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Meet the Maker: John Bloor

Thursday, July 12, 2018

I am John Bloor, part time print maker and part time graphic designer. The amount of time I get to spend on each depends entirely on whether I have work or not!


Describe your printmaking process

I always start by sketching in my book and at some point move onto the computer to develop the ideas into something more finished. I have a lot of anxiety and find that working digitally is just something I need to do at the moment to help with that. I’d love to be able to work in natural media and take that directly to print but I just don’t trust myself. So I tend to draw using my Wacom tablet in a style I call digital linocut. It allows me to closely mimic real linocut and get a finished illustration that I’m happy with. The irony is that I then have to transfer that design to lino and cut it for real - which allows me a chance to reinterpret the illustration and cut it properly.


So if I’m doing a linocut I then transfer the illustration to lino using old fashioned tracing paper and pencil. It’s laborious but it works. I then spend time cutting the lino which I enjoy immensely and am very careful with. Once the lino is cut I move down to the print studio (garage) where I spend time mixing the ink and once I’m happy with everything I will start printing.


If I’m screen printing I get the illustration colour separations printed onto acetate and then it’s off to the print studio to cut paper and mix inks. I usually build up to printing at the weekends, so by the time I get to the weekend everything is ready, all inks mixed, paper cut and screens made.


My weekends are set aside for print making and I very much enjoy the routine you get into with printing.


How long have you been printmaking?

I’ve been printing seriously for about four years. And by seriously I mean continually going through the process of developing new ideas into finished illustrations and then printing them.


How and where did you learn to print?

I honestly can’t remember the exact order but at some point in the past I got a screen printing kit. One of the ones which comes with a wooden framed screen, a squeegee, some screen block and some ink. Oh and an apron which they suggest you print your first design on. So I must have done some rudimentary printing. I seem to remember drawing and printing some alliums.


Anyway, roll on a couple more years and I was doing gig poster artwork for a friend and was very inspired by gig poster artists who screen printed their posters - such as Strawberryluna, Cricket Press and Methane Studios. I went on a one day screen printing workshop at Badger Press where I learned how to coat and expose a screen, plus printing technique. I started to try and print gig posters without much luck! I’d made real progress but there were a few things going wrong I didn’t realise at the time. I was trying to print onto paper but the inks I was using were really thin, plus the squeegee I had was a soft one and entirely unsuitable for paper printing.

Slowly, incrementally, I got better. I continued screen printing and also tried my hand at lino printing. I took yet another one day workshop, this time at Squeegee and Ink in Newbury. That was when things really clicked into place. They helped me with my technique and finally I was able to really start producing great quality prints.

While I had to get advice for screen printing, lino printing was a lot easier to pick up and I’ve managed to teach myself. It’s much more forgiving than screen printing. I started cutting lino with some very cheap cutters and a tube of black ink, printing with the back of a spoon. You can’t get much simpler!


Screen printing has been quite painful, in a way, but I’m glad I’ve made the journey. There were many small things which would have been useful to know at the start - like how you need a hard squeegee for printing on paper, how you really want inks which don’t run all over the place and how flooding the screen is vital to a good print (and it’s always better to have a lot of ink to flood with rather than too little).

There are still many things for me to learn but I’m so happy with how my prints are looking now, I’m far less stressed about it than I used to be.


Why printmaking?

Well I started off printing homewares because I thought I saw an opportunity; a gap in the market to make desirable things. It was only after a couple of false starts and unhappiness that I started to realise I needed to create work for myself in order to feel good about it.

So, to put it simply: nowadays I make prints because it’s good for my mind. It occupies my head, my thoughts and is a great way to pass time I might otherwise be worrying about things. I also enjoy trying to capture the essence of something - some place or journey perhaps - in the form of a print.

Also I think I enjoy printmaking because it brings together two disciplines I love: graphic design and illustration. I love the boldness and power of prints but the fact that they are tactile and feel like a piece of art.

I enjoy screen printing because of the bold, graphical nature and fantastic detail of the prints. It encourages daring and experimentation with reproducing all sorts of natural media style marks and overprinting of colours to create other colours.

On the other hand, I think I enjoy block printing because of the limitations and the fact that the cut shapes you make with gouges lend the pieces a certain feel. You have to work hard to come up with a variety of marks and textures with block printing and that in itself is rewarding.


Where do you work?

It’s a bit of a joke really! I print in our garage, sharing the space with all the normal sort of stuff you might store in a garage. The only special thing about the garage is that we have installed a large stainless steel sink which is great for making screens. It’s the opposite of photogenic but it is functional.


