Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Hello Print Studio Margate: Making It Work training

AirSpace Gallery are part of a Catalyst funded consortium project 'Making It Work' in Stoke-on-Trent, looking at helping organisations to explore alternative funding streams (other than usual Grants for the Arts etc.)
Within this project, the consortium organisations have been allocated a training budget, which some have spent on conferences, others on practical workshop training, and at AirSpace we have spent some of the money on considering the development of a print strand to our organisation - as there is no open access print space locally for artists, and it is something that we are interested in looking at the viability of.
Through this I was able to take a trip down to the East Kent, to visit Hello Print Studios in Margate, a young organisation based in Resort Studios - who have opened a creative hub in an old furniture warehouse, to undertake some print training, and to see how the Hello Print Studio operates.
I have been interested in the development of the cultural scene in Margate for some time; my family are from the area, and I spent my summers as a teenager with my brother and sister working at the local amusement park, Dreamland, at a time when Margate really was down on its luck. My interest in the contribution that Turner Contemporary, as an important cultural centre, would make to the development of the town has been ongoing; in 2011 I covered the opening of the Gallery for a-n with this review 'YOU ARE HERE' and also, the same year, I organised for AirSpace Studio to spend a week in Margate, via an exhibition about the British Seaside Revival in the context of the opening of the Turner. Details of the show here.
My piece for that show was a participatory performance, dressed as a holiday rep with a wheel of fortune, the piece 'Turner's Fortune' created conversations with the people of Margate around people's thoughts about the gallery and the town.
I have returned to Margate periodically, to visit the Turner, and have seen what looks like the development of a really thriving creative scene - in a town which, when my family lived there, certainly did not have much of a scene to speak of. There are of course, organisations and spaces that were there before Turner, but my interest is in what has happened in Margate in the 4 years since Turner opened - and what sort of a wider impact the development of the creative scene is having on the town - as well as looking to explore the reality for artists living and working in Margate today.
With all this in mind I began my week at Hello Studio, learning printing and talking to artists there and making connections. My main focus would be learning some print skills, with a view to being able to run print workshops at AirSpace. Current works have been focusing on plant ecologies in cities and towns, so I am going to use plant based imagery as source material during the print training.
On day one Nick Morley (the founder of Hello Print and an amazingly talented printmaker) showed me how to prepare a plate for soft ground etching, and instructed me on the sort of plants I could use (in terms of thickness etc) for pressing into the ground for etching.
The zinc etching plate has to be degreased and cleaned before preparing with a hard or soft ground (depending on the print type you want to do.)
Then using fairly new methods for etching, which doesn't involve acids (as the old acid method gave off a lot of fumes - necessitating complicated and expensive extracter fans etc.) The new methods used at Hello Print require a sink (for cleaning off the etchants - but not for disposing of them) and baths for the etchant - which is copper sulphate and salt. It is still poisonous - but doesn't burn your skin, or have the fumes that acid has. With the soft ground etching you can get really beautiful detail, pressing the object into the surface material on the plate before etching it. You can get quite a bit of detail into the plate.
 On the final day, we used the test etching plate from day one, and covered it with the hard ground surface, which can be used to create a different effect - using needles or other tools to scratch away the hard ground.
I liked this effect, as you are able to add additional drawing to the printed impression from the plants, and also add the names of the plants as well. The test print was not terribly successful, but the addition of the hard ground drawing turned it into something potentially more interesting.
If we wanted to do be able to do the etching at AirSpace it would require an initial capital investment to buy the printing press, baths for the etchants and adequate sink space for the chemicals etc. Plus rollers, printing inks, glass surface tops and other tools, as well as space for rolling/preparation of plates etc.
In the middle of the week Nick showed me lino printing - as we have already got at least one full working Adana Print press at AirSpace Gallery, which can be used for small lino printing, as well as an a4 book press, but the beauty of lino printing is that it does not actually require a press at all (although it is useful to have one). Nick showed me how lino printing can be done with wooden spoons, or a Japanese Wooden tool called a baren. Nick has a brilliant blog on all things print, and a great blog here on getting started with lino cutting equipment.
First things first Nick showed me how to hold the tools and then the amazing variety of marks that you can achieve with lino printing - I have done lino printing before at school and college - but had not been interested - mainly due to the terrible tools I have used. The tools were a revelation! Such fine detail can be achieved - so the first thing we did - was just practice making some marks on the lino.
Then we discussed making a print with more than one layer/colour. This is something that seemed completely beyond me, as I am quite bad at figuring things like this out usually, but Nick explained the process really well, and suggested using tracing paper to figure out the different coloured layers.
Nick showed me some examples of his linos for printing with, and then some of his multi-layered prints, which were beautiful. Talking about the way that layering the colour can also create more colours - for example using a yellow layer and a blue layer, you will also get a third greenish layer where the two overlap.
