If you ever come to my house the first image you see is a close up of a giant tongue poking out from a cavernous mouth. It’s bold, in your face composition and graphic mark-making could only be one linocut printmaker… Scott Minzy.
I couldn’t resist asking Scott all about his linocut prints, where he gets his inspiration, how he does what he does and where he wants to go next. His honesty will strike a chord and be familiar to many of you out there. I just hope you all end up as good as this guy.
Where are you based?
Central Maine, in the United States. I live in a tiny town about halfway between Derry and Castlerock. Maine is a strange place where abject poverty abuts extreme wealth.
Can you describe where you work and how you’ve setup your studio space?
I have a small studio in a building next to my house.
It’s 20’ x 26’ I have a Griffin etching Press, inking table and drying rack at one end. On the other end I have a 4 x 8 foot work table and a few sets of flat files. Really, I’ve separated it into a wet area and a dry area. I have bulletin boards covering the walls on either end so that I can tack up work that’s finished, sketches that I don’t want to forget and various talisman and memorabilia. With this said, it’s really rough, I switched studios abruptly last year and didn’t get much of the finish work done. I need to finish taping the sheetrock and trim in the doors and windows.
Did you study print-making at University or College? Or did you come across print making another way?
I tell everyone I was rejected from art school, though I really wasn’t. I have a similar experience as many artists. In high school, I took all my work to the Maine College of Art on portfolio day, listened to an alumni talk about his success selling t-shirts to tourists. I was inspired, so when it was time for portfolio reviews I got in his line straight away. When I got to the table he pulled my drawings out, looked at them and put them back. Then looked at the line behind me and said something like “ I’m going to save your time and mine, you should think of going to college for something else ”
As I discreetly wiped tears from my eyes boarding the yellow school bus I decided that I would show him! And I went on to go to college for Public Relations. Which led to a corporate Job in the tech industry.
After 911 happened the company I worked for almost went under and closed the division that I worked in. It didn’t really matter to me because I had an epiphany while on a business trip and knew that I wanted to make art. So I went back to college for to get a BFA
Back to the question, did I study printmaking in college? Yes and no, As part of my Art Ed degree I had to choose a subject concentration. Though I chose printmaking as my concentration, book arts was (at the time) my real love and much of the work I created was designed for books. Like many schools though, my printmaking professors were not relief printmakers. There seems to be a glut of uninformed litho and intaglio professors hanging out in academia. Either this, or I wasn’t paying attention during my relief printmaking classes.
What got you into printmaking? Was it seeing an artists work, picking up a record and looking at the cover, listening to music or something completely different? Do you remember the time the spark first got ignited?
I first responded to printmaking as an art form when as a 21 year old college senior I found a copy of Max Ernst’s Une semaine de bonté in my college library. I mistakenly thought that he had carved all the images rather than what he did: making collages using Victorian wood engraving. I loved two things about it: In every image there was an unexplained, unexpected sense of menace permeating everyday life. Like David Lynch. The next is what could be done with parallel lines when you change their width and direction.
Years later, while playing hooky from work, I visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and stumbled upon a room filled with the same, unedited Victorian wood engraving and was overwhelmed. On the way out I grabbed a trifold brochure explaining the process of relief printmaking.
I took the brochure to a Hardware store and bought a pine board, paint, a paint roller and a five dollar set of carving tools and made my first woodcut. That is after stabbing myself a dozen or so times, cursing woodgrain and the plastic spoon I was printing with. But, that experience helped me later when I went to art school.
Though, I had a moment in a museum and I came around a corner and was hit by Leonard Baskins monumental woodcut “Tyrannus” and I was awestruck. I think if you look at his work you will see that I am just trying to rip him off. I love the abstract nature of the linework and how it builds to create a bigger figurative composition..
When you started out what kind of things were you doing?
