The Price is Right

Well, I’ve done it. Prices for my prints are up on my website for all to see. It’s been surprisingly stressful. Not because I have been struggling with computer programming; that’s covered in my ‘programming for puddings’ initiative with my clever brother-in-law Simon (he’s ordered proper old fashioned steamed treacle pudding and custard this visit). No, rather it makes me feel a bit vulnerable somehow to stand up and be counted.

I’ve talked about pricing before and how I organise this. So why the angst? I think it’s because we artists are all feeling our way with unique products. I can look at pricing for other people’s prints, but we’re not comparing baked bean cans here. No, we artists have to say that X pounds, dollars or yen are what we are worth and I am as jumpy about undervaluing my work as I am about overvaluing it. All I can say is that I try to be fair: I do like heating in the winter, but I don’t expect it to be turned on by a housemaid.

There is another issue which must crop up for other artists going live with a shop and printmakers especially as we deal in multiples of the same image. What happens about your galleries when you are also selling direct? I’m going to be up front here and tell you how I’m handling it because I am rather proud of having made a few principled decisions (this from the girl who regularly broke into her school staff room to drink the coffee and read reports in advance. The teenager confused as to her age: ‘twelve please’ for the cinema’s child seats and well over eighteen for cider in the pub. The woman who, late one Christmas Eve working as a butcher’s assistant, helped to sell a white turkey as a bronze one by tinting the leg feathers with a marker pen.)

• My prints cost the same wherever you buy them
• If you see a print in a gallery and come to me, I will send you back to the gallery to buy
• If you fall in love with a print because you saw it previously in a gallery but later come to me, I will send a little cut back to the gallery as a thank you for the referral.

So please have a look at my gallery. Over the years I’ve had every sort of response from ‘You’re way too cheap’ to ‘Well, this is a total rip off!’ I don’t think either extreme is true, but now you can be the judge of that…

Triumph and Disaster

Observations on bamboo paper.

At Art in Action I met a chap called Chris from Hahnemuhle paper and was able to pester him about the bamboo paper his company makes.

I’ve gone on about paper before: in an ideal world I would be using traditional Washi paper for my watercolour Japanese woodblock printing. Unfortunately this mulberry bark paper is affordable in Japan, but quickly becomes unaffordable here. At the thickness and quality that I want, it would really be more economical to employ a Saville Row tailor to hand stitch fifty pound notes into printing paper.

So I thought that perhaps Hahnemuhle’s bamboo paper* was worth a go. Normally I use Fabriano, either Academia or Artistico (both 200g) depending on the size of my work. It works fine, but bamboo sounded so much more fun. Besides which, Chris was really kind and gave me a large pad for experimenting. Art in Action was in July and I have finally got around to giving it a go. I’m gutted: it doesn’t work. It really, really should work, but it doesn’t take the colour smoothly. This is akin to my disappointment over eating dhal: I love lentils, I love Indian food, but I somehow hate dhal. There’s something wrong with the world order somewhere…

However, there is a silver lining to the story. The bamboo paper, almost a thick card, takes the Intaglio oil based relief inks I use for linocut printing superbly well. For those who like the ease of oil based inks, but admire the matt quality of water based inks, this paper takes away the shine of the dry ink giving it a subtle sheen at most. The other really great plus is the reduced drying time. I do use a cobalt dryer to speed up ink drying, but the inks on this paper were dry within a couple of hours, allowing me to get two layers of oil based printing done within a working day. Coverage is good too, no extra inking, though as always I sanded the lino lightly before printing. It’s a great paper for a lush heavy matt print, though it will need a press.

I have also had a go with Fabriano rosaspina**, another heavy paper for printing with a slight feel of blotting paper. Not good for water based woodblock either: the same uneven inking as the bamboo. I ordered it because my mate Ian Phillips uses it for his marvellous hand burnished reduction lino prints (and because it so felt like the Washi I now realise was a rare and precious treasure that I walloped my clumsy way through in Japan). This also works really well for me with oil based inks using my Albion press with a matt finish similar to the bamboo. There is a note of caution though as the paper embosses with the normal pressure of the press. This will either work really well for your image or not, so factor that in. I couldn’t get a clean print without the slight emboss, but I have a dramatic winter scene in mind among other ideas where this characteristic will, I hope, be the making of the print.

Hahnemuhle bamboo paper 290g (90% bamboo 10%rag)

Fabriano rosaspina 285g (60% rag)

Ho, ho, ho

November: Tax return and printing my Christmas card, two things now looming large on my to-do list. Both of them are essentials to my business and I would suggest to most working artists, even if the tax return results in a sympathetic note of encouragement from the tax man and a large rebate.

The Christmas card is important to me as an opportunity for a bit of feel good publicity. As a printmaker I am in the perfect position to send out a hand pulled card which shows people exactly what I do and how well I can do it. Fact is that it is a chore. I don’t print editions of sixty for good reason: I find it boring and the more I print, the less faith I have in the image. There’s a tipping point which I almost reach every year where I trash the lot in a flurry of anxiety. Pragmatism prevails and I’m glad as most people seem perfectly delighted with the result and occasionally I stumble on one in an office or up on a friend’s wall and it all seems worthwhile.

I have three Christmas lists. Well, three in my head. Reality is one very confused and dirty piece of paper which I dig out every year and curse the fact that I haven’t written it all out nicely with proper addresses like I intended. The lists go: family, friends, and work. Not everyone gets a proper print. The beloved family do (probably thinking ‘not another damn print’), then the appreciative among friends (inducing rivalry as to who gets the highest edition number) and lastly work. I’m ruthless about the last one and I advise anyone planning this PR exercise to do the same. I only send them to current people: galleries where I’m exhibiting or will be exhibiting, suppliers who cut me some slack (quite a few of those, thank you), magazine and newspaper contacts etc. People go off the list, but may come back on again. Point is that I can only print so many and it’s an exclusive treat.

The other thing to do is to TELL people just what a treat they are receiving. I only have to look at the print to envisage three carefully aligned layers of colour cut from one lino block printed on decent paper standing at a heavy press. My audience doesn’t, so I tell them. I send the print flat in a card envelope with a nicely printed sheet saying Happy Christmas etc with a paragraph at the bottom explaining exactly how I’ve made the print and why.

After several years of this people start to have a collection and, as I hopefully get more important, they look forward to having a new one. They remember me with warm and fuzzy goodwill and that’s got to be a good thing hasn’t it?

Oh and I do truly want everyone to have a Happy Christmas, while I aim at a prosperous New Year

Touchy Feely

I use touch all the time. I must use my fingertips at least as much as my eyes when I am cutting my printing blocks. I depend on touch to tell me how to pack my press, the texture of my printing inks and the quality of my paper. It’s a hugely under estimated tool and one I am trying to get my students to rely on at every opportunity. It can be a whole new mine of information and if you don’t use it, you are missing out.

I was brought up to touch things. Where other mums would be shouting ‘hands off!’ mine would be telling me the best way to know things was by feel. I must have had clean hands in those days and some guidelines; I certainly never remember being in trouble for touching, but I learnt to do it carefully and with respect. Do please try it, though I don’t advise squishing peaches if the man you are buying them from has a cross face and his eye on you, or teaching your five year old the merits of cashmere after a visit to a chocolate shop.

Touch will tell you lots of things about printmaking, but it comes at the price of using your bare hands and not minding too much about details like nails and cuticles. Personally I am proud to have strong (stronger now I am nine sheets of ply into my latest commission) clever hands that tell a story of life lived and I wouldn’t like to be without their feedback.