Cambridge Open Studios 2016 - Nina Sage

The last in our series of interviews with Open Studio artists is with printmaker Nina Sage...

Nina Sage Printmaker

We loved seeing your original prints today. You have explored all kinds of printmaking methods in your training, but what is it about lino printing that appeals the most?

I love lino and have done from my very first print, a two block reduction lino of a lighthouse made at my kitchen table! Probably not the easiest method for my first linocut but I was thrilled with the result. I really lose myself in the cutting, hours pass (sometimes 5!). I have the most wonderful tools made by Pfeil which are a joy to use and I use vinyl floor tiles instead of traditional lino for the blocks. I buy them in boxes of 50 from Ridgeons but also have ends of roll which I cadged from a local flooring supplier if I want to work larger. I like this vinyl as it holds a finer line than traditional lino but the lines don't distort with the press like some softer materials you can buy. It is also easy to clean under the tap without bending like traditional lino. Lino gives me the opportunity to layer colour which I really enjoy. I would describe myself as a colourist and love to play with colour in my prints. Why use one colour per layer when you can use several? This approach does generate lots of rollers to wash up though.

I aim for a painterly lino which is probably a bit of a contradiction in terms but I like to monoprint the layers using multiple colours which I mix myself. I use Caligo Safewash Relief ink which is a water washable oil based ink which suits my way of working. It is quite stiff so doesn't clog the detailed blocks I create and is easy to clean up which is great as I am always changing colour, and also my family have allergies so I don't need to use lots of harmful solvents. This is also a consideration when I am teaching.

I use both multi-block and reduction to create my prints and sometimes use both in one print. My print 'Salmon's Leap' is a two block print where I have reduced both blocks. Sometimes I create jigsaw linos and reduce the blocks during the printing, for example Hazy Day was made this way. Or I might combine jigsaw lino with monoprint as in Butterfly Cloud and Walkabout. Basically, when I have an idea I will then work out how I can achieve the effect I want and then go for it! Anything goes really. I go through phases of doing one method.

Reduction is always exciting as it's a one way process and there's no going back. For my print 'Riding the Tide', featuring seahorses, I printed two versions in tandem while I was reducing the block which kept me on my toes, but was great fun and made me rethink how I was approaching reduction.

I have recently been expanding my relief printing repertoire, learning wood engraving and woodcut, and my work in these methods will be on show during this Open Studios. I am enjoying the new challenge but I guess for the moment at least lino will remain my first love!

The images you produce are very naturalistic. What has forged this interest in the natural world?

My prints are rooted in the natural world and landscapes that are meaningful to me. This is due to my background as a scientist. My degree was Biology/Geology Joint honours from Manchester Uni and I spent a lot of time drawing specimens both in the field and in the lab. I taught Biology to A level before working as a professional ecologist for Anglian Water as their Conservation Scientist. Although my career was in science I think I was always a creative scientist, whether I was creating habitats or drawing up landscaping schemes. This scientific background informs the subject of my work but also the way I approach it, as printing can be quite technical and experimental. My prints portray species that I have helped conserve or have observed in the wild during my work.

What excites you the most about the printmaking process?

One of the things that excites me most about the printmaking process is that moment when you first pull a new print off a block. Lifting the paper from the press bed is like the moment you crack open a rock and see a fossil for the first time. You are the first human to see this amazing creature which is millions of years old. I don't think I will ever lose that sense of wonder when I see a print for the first time. I love the fact I am creating something beautiful by hand from something so humble as a floor tile. It is very satisfying.

Nina Sage landscapes

We enjoyed seeing your landscapes, presented in a portrait format. Tell us about these prints.

I adopted this format (10cm x 30cm) when I first started using the floor tiles as I liked the idea of portraying a landscape in an extreme portrait format and the tiles split conveniently into 3 blocks this size. It's like creating a slice of landcape and it can take me some time to create the composition for each piece. I often have to edit an actual scene so it makes sense, and I move elements or remove them to get a composition that your eye flows through, yet retains a recognisable sense of place. I like the challenge, though, and I think some of my most successful prints have resulted from this challenge. It is certainly a popular format as it is unusual and most people have a space that will fit a print that is 10cm wide.

What makes you look at a scene, and want to capture it?

Many of my prints have a story behind them. For example, 'Hazy Day' features Lulworth in Dorset, and it was on the fossil forest here that my husband Richard proposed to me, so it's a special place. 'Badger Watching' resulted from watching a badger digging for worms at sunset in the South Downs before it sauntered off into a copse. It was a challenge to capture that moment when the moon is coming up but there is still a little colour in the landscape.

Holidays also provide inspiration. When we were in the wilderness of British Columbia the rivers were red with salmon which provided the reference for both 'Salmon's Leap' and 'Salmon Run'. The way I stylized the fish was influenced by prints by the Haida people (First nation) which I saw whilst I was there and loved. I also get inspiration from visits to places like the Sedgewick Museum, (see my print 'Jurassic'), or when I am in the garden, (my print 'Alliums Emerging'), or on the dog walk, 'Frosty Morn' shows frost covered cow parsley.

