Meet the Maker: Sarah Burns

As a pattern-maker, textile printer and natural dyer – Sarah Burns is passionate about slow, local production that creates beautiful fabric and is kind to our environment. We’re excited to have Sarah in the Handprinted Studio teaching Block Printing with Natural Dyes on Wednesday 20th and Wednesday 27th November 2019.

Describe your printmaking process.

I start with an initial idea and cut my block very soon as printmaking is an integral part of designing for me. I’ll keep printing and cutting and changing the block, editing the idea as it develops and being attentive to detail, colour, marks & scale… My goal is to create something that creates both harmony & movement – at the same time.

How and where did you learn to print?

Although I went to Cambridge and studied politics, I had a lovely friend who was at art school and we used to block print together – after that I never really stopped even though I was working in a very different field (community economics where I met my husband the writer David Boyle). When I was 40 and my youngest son went to school full time I decided to take the plunge and applied to Chelsea to study textiles – I could cycle there and back to Crystal Palace in time to pick up the kids up. Studying with lots of super talented 20 year olds was terrifying (I was the only mature student) and exhilarating at the same time. I got a first class degree and learned how to work very hard & really shifted in my approach to colour and design.

When I was in my second year at Chelsea I started interning with Michal at Christopher Farr Cloth; she took me to the wonderful Ivo’s screen printing factory in Southall and when I graduated I got a job there as a handprinter. I worked at Ivo’s for 3 years, commuting between Sussex and Southall and probably learned more there than I did at college – about colour, technique and the craft of printing. I wasn’t very good at it but it gave me a unique insight into commercial production and English manufacturing. The waste and toxicity of the process also made me want to do things differently so when I set up my studio in Steyning I decided to work in a way that was kinder to the environment – I do believe that beautiful things should be made beautifully otherwise they aren’t really honest.

I’ve just spent two years researching and writing a book on the 1930’s block printers Phyllis Barron & Dorothy Larcher –who combined block printing and natural dyes. Their work has really inspired to work even more with natural processes.

Why printmaking?

I love print because it intervenes between my intention and the final outcome – it always surprises me and acts like an unknown collaborator.

I also love that I am working in reverse – removing the line that I don’t want to print. I’m drawn to resist printing for the same reason.

Colour and pattern is also very important to me – it’s a very emotional and playful thing in my life.

Where do you work?

I now work in my studio workshop cum garage in Steyning West Sussex. I do most of my dyeing outside using whatever plants, fruits or roots are available seasonally and I always have an indigo vat on the go. I also grow lots of dye plants on my allotment and try to get up there most days with my dog Gwennie. Being outside and part of the seasons is very important to me – I try to plant something every day, even if it’s just a handful of seeds thrown into cracks in the pavement.

Describe a typical day in your studio.

I’m at my most creative first thing in the morning so I try and get all my blocks, fabric & colour prepped the night before so that I can get up early start printing first thing. The process of dyeing and printing has a definite rhythm to it and it’s one that definitely shapes my days and weeks. I normally print or dye all morning and then get on with other tasks in the afternoon – like preparing orders, organising workshops, talking to clients etc After supper, I often like to cut blocks as they are lovely and soft if you sit on the lino as you eat. In the evenings I’m not good for much excepting getting ready for the next day and maybe doing a bit of website admin. I often find that as I fall asleep problems that have been bugging me all day untangle themselves and new images float into my mind just as I doze off …

How long have you been printmaking?

For nearly 30 years – it sounds astonishing, especially to me. I’ve had some great teachers – Vivien Lodge at the Working Men’s College in Camden, Kathy Round & Mel Bowles at Chelsea, Podge at Ivo’s in Southall and my children – have all helped me develop in new and better ways. I remember reading somewhere that you don’t master any craft until you’ve put in at least 30,000 – I’m probably reaching the quota now.

What inspires you?

