This session of Material Witness, 3-4 October, 2019, was a linocut workshop held in Frome, Somerset, and hosted by Chris Pig, of Black Pig Printmaking Studio, and Amy Jeffs, who recently completed her PhD at Cambridge and whose work combines British history and linocut illustrations. Chris is particularly interested in fostering environments in which artists and academics can work together, and this workshop was the perfect setting for such an occasion.
Upon arrival in Frome, Amy met us at The George, our accommodation for the night, and showed us to Chris’s house and studio. We were welcomed by Chris, who, in conjunction with Amy, had prepared lunch for us to start off the workshop. Gathering around Chris’s table for a hot meal on a rainy afternoon made for a convivial setting for introductions, and provided us with an opportunity to meet our two new furry friends, Amy’s dog, Bryn, and Chris’s cat, Jeff.
We then made our way to Chris’s studio, the walls of which were covered with beautiful prints from Chris’s students over the years. As part of our preparation, we were instructed to provide an image, pre-sized to a 20×25 cm sheet of linoleum, and the first step was to unveil our selections. Chris provided us with the correct carving tools for each of our designs, and transfer paper to trace and transfer our designs onto the linoleum. He then demonstrated how to properly hold our tools, and our bodies, to most efficiently carve. His passion for the process shone through this introduction, and he warned us that the act of creating a linocut could be very transformative and relaxing.
Once we all successfully took our turn using the press to transfer our design onto the linoleum, Chris’s warning came true as we settled in for a solid few hours of focused, enjoyable work. Chris and Amy were on hand and happy to provide help or design assistance when needed. As the afternoon progressed, several designs were ready to be ‘proofed’, which involved printing them onto plain newsprint to check how the image looked so we could edit where necessary.
After several dedicated hours of carving and making proofs, Chris and Amy provided a welcome break for our hands and shoulders with a Spanish-inspired dinner. Having been so engrossed in our work, the dinner allowed us all to unwind and get to know each other further, surrounded by examples of Chris’s work.
On Friday morning, after a hearty breakfast at The George, we headed back to the studio. Amy and Chris allowed us to start earlier than planned, as we were all keen to buckle down and finish our work. Throughout the morning, we finished our initial designs and took turns using Chris’s larger press to professionally print our work. There was a palpable air of excitement as each design was slowly revealed and hung up to dry.
After a quick lunch break, once again kindly provided by Chris and Amy, we returned to the studio for our remaining hours together. Chris provided off-cuts of linoleum for those who wanted to make bookplates or smaller designs, and, while we carved, he displayed examples of different types of linocut prints. He showed us the works of linocut artists who produced reduction, or ‘suicide’ prints, involving a process in which the artists slowly destroyed their designs as they cut away to reveal more layers while printing. He also demonstrated how to print linocut designs with a spoon, so we could all continue to create our designs even from our kitchen countertops.
At the end of the session, we left feeling inspired to continue practicing linocutting. Being able to work alongside Chris and Amy, and bear witness to their experience of and affection for linocutting, gave us a great introduction to the medium. This workshop was a wonderful opportunity to step back from the purely academic nature of most of our studies and enter the supportive environment Chris and Amy created, in which we could bond over the process of creating art.