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

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Time to go

 

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I can’t track everyone down. I’ve been interviewing linocutters for a few years now and they’ve all been absolutely lovely and kind to deal with my enquiries amid a hectic life of printing.

But sadly not everyone has the time, preferring instead to work on printing projects than pesky email questionnaires. But I thought, well, just because you don’t get into these printers’ heads, you can still celebrate their work.

The mysterious US printer Rich, who I met on twitter (he’s @BoardingAllRows if you want to connect) was someone I wanted to ask about a specific print – the one above – which seems to me to offer the kind of modernist, font heavy, “is it a print or isn’t it?” type of work I just love and would also love to be able to emulate.

It’s a departures board, which Rich says online was inspired by his ‘favourite’ airport, San Francisco (he likes his travel, does Rich). Look at those lines! Absolute perfection. If I could get even one word to look that tidy, let alone a whole departures board, I could give up printing happy.

Anyway, Rich was sadly unavailable to talk about this particular piece but I wanted to share it with you anyway. It’s a big bugger, measuring 16×20”, and is from an open run.

You can buy it HERE.

Almost makes you want to board a plane, doesn’t it?

Jonathan Blackmore: “I hope to capture the spirit of a place.”

 

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Sometimes you do a little double take when you see someone’s art. That was definitely the case for me when I first saw Jonathan Blackmore’s reduction linocuts. Look at them, they’re like bloomin’ photographs.

But yep, I’ve checked and they’re actually intricate, multiple colour prints. I know, right?

I had to get a better understanding of all this sorcery. Not since the prints of Dave Lefner had I seen anything so convincing, so balanced.

But more than that, the prints had soul too. Maybe it came from the buildings Jonathan’s chosen to depict – great stone churches and cathedral interiors, looming high above the viewer. I don’t know. The guy even leads workshops for print beginners, and is a member of the Somerset Guild of Craftsmen to boot. I needed to get to the bottom of things…

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Hello Jonathan. When did you first start linocutting?

I managed to miss doing linocut at school. Everyone I meet seems to remember having made a print, but I took it up much later and I’ve been a printmaker full-time for two and a half years.
I studied for a degree in Fine Art at Wolverhampton Polytechnic from 1979 to 1982. I did some printmaking there, but spent most of my time painting landscapes in acrylic and making sculptures and pictures from photographs cut into shapes and sewn together.
After graduating I had a long – much too long – career in computers that stopped me from doing enough art, until I was made redundant at the age of 55. I then decided to take up art and printmaking again full time.

Who are your printing influences?

There are some very talented artists around and I follow a lot of people on Twitter and Facebook to see their work progressing. But I grew up in Hong Kong and I’m very attracted to traditional oriental art, particularly Japanese prints and Chinese landscapes, but I don’t know if that shows in my work.

Can we talk about the architecture in your works – why is it such a source of fascination?

We’ve lived in Wells, Somerset, in the West of England, since 2000 and there’s some wonderful medieval architecture just a few minutes from home. It’s hard not to be influenced by that. It was designed to inspire and to impress. I find the geometric patterns and repetition built in to the architecture really fascinating and trying to represent three dimensional buildings in a medium that reduces everything to flat colour is a challenge. I’m really not into modern architecture, but I do have a fondness for medieval arches, doors and windows and the complex spaces within the buildings.

There’s a slightly religious feel to the work – is this of any importance to you, or is it just a result of the buildings themselves?

I have an appreciation for spirituality and the beauty of buildings that were inspired by people’s spirituality. One of my favourite places in the Cathedral is the retrochoir, a forest of columns supporting fan-vaulted ceilings. This year I plan to do more work outside, so perhaps the feel of my website will change, but I’d still hope to capture the spirit of a place.

Reduction printing can be very frustrating…

Reduction prints are frustrating, tricky and difficult, there’s so much that can go wrong that you just have to do them anyway. I think my success rate is improving from a technical point of view. However, I’m also becoming more critical of my work, so I’m less likely to think of things as a success.

