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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.