During the first lockdown, Senior Print Technician, Justin Sanders, decided to build an online print community where students and staff alike could join from wherever they were working, be it a bedroom, a studio or a shed.
Since first starting, the Print Gang have gone from strength to strength, and it's not unusual to see a screen full of staff and students, heads down getting on with a variety of work, and using different processes. Amongst them is always Justin, who invariably has donned some special magnifying glasses to help him carve the fine details of a wood engraving. Honorary member, Professor Andrew Kulman, caught up with Justin and the gang to see that they've been working on.
When I joined the participants on Teams I found that there was almost no difference from the actual Print Room in Margaret Street. People were working and chatting about what they'd seen on telly or heard on the radio, they were asking Justin for advice or simply talking through their processes. When I've done a drawing or a new print I'd hold it up for others to see and that immediately sparked up a conversation, "have you thought of trying this?", or "that reminds me of such and such an artist".
Taibar Aktar, a graduate student, who now works as an Artist in Residence, summed it up nicely.
"During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the Print Gang's commitment helps me stay sane, make and smile. Every day undergraduates, postgraduates, alumni and staff are encouraged to interact with each other, escaping lockdown blues, sharing ideas and bouncing questions around. The present lockdown has sparked many other awesome technicians to join, and collectively demonstrate materials, processes and techniques. The Print Gang calls recreate the spirit of the workshops we would normally experience in the Print Room at Margaret Street, encompassing moments of silence and concentrated faces, integrated with the sounds of gravers, pencils and brushes".
Jonnie Turpie, a current PhD student, also commented:
"It's a voluntary community borne out of mutual need and interest in printmaking. The ethos of shared experience in the physical Print Room has been reinvented online."
In times when many creatives are feeling isolated or uninspired, this regular open slot for listening and making really lifts the spirit and inspires new ideas. There's no pressure to work, but many are busying away on a painting or in their sketchbooks. The key thing I've noticed is that it's a safe space with various people from Foundation to PhD level, and all feeling a sense of common purpose. New visitors are always made to feel welcome, with many choosing to return and often becoming regular members.
Artist in Residence, Lucy Parris endorsed the experience:
"One of the joys of being a printmaker is working alongside other artists in a communal workshop in order to access specialist equipment. Being unable to access these shared workspaces has meant that the Print Gang chats have become an invaluable platform for mutual creative and technical support, as well as the chance to share ideas and catch up over a cup of tea."
The School of Art is about community and a place where like-minded practitioners can talk through ideas and offer guidance. It's clear that the Print Gang will continue to thrive once the physical workshops open again, but for now, this is one of the best initiatives to come out of all this madness!
Finally, it would only be right to hear from the founder of the Print Gang, Justin:
"You might be having a bad day, but once you've been on the Print Gang call, you feel life isn't so bad, it keeps us going, and it's as simple as that".
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