Nick gave 3 tips for lino printing (well many more than 3 - but 3 main tips)
1. invest in some good tools and keep them sharp.
2. use fresh lino (it should smell of linseed oil and be pliable to bend a bit).
3. use a non slip mat.
I created a two colour design based on plantain, a common brownfield plant. The drawing was transferred to the lino with carbon paper, and then I began to remove the bits which I wanted white - another tip from Nick is to make sure to use the right tool - if you need to remove a large area - use the large tool - don't use the small tools and dig deeper as the lino will rip (which I discovered). Also, make sure to use the non slip mat, I forgot a couple of times, and slipped and cut myself on the very sharp tools!
Once the layers of lino are cut, we moved onto ink.
Nick showed me how to recognise when there is too much ink on the roller by the sound it makes, and also showed some techniques with using blends of colours on one layer.
Nick showed me how to print the lino on the etching press, but then we focused on the book press - as we have one of these at the gallery - so it would be possible for us to run a lino workshop with quite minimal investment.
I was quite pleased with the results, and so the next day decided to focus on a 3 colour lino (which took me the full day to carve.) 
The 3 colour lino was a drawing of Clover and Mugwort, which represents happiness through industry (according to the Victorian Language of Flowers) which seemed fitting. Spending the week on something so practical was really fulfilling and enjoyable - I found the process of carving the lino gave plenty of time to reflect, and think.
Hello Print hold regular workshops, and also have an open access on a Wednesday - people pay  a nominal amount for the year to be an associate member - so they can use the print room - and then just pay for their day when they are in. Hello Print is part of Resort Studios - whose studio members can also use the print room. 
Resort Studios has around 27 studio holders in a relatively small amount of space - there are a series of 'pods' like sheds in the main space - and then more traditional spaces. Space has been very carefully designed to maximise usage, with mezzanines put into some of the spaces with high ceilings.
While I was there preparations were being made for the launch of the 'Creative Hub' - a new concept, where two previously inaccessible rooms had been made usable through the installation of two staircases - and some other building works - they had worked with some of the studio residents (a group of architects) to design the new creative hub space - which includes a slide. This space houses 12 X desk spaces - some of which will be hot desks. This is a really clever use of the space - and brings extra people (energy) into the building. This is something that I think we should think about at AirSpace - we have many fewer studio holders than Resort - but perhaps we could utilise our space better if we thought carefully about how we use it.
It was really impressive to speak to Nick about the development of Resort and Hello Print, he talked about how quickly the organisation has grown, with development happening on a weekly basis, he said it has been hard to keep up. He also talked about the fact that as the development has happened so quickly at times there is a need for the Directors to reflect on what has happened and really think about the next steps. 
Resort felt like a vibrant and exciting place to be an artist - and what was great was that there seems to be space in the organisation (and the building) for a variety of creative organisations and endeavours to work - alongside Hello Print, there is the development of a Dark Room underway, plus a jewellery studio, and the gallery and project space downstairs are next on the list for development. Resort also gained EU funding to fund a Studio Manager's post for 4 months, their studio manager has organised events, and brought more people into the studio, and will now be looking at making the project space and gallery a sustainable thread within the project.
Resort has over 40 studio/desk holders once full, plus a constant stream of other artists coming through the space. This is making a difference to the local economy - not least because many of the studio holders have moved to Margate. Other businesses are springing up in Cliftonville, close to where the studios are; Fort's Cafe down the road is a fantastic surprise: where I was served Eggs Florentine and Elderflower presse. 
I aim to return to Margate and Cluftonville later in the year to look at some of the other businesses which have opened in the area in the past 4 years (since Turner) and have already made some connections.
One business that has relocated to Margate is home decor and salvage specialist Rag and Bone Man - originally based in Hackney - I spoke to Lizzie one half of the company about why they had relocated and how it was going. 
Nick also took me along to see a new business at the end of the road called Haeckels - opened by a former Resort Director. This beautiful shop began with the founder, collecting seaweed and other coastal plants from the seafront, and making cosmetics and soaps with them.
It has now grown into a beautiful workshop with a wonderful line in GPS perfumes, which document the specific ecology of the East Kent Coast - Dom, the owner told me his process is to visit a location, spend time there looking at the flora there - collect specimens and then use these to create GPS located scents. I love the idea of this.
What all of these creative businesses are doing is looking at the naturally occurring resources of Margate and Cliftonville; whether that be big beautiful disused warehouse spaces, and abundance of fantastic vintage furniture (East Kent has brilliant boot fairs) or seaweed - the success here is in innovators recognising what is readily available, and maximising on its potential. 
What works in Margate may not work elsewhere, but elsewhere can learn from the idea of looking at what is available - and building on that.
I had a fantastic, inspirational week in Margate. Thanks to Hello Print for having me, and especially to Nick Morley for the generosity.

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