I’m originally from South Africa and love the traditional shwe shwe cloth or German print that is worn traditionally by domestic servants – I’ve named one of my recent designs Margaret after the lovely woman who looked after me and my brother when we were little. I love vernacular arts and crafts – like the beautiful Romanesque carvings and medieval wall paintings you find in ancient churches around Steyning. Their bold colours and rhythmic patterns are really wonderful. They are very honest and direct, made by incredibly talented and unknown craftsmen. I also like the immediacy and vitality of Peggy Angus for the same reasons. I especially like that she thought about and understood some of the reasons behind pattern making; for me making patterns is full of meaning and emotion and she devoted her life to teaching more people about that.

The actual process of patternmaking and printing is what inspires me most – the fabric I begin with, the process of mordanting, preparing the dyes from roots and berries and the act of printmaking itself – at each stage materials change and marks alter, the smells, tastes and feelings – it’s a very sensual process and one I’ve become completely captivated by.

I also love drawing and I mark the beginnings of a holiday by starting to draw as much as I can all the time, every day – I have lots of sketchbooks. When I’m most relaxed I dream about drawing.

What is your favourite printmaking product?

Probably manutex – because it’s a natural product (made from seaweed) so it’s kind to the environment mixes so well with natural dyes and makes beautiful silky printing paste.

What have you made that you are most proud of?

I spent several years making my map of world patterns – I collected stories from people all around the world and sewed their patterns onto a massive patchwork quilt of the world. The project taught me so much about our relationship to pattern and how patterns travel and change through culture, tradition and people

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

I sell my naturally dyed and hand block-printed fabrics through my website

The lovely people at Guy Goodfellow Collection also keep my work at their showroom in Chelsea. Virginia White has several of my designs in production as part of her fabric and wallpaper collection and my friend Alice Garner and I run the Steyning Imprint together – making tea towels and other lovely things for sale through our Etsy shop

What will we be seeing from you next?

I’m really excited to be out and about with my Barron and Larcher book this year – and I’ve been involved in helping with the Women’s Work show at Ditchling which celebrates craftswomen who turned their practice’s into successful businesses between the two World Wars – including Ethel Mairet, Alice Hindson, Phyllis Barron & Dorothy Larcher, Enid Marx, Catherine ‘Casty’ Cobb, Katharine Pleydell- Bouverie, Denise Wren and Elizabeth Peacock.

My partner Alice and I will be doing a Barron & Larcher inspired workshop there in June. I’m really excited to be following in their footsteps – pioneering low-tech, non-toxic textile making.

Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?

Follow your passion and be brave.

Work hard and keep going – stamina is just as important as talent.

Try and learn something from everyone you meet – everyone has something to teach you.

Find good people to work with – the ideas you have together will nearly always be better than thoughts you have alone and they will be there to keep you going when you run out of steam.

Instagram: @patternmakers

Introduction to Colour Mixing: Caligo Process Colour Wheel

Colour mixing can become a very complicated topic. When printing, it is tempting to use colours straight from the tube as mixing the perfect shade can be a little daunting and result in a large quantity of unwanted murky brown ink. We wanted to create a few colour mixing guides to help printmakers build up their colour mixing skills.

For our first guide, we are going to be using Caligo Safe Wash Relief Printing Inks in the process colours: Process Red (Magenta), Process Yellow and Process Blue (Cyan). Process colours work like printmakers’ primaries. They are designed to be mixable to create a wide range of shades. You can also print these inks on top of one another when layering prints. We will focus on mixing secondary colours (orange, purple and green) using just two of these inks at a time.

Below, we can see the process colours unmixed, as they appear straight out of the tube (no extender has been added). The ink has been rolled directly onto the paper (not transferred from a piece of lino) and is therefore quite thick.

To make the colour wheel below we have mixed the three secondary colours using a 1:1 ratio of our process colours, measured by weight. When the process colours are mixed in equal parts we can clearly see that they are not of equal strength. When the red and yellow are mixed in equal parts by weight, the strength of the red dominates the yellow. The bottom wedge of the circle below shows a scarlet rather than a bright orange.

The yellow ink is also knocked back by the blue. When Process Blue and Process Yellow are mixed in equal parts by weight, the blue dominates the green shade as seen below.

The Process Blue ink is stronger than the Process Magenta in the 1:1 mix, resulting in a shade of blue that just hints slightly towards a purple.

