things that’s crude, plastic and will probably break very soon. Plus the angle it requires from my wrist is all wrong.

But other printers I meet have all manner of solutions for the task of actually getting good ink coverage from a handprint, from home presses to rolling pins and more.

A good baren can make all the difference, so I was intrigued by the US company, The Iron Frog Press, and its dedicated quest to bring better ones to the printing community. Formed by husband and wife Sharon and Matt Bagley, the pair make high quality, hand blown glass barens aimed squarely at the printer.

For full disclosure, I don’t own one of these, I just wanted to know more.

Although, my 40th birthday is just round the corner guys…

 

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Hi Matt. before you created the Print Frog, were you both printers?

Sort of. Sharon is a professional photographer but she’s gotten a lot more involved with printmaking as a result of the Print Frog. I jokingly say she’s a printmaker through marriage. Actually, we did meet in the printmaking studio at university. All the photo majors were required to take printmaking and when Sharon took it I was the lab monitor.

I’ve been a printmaker for over 25 years. I studied printmaking at the University of North Texas. After graduation, I worked as a press operator for several years. I ran a Webtron flexographic press. I printed mostly food and chemical labels, but every now and then I got the chance to print my own artwork. In 2008, I started Iron Frog Press to encourage more fine art printing in our Dallas community. The Print Frog was initiated in 2012.

How did the idea come about?

I had a project where I was having difficultly printing an image cut into a twisted cherry block. The only way I could pull a complete impression was using my trusty old wooden drawer pull baren. I was dreading the edition process because I have fairly severe repetitive strain injuries all over my right arm.

In a conversation about my problem, a friend made a crack, “Well, if you knew a glass blower…” I did, and he owed me a favor. I asked him to make one but he made me about 40. They performed way above expectations. We quickly sold out and I never intended to have more made. But printmakers wanted them and I was being asked from people around the globe when they could get a Print Frog.

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Was there simply nothing good enough on the market?

Yes. Finding high-performing tools for hand printing was non existent. Most printmakers learned to print with with a wooden spoon. They’re cheap and work well, but are uncomfortable and very inefficient for editioning. Any barens that were available were usually cheap plastic toys. And expensive Japanese ball bearing and traditional Hon barens could be ordered, yet they had limitations too.

So most of my colleagues who seriously hand printed made their own barens or retrofitted household objects like doorknobs, baby food jars, drawer pulls, metal bowls and so on. These all worked, but quickly became tedious and painful for larger or multi-block editions. I used two drawer pulls glued together for over 20 years and now I’m suffering for it. So by the time the Print Frog originated I was well aware that an efficient, comfortable and some what affordable baren was not available.

They’re very beautiful looking things – I assume this was intentional?

No, not at all. I was just being open minded to what the best material for a baren could be. Glass is beautiful, but it posses so many other properties that make it the ideal hand printing tool. It’s smooth, heavy and glides across the paper so easily that a 5-year old can quickly master it. Glass is impervious to all inks, and chemicals and solvents can be easily wiped off.

Our ‘Studio’ models are made of recycled glass and are hand blown. Our ‘Pro’ models are hand-crafted from borosilicate glass. Borosilicate glass is a much higher quality material and has the added bonus of being heatproof. It’s the perfect tool for encaustic monoprinting. The overall shape harmonised with the wonderful properties of glass, the Print Frog is an outstanding example of Gestalt…

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What are the benefits?

I actually get to use the baren of my dreams! I do have a 48”x72” Conrad monoprinting press in the studio. It’s an awesome press for large woodblocks, but I still tend to print most of my color multi block small pieces with the Print Frog. It effortlessly prints on mulberry and kozo type papers, but it can also be used on a variety of substrates such heavy etching paper, vellum, copy paper and transparent silk.

After developing the Print Frog I discovered it was an extremely versatile printmaking tool. As well as printing, I use it in paper-making, for chine-collé, folding heavy paper, tagging paper for registration and anywhere you need an extremely clean weight. Some users have given reports of it working on intaglio and bleed-edge lithography too. Eric E. Coleman, who teaches at Penland School of Crafts, used the Print Frog to help cutout a head-gasket for a VW engine!

It’s been a great way for me to connect with the international printmaking community. Printmaking is an inherently collaborative medium, since there are many steps, completing projects often involve more than one person. Printmakers face many of the same challenges and dilemmas. There’s a fellowship of the medium and printmakers are eager to share ideas, solutions and even artwork.

The Print Frog has allowed me to contribute to the advancement of printmaking. It encourages printmakers to continue their craft, because you can setup a print shop anywhere. Setting up a small low cost home studio or travel print shop is now feasible. Also, due to its versatility, it’s quickly being recognised as an indispensable tool in any print shop.