I aim for an edition of 18 to 20 and generally end up with around 12 to 15 prints that I am happy with, unless the whole thing is a write off.  I print by hand, burnishing with a spoon. I use water-based inks and I’m not aiming for solid colours, so every print in an edition is unique.
I’ve done some reduction prints where a middle colour turned out to be unsatisfactory when I have already moved on and cut and printed the next. There’s not a lot you can do about that.

Do you do linocuts that aren’t reductions at all?

I recently started doing prints with multiple blocks. Of course, the great advantage is that you can try different colour combinations or just redo a block if it doesn’t work out. I also do monochrome prints.

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Your colours are very measured…

I spend a lot of time mixing colours and trying to get them just right. I think when you’re limited to five or six colours in a print, it requires more consideration.

How did you get involved with hosting courses?

I started hosting beginners’ workshops last year after I joined the Somerset Guild of Craftsmen. We are running a programme of different craft workshops this year so people can try out linocut, papermaking, stone carving and other crafts.

What kind of people come to your courses – is there an increasing interest, do you think?

The workshops I’ve done so far are specifically for beginners. I think it’s important everyone should be at the same level – it doesn’t really work to have experienced people mixed with beginners.

I aim to give people the confidence to get started and enough information to carry on making their own prints at home. I’ve had some lovely feedback from people who came on my workshops and it’s really nice when they carry on exploring printmaking afterwards.
There seems to be a lot of interest in linocut at the moment, which is nice. I plan to do a few more workshops this year and I’m running a two-colour print workshop in April that will explore different ways to tackle the problem of registration.

What does being a member of the guild of craftsmen actually entail?

There’s no secret handshake – I was disappointed.

The Somerset Guild of Craftsmen has been running since 1933 and has around 60 active members working in different art or craft disciplines. Despite the old-fashioned name, there are many female members.

To join you should be an actively practising craftsman or craftswoman, with a focus on one particular craft. You submit your best work to the selection panel (who are Guild members) and if it’s of a consistently high standard then you’re invited to join.

In addition to displaying members’ work for sale, the Guild organises a programme of exhibitions and workshops run by Guild members. The Guild has a permanent gallery in Wells (at 23a Broad Street, behind Pickwick’s Cafe.) We also have a website.

You can find Jonathan on the web in the following places.

His work is for sale on his website, he’s on Twitter @inkwellsprints and Facebook – /JonathanBlackmorePrints and he runs a very tidy blog right here

Ieuan Edwards: “Cost and space aren’t barriers to getting started with printing…”

Each time I go to cut something, or even if I’m just sketching ideas, I’m usually thinking “How can I make these more detailed?” or “Is that the right level of detail for a print?” – basically it drives me mad.

But there’s an artist called Ieuan Edwards in Kent who takes this to the extreme, creating linocuts that frankly have no right to be quite as detailed as they are. They actually make me quite angry with their fine details and line work. The guy is obviously some kind of genius.

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Four Calling Birds

So I asked him about all this in a vain attempt to get a shortcut into that kind of skill – but the old adage remains I guess – talent takes time…

 

Hi Ieuan – how do you get your work SO DAMN INTRICATE?

Thank you! Good (sharp) tools, good light, a steady hand, my new reading glasses, a decent playlist and enough time to enable me to get in ‘the zone’.

I’m really keen to try to emulate authentic textures in my work and often only start with a very basic drawing on the lino, letting the tools find their own way. So the intricate marks suggesting a bony texture on one of my skull pieces won’t have been drawn beforehand, they’re made by experimenting with different sizes and shapes of cutting tool.

A lot of my work is printed in reduction from one piece of lino, with some carved away between successive colour layers, so accurate registration is a key concern. My favourite registration method involves pins and tabs, using the brilliant kit produced by Termes Burton.

