How To… Find Inspiration

As the summer holidays are shortly to end, I’ve been getting prepared for the next round of workshops coming up at Slamseys. I think of September as the start of the new year and so it seemed a good time to launch our new printmaking short courses. First up we have two five-week printmaking courses where we explore and experiment with different types of printmaking including mono-printing, variations on screen printing, drypoint, lino & more. Getting everything ready has got me thinking about how to encourage new students to come up with ideas for their printmaking projects.

Thornback and Peel Pigeon & Jelly

Last (school) year a lot of my projects had a focus on nature and animals because I was working towards our 2015 summer theme of ‘the natural world’. After months printing owls, leaves, stags & bugs I feel like I’m ready to move onto a new topic. I know that next summer’s arts events will relate somehow to food and kitchens, although nothing firm has been decided yet, but I’m wondering if I can link this idea with my new printmaking projects.

I definitely find it easier to come up with design motifs when I have a broad theme like ‘nature’ or ‘food’ in mind, as it focuses my attention when I find there’s too much to choose from. How you choose your theme is up to you – below are some ideas for searching out inspiration and ideas.

Printing inspired by The Natural World
Printing inspired by The Natural World


  1. Be inspired: Research and visit local galleries and art centres, houses and gardens, to see what exhibitions and events they have on. Use some of the topics explored by those artists to develop your own ideas.
  2. Scrapbook: Flick through magazines and newspapers – tear out anything that stands out to you and put it into a folder. It could be something tiny or the overall idea of something. If you keep all these ideas together you can refer back to them at a later date and see what develops. See if there are any themes that repeat themselves throughout your collection. Make use of free websites like Pinterest – you can pin all of your ideas onto different boards, which is a great way to bookmark websites to visit again, or keep design ideas close at hand. The only downside to this is that you don’t then have a hard copy to work from, so make sure you print out any ideas that you know you’ll want to work from in the future.
  3. Record: When you next go out and about, make sure you take your sketchbook or camera with you to jot down and capture ideas as you go. The drawings and ideas don’t have to be perfect or fully formed – they’re just there to remind you for later projects.
  4. Time: Make sure that you allocate yourself time to develop your ideas – great design ideas don’t happen all by themselves so make sure that you spend time doodling and practising designs. Often once you’ve tested out a few ideas in print you’ll know how you want the design to progress.
  5. Experiment: Finally – don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s unlikely that the first thing you print will be perfect, so play around with the design, experiment with colour, add textures and alternate techniques. Think of each design idea as a project, not as a finished thing.

You might like to work on several different themes at once and may even be surprised at how they can come together. For example designs by Thornback & Peel mixed rabbits with cabbages and pigeons with jelly.

Here’s a few of my favourite print designers to get you started, look on my Pinterest boards for more ideas.

  1. Thornback and Peel
  2. Angie Lewin
  3. Jessica Hogarth
  4. Andrea Lauren
  5. Sally Payne
Angie Lewin Hedgerow Design

Fabric Printing

I’m taking a little break from the Slamseys Sketchbook Challenge this week as I’ve been having too much fun with fabric printing. I’m putting the finishing touches to my lesson plans for the new Fabric Printing 5 Week Course that will be running at Slamseys next year. This of course means that I need to get experimenting, playing with a range of inks, printing techniques and fabrics – and what fun I’ve been having!

Yesterday I packed up my various thermofax screens, lino plates, embroidery hoop screens and jelly plates and took them all over to Granny’s house. My Granny is an expert quilter and has experimented with basically every kind of fabric paint, pens, crayons & more. She also has a wonderful collection of Indian woodblocks from her recent trip to India. I wanted to pick her brain about fabric designs and play with all her stuff!

Earlier in the week I’d created some backgrounds on my fabric scraps – using a mixture of natural inks made from raspberries (although this smelt great, it wasn’t very effective and I’m not sure how it’s going to hold out in the wash), and a watercolour technique with textile inks.

Thermofax fabric printing, Slamseys Art, Essex

At Granny’s I overprinted these with my thermofax screens, layering  the colours on top of each other. I love thermofax screen printing – and on fabric the results are even better than on paper. Basically using a thermal copier, designs are burnt onto the screen which allows the ink to be pushed through the screen and onto the fabric waiting below. The best designs are thin, detailed ones as this process isn’t very effective for big blocks of colour.

