Talking Process, Playfulness and Finding your Style with James Horne, printmaker and illustrator.
For the second Cramblings interview, I had a lovely chat with James Horne, a printmaker, illustrator and general arty-type.
We spoke about the printmaking process and how it morphs between 3D and 2D, the pressure to have an already developed style when you're just starting out, the importance of creative playfulness and how to overcome a fear of colour.
Like the sound of all that? Read on below.
Hi James! So, to start off, just tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello! My name is James Horne and I made an Instagram called Hornemade where I post creative things that I do, and for just over a year now those creative things have mainly been lino cut print-making!
That's a long-winded answer of saying "hey, I'm a printmaker", but I guess I'm just not used to that title yet! I'm just starting out, I guess.
You mentioned that you are just starting out, can you tell us what led you to printmaking?
Basically, I started printmaking seriously at the beginning of this year but it was almost exactly a year ago when I first started.
Usually, being a creative-type, I’ll do a set of Christmas cards each year and I suddenly thought back to when I was at school and learnt lino printing. I thought that was a brilliant idea because I could do one card design and just print it any number of times, so I made a set of lino-cut Christmas cards for my friends and family. It just, kind of, stuck after that really! I liked the print that I made and I just carried on printmaking.
This year, I’ve had more time to dedicate to it and I’ve realised that I really enjoy doing it, so now I’m taking it a bit more seriously and hopefully going to be selling my work, building up to my own online shop and just seeing where it goes!
So, you said you learnt about lino printing in school and I wonder if you could tell us about your education journey?
So, printmaking was never something I specialised in; I learnt it at school, I think a lot of people in GCSE Art tend to as part of the curriculum. You know, you got the old, crumbly lino that had been kept in the school cupboard for too long and the plastic, red handled tool.
So, I first tried it in school and then I didn’t really touch it again. Then, after sixth form, I did a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design, which was just a year of exploring things, and that set me up to do a degree in Theatre Design, so utterly unrelated to printmaking!
Printmaking wasn’t a part of my degree in any way, I didn’t touch it for years, but I still had that classic, red lino-handle and some ink from my old foundation toolkit. I remembered that I had it, used it for those Christmas cards, and it absolutely snowballed from there!
You’re specialised in lino-printing, what is it specifically about lino printing that you love the most?
It’s incredibly hands on which I find very satisfying and there was a point when I was exploring lino-cutting and I realised that the process ticks a lot of boxes for me.
I’ve always loved carpentry, carving and woodturning, which I learnt from my grandad, and I’ve always had a 3D brain and loved sculpting things. But I also really love drawing and there’s a process with lino-cutting where you’re carving into the lino, so that aspect is sculptural and 3D, and then it transmutes into 2D when you print.
Essentially, it goes from 2D when you draw onto the lino, into 3D when you carve into it and then back to 2D when you print it! There is this whole beautiful process around it which I find really satisfying.
There’s quite a lot of faith involved too; you can prepare a beautiful drawing onto lino but as soon as you start carving, you have to really pay attention because if you slip and cut into the wrong bit, you can’t go back and undo a miss-cut. With lino, it’s not like rubbing out a pencil drawing so you have to deal with all of your miss-cuts, but working around those mistakes can be fun or a mistake can end up being a nice thing in itself.
The carved lino-blocks are almost a piece of artwork in their own right! Can you tell us, for those who might not know, a little bit more about the tools and processes?
Yeah absolutely! So, linocut is a form of "relief" printmaking, which means it's a print made from the way you carve into the surface you’re using - which is the lino. The lino I use is the standard grey block which you're probably familiar with from school: it's a 3mm thick grey slab made from woodpulp and linseed and is backed with hessian, so it's actually biodegradable!
I draw an image onto it, usually transferring it with tracing paper from a sketch I've made. In that sketch I've figured out which areas I want to be inked and which areas are negative space, so the next process is just to carve away the negative space. I do this with lino-cutting tools, like the red-handled thing we used at school - it's just a handle with a shaped blade... a bit like a chisel, I guess!
Then, I have the carved lino, which as you say is, in itself, an artefact. Then, to make a print from it, I roll ink onto it, making sure the "relief" surface (everything I haven't cut away) is evenly covered and then press paper onto the inked surface. When it is evenly pressed and I feel happy that I've made good, even contact from lino to paper, I peel the paper away and have my printed image - et voila!