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Lewis Merthyr Winding Gear

How did you first get into printing?

Like many others, I recall a fairly joyless linocut project in art class at school – blunt tools, crumbly brown lino and a teacher who clearly didn’t respect the medium – and the thought of printing didn’t really cross my mind again until 2012 when I picked up a starter kit.

I’d been painting pretty unsuccessfully for a few years and felt I needed a change. I realised quite quickly that I’m a printmaker at heart and I haven’t looked back.  I’m not a “completer/finisher” by nature, so the fact there are a number of discrete processes associated with making prints – and I can have a number of projects running concurrently, each at a different stage – fits my natural mental state!

stag-beetle

Stag Beetle

What’s your printing set up?

I work from a home studio. I have a Blue Boy book press I use for smaller prints or for quickly proofing or trying out ideas. When it’s time to pull out the big guns I turn to my etching press, a converted vintage clothes mangle and probably my favourite ever eBay purchase.

In addition, a couple of months ago I picked up a Print Frog from the Iron Frog Press folks over in Dallas. It’s a baren made from a single piece of blown glass and I’ve enjoyed using it so much that my presses are currently lying dormant. I’ve had other barens in the past, but this thing takes printing by hand to a new level and it’s a beautiful object.

Are you in the lucky position of working with printing for a living in any way, or is it purely a free time thing?

I sell prints through a number of channels – face-to-face at art fairs, through gallery shows and online. I’ve sold work to corporate clients and have been lucky enough to pick up some interesting commissions, including album covers, greetings cards and work for interior design schemes in pubs and restaurants. It’s by no means enough to justify going full time but I’d like to think I’m heading in that direction.

mari-lwyd2

Mari Lwyd 2

Do you have any professional or academic print training?

No, other than the joyless experience at school…

Who are your printing influences?

Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden are the first to come to mind in terms of their design prowess and their technical chops. I’d hope that some of my starker monochrome work demonstrates my fondness for the heartbreaking work of Kathe Kollwitz.

I also enjoy the naive and natural style of Elwin Hawthorne from the East London Group and I’d happily devote an entire room to Billy Childish (donations accepted!).

Other contemporary favourites include each of the folks below me in this blog (particular shout to Mat Pringle) and other stars to look out for on social media include Ann Lewis, Richard Wells and Nick Wonham.

What other mediums do you work in?

This is it for the moment, I have way too much ink stockpiled to consider other avenues.

What paper and ink do you favour?

Somerset Satin 300g and Lawrence’s linseed relief ink. Oil based inks are notoriously difficult to clean up, which can put people off, but this stuff is a breeze with a dash of vegetable oil and washing up liquid.

silvery-moon

Silvery Moon

Colour is used very sparingly in your work…

Well, I’m still learning, having only been at this for a few years, and my confidence with colour is growing. I’m planning some larger pieces at the moment which promise to expand my palette.

Do you think relief printing is for everyone?

Absolutely. Cost and space aren’t barriers to getting started with printing on the kitchen table and there are a number of great starter packs out there, as well as a variety of soft cutting surfaces for beginners.  Tools need to be sharp so I’d suggest a hand guard to avoid punctured fingers, at least to begin with.

 

So there you go. Ieuan has a solo show planned for 31st May to 7th June, at the York Street Gallery in Ramsgate – tentatively called “Well Impressed”.

And if you want to buy buy buy some of his work, or commission him to print all over your house or pub, get thee sharpish over to the Black Gold Press page, HERE.

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Ieuan signing a print of his which is on the sail of a boat – of course!

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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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Boom

 

Jeremy Speck: “Printmaking should be about being part of a community”

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Fig & Jug

Colour was the first thing that struck me about printmaker Jeremy Speck’s work. You could say it smacked me in the face. It was bold, but somehow subtle too. And it seemed to come from a just forgotten era, but at the same time one that was much more classical than that. And that was before I even looked at all his dancing shapes.

