Sunday, April 5, 2009
Printsy Interview - Mark Mason
Name: Mark Mason
Born and raised in the The Ribble Valley, a beautiful, though wet, area of the Lancashire countryside in the North West of the United Kingdom. I'm a full time animator and illustrator, producing 2D drawn animation for children's TV series and TV commercials.
How did you get started in printmaking?
It all came about very curiously... I have owned a postcard of Hokusai's Great Wave since leaving school, I've always loved the image and it's hung on the wall of every place I've lived in. A few years ago, holidaying on a Greek Island with my wife, Sally, I started to read the collected letters of Vincent Van Gogh. I'd also always been drawn to Van Gogh, in part because we share the same birthday. It was in Van Gogh's letters that I really discovered Japanese woodblock prints, and as I read, everything clicked into place. All the art that I liked, which I thought were unconnected, my style of drawing and composition, my emotional responses to the world around me, all the separate pieces that made up me and my view of the world through art all dropped solidly into place. Japanese woodblock prints were the keystone to it all. I later discovered when I took my old postcard out of it's frame that the image was from one of the largest collections of woodblock prints outside London, and in an art gallery only 12 miles from where I live.
When I realised all that, how could I not want to attempt to modestly produce a few prints of my own?
Describe where you work.
I work from our home. I have a room, upstairs, in the corner of the house. Most visitors don't even realise the room exists. You can see the window from the outside, but when you're inside, the layout of the house seems to make the room disappear. One corner of the room is set for producing drawn animation, another corner for the increasingly used computer, and under the north facing window is where I do my illustration and woodblock printing.
What's your favourite printmaking process?
Traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking with water based pigments and hand printed with a Baren.
What's your creative process for any given print? (eg. sketch first? Pre-planned or free-form?)
I start with a very rough design and depending on how I feel, I'll either clean the design up or stick with the rough sketch.
More and more I'm using the computer to print out reversed copies of my design which I paste onto the woodblocks. I've tried cherry blocks, shina ply and magnolia blocks and so far, I like the magnolia best. It's softer than cherry and easier to cut. I've found that the American cherry which is available in the UK tends to chip very easily (maybe that's just me though). I'd like to try lime sometime. Working with a rough design is fun, making choices as you cut, but sometimes I do like to have all the questions answered on a cleaned up design if the image is complex.
What do you enjoy most about printmaking?
I personally like cutting the blocks, especially the key block. It's so direct, so 'hands on' and tactile. Like drawing or animating on paper, it's an absorbing experience that moves you up and out of the world.
What's your least favorite part of the process?
Surprisingly it's the printing. Water based printing is very tricky to master. You constantly have to monitor and regulate the amount of pigment on the block, the moisture levels of the paper and block and the pressure and application of the baren. 'Less is more' with the printing. You can always overprint the colour again if it's too light, but too much pigment and too much water will wreck a print.
What are your inspirations (other artists, people, places, events, etc.)?
This will have to be a shortlist of inspirations because I have so many...
Artists: Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Hiroshige, Hokusai, Heinrich Kley, T.S.Sullivant, Toba Sojo, Kitao Kiesai and current woodblock printmaker David Bull.
People: My wife and son, my 19th and early 20th century ancestors.
Places: The Lancashire countryside, the Cumbrian Lake District, the Greek Islands, the Grand Canyon, Venice, Japan. I'm also inspired by the animals and birds where I live, the seasons, Japanese and Greek culture, pre 1950's animation and movies, kindness and humanity.
How has your work changed and evolved since you started?
My cutting and printing techniques have improved. With each new print I want to create the feeling that my prints are made of brush strokes rather than cut marks. Some people refer to woodblock printing as 'painting with a knife' which is what I'm working towards.
How do you get past creative slumps?
If it's work related, I just put my head down and push through it. Otherwise I go outside and look at nature. The sky, birds, flowers, trees. I'll take our dog down to the river and breath in the sights and sounds.
How do you promote your work?
My prints are mainly promoted through Etsy but also on my own website and my blog. When I've built up a body of work I'll also look to exhibit locally.
Any other comments or advice for others who want to try making hand-pulled prints?
Give it a go, and whatever you do, don't try it once and give up, stick with it. There's something quite special about a stack of hand pulled prints.