So how do you find a community when having a print studio? For our June focus on “Networking and Community”, we are absolutely ecstatic to have our Madhat of the Month, Caitlin Parks. Caitlin is a print-maker and a part-time art teacher based in London. She uncovers her journey from graduating university to having her own studio space.
Throughout her conversation, Caitlin reasons how Underway Studio and her practice has enabled her to create a sense of community. Whether that be through her colleagues, fellow artists or creatives. We also discover that freelancing is not always the easiest thing to do. However, Caitlin shows determination and the love of what you do, makes it all worth the push.
How Setting Up A Print Studio Gave Me A Sense Of Community – By Caitlin Parks
How Printmaking Created A Community
In my experience, there’s a strong sense of community among Printmakers. It’s as if knowing the ins and outs of printmaking automatically connects you with people you’ve never even met before.
If I’ve needed advice, they’ve been there. From equipment guidance over the phone to tips in person, it feels like printmakers are always ready to help and share their print secrets. Or at least, they have been for me.
Why is this? Maybe it’s the fact that printmaking is a hard profession to survive in and anyone who is, wants to support those who try. Few artists are just printmakers. Most have a side hustle in something or other, digital printing, illustration, graphic art, teaching or studio managers.
Or is it that they want to make sure printmaking not only survives but thrives in retaliation to our current digital age, where mass produced art is everywhere. In contrast to this, there is something so unique about artwork entirely printed by hand. This craftsmanship is so valuable in our fast, modern society.
For me, it’s the printmaker’s willingness to share skills developed over years of practise, that creates this sense of community and support in the print world. And like many, I am grateful for it.
How The Print Journey Began
I graduated from the University of Westminster with a degree in Illustration and Visual Communication and the strong need to be able to continue to screen print. This, I was determined about. It’s funny how things work out. I only really became interested in printmaking halfway through my second year of uni.
I was so stuck visually with illustration. I’d had a great first year and then second year began and I felt totally lost. My tutor more or less ordered me to the print room to experiment and develop my work…and I’ve been addicted ever since.
I was lucky to meet someone at uni who had a similar, screen print mad dream. After graduation, Melissa and I decided that we would try and set up our own studio space, with big ideas for building our own d.i.y this and that. Not all of that happened, but we did find some third hand equipment.
Before we knew it, we had all the big and bulky ingredients for a screen printing studio but nowhere to house these industrial sized objects (shout out to both our dads here for helping us collect, transport and store the beasts!).
So, not ideally, we had found our print equipment before a home for it. Luckily, the print gods appeared to be on our side and we soon found a space in West London. Originally, we shared the space with four other artists we’d met at uni, all illustrators wanting to have a studio space to work in.
This was great as it meant we could divide the rent up and have our own, little creative community. It felt so good to be able to continue the studio environment I had found really beneficial at university, a space to create in with like minded artists around you.
Underway Studio Was Born
Over the next year and a half, the dynamics of the studio slowly changed. Members came and went due to life or financial situations changing, and then in 2016, almost without us releasing, Underway Studio was formed. This was the natural conclusion to some collaborative work which we made and felt had a strong, unique aesthetic. We never really set out to become a collective, it just sort of happened.
Underway Studio is an illustration and printmaking collective now based in Brixton (after several studio moves). The collective consists of four members who work collaboratively on design projects using silk-screen print as a primary medium. Print designs are passed between the collective until they are finalised and ready to be screen printed.
As a result, the artworks have an impression from each artist creating a unique aesthetic . Much of our work is influenced by architecture, form, texture and colour. Using physical print processes means our visual language is both playful and distinctive, incorporating photography, collage, drawing and embracing any happy accidents along the way.
Belonging To A Collective
Working as part of a collective makes me take a step back from my work, something which I find very valuable. As an artist, you can become very protective over your image making. With the way Underway collaborates, it forces me to let go of what I have created as it’s physically passed to someone else.
This is challenging but often leads to exciting results. It’s also great to have a group of different brains developing and discussing ideas. Each member brings different skills to the table, but also, a unique way of seeing.
Networking As A Print Studio
Life as a freelance creative can be lonely. Being part of Underway Studio has changed that. Sharing a studio space with others, naturally gives you a sense of connection and community. It’s always good to feel like you’re a part of something, especially when shit hits the fan. Over the years Underway has built relationships with other artists through networking at exhibitions and print fairs we’ve taken part in.
We’ve exhibited at The London Illustration Fair for the last 3 years and it’s always so nice going back and seeing familiar and new faces. I think it’s important to build these relationships and understand what other work is being created around you, whether it’s from fellow print-makers or illustrators etc. It’s always good to be aware of your fellow contemporaries.
My Own Practice
Alongside Underway, I continue to work on my own print and illustration portfolio. With my own work, I move between hand drawn, illustrative designs and then more photographic collages. I love responding to narratives, atmospheres and nature.
The natural world has consistently been my main inspiration whether its plants and gardens, animals or curiosities. I enjoy documenting places I have been with both photography and drawings and then using these to create limited edition screen prints conveying my experiences.
Working As A Part-Time Art Teacher
In addition to studio life, I am a part time art teacher at a primary school where I teach art to Year 1 – 6 students once a week. Teaching isn’t a job that you just leave behind when you go home. It’s a job that stays with you. I am extremely lucky to have had an art filled childhood and an education that both support and encouraged creativity.
I try and make sure that I deliver some of this to the children I teach. Art can impact your life in so many ways and it’s important that they see this, especially as it’s a subject that is not always valued.
With teaching, every lesson is a learning curve, especially if I introduce a new subject or skill to a class that I haven’t covered yet and I need to assess how the students are going to respond. Coming from an art background (not a teaching one) also has its challenges when working with young children and more experience is the only thing that can really change that.
Balancing Between Jobs
Juggling what is essentially three jobs can be challenging. You often have to choose what to prioritise. Depending on what projects we are working on and deadlines, Underway work can take up most of my week around teaching, meaning my personal work has to take a back seat.
If this happens, I try to plan my future work schedule so that I set more time aside to be able to focus on my own work. It’s really important for me as an artist to be able to continue to develop my own practise.
Balancing my workload is still something I’m working on. Sometimes it runs smoothly and other times it doesn’t. It’s when things are difficult that you appreciate a sense of community even more. Even if it’s just the small circle you navigate in or a wider one, it’s always important to have a network of support.
Stay Connected With Your Little Creative Community
Being a freelance artist is never easy. The story of Underway’s set up that you tell people is sugar coated, missing out the mistakes and issues and all the things university never prepared me for.
There has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears on this journey. But in doing so, we have created our own community and connected with so many like minded artists. I think that is essential in order to grow creatively.
To all the printmakers out there, thanks for the advice, guidance and constant inspiration. Long live print!