Q&A with Melissa White

Q. Tell me about your route into illustration.
A. It was probably when I was studying painting. I found that instead of using a paint brush I was using a pencil or a pen and my final work didn’t contain a drop of paint. I started using my computer and projection then, which is how I got away with it in the painting realm because the painting studio, for some reason, was the loosest studio that you could be in, you could get away with doing anything so long as you had something to back up.
I’ve always drawn, I’ve always loved drawing and after finishing art school I thought okay, maybe I want to do this instead and didn’t really know what I’d do with myself with a fine arts degree and applied for design.

Q. This was in Australia?
A. Yes. Tertiary education, I don’t know what they’d call it here? Maybe a diploma? So I applied at the Creative Centre to do either graphic design or illustration. I got into both courses but I chose Graphic Design. I have no idea why. I think in my head I was always, from when I was younger, thinking Graphic Design was the only way I could make money and be creative. I had two weeks when starting the course and had one class where we were tasked with drawing a gene pool. We had a break and I walked to the front of the class and every single person had drawn a kidney shape with pairs of trousers in it and I thought hmmm don’t want to be here and I walked out and didn’t go back. And after that many years just faffing around doing various things, always doing creative things but nothing solid. That was why I moved to the UK and realised that there’s a real market for illustrators. Back home I didn’t feel that what I did really fitted in with the Australian aesthetic or what was available. You were either a graphic designer or a fine artist or a street artist. That was the difference there and I didn’t really fit into any of those things. Whereas here in the UK I feel those boundaries are quite so set and illustration is a popular medium for commercial work as well as creative work, so it wasn’t until I came here I thought I could give that a go and make money from it.

Q. Could you tell me about your process? What are you working on now?
A. At the moment my grand scheme is a children’s book, which is mainly in my head at the moment and I haven’t had the time to dedicate to it. I work best when I have a day to potter around, clean the house from top to bottom, move things around, I’ll be in my space. I need to be in my space for a while and have the time.

Q. Using sketchbooks?
A. Pieces of paper, it’s totally random, I wish I had a more clear, defined process. Because that would make life so much easier! But it’s never worked like that. I always try to start off with books, but that doesn’t seem to work, so it’s a bit haphazard really. I have scraps of paper or have on my computer stuff that I’ve worked on digitally and from that I think I’ve got enough time to work on it I do. Originally it’s always on a piece of paper and then I’ll work on it digitally. I’m wanting to work more with just pen and paper. I’ve been working on a computer since university and I think print making has really pushed me towards getting back to analogue processes as I feel that I’m stuck in this computer screen, which has been really interesting and has helped me progress my style because I don’t give things that much time when I’m actually doing them. It either works or it doesn’t. Seeing it on a screen is so different from seeing it after that squeegee I like using my hands an getting a bit messy and I feel I’ve constrained myself a bit, so that’s what I’m working on at the moment and that’s what I want for my next project, the children’s book, to bring out in me.

Q. I saw you screen printing an alligator using printing medium painted onto the screen. Can you tell me a bit about that?
A. That was my break out from the screen a bit and going back to my painterly/non-painterly ways. I do love paint, I just don’t have much patience and I think that’s why I initially moved to the screen because I was impatient as an eighteen year old. You’ve got something in front of you that’s quicker than spending a day in the studio, that’s far more appealing. So getting back to the mono prints I saw a video of a girl doing these massive prints. She was treating them as paintings, not prints, and I thought that was really interesting. I wanted to use that process with my own style and having constraints on it, not letting it be completely abstract. Having a barrier around it in a way but not completely. That’s what I find exciting about printmaking, having that ability to play around and not knowing what’s going to come out. I like mixing the medium, with mono prints and cut outs and screen printing.

