This week on Meet the Printmaker, we meet self-taught Essex printmaker Natasha Isabel.
Please introduce yourself and what kind of prints you create...
I'm Natasha and I work as a full-time primary school teacher in Essex, England. I use printmaking as a creative outlet for all those thoughts, fears and ideas that brew away as I stumble through my daily life. I'm not sure I've solidified my style yet but it's definitely not realism...
How long have you been a printmaker? Is it a full-time career for you or a lovely hobby? If you are a full-time printmaker, what does a typical day for you look like?
Since lockdown, so I'm a real newbie! Although art has always been a vital part of my life, my 'formal' art training ended after my GCSEs so I sometimes feel hopelessly amateur. Although printmaking is a hobby, I'm fully dedicated to it and I intend to keep practicing and improving my skills.
What was the spark that first got you hooked on printmaking? What is it about your medium that draws you in each day?
A couple of years ago, my sister took me to an indie Christmas craft market and they ran a few different workshops; one of those was Christmas card printing with lino. I loved it! I thought it was fantastic how you could churn out all these copies of your art. I pestered my sister to bring back lino and tools from her classroom (she's an art teacher) for me to experiment with. However, due to my job and personal life events, they largely went untouched until lockdown. Like many people this year, I desperately needed an escape from the anxiety and confinement, so I turned to making art. Lino was my favourite lockdown art - something really captivates me about making something by taking away.
What inspires you? What or who would you say your biggest influences are?
Stories, in all their various forms - myths, legends, folklore, fairytales, character archetypes, tall tales, etc. Stories hold such magic and power. I'm also inspired by numerous printmakers on social media, all at different stages of their printmaking journey. I've learnt so much from the talented and inspiring printing community.
If you could give some advice to new printmakers, what would be your most useful tips for beginners?
Create art for yourself, not for others. If other people love it then that's an incredible bonus, but you should enjoy your own art first. Persevere and experiment. Practise the basics but use that to grow your own style. As my partner tells me, anyone can have a try at drawing exactly what's in front of them but only you can draw what's inside your head, so embrace your individuality! Even if it doesn't turn out how you hoped, it will be wonderful because it's your own imaginative work. Don't let fear of failure suppress that raw creativity. Finally, find a supportive community and be supportive of others. If an artwork has resonated with me, I always try my best to nurture that appreciation of creative expression by leaving comments and feedback. Connect with people who will support you in your failures and encourage you to be better.
What do your prints say about you? How do you want people to feel when they look at your prints?
Interesting question. Perhaps my prints unintentionally reveal all sorts of things about me!? To be truthful, I don't mind how people feel as long as they feel something! I think I'd be utterly devastated if someone looked at my work and said, "That's nice," and just moved on.
Are your prints influenced by external events (social, political) or do you prefer your work to remain neutral?
In some of my prints, the social commentary is obvious, like my Female Gaze print. I'm not a politically neutral person so external events do seep into my work, even if it's not overtly represented. For example, my Tea-Rex is an obvious pun and is, in many ways, a silly print! But I was also amused by the idea of an aggressive-looking dinosaur, long extinct, holding a symbol of British imperialism. I haven't explicitly described my print as that, however, because I enjoy people interpreting my art in their own way. And some people simply like tea and dinosaurs. You can bring all these ideas to a piece but people will find their own meaning in your art; that's both frustrating and exciting.
Do you have a favourite part of the printmaking process? What brings you the most joy?
Cutting the lino. I find it therapeutic, especially after a stressful week at school, to carve away all that grey.
How do you print? Do you have access to a studio or are you a home printmaker?
I'm a home printmaker who has turned the shared living area into my own makeshift studio. My partner is very patient with me. He eats his dinner on a corner of the dining table because my projects have taken over the space. Having a studio space is my dream! And probably my partner's dream, too...
Every day feels like a school day when you're a printmaker and failure is not talked about too much online.. what would you say is the most challenging part of printmaking?
For today's printmakers, it must be navigating social media and advocating your small business. A presence on social media can be a blessing and a curse. It brings together like-minded people to share with but it can be difficult to stop yourself seeking external validation and feeling downhearted when your art doesn't receive it. Our artistic value shouldn't be measured by likes and follows, nor should we compare ourselves to others.
What is your next big printmaking challenge? Do you have a plan for the next 12 months or do you take each day as it comes?
In an effort to become more eco-friendly, I have started experimenting with making paper out of old prints. I also had this idea to start creating plantable seed paper and printing on that, but I'm still testing the idea. Will my test papers grow? I'm impatient to find out! I think it would be exciting to do something a bit different.
Where can people find out more about you and your prints?
I'm on Instagram as Conspicuous_Cafetiere where I love being able to follow the progress and process of other printmakers. I also sell some of my prints on Etsy, as Conspicuous_Cafetiere.
Little question round...
What is your favourite print (of your own)?
The Mermaid because the shark head still makes me laugh.
Music/podcasts when you're creating or silence?
Silence. I actually never listen to any music.
Printing press or by hand?
Hand with a wooden spoon.
If you could meet any artist (alive or dead), who would it be?
Grayson Perry. I'd like to thank him for his lockdown art club.
One word to sum up your style?