Meet the Maker: Moïra Swann
Bonjour everyone! Moïra Swann is an English and Proustian adaptation from my real name Anne-Marie: while Anne-Marie lives in France and works full-time in a wonderful museum dedicated to the French painter Anne-Louis Girodet, Moïra Swann does lino printing whenever she can, as an obsessive hobby.
My family and friends say that each and every one of my prints are disguised selfportraits... Well, this is clearly involuntary, though I like the idea!
Describe your printmaking process.
I always start with a handmade drawing (I don’t use digital techniques) until it’s perfect to me because I’m simply unable to improvise anything when I’m carving.
Then, I transfer my drawing from tracing paper onto brown linoleum (for big designs) or blue rubber (for little ones). I often mix both carving materials for my multi layer prints.
When I’m carving with my Pfeil tools, I try to be very meticulous so the whole block is clean. It may take days or even weeks!
Once my blocks are ready for a test print, I first prepare a paper of the future print’s dimensions in order to contour my block on it, so I can use it as a pattern for more printing sessions in the future. This is an essential part of the process for my multi layer prints as I contour each block on the same paper pattern after I’ve checked the registration thanks to tracing paper.
When printing, I mostly use Cranfield’s Caligo Safe Wash inks and Awagami papers. I hand burnish my prints with a Glass Baren (or the iron part of my rollers… I confess) as I don’t own a press. If I decide to blind emboss instead of printing with colours, I use special embossing tools.
Anyway, I like my prints to be neat and clean, without any unwanted spot or misregistration. I try to be more flexible about that, but it’s hard!
How and where did you learn to print?
When I started lino printing, I didn’t have any social media to find advice or support, so I gleaned as much information as I could on the Internet (which was little in fact at that time) and I took the plunge in a very experimental way. The learning has been both intuitive and gradual: from failure to failure, from rectification to rectification, I have developed methods and tamed tools which suit me today, even though some of them aren’t very conventional I guess!
When I finished my university studies in Art History, I was so fond of Japanese Woodblocks that I decided to give it a try. But it was so difficult to find the appropriate material that I fell back on lino printing and it turned out to be love at first sight!
I think printmaking gives strength and spirit to any design. And I adore its versatility: to go from black and white to colour, change the colour, try a gradient, mix printing and blind embossing, change the intensity of the ink… There is so much to experiment and discover with just one block... Sometimes, this wide world of possibilities makes me dizzy!
Where do you work?
I work at home in a spare room I’ve turned into a studio with an improvised desk just in front of the window, which is perfect for the light. Whenever my desk isn’t large enough, I fill the windowsill, the bed and even the edge of the heater with my drawings, tools, inks and test prints.
I keep all my material and carved plates in various pretty boxes my mother made on purpose for me (I just love them).
As for my prints to dry, I let them in my living room on a rope I arranged between two exposed beams. Then I stock them carefully in wide envelopes I keep in my studio.
Describe a typical day in your studio.
I hardly spend a whole day in my studio as I am a full-time worker. Sometimes I draw, sometimes I just carve, some other days I have a huge printing session... Two days aren’t alike! The only thing that doesn’t change is the music I always listen to while I’m working: I always choose it to be related to the subject of the print I’m working on: Debussy or Ravel when I’m working on the French Nabi painter Maurice Denis, traditional music when I’m working on a Japanese subject or any soundtrack related to the movie I’m inspired by… It’s like a ritual!
How long have you been printmaking?
I started lino printing about four years ago, when I finally had free time after I finished my university studies.
What inspires you?
There are so many things… Japan is a main inspiration since I have discovered its magical Ukiyo-e prints in a special class I followed in Spain. But I also love many periods of Art History, especially the end of the Nineteenth century with the fashionable portraitists (like Sargent, Helleu or Boldini) or the English Pre-Raphaelites or the French Nabis. The Greek-Roman era excites my imagination too, particularly its mythology. I guess the common tie between all these inspirations consists in a representation of feminine beauty, both delicate and gracious.
What is your favourite printmaking product?
I’d like to name 3 favourite products: the first one is the Glass Baren (from Iron Frog Press): it’s been such a revelation! It’s very useful when you don’t own a press. The second one is my Ternes Burton Registration pins: they changed my life as they allow an almost perfect registration for my multi layer prints. The third one is the beautiful Bamboo Select paper by Awagami which is so white and smooth and allows so many possibilities when it comes to blind embossing.
What have you made that you are most proud of?
The print I entitled “The Furisode” is my very favourite so far: it’s a mix of printing and blind embossing on Bamboo Select paper. It required 4 carved blocks (2 for colours, 2 for blind embossing) but I did it very joyfully, without any concern about the final result. In the end, it all worked out splendidly! I love its (apparent) minimalism, the golden touches, the delicacy of the embossed kimono and, above all, the possibility of adding or removing the pattern of the leaves as it’s an independent block. I’m even thinking of carving a new block in order to change the pattern of the kimono!
I consider this print a kind of synthesis of my work to this day.
Where can we see your work? Where do you sell?
I’ve been most active on Instagram for three years now, showing mostly my finished prints and, from time to time, my process. I met there a very supportive community! I also sell my prints (and some stickers too) on my Etsy store “Du côté de chez Moïra Swann” since January of 2022 – this represents a very reduced activity, but I feel quite happy about it.
What will we be seeing from you next?
I’m currently working on a series of feminine nudes inspired by French painters, mostly classical ones from the 19th century. I want them to represent the four elements and I’m already mid-way with this little project.
I also tried to print on fabric this year. I’d like to go on with it.
Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?
To keep on experimenting in order to improve your work and to accept all those little hazards which are integral part of this technique which is, sometimes, inexplicably rebel (yes, sometimes, a whole printing session can be a disaster without any reason...)
Also, I think it’s essential to be surrounded by the work of your favourite printmakers or artists : not only it’s a way to support them and to make your working place a better place, but also its’ great to give their technique a closer look : you can learn a lot from the observation!
To see more from Moïra, follow her on Instagram!