In order to create a colour wheel with more subtle shades, and to explore the strengths of the process colours further, we added segments of colour with different ratios.

The below colour wheel includes 2:1 mixes by weight of each of the secondary colour mixes. We can see that the Process Red is still very strong when mixed with Process Yellow, even in a 2:1 yellow to red ratio.

The Process Blue is also still very strong when mixed with both the Process Red and Process Yellow.

In order to create more subtle shades of orange, purple and green, we can tint our inks. We can tint our yellow with tiny hints or red until we reach the desired shade. Below we have added increasing amounts of Process Red to Process Yellow, starting with 100% yellow and adding very small hints of red.

This is what our shades of yellow to orange look like when rolled directly onto paper.

We carried out the same experiment with Process Yellow and Process Blue. The blue is very strong so we need only add very tiny dots of the blue to alter the shade dramatically.

More natural shades of green can be created by adding the tiniest dab of Process Red.

To mix shades of purple, we added small touches of Process Blue to Process Red. It is useful to know which ink is stronger so we can begin with the weaker colour and add touches of the stronger ink until the desired shade is achieved. If we were to start with Process Blue here, we would need to add a lot of Process Red before the colour was altered, resulting in a large quantity of ink, much of which might be wasted.

Here we can see that the Process Red appears quite pink when rolled thinly onto white paper. This pink hue enables us to mix rich purples rather than dirty burgundies.

A huge range of colours can be mixed just using the Caligo Safewash Process Colours. In these experiments, we have only created secondary colours by mixing two inks at a time in varying proportions. However, more shades can be achieved by using all three Process Colours. Adding Black ink to this range opens up more possibilities, as does the addition of Opaque White and Extender. Please note that these colours are just a guide and how they appear on your screen may not be an accurate representation. More on this in further experiments!

Meet the Maker: YUK FUN

We’re Lucy and Patrick of YUK FUN. We’re based in Portslade (on the outskirts of Brighton) in our home studio. We design and make clothing, prints, stickers, tote bags and more… 

Describe your printmaking process. 

We are screen printers! We print our designs on to T-shirts, tote bags and sweatshirts. Our home set up is pretty basic – we expose our screens in our bathroom using a halogen lamp and a pane of glass. We print together on a table in our studio – Patrick usually holds the screen in place while Lucy does the squeegeeing. We’ll probably invest in some table top clamps or a printing carousel one day. 

How and where did you learn to print?

We both did a little bit of screen printing at university, but we also took an evening class to refresh our skills at Ink Spot Press in Brighton which was pretty fun. 

Why printmaking?

When we first started out, we paid other people to screen print for us. We quickly realised that we could do it ourselves, take full control of the process and save a big wodge of money. The best thing about doing it ourselves is we can make sure everything we print is nicely done. No more emailing people asking why a colour came out different to how we expected. 

Where do you work?

We work in our loft – we had it converted in to one big space last year. Prior to that we were printing in a poky little spare bedroom, so it really nice to have a dedicated space that’s nice and light with plenty of room.

Describe a typical day in your studio.

Sun comes up, Patrick usually gets up first and schedules tweets over breakfast and does a bit of sketchbook doodling. Lucy gets bullied out of bed by our cat Dora, has some toast and then we might screen print some tote bags and sweatshirts and pack some orders. After lunch we might work on some new designs, do a bit of admin or write a blogpost. Later in the day Patrick heat cures all of the stuff we’ve printed and Lucy sews in our labels. 

How long have you been printmaking?

We have been screen printing our own stuff since 2015, so four years now. 

What inspires you?

We’re inspired by other artists and illustrators and we actually have a section of our blog where we interview our favourite people.

We also find inspiration in the natural world (we love going for long walks on the South Downs) and in films and animations. We’re both big fans of Studio Ghibli films – they’re just so full of imagination. We like all of the fun futuristic stuff that was designed in the 50s and 60s, like bubble cars and weird scooters. Have a look at our Pinterest account, we post new stuff every day:

What is your favourite printmaking product?

We really love the Speedball in fluorescent hot pink. We use it on our Fluff Buddy totes and it really pops!

What have you made that you are most proud of?

