The Art of Learning

Recently I was an invited guest artist at the class of David Neilson, a local art teacher and well known Albertan artist at Bishop O'Byrne High School in Calgary. This is the third time I've been invited to come and demonstrate lino printing practices and having had an excellent high school art education myself, I really value the opportunity to pass on what I know for the greater good.

I love demonstrating skills that sometimes aren't always included in the school arts curriculum. But it's often difficult to gauge if I'm making a positive impression on these young minds. Looking back on it, I was fairly naive about what professional artists actually do when I was a student too. So it came a a surprising revelation to me, when during this recent class one of the students brought out her 'book' and allowed me to read what she'd written about my last visit. The student, Stephanie, showed how she'd been listening carefully to what I was saying, understanding what can be a complex process and documenting the colour layers that go into making my work. The book mostly illustrates the work of known artists around the world, some famous, and some just like me. I'm humbled to be counted among the pages of some great people. Thanks Stephanie!

I can't tell you how gratifying it was to find that I'd left a positive impression. Positive feedback is one of the things artists hope for and measure our success by. Similarly, it's great to know that the work and time we donate to good causes actually improves the lives of others and allows them to enjoy the pleasure it brings.

So, thank you to David Neilson and Stephanie for sharing this with me. I hope we'll meet again and I'll get to see how you have progressed.


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How to spread the love with printmaking

Kids, by their curious and energetic nature, can be fascinating to work with, keep you on your toes and challenge you in ways that are always surprising! Put a group of high spirited and like-minded individuals together and you have such a positive vibe to work with. It was one of those days...

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High School Lino Demonstration with David Nielsen

Yesterday I had the rare privilege of demonstrating lino reduction techniques to a group of 30 students at Bishop O'Byrne High School in Calgary. Many thanks to their teacher, the well known Canadian artist and ASA member David Nielsen, for his warm welcome and invitation to his class. This proved to be an exciting opportunity for me.

The students were already familiar with the lino printing medium and some had even used multi-blocks to create coloured lino prints with significant success. I was pleasantly surprised at the excellent quality of the students work that was on display. It not only demonstrated that they were equipped with good creative resources, but they also had strong technical competence and an eye for good design. So this led me to think that the piece I'd prepared in advance would be beneath their capabilities.

However, I was assured by their teacher that the lino reduction process would be new to them and my concerns were unfounded. And so, as I was introduced by David to my captive audience, I gained their curiosity and interest. This was the first time I'd put myself in front of a large number of talented young adults, but I got off to a great start when I heard songs on the class stereo from one of my favourite bands, Echo and The Bunnymen! It was a very lively and stimulating environment. It immediately felt like I had been transported back in time to my own Art College days. At ease, I knew right away that this was going to be fun. For a moment I was able to reflect that not so long ago, I too was a student like them. And what a journey it's been since then. I'm sure we've all said to ourselves, "If only I knew then what I know now". It was one of those moments.

After a quick introduction on lino reduction and how it differs from multi-block printing, I quickly got to work. Emphasizing the fundamentals; keeping it clean (ironically, to the tune of 'Do It Clean' by Echo and The Bunnymen, and with David Nielsen adding some backgound harmonies - thanks David!), good preparation (the essentials of registration board, paper and tabs done correctly), tools to use, applying thin layers of ink and  identifying the right way for placing the lino block, they were eager to get moving. Happily, after demonstrating the first print, some students volunteered to undertake the process of doing it themselves.

Interestingly enough, some of them had forgotten one or two steps shown to them. It was an enlightening experience for me to watch. I was learning too. This of course was a simple reflection on what I took for granted. It was new to them and by trying it out first hand, they were able to better appreciate each step in it's own light. I observed carefully from close by. I was impressed. I knew they could nail this easily with some experience.

After taking a few impressions with the first colour (red), the students got the chance to browse through my portfolio while i cleaned up and carved the lino block in preparation for the second colour.

lino lenny
Preparing for the second colour. Note the prints in red on the top left of the photo.

The magic, as always in lino reduction, is when the second or subsequent colours are placed directly over the first and previous colours. This is the proof of the pudding, and tells us if our registration board or practice is accurate. Thankfully, these kids did a first class job of pulling off a small series of top notch lino reduction prints. I pointed out the fine details, like the whiskers of the fox print, emphasizing how there were two colours surrounding those very fine lines. This is what a good registration is all about. 

'Foxy' - by students of Bishop O'Bryne High School.

Afterwards some of the students got the chance to ask questions about some of my work - and one of two were clearly paying attention by the depth of their understanding and the questions that were put to me. I am impressed!

I donated the registration board to the class, outlining it's construction and how to use it. I also left them a step-by-step print out of the process they had followed. And finally I provided a step-by-step guide on how I created my print 'August'. They're smart kids - they'll work it all out. Now I look forward to seeing them develop into fine young lino printers. Here's hoping!

Davide Neilsen and Lino Lenny
Lino Lenny with David Nielsen


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