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…

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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.

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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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Wells Cathedral Arch reduction

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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Wells Cathedral Chapterhouse reduction 2

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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Chatperhouse

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.

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Bishop’s Palace multiblock

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

Rubbish that’s not rubbish at all

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Things fall apart. They get old and decrepit and lose their shine. Bits fall off, and you can see where they’ve been used over the years, with little marks and rubs that tell a history.

I love all those bits. With the possible exception of food and perhaps car engines, I’d much rather have an old knackered thing than a sparkly new logo emblazoned thing. Which is why I like looking in skips. The last time I did, I found this top demijohn…

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Look at that little noble swordsman there, on his gold background with his label all chipped and rubbed. Just magic. I knew I wanted to recreate it as a linocut print as soon as I saw it, and so I began thinking a reduction cut might be the best option.

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First, I had to clean up the demijohn (and I still love that word no matter how many times I type it). Then I took a picture of it and started sketching out the key components. I knew I somehow wanted the finished print to look as aged as the item it showed, so I left in loads of the marks and worn areas intentionally, with a view to carrying them through each stage of the print.

I’m not really a master of the reduction print yet, so I decided to work with just two colours/cuts – one of the background…

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And one of our hero in black to go on top…

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The main challenge was to get the registration right, of course, but also to make it so there was at least the illusion of the bottle curving, which I did by having those sort of white specks and curved lines going around the to right.

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After a lot of sweating and telling my cats to shoo, from a run of 30 I would be happy to put my signature on about 18-22. Which is a really good turn out for me.

So here’s the finished print a bit closer up. I work with Japanese ‘thin but tough’ Ho-Sho paper, and all of my prints are hand pressed, using cheap water-based ink like you get in school (cats, again).

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And here are some more of the small details…

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I’d definitely like to continue with this style of working. I think sometimes I’m guilty of trying to make prints look 100%, with no imperfections (usually failing). That’s also mildly impossible with a hand printing set-up.

And, that’s not what mine – or anyone else’s – life is like is it. If I wanted that, I’d do screen printing I guess.

 

Oh, and it’s available right here.

Keep it shoddy.

Hannah Forward: “The possibilities for experimenting feel endless”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…”

  

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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…

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

a quick peek in the sketchbook…

Hello! And a happy new year to you if I haven’t seen you already. Unlikely I know.

In between bouts of manflu and dispiriting attempts at printing, so far my saviour in 2017 has been collage. I did some boat pieces late last year which went ok, and even produced a few linocuts from them, and this year I’ve moved on to geometric forms, which come out all spacey and satellite-esque.

Anyways, here are the most recent four, if you’d care to see them, and even if you wouldnae….

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Absolute Balls

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Satellite Of Love

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Options

 

And then I had a go at colouring one in, but I wish I hadn’t as it didn’t really work and lots of the glue prevented the colour from taking, but I show you it here for reasons of completeness and full disclosure…

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Mirror Traffic Afternoon

Right, back to the bookshop.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

boats and ships, to infinity

This week I’ve taken a break from linocutting – one of the fiddliest hobbies mankind ever invented – to concentrate on a medium I loved dearly at school, collage. And as I’m now forced to recall, collage is in fact the fiddliest hobby mankind ever invented.

See what you think anyway. The theme I’ve gone with is ships and boats. Here’s the first one, which I’m most pleased with…

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And then here’s another one I did just this morning, which is a little bit less structured and perhaps a bit abstract. I started off trying to just adhere to horizontal and vertical lines only, but soon gave that up as the form took shape…

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They certainly took a while, but it was definitely good to get back behind the scissors after so long. Hope you like them.

And you can call me 15 Ton Derrick from now on.

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.

boom

Boom