Personal Manifesto for a Sustainable (Printmaking) Practice worth Practicing 
What does it all mean?

  1. Ask questions.

How did you do that (most amazing printmaking thing)?  Why did you choose do work this way? How much does this cost? Is there an alternative?  Can I use less?  Can I use more, better? What does it mean by “non-toxic” – to myself, to fish?  In what quantities?  Can I sustain this? Can I teach this?  Can I scale this up?

  1. Answer questions. 

Be generous with knowledge.  Holding information back does not make me a mysterious, enigmatic, printmaking wizard, it makes me greedy, selfish and privileged.  Look it up, privilege is by definition a special advantage available only to a particular person or group.  So what if it took me ten years to work out a closed-loop water system for etching?  Do I want to put someone else through that: the potential waste of resources, of creative time, the potential loss of a fellow sustainable practitioner, when I could have just shared when they asked.

  1. Consider the before and after.

How was this made, how did it get here, where will it go once I’m done with it?  This is tough.  In some cases, materials and substances that are non-toxic to the user, may not have been so in its manufacture or its disposal.  Likewise, repurposing items for use in printmaking may take them out of a recycling loop and actually add to waste.  Further still is the possibility that the less ‘green’ choice might be longer lasting and therefore more sustainable in the broader sense.  This is proper wormhole stuff, but I try to bear it in mind.  I refer to Points 1 & 2. 

  1. Practice.

The first time I made a stone lithograph, it was a stone cold turd.  It was nothing like anything I had done before, I’m not sure what I remember now, or if I even enjoyed it.  What I did know was that artists whose work I admired had made beautiful prints this way, and I wanted to be one of them.  It will get better with practice.  

  1. Remember that one size does not fit all.  

It is very easy to judge others. I know I do it instinctly; it’s an impulse, a reflex.  It is hard to stand back and remember that the choices I have made have been guided by resources and privileges that may differ for others.  Money, time, space, concept, body, knowledge, matters when it comes to making choices.  

I am going to give a complex example, which I will explore further in a later post.  A printmaker who owns their studio, has weighed the safety and health issues of solvent-based, acid-based systems with which they already familiar, against the environmental issues of acrylic-based, salt-etch systems, which have their own issues in regards to dissolved plastics and waste disposal, and which would be completely new to them.   

They consider frequency, cost, and access. They can afford to install good local exhaust ventilation and hazardous storage. They work alone, on small plates, and in short bursts due to family commitments.  Which option is the most sustainable, financially, socially, environmentally?  What if they asked me?  

My response: I need more information, and a bit of both systems, probably.  I would say that a decision taken today can be allowed to change incrementally over time.  I would also say, my own conditions are different, so my solutions are different: I rent a studio, I sometimes work with others, I work very long hours (not meant as a boast, but to indicate potential length of exposure to a substance!).  

Not very satisfying, is it?  It would be so much easier if there was one right answer for everyone, but there isn’t, especially when technical processes are intimately linked to creativity and artistic expression.  

  1. Embrace change.

Printmaker is not about tradition, printmaking is about change. 

Change does not have to be big, or fast, or expensive, or time consuming.  It can start with a small pivot, a slight tilt.  

Change can be incredibly positive.  The work I make now is far more visually interesting and involving than anything I made in the past, because I think about sustainability at every stage.  The work I make now is more rewarding, more challenging, more exhilarating, because I am less afraid to ask questions of it.

Change is necessary.  I thought long and hard about including this, because it may come across as forceful, but so be it.  We have a limited amount of time, space and resource on this earth, and if we want our practice to be sustainable, and for it to sustain future printmakers, we must change.  

  1. Give yourself permission.

To make prints.  To be frustrated.  To be delighted.  To be confused.  To make prints. To make bold choices.  To change your practice.  To look to the future.  To make prints. 

Next post: An example that worked

(DRAFT – last amended 05 May 2023)

There are a great many examples of arts manifestos: some are lists of rules, others are slogans by which to live, and others still are essays, books, tomes through which artists and organisations express in words the principles of their practice.