Jeremy works largely in the abstract form (and I think I like these best), but he also covers still life, across both relief and screenprinting. What’s key is that he manages to be more than just a composite of a list of impressive influences, leading to works with a bounce of their own – they look fun, like the kind of prints you’d invite to a party.

In addition, he runs courses and exhibits regularly, and recently undertook a project to print a series of work on 20cm square boards. And I love nothing more than a self-imposed restrictive project, so I spoke to him about all this and more…

 

Hi Jeremy. Colour seems paramount in your prints, especially with the abstracts – so how much experimentation goes into this?

Hardly any really, as I tend to work instinctively when it comes to colour – which is why I probably end up using the same colours quite a lot. Weirdly, sometimes the colour is chosen because the ink is easier to work with (I love the ‘feel’ of yellow ochre when it’s rolled, so that turns up a lot). I do lean towards a mid-century palette, but I also seem to be quite fond of the 70s with oranges and yellows!

henri

Henri

Can you remember when you first started printing?

The first linocut I ever made was on a printmaking evening course at Somerset College, about 12 years ago. It was of a lizard and I made the classic lino error of going around the whole image with the tool as if it was a pencil, creating the white line outline. When I teach the lino course at Double Elephant in Exeter I always keep this memory fresh as it’s the classic mistake people make if they’re used to drawing – don’t treat your tool as a pencil! Having said that, I now use the white line quite a bit, but now it’s deliberate!

Do you have any formal art training?

Not really. I did a short course at Northern Print Studios way back in the late 90s and then an evening course at Somerset College for a few weeks in about 2003. Other than that it’s been trial and error and studying other people’s work. In fact, when I run printmaking courses in linocutting I urge people to spend as much time as possible trying to figure out how other printmakers have made their work, how they achieved an effect or a mark.

Of course, Double Elephant Print Workshop, a members’ open access print workshop in Exeter, has been invaluable in providing access to equipment and a community of other printmakers. Without them I doubt I would have persevered, at least not on the scale I have!

Which print artists influence you?

The first ‘proper’ linocutter (as opposed to artists who dabbled in it) who fascinated me was Edward Bawden – more for his technical abilities than anything else. Of course, it’s hard not to be influenced by Angie Lewin and other contemporary linocutters, who are the inheritors of Bawden.

My favourite printmaker is actually Peter Green, whose relief and stencil abstracts are a joy, and we own more of his prints than anyone else. Another fantastic contemporary lino artist is Michael Kirkman, who seems to be influenced by Hockney and Bawden, but is wrestling the medium away from its sometime twee subject matter.

The artist I return to when I need to recharge my create batteries is Ben Nicholson as you can’t go wrong with circles and squares, although having just come back from the Abstract Expressionist exhibition at the Royal Academy I’m reacquainting myself with their prints through the superb book by David Acton – The Stamp of Impulse: Abstract Expressionist Prints.

What was the thinking behind the Twenty Twenty series?

Mostly it was practicality. I like my abstracts to be square, probably because that stops you seeing it as a landscape, and my home press is most efficient when printing at this size. They were mostly experimental, and I liked the idea that they were a series with nothing in common other than the size and the fact that they were abstracts. A couple worked really well as images but most didn’t, although the ones that sold best were the ones I didn’t think worked very well, so what do I know!

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Untitled

What wood do you use to print on?

Printing on wood is fun, but it has to be flat, so it tends to be plywood. Registration is also an issue, so my prints on wood tend to be monoprints where the plate and the wood are attached throughout the whole printing process. A couple of these are to my mind the best linocuts I’ve ever done, but I doubt anyone else would agree. There’s something about them being objects rather than pictures that really appeals, something Ben Nicholson also did, painting abstracts on boxes and pieces of wood.

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Witham

How do you go about preparing for exhibitions?

