Dave Lefner: “I couldn’t just stand in front of an easel all day, doing the same thing.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 12.37.32

Heaven On Earth

Dave Lefner’s one of those wizards that’s so well known – but more importantly so good at their art – that his pieces come up on the first page of results in a Google image search for ‘linocut’.

That really means nothing of course, but what does carry weight is how amazingly well he’s mastered the art of reduction linocuts on a grand scale. His pieces have become so in demand over his 25+ year career that they can command anything up to $4,000 for one edition, and he’s also lucky enough to be able to call linocutting a full-time job.

As if all this wasn’t annoying enough, his work focuses on an element of the world I happen to love – the neon sign. Based in LA, Lefner is at the very heart of the vintage neon scene, it would seem, and he’s also become something of an archivist of these old signs too, rendering them from photos he takes while out scouting for the right shapes, the right shadows.

I’ve written about him before, and always dreamt of owning a Lefner. I’ve also always been in awe of his attention to detail on the many precisely cut enormous retro multi-layered near-photo-real perfectly colour-matched iconic reduction linocuts he makes.
And sells. Actually I’ve rarely felt so inadequate.

So, imagine my delight when he agreed to take time out to be interviewed and was a 120% nice guy to boot. Enough of my warbling – make way for the master…

Look Magazein 62

Come On Vogue

Hey Dave – when did you start linocutting?
I did my first woodcut in a beginners’ printmaking class in my second or third year of college, so 1991. We then moved on to linoleum. Coming from a graphic design background, I fell in love with the clean lines, flat shapes and high contrast of block printing. Soon after I discovered a book about Picasso’s series of reduction linocuts from the 1950s and my fate was sealed. I pored over every page and dedicated myself to learning the technique.

Whose style influences you?
Despite Picasso’s influence, my main influence for subject matter was Stuart Davis, a New York painter from the 1920s. He started abstracting on the urban landscape of NY, including bits of signage and lettering.

My early work shows this direct influence…

newsstand

Newsstand

When I started taking pictures of the Los Angeles urban landscape for photo reference, I began to notice all the cool neon signs and how I liked them ‘as is’ – ie not abstracted. From then on, I challenged myself to go for realism, though not photo-realism… I wanted to fool people from a distance, but I always wanted them to get up close and see that it was a result of flat colours on top of flat colours, to create the illusion. I always want the process to be as much a part of my art as the subject matter.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 12.37.13

La-La Land

Your prints hark back to a golden era or a faded era – is there something quite sad in the art of the neon sign…
Well, for me it’s nostalgic, which is a bit different to sad. I’ve never been to Europe, so I don’t really know what neon looks like there, but in the US – especially LA and New York – and other major cities (even tiny towns in middle America) a lot of historic neon is protected and is absolutely spectacular! Night or day.

Ironically, even though I’ve done linocuts of many of these signs – especially in the Los Angeles Broadway Theatre district – most of the time I like signs that show their age, and usually they’re small businesses like liquor stores.

But you’re right, my work is heavily influenced by a Golden Age. In America, the 1950s represented a very hopeful, prosperous time. Mid-century architecture, amazing graphic design, furniture, cars designed like rocket ships – I would’ve loved to be 18 in 1955!

Of course, not everything was perfect, but visually they knew what they were doing. And it’s waaaay better than the homogenised crap that’s turned out today. I’m glad those vintage things are being appreciated again. And if my work can help bring that back, so much the better.

Shadows are key too, aren’t they?
Absolutely shadows are key! In fact, I could drive by a sign at a certain time of day, and it doesn’t do anything for me, but then I could drive by again, usually around dusk, and the shadows cast off the neon tubing create what looks like a different language, and I have to turn my car around and snap a picture. When I start thinking about a new piece, the white of the paper (the first stage of carving the block) is the first thing I consider in the composition, followed by what the shadows are doing. Usually the shadows are the very last thing printed, five or six colours into the piece.

night and day i tihnk of you

Night & Day (I Think Of you)

Would it be fair to call you a kind of historian?
Definitely… I realised a long time ago that I’m documenting this city, state and country. So many images that I’ve captured no longer exist. I don’t want to see it all forgotten…

I love what you said once about linocutting being a craft. But do you think printing really actually exists alongside the fine arts?
Haha! Traditional printmaking (not reproductions or digital prints) should have just as much weight as paintings or sculptures in the world of fine art. Now, what fine art is is a whole other discussion. For me personally, the reason I got into reduction linocut was because I was very frustrated by the world of art in the 1990s, and I suppose, up to the present.