When I started writing, I did not set out to write one.
I set out to reflect closely on my printmaking practice, but also to step away from it, to find the ‘gist’ of it, especially as it relates to sustainability.

Answers are out there. What I’ve come to conclude is, however, they are not “use oil instead of solvents to clean up”, or “try water-based screen printing inks”, or even “ten steps to replace nitric with saline sulphate”.

These are helpful, practical steps that may suit some practices, in some situations. What I’m looking for is sustainable principles for sustainable printmaking. Principles that will apply regardless of process. I know how that sounds – after all, isn’t printmaking all process? I say no, printmaking is a lifestyle, a philosophy, a religion, a choice full of choices.

I am writing as a person who has chosen printmaking, or maybe printmaking chose me. I make and teach screenprinting, etching, relief, lithography, photographic plate and digital print processes. I have worked in small private studios, and large, publicly funded workshops based in higher education, or tied to cultural institutions. I’ve taught in spaces with no easy access to water, worked on projects with almost no budget, editioned other projects that seemed to have endless budget (just once, actually). In each and every situation, these principles can apply, and in many cases, were already being applied.

If this is useful to you, please have it. If it isn’t, I urge you to take ten minutes and write your own rules down. Find the ten minutes. Stare at the words and see if they reflect your practice back. Give yourself longer if you need it. My stars may not be yours.

  1. Ask questions.
  2. Answer questions.
  3. Think about the before and after.
  4. Practice.
  5. Remember that one size does not fit all.
  6. Embrace change.
  7. Give yourself permission.

We can disagree, and still be friends.  

Next post: what do these seven phrases actually mean?

The physical and psychological distance between the Mawddach Estuary in Wales, and my London life, provided a unique space for all sorts of reading.

Here is a list of everything I read, or am reading, some of which is referenced in the work I have written, and the drawings I have made.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a proper, ‘annotated’ bibliography, but I have noted and commented where it felt appropriate.  


> Antreasian, G., and Adams, C. (1972) The Tamarind Book of Lithography: Art and Techniques. New York, Harry N. Abrams Inc.

No surprises here, except that I came all the way to Wales to borrow a book I’ve long had at home! Thank you to Scarlett Rebecca for the lend, it has been useful for inserting immediate references into some of my drafts.

> Cornell, A. (1959) Rape of the Fair Country. London, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.

In progress, for the train ride home. Recommended to me by a printmaking colleague. A story of life in 19th century Wales, following a family whose lives are intrinsically linked to the politics of coal and iron.

> Griffith, A. (1980) Prints and Printmaking: An introduction to the history and techniques. London, British Museum Press.

An extremely dense summary of the history of western printmaking, from its early woodcut origins in the 13th century to the development and incorporation of photomechanical and colour printing techniques of the first half of the 20th century. Maybe not the most obvious or compelling read, but what Griffith demonstrates in 127 pages is the breadth, ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness of printmaking and printmakers over its history.

Not staid, nor tied to tradition, nor shackled to technique, printmakers embraced continuous change in their materials, processes, subject matter, audience, and reception.

> Hatton, K. (Ed.) (2015) Towards an Inclusive Arts Education. London, Institute of Education Press.

There are ten papers that make up this volume, spanning topics such as critical race theory, student diversity, the art and design curriculum, and academic attainment. Together, they provide a dense, academic introduction to the intersectionality of inclusive arts pedagogy; the main challenges faced by those attempting to make changes; and the opportunities for creativity that arise when change is embraced.

> Ilyin, N.(2019) Writing for the Design Mind. London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

In progress. A guide to writing well for designers and visual creatives, Ilyin sets up this book as a contract between the writer and reader: complete the exercises, use the whole time allotted for each exercise, become a better writer. I will admit, I have expedited the schedule somewhat, and am doing an exercise each day. I should leave the residency on Exercise 7, and aim to carry on in the studio.

> Kara, H. (2015) Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: a practical guide. Bristol, Policy Press.

