April 14th, 2014
11 things I’ve learnt from 4 years of printmaking
April 14th, 2014
I’m a self-taught printmaker really. I had a go at linoprinting and screenprinting briefly at school and university, but just as a box ticking exercise really to pass particular modules. At school I really loved painting, and at uni I much preferred working on screen. So when I decided to explore printmaking properly, about four years after graduating, I had some idea of what was involved, but now had none of the facilities and tuition that I would have had years earlier. I’ve gradually bought bits, experimented, and tried to crave out a little bit of professional printmaking from a spare room. Here’s some of the lessons I’ve learnt over the years.
1. You don’t have to spend the earth
You can spend hundreds of pounds on fancy equipment but printmaking doesn’t have to be expensive, especially when you first start out. I still use a homemade press made out of a scissor jack, which sits on top of an old tea chest. My drying rack was put together by my dad from bits of board and scrap wood, and I use old glass chopping boards to roll my ink out on. You can get very cheap ink, paper and rollers. These days I pay a bit more for better ink and paper, and have splashed out on a decent roller, but start cheap and you’ll know what works and what doesn’t – you can then pay a bit more for the things you think you’d like to pay more for. Essentially you can print using some old paint, and potato and some scrap paper – bargain!
2. Printmaking and brand new cream carpets do not mix
I’ve learnt this lesson from experience unfortunately. I use my parents spare room to print in. Not long after I started doing this they recarpeted the house in cream carpet. I walk my dirty ink rollers, lino and the like down the stairs to the kitchen so I can clean up, only on this particular day I’d trodden in black oil-based ink, and walked it around the entire house. Clever. Luckily, not only are my parents very cool people who didn’t freak out, the ink (by some miracle), came out with just a little bit of water. Phew. Now I check my feet every time I leave the room.
3. You will never always remember to print type the wrong way (or the right way?!)
I thought I’d be really clever when I eventually took the plunge to create a linoprint, and added some text under the picture. I KNEW it would need to be carved back to front to print properly. I’d read it before, I’d created other prints in the past and done it, but I still did it wrong. Luckily I could just cut the text off in this design. Since then I still do it occasionally. Considering I create lots of prints full of text, every time I do some experimental little try-out print I often muck up the text. There seems some inherent drive in me to do it wrong. Like chaos theory. But with ink.
4. Vegetable oil makes a great cleaner
After a few years of experimenting with every type of ink under the sun I found some great oil-based ink that make lovely strong, shiny, heavy blocks of ink. There’s just one problem, it so frickin hard to clean! It was advertised as easy to wash with soap and water – ha! They lie. I didn’t want to use anything like white spirit as I’m cleaning in a kitchen/diner, so after some internet research I discovered that vegetable oil works wonders, using a bit of oil and a rag. It still takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r, but much nicer than chemicals.
5. Books are a brilliant source of inspiration and knowledge
When I first got the printmaking bug I used the internet for tips, ideas and information, and don’t get me wrong – it’s a brilliant source of help and inspiration. But nothing beats some good, trusty, printmaking books. The above picture shows some of my favourites that have helped my over the years, which I started buying once I was sure my new thing would last longer than a fortnight!
6. Do what you love
It’s pretty obvious really but it is so important to do what you love when it comes to doing anything creative. When you’re trying to sell your work it can be tempting to create things you think will sell. This is great up until a point, when you realise that you don’t actually like the things people are buying, and then you lose all passion for what your doing. It’s a bit of a balancing act sometimes. Certainly if one of the pieces you like is really popular, create some others in a similar style, but I’ve learnt to not completely change style or subject to please a few buyers. If you love what you do, then someone else will too – you’ve just got to find them.
7. Experimenting is best
Every now and then I go a bit bonkers and do something totally new, just to have a go at doing things in a new way. I see what others are doing, find some tips online, try to recreate something that’s not a print, mix all my colours together, print all my cut linos on top of one another (I love doing this!). I accept that what I make will probably be rubbish and it can go in a big experimenting file rather than for sale. But sometimes I find ideas, colour combos, new ways of doing things that I can use in my next print. Plus, most importantly, it’s fun. And if I’m starting to feel a lack of passion (see number 7), then it’s a good way to get back on track.
8. There is a never ending amount of ink/paper/technique combinations. And everyone will say that theirs is the best
There’s lots to chose from in the way of ink and paper and techniques. I’ve bought so many different types of ink and still use different ones depending on what I’m doing or the mood I’m in. Trying to find out what ink is best is impossible, it depends on the paper, when you need it to dry for, do you want it to be a solid colour, is it a Tuesday… and so on. Some printmakers seem to swear by one particular paper and ink. Maybe I’m just not there yet?
9. You will need to wash your hands. A lot.
Oh man, after a day of printmaking by hands are dry! I’ve probably washed them about a hundred times. I try so hard to be neat and clean, and not get any ink on my hands so I don’t then transfer it to the print, especially important when I’m printing my greetings card – no one wants a big smudge of ink inside their card! Inevitably my hands end up covered so I have to go and wash it off before doing anything else. If I’m using oil-based ink half the time it won’t come off my hands, I just move it around. So if you buy one of my cards or prints, please take a moment to reflect on how many times I’ve had to go and wash my hands so you can get a spotless print! That’s commitment.
10. Not everything you create will be good. Or even OK.
Now this is very true. Sometimes I’ll start a print will a optimistic vision, and end it with tears. The above is an example that I didn’t even bother cutting, I mean, what’s that? Sometimes you just have to accept it. Stop it when it’s going wrong, re-plan, and re-do. It does work the other way round though, sometimes you think it’s going totally in the wrong direction and it ends up looking brilliant.
11. Most people probably won’t like your favourite print
Ignore them, they are probably wrong. One day it will be hailed as a masterpiece and will be hanging in the Tate. Trust me.