The Caseroom at SWG3, Glasgow, runs a summer residency programme where six invited creatives from a range of disciplines have the opportunity to experiment with print-based mediums for one week. Illustrator, Tessa Mackenzie was one of these creatives and used the free reign of printing equipment to develop a series of experimental, linocut prints.
The idea for the work Tessa would make during her residency came about when she was undertaking a spring clean of her hard drive and encountered a sea of old drawings she’d forgotten about. The drawings — consisting of life drawings and observational studies of Glasgow’s buildings — became the basis of Tessa’s residency. “It was a good opportunity to translate all those drawings that only existed in a digital form into linocut”, Tessa tells It’s Nice That. “By overlaying them onto a 16 panel grid and cutting them into 4×3 inch rectangles, I was able to play about with compositions until something looked decent.” The purpose of the project resultantly became about “having a series of elements to mess about with as a therapeutic way to reintroduce play into my work.”
The prints recall a comic-strip pattern of narration; similarly, comics predominantly feature in the illustrator’s portfolio. “I write comics by collecting fragments of information on my phone notes (stuff from the telly, snippets of conversations, cooking instructions, a few lines of stories)”, she explains on how unconventional narratives have become integral to her practice. “Then I go through them every so often to rearrange bits that work together and fill in the blanks to formulate some kind of linearity. I like messing about with compositions until it makes sense in one way or another to convey a tone or feeling of a place, rather than a full story”.
The variety in Tessa’s prints document her explorative use of the printing press. “It’s kind of like doing a science experiment” Tessa points out, “you have to take into consideration the height of the press, the pressure of the paper, how much ink is needed and how absorbent the paper is… It’s pretty technical at first, but once you get used to it, you can tell intrinsically what’s wrong. It made me feel pretty good to be able to look at a test print and tell automatically what was needed to improve it”.
Overall, Tessa credits the Caseroom residency as a “rare chance to have free reign over all the equipment and there’s no obligation to polish anything for a final outcome unless you want to”. This creative freedom and energy is clearly evident in the linocut prints, particularly in the bold colours and lively textures from using the printing press. “For me, everything I produced feels like a starting point rather than a finished print, which has taken the pressure off me to just fully experiment as much as possible.”