In my youth I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I went to any and every art opening, from galleries to museums, taking in what I saw, trying to figure out what my unique contribution would be. Aside from the pioneers of every major movement, I saw a lot of garbage out there. I didn’t understand why skill, talent, and originality no longer mattered any more.

Again, when I discovered Picasso’s reduction linocuts, I knew that this was what I was searching for – a labour-intensive, difficult, lost artform that was going to require my dedication, work ethic, natural artistic ability, and creativity. A process that rivals most paintings or sculptures!

But reduction prints are so tricky, with the registration, number of colours, all that – how long did it take you to master it?
I’ve been doing reduction linocuts for 25 years now and I still wouldn’t say I’ve completely mastered the process, but it took about 15 years to feel like I have the key basics down to do almost any project. Having your own press makes a tremendous difference.

What a Splash

What A Splash!

Did you/do you ever do non-reduction linocuts, or are they your sole obsession?
In college I studied all kinds of things – drawing, painting, sculpture, other forms of printmaking. But reduction linocut has pretty much been my sole obsession my whole career. Well, except for cutting up my own prints and doing collages. I’d like to do more of that in the future…

Are there still things you want to try out with the artform?
Larger scale – it’s all about scale! I’m limited by the size of my press – it’s 30”x50”. I’m trying to remedy this by doing diptychs and triptychs, which I like, but to have unlimited access to a massive press would be my dream…

The Continental

The Continental

What are you working on at the moment?
A diptych of an old thrashed liquor store sign that says, ‘COLDEST BEER IN TOWN’ (I love the low-brow element), a more hip theatre/music venue, the El Rey Theatre, and a star-shaped sign that says Star-lite.

I’m also starting the drawing of massive triptych of the front end of a 1959 red Cadillac. I usually work on three to five pieces at the same time, and this way I can carve all the stages on one day, print everything in the next couple days, then while the oil-based ink is drying for a couple days, I carve the next stages.

Then, as each piece progresses, I can do drawings and tracings for new pieces. I love that the process has so many different aspects, nothing gets old or routine. I couldn’t just stand in front of an easel all day, doing the same thing.

Liquid Joy

Liquid Joy

So what else is new?
I’ve been on Instagram for about a year now, and I’m really enjoying seeing/connecting with all the talented printmakers out there in the world, especially in the UK!

Seriously, most of my faves are Brits. There seems to be a lot of printmaking collectives out there, too, which make it cool to connect with like-minded artists. I’m there as ‘lefner_editions’ and I also have the www.davelefner.com site where I’ll be listing some big events for the Fall.

Finally, are you a genius, or a complete obsessive?
Can’t I be both? I don’t think that’s for me say… though obviously I have to be a bit obsessive. Really, I’m just an artist who found out what he loves to do, trying to enjoy and master the process as best he’s able, and I feel beyond fortunate to make a living at it… that’s all anyone can ask for, right?

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 12.32.31

Advertisements

Hannah Forward: “The possibilities for experimenting feel endless”

gig

Absolutely 100% my favourite local linocutter is a lady called Hannah Forward, whose work I first discovered and wrote a bit about two years ago, if memory serves.

Hove-based, and actually working at the shop where I get all my arty supplies, it transpires, I was drawn to her work after seeing a print she’d done of a busy crowd at the cinema.

Hannah nails the colours in her prints, which I guess is what drew me in. She’s also very, very, very good at drawing, working both from memory and her own photographs. Her prints are jam-packed, but never chaotic, and the shades she uses evoke a sort of 1950s/60s fantasy land that really strikes a chord with me. They look sort of old fashioned, but the little details keep them really modern.

dance

I’ve also been enjoying all the work Hannah puts up online and was really pleased to hear she’s been seeing good returns from selling her work too – the links are at the bottom of this interview…

 

When did you first start linocutting?

I did a short course at Bip printmaking studios in Brighton four years ago. I’d recently got a job working for Lawrence Art Supplies in Hove and was intrigued by linocut as a technique for creating images. I’d worked as an illustrator after graduating from uni and had quite a well honed sense of my own drawing style. Someone I worked with at Lawrence’s suggested I try out linocut as he thought it would really suit my style and be a great way of producing work to potentially sell.

camera

Did you like it from the start?

Absolutely! I loved every minute of the course and took to the process immediately. I loved how simple the technique was to learn, but how the possibilities for experimenting felt endless. I mainly just printed with black ink at first, then wanted to learn how to layer separate colours over the top of each other.

This layering was what really captivated me. The first layered colour linocut I produced was a small piece called Tokyo. It’s a four-layer print, and by the time I’d finished the final layer and saw the image I was utterly hooked. To see the idea I’d had come together so well, but also in a way I kind of didn’t predict, felt kind of magical.

