Nick Morley, aka Linocutboy, grew up in Oxfordshire, studied in Sheffield, lived in Vancouver for two years, London for ten, and for last nine years he’s been based in the historic seaside town of Margate, spreading the Linocut gospel across the Uk and beyond from his seaside HQ at Resort Studios.
Draw Cut Ink Press decided to reach out and speak to this great advocate and practitioner of Linocut Printmaking to see what gems we could find out about his views on the artform, how he does what he does and where he draws his inspiration from. So read on as Nick takes us from Space tourists to Brooklyn graf artists and from drawing with his four year old son to printing giant Whale prints with his trusty wooden spoon!
For Nick, his love of art started early, although he almost ended up pulling on a lab coat instead of his printers apron! Nick’s Dad bought him his “first sketchbook (from WHSmith) and encouraged me to do observational drawing from a young age”, but after completing his A-Levels he was set to study science, “but in my gap year I did a Foundation course and realised I actually wanted to do art.” and following that experience was soon enrolling at Art School, “I did a BA in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University. In my second year I went to study in Vancouver and made a lot of etchings. My degree show was mainly painting and drawing and I didn’t make prints again until a couple of years after I graduated.” “I fell in love with etching on my Foundation course, then I got into screen printing while I was at East London Printmakers. I first used linocut for a series I was working on inspired by Dennis Tito, the first space tourist. Once I discovered you could print linocuts with an etching press and get really clean, solid areas of ink I was hooked.”
And it wasn’t just the finish he achieved with an etching press that converted him, like many, Nick found that the directness of linocut was something that drew him to to technique over other forms of printmaking, “I like the physicality and directness of the carving, the apparent simplicity of the technique and the look and feel of the print. It is a very versatile technique, and can produce anything from textured painterly results to strong graphic images and a full range of colour possibilities.”
“I always start with mark-making. I think it’s important to discover first what the medium can do and then use that to create something, rather than starting with an idea of an end result. One piece of advice I give in my workshops and which I try to adhere to myself is to keep things simple. Often the simplest solution is the most elegant.”
From an outsider looking in, it’s not hard to see a coastal influence in Nick’s work. Some of the first work I was aware of featured deep sea divers, sea gulls and of course giant whales, but Nick also points out that “most of my personal work explores our relationship with nature, and how we perceive and try to understand it. There is endless inspiration in the natural world, and in the summer I’m always on the look-out for butterflies and other insects. If I’m driving and I see a kestrel or a red kite I have to be careful not to crash the car.”
As well as the natural world, there’s a whole heap of great artists that have also left their mark on Nick. From the great masters of the past like Dürer, Rembrandt, Thomas Bewick, Ulisse Aldrovandi and Conrad Gessner. To living artists like: Swoon, Paula Rego and of course his dad Neal Morley [https://www.nealmorleypaintings.co.uk/gallery.html]. “Swoon in my favourite living artist. She uses linocut as part of her process, but it’s just one method she employs. She started out as a street artist doing paste-ups in Brooklyn and that developed into installations which involve prints, drawing, paper cut and sculpture. She has also been involved in running big community projects and she is currently learning stop-motion animation. Her personal story runs through the work. She is also an inspiring speaker and writes in depth about her process and her life on her Instagram account. @swoonhq”
But if the inspiration ever runs dry, he always knows where to retreat to get topped back up, “The Prints and Drawings room at the British Museum”, and who could argue with that. The British Museum is packed with amazing historical and cultural artefacts from across the world.
Like many print makers and artists, once inspired Nick uses his sketchbook as a springboard for the development of his ideas, “I draw in my sketchbook but the drawings rarely relate directly to my prints. It’s more of a creative release. I also draw with my four-year-old son and I have always tried to use a child-like approach, where nothing is planned and anything is possible. If I’m developing a design for a print, it’s a balancing act between chaos and control. There has to be room for random acts, freedom of line and mark, silliness. But then you’ve got to pull it together into a finished piece.”
