Sunday, 17 December 2017

On Birth and Lino-Cutting


Last Saturday, I took a one-day class on lino-cutting at The Village Haberdashery with Karen Lewis. I adore Karen's work and admire not only the way that she prints fabric, but also the way that she combines colour in the things that she makes with those prints, so the moment I discovered she was teaching in London, I signed up. I've also known Karen online for nearly a decade now, so the opportunity to finally meet her in person felt like a lovely prospect!

I have a fond memory of lino-cutting at school in an art lesson many years ago, although it was quite different to what we did on Saturday. At school, we used very hard-to-cut lino and employed several different colours, doing more cuts for each new layer of colour that was applied. I remember enjoying the process, but not being overly thrilled with the murky red and green leaf that I produced.

To tell you fully about how much I enjoyed Karen's workshop though, I feel I need to rewind the clock by twenty-four hours first, because it was a magical few days all round. At 7.30am the morning before, if you had zoomed in on my whereabouts, you would have found me scurrying through London under the weight of vast quantities of baggage, and leaping (as much as one can when fully laden) onto a bus alongside my sister, who was carrying her pillow and her gorgeous 38-week-old bump, all ready to give birth! (Just in case you're left wondering why she was carrying a pillow: London hospitals seem to ask you to bring your own when you're having a baby, probably due to them being in short supply).

My own children aside, I'd never imagined experiencing a birth firsthand, so it felt like such a privilege to be there as my beautiful little niece came into the world. Although I had known I would adore her, I was unprepared for being hit with such an instant rush of love, and feeling of relief, the moment I saw her face. I forgot everything on the list of things that I was meant to be tending to at that point (such as taking photos or cutting the umbilical cord), and instead my face was awash with tears of joy and general snottering over my sister, whose eyes were similarly dewy.

I'm not sure I have the words to express what an emotional day it felt or how much it affected me afterwards to have witnessed that moment where a child - one whose safe arrival I felt so invested in and such delight over - goes from being on the inside to suddenly being on the outside and a real known entity, breathing independently -  it felt unexpectedly vast and as though it has subtly shifted my sense of the world in a way that I don't entirely understand. I felt similarly when my own children were born, but more fleetingly, because there were so many other things - emotional, physical, hormonal, practical - fighting for a place when it was my own new baby. This has stayed with me and even a week later I find it drifting into my thoughts and leaving me feeling slightly awe-struck with wonder.

Doing anything other than either being with my sister or having a very, very long sleep the next day felt like a surreal prospect, but I'd booked onto Karen's lino course a few months earlier and I was keen to still go and our mum was enthusiastic to spend the day at the hospital, so we arranged to go into London together early the next morning (although when my alarm went off at 6am after only a few hour' sleep, I was horrified, which is totally unlike me as I'm a pretty good morning person. I have Sunday Morning by The Velvet Underground as my alarm and I'd always previously felt it would be impossible not to feel quite enthusiastic about getting up on hearing those sparkly opening chords...I've now realised that there is a tiredness that even that song will struggle to jolly one out of). But actually, pulling myself out of bed was so worth it and a day lino-cutting with Karen ended up being the perfect post-birth-partner activity and now feels like an integral part of the general magic that hung over that weekend for me.

In the sunny studio at The Village Haberdashery, we got to work using our new tools straight away and we found that the lino Karen uses is much softer than what we'd had at school, which had felt more akin to chipping away at a thin layer of concrete. We divided our lino into six small pieces experimented with what each of the different lino-cutting blades did by making lots of lines.


Karen encouraged us to print onto paper at first, rather than our cotton, so that we could experiment before committing to fabric - this was such a liberating idea and I think only two of us had ventured onto fabric by the end of the day (neither of those two being me).


I began by placing my block in orderly rotations to produce the same purposeful fussy-cutting effect that I'm often drawn to do with my sewing (above), but there's something about Karen's easy, confident approach to experimentation and her enjoyment in what emerges with a less intentional approach, that's infectious and I soon found myself breaking out of my usual way of working and liking the results of my experimentation all the more for it.




This photo, below, shows all of our work together at the end of the day - there are so many prints in here that I love - particularly the central black fireworks and the bottom of the purple sheets which has a beautiful flower motif.


It was a very hands-on day, with little time where we were sitting down just listening, but I learnt so much and we were all naturally drawn to frequently gather around each other's work as Karen discussed how something was done or the different effects that we might consider to experiment further. All of us had very different styles, which meant that it was easy to be influenced by what others were doing, with little chance of producing something that looked the same.

