Monday, January 5, 2009

Printsy Interview - Mariann Johansen-Ellis

'The Guys' - 6 colour reduction linocut mariannjohansen-ellis on FlickrInterview by janallsopp

Your door to all my online sites:
Both my etsy shops:
for original paintings and larger prints:
my blog:
my Flickr photostream:

'Mariann and Nancy in studio' - mariannjohansen-ellis on FlickrHello all Printsy members... and all other visitors to the Printsy blog!

My name is Mariann Johansen-Ellis, I was born In Denmark, but have not lived there since I was a child. I call Southern Spain my home, although right now I share my time between Spain and Singapore, where both my husband and I work for the moment. We are almost finished though with our new house, including my HUGE studio, in the beautiful countryside just south of Granada... soon we will be back full time in Spain and I will start up printmaking courses (more about that at

'Our house with studio in Spain'- mariannjohansen-ellis on FlickrI am delighted to be a printmaker... although I have no formal education, (believe it or not, I started out as an estate agent!!) I have been lucky enough to have a great printmaker as a friend, Mary Eisman, who introduced me to etching. In my family, we have always been creative, but in a more craft oriented fashion, so my art career really started out by making all kinds of stuff in wood and then decorating it. I loved the whole carpentry bit, and I think this is why I find printmaking so fun. I really enjoy the preparation of plates, the whole “tool” process that comes before you get started so to speak, it’s like meditating, giving me space to think about ideas, images etc. I rarely, well, never actually work from anything but my imagination. Which is probably the reason it all looks a bit wonky. I just don’t seem to be able to concentrate on a model or a still life... my images are usually there as soon as I “look inwards” and the more I work, the more images there are. I do art to feel my best, but don’t have to feel my best to do art!

'Reach for the Stars' etching - mariannjohansen-ellis on FlickrI tend to do mostly etchings; even though in Singapore, as a private person you are not allowed acid in your studio, I am fortunate to have a second studio in Spain. I also taught printmaking at Singapore Tyler Print Institute for a while and they very kindly let me use their acid room, with a huge bath!!

'Our Favourite Tree' etching - mariannjohansen-ellis on FlickrI have to say though, that lino is probably the printmaking form I feel is made for me. I love reduction printing, although there can be some, mild of course, swear words, over registration (if you have ever tried a lino reduction you will know I am lying through my teeth about the language) but it is still great fun, and a real challenge.

'Feather and Scale' 6 colour reduction - mariannjohansen-ellis on FlickrI have two printmaking movies on Youtube, one that explains and shows how an etching is made and printed, and one that shows a lino reduction being cut and printed. Just search under my name.

'Mariann in her Singapore studio' - mariannjohansen-ellis on FlickrIn Singapore I work in my studio at home, as we are renting a house, this really translates to the spare bedroom, which is fine, but at this stage in my career, quite limiting… so I am looking forward to my (first) purpose built studio that is included in our new house in Spain, not only is it huge. It also has the most amazing “air” or vibe. I just know that I am going to do great work there. And I look forward to teaching as well, I’ll run printmaking courses in both spring and autumn. I discovered teaching in Singapore, and found that it is so inspirational, just so much fun showing, sharing and seeing how different people use information and the same copperplate... amazing results come out!! There is also something about printmaking that is so great for first timers... it’s something to do with the finished look a print has, I am sure fellow printmakers know what I am talking about, and if you are not a printmaker, then do a course... it’ll change your life!

'Workshop at STPI' - mariannjohansen-ellis on FlickrAlthough it is easy to be put off by the process of printmaking, it is no more difficult than brushes and oil paint for example. Where with brush and paint you see the result as it grows, printmaking is a different creature. It will lurk, peep, tease and “torture” until you finally pull that first print, it can be a triumph, or a slow moan... you just never know. It’s funny; the plate does not tell you the whole story until the print is on the paper!

Most of my etchings are done à la poupée: this means that I ink up all the colours on the plate, with big plates this means that inking can take a long time, and then I print the plate, repeating the inking for each print. Doing all the colours like that, also means that each print will have small differences from one to the next. I am not particularily concerned about the edition being as similar as possible, I often change colours of single things, or all of it if I feel like it. For me it adds to the ‘original’ in the original print, the knowledge that the artist had a direct hands on involvement in each image.

'Holiday' etching à la poupée - mariannjohansen-ellis on FlickrMy editions are short, rarely over 40 prints. It just gets to boring for me as an artist to print too many prints of one plate, and as I am a prolific worker, there is no need either.

I get inspired by daily events, most of the time, small things, something I read in the newspaper, or hear about from friends, it can be difficult to trace inspirations, even for me. A lot of the time the image is just there in my head.

Almost all of my work is whimsical. I do try, quite consciously to be “funny”, that’s my contribution to a happier world. A lot of my work is considered to be for children, and although I sometimes do cater to that in the name of paying my bills, it is not a conscious choice most of the time. I actually started out entertaining my little sister; most images are in ways done for her, for us to have a giggle at!

I have started something new very recently though, and show it on my Oneline Etsy shop, the prints there are somewhat more serious in content, more adult. I am not sure where it is heading yet… it’ll go where it goes, I am enjoying though, doing something new.

'Blackbird Sing' watercolour and ink - mariannjohansen-ellis on FlickrMy way of getting over slumps though, is really called self discipline. Can’t think of anything to do? There is always printing to be done. I enjoy quite a successful career as an artist and work with several shops and a gallery in Singapore, and have recently added a gallery in Brisbane to my list and they are always asking for MORE. There is simply not much opportunity for me to have a slump!

'Exhibition at Red Sea Gallery, Singapore' - mariannjohansen-ellis on FlickrI don’t feel very precious about being an artist. I am just deeply grateful that I can wake up every morning and go to my studio and work, as there is nothing I would rather do. I always thought that a good way to promote yourself is to take what you do seriously, even though it can be hard to make a living as an artist, get out there. My recipe for being an artist full time: a big cup of reasonable price, a large dollop of common sense, as in, could I maybe make something that more people would want, and a good spoonful of being open to new opportunities. I found for example that illustrating some children’s books opened my work up to a whole new group of people.

'Lambchoppers' hand coloured linocut - mariannjohansen-ellis on FlickrIf I have one piece of advice for anyone thinking about venturing into printmaking... buying my etching press was not only the most sound investment I ever made in my artist career, it also opened up whole new ways of doing art for me.


Unknown said...

Your interview was as delightful as your whimsical pieces, Mariann! Thanks for sharing your process and experience with us. When I first saw your etchings last year, I thought you hand coloured them after the fact with watercolour; now that I see you work à la poupée, I admire them even more than I did before! And beautiful detail on your reductions (yes, I hear the air turning blue from here!).

Again, thank you.

Celia Hart said...

I love your sensible recipe for success as an artist ;-)

And I must take another look at your recent work.

Best wishes

Sarah Waite said...

Interesting blog, I too love the frustrations and fabulous surprises of the printmaking process, it's just soooo unpredictable.. You describe it well. If you ever need extra visiting tutors at your studio do let me know! Best wishes, Sarah