A step-by-step flash tour of creative research methods, with a focus on the ‘creative’ aspect. Especially useful to read case studies of blended and mixed-methods research in practice, and how to approach analysing subsequent data. A considered section on ethics, with good examples of how decisions by distant committees can sometimes be to the detriment of research. Kara writes very clearly, and draws good distinctions between ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’ research.

> Kuang, R. F. (2018) The Poppy War. London, Harper Voyager.
> Kuang, R. F. (2019) The Dragon Republic. London, Harper Voyager.
> Kuang, R. F. (2020) The Burning God. London, Harper Voyager.

I started this trilogy the week before my journey up to Wales, and raced through it in my time here. Providing sharp contrast to the academic and non-fiction reading, this fast-paced trilogy quickly became my meal time and evening entertainment. They haven’t directly influenced my own writing, but I have enjoyed that the are written from the perspective of a young, Asian, female warrior and soldier.

> Webb, B. And Skipwith, P. (2015) Eric Ravilious: Design. Woodbridge, ACC Art Books Ltd.

I have long been a fan of Ravilious’s famous submariner series of lithographs: ten illustrations of an idyllic life on a WW2 boat, half sublime fantasy, half darkness underwater. This, however, was my first encounter of his work as a student, an engraver, a typographer, a designer. The range of his output is remarkable, his compositional style distinct.


> Coe, J. (ed.) (2017) Pressing Matters, Issue 01, 1-88
> Coe, J. (ed.) (2017) Pressing Matters, Issue 02, 1-88
> Coe, J. (ed.) (2017) Pressing Matters, Issue 04, 1-88
> Coe, J. (ed.) (2018) Pressing Matters, Issue 05, 1-88
> Coe, J. (ed.) (2018) Pressing Matters, Issue 06, 1-88

I must admit, and it seems rather unbelievable, but I have never read a whole issue of John Coe’s Pressing Matters. It is often around, on the shelves of studios, the desks of colleagues and peers, sometimes the most recent version makes an appearance in the workshop kitchen.

I am lucky the first issues are among the books and journals available at the residency, and I can take time to catch up. These journals are a time travel device to a not-very-distant past, a welcome revisiting of friends, workshops, exhibitions, materials research. They are also an introduction to new idea, new spaces, new printmakers. Highlights from Issue 06 – Educate and Empower: an introduction to the US-based collective Black Women in Print (p23, Issue 06); Making Paper: St. Cuthbert’s Mill in Somerset (p52, Issue 06).

Reading these volumes back to back provided insight into the styles, formats, voices and writing strategies used by printmakers, for printmakers.

If anyone has Issue 3 and wouldn’t mind lending it to me, please get in touch!

Articles Online

> Brook, O., O’Brien, D., and Taylor, M. (2018) Panic! It’s an arts emergency. Available at: in-the-Creative-Industries1.pdf [Accessed 3 May 2023]

Part of Panic! It’s an arts emergency project, and funded by AHRC, this report was referenced in the a-n inquiry below. Written before the COVID-19 pandemic, it illustrates the already prevalent fallacy of meritocracy in the arts, and the widespread culture of unpaid labour. While taking gender and ethnicity into consideration, the focus of this report is on social class, social mobility, and the complex picture of representation in the arts over the last thirty years.

> Giles, H. J. (2020) I woke up and the arts was gone. Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2023]

Referred to in the a-n inquiry below, this blog entry is a vivid account of the first COVID lockdown as experienced by artists, which exposed and exacerbated the precariousness and vulnerability of the arts sector in the UK. Giles draws a useful distinction between the rise in our consumption of artistic media at the time, and of artists being paid or finding ways to be paid for their continued output.

> Lazard, C. (2019) Accessibility in the Arts: a Promise and a Practice. Available at: [accessed 01 May 2023]

A compact guide on accessibility and practical accommodations for a range of arts-based scenarios. Based on the social model, distilled into specific steps that can be adapted by small-to-medium arts organisations, it is quite an overwhelming read when taken in one sitting. Lazard moves swiftly through everything from air quality to lighting to sliding scales and economic justice, when any one of these topics might have taken up the whole 36 pages of this downloadable PDF. While most guidance is sensible and useful, I wonder how practicable or effective a ‘fragrance-free’ policy is, for example. Evidence-based risk assessments that demonstrated the requirement and effectiveness such specific control measures would be useful.

