Quick, quick, slow…

I’ve been teaching a lot recently, followed up by a week’s residency at a museum. All this has given me more exposure than usual to lots of people with their thoughts and opinions about printmaking. This of course coincided with a period when Radio Four actually seemed to be cheering up a bit with some more upbeat programming. (At least that is how it sounded as I twiddled the volume up and down in time to the arrival of visitors. Doubtless now I am back in the studio it will be a return to job loss, terminal illness and general all round middle class angst.)

This has resulted in the interesting and at times frustrating fact that on the one hand I have students who are excruciatingly hard on themselves for not managing to produce a perfectly aligned and sensitive Japanese woodblock in the space of a few hours, while on the other I have people telling me that what I am doing is akin to potato printing they did at school.

A lovey first time attempt by one of my recent students - one to be proud I think.
A lovey first time attempt by one of my recent students – one to be proud of I think.

In fact both attitudes are a symptom of this present fiction that arts and crafts are achievable and achievable fairly fast. I know that there is a great deal of TV time given over to darning socks with retro wool and hand baking your own sofa cushions, but these programmes either insist you do it within the hour or face elimination, or worse, they simply gloss from thought to result with an airy ‘ooh I never thought taxidermy would be so easy!’…

Fact is that being good takes time and practice. Knowing what to do is one thing, doing it fluently is quite another. I know how to plaster a ceiling, but every time I lie in my bath I can see that an apprenticeship would have been a good idea. One of the best things about my residency in Japan was to learn that time spent in practice was time spent well and that hard won expertise was to be respected and honoured. It’s the only time I have had my job description win more respect for me than less from the man in the street.

raising fine detail by clearing away most of the wood, this takes time to do well and accurately
raising fine detail by clearing away most of the wood, this takes time to do well and accurately

So please students, stop beating yourself up: most of you do better than I did in the same space of time, much better and, if you apply yourself as I do, then the floating world of Japanese printmaking is your oyster. To the potato printers from school, you are spot on: relief printing is the same process and, like you, I did that at school too. I also learned to play tennis, but sadly I’m a long way off the professional circuit…

6 thoughts on “Quick, quick, slow…”

  1. Oh Laura, how this resonates with me. A great article .. It’s the school of hard work and application, something that has been lost in our present world of instant gratification. Developing yourself and the skills to produce great work is a journey that never ends and boy what a great journey it is! On a lighter note, I’m sure the wood is a lot harder than a potato.

  2. Cannot believe the truth in this. Not that I have students. And I have a long way to go to develop my work – by whilst TV pays lip-service to craft, the ridiculous time constraints can be either so unrealistic as to make it impossible to achieve – or ignore so many steps, like THINKING about a design, as to undermine the whole process.

  3. Well said Laura and I can feel the angst as well as I read your story and while I am nowhere near your standard of printmaking nor have I ever taught but this really is a dedicated ,patience trying, thought provoking learning process. I totally agree with Sam too as right from the thinking about an image is consuming, but what a great feeling when deep down I see a good print produced.

  4. Great post, we live in a world of instant everything, heat and serve.
    I used to teach dance–years of daily practice went into what I knew, students invariably despaired when they couldn’t pick up the step in the first class, yeesh.
    About printmaking, yep, I’ve heard the ‘potato print’ comment too. I like your comeback. Something to remember.

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