Wednesday, 27 January 2016

A shopping trip around my studio

As well as being asked how I make my artwork (which I am, mostly, happy to answer), I also get a lot of "Where did you get...?" questions. At my printmaking workshops I give out a detailed supplies list of where to find materials and small tools, but this blog post will take you around a few of the other vital bits and pieces I have in my studio, most of which won't be found in an art shop. (If you've discovered any useful things like these, do please share them in the comments.)

WARNING: The name IKEA will crop up a lot. If you are one of those who is driven to a steaming rage by the mere thought of the Swedish temple of flat pack then I suggest you stop reading now. If however you are like me and delight in any excuse to wander the magical maze until you reach the meatball prize at the centre, then read on... you're going to like this.

To start as we mean to go on, here is an IKEA Malm glass cupboard top being used as an ink slab for mixing and rolling printing ink. Economical, toughened glass with safe rounded edges - and what is even better it comes in a white option which means you can see your colours easily without being distracted by what is underneath.  

Once I've inked up my plates then the chances are they will be being put through one of these presses. The one on the left is an antique iron book press and I am often asked "Where can I get one like that?" as if there is a secret shop or website selling them. Sadly there is no quick and easy answer; for me it was simply a matter of haunting eBay and pouncing when one turned up close enough to collect it. (These things weigh as much as a ten year old child so postage isn't usually an option). After around six months of waiting and watching I found this one 20 miles away. By the way, you might notice the non slip mat it is standing on; that's a cut up piece of anti-slip underlay from - you guessed it - IKEA, and is also what I use to hold woodblocks firm when I am carving them.

From old and basic to modern and high tech, the press on the right is my beloved etching press, hand built by Hawthorn Printmaker. I am so very lucky to have one of the best makers of etching presses just a couple of miles away here in York so I was able to try before I bought. They do deliver anywhere in the UK though, and I also use their excellent Stay Open Inks.

So the prints have been made and now I need to dry them. Any look through a printmaking supplies website will soon tell you that drying racks cost a blinking fortune, which is why you will so often see photos of prints hanging from strings and washing airers. The wall mounted affair below is from Cost Cutters and as it is sold as an educational supply for schools it does not carry the scary price tag that quite ordinary objects seem to acquire once they are labelled as art equipment. Its clever design means it folds flat against the wall...... so I'm told. Mine never gets the chance as it is too busy serving as additional shelving and an apron hook.

My studio is furnished with cupboards and shelves from THAT PLACE and I love my extendable table which miraculously becomes big enough for a full class when I hold a workshop. I store prints and smaller sheets of paper in a chest of shallow drawers on castors from a range of office furniture. My pride and joy is my wonderful 175cm long workbench. Heavy, solid, totally unshakeable, just the right height to work at standing up and with big deep drawers and wonderfully wide and deep shelves. It is so sturdy my husband has suggested it could also serve as a nuclear shelter should the need ever arise. Is it a purpose made piece of studio equipment with a four figure price tag? No it is a free standing Värde kitchen unit from IKEA. Here is a corner of it in its mucky, ink smeared and untidy glory. Sadly this range has now been discontinued, but hopefully it will soon be replaced by an equivalent and meanwhile pieces do pop up on eBay.

Finding my workbench was an example of looking at something for the properties it has, not what the label says it is. A much smaller instance is my cutting tools storage tin which my grown up son was throwing out when putting away childish things. I bet the designers of this souvenir sweets tin never realised they were making something exactly the right size and shape for printmaking tools, but here it is. The corks protecting the sharp tips are becoming increasingly hard to come by in this era of screw top wine bottles, so it is sometimes necessary to open a bottle of prosecco: just one of the tough sacrifices artists have to make for their work.

A bit of imagination can also save you money on display equipment for shows. While I have a couple of purpose made large print browsers (I can't think of a way round that one) my small prints are displayed on a table top in a foldable wooden magazine rack (you can probably guess where I bought it, can't you?). I display greetings cards in pretty wire baskets which were designed to hang on a bathroom wall; they are flat bottomed so can stand on a table but can also be hung from picture hooks on a peg board. (Yes, yes, they were from IKEA too.)

Do you have any clever solutions in your studio, or brilliant shop finds you are prepared to share? Do please spread the word in the comments below. I'd love to hear them and I'm sure others would too.

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