Q. How did you find out about Print to the People?
A. I tried screenprinting for the first time at a hen party, of all things, in Whitstable. I was told about Paul Bommer (see Q&A below) who has his stuff printed there. I admire how set his style is, that’s what I admire in illustrators

Q. What new medium would you like to try?
A. Printing is definitely a new medium for me. I quite like the idea of using clay just to get a bit messy. I very much enjoy letterpress. I did end up doing up eventually doing a postgraduate diploma in Design years after being accepted into the other design but went to University to do this and my favourite aspect of that was the typography course. I really enjoy letters and I felt like it was something I could have got really geeky about and that class was quite short though and so I didn’t end up progressing that geekiness quite so much as it could have gone. I ended up finishing that course early as well and I left the thought of doing design altogether. But letters I’ve always found them incredibly pleasing when they’re right and the idea of mixing really lovely letters and printing them out, that’s something that’s quite appealing to me. I have done letterpress at Print to the People. That started off as a ‘call out’ helping clean letterpress initially, which was a good introduction to the trays and how it’s laid out and the general understanding of how letterpress is done. And also going to The John Jarrold Printing Museum, in Norwich. I’ve only done a few actual prints though. That was an absolute joy, printing out a Gill alphabet. I want to print something that actually means something rather than just an alphabet now though. Words have always played a big role in my work, so I guess that makes sense.

Q. What artist do you admire?
A. As I’ve said I admire people who give the sense that they know what they’re doing. Working on a style, something that’s recognisably mine, something that I think is important for an artist purely to know what they’re doing , what they’re trying to say and how they doing to do that. The difficulty with that is being put in a box and that can be a problem. So as long as you’re doing new things, to change mediums. Somebody at the moment who is Jean Julian, his work I’ve come across online, as I do most artists these days, that’s kind of what’s great about Instagram, you can follow the progression of an artist and he’s huge now. A few years ago he was not, known in illustration circles I suppose. He’s the guy who did the Eiffel Tower peace sign. His work is so simple and so recognisably him and clever and thoughtful. That’s what appeals to me with him. His work is also often humorous, it’s reflective and it’s simple. I admire him and I admire his work.

Q. Apart from artists, where do you find inspiration?
A. Music. This was probably my first introduction to a visual language and was through music and album covers and film clips. Things like The Beach Boys and Revolver and Peter Gabriel’s film for Sledgehammer. I really remember those things from when I was little and its still music. I listen to music all day and there are sentiments in music I try to convey in my work.

Q. Let’s jump to ‘Marks on Paper’ – how did that come about?
A. ‘Marks on Paper’ came about because when I first moved to Norwich I knew you guys at Print to the People, which was a good introduction to being in Norwich, I’d met Flik at Anteros, purely by walking in and saying hello and I’m an artist and got a job? So she took my details down. I’d been thinking about doing a creative club for a while. I’d come across a place with a woman in New York who does it. She does something called ‘Ladies drawing nights’, so it’s very specific and generally involving other illustrators and that’s not what I wanted but I liked the idea of people coming together and Flik offered me an exhibition and asked if I wanted to teach drawing. I said I’d love to have an exhibition and I don’t want to teach drawing but I’d like to do a club night there. And so the idea was there are a lot of drawing classes in Norwich and a lot of them are quite traditional and I found them scary. So I wanted to offer an alternative that wasn’t scary and was basically something I’d like to go to. I think the premise is still the same, though it’s become a little more like therapy than I’d first imagined. But it’s generally a good laugh and cheaper than therapy. It’s basically for people who enjoy drawing and want to remember why they enjoy drawing. Because I really hate that idea that people say they can’t draw, which everyone does and everyone can draw.

Q. Do you collect anything?
A. I would say I am a collector of almost trash! Well, rocks aren’t trash. I do collect found objects. If you look anywhere around here you’ll find some kind of rock or twig or shell.

Q. How do you deal with creative blocks?
A. You just have to push through it. You just have to draw a lot of crap and throw a lot away.

Q. ‘She’s laughing’ – tell me about that name?
A. I’ve used that name since University. My logo is a Kookaburra. ‘She’s laughing’ is a euphemism for ‘everything will be fine’. It’s an Australian thing, she’s laughing, no worries, it will be okay.

Q. Where do you sell your work?
A. On a newly made web shop. I don’t have much to sell yet. That’s what this year is about and that list of work to do is about. I want to start having a coherent grouping of work that works nicely together to be able to sell.

