During the lockdown, we produced a series of blogs - conversations with some of our tutors about 'How to Have a Go at Home' with various crafts. Students dived in with questions on live Facebook chats. We published the whole series at the end of May but it's nice to reflect on a few of these again now we are back. It's still great to have a go at home!
Q to Karen - How did you first get into printmaking?
My first proper experience of printing was at art college on my foundation course – there was a lovely new printing dept full of big scary presses and the smell of oil-based ink.
I’d never really done any printing before (potato printing doesn’t count!) and this was a whole new world to me – and I loved it. I loved the process of making the plates; the unpredictability of the actual inking and printing and the fact you could make multiple copies and play with the image. I was totally hooked and tried out all sorts of techniques – I’ve never really specialised in any particular one – just weaned out those that are too messy, toxic or long-winded for my liking.
Q to Karen - Can I have a go at home, and as a beginner where should I start? Which form of printing would you suggest?
There are so many forms of printing and lots of them don’t need a press or a lot of specialist equipment. When I run workshops I try wherever possible to use materials and techniques that can be done at home. A lot of my materials are everyday things such as polystyrene pizza bases, juice cartons, Tiramisu containers etc (there’s a lot of eating & drinking involved in my work!). Techniques such as linoprinting, monoprinting and stamping are really easy to do at home and combine well with paint, collage and mixed media.
Q to Karen - is your diet based around your need for printmaking supplies??
Definitely - I'm living on pizza and family sized tiramisu! All in the name of art of course! 😄
Q to Karen - Can you recommend a starter kit and suppliers?
If you want to do something specific like linoprinting there are some good kits on the market by Essdee ranging from around £12 (very basic) to around £30. You can also buy rollers, tools and printing inks separately from a number of suppliers (listed below).
For mixed media printing you can use all sorts of things – anything fairly flat that you can apply printing ink or paint to and take an impression such as foam, polystyrene, textured wallpaper, leaves etc. I use acrylic paints combined with block printing medium (to keep it wet for longer) and apply it with a sponge or roller for this. You can get most of the materials from Amazon. Specialist printing suppliers such as Handprinted.co.uk and Intaglioprintmaker.com are great and for more general supplies as well as printing materials Great Art is fantastic. They all have online and phone ordering.
Q to Karen - I have been trying my hand at linocutting. I don’t have a press and I have been burnishing by hand. I have upgraded my inks, which has produced better results, but I am still finding it hard to get consistency across the whole plate. Some patchy areas even though it looks as though I have applied the ink evenly to the roller. Any tips?
I do all my linoprinting by hand with a dessert spoon and use Caligo relief inks which are oil based but water soluble - they give really consistent results. Also, try different papers - Hosho is lovely to print on - hope that helps.
Q to Karen - Can you recommend any good books on the subject?
The Instant Printmaker by Melvyn Petterson, Printmaking & Mixed Media by Dorit Elisha, Learning Linocut by Susan Yeates, Making Collagraphs by Susie Mackenzie – these are some of my favourites.
Q to Karen - As my own work is quite expressive I would be interested in knowing which printing techniques lend themselves to this way of working
For painterly expressive work monoprints are a great technique....you can be really free with them and layer up to create the desired effect.
Q to Karen - Which printmakers have most influenced you and why?
As far as influences - so many fantastic printmakers out there but probably Mark Hearld is my absolute favourite (the hanging bird is shamelessly influenced by him! He produces amazing prints and mixed media work, quirky and full of life and character. But there are dozens more whose work I admire. To narrow it down I’d say my favourite printmakers are Colin Moore for his stylised coastal linocuts; Anita Reynolds who walked the south-west coastal path and documented it in a series of prints, painting and drawings.
Q to Karen - Do you have to be good at drawing to do this?
No not really. There are lots of printmaking methods which don't require drawing skills, and you can always trace a picture too! It's not cheating, as you are making art
Q to Karen - I would like to print on a prepared surface. Is watercolour or acrylic the best medium?
I'd say acrylic is probably the best base to work on - it's waterproof so won't move if you need to damp the paper and you can print on it with both oil and water based inks.
