This week for the 'The Inkkplate' newsletter I interviewed British artist Laura Boswell. A linocut & woodcut printmaker. The interview has been condensed and edited for understanding. Interview date: May 6th, 2022.
Thank you so much Mrs. Boswell for making time to talk to me. I really appreciate it, we can jump right in. What techniques or mediums do you work in?
Ok, so I work chiefly in lino, chiefly in reduction printing, but I also spent some time studying in Japan learning traditional woodcut technique: mukuhanga. For a while I kinda worked a balance of the two and now I have included western woodblock approaches as well. I am just at the point of starting to experiment with mokulito. 90% of the time right now is with reduction linocut.
How long have you been printmaking?
Oh, that’s an interesting one, because I went and did a fairly bizarre university course because my dad would not support me going to art school! So, I found the only course in the U.K. that combined both librarian studies, which is right up my dad’s alley, as a proper job and art. So, I ended up doing a degree that was kinda, you tried everything, and specialize on your final year. I specialized in printmaking, and that was back in 1987.
The day I left art school I stopped drawing, painting, printing, just everything. I went and got a proper job in the photographic industry. I went back to printmaking in 2005. So, I had this massive period where I had not practice at all. Then I started printmaking again! So, my career started around that stage. Very much a second career for me!
That is awesome!
I feel it sort of give hope to people everywhere! I had this big period of nothing and then started!
Absolutely, I definitely related to the second career pivot. I started in logistic management, at a warehouse. But it was too stressful, long hours, the phone would never stop ringing, always solving problems.
That sounds terrifying! Logistics are a horrible thing to work with! Sometimes a [pivot] has to be done doesn’t?
Being you’re an incredible teacher. You have your books, your videos, and the lucky few who get to attend your workshops. What advice would you give a printmaking beginner?
My advice would be to not play it too safe. The big thing is to make prints and loads of them! I think not to be too hung up on the results. Which is easy to say, when you do printing, it is an investment of time and you do want a nice print at the end of it. But I think if you are prepared to just experiment and accept that you will have a lot of mistakes and a lot of prints that are just not going to work out. Is kinda like learning a language, you will pick up so much vocabulary.
If you are beginning with scrupulously getting that nice print, you can end up stuck in a could de sac, where you can do it, and get the result you can predict, and that is nice and safe, where you will never make a mistake. I like it when my students are prepared to take risks and experiment and they accept the learning along the way. I have messed up plenty because I am always trying new things, and they don’t always work out. So, if you are new, I would say just do it, and keep doing it. Don’t get too hung up on ‘I should be doing this’ or ‘I should be doing that’. Just play with it and do lots of it.
You play with light amazingly, how do you achieve that luminosity in your prints?
A lot of that has to do with the time I spent in Japan learning mukuhanga technique. Now with lino I work with very thin layers of ink. That allows, first, the white of the paper to kinda shine through the ink. Also, the layer below, to have more impact. It sorts of like watercolor, in the way that I print it. Because I don’t have game plan, I have drawing, and I know what kind of day I want to depict and what kind of light.
Because I don’t plan everything out, I am always responding to the print, it is easy to judge as you go and stop when its good!
I always think it's rather like doing a painting. I have friends who plan, and they know how many layers they want, and I never do anything like that.
So, the light thing, is very much me responding as I go and knowing when to quit and leave that bit a lone with lots and lots of transparent layers.
Do you go from light to dark?
Usually I do that, and I also do a lot of things like print more times than I would cut. With all the reductions, you cut then print, and on and on. I might do a wash of color and drop in bleeds of color and then cut the next layer. I do lots of inks of half the roller, or like part of the roller, a bit like shadings as you would do with a Japanese woodcut, roll on half the block as well!
That is wonderful that you are able to bring one technique and mix them!
Yes, it has made a huge difference to my linocut, because I really like that delicacy and transparency.
That’s a great pivot to the next question! Given the fact you also work with Japanese printmaking techniques, do you have a favorite? Is there something you feel you find in Mukuhanga that you can’t repeat with lino?
That’s a tricky question! The Japanese woodcut printmaking technique is very beautiful, very alluring. Lino, is my natural element to sort of swim around. I feel really comfortable with lino, and I feel I can push it further, that I can with Japanese woodcut. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but I feel you can get mad things done with lino that are harder to replicate. I would say [favorite] has to be lino, because I find that easier to manipulate.
That constant how would you do that? How would you say that?
Because like you said I find interest in light and space, that’s a tricky concept, so I found that easier to describe on linocut.
What can you tell us about your upcoming book?
What I wanted to do with this book was to give people a toolkit, for them to go and make their own linocut. Because what I did not want to do was, this is how I do linocut, and this is how you should do it. I wanted to give people the question to ask themselves what they wanted to do. So, the first part is all about tools, presses, how to control pressure, registration all that kind of stuff. The middle is all about how to pull an idea out of your head and get it onto the lino, which was tricky to write! That is something very subjective, but when I teach that is what worries people more! I wanted to have a section that talked about what sort of think are you looking for, what kind of boarded, do you want a frame? That section deals with all that stuff and all the practical. The final section has ten different prints, and I go through them stage by stage. The first one is really a student project, it is very simple, and it takes you through the whole process and layers. Then the middle section has prints that are a little more advance and the last ones are my prints that show you what you could do if you really went mad with it!
What I really wanted was a useful book, that could help people think what they wanted to do.
So, I will be honest, I already order my copy! When I saw your post on Facebook I went and looked it up right away. Because I was debating between two of your books, and I ended up deciding to preorder this one! I decided it was best to stick to lino for now, instead of jumping into Japanese woodcut.
The lino is much more personal book, I have been able to put of me into that one. With the Japanese woodblock book, what I wanted was a book for someone who on Friday night says ‘I want to do a Japanese woodblock print’ now at their house, at their table with what they kind find at home, prop the book on the table and go page by page learning how to do it. The lino is a much deeper dive.
So, I feel so much better about my decision now, I feel I can learn more now!
What is your favorite tool to work with?
Ah, that is a really good question because it does change with time. I have tools, I have these lovely gouges. They belonged to my husband’s grandfather, and they date from the 1930s. Ben’s grandfather was an artist, he used to do record covers sometimes and he would do linocut for that. He didn’t do lots of linocuts, but he had them for that. Then my mother-in-law had them in the 1950’s when she went the Central School of Art in London. What I really like about these, is that I met my husband before going to university. I was seventeen when I met him, I was going off to university and she actually gave these to me to take and do my art training. How trusting is that? Because I wasn’t engaged or anything!
These are the family tools, and she gave them up to me. So those are my favorite, they are great tools too they are professional grade. My family are not all artist, like I said my father did not want me to be an artist. Ben’s family are artist, his mom was an illustrator his grandfather was an artist. When I met up with Ben, I moved into this artist circle, so those tools kinda summed up all of that for me. They have lots of sentimental value.
What an amazing story, they would also be my favorite tools based off that story. Thank you so much for sharing that story with all of us.
Where can people reach you and get your book?
@lauraboswellprintmaker across all social media, people cant miss me!
Learn about Laura's new book here.