Edinburgh Printmakers – The Next 40 Years

“When Edinburgh Printmakers started up in Victoria Street, it was like going into an Aladdin’s Cave,” recalls artist John Bellany. Having celebrated its fortieth birthday in 2007 this exciting organisation looks forward to new challenges in the next forty years.

Edinburgh printmakers printing

The idea of a printmakers’ workshop originated in 1967, when Robert Cox approached Glasgow based print teacher Philip Reeves to sound out the idea. As Reeves said, “You can paint pictures in a bedsit but you can’t print that easily!” Apart from the space required, the equipment and tools are far too expensive for a lone printer to acquire. Cox offered space in his gallery in Victoria Street to enable career minded students to develop their skills and to work. 

With Kim Kempshall, Roy Wood and Ken Duffy, who became the managing secretary and first director, the Printmakers’ Workshop was born, the first open access studio and workshop for printmakers in Britain.

“There was a need, a moral imperative,” says Duffy. Students leaving art college were simply unable to continue their work. There was a feeling that printmaking was democratic and egalitarian and should reach beyond the college to the community and, as if to demonstarte the point, the workshop’s opening exhibition was held in support of a printmakers’ workshop in Florence which had been devastated by the 1966 flood.

The group scrounged a few presses and pieces of equipment and eventually attracted a grant from the Scottish Arts Council. In 1972, a similar workshop, having learnt the ropes from Edinburgh, was formed in Glasgow, then ones in Dundee and Aberdeen.


Edinburgh Printmakers Gallery

With organisations like Habitat and Ikea offering budget priced prints that make art affordable, Edinburgh Printmakers offers a quite different experience. Every print is individually hand made by the artist, or, by a master printer working with the artist. There is no original drawing or painting to be copied, as the design is created directly onto plates, stencils or screens, which are destroyed after a certain number have been produced. 

Thus, every one of these prints, known as ‘original’ prints, have been hand produced by the artist or master printer and are unique. They are numbered and signed by the artist in pencil (which does not fade) and have a rarity value far exceeding poster art. 

Establishing the Group
By 1975, the challenge had moved from setting up to establishing the group and new, larger premises were found in Market Street, above the Arts Council owned Fruitmarket Gallery. As a leader in the world of printmaking, the workshop was keen to collaborate with like minded thinkers everywhere. Reeves recalls the work of Stanley William Hayter, who knew great artists like Picasso and Miro and wanted to encourage them to explore the several media of printmaking. The concept of the designer artist collaborating with the technical printmaker was bursting with potential, and artists were keen to explore it.

In this country, John Bellany was one of those to grab the opportunity of a residency with both hands, but many overseas artists also began to see Edinburgh as a Mecca for exploring and developing all forms of printmaking. Hayter’s model was shifting the focus from the final outcome to the means of production and the new Edinburgh studio took this experimental and social side side even further by opening its doors to members of the public. Through its education programme, the studio offered classes to members of the general public who were interested in exploring printmaking.

A Landmark Project
1977 saw one of the biggest collaborative projects undertaken by the studio so far – a folio of 20 lithographs printed by Ken Duffy, designed by William Johnstone to interpret the poems of Hugh MacDiarmid. The international acclaim won by this folio led to similar projects.


Edinburgh printmakers studio


In 1987, the Printmakers were forced to find new premises and a former laundry in Union Street was available. Technician Alfons Bytautas recalls his impressions of the Printmakers’ new home as being cold, but a huge, light space. Here the workshop established itself, with its own gallery where you could see and buy work by over 600 artists, much of it hand-made in the studio, with prices ranging from as little as £50 up to £3000. The name changed too, to Edinburgh Printmakers’ Workshop and Gallery.


Edinburgh Printmakers innovative printing

Safe printing methods developed
During the nineties, people began to be aware of the toxic qualities of many of the chemicals used, and to explore alternatives. Under director Robert Adam, The Printmakers’ Workshop was at the forefront of the switch to Acrylic Resist Etching and Water based Screenprinting during the nineties. In screen printing, oil based paint can dry and clog the screen, whereas the water based acrylic vehicle evaporates more slowly, the pigments are smaller and so better technical results can be achieved more easily. As well as providing a healthier environment, these methods allow improved detail.  

The Future
Sarah PriceLast year, Sarah Price took over the reins. She sees her challenge as securing modern premises that are sustainable and fit for purpose. “Audiences want a good quality space and environment,” she says. “We need to introduce digital printmaking and research how that impacts. We are still using some of the equipment that we scrounged when we started up so some of that needs to be brought up to date and we need to cater for increasing demand to develop our audiences in schools and minority groups.”

Introductory courses provide the basic working skills and confidence to work in etching, lithography, screenprinting, relief printing, digital and darkroom. Master classes help develop further techniques and extend the range of processes used at Edinburgh Printmakers.  

The current exhibition, Reveal, sees the work of final year students from art colleges all over Scotland. Edinburgh Printmakers appears to be continuing its mission to support and encourage innovative practices in printmaking. Who knows what the next forty years will bring?

Details of courses and exhibition programmes are on the website.

About Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.
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