At the very beginning on 2023, I embarked on a new monthly creative challenge: To create a new Lino print every month, based on a different seasonal wildflower.
Today, I'm taking you on a deep dive into the how's and why's of this challenge and we'll take look at some of the work I've produced as part of it.
I suppose the first question is: Why do artists take part in, or set themselves, these creative challenges? They're an increasingly common way for artists and designers from around the globe to come together, while working independently from the same starting point or brief. There is much to be learned from how your fellow artists interpret a theme differently or in how they render their subject matter. Challenges are also a great way to add a lot of new work to your portfolio and are a great way to stretch yourself creatively and perhaps produce work you usually wouldn't consider. Participants of organised challenges such as these usually post their results on Instagram, using a specific #. Examples are #inktober for graphic artists; #coloricombo for surface designers and artists interested in colour, and #jehanestwelvedays for illustrators who want to add more Christmas themed work to their portfolio. Another very popular challenge for fabric designers is the Spoonflower weekly design challenge which is a weekly challenge, with a variety of trend and seasonally driven themes for printed fabrics. Sometimes artists will also set themselves challenges such as #100daysofpattern
In the past, I have attempted almost all of these challenges. I often find them too intense - requiring a lot of work in a short space of time. Due to the way I work, I am very much part of the 'slow design' movement! All of my designs originate as hand drawings, and are carefully researched and practised in my sketchbook, before being digitised, coloured and assembled into compositions or repeat patterns. I work hard to retain the hand-drawn or printed nature of my drawings in my digital work, and that takes time. I have often found myself rushed and panicking during these challenges, and I don't mind admitting I have abandoned some challenges midway through, when they became more stressful than fun!
So what changed? By January 23 I realised although I was still routinely drawing by hand, it was mostly using a pencil or pen. The rest of my design process was digital. I was not often getting my hands dirty with printing ink or paint anymore. I was missing the craft element of making things by hand. It also finally dawned on me that I didn't need to follow an existing challenge #. If the ones out there didn't suit me in terms of pace or theme, I could invent my own. One new piece a month felt much more achievable to me, and more sustainable long term. And so, my monthly Lino print challenge was born!
But why Lino printing? I've always been drawn to print making. I enjoy the process and discipline required, and that you can easily make multiples of an image. Sadly, now that my studio is at home, I don't have easy access to screen printing facilities, but Lino is possible on a small scale, at relatively low cost, and without too much specialised equipment. Again, it felt achievable and sustainable. I also really like the stylised and simplified look of Lino prints, and had been using a digitised 'block printed look' in my fabric designs for a while. It made sense to tie the challenge in with work I was already making.
Here is a 'Lino look' design from my portfolio. This is 'pigeons in the rain' and was created around 2021 before my Lino challenge began. Here I had deliberately drawn birds to appear as though block printed, but in reality, these motifs were never created as block prints. This is the step I felt my work was often missing, and was one of the catalysts of the challenge.
But why wildflowers? I knew that I needed an overarching theme for my challenge, one that would sustain me throughout the year. Those who have followed me for a while will know that my work often centres around the British countryside, and I love to work seasonally. A monthly challenge gave me the opportunity to do just that. Flowers seemed the obvious choice. I was very familiar with a lot of summer wild flowers, but the flowers that bloom the rest of the year, not so much. I thought this would give me the opportunity to research and learn more, as I selected a different wildflower for each month. And so it has proved. I have learnt that Hellebores, although rare, can grow wild on the fringes of deciduous woodland; that Common Ragwort, although poisonous to cattle, is essential to many of our pollinators, and the sole food source of the caterpillar of the Cinnabar moth. I have learnt that wildflowers growing on roadside verges attract less pollinators that those in wildflower meadows, due to the fumes and vehicle emissions drowning out their scent. I have learnt you can make a beautiful sweet syrup from Rose Bay willow herb, and I now know the difference between Autumn Hawkbit and a common Dandelion. Here's my Rose Bay Willow herb print.
And so, as we draw towards the end of year, the list of prints for this year looks something like this: (from top left to right)
January: Hellebore. February: Snowdrops. March: daffodils
April: Bluebells . May: Cow Parsley. June: foxgloves
July: Rosebay Willow herb August: Ragwort September: bindweed
October: Autumn Hawkbit . November: poppies December: Winter aconites
As I'm writing in October, November and December's prints are yet to be completed, but of course I'll look forward to sharing them in due course. The prints are all around 10.5 cm wide by 15 cm tall, and fit into a n A4 mount and frame. All of the completed prints so far are available to purchase from my etsy shop, either framed or framed, while stocks last. I printed around 10 of each design, so stocks are limited. You can also get a discount on any of these prints by subscribing to my newsletter
Completing a body of work over a year in this way has been an interesting exercise. I can see my printing style has evolved. I have acquired some better, finer cutting tools. I have developed a better way of registering my prints so the colours are in the right places every time. I have experimented with applying chine colle ( collage, underneath the print) and tried watercolour painting on the top of prints. My compositions are becoming more complex and sophisticated. There is more attention to the negative space, and more detail and pattern and repetition inherent in the work.
One of things I hadn't anticipated when I began the challenge, as how many of these prints would also become repeating patterns. I have enjoying scanning the finished prints into my computer and returning to work on the digitally, changing the colours and experimenting with the layout and scale and rotation to complete seamlessly repeating patterns.
Many of these seem as though they would make good wallpaper. I think perhaps because I have deliberately left all of the flowers standing the right way up. I haven't played too much yet with scattering them in a more tossed effect for a more random repeat.
As well as wallpapers, I am beginning to consider what other products I could create from these designs, with some simple tweaks. While it was never my intention at the start of the challenge to create any products from the prints, as this body of work nears completion, I can see many possibilities for these designs, including birthday cards, calendars, planners, notebooks and other paper goods. Alternatively, the repeat patterns could also be used to create cushions and lampshades, and other soft furnishings.
As I contemplate this, I'd love your thoughts. Do you have any specific products you'd like to see from these designs? And which designs are your favourites? Please let me know in the comments!
In addition to thinking about what product lines to produce, I'm also turning my thoughts to whether I'd like to repeat the exercise with another challenge next year. I have some ideas for further experiments and adventures in Lino, which for now I'm terming 'Lino +' I also have some further ideas about other seasonal subject matter I could tackle. While I think I've decided, I'd love to hear any suggestions you may have, too!
I hope you've enjoyed this closer look at my Lino print challenge. I've really enjoyed both doing the challenge and sharing it with you. If you'd like more from me, my monthly newsletter is a shot of colour and inspiration straight to your inbox! You can get this free downloadable art print, called 'Tree of life' to print out at home, when you subscribe too.
More from me next month. 'bye for now!