When I got out of school I did a few things that helped me I will list them in bullet points:
- Rented studio space in a building with other artists, even though I couldn’t really afford it. ( I was networking and taking myself seriously as an artist)
- I made lots of bad work – lots and lots of bad work – years of bad, bad, bad work. Though I didn’t really recognize that it was bad I just churned out an endless supply of 8 by 10 black and white crap. (I was learning the craft)
- I applied for every artist call I could find…even if it was for painters and ceramicists. (I put myself out there.)
- I made stuff I thought was cool and put it on the internet. (found a community)
- Focused on composition (this is the most important part of any artwork)
What inspires you? What are the main themes that you explore the most with your printmaking?
It all comes back to Fear, regret and longing. The same things that advertisers use to sell you virtually everything.
Whats your favourite place to go to find inspiration?
I love IG of course, but old fashioned illustrations are my favourite. Any kind, sci-fi covers, pulp illustrations, women’s magazines. I also love horror comics from the 1950 and 60s. Well comics in general are really inspiring every panel is like a tiny lesson in design and color theory. You name it, war, romance, crime, superhero I love them all. Especially those drawn by Jack Kirby.
I also purchased a bunch of used Society of Illustrators Annuals recently and they offer boat loads of inspiration. It’s like a dream, each is filled with Hundreds of pages of the best artwork. It’s also nice to see them out of time. You recognize trends and what art styles are classics.
Why? What is it about those themes that draw you towards them in your work?
I like the idea of “what if?” What if I took the hopefulness of a romance comic and juxtapozed it with the elements of a horror comic? What if Mr. Right is not the person you think he is? What if Mrs.Right wants a lot more than you are able to give. In many way these narrative scenarios end up telling a deeper story about our fears, longing and regrets. In this way they are mini self portraits.
What is the part of the process you relish the most? Draw? Cut? Ink? or Press? (& can you explain why?)
Carving is my favorite. It’s therapeutic. It’s all about control. I teach High School and have three young children at home. At my job I have the illusion of authority, if a room full of 15 year olds decide to throw me out a window they could do it at any time. Likewise, any parent with small children will understand the challenge of managing practice schedules, homework, play dates and personalities. When I am in my studio carving I have complete control over the one inch by one inch square that I am working on. I make one cut at a time, one tiny decision at a time and the sense of agency is liberating.
With so many ways to print, what draws you to linocut? and do you also use other techniques?
I’m sure I have the same answer as everyone else. I read a book that spoke about the physicality of the process and that really resonated with me. The connection to the past, in that relief printmaking is an ancient art form. I also love that it’s a misunderstood and underrated art-form. In college all the professors asked me when I was going to make the transition to woodcuts, as if linoleum wasn’t a legitimate material in itself. At my senior show other art majors were asking if they were pen and ink drawings. And last of all I fell in love with printmaking because it was fast, cheap and easy. Linoleum is the perfect synthesis of this ethos.
Who is your favourite fellow linocutter and printmaker? Are there any artists that really stand out for you?
In school, when people were pushing woodcuts, I found Bill Fick @linobill who was unabashedly pro Lino. Nick Morley put me in my first real show a decade ago with Bill Fick and Sweettoof, which was an ego boost and provided me some respect with local arts.
I’d love to make prints as detailed and sophisticated as Ramon Rodrigues @ramonrodriguesm.
No one seems to be doing as much for printmaking (and forced perspective) in the US as Reinaldo Gil @rgzprints, the guy is on fire setting up exchanges, shows and events. Gregory Santos at @mixedgrit is so generous when it comes to printmaking advice and guidance.
Is there anyone better than Tanx @tanxgfx?
And I guess my favorite printmakers is Holly Berry (www.hollyberrydesigns.com) who lives in my hometown, but is one the greatest all around printmakers I know; meaning color, composition, technique and narrative power. She’s been an illustrator for decades and is so generous with her time and “secrets”.
Of course there are a hundred more that I am forgetting.
What’s your go-to choice of music or latest online tv series to soak up when your getting in the zone?