I’m a bit rubbish at trying to get exhibitions – in fact, I rely on Open Studios and the odd art boot fair to sell work. Gallery commission makes selling prints at a reasonable price very difficult, also the logistics of getting work delivered and returned, then framing – all these things cost.

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

As mentioned, I mostly print at Double Elephant in Exeter as they have a beautiful Albion Press (purchased from the Slade) that’s always a thrill to use, as well as a range of rollers. However, most of my traditional lino landscapes and still life work is done on my home press in my ‘studio’ (a couple of old police cells in my house, which is an old police station). The advantage of this is that I can be a lot subtler with the pressure, the disadvantage is the restriction in size.

What inks/paper do you use?

I’m a big fan of Hosho paper, an affordable and very robust Japanese paper that gives a lovely warmth to the finished print. I also love Somerset as it takes the ink into the weave of the paper. Other than that I use good quality cartridge paper.

My ink is usually linseed oil-based as the colours are more robust, but it tends to be what you’re used to, printmakers are creatures of habit!

Do any man-made things ever inspire your prints?

Not directly, but I’ve become increasingly fascinated by texture and contrast since taking up printmaking. Everything I see is constantly being assessed for its suitability as a linocut or print. In other words, could it be rendered into shapes and restricted to three colours!

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OMD

What other mediums do you work in?

I’ve recently become interested in screenprinting, which to my mind is the closest other medium to linocutting in that you are working with layering flat colours and shapes. I was becoming quite frustrated with my inability to make truly spontaneous marks with lino, and wanted to explore a more painterly approach to printmaking, so I turned to screenprinting. I can work faster and more intuitively using this medium, but it does lack the intimacies of carving a lino.

Would you urge anyone to have a go with linocutting?

I certainly would. In fact, I’d urge them to come on one of my courses! Actually, in all seriousness I would really encourage anyone who fancies having a go to locate your nearest print workshop and enrol on a course as you’ll not only learn valuable techniques but also a huge amount from the other course participants and workshop members. Printmaking’s not (just) about being stuck in your artist’s garret, it should also be about being part of a community of other printmakers.

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Lapwings Over Lincolnshire

 

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For more information about Jeremy’s work and courses, visit his website HERE, and do follow him on that there twitter too…

Nick Morley: “Linocut is a very democratic medium…”

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Whenever you search for linocut or printing in one of the many social media pages, or google it or whatever it is the kids do nowadays, there’s one name that comes up again and again – Nick Morley, aka Linocut Boy.

Here’s someone who has his fingers in practically all the printing pies – from running studios, teaching the medium, blogging, and this year, writing a great book about the artform itself (Linocut for Artists & Designers).

I had hoped to speak to Nick about the work he does in promoting linocut some time ago, but due to a series of staggeringly inept moves on my part, it never came to be – until this very week, when I eventually got through to the right address and Nick replied immediately. Goal!!

So, here we go – an insight into the world of linocut done the right way. Hard work sure, but a way of life I think all amateur printers dream of if they’re honest. But for Nick, it’s become a reality…

 

When did you first start linocutting?

My mum had a set of cutters and a roller from when she was a girl but I didn’t know what to do with them. I made one cut of a scarecrow on my foundation course, but I didn’t get into it properly until a couple of years after I finished my degree. I was doing a project on the first space tourist and I wanted to make some prints that looked like Soviet posters.

Did you like it from the get-go?

No, I found it frustrating at first. I couldn’t get a clean line and I didn’t really understand what was possible with coloured inks, rather than just black. I was making very crude typographic designs. Once I got the hang of using the tools it got easier, and finding the right paper/ink combination was crucial.

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What other linocut artists, either modern or olde worlde, would you recommend people take a look at?

All the artists featured in my book, but especially AGUGN, an artist from Indonesia who makes really complex and colourful works which are nonetheless playful and fun. He works with a lot of limitations in terms of space and materials but is really ingenious and inventive in finding solutions to problems. He makes his own paper and his really large works are made up of smaller panels that fit together. Historically I like Albrecht Durer, Thomas Bewick, Posada and Ulisse Aldrovandi, although they mostly worked with wood.