It’s opened up educational opportunities for me as well. Since the Print Frog is so easy to master and very portable, it makes an ideal tool for teaching printmaking to children. Back in my early career, I never considered being an instructor. But now, in addition to teaching, I’ve developed methods for teaching printmaking to early elementary age kids. I also teach to art instructors these methods. Teaching printmaking to our future printmakers is the most rewarding benefit that I have gotten from the Print Frog.

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What sort of range do you offer?

The ‘Pro’ model is made of borosilicate glass which is the same glass that cookware and scientific equipment is made of. It can be crafted precisely to fit ideal design specs. They’re handmade and vary a little bit in size and shape, but artists vary too. It has an extremely comfortable handle that’s stout and allows for a neutral hand position. I can easily print a hundred impressions in one day with almost no RSI aggravation. The ‘Pro’ model is our highest quality baren, at $130.

Then there’s the ‘Studio’ model in clear/turquoise which is hand blown out of recycled glass and varies more in size, shape and coloor. It performs almost as good as the ‘Pro’ but costs $85. Finally, there’s the ‘Studio’ model in Cobalt which is the same as the other “Studio” model, but is a deep blue and have the Print Frog logo stamped on the handle, which is $80.

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Where can people buy them?

You can get them from our store section on our website and we also have an Etsy store.

We ship most places in the world and if your country is not on our list we will gladly add it. But the most enjoyable way we like to sell is at printmaking events. People can come by our booth or demos and actually try it for themselves. We’re looking into attending some printmaking events in the UK soon.

Also, be sure to check out our social media pages for more updates, videos and other fun stuff. We’re on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram.

Jonathan Costall: “For my sins, I did spend a long time at art school…”

Claudio Ranieri by Jonathan Costall

I can’t do faces. I’ve never been able to get a likeness of anyone that looks anything like them, or anybody. They go all Picasso.

Plus, being only mildly accomplished at printing – any attempt at trying to render someone’s likeness in this most tricky of artforms leaves me punching tables and throwing cats out the window.

So, when I stumble across someone who can actually do portraits in print, I flip out. As happened with the work of Leicester’s Jonathan Costall, who most definitely can. I asked him the usual questions with a vague hope that some of his skills might rub off on me.

As yet, they have not…

 

Hi Jonathan – can you remember your first impressions of doing linocut?

I can’t exactly remember the first linocut I printed. I’m pretty sure it was on a Foundation Art and Design course at De Montfort University – Kevin Holdaway must’ve been involved!

Are you trained at all in the arts?

For my sins, I did spend a long time at art school. I completed my Foundation and degree in Fine Art and then went onto do an MA in Printmaking at Wimbledon School of Art part time over two years, graduating in 2005.

Whilst studying my Ba I was more interested in screenprinting and for my MA I did more computer-based work. At the time it felt like a natural progression, I was interested in how new technology could be used in printmaking. So my traditional skills were left by the wayside for a while.

The most time spent focused on linocut in my degree was during an exchange to Holland in my second year. I was lucky enough to work with an excellent printer called Gustaf who taught me so much about printmaking. The way they teach art in Holland is different to England. They’re a lot more student-focused so it’s up to you to arrange your own tutorials in the skills you want to learn. This allowed me to receive lots of one-to-one tuition on printmaking whilst I was there. I think it was really the making of me as a printmaker.

I currently work as an Art Technician in a secondary school. I’m lucky to work in with some great people that have made good use of my skill set. In Year 7 all students do some printmaking (monoprint and screen printing), and they seem to enjoy it. Generally I find passing on some of the things I have learnt over the years about printing to be quite rewarding.

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What currently influences your work?

Portraiture is the current focus of my work, which is something I’ve not really delved into before. For this body of work, I draw my influences from a wide variety of artists and mediums. I especially love the exuberant nature of German Expressionism printmaking, there are excellent examples in the permanent collect of their work at the Leicester New Walk Museum which has been a great resource for me.

I’m also a big fan of David Bull’s Youtube channel – he really knows his stuff when it comes to Japanese woodblock printmaking. He moved to Japan 30 years ago and has dedicated his life to the craft. I recommend watching his channel to any printmaker.

I also like the black and white photography of Daido Moriyama and Ed van der Elsken, there’s something so raw about the photographs they take, they have so much moody energy. That’s something which I try to capture in my work. 

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Your portraits are so striking – how do you get them so accurate?

I’ve got some fine carving tools which help me to get the detailed line work looking sharp. For me the line work is what holds the image together, because my mark making is quite expressive. It’s important to make sure it’s accurate.

I transfer the image to the block using tracing paper because I think it’s the best way to capture all the fine details. I then go over the tracing on the block in ball point pen and make any corrections. So, by the time I start cutting I’ve drawn and redrawn the image a couple of times already, so I think that is what makes the drawing accurate. Basically, practice and repetition.­

  Do you get those days when everything goes wrong?

