Pen Pals

Printmaking can be something of a lonely art. I often spend days where the only communication shared is me yelling ‘Oh for God’s sake’ when Radio Four’s afternoon play turns out to be yet another cheering tale of redundancy, terminal illness and relationship angst. This makes it all the more marvellous when I get to meet other printers. I’m delighted to be able to share a couple of pictures by a printmaker and illustrator I met down in Margate. He’s called Alan Burton and he’s the only other printmaker I’ve met so far who draws directly onto the lino in dip pen to give the image it’s quality of line.

Left: Pineapple and Lime.                 Right: Let’s fall in love

Dip pen and ink have always been my weapons of choice. I went to an infant’s school run by two sisters, Miss Bradley and her younger sister Miss Sylvia (those of you who read Victorian novels will appreciate that they hadn’t really embraced the twentieth century), we wrote with dip pen and I longed to be the ink monitor who filled the ink wells from a large glass bottle of weak blue ink. Later I progressed to spiky little mapping pens which could be bought in the stationery shop at my boarding school along with little bottles of black ink. Later still my future mother-in-law took me to a shop near the British Museum* where we bought boxes of assorted antique pen nibs and I have been using these ever since. When I began working full time as an artist a few years ago, my brother-in-law bought me a huge bottle of Indian Ink, finally fulfilling my ink monitor fantasies…

detail from my block showing pen and ink drawing with some cutting

Using pen and ink direct onto lino is a great way of working if you, like me, print with oil based inks. Firstly it stays on the block, good naturedly ignoring repeated washings with white spirit, and secondly it makes where to cut a no-brainer. It gives such a lovely line that the drawing does all the work for me: I just chop out the blank parts. Alan and I stood locked in the mutual pleasure of finding a fellow sympathiser. Why, we wondered, didn’t everyone work like this and why, I wondered, didn’t I get out more?

*Not Cornelissen. If I didn’t still have the nibs, I would have difficulty in believing the shop I bought them from ever existed. Sadly it is long gone, along with the elderly proprietor and the wall to ceiling little wooden drawers.

4 thoughts on “Pen Pals”

  1. Have just found your website and this blog – very interesting and inspiring. Just starting out with Japanese woodblock printing – intriqued with your experiments combining with linocut – looking forward to experimenting

    Love your work and the clear translucent colours

    1. Hi Suki, just doing a lino and woodblock print. You can find me on facebook at Laura Boswell Printmaker – it’s where I post my hints and tips etc and I’ll be posting on it there – Laura

  2. Nice prints! & thanks for being open about methods and materials.

    Cornellisen actually took on the pen shop when the elderly proprietor couldn’t afford the rent any longer, and gave him a wall in their shop for a few years. He’s no longer there, but I think they’re still selling his stock. When I discovered his shop I wanted to go back and photograph it and talk to him so I could write an article about it. Sadly, it never happened.

  3. Pleasant prints! and a debt of gratitude is in order for being open about techniques and materials.

    Cornellisen really went up against the pen shop when the elderly proprietor couldn’t bear the cost of the lease any more, and gave him a divider in their shop for a couple of years. He’s no longer there, yet I believe regardless they’re offering his stock. When I found his shop I needed to backpedal and photo it and converse with him so I could compose an article about it. Tragically, it never happened.

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