I also have a small collection of Russian linocuts made for children in the 1970s and 80s which were produced for a mass market. I know very little about this tradition and would like to research it some more. They’re very strange – almost surreal – and look like they were carved very quickly so they have a real energy.

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What kind of formal art training do you have – do you work in other mediums?

I did a BA in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University. I also took a number of printmaking classes after I graduated, working alongside other artists at East London Printmakers for ten years. As well as prints on paper I make artist’s books and I use screenprinting and letterpress in a lot of my work. I’m starting to get back into oil painting too, which I’ve dabbled with all along. The directness of oil paint is a nice contrast to the processes of printmaking, and you can change things you don’t like very easily, so you can be more spontaneous.

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Is linocutting a full time job for you now?

I run Hello Print Studio in Margate, teach workshops around the country and in Italy and I take on commissioned illustration work when it comes along. Most of it revolves around linocut but I’m not actually cutting lino every day.

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One of Nick’s covers for the BFI.

You’ve always seemed very keen to promote the linocut medium – why’s this?

I really love it as a medium and I think it’s underestimated by a lot of artists because they had a negative experience of it at school. In fact, there are loads of great artists using linocut in different and new ways. I want to help give people the right information so they can get started in the right way, and not give up through frustration.

Linocut is a very democratic medium because it’s cheap and easy to do at home, which appeals to me. All you need for printing is a wooden spoon, although having a press will enable you to do more.

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Have the uninitiated been responsive to the medium?

There’s a big interest in linocut right now, especially in illustration. If you walk into any bookshop you’ll see linocut covers. There’s also a big group of people who want to take it up as a hobby or start their own line of greetings cards or whatever. People who come on my workshops have usually done a little bit at school and they’re amazed by what’s possible. By and large they go home enthused and keen to continue.

Would you urge anyone to get into linocutting?

Yes, but it takes practise and you won’t master it immediately. I’ve been doing it for nearly 15 years and I’m still learning! If you have an impatient temperament or you want instant results, it’s maybe not for you. But if you enjoy problem solving, using your hands and taking your time over things you could find yourself hooked.

What sort of printing set up do you have?

I’m very lucky, being part of Resort Studios in Margate, where I run Hello Print Studio. It’s a beautiful space with huge windows and high ceilings. Over the last five years I’ve built up a collection of presses and other equipment which I share. The public can also hire the facilities on Wednesdays.

We’ve just upgraded our etching press so you can now print up to 80x120cm. We also have facilities for screenprinting, etching and letterpress. I pretty much have everything I need now, but one day I hope to own an Albion press.

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What inspires your prints?

Old photos, interesting stories and characters, old magazines and newspapers. I’m making an ongoing series of cowboy prints at the moment. I’m interested in man’s relationship with nature, how he tries to control it and understand it.

I’m also fascinated by human behaviour, cultures and traditions around the world – the ways we’re different and yet the same.

Do you ever get ‘printer’s block’?

Yes, sometimes for months on end. At these points I like to look back at old drawings in my sketchbooks and see if there is anything of interest. Sometimes I find things I can’t remember drawing.

I also like to work in series, this releases some of the anxiety about what to do next. The older I get, the more I try to accept that nothing I make will be perfect and it’s better to just get on with making stuff.

When the idea for your book first take shape?

I’ve been writing a blog for years and I was approached by Crowood Press to write a printmaking book. I suggested I just make it about linocut, and they agreed.
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Is it instructional, historical, or just a collection of sweet prints?

I hope it’s both instructional and inspirational. It contains information on materials and equipment, how to carve and print and a whole load of other stuff like framing and printing on fabric.

It has step-by-step projects for the reader to try and is illustrated with examples of my work and that of other artists and designers from around the world. The history section is very short – I’m thinking if there is another book in me it will be a history of linocut.