Yes – the inking up goes wrong, or there’s uneven pressure because I’m burnishing using a spoon. But I try to embrace the finished print. It doesn’t always have to perfect. Like every other printmaker, I’m still trying to find the best ink, best paper, best roller – it’s an ongoing process.

How have sales been going?

Very, very slow so far. I feel a bit like a band which has critical acclaim but doesn’t sell many albums. I think I need to be a bit more proactive in approaching galleries/craft shops about stocking my work. I’ve only really started making work again just over a year ago now after a long break (I have two sons under the age of five who keep me busy!), so maybe it takes a while to get your name out there?

What’s your experience been of entering competitions?

So far I’ve been pretty lucky with open exhibitions that I’ve entered. My work was selected for the Midlands Printmaking Open in Nottingham last year and won two prizes. One of the prizes was to design a front cover for the LeftLion Magazine which is distributed all over Nottingham.  I recently entered the Leicester Open and won a prize there as well from the Leicester Print Workshop for best print.

I do also enter competitions – mostly newsletters from arts organisations, I subscribe to as many as possible. Creative Leicestershire is a good one for me which is run by the local arts council. Curator Space is a good nation newsletter and website. Apart from that Twitter is also another resource for finding exhibition opportunities.

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Do you always work in single colour?

When I did the front cover of the LeftLion Magazine I added colour to my black and white print in Photoshop. I felt it just needed some colour to give it a bit more depth.

I think there’s something classic about black and white. I don’t feel like I need to add any extra colour at the moment. I like to think my work is always evolving so I wouldn’t rule it out in the future.

What sort of printing set up do you have?

It’s pretty low tech, mostly I work at home on the kitchen table and burnish the prints by hand (which is a big reason I mostly work in a single colour). I’ve recently got a large gel roller, that’s really made life a lot easier when inking up.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve started work on a print of Esteban Cambiasso. But I think long term I would like to start taking my own photos of people to make prints of.

Hey guys – Jonathan is here on Etsy, is on instagram as @ateliercostall and his website is here.

Mute Neighbor: “My process is a collection of bad habits, short-cuts and improper practices”

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America’s John Sant, working under his excellent moniker Mute Neighbor, is, he admits – just starting out in linocut. But the work he’s produced so far has been quite frankly amazing, with a dark, partially death-obsessed worldview that flies in the face of the occasionally pressed flowers/waves and sea crafty image of the medium.

Which I naturally love.

So I asked him about his art, and also learnt about his use of a printing device which he says has been a godsend – the Xcut Xpress – the very same one I’ve just purchased. Great minds and all that….

Hi there John, can you remember your first impressions of linocut?

My immediate impression when I first began carving was a combination of excitement that I could literally print anything I wanted mixed with surprise at how difficult it was. I’d accidentally picked a tough type of lino to start with and only had an old Speedball gouge set, plus I hadn’t really figured out the proper angles to carve at so my hands were exhausted an hour in.

Are you trained at all in the arts/do work in them?

Not at all. I’ve been a product designer for the last ten years, but my degree is in English. Everything I’ve done creatively has gone down the self-taught route, which I’m pretty sure means my process is a collection of bad habits, short-cuts and improper practices!”

What’s currently influencing your work?

The complete shitshow in the US right now absolutely is, although I never do anything specifically political. I tend to let news and articles I run across influence what I’m going to work on. The Genie Wiley print came about after I saw a small documentary on her and read her story – a year later I still couldn’t shake it so I decided to make a print as a way of processing.

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Do you get those days when everything goes wrong with a print?

Absolutely. I’ve got my studio all prepared to do a print run and under ink on the first pass. No matter what I do, the next one is oversaturated so detail is lost… wash off the block, start from scratch, go to print another one and promptly move the paper as I’m laying it on the block. I definitely have those days.

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How have sales been going for you? I know some people struggle with it, myself included, but it looks like you have a good grasp of it…

Pretty sparse, but that’s to be expected – I’ve been at this for such a relatively short period of time. When I first started carving, I didn’t have any real expectations or goals beyond learning as much as possible and pushing myself to try images and compositions that challenge me technically and visually.

Etsy sales come in every so often, but right now I’m pretty thrilled when an artist whose work I’ve followed for years likes an image I post on Instagram. I very much feel obligated to pay my dues and put in my time before sales become important.

Do you do fairs/stalls, etc?

Nah, not yet. I don’t want to be the guy at a fair with 12 prints to my name and not much else.

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Do you always work in single colour?

I’ve been restricting myself to one, simply because I’m a little over a year into block printing. I feel like mastering that alone is such a challenge and there’s so much that can be done with basic black and white in terms of mood and effect that I’m pretty content to stay there for the moment.