I go through phases in my studio. For awhile I would listen to old time radio dramas and BBC and CBC radio programs like Nightfall, then I listened to newer podcast radio dramas like Limetown, The Black Black Tapes and lif-e.af/ter. Now I’m on Audible listening to Stephen King and Murakami novels along with 1980’s pulp horror.
How do you like to develop your ideas? Is there a creative process you follow that helps you?
I’m not sure, sometimes I see something and wonder if I could do it better. But mainly I carry around either notecards in a binder clip or tiny notebooks that I make out of cardboard and I doodle in/on them every chance I get: meetings, school assemblies, sporting events. Mainly whenever there is downtime In a way its self soothing but I also generate doodles that I can then work up into bigger compositions.
I have some techniques I use for generating different ideas and compositions, like a game. I’ll include some links:
Informal Composition go to page 3: https://kreatedbykrause.blogspot.com/2013/06/andrew-loomiss-informal-subdivision.html
Three boxes to make a character: http://theetheringtonbrothers.blogspot.com/2018/01/how-to-think-when-you-draw-3-shape.html
How did your style develop?
I don’t know. I spent many years in tech support and sales so I would doodle while on the phone, in hotel rooms or waiting for flights in airports. It certainly wasn’t as if I was trying to create an intentional style. It was just that I was stuck using the supplies I could get out of the work office supply closet. So if you’re using ballpoint or gel pens you need to use stippling, hatching and cross hatching to create value. I would rather gouge my eyes out than carve tiny cross hatching diamonds or thousand of tiny dots so I guess I was left with just hatching. Also I’m sure it was years of reading comics and graphic novels trying to imitate Bernie Wrightson’s illustrations in Cycle of the Werewolf. Or trying to wrap my head around the obsessive mark making of Alan E Cober.
Another thing that I think might have influenced my style, or my use of lights and darks are cut paper drawings. For a while I was obsessed with Kara Walker’s cut paper installations. With this in mind I used to make these obsessive artist books that were constructed of overlapping layers of cut paper. Though I thumb-nailed a lot, I would ultimately end up drawing something on the back of a piece of paper and then be forced to decide what I need to cut away in order to tell the story. This is a lot like relief printmaking. You are working in reverse, you are working reductively and you are walking the fine line of removing too much.
Were there any lessons you learnt while you developed your linocutting technique that you think feel were real milestone moments for you?
- I think realizing that you can shape a line by going back and carving away parts.
- At some point I understood that there had to be a balance of white, gray and black shapes in order for a composition to be read well. I still tend to carve too much away but I’m conscious of it.
- Buying good carving tools!!! I love Speedball, but I wish I had moved on to better gouges earlier.
- Toning the block red to see the contrast of what has been carved away and what needs to be carved away.
- Visual tension and release
What do you use to print? Wooden spoon, etching press, book press?I’ve used all of the above but currently I have a Griffin Etching Press Series III. It’s 40” by 66” so I can make really large prints. I have a bamboo wok spoon that works pretty well. I have never had luck with my book press, there must be some trick that I’m missing.
You previously seemed to do a lot of work in black and white but I’ve noticed more colour in your work recently, what sparked the change and are you enjoying the challenges of colour registration?
At one point I realized that in order to grow as a printmaker I’d either have to go bigger or more technical. I struggle with color and attention to detail, so I went bigger but people don’t have room on their walls for 40 x 60 prints. So, I’ve spent some time learning about registration which I’m just OK at. I would really like to get a real handle on what makes a chiaroscuro print work. I understand the concept and know what I like, but fail miserably when I try to put it in practice. Right now I’m just doing “color by numbers types of prints.
The real master of colored linocuts is Eric Gaskell. His multiblock prints transcend the medium and become something else.
How do you get your work out there and in front of people? Online, Social media, Galleries, Public Spaces, Paste-Ups/Graffitti etc?
- I make stuff that I like and put it on the internet
- I comment on stuff that I like
- I send linocut postcards to people, galleries and companies that I like.
