Every profession must have its frequently asked questions and most of the ones I get asked are perfectly reasonable, along the lines of ‘How long does that take?’ or ‘What’s that white stuff?’ (The white stuff is the rice paste I combine with water colour paints for Japanese woodblock printing. I am thinking of perhaps having this tattooed, in gill sans, across the back of my hands. It would save a lot of time. Though perhaps it would lead to endless questions later in the care home at a time in life where I would have neither the energy nor patience to answer.) As a rule, I enjoy these questions and reaping the reward of passing on a bit of knowledge about my passion.
There are two schools of thought which are less fun. First is the assumption that there must be an easier way and that it is the job of the viewer to solve this problem for the artist. It’s usually meant in the kindest possible way, but most artists I know experience a barrage of suggestions which for me include ‘send the blocks to India to be cut, use a router/computer/laser cutter, use acrylic paint/fabric dye/different printing press/mangle’. As a species, we are instinct driven to want to solve problems. Though you might think, in twelve or so centuries, the Japanese would have ironed out most of the kinks in woodblock printing and that perhaps I, with a few years of experience, might have given some thought to the router/computer/laser/India question, people are only trying to help.
Secondly, and this is more serious, there are the comments about the time and effort taken. ‘Why do you make it so difficult for yourself?’ ‘I could never spend (waste) my time this way’ ‘Surely there’s a cheat, who would know?’ and, my all time favourite, ‘Don’t you have a television?’ I’ve asked a lot of my artist friends and most come up against this one in some form or another and it makes no sense to me.
If you look at it from the perspective that printmaking is my profession, that I expect to sell work to the public and that I take their money in exchange, then I wonder on what level I am wasting time in working to the best of my craft and ability? Why is an artist wasting their time in handling a process well, when in other professions this is expected and respected? Who wants a doctor who can’t be bothered to read the big books, who’d go to a concert where musicians left out the hard bits and who would buy food from a deli who thought food hygiene was an optional extra? The fact is that I can only do the work I do in the way that I do it and I choose to do it properly. It does take time, but I think that is a fair trade for people’s hard earned cash. I wouldn’t be happy cutting corners and my customers don’t deserve it.
It’s interesting that on the one hand we are questioned about ‘wasting time’ while on the other we are often seen as being ‘lucky’ to be artists with the suggestion that somehow it is not a real job. Surely that, for people who apparently spend most of our time languid on a chaise longue, we should be expected to do a proper hand’s turn when we do finally get going? I do wonder if there is any other profession out there where doing things properly is seen as a waste of effort and time? It’d be interesting to know if we’re alone in this…