Inquisitive magpies look down on me from their perch on a wooden shelf in artist Kim Herringe’s light-filled north Maleny studio. These magpies look so lifelike their personalities virtually take flight from the paper they’re printed on. But they’re captured in ink by a process known as linoleum reduction printing.
It’s a precise process using just one piece of lino to create one original print. Kim explains she carves a little bit, inks it and prints with it. Then she carves some more, inks it in a different colour, and prints on top, essentially creating layers of colour.
“Reduction lino printing is also called the suicide method because if you make a mistake you can’t undo it,” Kim tells salt.
“And when it’s finished, you’ve actually destroyed the block – you can’t reprint it, it’s done.”
As a teenager in the late ‘80s, Kim fell into a commercial art career. She was trained as a finished artist, before computers were introduced to Brisbane’s advertising and graphic design industry.
Kim describes doing “paste-ups” complete with old-fashioned specified type and hand-drawn lines and borders, which she would give to the printers.
“I used to love the smell of the ink, the sounds of the printing machines, the vibration they made on the floor.”
A “mid-life crisis” in her mid-thirties led Kim to make the treechange to Maleny. She wanted to reconnect with her creativity and was drawn to printmaking.
From preparing her image to final printing, Kim says the whole lino reduction cut process can take eight hours.
“I think printmaking is perceived as the poor cousin in the art world – people don’t understand what’s involved and people don’t place as much value on a handprinted print as they would on a painting,” she says.
“A lot of people will see the term ‘print’ and assume it’s a reproduction when it’s actually an original piece of artwork with an incredible process behind it.”
The computer is another tool in Kim’s artist’s kit as it helps her to visualise how to layer colour.
Each unique print starts with a reference photo Kim has taken, usually from nature or a landscape. Kim then uses her computer to help her reconcile some of the image. She breaks it down into lots of colours – between six and 16 colours – so there are up to 16 layers of ink in her prints.
“The computer helps me find some of the colours because that (degree of) complexity, my brain doesn’t go there. So, I let it take me well beyond what my brain wants to cope with and then I pull it back, then I get it to a point where I’m ready that okay now I can start working out exactly what colours I want then working out my layering.”
Next she traces the image onto the lino, with some freehand drawing making minor modifications as she goes.
Then she’ll make her first cut into the lino and mix her first ink, which is often a sky colour. Kim continues the process by carving more into the block and modifying the colour she needs for each different layer through the print.
Kim works only with primary colours and black and white. She says she did this intentionally to force herself to understand colour. “I really like soft, subtle shifts in colour. My aesthetic tends to be harmonious colours, so it’s not overly bright or intense in colour in lino.”
Looking closely at Kim’s landscapes, I observe they have a painterly look and feel to them.
“One of my objectives for the lino work I’ve been creating is for it to have a real photo-realistic feel to it and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of creating something that people might think might be a painting or a photo, which isn’t normal for lino.
“There’s no right or wrong. A lot of people think what’s the point because it doesn’t look like a lino print, but for me that’s the point, I like the challenge of it,” she says.
As we talk, Kim reveals layers of her life, which she lays down before me just like the way she builds layers of colour and complexity in her handmade prints.
She says she has struggled with depression and anxiety for most of her life but finds solace in nature.
“The landscape in a piece usually holds some kind of moment – there was something where I felt really calm and relaxed, or the landscape was giving me something, and that’s what I try to recreate.”
Kim’s original lino reduction cut prints can be found at Montville Art Gallery but be quick, as her small editions sell out fast. There might only be 10 prints in a small edition – all handprints of the same image. Kim recently started experimenting with embossing (raised images), which are also exhibited at the gallery.
Only one unframed artist print of Kim’s absolute favourite piece, The Long Way Home, remains at the gallery.
Kim smiles as she tells me the story behind the image.
“We were going for a drive on the Maleny-Stanley River Road. There was a beautiful blue sky and those really rich cumulus clouds that [make] you know there are storms out there somewhere, but the sky was clear above it,” Kim says.
“It was late afternoon, and the shadows were coming across the road, which I love.
“Whenever I start printing, I get excited and then as I’m walking through the process I think, ‘oh my God, I don’t know if this is going to work’.
“I don’t know if it’s going to work until the last layer is down – and on that piece the last layer down was the shadows across the road and that brought the whole piece together.
“I remember that feeling of ‘yeah, it works’ and I felt proud of it.”
When I ask Kim what she thinks collectors see in her prints, she pauses momentarily and then simply says: “tranquillity”.
A print Kim calls Grazing is of a mother cow and her baby is suckling on mum’s teat in the long shadows of the late afternoon.
“She (the collector) liked the tranquillity of that piece and that’s what I want people to experience with my work, so when they do, I love that.”
Kim runs one and two-day workshops at her studio (as well as online) and she likes to drum into her students that printmaking is a “magic” process.
“I don’t like the word mindfulness, all those buzz words really irk me, but if you let yourself, you go into the moment and nothing else matters.”