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Word to the Wise – Helen Ingham

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Published date 15 July 2014

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What is it about the process of using letterpress that you enjoy?
Many things!

Working with a process that can be very structured and organic at the same time. Letterpress can be a very disciplined process and was developed as such in the printing industry, but in a way that gives you more freedom. I instinctively know what will work so I don’t have to worry about details, I can just cut loose and have a bit of fun, the brief allowing, of course!

I also enjoy working with type, large and small, producing finely crafted items in multiple, or not so finely crafted and more expressive!

I love working with different papers and inks. Also machinery, of course, having a mechanical mind!

The big surprise has been “making friends” with maths! There is a lot of arithmetic in letterpress and being fairly crap at maths, like a lot of people who work in visual communication, I’ve found the aptitude with numbers I’ve gained, almost by accident, really useful in other areas of design, especially when planning and visualising work.

How do you employ the different attributes of both digital and analogue printing technologies to create diverse effects?
Making letterpress blocks with digitally generated artwork and laser cutting is the main way. There is much I want to explore with digital print and letterpress and I have loads of ideas, however the big problem of course, is time!

How do you find the time to continue to make works whilst also teaching at CSM, among other places?
After graduating, I decided I wanted to make my living from letterpress printing, but also wanted the freedom to produce my own work as well. My technician role at CSM is term time only, so during the holidays, I have plenty of time to develop other work.  I try not to waste any time, if the weather is too cold for printing (and it has been extremely cold in my own workshop at times), I do something else like cutting lino blocks, updating the website or research. I’m always on duty.  If I’m travelling on the train, I’m drawing or researching more work.

I know my strengths, I’d rather spend my time printing or working towards printing, rather than dealing with clients, mailing out printed items or managing online shops, all of which I’m not very good at!  I usually get someone else to sell my work for me and negotiate deals.  TAG Fine Arts sell my limited editions and do a very good job at the major art and print fairs.  The Art Market are my illustration agents.  I also have other sub-agents licensing my prints for digital reproduction with clients like John Lewis and Art Online.  Everyone charges commission, of course, but that’s OK if they are bringing more work in.

I do a couple of select art fairs a year (by ‘select’, I mean fun for me as I have to sit behind a stall!), one is held in a cafe in Luton and nothing is priced over a fiver.

Time management is essential. I have a small pocket diary, which travels everywhere and potential work is booked in, so nothing clashes; the difficult part is remembering to look in the diary, of course. As well as timetabling, I have to factor in other things, like travelling between teaching locations and trying not to overdo it and getting enough rest after a really busy spell.  Letterpress printing can be quite demanding physically, so I keep myself fit, try and get enough sleep and make sure my diet is good and plentiful. I’m lucky in that I’m rarely ill.

Are you able to use your teaching as a research resource in your designs and prints?
Yes, in that I never stop learning and the people who teach me more than anything are the students I deal with – that might sound like a cop-out answer, but I can assure you its true!

To what extent do you think that design is something that can be taught?
I believe there are principles behind good communication design, which can be taught. Once the practitioner knows these, they can develop their own way of working.

What is next for Hi-Artz Press?
I have a print research project on the go, which is in progress and now I’m off for the Summer, I can give it some more attention.

I am also in the process of building a more suitable workshop at the side of my house, this one will have running water and heating, unlike the one I have now which is little more than a shed!  We certainly ain’t rich, so it’s me and my husband Ricky, who are doing the building, so it’s a good job we are fit!

Also, music has always played a big part in the visual work I do and I am playing again after a few years off, while I studied and developed my career as a printer. I play mandolin with The Shooting Stars, a five piece western ‘n’ rockin’ band and I’m pleased to say I’ve been able to produce most of our printed items, including the cover of our 10″ limited edition green vinyl EP, which was recorded with Ricky’s 1950s American valve recording equipment.

Having a hand in all the creative processes involved with this EP project myself has really ticked a lot of boxes in one go for me.  I’m now planning more artworks based on our music.

We have a gigs coming up at festivals in Italy, Austria, the UK and Belgium over the next few months.

Here’s a link so you can see (and hear) the EP