I’ve been following the work of Kathleen Neeley (@kathleep) now for several years and am the proud owner of one of her beautiful linocut prints that I framed and hung on my wall. Her work has always drawn me in to look again and again. The other-world characters and tableau scenes seem to hint at stories about folklore, life & death and nature; each time I look i see something else.
Her work is also incredibly technically well observed, designed and executed – something that anyone who enjoys linocutting will sit back and admire. Now based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Kathleen has a prolific output that spans print, clothing & graphic design and we are going to be keeping a close eye on this talented artist!
So what’s your name and where do you come from?
I’m Kathleen Neeley and I’m from Oklahoma, in the United States.
What got you into printmaking?
I was first introduced to linocuts by my high school art teacher.
Did you study print-making at University or College? Or did you come across print making another way?
I studied woodblock printmaking and screen printing at the University of Oklahoma.
When you started out what kind of things were you doing?
My (bad) college art was figurative and mostly themed around nature and myths—not too different from what I make now.
Can you describe where you work and how you’ve setup your studio space?
My studio is a dining room that is never used for actual dining. There’s a secondhand table for carving, a workbench for printing, and a tall metal flat file where I store prints and paper and art I keep meaning to get framed. The walls are green. There’s a mallard lamp on top of the flat file that belonged to my partner’s grandfather.
What inspires you? What are the main themes that you explore the most with your printmaking?
I’m most inspired by nature and books. Much of the content of my prints are personal stories layered under themes of environmentalism. The oil and gas industry gleefully steering our planet towards inhabitability for obscene levels of profit, while suppressing climate research, and then blaming the present crisis on us for using plastic straws. That kind of thing.
Why? What is it about those themes that draw you towards them in your work?
It’s outrageous, impossible to ignore—especially in Oklahoma, where oil and gas looms so large, companies paying little to no taxes, polluting indigenous and historically Black communities. It’s impossible to not care about the world being habitable for people other than humans. And, of course, humans.
Are there any artists that really inspire you? (not neccessarily printmakers)
Lynd Ward, Zinaida Serebriakova, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Paul Landacre, Agnes Miller Parker, Claire Leighton, José Guadalupe Posada, Manuel Manilla, Jean Giraud, M. C. Escher, Felix Vallotton, Franz Masereel, Beatrix Potter, Hans Holbein the Younger, Hieronymus Bosch, Utagawa Hiroshige, Mir Sayyid Ali, Kamāl ud-Dīn Behzād, Kim Jung Gi, Max Fleischer and many others.
I see lots of great influences with a sense of folk lore in them within your work, do you have a love of folk tales?
Whats your favourite place to go to find inspiration?
Pretty much anywhere in nature. Also museums, libraries, parks.
Who is your favourite fellow linocutter and printmaker? Are there any artists that really stand out for you?
I am in awe of the printmaker who goes by Mazatl. Also really love work by Daria Tessler, Kathryn Polk, Carlos Palomares, Sophy Hollington, Nick Morley, Mat Pringle, Davor Gromilović, Chicome Itzquintli Amatlapalli, Denton Watts, Killchoy, Dennis McNett, Tomas Hijo, Niki Waegemaekers, Carlos Barberena, and many others I’m forgetting!
With so many ways to print, what draws you to linocut? and do you also use other techniques?
I just really like carving on linoleum. I find I can get finer details and cleaner lines than I was with wood. Plus you don’t have to worry about grain.
What is the part of the process you relish the most? Draw? Cut? Ink? or Press? (& can you explain why?)
Printing is the most exciting part of the process, but it’s also the most physically demanding—and, when a print doesn’t turn out how you planned, the most disappointing. I love to draw, though I think carving is probably my favorite aspect of making prints. It’s extremely satisfying to physically work the image out of the block.
What’s your go-to choice of music or latest online tv series to soak up when your getting in the zone?