Is it a book for established printer or beginners, or both?

It’s aimed at all levels. It starts with the basics but covers some more unusual ways of working, like printing on ceramics, lasercut lino and printing with a steamroller. The feedback I’ve had from my readers so far has been overwhelmingly positive, which makes the three years it took to write worthwhile.

Presumably it would make a very nice Christmas present?

Yes, but I’d personally prefer chocolate please.

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For more information go here for the book and much more, and here for workshops or to order prints and ting.

Richard Shimell: “The theatre of cutting, inking and revealing the print gives you so much…”

 

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Beech

Since I started printing I’ve realised mine and others’ prints seem to come from the things that surround us.

For me, living in a city, that’s largely been slogans, goofy pictures from old books, themes of the drudgery of the workplace and whatnot.

But for printmaker Richard Shimell, who lives down in the West Country, the art comes from a more natural place than that, and yes, it’s a beautiful one too. Many of his works have that quality of making the viewer do a double-take – “whaaa, that’s not a photo?” – while others have a graphic edge, with colours that suggest the landscapes that inspired them perfectly.

I approached him for a few comments on printing and his techniques, and was delighted when he took time to respond.

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Field Pattern

Can you remember when you first started linocutting?

I was new to art and printmaking when I joined a workshop in Devon in 2010. I don’t use lino much – preferring vinyl flooring.

Which print artists influence(d) you?

I love the reduction linocuts of Ann Lewis and Ian Phillips, both in North Wales, as well as Monique Wales and William Hays in the US. But I’m also very involved with the work of other printmakers in Devon whose work I sometimes follow from conception to completion.

You mention on your site that your surroundings influence your work too…

I’m lucky enough to live in the Dartmoor National Park, in a wooded valley with moorland just up the hill. I do a lot of walking and just catch those moments – like sun on bleached grass and bracken against a dark sky, or a line of trees silhouetted by brightness behind. In the hinterland of the moor there are also many old and stately specimen trees, particularly oaks, in fields of pasture.

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Two Oaks

Can you tell me a little bit about your printing set up – I’m guessing you’re not a bedroom printer?

I have a separate small room as a studio, with a Hawthorn press. It was a bedroom when we moved in, now it’s not! I’m limited for space and really need to raise the inking area so it doesn’t give me backache. It’s not ideal, but better than a lot of people have. It’s a mess, but I know where everything is.

How did you discover that you could use flooring linoleum?

It’s flooring vinyl, not lino, which I discovered at Dartington Printmakers’ Workshop when I started printmaking. It was what I started using and I’m still going with it.

What inks/paper do you use?

I use Caligo Safewash inks, as well as some true oil inks for metallic colours – silver and gold. I mostly use Somerset paper, which is made at St Cuthbert’s Mill in Wells. I started with Somerset Velvet white, but now prefer brilliant white, as it changes the colours less.

Presumably you would urge anyone to have a go with linocutting?

I think most forms of printmaking, but especially relief, are excellent for people new to art and making stuff. The whole theatre of it – cutting, inking, revealing the print – gives you so much, so much more quickly. It’s as if you immediately get a style from the medium. If you’d never drawn and drew something, it wouldn’t look as interesting/satisfying as a linocut version, in my opinion.

Do any man-made things ever inspire your prints?

Yes – particularly colours, textiles and ceramics.

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Red Field

Your colours look perfection to me – how much time goes into working them out? 

Thank you – but I’ve never worked out colours fully and hardly ever do tests. I tend to just jump in with an idea – if it doesn’t work, I try something else.

What other mediums do you work in?

I’ve dabbled with collographs and drypoints, and also keep plodding on to improve my drawing. I’ve tried painting, but so far I just don’t bond with it.

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For more information on Richard’s work, check out his site, and for details of the Dartington Printmakers Workshop, head over here.