Q to Karen - What type of work are you doing during the lockdown?
The potential to work is there but a lot of my time has been spent in the garden!! The weather has been too good to miss☺️😀. I’ve also spent a lot of time getting to grips with technology in a big way – webcams, FB, emojis, Zoom – you name it I’ve been learning it!
And we know how well Karen has now done with technology - she is now running some wonderful courses for ardingtonacademy.com on printmaking! We hope you can join us on one of these and then you will know all about how to have a go at home!
Liam has a relaxed and creative teaching style and likes to spend one to one time with his students. There is music playing in the background and it adds the right ambience for an Autumn workshop. “Music is so important to the creative process” Liam confides. It doesn’t stop the conversation though – students and tutor maintain a constructive dialogue throughout the day, comparing papers, linens, inks and techniques.
All of the students on today’s workshop have discovered and developed new ways of working in monoprint – with and without a press. With each design, Liam has given them tips and advice to enhance and develop the artistic outcomes further. They are all lost in their designs when I come into the room; some at the press and some at their workstations. Some holding up plates to the light to inspect the colour and some arranging pieces of foliage or collage onto new printing plates. As Liam asks the class to join him in another demo, they come together to watch the next technique as a group and leave their current solitary creations alone for a while.
“Mono-print is almost like a build up to something bigger – a testing ground for future designs on fabrics and heavy archival papers, although some artists use mono-print as an art form in its own right” Liam explains. “The workshop today is all about creating an experimental body of work. Then it’s up to each student how they take it forward”.
Jessica Rose now divides her professional time between teaching and art (and the occasional cat!). She is a classic example of someone who has decided to embrace creativity not just for pleasure but as a profession too. She spent much of her early career as a journalist and then decided on a full time career change eight years ago to an artist. She has not looked back.
While Jess is an accomplished watercolour artist, and uses this medium a lot in her work, the call of print has never really left the journalist in her. This time however, she is on the other side, not producing copy to go into print, but producing art in print herself. This interest was sparked through learning to print at secondary school. She was lucky enough to have one of those inspirational and dedicated art teachers who spent quality time with students. This teacher was the first person that showed her how to take a complex process through from start to finish, hazards and all. She found herself playing around with dangerous chemicals, acid, naked flames, dust and hot wax at an early age. Jess comments “I’m not sure health and safety rules would be so tolerant these days!”
Jess talked me through the etching process today, like she used in the The Globe piece above, and it’s very specialised. Etching was originally invented to decorate suits of armour. It wasn’t long before artists, like Rembrandt for example, caught onto it. He became a master etcher. Many people are quite surprised to learn that Rembrandt’s fame and international reputation came from the work he produced through the etching process, not painting. As the 20th Century developed then many artists took up some type of printmaking - Picasso for example.
Jess explains that there are not too many print makers in UK compared with other countries. In the US, printmaking is more accepted as a fine art discipline, but less so in the UK. However, there are some printmaking methods that provide a quick and fun method to reproduce your own art. Linocut is one of these techniques, and one which Jess teaches. She explains just how accessible it is and if you need more evidence of its value, then check out Picasso’s work at the British Museum.
Jess is a talented watercolourist too. Pet portraits are a large part of Jess’s work and are great fun. She loves rescue animals – especially being around lots of cats through her work in a cat rescue centre. “They make really popular presents and whilst I often work from photos, I do try and meet the pet if I can. I want to try and capture the character.”
Laura was in residence at Ardington School last weekend teaching Japanese Woodblock printing to a group of very enthusiastic students. Laura’s courses are almost always booked up months in advance, and this pays testament to her reputation as a teacher. One student said to me ‘what a privilege it is to be here – Laura is so professional and talented’.
What is Japanese Woodblock printing?
Japanese Woodblock is a water based printing technique that takes practise and a real feel for the materials. It uses watercolour paint with all the demands that particular medium brings; most prints are a build-up of many layers, all of which have to work. That said, the results are enchanting and it is a true table-top method: no press and no nasty chemicals. You get to use some exquisite hand-made Japanese papers too. You can read more about the entire process on Laura’s website.