Q. What is your favourite Bowie song?
A. Easily ‘Let’s dance’. It’s just one of the best songs of all time.


Questions: Paul McNeill   Editor: Yasmin Keyani


Q&A with Paul Bommer

Q. Tell me about your route into illustration?
A. Well I have always drawn since earliest memory really, always been drawing, and as a child I imagined it was something I was going to do a as a career, but then family pressures intervened and it wasn’t an option or a job. My father and three of my siblings were all engineers so I followed that route for a while and did an engineering degree. I worked in it for three years but I knew as soon as I started that I loathed it and was saving money while I was there to get me to Art College. So after three years I got out and did a fine art degree in painting at the National College of Art and Design, NCAD, in Dublin. When I returned to London I did a number of small jobs and had a studio on the side. At that time I was really trying to be a painter and then discovered that computers were a way of getting this stuff across much faster and this led to illustration. That was fine in the beginning, but then I began to feel that digital work killed the spirit of what I wished to create. I think that’s when printing came in, about 5 or 6 years ago. I looked into screen printing in London and found a studio, the Print Club in Dalston, which is where I started. I've been increasingly moving away from illustration since then (editorial or commercial illustrations in particular) into something more like fine art.

Q. Is that Fine Art?
A. Well, I don’t really know to be honest. I think printmaking straddles that, it’s quite a grey area. Lots of artists use printmaking, but somehow it’s still considered the poor cousin and not really respected like ‘unique’ pieces. Editioned work is generally thought of as a little bit lower than unique pieces, but not entirely. You can have prints that cost thousands and one offs, like mono prints, and then you can go right down to posters and flyers that are mass produced, and booklets. Print is a really broad church.

Q. I first saw your work in the Guardian magazine?
A. You probably did, I used to work for them quite often.

Q. When was that?
A. I used to work for the Guardian quite regularly before I moved up to Norfolk, so that would have been about five or six years ago. I did a weekly piece for them for a while and lots of covers for the supplements over time. They made a lot of redundancies at one point and moved their offices from Farringdon to Kings Cross and all the people who had commissioned me were let go. I didn’t really pursue it, I could have made fresh contacts, but there were always waves of new illustrators coming in and I decided I didn’t like the stress and pressure of commercial editorial illustration. I did enjoy the challenge of working within a brief and having certain constrains, but the work dried up and my enthusiasm for it dried up as well.

Q. Tell me about your process?
A. There are two strands. If I’m working for a commissioned piece the process involves creating roughs for approval and then final artwork. When I’m working on my own pieces I just work endlessly out of notebooks, I’m now on about 160. I’ve been using those since art college and
that’s over twenty years ago. I just work and work on ideas all the time and I try not to censor too much even though a lot of the ideas don’t necessarily make the grade as they wouldn’t always translate as an art piece or as a print. Different sorts of media suit different things, it may be something that has a limited audience and a painting or a mono print or a small edition might suit that better. Other imagery, like the tattooed sailors for instance, prove more popular and it’s okay to do bigger editions of those.

Q. So how does a picture come out of the notebook/sketchbook into the world, how does that process happen?
A. I often just do a very random scribble in the notebook, it may only be the size of a postage stamp, very small, and I will then scan that in and blow it up towards the size of print I’ve intended. I usually work in 3 sizes: A3, B2 (fifty by seventy cm) and mini (twenty cm square). As they get blown up certain things have to change, marks that just don’t work when they’re larger and so I work them up in the studio on the light box using technical drawing pens generally. The process is ongoing, I don’t just draw one thing, it starts out as something small and it grows piecemeal. I tend not to draw things as one image but in parts and then composite it together in Photoshop.

Q. Let's talk tiles, how did you come to be doing these?
A. I’ve always loved Delft tiles, I think even as a kid I was aware of them and just loved that look. Blue and white has always been very popular and it still is. A few years ago I had an exhibition in a Georgian house in Spitalfields and as a nod to the area and to the history of the house I did paintings that looked like Delft tiles (they were paintings on mdf boards and used crackle glazes to create the effect). I made 120 of those and they were all related to a website called ‘Spitalfields Life’ which I knew the author of and which dealt with that area particularly and its history. So I was referencing things that had been featured by the Gentle Author on that website, mentioning local manufacturers, artists, buildings and the churches there, etc. I was trying to reference the history in all its broad scale. They sold really well, but a lot of people didn’t get the fact that they weren’t real tiles and I got a lot of people asking if I would do ceramic tiles they could use in their bathrooms, hearth places, etc. I began a very slow process of exploring that and first of all started using transfers on shop bought tiles which I found very unsatisfactory. I did onglaze painting on premade tiles and eventually I just found the only way to get the look and feel of a genuine delft tile was to actually create the tile yourself and to paint it as it would have been done originally. Basically it took me about three or four years, intermittently as it definitely wasn’t the main focus of my work. I still use transfers for some sorts of tile making, but for the traditional blue and white delft tiles, I found the best thing was to go back to basics.

