Sometimes it is lonely being a printmaker. It can be hard to keep going on your own, working quietly in your shed / kitchen / bedroom.
If you feel like this its time to find your printmaking family!
Good times and bad
Doubts and indecision are all part of the creative process, but we need understanding friends to help make sure they don’t overwhelm us. A ‘Printmaking family’ of friends who understand the peculiarities of printmaking processes will help keep our feet on the ground, and cheer each other on when things start to feel stuck, as well as celebrate our successes and new discoveries.
What sort of printmaking family do you want to belong to?
It depends what you need, and that could be a variety of different things at different times. I have consciously sought out some ‘families’ others I have stumbled upon accidentally, and some have developed organically to meet various needs over time.
The things that I have most appreciated and benefitted from are individuals and collectives who provide support, encouragement, and inspiration on an ongoing basis.
Sometimes you don’t know exactly what you do need until you find it, so it is good to try out a few different approaches, just to see what happens…
Here are a few examples of printmaking families I have known….
Virtual friends are not imaginary
Instagram is a good place to contact other printmakers, at its simplest this involves putting up an image to share with others. Comments come in and a conversation begins…. Printmakers on Instagram are so generous and encouraging, it is a wonderful positive community.
It feels as though most printmakers are pretty honest on Instagram – happy to share the warts and all printmaking process, rather than presenting a varnished version of studio life. Sharing thoughts about unsuccessful experiments, doubts and creative dry periods can help get you back on track, and also reassure other people that they are not the only ones feeling like that.
Face book groups are also a good space for responses to printmaking queries and testing out ideas, discovering new printmakers and getting inspiration.
Printmaking related groups like ‘collagraph worldwide’ ‘world printmakers’ and ‘printmakers exchange’ are also great forums for sharing ideas and techniques with many contributors becoming familiar friends over time. It is great when other printmakers on-line become familiar over time, and you can see their work and themes developing.
Printmaking groups can be tiny
One of the benefits of lockdown was to make zoom get togethers more common – just arranging to meet a printmaking friend on a regular basis can be a great support – a chance to share and track each other’s work if you live too far apart to meet up that often. Putting together a collection of photos of your recent work to share, knowing that you will get some helpful critical feedback and a chance to be listened to as you wonder what to do next is truly invaluable.
When virtual becomes real
It is a lovely feeling when you actually meet someone you have been corresponding with virtually, rather like meeting a long-lost friend. This can happen at events like print fairs, artist book fairs, open studios and exhibitions. If you spot any of your on-line mates doing something real near you, I’d definitely recommend going along to say hello.
Printmaking Workshop groups
As printmaking is pretty messy and tends to need specialist equipment it is not always easy to meet and do practical work together.
Some groups are attached to printmaking workshops, and able to meet in spaces where they can actually print together. If you can connect with an existing printmaking workshop and join a group there, you are very lucky – make the most of it!
For those who don’t have this type of access meeting up can take many different forms;
The catalyst for York Printmakers was an email from a printmaker new to York asking me (she found me in York Open Studios) if there were any printmaking studios or groups in the area. The answer in 2015 was ‘no’ but I thought what a good idea! An email round to printmakers listed in the open studio’s directory and one or two other people I knew led to an initial get together in the pub. This produced suggestions of more printmaking friends locally, and another pub night when more people turned up, and before long we had a monthly date.
People were able to talk nerdily about the type of line you get with different dry point tools, and where to buy the best masking tape in york. Conversations got noisy and heated. We love these things, and it is exciting to find other people who love tape as much as you do.
The backroom in the pub became too small – we moved upstairs to a bigger room, alternating nights with the folk club, and paying for the room by buying beer. The ancient Tudor room was so dark and atmospheric we needed torches to see each other’s prints. Several different venues later we now meet in a (well lit) church hall.
People share their work, give mini presentations, we have had talks on interesting subjects, including one from Kathy Boyle, a printmaker visiting from New Zealand . Members organise exhibitions in local cafes and other venues, and more printmakers continue to join in.
York Print Fair
One of our early group projects started as a suggestion to exhibit together in the chapel at York Cemetery. This idea somehow morphed into a print fair and culminated in a show with over 20 exhibitors. We were overwhelmed by the number of visitors and we are now on our fourth annual print fair which is a regular feature in the calendar of local arts.
The group now has over 40 members, with mixed ages from early 20s to pretty ancient. We include different stages of printmaking from college students to people with 50 years of experience of printmaking and exhibiting.
With so many members opportunities for exhibitions and projects are endless. For example, we have done a print trail in a local shopping street, where 14 printmakers matched up with 14 traders to make prints inspired by their shops. All the new prints were on display in the relevant shop windows.
It has been great to see people sharing ideas and advice on business and technical matters, developing work in response to group projects and generally feeling more confident as printmakers. Many new friendships have started, and during lockdown we all kept each other going with regular zoom meetings and shared prints.
This tribe has been in existence for over 20 years, growing out of West Yorkshire Print Workshop at Mirfield, the group has 15 members spread over an area form Hull to Todmorden. We have been known to meet up at the service sttions on the M62 – if you spot a noisy group with loads of prints leaning up on the seats that could be Inkers.
We usually go away for an annual weekend together, we sketch, do some improvised workshop activities and generally eat, drink and share our work. For the rest of the year, we create work for our joint residency projects, each person making prints independently.
Residencies usually last a couple of years and involve us linking up with a museum or gallery and creating new work in response to that particular place. We have worked with Bradford Industrial Museum, Cliffe Castle in Keighley, The Ropewalk in Barton on Humber and currently, The Textile Archive at The Dyehouse in Bradford.
Food drink and printmaking
Some other printmakers arrange themselves in small informal groups to meet regularly at home. A little bit of structure and organisation is needed, and the benefits of sharing support and continuity for each others’ creative development make a huge difference and can spark off all sorts of new projects, exhibitions and events.
Ted Orland describes his artists group in his book ‘The view from the studio door’;
“in recent years my efforts in this direction have taken the form of a classic artists gathering, loosely modelled after the Paris Salons of the 1920’s. Its an esy to replicate form; once a month six or eight of us gather and sahre a pot-luck dinner and wine. Then we clear away the dishes and share work – finished work, InProgress work, experimental work, doomed work, uncomfortable work that’s been sitting around bothering us, whatever.”
What a wonderful resource to have. Why not ask around amongst your creative friends and acquaintances, you never know where a tentative initial approach could lead….
We are all perpetual students really – short courses or evening classes are a great way to meet new printmaking friends. If you take the plunge and suggest a ‘what’s ap’ group, or exchanging emails with others on the course that can be a great way to set up a little creative group. This has happened several times amongst students on the courses I run, and it is wonderful to see.
No ready-made printmaking group? Start your own!
Making the first move can be daunting, but the risk is always worth it – what is the worst that can happen?
I want to end with another quote from Ted Orland;
“A community of artists provides a space where it is trusted and accepted that you are trying to make work that matters. That trust and acceptance holds true even when (and perhaps especially when) you are not making art that matters…. We all understand what you are trying to do, and we support your efforts through good times and bad. Your goals are not crazy or strange or unrealistic or even unusual to us. Your goals are our goals – that’s what it means to be part of a community.”
Tell us about your printmaking families
It would be really interesting to hear about the ways you’ve found to meet the need for your own creative support;
What or who keeps you going when you feel stuck? How do you share your discoveries and triumphs?
Have you managed to find a creative tribe – how did you do this? What kinds of things do you all do together.
Do you have any advice for others who are looking for a creative ‘family’?