An integral part of the local area, Artichoke Printmaking’s studio in Brixton has been around for nearly 25 years. Partly out of necessity (their printing presses are huge!), printmaking is very much a communal activity. Out of that comes a friendly vibe that’s so often hidden in a big city.
Megan – one of the studio’s founders – is without doubt a creative spirit, and entirely invested in the growth of everyone in the Artichoke community. As we spoke, she meandered from bench to bench, explaining the processes the artists were absorbed in, occasionally offering advice. If anything could sum up Megan’s attitude in one line, it’s the advice she offers to budding creatives:
‘Don’t give up on something if you’re happy doing it’
Where did your passion for printmaking come from?
I’ve always done arts at school, and even at home before school. Drawing was my favourite thing. We did tasters in different art forms during school and it was then that I tried printmaking. Lithography, to start.
Early on I realised this is exactly how I think, everything about printmaking just made sense with the way I arrive at making an image. My thoughts are mirrored in all the layers, the techniques, the processes.
How did you start learning?
I was in a class with a fantastic lithographer and he liked my work, so invited me to work with him that summer. During your studies, you do a lot of work like this, similar to an apprenticeship with a master artist. Master artists open doors for you, both in your thinking and opportunities.
When did you know that you wanted this to be your life?
During my foundation course I was sure this was what I really wanted to do for the rest of my life. When you’re totally in love with something, you think ‘I can do this, I want to do this, I will do this.’ It was just a matter of how.
So, what was the ‘how’?
I knew that I was going to do printmaking after college and luckily, it turned out that two boys from the same school felt the same. We all like doing this, we want to have a place to do it, so let’s get some presses and we’ll have a studio. Then we realised we’d need people to be part of it so we could all contribute and split the costs, so we decided to rent out some of the space for other artists to use.
Was it difficult to take that leap?
It wasn’t scary for me, it was the opposite because it came from a place of knowing exactly what I wanted. I told myself it’s got to be full-time, no matter what it takes – I’m going to be a printmaker, I’ll set up my own studio.
It’s hard though. The first three years are hard. You need to stick at it for three years and then ‘it’ happens. I don’t know how, it just does. After this many decades of working, I know that it does.
How did you get into teaching?
Right after my MA I went for an interview to be a printing technician at the Winchester School of Art. Loved the tutors, loved the interview and got the job. Then on the train back to London I got more and more upset. I went through thinking ‘oh my god, I got a job!’ to ‘wait, I got a job and I don’t want it…’ So I had to rush home on my bike to use the landline. I phoned them straight away and said ‘I loved meeting you guys, I love the college and I would love to work at the college with your students. But I can’t work there as a technician. I want to teach.’ They couldn’t believe it, because it turns out that’s exactly what they wanted, too. And I taught there for ten years.
What have you learned from teaching?
Teachers have to give people information at the point when they’re ready to take it in. When you try to learn too much theory up front, you get crowded. You listen but you don’t really hear. You do but you’re not really thinking.
When you’re teaching, you have to allow the difficulties and let the mistakes happen. There are some ‘correct’ ways of doing things in printmaking. But I can’t tell you that the way you’ve drawn your tree is bad.
Tips from Megan at Artichoke Printmaking
That feeling of ‘I did that. I made that.’ is utterly magic. You never get tired of seeing the result when you peel back that piece of paper from the plate. It capitulates you into thinking about what you want to do next.
When I hand you a metal scribe and a metal plate for the first time, I’m going to tell you ‘it’s just like a piece of paper, draw the same way.’ And you are not going to believe me. That is the biggest, hardest obstacle.
But that’s not a problem. I want you to be excited about printmaking when you come here. I want you to think it looks so interesting that you absolutely have to try it. Then my job as a teacher is to make you comfortable once you’re here.