I used a mixture of waterbased block printing textile inks and screen printing textile inks. Some fabric inks can feel quite crunchy when they are printed, so I played around with diluting with just a little water and mixing the two different types together. As both were waterbased they mix well together and print nicely on a variety of fabrics. They also have a strong opaque quality, which allowed me to print over the background, keeping clear designs.

The main aim of this session was experimentation and unfortunately I’m firmly in the more is more camp so I think I may have overdone it on my layering. If I was doing it properly I would make some changes – starting with the larger screens and lighter colours, and then building up the strength of the colour at each stage.

Finally, I used some of the woodblocks to add some final embellishments, printing with the block printing ink, which you simply sponge onto the surface of the block.


When printing on fabric you need to check that you have set up your space before you get started. We started by rolling out an old yoga mat to act as a base for our printing – the yoga mat had a slight give underneath the fabric we were printing on, which really improves the quality of the print. Over the top of this it’s a good idea to lay down some newspaper or a pieces of scrap material as some of the prints you make may seep through the fabric onto the surface below.

Apple Natural raspberry dye, Little Bird linocut fabric stamp, Rabbit stencil screen print. Moose Markel Marker stencil
Experimenting: Apple Natural raspberry dye, Little Bird linocut fabric stamp, Rabbit stencil screen print. Moose Markel Marker stencil



It’s been beautiful weather here in Essex for the past few days, making me feel relaxed and lazy. The thought of starting up on some big projects just doesn’t appeal to me this week. So instead I’m going to have a go at one of the latest crazes in art and relaxation – mindfulness, via colouring in for adults.

There are a lot of free and inexpensive resources out there to get you started on your mindfulness adventure – I’ve been putting a few of them onto Pinterest so I can come back to them at a later date. But it’s also possible to create your own designs for colouring in and often the process of making the drawings is as important as the colouring that comes afterwards.


Draw a set of random shapes overlapping and intersecting, add colour
Draw an outline of an object and then fill with as many small lines as you can, add colour
Fill a page with zentangle doodles, then outline an object shape over the top, add colour
Use stencils to draw outlines and then add block colours
Try out free online sources for adult colouring in

sketchbook challenge3

Those who practice colouring in and creating drawings like zentangles explain that there are key differences between doing these mindfully and just doodling. You might doodle on the phone to someone or absent mindedly when thinking about something else, but in order to get the benefits of mindfulness, you must treat this time as meditation – really focus on what you are doing, look at each line, pay attention to which colour you select. After twenty minutes of this kind of drawing or colouring you should feel yourself relaxing and by the time you pack up your pencils hopefully you will be in a zen-like state!


Today I’m not going to have a printmaking session as I think that getting all my paints and inks out might ruin my new-found calm. Mixing inks for printmaking takes time and patience as you are looking to obtain not just the perfect printing consistency, but also the perfect shade. What I will take away from this challenge however, is the enjoyment of colours: Next time I find myself mixing up some inks for my latest screenprinting project, I’m going to really enjoy the process of mixing the colours and try and use it as a mindful activity.

Paint, Slamseys Sketchbook Challenge, Essex



This week I have been looking at lines. There are so many different ways to use lines – they can be very expressive and present, they can just hint at something, they can be incredibly detailed, they can be representational and they can be abstract.


Look for and sketch linear patterns in things around you
Draw a portrait with one continuous line
Use a line as the basis for a map of your day
Experiment with using cross-hatched lines for shading


Here are some lines that my mum has found around the farm. She’s doing the sketchbook challenge using her camera as well as her pencils.

lines collage


I love how expressive lines can be and how making them lighter and darker can give real depth to a picture.  Intaglio printmaking processes are a great way to transfer pen and ink or pencil drawings into prints. In etchings, you can use all sorts of techniques to brighten areas of the plate, but when I make drypoint prints using Granny’s mangle I try to keep my designs as simple as possible and use cross-hatching to add areas of shadow.

Each fine line you make will collect ink, and so by putting lots of these lines together you end up with darker areas on the plate. You can also experiment with light and shadow by leaving some of the ink on the plate before printing, or by using talcum powder to remove it completely.

I’ve been working on a series of Drypoint prints based around nature and animals. I love trying to capture the different textures of fur, feathers and scales.

Sketchbook Challenge, Line