Who would you say has had a big impact on your practice?

Two teachers in particular have been instrumental in my taking up printmaking, Carolyn Wendling who taught me on my Foundation at CRC and Sue Jones who taught me at the Curwen print Study Centre where I studied for a year on their advanced certificate course. Both are natural born teachers, fine craftswomen and artists and I am greatly indebted to both. I have also extended my practice with excellent courses at West Dean and have recently returned from a woodcut workshop in Devon with Merlyn Chesterman, who was inspirational.

What do you teach on your workshops, and where do you hold them?

I love teaching printmaking and aim to ignite my pupils passion for print on my workshops here in Hilton and at my evening classes at Swavesey Village College. The workshops came about when visitors to Open Studios kept leaving their contact details in case I ever decided to teach printmaking so I thought there's an idea - why not? It builds on my previous teaching experience (I did my teacher training in Oxford and taught Biology to A level) and adds another dimension to my work. In fact I enjoyed that first course so much I have continued every since! I am very lucky as I have a lovely light filled orangery to teach in which is where I do all my designing and cutting.

I am also very fortunate in having three presses, two Rollaco presses and a Victorian nipping press which is great for printing wood engravings, small linos and some lovely wooden letterpress blocks I've got. The big press can take up to A2 paper and is on a stand on castors so I can easily move it wherever I want it. It's special as it was my first press and it is so well engineered. It transformed my printmaking and it's also special because my husband bought it for me for an anniversary present! I bought the smaller Rollaco as it is portable (just!) so I can take it to other venues to give demos, talks or to teach evening classes.  Having the three presses means students on my workshops rarely have to queue so we get lots done.

I enjoy teaching workshops in drypoint and monoprint as well as linocut (jigsaw, reduction and multiblock as well as combining lino with monoprint and chine colle) and try to keep numbers small (up to 6). I would describe my teaching style as informal, hands on and encouraging. I pack a lot into a course but keep it fun and everyone goes home with a pack of notes including supplier lists and a set of lovely prints. The workshops run from 10am till 4pm and cost £50 which includes all materials (blocks, inks, paper, use of tools and presses) and tea/coffee/biscuits. See the workshop page on my website for latest workshop dates.

The printmaking evening classes I teach at Swavesey Village College have also proved popular. It's been particularly satisfying to see how students progress over the term and some have been coming back every term so the atmosphere is very friendly and fun. There's probably too much banter, especially if my demo fails! This autumn the Wednesday class (Linocut Printmaking) is back yet again, 7 till 9pm for 10 weeks commencing 21st September 2016. New for this autumn is a Monday night class, Linocut and Monoprint, which will run for 8 weeks (7 till 9pm) commencing 12th September. Anyone interested in booking these needs to either ring the Community Education department on 01954 230373 or visit the college website and click on Community Education to book online.

Do you enjoy working on your own, or with other creatives?

Being an artist can be a lonely business and sometimes I'll be in the middle of a print and just want a second pair of eyes. I am very fortunate in the village here in having a group of fellow artists I can call on to get some advice or to share in the joy of a successful print. On more than one occasion I have been spotted running across the village carrying a wet print to a friends house to get a second opinion! A group of 4 of us, known as the Carnelians, have exhibited together and regularly get together for what we call 'show and tell' where we look at each others latest work and offer gentle critique over a glass of wine or cup of tea depending on the time of day. The girls are very supportive and we cover different disciplines. Lynn Norton paints acrylic inks and pastels, Sherry Rea prints collagraphs and Amanda Stuart is a sonic artist. You can imagine the discussions are never dull. I also meet up with fellow printmakers Jo Tunmer and Tania Scott Durrant and we will chew over technical difficulties we may be having and go to exhibitions together.

Jo and I will be chatting about open studios to Jeremy Sallis on his Radio Cambs show on July 4th at 2.15. Listen out and you'll see what I mean about banter.

Will you be showing your process during Open Studios? 

For Open Studios I will be opening on the same weekends as fellow Open Studio members, local artists Chris Lockwood (watercolour and acrylics) and Kieron Dunk (oils), as well as Lynn Norton (acrylic inks and pastels). We have co-ordinated our studio openings to create a cluster of exciting studios to visit on 9th/10th and 16th/17th July in Hilton and Fen Drayton covering a variety of media.

In previous years I have exhibited with Lynn but this year for the first time ever I will exhibiting at home in the orangery, so visitors will be able to see where I work as well as view my latest prints. I plan to demonstrate printmaking (mostly lino, though I will have drypoint plates on display too) at intervals throughout each day and will have some of my blocks and tools on display so visitors can see how I create a print from start to finish. New prints include my first ever woodcuts, made as a result of a lovely trip to Devon, as well as cards and hand printed gift tags, and there will be refreshments so there is something for everyone.  

I love printing and feel compelled to create them and share that passion with my students. That is my legacy.

Welcome to the Cambridge Creative Network where we invite creative professionals to promote their work through our gallery, find events and opportunities and network with other like-minded people in Cambridge. Want to join us? Apply here...

About Karen Jinks