Q. So they’re like a mini painting?
A. They are. Each one is hand painted. Sometimes I use a template, called a spons, this is an image drawn on parchment which then has holes pricked in it through which you 'pounce' charcoal dust to leave an image on the tile that you can follow. Even if you use the same
template many times over you will always get slightly different end results, which is very pleasing.

Q. Let's talk tattoos... Do you have any?
A. Well, I’ve got a couple of small tattoos…

Q. We’ll have a look at those later... So you’ve used tattoos quite a bit in your work or its influenced your work?
A. Yes that’s right, it really comes more from a fascination with symbolism than it does with tattoos exactly. I liked the way tattoos had meanings. Nowadays you can get anything you like, if there’s a singer you like, etc., but at one time it was associated with a lower class of people, criminals or sailors say, and everything had a meaning, things like tears or dice. They had significance and I like the idea of things reduced down to a symbol. That’s why I have a fascination with playing cards and pub signs as well, all that sort of thing. It is all related. Tattoos work really well in a print because there’s the idea of having a story within a story. You can have a print about something large, a figure maybe, and within that figure there can be other stories. And it hasn’t always been tattoos, I did some work for the London Guildhall who were having an exhibition of treasures held by the various trade guilds. The artwork showed a Guildhall Aldermen with these objects embroidered in gold thread onto his coat. So it was lots of small pieces, icons, within a larger piece. There was a lot to digest visually.

Q. What’s that art called? That includes pub signs, fairground images, it’s got a name?
A. I think that would be termed folk or popular art.

Q. How did you find out about Print to the People?
A. It was through meeting you, in fact. You came along to one of my first exhibitions in Norwich, at what was The Bell Jar in Upper St Giles Street and a week later I met you again at Get Stuffed Christmas Market at Stew. Before Print to the People came along Stew was the centre of printmaking in Norwich.

Q. And you’ve had some work produced through them?
A. I have indeed. I have had some tote bags, posters and prints produced there and have been part of both the Year in Print project and P2TP's 2017 Calendar. So an ongoing relationship there and one I would definitely like to continue.

Q. There’s a lot of humour in your work, has that made you happy?
A. It does when people get what I do. I made a decision a few years ago to do what I like to do and not tailor it to an audience. So I’m always slightly surprised and very delighted when people like or respond to my work.

Q. Where do you find inspiration?
A. All over the place really, it’s difficult to say. I am influenced a lot by history and by nature. Although nature is so perfect I don’t attempt to try to imitate it, but I am inspired by it. I have
quite a medieval view of the world where you try to encapsulate or distil the essence of nature. I don’t really try to show landscapes.

Q. Do you collect anything?
A. Yes I do. I collect random ceramic pieces, jugs and vessels mostly. I’m very fond of them. The other things I collect are playing cards and tarot cards.

Q. Do you do readings?
A. No I don’t sadly. I was raised Catholic and taught they were a sin, they were evil (I don't still believe this!) but it’s the appeal of reductive symbolism that can be seen on lots of different levels. The pictures show one thing but may mean another and within one image there will be lots of disparate elements.

Q. How do you get past creative blocks?
A. When I feel them approaching I’m now more aware of them. There’s some work you can do when you’re not feeling so bright, sort of ‘donkey’ work. It’s good to do something else if you’re struggling with creative things and I find it's best to put down your pens and get away from it for a while. If you just carry on working relentlessly I think you burn out and that’s happened to me a number of times. So if I have a block I take a break.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’ve just finished a body of commissioned work and now I’m really trying to focus on what I’m going to do for next year, for the foreseeable. I’m trying to plan a different way of working where I focus more on creating the work I want to produce and exploring different techniques within printmaking, mark making and painting. I think what I’m really trying to do is find the the fun in it again. Not just the fun that comes across on the paper, but the enjoyment of the creative process itself, which can get so easily lost. That’s my main focus and I’m looking forward to next year and have momentarily stopped working in preparation for that. I'm laying out in front of me things that I could do and working out how best to proceed with that.