What other linocut artists would you recommend people take a look at?

All the printmakers associated with the Grosvenor School – Claude Flight, Sybil Andrews, Cyril Power, Ethel Spowers and Lill Tschudi are a really inspiring place to start. I remember discovering these kind of prints for the first time, and the modernist subject matter, the intriguing technique of colour layering and incredible sense of movement and energy really struck a chord.

run

What kind of formal art training do you have?

I have a degree in Graphic Design from Brighton Uni which really helped me develop my interest in unusual composition and colour. I like to paint and draw, usually acrylic or gouache paint on board. It feels so completely different to paint with a paintbrush after a big printmaking stint, and the slowness of an image gradually taking shape in a relatively unplanned way is really pleasing.

Is linocutting a full time job for you?

No, although it’s my job for most of the week. I still work two days at Lawrences, where I’m surrounded by amazing printmaking supplies like the extensive range of Awagami Japanese printmaking papers or the Lawrence relief printmaking inks. There’s so much there to feel inspired to try out, it really is a pretty incredible day job to have as a printmaker!

What sort of printing set up do you have?

I print at my home studio in Hove. When I moved in I chose the biggest, brightest room as a dedicated space to create work in. I have an A3 sized bookpress, ball drying racks hanging from the ceiling and a large work bench. I also have large shelves for paper and print storage.

What inks and paper do you prefer?

I like the Lawrence oil-based relief inks, and usually use Japanese printmaking paper for my work. I like how the ink soaks in to actually become part of the paper. I’m always up for trying out new inks and paper because it’s really fun to see what a difference this makes to the final results.

What sort of things inspire your prints?

I’m inspired to create work where the idea is executed in a very bold and simple way, but also in an original, new way that I haven’t seen done before. I think that’s my main source of inspiration – create work that’s different to what’s been made or is being made already.

It’s this newness that really excites me to create. A new colour combination or composition or subject matter I haven’t ever seen as a print before. No one else will think of these ideas and create this work – so it’s got to be me!

How relevant is being from Brighton to your work?

I’m originally from South East London but have lived in Brighton on and off for about 10 years and absolutely consider it my home now. There’s a real sense of freedom for the individual, and the city’s packed with artists, musicians, freelancers and small businesses. People who perhaps don’t feel they fit in other places have found their home here. The overall attitude seems to be ‘don’t judge – everything’s acceptable’. I think this very Brighton sense of celebration for the individual has definitely found its way into my work.

mainimage

How do the prints you make from memory differ to those you work up from photos?

Ideas that just come into my mind are usually inspired by quite a pure feeling I’ve had about something I want to try to capture. I want to get across the essence of that feeling in the simplest way I can, so every line, shape and colour matters. When I’m using photographs it’s more free and experimental. I don’t really know what I’m aiming for – I just do lots and lots of drawing and collage them together until the final design reveals itself. It’s more like painting, in a way.

What tips would you give to any printers looking to sell work?

Have a variety of different print ideas at different sizes and prices so you can see what’s popular. What sells might surprise you. Keep creating new work all the time to keep things fresh, keep the ideas rolling. Use social media (daily if possible) to attract attention to what you’re doing – people really are genuinely interested. Direct your followers to your online shops or exhibitions, let them know what you’re up to. Start a mailing list.

Selling on Etsy for me has generally been quite slow and sporadic, although it’s picked up a little more lately thanks to regular posts on Instagram (and having a direct link to my Etsy shop on my Instagram profile – top tip). Etsy is generally quite gift focused and trend-oriented, so whether it’s the best platform for artists to sell their work online is debatable. However, I know there are artists and printmakers that sell very well on Etsy so it is totally possible.

Artfinder has been incredible. I’ve now sold over 250 prints since joining a year ago and posted them to people all over the world. It’s been a really exciting first year, and I can’t really emphasise enough how rewarding it’s felt and how encouraging the people at Artfinder have been. They’ve helped feature me and my work at seemingly every opportunity, and basically become this perfect link between my work and people who want to buy it. I just can’t wait to see what happens in 2017.

skate

Do you find relief printing therapeutic?

I find all creativity very therapeutic. I think you reach a sort of meditative state while making. Whether I’m drawing or carving out lino or painting or working out a new idea, I enjoy that feeling of calm slowness as you think about nothing else except focusing on what you’re bringing into existence.

Have you any other exhibitions coming up?

Not yet, but I have ambitions to team up with a painter I know and have a group show together in Brighton this year. Watch this space! I’d also love to try opening the doors to my Hove house for the Artist Open Houses in May one year in the not too distant future. I live with two other artists so this is a really fun prospect for all of us.

hannah

 

Link yourself up!
Hannah’s Etsy shop and Artfinder shop are right there. Or you can always see more at her website.