> Warne Thomas, C. (ed.) Structurally F-cked: an inquiry into artists’ pay and conditions in the public sector in response to the Artist Leaks data. Available at: [accessed 01 May 2023]

Commissioned by a-n The Artists Newsletter Company, this is a sobering but sadly unsurprising summary of the precarious working conditions in which artists find themselves. This inquiry digs deeply into institutional abuses of artists as free and unacknowledged labour, especially where artwork is uncoupled from labour. Even acknowledging the self-selecting bias of data sets gathered through voluntary and anonymous surveys, that any artists should find themselves working to low- or no-pay terms and that this experience is so widespread are both a warning to those considering a career in the arts, and a call to action by those already in it.

View from the Studio, Mawddach Residency

This will be the last post about the residency itself; tomorrow I will post a loosely annotated bibliography. On Friday, I will begin a series of weekly posts on sustainable printmaking, of which I now have several drafted.

The waters of the Mawddach estuary are shallow, the tides dramatic, drawing in and pulling away each day across vast expanses of sand, marking the passage of time. Time is both slow and quick here, water lapping on the shore a steady shhh-, shhh-, shhh-, wildflowers blooming with each passing day, set against a landscape of mountains that mark change in centuries and millennia.

That is how time has acted on my body and mind here, a contrast of fast and slow. Intense, brief, moments of running, drawing, reading, writing, set against a life’s commitment to printmaking as a vehicle for sustainable making and social justice.

I return to London on Friday, but my mind has already started to drift south and east, ready to carry on.

Thank you to Jake Spicer and Scarlett Rebecca from Mawddach Residency for having me, and for pairing me with Marigold Plunkett. I hate saying good bye, so I won’t.

Me, modelling for Draw Brighton, from North Wales.

A lot of people have asked why I go on residencies, especially when I have access to terrific facilities and a studio where I live.

It is, for me, a chance to focus on a particular aspect of practice, but in a new environment, surrounded by new people and opportunities. Asking a question, in an unfamiliar setting, throws up different perspectives. The ephemera or clutter surrounding that question fades away with time, focus and distance, and answers rise gently to the surface.

Without the regular clutter of London life, the days also seem to have more hours, which is useful when you’re trying to work, read, or write meaningfully.

Drawing by Dominic Butler, Draw Brighton participant

That being said, last night I put away the books and spent an hour in the hot seat as a model for the Draw Brighton online programme. You read it correctly: model. Queue surprise face! Hosted by Jake Spicer, this online session was attended by more than 50 participants, and I was touched and impressed by the drawings they produced and subsequently shared.

A big ‘thank you’ to Marigold Plunkett, here on residency with me, who convinced me to say yes to the session, and has also encouraged me slowly back into the practice of drawing.

As I write this, I enter the second half of my residency on the Mawddach Estuary. Tempus fugit, tomorrow not only points firmly towards the end, but is also the start of May – how can that be?

Unlike previous residencies, this one has not yielded much visual matter, so I have not posted much on social media accounts, or here.

Writing is a different sort of practice: rich, compelling, frustrating, iterative, joyful, and very, very hard. Wait – that’s exactly like the printmaking!

That is enough gazing, I think. By the end of my time here, I hope to have:

> 6 drafts of long-form blog posts/articles about sustainable practice, to be refined and then released slowly over the coming months;
> completed 9 of the exercises from Natalia Ilyin’s Writing for the Design Mind;
> 4 watercolour monotype plates for printing;
> 4-6 small enviromount dry point plates for printing;
> collected plant matter from the surround area to make one small and one large soft ground plate, to add to my library

Unusually for me, I didn’t set these goals at the beginning. The practice of writing, not of emails and lists, but thoughtfully and carefully, is so new. It was only this morning, while I was getting ready to write again, that I felt ready to put to paper some goals for the rest of my time here.

I wish the weather would turn. We’ve had nothing but sunshine in Wales and it is beginning to weaken my focus, resolve and discipline.