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What sort of printing set up do you have?

I use Flexcut carving tools and basic battleship grey lino. I run the blocks through an Xcut Xpress which works like a dream. Nick Morley ran a post on Instagram about trying one out and documented his successes. Obviously getting a bigger press to be able to do large-scale prints would be nice, but there’s always hand burnishing for that.

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The Xcut Xpress

What are you working on at the moment?

When I was researching the last print I did I ran across the story of the Münster Rebellion and got a few ideas that I’ve been putting together for a new print. I’m also putting together sketches for a piece based on Philip K Dick’s novel, Ubik.

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You know the drill – Instagram and Etsy – go go go…

Melanie Wickham: “Everything influences my work…”

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I usually just print on boring old paper, and often in a way I find unsatisfactory. I’m also not 100% brilliant at marketing myself (stop laughing at the back there!), so when I stumbled across the playful, life-affirming work of Melanie Wickham, and more importantly saw how she could flutter between working on textiles to homewares and also use things like pop-up shops to get her work out there, I was fascinated.

So you know what happened next. I dropped her a line to ask her all about her business and her art. I think you’ll see she’s proof the two can co-exist happily…

 

Watcha Melanie. Can you remember your first impressions of doing linocut? 

I remember using paper stencils to screenprint lobsters at school, and surely did some lino printing too, but the first  lino prints I actually remember making weren’t until college when I made images for Mrs Beetleton’s Cookbook – all made-up by me insect recipes… grasshopper curry, mixed insect salad – it was great fun cutting out the images…

Are you trained at all in the arts or do work in them?

I did a degree in illustration and had just about discovered printmaking properly when it was time to leave. The most affordable method of printmaking for an impoverished ex-student with no studio was lino printing, so I started carving.

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What’s currently influencing your work? 

Everything. I draw in sketchbooks all the time. Sometimes it’s to work out specific images – for instance for a commission, but the rest of the time it is just a stream of doodling which incorporates words from the radio, passers by, the back of my mind – who knows where.

Plus bits of images from whatever is around me, or repetitive drawing of something, a cat or a crow… sometimes the drawing is stylised and sometimes realistic and sometimes I really don’t like it because it’s my doodle shorthand, which is like having really bad handwriting and I don’t want anyone else to see it.

There’s a real sense of animal fun to your work – where did this come from?

I love drawing animals and grew up on a smallholding so have always lived amongst them. I think all my images amuse me in some way as I make them, so I’m just entertaining myself through the medium of crows and otters.

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Do you get those days when everything goes wrong with a print?  

Of course, chopping through something important on a block at the last moment of carving, ink that has gone all funny and won’t make a proper print happen that day, it’s too hot, too cold, or wearing a really hairy jumper and finding little red bits of wool stuck to all the prints on closer inspection…

How did you come to print on textile as well as prints?  

That’s the good thing about lino, you can print on loads of things. Want fancy bedroom curtains? Print some. It’s great and totally different from printing an edition of lino prints on lovely paper as perfectly as you can. The fabric does its own thing and what works isn’t the same as with paper, so it’s a good challenge to mix it up bit. I’ve been printing on glass too which is fun but it looks terrible at the moment – haven’t mastered it yet!

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How have sales been going for you? It looks like you have a good grasp of it…   

I’ve been really lucky with some lovely galleries and have had work in some of them since last century, as well as lots of more recent ones. The work I was sending out to begin with was terrible, but they have put up with it and worked really hard selling my prints over the years giving me great advice, so hopefully I’ve taken it onboard and upped my printing game. I think all you can do is keep making the work you want to make as well as you can and hope you find your spot. I’ve also had lots of returning customers which is amazing. And I haven’t done all of the animals yet.

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Do you do fairs or have stalls?

Sometimes – I loved doing the print fair at the Hepworth, Wakefield and Print Stuff in York and a few other Bristol ones, but I find selling through art and craft galleries works best for me. I have had a couple of really good pop-up shops too though.

What sort of printing set up do you have?  

Just a table, a roller, a big sheet of glass and a very muscly right arm. I burnish my prints by hand, with a boxwood burnishing tool which I got from a print suppliers years ago, but now terrifyingly no one stocks them anymore. When mine is worn out I shall have to give up printmaking – no, really…

Where do you get your cool wooden frames from?

A lot of my frames were made by a friend who has given up framing, also a great framers on Bristol Docks who put up with my disorganised, last minute framing requests.

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What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve got a really big piece of lino and want to do a massive flock of birds. I imagine it will take me a month or so between other things to carve it out. Otherwise my sketchbooks are filled with ridiculous ideas, which need constant filtering because they rarely seem like good ideas the next day. Luckily a few make it through.

 

Huzzah! Melanie has a Folksy page, and you can also follow her blog HERE