Meet the Maker: Little Ram Studio
Heather and Gary from Little Ram Studio were school friends who met up again as adults and left behind their high-profile jobs in PR and graphic design to set up their own printmaking studio in York. They now create original, hand-pulled linocut prints of characterful animals, British birds and stunning landscapes, as well as beautiful flowers, seedheads and succulents. We caught up with Heather and Gary to discover more about their art, their inspiration and their linoprint techniques…
Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
Hi, we’re Gary and Heather, the husband-and-wife team behind Little Ram Studio. We’re artists and printmakers who specialise in producing linocut prints, both open ended and limited-edition little pieces of original art. Gary’s style and technique, whether using a single plate or multiple colour plates, is to capture the finest detail – not in the photographic sense but one step removed from the identical representation, to blur the edges very slightly, to capture every detail but through a muted lens. My print style takes inspiration from all things natural, especially favourite landscapes and the soft shapes of flowers. I try to capture the soft strokes of the water colourist in my printmaking, where less is often more.
We’ve known each other from school days and the very first time we worked together was in a restaurant in the school holidays.
How did you start working together?
We’ve known each other from school days and the very first time we worked together was in a restaurant in the school holidays – Gary worked in the kitchen while I waitressed. After college we met up again by chance. I was working as head of a busy theatre publicity department and offered Gary some design work. Gary was working as head designer and manager of a design studio and printing unit in Germany. I moved out there to work in the design department, so again we found ourselves working together.
We eventually moved back to UK, where we started our own design studio in York, which proved very successful. We had various national and international clients, including a number of York’s museums and theatres, Nestlé and the UK Benefits Agency. After so long working with deadlines, we decided we needed a change and that’s how Little Ram Studio came about.
You’ve also lived in France. Can you tell us more about that?
We’ve lived in south-west France, where we discovered a tumble-down farmhouse perched on a hill with 360 degree views of rolling countryside. The nearest neighbour was over a mile away and the southern outlook was a panoramic view of the Pyrenees. We grew all our own fruit and veg, which we shared with the visiting wildlife, including wild boar, badgers, foxes and deer. We felled our own firewood from our woods and enjoyed foraging for mushrooms in the autumn. It was a wonderful experience that fuelled our creativity. We had anticipated opening a gallery there but unfortunately family illness brought us back to UK. No doubt we will have more adventures, but as yet have no destination in mind.
Our perfect day would need to be somewhere deep in the countryside, quiet, with the promise of wonderful views over the next hill climb.
Who does what at Little Ram Studio?
We both do the same work in the studio, although Gary does do all the photo work while I concentrate on the marketing side of things. It’s playing to our strengths really, as part of Gary’s degree was in photography (plus art and design), while I studied marketing and design.
Lino, ink and an Eryngium linoprint by Little Ram Studio
(see below to find out how you can get this print for free)
How did you discover lino printing and what was the very first print you made?
We both tried block printing at school and when we were thinking of ideas for creating artwork for sale, linocut seemed the most appropriate as it can be created with minimal equipment. In its simplest form it’s very accessible – a lot of people will have tried it at some point. It does upset us, though, when people liken it to potato cutting. It might be a similar technique when someone is starting out with it, but we always try to push the technique to achieve fine strokes and textures that push the lino to its limits. We also mix our own ink colours to replicate the actual colours we see in nature. Thinking back to the first print each of us produced, Gary’s was probably a cat and mine would have been something floral.
Where do the ideas for your prints come from?
The countryside, long views, animals and nature in general all inspire our work. We are never ‘off duty’ when thinking up new work. Gary always carries a camera around, so as not to miss any opportunities.
We always try to push the lino to its limits to achieve fine strokes and textures
How does each print develop? Do you start with a photograph?
They tend to start with something we’ve seen on our travels and photographed. We have a huge photo library stretching back years that we use for source material. We’ll sketch up the image and decide how many colours to use. It’s at this point we’ll make the decision whether to use a number of separate plates for the colours or use the reduction method* to achieve the finished print.
Once we’ve chosen which method we’re using, we then break down the colours and decide the order they’ll be printed up. The sketch is then traced and the reversed image is drawn on to the lino. This is then cut away, revealing a back-to-front relief image. Ink is mixed and applied with a roller, the inked plate is placed on to our small hand press, paper is placed on top and the image is pressed. It’s only when the final colour is applied that the finished image is revealed – sometimes this can be a very lengthy process.
* The reduction method is where just one lino plate is used and this plate is slowly cut away to create one image. The lightest colour is printed first, then the plate is cut again and printed, and this process is repeated a number of times, working from light to darkest ink, until you get to the last print layer, by which time there’s very little of the plate left. We call it the ‘suicide’ method as one slip on the lino and the entire edition is ruined because you can’t go back and amend the mistake. [The Snowdrop Print above was printed using the reduction lino print method.]
Our studio is a large room at the back of the house, with a south-facing window that looks on to the terrace, where we’re entertained by many feathered and furry visitors
Can you describe your studio?
A mess! We do try to have a blitz every so often, but producing new work takes priority so the tidying gets put on hold. Our studio is a large room at the back of the house, with a south-facing window that looks on to the terrace. There’s a vast holly tree to the side of the house where we hang bird feeders and are entertained by the many feathered and furry visitors who visit. We have a desk each, plus a large table. The small printing press sits in one corner. We share the space with our two furry studio supervisors, who have been known to walk through freshly mixed ink.
What’s the best thing about being creative for a living?
We’ve always worked within the creative world, but what we enjoy presently is creating what we love and hope others like our work enough to want to take it home with them.
How would you spend your perfect day?
Somewhere outside, no matter what the weather was doing, just so long as we’re either walking, cycling or running. There would be a picnic somewhere in the depths of a backpack, plus a camera and binoculars. It would need to be somewhere deep in the countryside, quiet, with the promise of wonderful views over the next hill climb.
What’s been your proudest moment so far?
Funnily enough we had such a moment last week when we found out that one of Gary’s prints had made it through the selection process to be included in this year’s Society of British Wildlife Artists annual exhibition held at the Mall Galleries at the end of October. We were especially proud when we learned that only a small number of artworks where selected from over 800 submissions. We’re looking forward to attending the event.
Other moments to cherish are all the inclusions in national magazines and newspapers and the more intimate moments that stay with you forever. One such memory was when we met a couple at the Hepworth Print Fair. She had bought her husband one of our dog prints online as a gift and had had it personalised with the dog’s name. When he realised it was one of our prints, he came over to say how much he liked it and ended up in tears because it meant so much to him. It was a lovely moment.
What does craft mean to you?
Craft is grappling with a creative thought and nurturing it into a tangible thing of beauty.
Get a free Little Ram Studio Seedhead lino print!
Heather and Gary have created three new seedhead lino prints – Cow Parsley, Eryngium and Teasel – and they’re giving one away with every order from their Folksy shop until midnight on Sunday 25 September 2016. Order any print from Little Ram Studio on Folksy before the offer expires and you’ll receive a lucky dip print of one of the new seedhead series, worth £30. Or if you’d like all three, just order the other two and get the third one for free!