The allures of a residency in a remote-ish part of the country are the solitude, the excuse of not having a very good signal, and the distance between myself and my studio life. The ability to put reading and writing front and centre feels both luxurious and stressful.

Unlike previous residencies, I am not tethered to a teaching or process schedule, or the need to make work. I miss the tethers already.

I have now read the books and articles I’ve set out to read for this journey. Today begins a series of exercises outlined in ‘Writing for the Design Mind’ by Natalia Ilyin. This book came highly recommended to me by several writers, academics and artists: a useful and practical guide designed to help those in visual practices to articulate better.

As well as writing about sustainable, inclusive printmaking practices, I will be setting aside time each day to complete an exercise, moving through the book step by step. The goal is two-fold: develop my writing style so that I can communicate better, and develop a daily habit of conscious, thoughtful writing that I hope will continue when I return to London. I feel optimistic about the former, less so of the latter.

I don’t ‘do’ life drawing. Haven’t in nearly 20 years. The thought of it brings up flashbacks of anxiety, tension, art-school trauma. And yet, somehow, being here, in this landscape, this happened.

From last night’s Draw Brighton session.

Jake Spicer, one half of the Mawddach Residency team, led an online life drawing class last night as part of the Draw Brighton programme. Part impulse, part social pressure, I put pencil to paper… and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

Just before the session I even warned Marigold, who is here on residency as well, that I might not share what I make. And yet, here I am, sharing with you all, because when you climb a mental mountain, you must shout from the top.

View from my room on the Mawddach Residency, Wales

It’s the first Monday of my two-week residency in the Mawddach Estuary in Wales. I arrived in Barmouth on Thursday, walked the coast and hills for a few days, and then moved over on Saturday.

Why am I here? Ostensibly, to read and write and think about sustainable practice and inclusivity in printmaking practice. Between the reading, walking and drawing, however, I suppose I’m here to make a decision, or at least, a steer.

I’m privileged to be at a crossroads, an intersection where artist, technician, and academic meet, but it’s beginning to feel as though I’m running out of time. Whether that is from climate anxiety, changes to my own mind and body as time passes, or the rapidly shifting landscape of higher education, time feels like it is slipping away and my personal resources are limited.

I know there are people, amazing people and printmakers, who can do it all – teach rigorously, write thoughtfully, and make meaningfully, I now know that isn’t me.

When I was working in HE, I gave it everything and made nothing.

When I teach or tech now, if I’m not completely prepared, I cannot focus on anything else.

When I’m making work, I dream of colours, compositions, process.

And when I was reading about inclusive arts education and critical race theory yesterday, all day, I was so absorbed I didn’t notice someone was taking photographs of me until she mentioned it at dinner. (This was fine, by the way, I’m not having a go at her!)

Today another book awaits, more drawing, and a walk over a hill.

Before I start writing about practice, I’m just going to state here that I know the best solution for the environment alone is to not make, consume, or do anything at all. That would be true of any consumption – clothing, food, technology, etc.

That isn’t what I’m try to do, I’m not going to go to ‘zero’ because all of life’s experiences require consumption of some kind. Consider everything that is required to go for a walk: shoes, clothing, time, space, access, and a place from which to go and return.

Rather, I am trying to align my practice to a particular definition of sustainability, as set out by the United Nations Brundtland Commission in 1987:

“meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

and to go one step further – to print in the present, and to support the ability of those who wish to print in the future, through practice sharing, research, and in some cases, documenting when it goes wrong so others can learn and improve on my errors.

It sounds more grand and noble than it really is. I take personal pleasure in the research (nerd alert). I find satisfaction in sourcing economic, sustainable materials and making them last. I take comfort that a long day in the studio does not result in feeling light-headed from petroleum distilled solvents, and in knowing that I and others are less likely to suffer long term adverse effects of exposure to hazardous materials. And I am interested in how this research effects the work itself, aesthetically in surface and mark making, and subject matter.

Bottom line, the goal is to make prints forever, not to conclude that printmaking should simply stop.