Describe a typical day in the studio

I would start off by mixing ink and cutting paper if this hasn’t already been done. But I’m really organised so it usually has been! If I’m screen printing then I would have made the screens the evening before. This is because my print studio garage is not light tight so unfortunately I have to wait until after dark before I can coat the screens.

On printing days I prepare the first colour screen by clamping it to the base board with the hinge clamps. I then position the paper below the screen and when I’m happy I put down a couple of plastic corners (made from credit cards) to register each sheet of paper. I then tape up the screen. I am ultra careful about taping up the screen and I always do it so the way the tape overlaps means if ink ever gets under the tape it won’t get on the paper. I love to use this blue tape called “R Tape” but it’s hard to get hold of in this country.

Once the screen is taped, registration corners are in place, ink is mixed and paper is cut then we are ready to print! I print each sheet with the first colour and then hang it on my drying rack (which is actually just a bunch of metal foldback clips on lengths of string hanging from the ceiling!).

Once the first colour is printed it’s time to wash out the screen ensuring no ink residue is left. Printing ink onto paper usually dries really quickly so it’s not long before I can take down all the sheets of paper and prepare the second screen for printing. The process is repeated for any further colours.


What inspires you?

I’m very inspired by natural spaces and places around me, for example the river Test which is very close by where we live, and the countryside and hedgerows of Hampshire. But I’m also very inspired by the coast, especially Cornwall where we holiday repeatedly out of a sheer love for the place.

I try to reinterpret these places in my work in various ways including fantasy, surrealism and abstraction.


If I’m allowed to talk about people who influence me I’m traditionally influenced by poster designers such as Strawberryluna, Daniel Danger, Cricket Press, Jason Munn, Methane Studios and Jay Ryan. I admire their bold, graphical styles and in some cases the ability to convey meaning in the simplest of forms.


More recently, in the last few years as I’ve got into block printing, I have discovered a whole new world of incredible artists such as Angie Lewin, Mark Hearld, Bryan Angus, Holly Meade, Jane Ormes, Jeremy Speck, Maz Prints and Hugh Ribbons.

I’m amazed and impressed by the distinctive styles and textures which people like Angie Lewin and Bryan Angus have created for themselves.

What is your favourite printmaking product?

Wow this is the hardest question. I’d have to say modern polyester mesh screens are amazing inventions, allowing precise, clean, bold printing of colours onto a variety of materials. Also Ternes Burton Co. registration pins and plastic tabs have allowed me to take a big step forward in registering colours with my lino prints.

What have you made that you are most proud of?

I think at the moment I am most proud of my “Tin Mine” screen print because it brings together so many important things for me. This is the print where I started to experiment a little, where I got a bit more abstract but it still features a wealth of details which I really like. Also it’s the first print where I completely nailed registration printing and I played around with overprinting colours quite a bit too, so these overprinted colours really work well. There are some really subtle overprinting effects, like the mid blue and dark blue in the rock stack. This print is really a starting point for my future work.


Where can we see your work? Where do you sell?

I will soon have my work in Craft Centre and Design Gallery Leeds. I expect to be in a few more galleries or shops soon. I’m just starting to approach galleries and shops, as well as starting to apply to print fairs so I’m really hoping that 2019 will be the year I start to reach a wider audience.

I regularly do the Monthly Market at the Maltings, Farnham, and also the Festival of Crafts in October there.

My work is available to purchase on Folksy at: https://folksy.com/shops/JohnBloorDesign

It’s also worth mentioning that I have a blog which I regularly update with my work and also posts about people, prints and ceramics which inspire me. My blog is at http://www.johnbloor.co.uk/

I’m on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/JohnBloorDesign and on Instagram @johnbloordesign


What will we be seeing from you next?

I have more prints coming in the series “Safe Harbours” which will include linocut and screen prints. I am also excited to be printing a couple of posters which feature song lyrics I particularly like in combination with illustrations. I am a big fan of letterpress printing and these lyric posters will emulate that look with really bold typography.

I have also already illustrated three sleeping animal prints which will be printed in time for the Autumn fairs. And if that isn’t enough I have a few fun projects such as a tote bag featuring a shark and a t-shirt featuring a rabbit!


Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?

I think my advice is hang in there! Problems can always be solved either by asking around or by having a little tuition. Looking back, my learning process has been quite slow and incremental and I’ve solved one problem at a time. Be patient and keep on printing! 

See more of John's work:

Folksy: https://folksy.com/shops/JohnBloorDesign

Blog: http://www.johnbloor.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JohnBloorDesign

Instagram @johnbloordesign