We were extremely lucky to be joined by Mississippi-based woodcut printmaker Sean Starwars in our Sussex studio on the 4th of July. Sean joined us for an artist’s talk, demonstration and workshop in which participants could print a woodblock or linocut t-shirt using Speedball Inks!
Sean achieved his MFA in Printmaking from Louisiana State University and has been making woodcuts for over 25 years. He works in his own studio in Franklinton, Louisiana, relocating there after 5 years in downtown Laurel, Mississippi. During his presentation, Sean described printmaking as ‘the umbrella that goes over my whole life’.
Sean chooses to work in large scale woodcut because it ‘best suits my energy charged, caffeine induced, aggressive approach to image making.’ We were thrilled to rummage through the piles of vibrant prints that Sean brought along for us to see.
Drawing directly onto the woodblock with a permanent marker, Sean works from an idea in his head and rarely from photographs. He works quickly, using his intuition to guide the design. The blocks are then carved before being inked up and printed through a press. Using his large variety of coveted carving tools, Sean demonstrated his carving technique on a sheet of traditional lino before everyone had a go at creating their own linocut design.
When asked to describe a typical day in his studio, Sean stated
‘I like to stay up late working so I sleep in a bit in the mornings, so I typically roll in around 10 am and start cutting blocks wherever I left off. Go in and out of the shop all day taking breaks to play with my five kids or hang out with my wife Julie then I go back for more cutting. Eventually I might have to print something or answer emails or whatever, but I spend most of my time looking at old magazines /doing research and cutting!’
Much of Sean’s inspiration comes from advertising; specifically food packaging. Sean collects Mountain Dew packaging and has fond memories of cereal boxes of the 70s, particularly the Monster Cereals characters ‘Frankenberry’, ‘Count Chocula’ and ‘BooBerry’. Sean explains that ‘Charles Bukowski, Ms Pacman, Phillip Guston and Neil Blender are among my influences.’
Among Sean’s favourite products are Speedball Profesional Relief Inks and Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink! He also ‘can’t say enough about the Shina Japanese Plywood – it is an amazing wood that is easy to cut and holds great detail!!!’
We were lucky enough to use some of Sean’s woodblocks to print onto t-shirts. We were given an amazing selection of blocks to choose from.
We inked the blocks up using Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink…
…and put them through the etching press face down on a t-shirt all within a sandwich of newsprint.
Next on the cards for Sean is a ‘series of lifesized Blues greats from Mississippi … Legends such as John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Bo Didley, and more. These are gonna be a lot of fun when they’re all done up and installed in one place!’
We all left the workshop feeling inspired and eager to get back to our own printing projects. Sean has pledged to make a print a week, urging us all to make as much work as we can and to worry less about what is good and bad when we’re making. He claimed to be ‘cheerleading for what [printmaking] can be in your life’ and left us with the following advice:
“stay active in the studio, take advantage of every minute you have – don’t just wait till you have a big block of time to work, and lastly be willing to reach out for opportunities – don’t wait for them to come to you! and VERY LAST – HAVE FUN !!!!”