What goes around comes around…

I spend a lot of time on social media and on my web site telling people all about what I do and how I do it. I’m quite happy, indeed enthusiastic, in sharing knowledge. I am very pleased to share. My family and non-printmaker friends will tell you how pleased I am. They’d just roll their eyes and look exhausted while doing so.

I’m not alone in this. I have just visited two paint and printing ink manufacturers to interview for the podcast. They are going to be long episodes. Far from wanting to control the podcast around promoting products, both companies revelled in sharing ideas, methods and helpful hints. Both challenged artists to get in touch; ‘the harder the questions the better’.

Sharing techniques and materials has never been a problem for me. Printmaking is very process-led and that means plenty of lovely tools, materials and methods to share. Aside from that, I feel a debt of gratitude to people who helped me along the way. Passing on my knowledge to others is simply keeping the chain of generosity intact as I go from novice to experienced printmaker. I believe generosity in the art world is pretty common, here are a few of my experiences.

I’ll start close to home with my in-laws. My lino tools were given to me to take to art school by my now mother-in-law and former illustrator Sal, whose father James Boswell used them for his own prints and for illustration jobs of all kinds.

My mother-in-law Sal painted by her dad James Boswell . I love this painting, she’s less keen.

They are beautiful professional tools that she entrusted to her son’s 18 year old girlfriend of a year who was about to vanish over the horizon to Aberystwyth University, possibly never to be seen again.

Paul Hogarth, the illustrator, who I met in passing and who took time out to chat and to tell me exactly how hard I would need to work and how much passion was needed to become an artist. It took me many years to realise how sensible and realistic he was and to see how much he didn’t need to waste time with a twenty-something shilly-shallying between a paying job and trying to make it as an artist, but he did so anyway.

Old Mr Lawrence of Lawrence Art Supplies who apparently had all the time in the world to discuss Japanese papers and printing inks in his shop in Bleeding Heart Yard and who treated me like a serious artist when I was anything but.

Ian Phillips, linocut printer and member of Pine Feroda, who told me (when I began printmaking in earnest in 2005) to stop thinking of myself as a woman with a shed and a hobby, to grow up and start behaving like printmaker with a studio and has given me endless helpful advice ever since.

The list goes on, but I am sure you get my point. What goes around comes around and I’m very happy to be a part of that process.

This week on the Ask an Artist Podcast we are celebrating Christmas by discussing the many ways of giving back to other artists, the local community and to our supporters. The podcast is released weekly on Fridays at 10am GMT

Laura Boswell is not at home…

I am not good with heights or indeed with the wild outdoors. As a child of the city, I used to spend summers with friends in Lincolnshire. Daughters of a farming family, they were perfectly at home running wild all day with their father’s horses, up trees and lighting fires. I was not. I was unfit in almost every sense and, put up on the farmer’s expensive hunter, allowed her to run onto the main road before falling off and needing stitches. With the wisdom of age, I see that I was not the clumsy idiot I felt, just skilled in other ways. Navigating the tube with ease by ten and possessing a Londoner’s knack for jumping on and off moving buses. This was the seventies when kids were free to roam and, provided I had the sacred 2p for a phone call, a fair chunk of London was my playground.

Hoping I live long enough to turn this view into a print…

These days I work with landscape and you’d think I’d be better at being out there. Sadly, it isn’t true. I’ve just a couple of days drawing, first on the North Yorkshire Moors and then at St Abbs Head up in Scotland. The moors were everything you would expect from a Yorkshire December bar the snow, while St Abbs Head is a magnificent length of Scottish Coast: picture a rucked-up candlewick bedspread falling into the sea from a great height.

I’m fit enough these days, but not what I would call comfortable. You can see it in my urgent, ‘get me out of this weather and into some dry/warm clothes’ sketches. Add the dizzy plunges of St Abbs Head and I go from grumpily uncomfortable into properly scared. This part of the trip I alternated between a sort of locked-knee mincing walk and, anywhere near the edge, I opted for all fours or a sort of amateur commando elbow shuffle flat out. Nobody falls off a cliff lying down – am I right?

You’d think I’d give up landscape for bowls of roses and cityscapes, but my work is increasingly looking to wilder places and I think there’s probably good reason. It’s my discomfort and craven fear that makes these places so damn exciting for me and so much more productive for my printmaking. It’s the ‘hiding behind the sofa while thrilled by Doctor Who’ syndrome. Perhaps I’ll get happier at being out there, though probably not, but I’ll feel the fear and keep on going regardless.

This week on Ask an Artist podcast we discuss writing an artist statement. Funnily enough I don’t say anything about my clumsy and reluctant embrace of nature in mine, but then I think they’re best kept short.

Christmas Games

Christmas is looming so here’s a little game to play that’ll hopefully be more fun than reviving the annual bicker about a) who fed the cat/dog the most inappropriate treats and is now responsible for the subsequent fallout b) why all the hard/soft centres have vanished from the bottom layer of the chocolate box before the top one was empty c) whether a brisk post-lunch walk/drinks with the neighbours is a seasonal highlight/to be avoided at all costs.

For the game, you each choose three things from around the house that you have bought over the years and that have a special meaning for you. I’d love them to be pieces of art, but it’s not really that important. You could choose a soap dish, or maybe a wooden spoon. Or choose both and a piece of art, since I did say three things. Then each person gets to tell the stories behind their choices. Prizes for the best stories are optional and awards go to any object chosen by more than one member of the family. This should go well unless you choose the distressed leather recliner you bought at a car boot sale and have reclined in it throughout the clearing up post-dinner.

Gifts and inheritances aside, objects we buy that mean a lot to us tend to come with a story and, more often than not, it is about the moment when the object is found and bought. You’ll have just proved that with your warm and witty stories.

As an artist, I have a head start over the sellers of soap dishes and wooden spoons since people are buying my work as a pleasurable luxury. But it’s still in my power to make or break the experience. The trick for success is really simple and it’s to take the time to listen and respond to the customer with genuine interest and kindness. Customers when coaxed to tell, come with the first part of the story; the why of the purchase. Then I fill in the middle where they get to learn about the who, what and how. By the time the artwork gets home, it’s a purchase bound up with empathy plus a deeper understanding, and the whole experience becomes more than the sum of its parts. It may even become a winner in a Christmas game one day.

This week on the Ask an Artist podcast we are interviewing gallery owner and art dealer Nick Bentley about his gallery Bils and Rye and his customer and artist relationships. Listen out for his bittersweet story about a piece of jewellery and a special customer he’ll always remember.