Becoming a professional printmaker during a global pandemic

Published by Fenja on

A reflective piece looking at my professional printmaking journey so far.

It has now been two years since I embarked on one of those big life turn-arounds.

At the time, I had decided to leave my research career (in archaeology) for a variety of reasons. I was also rather fatigued from running a successful little business my husband and I had built from scratch a few years earlier. And finally, I’d just received the happy news that I would, for the third time, soon be bringing new life into the world.

Sharing tips and techniques with fellow printmakers Hilary Warren (left) and Lisa Molvig (right) at a local gallery.

As a somewhat driven person, I needed a new challenge. I was lamenting the fact that in the two years prior, I had managed just one single linocut where previously I was typically always creating … something, anything. Life had become pretty uninspiring.

What my life needed was more creativity, and my long-term passion for printmaking was calling to me. But with a young family and everything that goes with that stage of life, I also needed to do something that would (at least eventually, at least in theory) provide a bit of income. So, just as life became rather uncertain outside due to a virus circulating through the world, and super busy inside with home schooling my two young boys, putting a business up for sale, and of course the dreaded pregnancy fatigue, I became a professional printmaker.

My print at a recent exhibition at the Old Barn Gallery in Pialligo.

The spark that really ignited my new direction came from attending a workshop run by the Artists’ Society of Canberra in early 2020. The inspiring members of the printmaking group I met there made a lasting impression. Months later, when I tentatively called up their group convenor and she greeted me by name before I’d even said hello, I knew I was in the right place. Spending time with like-minded, positive and supportive printmakers was just what I needed to complement my new professional – but also rather isolated to that point – journey.

By the latter half of 2020, I had a running website, professional social media accounts, and thanks to the ASOC printmakers, I was taking part in real life exhibitions. Selling our small business bought me a bit of ‘maternity leave’ and eased the pressure of having to earn an income immediately.

My card space at Trove Canberra in Dickson.

Then our third son was born. What a challenge 2021 turned out to be. But despite sleep deprivation and lockdowns (and everything that means for a family with young kids!), I discovered the art community in my hometown of Canberra is pretty supportive and resilient. Exhibitions went virtual during weeks of lockdown, the ASOC printmakers met online for wonderfully creative art chats, and I was able to keep showing and selling art through my newly created web shop and other online avenues. Forming new connections in the wider art community (and particularly in my areas of interest: conservation and environment) was incredibly beneficial in opening up opportunities to include my art in various group exhibitions. Thanks to the recommendation of another ASOC artist, I also started selling my prints through Trove Canberra, a wonderful little shopfront in Dickson made up of a cooperative of local artists, designers and makers. That exposure has led to several further opportunities in local shops and galleries.

My home studio space.

Today, I work from a tiny home ‘studio’ that I’ve been able to install in a corner of our rumpus room with the help of my very supportive husband. I have a nice big press and an efficient set up that allows me to make good use of my very limited work and storage space. By no means am I earning a normal ‘wage’, but I’ve recently been able to start making regular contributions to our family’s income. That felt like a very big milestone to me!

A recent addition to my work – prints on porcelain

During the past two years, I’ve learnt some important things about surviving as a professional artist. One is the importance of networking (both in person and via social media) as the best way for new connections and opportunities to arise. Also, it’s a way to meet some absolutely wonderful and like-minded people.

Another survival tool is diversification, in terms of both products and sales avenues. For example, I spent many weeks during lockdown experimenting with printmaking on ceramics, and my printed porcelain art and functional items have given me a whole new variety of products, broadening my range of potential buyers.

Below: my friend and I sharing our first market stall.

In turn, I’ve been able to further diversify my income avenues. I recently participated in my first market stall at the Canberra Potters’ Society and will soon be stocking printed ceramic pieces in their beautiful little shop. Shopfront and gallery sales are excellent for a relatively steady, monthly income (and to test out new product types), while exhibitions and markets provide opportunities for exposure, networking and a welcome income spike. I recently also enjoyed teaching a printmaking workshop (for NatureArt Lab), and I’ll be running some more workshops in the coming months.

Finally, efficient streamlining of processes is another key survival tool. My bestseller over the past two years has been my range of hand printed greeting cards. They are a relatively inexpensive but steady and reliable seller, so a significant portion of my income derives from these cards. Each card is a unique artwork, created by layering up to three botanical monotypes as a background and then adding a linocut print as the main motif. Given the relative complexity of each printed card, and having to create around 100 cards each month, I’ve perfected an efficient production process. My etching press allows me to print monotypes for around ten cards simultaneously, and I also ink up and print the main motifs in batches using my trusty press. The streamlined process makes it possible to create a financially viable product despite its small income per item.

Further exploration of mono- and lino printing on porcelain.

In the past two years, my biggest challenge has always been finding enough time between busy family life to actually produce art, promote it, and to keep up with business admin. The reason I’ve been able to write this short piece today is because I’m in bed with Covid and in isolation from the family and their demands!

There are so many things on my to-do list that will simply have to wait until the kids are a bit older and more independent. I’d love to create more exploratory, large-scale artworks, I dream of entering a few prestigious art awards and shows, and my social media presence would definitely benefit from a bit more commitment. But in the meantime, despite the stress of keeping up with my art and associated commitments, my life as a professional artist is slowly taking shape and there is no ‘job’ I would rather be doing.


8 Comments

Wendy Moore · 9 June 2022 at 12:17 am

So great to read your story Fenja….your resilience, passion and determination! I know we love having you as part of the little Trove Canberra community!

    Fenja · 9 June 2022 at 12:50 am

    Thanks for reading the piece Wendy! Becoming a full member of the Trove Canberra community has been a highlight this year.

Lou · 9 June 2022 at 3:17 am

Love this Fenni! So proud of all your hard work!

    Fenja · 9 June 2022 at 3:23 am

    Thanks for all your support, lovely Lou!

Gemma Lingwood · 9 June 2022 at 6:05 am

Great Article, such an inspirational story & so much talent!! Well done & look forward to seeing where it takes you 🙂

    Fenja · 9 June 2022 at 6:08 am

    Thank you so much Gemma, that means a lot ;o)

Martin · 9 June 2022 at 9:39 am

Dear Fenja, It has been a pleasure to be on the periphery watching you develop into an ARTIST.
You are very good and on a strong pathway. Get well soon, and the ceramic prints are excellent. Cheers Martin

    Fenja · 9 June 2022 at 9:42 am

    Thank you so much for your kind words Martin. It is a pity we haven’t caught up to chat printmaking in so many years, must remedy that soon.

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