- I try to apply for any residency or art call that is free or close to free.
- I also do my best to be part of the local art community, though that’s hard with three kids and my social awkwardness.
- I always try to say YES! To opportunities that make me uncomfortable or scare me.
What’s the favourite piece of work you’ve produced? and why do you think you like it so much?
I don’t know, There are areas within prints that I am proud of, though the whole piece might not be super successful. Such as the woman’s eye in my print Destrudo: https://www.cannonballpress.com/product/destrudo
I have a couple prints of hands that I made early-on that people responded well to : Cassandra Complex (exploding hand) and Sometimes it Hurts Less to Hurt More (Hand with three fingers cut off). Also, no one really paid attention to my work until I started animating prints, so I have a soft spot for some of my early animated pieces even though they are not that good.
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’ve done a number of illustration jobs which have gone a long way to pay for my press, supplies and studio space. However, I have a very specific niche and skill set, so it can get tough. Especially when you ask me to make a picture of baby unicorns eating ice cream sundaes while sitting in a rowboat under a rainbow, I’m in trouble.
I have a million ideas but the logistics escape me.
I’m currently working on a series of prints that could populate a magazine for dysfunctional families.
I’d also like to make a deck of Oracle cards.
Do you have exciting plans ahead?
I’m going to tag along with Bill Fick and Carlos Hernadez on the Boston Stop of the Speedball Road Show. Bill’s a hero of mine so I’m excited to see him teach at places like Harvard and MassArt.
What would be your dream project?
1. Work with one of my favorite bands like Rancid, H2O, Gorilla Biscuits or the Interrupters.
2. Someone to finance an animated film that takes place in the world of my prints.
3. I would love to write and illustrate a graphic novel about printmaking.
Portrait or Landscape?
Landscape! television is in landscape, movies are in landscape, our eyes see in landscape. So our brains have evolved to process images in landscape.
Narrative Scene or Abstract?
Humans evolved to be storytellers. We lie to ourselves everyday and create stories to justify them. I know I do. I think the real trick is to do both at the same time. I’m always jealous of those people.
What’s your go to tool/paper/ink in your artists toolbox
I use stonehenge paper, Meeden gouges and either Speedball Professional inks or Caligo Safewash.
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
I live way out in the country so there are no art stores around most of my purchases are online. I buy most of my art supplies from dickblick.com, great prices on ink and the linoleum is always fresh. I buy my gouges on amazon.
Most readers always check out my blogs on exercises for beginners or colour registration. If you had any tips you’d give away for those topics, what would you say to help readers?
- Notan Theory – Printmaking, like comedy and horror is all about tension and release. The interplay between dark and light, complexity and simplicity is what makes a great print everything else is just color.
- Composition Most of the time, where and how you place things are more important than how well you draw.
- Make lots of thumbnail drawings. Your first idea is usually your worst and through the course of twenty-five or thirty thumbnail drawings you’ll usually find your target. Most people will skip this step because it’s time consuming
- Use Pins, Tabs and transparencies for registration
- When adding color think of the weight of the color rather than the hue.
- Draw, Draw, Draw – Take lessons on drawing, buy books on drawing. Learn to grid and transfer.
- Draw without thinking! This is called doodling or automatic drawing and it is one of the most important parts of my practice.
- Perspective. You have to know it to break it.
- Don’t spell it all out. Make sure there is some kind of mystery in your composition. The Human brain loves mystery. Your goal is to get people to cerebrally interact with your picture. A print of a dog standing on one leg is a mystery, A print of a dog standing with four legs is just a picture.
- A bad reaction is better than no reaction.
Whats your top tip?
Make cool stuff and put it on the internet
In a digital world, what is it about printmaking that means people still love it?
It’s physical, it’s direct, it’s cheap, it’s relatively simple, and it has an aesthetic. I heard Sean Star Wars say in an interview that no matter how good his drawing is, it always looks better after it has been carved out of a block of wood.