“Each part of the process is a mix of excitement and tension. Drawing is probably the most enjoyable as it allows for editing, carving is maybe the most stressful because you don’t want to make a bad decision. I work out 80-90% of the design in the drawing stage and the final decisions are made when I carve. There is a finality about the carving which makes it harder. I have to be in the right headspace, otherwise this part doesn’t go well. Inking and printing is more mechanical, but pulling the first print is a big moment.”
The finality of a cut into the lino is something that lots of people fear and often ask about the best technique for confident carving. We all have our ways to relax and get into the rhythm where we fear making a mistake less, “I listen to one of Bob Ross’s painting videos when I’m carving. His voice soothes my nerves. If I’m doing a long print run and I need energising I have a playlist of songs which starts with Get Back by the Beatles. Ringo’s galloping drums always get me going.”
From his base at Resort Studios, Nick runs Hello Print Studio, where he teaches and makes his own work. “Resort is a collective of creatives which I co-founded in 2013. We now have over forty members with a wide range of practices. Hello Print Studio is a facility which is available for the Resort members, as well as the public on Wednesdays. We run a range of printmaking workshops on weekends. Hello Print Studio has facilities for screen printing, etching, relief printing and letterpress”. Overseeing so many new print enthusiasts at his weekend workshops we thought Nick might have some solid advice, “the importance of sharp tools, fresh lino, the right ink and paper, and the fact that you can print on an etching press.” and if you’re planning a multi colour print with several different blocks “always build in room for error. A thick black line hides all sorts of horrors.” (So true!)
Despite the access he has to such a great facility where most (yours truly included) would head straight for the etching press, Nick enjoys applying a range of techniques to the production of his work. For instance, when asked whether his go-to printing tool is a humble wooden spoon, etching press or a book press? He says, “I use all three. For my big prints I use my etching press which will print imperial size paper (56 x 76cm) but if it’s something smaller than A5 I will often use my little book press. I use a spoon if I need a more hands-on approach, and also to print my large whale print which is too big for my press.”
As well as facilitating workshops, Nick also takes on a range of commercial works, having successfully completed “illustration commissions for books, book covers, magazines and other things. I recently finished a series of forty illustrations for A Little History of Poetry, which will be published in March by Yale University Press”. And if that wasn’t enough, those lucky enough will be able to see the prints from A Little History of Poetry up close “I’m planning an exhibition of the poetry illustrations in London and I’m working on a personal project which will be revealed if it goes well!”
Many of us would love to exhibit, and Nick agrees. Despite mostly using Instagram to put his work out there, “exhibitions are vital because the experience of seeing prints in real life is so different to on the screen”
We’ll be keenly looking out for more great work from Linocutboy and the guys and girls at Resort Studios, but before we wrapped up our session we asked a few quick fire questions to get the Linocutboy lowdown on some more insights;
Portrait or Landscape?
Whatever fits the image.
Narrative Scene or Abstract?
I do actually fantasise about making abstract art.
Where do you go to top up on your supplies?
handprinted.co.uk for inks and lino
johnpurcell.net for paper
What’s your go to tool/paper/ink in your artists toolbox?
Tool – I’m using the large V a lot at the moment. It’s very expressive. Paper – Somerset Satin or Zerkall. Ink – Caligo Safe Wash Relief ink. I must also mention Pentel’s brush pens (fude pens) which I use for drawing my designs.
What’s your top tip? Any advice for budding artists out there?
Keep at it and stay true to yourself.
What’s your favourite print or piece of artwork you’ve ever produced?
“Actually I’m never 100% happy with anything I make. There is always room for growth and improvement.”
In a digital world, what is it about printmaking that makes people still love it?
It can’t be deleted with the click of a button.
If you’d like to find out more about Nick (linocutboy), his work or fancy attending one of his excellent workshops visit his website: http://linocutboy.com
We have also reviewed his fantastic linocut book which you can read more about here!