Q. Where do you sell your work?
A. I sell my work on my own Big Cartel online shop, and I also sell it through a number of galleries online and across the country. I’m having a pre-Christmas selling exhibition at the end of November, A Winter's Tale, at Nunns Yard in Norwich.

Q. What new medium would you like to try?
A. I’d like to explore intaglio etching, and wood block, which I think are related, that sort of direct impress printmaking. Different sorts of print media suggest different sorts of images. Risography, because it’s generally a simpler process, makes me think of pamphlets and posters, that sort of thing, a broader, more popular kind of avenue. Screenprinting and wood cut or intaglio would be higher end, more limited. All sorts of things to explore. I’d like to do more letterpress as well but I haven’t thought of a project that could really use that to best advantage.

Q. What artist do you admire?
A. I have current favourites, but over time there have been lots of artists whose works I have admired and they have been absorbed into what I do as influences. I’d say that Edward Bawden is still a massive influence and I like the levity, humour and invention of his earlier work particularly, which I think is slightly overlooked and Edward Lear, I love his drawings a lot. There’s also a Czech illustrator called Jiri Salamoun, I’ve got a couple of his pieces here that are from the sixties, film posters, and I really love his work because he just rips up all the conventions and isn't worried about issues of perspective or making sense, scale, that sort of thing. In a way it reminds me again of that medieval approach even though it’s very much art of the sixties. He’s still around now in his eighties or nineties.

Q. What is your favourite Bowie song?


Q&A with Jane Kemp

Q. Tell me about your route into illustration?
A. After moving up from London around 16 years ago and bringing up my 4 children I needed a new challenge. I had previously been a surface pattern designer in the rag trade when I lived in London but now I wanted something new to do. I started by joining a local watercolour group which was just once a week this then lead to me enrolling at City College in Norwich to do the Access to Art and Design course which was a full time course which was completed in a year.

Q. Like a Foundation?
A. Yeah. You do a bit of textiles, sculpture, a bit of everything print, graphics, life drawing, and it was during this course that I wanted to take on a bit more and I applied to do Illustration at NUA. I think it was being back at college and doing something creative again, I didn’t want to stop. I had to wait for my youngest children got into high school so I deferred for a year and then started my degree at NUA.

Q. And when did you finish that?
A. Two years ago.

Q. Can you tell me about your process?
A. My process is print based. I’m quite flexible in what print I use, but at the moment it’s mainly lino cut. And I do some screen printing.

Q. How do you get to an image for lino cut?
A. I sketch first, I always start with sketching. I have my idea, go and reference it, research it, sketch, then try and work out in black and white, because that’s generally what you have to do with lino. Once I get my final design, final size, I then trace everything because in lino you have to work in reverse. I just use the tracing paper to help me to work it out, see how it’s going to look and then just draw it onto the lino block before I cut away, and sometimes when you’re doing it you’ll change it as you go along because it might not look right and you often have to take a  print of the image and then make adjustments because it’s not quite right.

Q. Why would you decide to do a screenprint rather than a linocut?
ALino cut is quite chunky, it is very difficult to get fine detail with lino, but as a way of working it is very therapeutic. I really enjoy the process of cutting away at the lino as the image develops and there is always a bit of a surprise when you finally get to print. 

Q. So you do your linos here in your studio and otherwise you do your screenprinting at Print to the People?
A. Yes, I work in my studio at home. I have a small press I can use for my lino cuts or I print by hand if they are bigger than A4. But if I want to screen print then I use the excellent facilities at Print to the People.

Q. How did you find out about Print to the People?
A. It was through the university. It was promoted so that we knew we would still be able to use printing facilities after graduation.

Q. Where do you find inspiration?
A. In lots of places. Books, vintage magazines, I look at a lot of old stuff really. I love museums and spend time there looking for inspiration. I have recently screen printed a series of Toby Jugs which started when I saw one at the Castle museum in Norwich and then a friend mentioned that she had a collection of them  which I photographed. This is the starting point for a project. 