I’m sort of all over the place with what I listen to while working. Right now it’s a huge playlist of songs I’ve been accumulating since January (it takes me a long time to get tired of hearing the same songs). I’ve also really been enjoying escaping reality with ttrpg podcasts.
How do you like to develop your ideas? Is there a creative process you follow that helps you?
Not really. Things just kind of pop into my head.
I really like the 3d kind of style you have in your work sometimes… How did your style develop?
I like seeing what’s behind the figures, seeing more of the world they’re in, and I guess this naturally translates into a sort of 3D look. Plus I just like pushing the two-dimensionality associated with this medium. I like layers interacting with each other.
Were there any lessons you learnt while you developed your linocutting technique that you think feel were real milestone moments for you?
Learning how to make multi-block color prints was a big deal for me. Up to that point, the only color relief print technique I knew was reduction, which is arguably more efficient and easier than multi-block, but it has the serious limitation of not being able to reprint. Once you cut the key, that’s it. No possibility of alternate colorways or future editions.
What do you use to print? Wooden spoon, etching press, book press?
A baren for large areas of black, then a metal spoon.
The challenges of colour registration are always a bit of fun and lots of people ask me about it, how do you make sure your layers line up so nicely?
I make a registration jig with cardboard or balsa wood. Whatever is on hand.
How do you get your work out there and in front of people? Online, Social media, Galleries, Public Spaces, Paste-Ups/Graffitti etc?
Mostly social media and my website, especially now that my physical shows for this year are all cancelled or postponed due to coronavirus.
What’s the favourite piece of work you’ve produced? and why do you think you like it so much?
I’m not sure I have a favorite but I’m quite proud of my most recent color linocut, Moss Lord. It was one of those rare freak things where you see the scene in your head and fall in love with it and somehow it turns out the way you pictured.
Do you fulfill commercial briefs for work alongside your own artwork? or are you like me and just use your printmaking as a creative outlet whilst you’re not clocking in and out at the day job?
I do commercial work sometimes, mostly album and poster art. Lately I’ve been making more book illustrations, which I really love and hope to keep doing.
Whats next? Do you have exciting plans ahead for you?
More linocuts! I’m slowly working on a few longterm projects that I don’t want to say too much about just yet.
What would be your dream project?
Writing and illustrating a book of my own. I’m also interested in (and very intimidated by) animation and filmmaking.
Portrait or Landscape?
I tend to go for portraits and squares over landscapes. I’m not sure why.
Narrative Scene or Abstract? (i think i can guess the answer to this one!)
I appreciate both, but definitely go for narrative scenes in my own work.
What’s your go to tool/paper/ink in your artists toolbox
Pfeil carving tools, mostly Speedball and Cranfield relief ink, and Awagami paper (specifically kitakata and okawara).
Where do you go to top up on your supplies? We get readers from all around the world so local art supply stores or websites you can order from are always welcome
My local art store is Ziegler’s, though their printmaking section is kind of bare bones. Dick Blick is where I get supplies when I can’t find local and independent sources.
Have you ever been tempted to try another material like wood for carving into? or are you wedded to linoleum as your preferred material to work with?
I made woodcuts in college and will definitely make more at some point.
Whats your top tip? any advice for budding artists out there?
Don’t be afraid to erase the whole thing and start over. And write things down. Like, everything. Just write it down! Also, it’s normal to hate what you’re making sometimes and want to give up. You are your harshest critic. Whenever I feel that way, I take a break. Sometimes a really long break.
In a digital world, what is it about printmaking that means people still love it?
It’s physical, it’s real, when so much art now exists only on screens (which is not at all a bad thing and makes art more accessible in general). I think translating complicated visual narratives into tidy black and white lines is always going to be appealing—for more reasons than just cost-effective translation to print mediums, like comics and books. It sometimes feels to me like a wish for our own lives and problems to be as cleanly solvable. Or, if not actually solvable, then at least aesthetically pleasing.