More than 20 years after falling for lino printing – and a certain decathlete – Jayne Dwyer decides to give it another go (the printing, not the athlete)
In 1985, I had a thing for Daley Thompson. I was 16, still at school and despite this very fleeting interest in sport, was unlikely to be found on the playing field voluntarily.
I was the kind of girl that would only ever be entered for the sack race, and would be second to last in that. My interest in Daley was purely cosmetic. I thought he was the most beautiful man the world had created and I celebrated his beauty by making dozens of lino prints in my O level art class.
The few lessons we spent printing, were quite simply the best days I had ever had at school.
Until then, I had never created a lino print before. As a child, I had spent many a happy hour stamping paper with crudely grafted flowers, cut from old potatoes, whilst my mum watched Pebble Mill on the rented black-and-white television.
I loved the challenge of lino printing and the fact that we could use sharp tools. The combination of the gentle art of drawing out your design (or in my case tracing around Daley’s beautiful face), hacking away at the lino and peeling away big chunks of the oily resin, the handling of the press, the uncertainty of what you would unveil was thrilling to me. In a bizarre way, it alleviated some of my teenage angst. I truly lost myself.
For once, I wasn’t wondering what the person on the next table was doing. For all I cared, they could have been recreating the image of Simon Le Bon or the Mona Lisa. I was only interested in creating my own masterpiece: Daley in natural tones and Daley in experimental stages of purple and green.
I loved lino printing so much that I spent some of my paper-round money on lino tools. I was certain, this was what I was born to do. However, the big printing press never materialised, despite my heavy hints to my parents. And when you’re 16 in the Eighties, a great deal of your paper-round money is destined to be spent in C&A. So, despite my enthusiasm, I never made another print again, lino or potato.
That is, until last month!
For a few years now I have been looking to do a printing course but have never quite been able to justify the prices that have been asked for longer courses. I have dabbled in painting and drawing but somehow printing has always seemed such an indulgent thing to do. However, recently York Open Studios advertised a selection of very affordable one day workshops, to be run by a handful of the artists who will be exhibiting this year.
I sent my email and sent my cheque before my place got taken and before I had chance to change my mind. I encouraged my lovely, arty friend Lynn to come with me and walking to the Castle Museum, the workshop venue, we both admitted we were a little bit nervous.
Lynn is a fair bit younger than me but it was a good 15 years since she had her one and only lesson in printing. I admitted to having a head full of fog and between us we were not sure we could muster up one artistic thought.
This was a little bit unfortunate as when we arrived at the workshop our first instruction was “Draw something”. What should we draw? “Draw anything,” Milena, the artist, told us. “Anything at all.”
At this point, panic could have set in. Even in my potato printing period, I had some help with the drawing. And, if truth be told, I didn’t draw Daley from memory; I found him in a Sunday magazine and traced his lovely face from the page.
Lynn and I did our best to reassure one another and did what we do best in difficult situations: rummaged in our handbags. I found a couple of photographs that I had taken of a tree and the river. Lynn looked to her scarf for her inspiration. We both set about drawing.
The workshop was full and I am guessing that we all had varying degrees of experience. Whilst some people made drawing something look easy, I am sure that that little twinge of fear was not exclusive to our corner of the table… but when I looked around, everybody was drawing. I attempted a stylized version of my river scene, Lynn drew birds, others drew leaves and flowers, circles and wiggly lines.
When we came to the cutting process, I was proud of what I could remember. What I was lacking in creativity, I was making up for in logic. I remembered that you have to do everything in reverse, effectively. For example, if you want to add a new colour to your print, you cut away the bit you want to keep the same. Confused? It does get confusing.
Despite feeling quite chuffed with myself for remembering things I was taught 28 years ago, I had forgotten one of the most important pieces of advice my teacher then told me, and that was to keep things simple.
Milena had kindly suggested that my end print would not look anything like the picture I had drawn on my lino. After several cuts and prints, I was beginning to realise that whilst my drawing looked quite simplistic, I had been a bit over ambitious.
Two hours is not long enough to create a landscape, whereas all around me, people were creating beautiful patterns and it seemed the more abstract the idea, the more effective the end result.
Milena’s own work is described on York Open Studio’s website as “contemporary abstract prints arising out of colour relationships”.
I had that feeling that you get when you are in a restaurant and you can’t help but look at what is on everybody else’s plate. Lynn’s birds looked good enough to frame and there were lots of other little gems around the room that I would happily hang on my wall.
At quarter to four, I had to face the fact that I would not be able to finish my prints, that I wouldn’t have something that I would keep for another 28 years. But it’s not always about the product, it’s about the process. It’s not always about the final destination, but the journey.
Lynn and I learned a lot in those two hours, and it was worth every penny. Next time I won’t try and draw something but let the something draw itself. I know now how much ink is too much ink and how much ink is not enough.
Most importantly, Lynn and I both learned that you don’t need to wait for someone to recognise your artistic ambitions and buy you a printing press. You don’t need one! I can’t believe that has been my excuse for such a long time.
What I loved most about this workshop is that Milena helped us to be creative with the minimum of fuss. We made the prints using nothing more than a wooden spoon to press the image from the lino onto the prints.
I have no excuses. If I really want to learn to print, I have near enough all the tools (old but as good as new). I just need a little imagination.
- York Open Studios takes place over two weekends, April 12-14 and 20-21 April
- To find out more visit the York Open Studios website