Why Make Prints? is the second series in our journal. We ask our artists why they choose printmaking and also why particular techniques and processes. Lenny Lane works in lino – with a graphic design background and varied career, it was the time he spent in Alberta, Canada gave him the opportunity to be actively working as a printmaking artist again.
I’ve always been the creative kind, even as a child. At high school, my art teacher would post jobs on the notice board by the door – nobody took art seriously as a career, but Jim Sheridan, the Head of Art at my school was determined to help us see Art & Design as a profession. I chose Graphic Design, which I understood to be an Illustrative skill that used text: designing book covers, posters and such. It was when I was studying at the Design School at Duncan of Jordanstone College, that I learned it was much more than that.
I became interested in international design groups back then: Michael Peters & Partners, Pentagram, Peter Saville, Neville Brody and other great designers throughout Europe and North America during the 1980s and earlier. I suppose I aspired to be like one of them. I set myself high standards and aimed to succeed.
The printroom at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Arts & Design, 1990s
The Design School had some pretty amazing options for students and introduced me to printmaking as part of the core Graphic disciplines. The Printmaking Department was a benchmark for other art schools throughout the UK – I remember students from as far as Sheffield coming to see how our department was set up and organised. The range of letterpresses and quality of instruction was exceptional, thanks to Bob Fraser, the Head Lecturer. It was hard for me not to develop a love for the place, anyone who has passed through that department will know how special it was. There I discovered Lithography, Intaglio, and Linocut – It was a wonderfully creative outlet for me. I used printmaking as a way of illustrating my packaging projects, and this helped create a unique identity and brand for myself.
Collectively I wasn’t attracted to the idea of acid and chemicals used in attaining certain outcomes. Perhaps I didn’t practice enough to get the techniques fully understood. I chose linocut because I loved the connection that becomes inherent when carving blocks of linoleum. I still do. It’s highly therapeutic. The physical aspect of carving warm blocks of traditional printmaking linoleum, the smell of inks, the revealing of images when you peel the paper off the block and the use of beautiful Columbian and Albion presses in doing so were all influential in using Lino as my primary process. The community and rapport of students working together also provided a strong bond with the printmaking department in general. I love the tools (Pfeil) and like to experiment with other mark-making implements. TN Lawrence ink colours available were also a big attraction to me as a student. Decisions taken regarding colour are a big part of my design process – and can make or break a piece of work. But ultimately there’s something primitive about linocut printing that connects me to the finished image that I don’t necessarily get from other mediums.
After obtaining my B. Des. in Graphics, I took on a Post Graduate year in Printmaking (Design). At that stage, I got more serious with my subject and tried to find my style through a wide assortment of influences and interests. I stuck to lino printmaking throughout that year, and some of the lessons learned then are still put into practice today.
Lenny demonstrating linocut printing
I think my style or approach is still a reflection of my graphics background, and there are some marks made that I could identify as being mine. More importantly, I find linoleum to be a great vehicle for my subject: Trees. The remaining surface of the block from carving is often organic and slightly random in nature – just as you’d find in patterns and textures within nature. It’s a process of using a careful eye and controlled hand to ensure the marks you make meet the drawing expectations, and at the same time don’t end up looking repetitive or man-made. If I’d tried creating tree prints using any other medium, they’d definitely look a whole lot different.
There were many reasons why I changed and adapted careers (and countries) since my college days. Not surprisingly though, I never stopped thinking about making prints during those times.
I always wanted to experience life in Canada from a young age and it took a lot of effort to get there. When I arrived in Alberta in 2001, it would be fair to say that I changed – as we all do – with people, influences, lifestyles and ideas we meet every day in a new environment. I hadn’t done much printmaking in the few years prior to then, but after finding my feet I was able to take in the influences of living there and channel that into my new-found printmaking practice.
Those influences mainly came with witnessing the changing seasons, the vast landscape and the sense of isolation in some places. Naturally, I started to illustrate this by using trees as my subject. I embarked on a series of prints ‘Year in Trees’. Chronicling the effects of trees on the landscape throughout the year. It led to a change in how I carved and coloured my prints. I thought about my subject for weeks, sometimes months, before formulating ideas. This slower approach enabled a better method of working, solving problems and questioning what I thought I knew.
Serenity by Lenny Lane
Because I was focusing on Alberta, my work attracted some attention from the Artists Ranch Project, part of the Calgary Stampede & Exhibition – an annual event that attracts over 1 million visitors. There wasn’t a lot of lino printing being shown, so my work represented a bit of a novelty – it was a great opportunity to showcase a process that wasn’t found too often in the province. Taking part in the Calgary Stampede & Exhibition also allowed me to exhibit in a space that requires work at a much larger scale. This pushed me to think big and create big! That, in turn, helped pave the way to creating ‘Serenity‘, an 8-piece polyptych print measures 215cm x 112cm framed. It required some creative engineering to pull it off, but it gave me quite a new and exciting way to work in lino. I also have plans to make this into a series of polyptychs whenever the opportunity presents themselves. I’ve been highly proactive for several years now and Printmaking is something I find I absolutely need to do. It’s my happy place. I think that’s a common trait in artists, especially printmakers.
Now I’m back in Scotland, I’d like to have my own studio or work within a cooperative community of printmakers/artists. Glasgow Print Studio is a fabulous, world-class centre – so I have my eye on that goal when commuting time permits. Screen-printing and wood engraving are definite mediums I’d like to use. However, even after all these years, there are still loads of untested waters within lino printing techniques, themes, papers and tools, which intrigue me. Despite practising for 30+ years – I still find that there’s never a dull moment as a lino printer!
See more of Lenny’s work here.