So yeah, in a way you have two pieces of art - the image that you’ve printed in ink and the carving you made to make that image. Both are unique because they're different materials and will always be mirror images of one another!
Could you explain your style for us? Perhaps what you would like your work to feel like or any messages that it conveys?
I laughed when you asked me this because it feels only recently, earlier this year, that I was having a bit of crisis about my style, what my work was and what it looked like. But even now, I feel like I’ve got a much more refined sense of what it is.
I’ve always been told I have quite a graphic style and I think that means strong shapes and lines, which is why it fits well with lino-cutting. I’ve always been a little bit afraid of colour, so I started out with mostly black and white prints, but I’ve been playing around with colour a little more recently. My style is a bit all over the place really!
I seem to be drawn to people and making characters, I try to make work that is kind, work that allows me to explore a subject further whether that’s mental health or nature. Ultimately, I like storytelling, so there’s definitely an illustrative quality; I like to have various elements within a print that help to tell a story in some way.
Going back through your Instagram, there’s a lot of fine-liner drawings which have that graphic, scratchy, gestural, mark-making style to them and you can see why you’ve then found lino-printing. That gestural, strong linework must translate well to lino?
Yeah, I’d say that I was stuck using fine-liners.
Fine-liners were safe, I knew how they worked, I could chose the thickness of the line and I knew what I would get. I’ve always had a very scratchy style, as if I’m trying to ‘find the line’, and it has taken a while to build up the confidence to say: “No, this is the line.” But I do think that the practice of trying to ‘find the line’ fits with carving lino in a way: you are trying to find the shape within the carving.
Then again, my artwork and my style are filled with contradictions! What I mean by that is, whilst using fine-liners, I also really love playing around with dip-pens and ink which is so much more chaotic; you can flick ink around, you might get too much or not enough ink in the nib and interesting stuff happens then.
I suppose, I like a little bit of control but I also like a little bit of chaos and lino printing really fits into that for me: you can control it, to an extent, with what you carve, but you never know exactly how the print will turn out until you peel it off.
You said that you have quite an illustrative approach to your prints, do you have any illustrators or artists that inspire you?
I do indeed. My long-time inspiration, especially with illustration, is Chris Riddell. I discovered him through story books; you would have these thick books and, every now and then, there’d be an illustration in there. These illustrations weren’t in colour and they were in dip pens, very detailed, with this amazingly scratchy but controlled line. I adore his work and he was my Art Foundation inspiration especially.
I also adore Oliver Jeffers, another story book illustrator but he has a totally different style! He uses all kinds of mediums – from acrylic paint, pastels, pencils to collage, and the way he inspires me isn’t visual: my work doesn’t look like his stylistically but I am inspired by his ability as a storyteller and how playful he is, using his art to explore lots of different areas.
Another one is Charlie Macksey, who illustrated ‘The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse’. He almost exclusively uses pen and ink, occasionally watercolour, so it’s incredibly loose and scratchy but there’s a quality of kindness and softness to his work, as well as traditional storytelling coupled with really good observational artistry. Those are the three biggies, but then there is the endless list of the amazing printmakers that I follow on social media!
In trying to find your style, do you ever find that puts pressure on you? Do you think people can find their one and only signature style and stick to it or do you think it’s not quite that simple?
It’s never that simple.
For anyone who decides to dedicate time to creating things, especially at a time when we have things like Instagram to share work on, there is a pressure to have an already developed sense of style and to be consistent with your style: when someone looks at a drawing they immediately go: ‘That’s a James Horne drawing!’
So, there is this pressure to want to have a defined style from day one, easily forgetting that there is so much fun to be had in finding out what that style is, the importance of playing and doing something different; pick up a different pencil or maybe even an oil pastel!
I remember looking at Chris Riddell’s drawings, practicing by copying them and I’d get frustrated that I couldn’t draw it like he did. Looking back, it was almost like I was keeping my creativity on a leash because I was trying to fit into something which wasn’t my natural style.
Whereas, when you allow yourself to just play, some really interesting things can happen! There’s also a lot to be said for exploring different mediums and materials; the medium can inform the style, you figure out what makes sense to you and I realised that there is something about printmaking that works for me.
