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.

Chop and Change

How sketches turn into prints

I’m often asked about my sketches and how I turn my ideas into a finished print. I always feel a bit awkward about this (it’s uncomfortably close to the ‘what music do you like?’ question which I dreaded as a teenage devotee of voice radio). For me, it’s a vague process at best; leaping from a few pencil lines to the full size template drawing for the block with nothing in between. Like most worriers, I suspect there is a party going on in the next room where artists in the know have exquisitely pleasing sketch books with annotations, fold out bits and delightful little objet trouve. Somehow my works on crime novel and thriller fly page seem sketchy beyond the point of sketchy, but they work for me and will make for an uber-cool retrospective if they haven’t gone off to Oxfam for re-reading.

The drawing and planning comes with the print sized template drawing. These days all my drawing is done in outline with no colour. I only shade for planning purposes, not visual effect.

full size template drawing
full size template drawing

The upshot is more blueprint than charm and I simply draw, erase, draw until I am happy. I tend not to make more than one drawing, unless I am trashing it for a new start, as multiple efforts quickly lose their life and freshness. Since I arrive at my shapes by scribbling and then refining, the result is ‘architect meets infant scholar’. Neat drawing, but the paper a lumpy mess of rub outs and corrections.

I do proof my woodblocks. Below you can see the proof for ‘Chiltern Seasons: Winter’ and play the spot the difference game with the final finished print.

proof print
proof print

See how many blocks I’ve cut and then discarded. Less is often more and I discard blocks and simplify the print far more often than I cut extra ones. The colours too are very different as you can see, though I never make rigid colour plans for either proof or edition, I just see the proof problems and address them as I go along. Proofing is also a chance to see if the blocks line up correctly and, if they don’t, it’s best to get the crying done over the cheap paper.

Finished Print
Finished Print

The journey from idea to print is different for every printmaker and I’m sure that there isn’t actually a rule book demanding a set route for the journey or means of travel. So I choose the Star Trek transporter method of arrival at finished work. Beam those prints up Scotty!

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.