Lino-cutting… Endings, and Beginnings

The last time I tried lino-cutting I was about fifteen, and spent an afternoon splicing up my fingers with half-blunt cutters (the cheap red ones), or having the cutter slip and slide over rock-hard lino, in a frustrating attempt to cut a design of a cat. I gave up, blaming myself rather than the tools. I’ve been put off the method for a long time since for two reasons.  Firstly, the medium instantly often stylises a piece so that it looks like it’s been done anytime between the 1930-60s. I love this period of art and printmaking, which is why I can’t bear the idea of being a poor imitation. So distinct is this style that it’s hard to be original in lino-cutting. Aside from the masters such as Edward Bawden, there’s a whole host of contemporary artists with styles that have built on the tradition. Most of them feature in one of my favourite galleries, St Judes, and its easy to be intimidated by the sleek graphic shapes of Paul Catherall, the complex colour layers of Angie Lewin or the fluid curves and freedom of Mark Hearld to name a few.  Secondly, I’ve also been reserved about trying it as the process seemed so tied up with design that it became removed from the act of drawing.

But last week I thought I’d try again, with just enough time to squeeze in one last experiment before I pack up my studio and get ready for our show. I’d enjoyed trying other types of printmaking so much that my dad kindly donated me an old Victorian bookpress which has sat in his shed for years. It came to him when working in a school, where it was previously used by a monk who taught there. I love the idea that it’s been used by at least two generations of printers before me, and who knows who else before.

In the spirit of all enthusiastic amateurs I taught myself, taking a drawing that I liked from the river (the current reconstruction of Blackfriars Bridge), and roughly re-drawing it with felt-tip pen onto a lino block before getting stuck in with a craft knife. On reflection, I should’ve spent as long designing my piece as I did cutting it (which it turns out, takes hours). But soon I was transfixed, and happily hunched over my table with the radio wittering away in the background, and it was blissful to cut, cut cut, without ever stopping to think. Here’s the first version.

I enjoyed it so much I thought I’d add another colour, and by simply counter-proofing a print onto another piece of lino I had the template for the second layer. I didn’t really plan how my Thames waves would work together, but just hacked away again. I chose red as Blackfriars Bridge is painted a juicy red, much like London’s telephone boxes and buses, as it felt that it could be a dawn or a sunset. Here’s the second.

And here they are together. I’ve yet to work out the details of what ink to use and how thick, and how to apply it let alone setting up the press and paper. But I’m pretty satisfied so far.

In other news, it’s the end of the Drawing Year. This means not one but two shows. We’ll be having a brief Open Studio at the Tea Building from the 16th to 21st September (details below) which’ll feature an amazing variety of work by our amazingly varied class. The second show is at the Prince’s Drawing School from 21st September to 21st October and will be mainly drawings (more details to follow). I really hope some readers can make it! If you’re able to and fancy saying hello in person, just contact me before and I’ll try and be there.

And what next for me? Well, good news all around. I’ll be staying at the school for another year to do part-time study. I have to leave my studio, but I’m excited about staying in east London and converting my garage into a studio for a while. In a few weeks I start a small bit of teaching drawing with groups of London teenagers at Kensington Palace. But mainly, I’m looking forward to taking stock of everything I’ve learnt on this busy year, and having the time and space to identify what art I really want to make for myself. I’ve received every kind of advice from an array of tutors, a never-ending supply of warmth and support from my parents, ceaseless encouragement from my friends, and a conveyor belt of cups of tea and smiles from my patient boyfriend… All I need now is some focus and self-discipline!