Paul Davis: “The whole idea is to get people interested and creating their own prints…”

  

old-seadog

Old Seadog

If you’re just starting out in relief printing, and consider this – everyone is at some point – then you might be confused as to the best way to go about it. There’s a gazillion different types of ink, paper, equipment and, more annoyingly, opinions on what should and shouldn’t be done around the medium.

So a website like www.drawcutinkpress.com is all the more welcome, somewhere that really holds the hand of its visitors, be it for beginners’ tutorials and links to in-person workshops, and everything from tool sharpening guides and debates on which papers yield which results.

But behind the site lies a devilishly skilled printmaker – Paul Davis – who’s worked tirelessly to promote printing over the past few years. Originally an illustrator, he explains on his site that he wanted to “create a resource that helps anybody who wants to give lino printing a try.”

Which is blooming heartening, right? In this day and age, especially. So as is the norm here now at PP, I asked Paul to pull up a digital pew and answer the usual round of linocut related Qs…

 

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-09-49-21 

You offer a lot of advice on your blog –presumably you’d urge anyone to have a go with linocutting?

Absolutely, I set up the blog because I didn’t think there were that many good online resources out there to help people starting out with the artform. The whole idea is to get people interested and creating their own prints. I made loads of mistakes when I was learning, and I wanted to share these as well as some of the shortcuts and tips I’d discovered along the way.

Have you had a lot of response to your tutorials and guides?

Yes – I get emails every week pretty much, which I always try to answer. It’s a nice two-way relationship, as the questions people ask often spark new ideas for articles to add to the blog. Hopefully it’ll keep growing as a resource that’s free for people to explore and be inspired by. 

When did you start printing?

A couple of years ago, and as a hobby to reconnect with the process of being an image maker and getting my hands dirty. I started out as an illustrator, then became a graphic designer, a project manager and now I co-run my own business. I love that part of my life but I find myself writing proposals and answering emails more than I do being creative in the ways I like to be.

I thought I’d use linocutting as a way to unwind, so I picked up a pretty cheap set of chisels and some lino and started carving away. It was a bit frustrating at the time as the tools I bought weren’t very good, but the process was great and exactly what I was missing. I think the first attempt at a print I did was of a medieval knight that didn’t work out well because I didn’t know the medium. But then I did a few Moby Dick scenes before starting to look at some old Ray Harryhausen creature characters as inspiration. That was about the same time I decided to start Draw Cut Ink Press.

trojan-centaur

Trojan Centaur

Which other print artists influence you?

The first artist whose work I became aware of was Edward Wardsworth, from the Vorticist movement, who did some great images of battleships being painted with Dazzle camouflage. Christopher Nevinson is an ongoing and great inspiration as well as other British artists like Paul Nash. I intend to start doing some articles on my website around these guys so that I can share with my website visitors some of the artists who always inspire me.

There are other artists whose work just astounds me at times to, and the most notable name that comes to mind is Lynd Ward. He published some great woodcut novels such as Gods’ Man (1929), Madman’s Drum(1930), Wild Pilgrimage (1932) and Prelude to a Million Years (1933). Otto Nückel, Giacomo Patri and Jacques Hnizdovsky are all worthy of a mention also.

The contemporary artists I really love have largely been discovered through Instagram. Mazatl from Mexico is producing some of the greatest work I’ve seen recently, and I’ve two of his prints permanently on my desk reminding how high the bar has been set. I love the detail in his work and the ideas behind his pieces.

Brian Reedy is another great guy, I love all his movie inspired linocut prints. Other names that come to mind are Nick Morley, Richard Wells, Cally Conway, Alexis Snell, Killchoy, Carlos Palomares, Scott Minzy, and more. There’s loads of amazing talent out there.

smokingskull-folio2

Smoking Skull

Can you tell me a little bit about your printing set up?

I’m not far off a bedroom printer. I have a desk that I work at most days after work and at any other spare moments I get. That’s one of the great things about lino printing, you don’t need to have some massive set up like screen printing. All you need is a piece of lino, some tools, ink, a roller, some paper and a wooden spoon – you could get cracking with that kind of setup, in fact that’s exactly what I started with!

My tools and equipment has expanded over time, so now I have my trusty Pfeil carving tools, a set of Japanese rollers, loads of inks, various barens (although few are actually more effective than a wooden spoon) and a book press.