Probably our Choon Chums T-shirt – it’s the most detailed image we’ve exposed on to a screen and we’re really happy with the design. It took us a couple of months to work out getting the exposure and screen mesh right for this design because of the fine lines. 

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

You can buy our stuff on our website here: 

What will we be seeing from you next?

Lots of new stuff! We are currently working on a pattern that we can screen print on to fabric which we’ll then make clothing out of. We’ve never printed our own fabric so that will be really exciting. We’re working towards doing a kickstarter at the end of summer to help fund this screen printed fabric collection. Follow us on Kickstarter to find out when 🙂

We’re also taking part in On This Planet, a group show of risographs at The Old Street Gallery in London this May. 

Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?

Stop worrying about things going wrong and just go for it! It’s so easy to put stuff off that you’re unsure about, but you never learn until you give it a go.


How to Carve and Print a Simple Linocut for Beginners

Relief printing is a technique in which the raised surface of a block or plate is inked up and printed when in contact with paper (or fabric etc.) A linocut is a relief printing method using carved lino. Any areas that are left uncarved will be inked up with a roller and printed. This project will work through all the steps needed to make a single colour linocut.

It’s easy to get started with some simple equipment:

Lino – we are using traditional grey, hessian backed lino. Lino carves beautifully and has a wonderful snap off when finishing your cuts (more on this later). When lino is fresh it is not difficult to carve (nothing like the old, crumbly stuff from the back of the art cupboard at college!) There are lots of other blocks you can choose from too.

Cutting Tools – The Japanese Cutting Tool Set is an inexpensive, good quality set. Each tool has its own handle so there’s no need to keep swapping the blades. More tools can be found here.

Carbon Paper – Carbon paper is optional but can be very handy if you want to transfer a drawing or image onto the block or are unhappy drawing on the block directly. Read about using carbon papers on different blocks here.

Roller – For this project, we are using a Soft Rubber Roller but there are lots to choose from.

Bamboo Baren – Some printmakers will choose to use other kinds of barens such as a Plastic Baren or Ball-Bearing Baren or even a wooden spoon! Of course, you can also use a press to print linocuts such as a relief press or an etching press. We are using a Bamboo Baren which is cheap and prints wonderfully.

Relief Printing Ink – There are many different kinds of ink to choose from. The two main categories of inks are oil-based and water-based. We are using Lukas Studio Linol Ink for this project which is water-based and so cleans up easily and dries quickly on the paper whilst still giving a clear, vivid print. Oil-based inks can have a lovely finish but take a long time to dry on the paper. Oil-based inks will ‘stay open’ on the inking plate for much longer, allowing for more working time.

Inking Plate – Something on which to roll the ink. An inking tray, inking plate or piece of toughened glass all work well.

Paper – We are using Kent which is a lovely 190gsm printing cartridge paper but any smooth, fairly thin paper should work well.

Other bits and pieces you may need –
A pencil for drawing the design
Paper on which to draw the design or an image to trace
Paper to use as a registration sheet
Greaseproof paper for using under your baren
Anti-slip matting to hold the lino still as you carve.
A palette knife
Rags for cleaning up

Begin by preparing a drawing. Draw directly onto the block with a pencil or use carbon paper to transfer an image. Place the carbon paper face down onto the block and lay the image over the top. Use a pencil to trace the image, transferring it to the block. When the block is printed, the image will be reversed so bear this in mind when planning the design. Make sure any text is backwards on the block or it will be backwards on the print! We are printing a chicken which can happily be printed either way.

If the drawing is a little faint, go over it with pencil.

Now we are ready to start carving. A V gouge is a useful tool to start with. The sharp point allows for cutting fine lines which is useful for cutting around the edges of our shapes.

Hold the tool in your hand with an index finger near the top to help control it.

When carving, it’s important to keep your free hand behind the tool in case the blade slips. Always cut away from you, turning the block as needed. You may want to use this hand to hold the block steady. Anti-slip matting can be helpful to keep the block still whilst you are carving.

Using the V tool to cut around the edges of the design will help keep them crisp when clearing the background. Remember that anything we carve away will not be printed (and will appear paper-white on the final print). We want to carve away on the outside of the shape, leaving our chicken uncut.