Q. Because you’ve done other museum stuff haven’t you?
A. I have because I really love museums. I love going to them and I love looking around, and when I was at Uni I did a project on the Bridewell Museum on the weaving loom. And then for my final project I went to the John Jarrold Printing Museum.

Q. How did you find out about that?
A. A tutor told me about it because I didn’t know it existed. And it was an  absolutely fabulous museum.

Q. What do you do there and what you like about it?
A. The John Jarrold Printing Museum is a working museum run by retired print workers, just down by the river at Whitefriars and it has been going since about 1982. It shows you how print was in its hey day before it moved over to computers. It is filled with working print machines from early Stanhope presses to later motorised Heidelberg machines. They also have lots of type, wooden and metal of varying sizes, draws and draws of it. When you walk in it smells of printing ink and it is laid out as it would off all those years ago with a composing area first with the tall cabinets with sloping tops into the printing area with a variety of machines ending up with the bindery section. 
I went into the museum for my final project at university and originally taped them talking about there experiences in the print trade. A lot of them were quite similar enrolling at 15 and doing the 7 year apprenticeship. This became the start of my project which ended up with me producing an A3 size concertina book based on the museum with lino cut illustrations.

Q. It’s still owned by the Jarrold's family?
A. Yes, it’s still in the Jarrold’s family and Caroline and Peter come in a lot. Peter used to run the print works division, he’s really keen and he always comes in and asks about what you’re doing and shows an interest. And Caroline does the same, she’s interested in what people are up to.

Q. And what about type? Because I feel you have some sort of passion for it.
A. Yes, I do love type! When you work with a Mac you’ve just got this prescribed list of type and it’s all really boring and not very exciting, and then you look in an old type book or go to the museum and see the drawers of type and there’s such a different range it’s really exciting. And there’s something about printed type, letterpress, that’s much more exciting and tactile than something you can get off a computer. I get lots of ideas just from looking at type.

Q. So it’s not a sideline, it’s like another avenue?
A. Yes, I’d say it is one of my main interests actually. If I can I try and get type into my images. I have started to use letterpress as well. I recently purchased a small table top printer, an Adana 8x5. I also have bought some type and have started to produce letterpress greetings cards

Q. Do you collect anything?
A. Well because of my printing press I have stared to collect type, like these 3 boxes of Gill. Which is a favourite type face of mine, I use it a lot. I also have some really large letters that I pick up from boot fairs some are shop sign letters and I have a gigantic letter S which was a Safeway s that is now on my studio door.

Q. Is there something addictive about letterpress?
AYes there is. They are very tactile objects and so many varieties of type. I get very excited when I open up the drawers/cases in the museum or if I see some for sale. 
I have a condensed sans serif type in wood which is beautiful and this larger wooden type which has a similar look to Playbill, I got this from a boot fair for £8.
It feeds into the work I do, I have just printed the shipping forecast using lots of different typefaces.

Q. And you did a list of dogs didn’t you?
A. Yes, I love dogs and I did a series of lino cuts of different breeds and included the breed of the dog, so using type and image.

Q. How do you get past creative blocks?
A. I just go to a museum or look at a book. Just have a look out there.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have just completed a series of lino prints that are 10 by 10 cms for a print exhibition in Bury St. Edmunds in November.

Q. What new medium would you like to try?
A. Cyanotype. I went to a cyanotype workshop at Print to the People and I absolutely loved it. I really enjoyed the process and I love that blue you get. I did a print of eels because I like the story of eels and how they go to the Sargasso Sea to lay their eggs. I hadn’t known how to make an image of that, but using cyanotype worked very well. You use a black image on acetate and then expose it to treated paper, then you wash it off and your image comes out. I got really excited by that, it’s a nice process.

Q. Which artist do you admire?
A. Christopher Brown, Ed Klutz and Jonny Hannah all use lino cut and are very exciting illustrator/ artists.

Q. What is your favourite Bowie song?
A. Golden Years.


John Jarrold Printing Museum
Whitefriars Norwich Norfolk NR3 1SH

email: enquiries@johnjarroldprintingmuseum.org.uk

The Museum is open from 09.30 to 12.30 every Wednesday
and by special arrangement

Questions: Paul McNeill Editor: Yasmin Keyani