I’ve also got access to an etching press at Bainbridge Studio in London which I love to use, and that also gives me access to a really nice studio where I can spread things out a bit. What I tend to do is carve away at home and run off some test prints until I’m happy with the design, then head down to the studio.

talos

Talos

What inks and paper do you favour?

I like to use oil-based inks as it suits the fine detail I like to achieve. My local art shop is called Intaglio Printmakers and they produce their own relief inks, which I find very good.

I’ve tried a few different papers but at the moment I’m pretty much sold on 145gsm Zerkall. It’s a German mould made paper that has great texture and picks up all the details better than anything else. I also always have a pad of Japanese Hosho paper on the go to, that’s a close second place I reckon.

Can you explain some of the themes in your work?

I like to pick up themes and run with them for a little while so I can create a mini series of prints. I did a series of prints based around the characters of Ray Harryhausen movies like Jason and The Argonauts, Clash of the Titans and Sinbad. I used to love those movies as a kid growing up and they really inspired me to work as much as possible in the creative industries.

At the moment I’m really enjoying working on a series of prints based around old portrait photos of soldiers from the Crimean War, and I’ve a book full of other ideas stacking up.

crimean-war-comrades-1

Crimean War Comrades 1

You also largely seem to work in black and white – do you prefer this?

I think there are two reasons for this. Firstly, I love the graphic bold strength that you can achieve with a well balanced black and white print. I remember seeing some Ex Libris prints that somebody had framed up once and thought that they looked amazing. They were so strong and confident.

Secondly, I think that by the time I’ve got a print done in back and white I’m usually itching to start another one, rather than thinking of ways to add a second or third colour block. I have a few prints that I intend to add colour to, hopefully 2017 will be the year I find the time to go back and finish them off with a spot colour, That would really make some of them sparkle.

Do you work in any other mediums?

I’m pretty much just a lino printer. I enjoy the process of sketching my design onto the lino and then carving it out so much I can’t think of another one I want to try right now. Maybe woodblock printing is a natural progression next?

What’s next for you?

I’m thinking about setting up a regular meet up in London for UK lino printers. It would be great to meet some of the people whose work I admire, have a beer and talk about the artform with others who are as mad for it as I am. If that takes off then maybe an exhibition after that. Grow the empire basically, until I can pack in the day job and just Draw Cut Ink Press my days away!

 

To buy one of Paul’s prints head HERE.

Aidan Saunders: “It’s how I like to show the images that dance around in my head…”

 

image1Getting your art out to the people is hard, and actually retaining an audience even harder. You know that. But there’s a guy called Aidan Saunders who’s absolutely nailing it, and all by doing things his own way too.

A devotee of print, he’s commandeered a VW Caddy van, then fully decorated it, and driven it round the country promoting the medium to anyone that wants to be enlightened.

Being a lonely bedroom printer, this all-encompassing approach seemed just amazing to me. Where do you get the sheer brassneck to go about such a strategy?

Aidan says he started linocutting at the end of his uni course after not quite getting the enjoyment levels he wanted from fine drawing (at which he is also accomplished, I might add). “It took time for me to realise that it was how I should make work,” he explains.

The idea of the van came next.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-11-01-59

“I sold a lot of prints at my end of year show and thought – ah ha! I can sell prints – and over a breakfast with a lecturer I had an idea of travelling the UK in my grandad’s caravan. I got onto a Ba and I suddenly had funding, but my grandad wouldn’t give me his caravan. So I managed to buy my van from a friend who I used to help out as a painter and decorator, for £300,” Aidan explains.

Fully decorated up, the plan for the van was then to take it out on the road. But where?

“Well, another reason I came up with the wagon was because I wanted to advertise my illustration work. I planned a tour of gallery spaces and places I could imagine my work being exhibited, and it always astounded me that people would invite and hope that magazines or galleries would come and see them for their final show. I thought that was quite cheeky and that you should go to them… plus, you can fit more stuff in a van, including a heavy cast iron book press.”

image2

Responses have been “dumbfounded”, with Aidan having now toured the country since 2014, visiting such far flung places as Hastings, London, Kendall and Norwich, along with jaunts to Utrecht to promote the medium of printing.

down-in-mexico

Down In Mexico

“I’m not sure why printing is so important to me. I guess what is important is that it’s a way to promote my own interests. I love print, I love the work that goes into it and the energy it can give to a piece. But really it’s a means to an end. It’s how I like to show the images that dance around in my head…”

For more information or to book the wagon, and of course to shop, visit Aidan’s site. Probably Prints is particularly excited about an exhibition Aidan has been involved in which is coming to Brighton in 2017, based on the He-Man children’s TV series, which was previously exhibited at the Colours May Vary bookshop in Leeds. Watch this space.

boom

Boom