You can use the direction of the blade to suit the design. Instead of carving a smooth line around the tail feathers, we are making little cuts to create a loose, feathered edge.

The V tool is also very useful for carving detail. Press lightly to carve fine lines. When carving curves, it is easier to gently curve the lino block instead of twisting the tool.

Experiment with mark making to create interesting textures and patterns. We’ve written a blog about this here.

We want our background to remain white when printed so we need to remove the top surface of the lino. A wide U gouge is a useful tool for clearing as it will remove lots of lino quickly without creating lots of peaks and troughs.

We don’t want to leave many peaks as they can pick up ink and create ‘noise’ in our print. Some artists choose to include this noise in their prints as it can be very characteristic of linocuts. It is a good idea to think about the direction in which you are carving, especially when clearing large areas. Noise left by these carved areas can help to add movement or texture to an image. For example, lines sweeping across an open sky or radiating out from a furry dog can add interest to a print.

You don’t need to cut too deeply. It’s more important to create a fairly even lower level. If you go too deep you will expose the hessian like this – oops!

We decided to add more detail to the base of this design before carving it all away.

We decided to keep a solid base and break it up with a few grasses. This gives us an opportunity to play with negative space. On the sold printed base, our glasses will be carved out in white, on the white background above, the grasses will be left raised to print in red.

One of the nicest qualities of traditional lino is the ‘snap off’. This means that you can finish your cut by gently pinging the tool upwards. The piece of carved lino should snap off the block, leaving a crisp line. This is particularly useful when clearing areas between two shapes.

When the block is carved, it is ready to print.

A registration sheet will help ensure the print is centred and straight on the printing paper. To make one, draw around the printing paper onto a piece of copy paper. Place the block in the centre of the marked area and draw around it. This will help you place the lino and paper later.

Roll out some ink onto an inking plate, inking tray or piece of toughened glass. We are using Lukas Inks which are water-based.

We want an even layer of ink that is not too thick and squelchy. When rolling we want to hear a zzzz sound. The texture of the rolled out ink should be very slightly bobbly like suede but have no drag marks thick lines. We only need a rolled out square of ink that is as wide as our roller in both directions. Use the roller up and down and left to right until you have an even layer of ink. If you have too much, simply scrape excess away with a palette knife and roll again to even it out.

Roll the ink onto the block. Make sure that all the raised areas are inked. The block should appear shiny but not blobby. We do not want the ink to get into our carved lines. Using a roller that is slightly wider than the block will help to get an even coating but a smaller roller can be used instead. A slightly softer rubber roller will help you to avoid roller marks.

Place the inked up block onto the registration sheet.

Place the printing paper on top (we are using Kent) and cover with a piece of greaseproof paper (if using). Tuck your fingers into the handle of the baren and press quite firmly to rub all over the back of the paper. The stickiness of the ink should hold it still but be careful not to rub so vigorously that the paper slides. Ensure that you have rubbed over the whole block.

Peel back the paper to reveal the print!

If there are patchy area on the print it may be that either too little ink was used or you need to press more evenly with the baren. If the edges of the shapes are thick with a line of ink then too much ink was used.

In the image above, we can see the ‘noise’ left by the raised areas of our cleared background. If you are not happy with the look of these, simply wipe them clean with a cloth after inking up the block.

At this stage, we can also choose to carve more areas out – perhaps we missed a little bit or are getting a lot of unwanted noise somewhere.

We will need to re-ink the block in between each print as there will not be enough ink left on the block for subsequent prints. (However, pulling a second print from a block or plate that has not been re-inked is called a ‘ghost print’ and can be quite interesting!)

At the end of the printing session, we need to clean the block. This is a water-based ink so we can use a damp rag to wipe away the excess ink. We do not want to get our block too wet as it can warp. A wet rag can also be used to clean the roller and inking plate. If printing with oil-based inks, you can usually clean up with vegetable ink or Zest-It. (Caligo Safe Wash Inks are oil-based but water washable so can be cleaned up with soap and water.)

For more relief printmaking projects, take a look through the blog for lots more ideas and inspiration!