It was a lovely group of women and there was plenty of time for quiet chatter as we sat carving our lino and I really enjoyed that aspect of the day too (it's a different kind of conversation that you have when your hands are busy, isn't it, somehow more relaxing). By the time we began to pack away our supplies, I can only compare how I felt to how someone may feel at the end of a day at a spa - totally refreshed and invigorated, but with that warm fuzzy feeling of also being utterly relaxed (I don't really enjoy spas, but clearly I've found my alternate version of one).


Above are the lino squares that we cut during our class. If you get the opportunity to be taught by Karen, I'd recommend you waste no time in snaffling up a place - it was such an inspiring day. She is a warm, knowledgeable and hugely enabling teacher.

After the class, I went back to the hospital for a quick cuddle with my sister, niece and mum and then raced home to meet up with a group of our friends for a celebration Christmas dinner...I can't remember much of it as I felt an underlying tiredness by that point that manifested itself as feeling akin to being on a boat where I had the sensation of gently swaying, even before having anything to drink, but it's represented in my head by a warm glow of smiley faces and a vague awareness that I was fresh off the train wearing jeans and the odd fleck of paint, while everyone else had beautiful dresses on (not the men), but that it didn't really matter.

This week, finding I needed a specific fabric but had nothing in my stash with the right background colour, I suddenly realised that I could just make some. I know that's the obvious outcome of learning to lino-cut, but it hadn't occurred to me that I'd actually use it in practice (sometimes I don't think all the dots in my brain automatically link up in the way that they should...I imagine my brain is like a giant dot-to-dot, where it frequently dashes from number 5 to number 21, missing out a whole rabbit's foot or flower petal as it does)! In my chicken-no-egg scenario, I'd thought that I might print some fabric and then try and find a purpose for it, but not that I'd need some fabric and so just print some! Viewed from that way around, it feels like a truly exciting prospect. I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to think about the design, perfect the prints or trial quite how much paint is really needed when printing on cotton rather than paper, so there's much room for improvement, but I'm looking forward to showing you what I did in a few months' time, as it's part of something that I can't share just yet.

How are you plans for Christmas coming along? We finally put our Christmas tree up this evening and I'm only a few people away from having bought all the presents (so in reality, probably still quite a lot to do, but I'm hoping I might solve some of that tomorrow).

Florence x

Ps. My sister and her baby are doing wonderfully and are now safely back at home :)

10 comments:

  1. Congrats on the new addition!! I remember those hard lino boards. I enjoyed the process until I sliced my index(pointer) finger and bled all over. That was in 1965 and I still have the scar. Way before calling parents and going for stitches. Needless to say haven't attempted any since.

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    1. Thank you, Maryann :)

      Oh no - you poor thing! I'd recommend this softer version of lino then - it feels closer to cutting through butter than concrete!

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  2. what a lovely story - the baby bit most of all (who doesn't love a new baby?) - but sounds like it was an amazing couple of days all round. awesome. aunt!

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    1. It really was - thank you for stopping to leave a lovely message.

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  3. Dear Florence thank you for sharing this wonderful experiences. Your lino patterns remind me of sari prints love the faded blue. Kind regards from Switzerland.

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  4. congratulations on the birth of your neice, how truely special to be there. Then for you to discover the joys of lino printing, I loved it when I was at art college and not played with it in years - will book for Karen's next class!

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  5. Delighted to hear of the safe arrival of your niece! I've never had the privilege of attending a birth (other than my own children) - it sounds like an amazing experience and such an honour. I'm now tempted by Karen's Lino-cutting course too, I've admired her work for years. Merry Christmas Florence! x

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  6. Congratulations to your sister, and to you on being an aunt! As a small part of the general beauty of it all, I bet you're thrilled to have a little niece to sew for, aren't you? Lovely printing too, and the demand-led approach is exciting indeed. x

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  7. Wow, Florence - this is such a wonder-full post I don't know were to begin my comment! With your sister and her baby, I suppose, would be best? CONGRATS to all, including Auntie!
    On the linocutting, this workshop sounds just about perfect. I "think" lino would be a good technique for me, especially as woodcuts and engravings are among my very favorite artforms. I even bought cotton dishtowels thinking I would print them for holiday gifts...apparently not this holiday, though! I follow several excellent printmakers on twitter, "met" during the DrawingAugust and other challenges, and they are very encouraging. But I seem to have some sort of weird mental obstacle to actually trying linocutting and printing, as much as I want to do it. I can't explain it At All. Does anything like that ever happen to you?
    Happiest of Seasons to you and yours :)

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  8. Congrats on the safe arrival of your niece. I had my baby boy the same day, on the other side of the world, and agree that there just aren’t words to describe the experience.... hope they are doing well!

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Florence x

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