You mentioned you have a fear of colour and I would love to chat to you about that, as I think it’s actually quite common! Why do you think you have a fear of colour? What is scary about it and how do you overcome it?
Even though I’ve had a creative, arts and design education, I guess I don’t have a very confident sense of colour theory.
Obviously, I understand that you’ve got your primary, secondary, complimentary, harmonious colours and I understand the basics of how that works, but colour isn’t something that I always pick up on or notice first when I look at artwork; I’m maybe looking more at the shapes or lines, which maybe explains why my work is so graphic-y. I’m also looking more at the storytelling beyond the image, than the colours within it.
That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate colour, I love colour!
I guess, sometimes I’m scared to commit to colours because I’m not doing something digital where I can easily swap colours in and out! I was working on a multi-layer print today and I was spending a lot of time thinking about the colours I should be using and I was torn between two quite different ones for one of the layers; a strong, dusky pink or a bright, mustardy orange.
It’s scary when you’re mixing a colour, inking up the lino, making that print, then seeing that it didn’t work after spending that time on it, and then having to spend even more time cleaning it off to start again with a new colour. It is intimidating and I’ve found that it’s not just with printing but with painting too, this want to be more expressive but not knowing if the colour will work.
With the little bit of digital work I’ve done, nothing scares me more than seeing a big colour wheel or a colour spectrum and having to choose one colour from that, they are real beasts!
I absolutely adore colour and I wish I was more expressive with colour, but we can’t all be Van Gogh.
If you could have a creative superpower, to aid you with Hornemade, what would it be?
In the vein of printmaking, I’m going to cheekily say two: the ability to keep my all of my blades as sharp as possible, all the time. Maybe I’d have some laser eyes that sharpen them or have claws like Wolverine!
I also want the ability to immediately dry something, especially with multi-layered prints because I get very excited and I don’t want to have to wait for each to dry before I can do the next! So, maybe I would want super-hot breath that dries everything.
If someone reading this wants to try lino-printing for the first time, do you have any tips, advice, or resources for them? Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
Go and have a look at prints and look up what lino-cutting is. Then, find an image or drawing and have a go at printing that; it could be a symbol, a spider’s web, a pattern, anything!
Go to your local art shop, pick up a pack of lino, some ink and a simple handle. Perhaps, most importantly, remember that whatever image you carve will print in reverse; you can learn that the hard way with text!
What has been highlight of Hornemade in the last year?
The big one, I think, is that I feel like I am developing a sense of style; from one print to the next, there is a continuity which is really nice, and the characters I create all have a ‘Hornemade sense’ to them.
This is going to sound very vain, but I have found the ability to inspire myself and that’s quite a wonderful thing! So, there was a print I did a while ago, a landscape, and I really pushed myself; I hadn’t done a landscape before and I tried to do something different. It was a lot more stylised; it maybe wasn’t in the same vein as my style, but it totally worked as a print! I also explored using colour which was a bit of a first. I love looking back at that print because I’ve made myself happy by making something and I used that print to inspire myself to keep pushing myself and to try new things.
Another one is putting stuff out there on Instagram, which is a real mixed bag but one of the positives of it is that I feel like I’ve joined some kind of community, and it has allowed me to comfortably call myself a printmaker which is a cool thing, and to have positive responses from strangers for your work is amazing and that positivity led me down a path I never expected to be on.
Where would you like Hornemade to be in a years time?
Well, the main thing that I am working towards at the moment is setting up some kind of online shop, whether that’s on Etsy or something else. I think that being able to sell my work online and be more of a small business would be really cool. Also, I’d love to have more things in physicals shops!
I feel like this year has been about experimenting, playing and developing, but next year, if I could sum it up in a word, it would be about ‘partaking’.
So, I want to make prints towards something and I’ve got ideas to make prints for specific times of year, for example we have the winter solstice coming up and I’d love to be able to make a print for that, or something for World Mental Health Day, as well as partaking in competitions or exhibitions.
So that’s what I want for the next year; It would be cool to use what I create, with Hornemade, towards something that means something.
Thank you so much for joining us James!
If you would like to find out more about James or see more of his work,
here are some useful links:
Original portrait photograph by Alex Sedgemond: @alexsedgmond