Thursday, 08 Jul 2021 10:12 GMT

Sarah Bodman: Training print's next generation

Alongside her role as practitioner researcher at the Centre for Fine Print Research at UWE, Bristol, Sarah Bodman runs the university’s MA in Print Making.

Bodman’s career within print started years before when she worked on projects testing water-based ink when they were first developed in the mid-90s. This involved endless days of testing and printing the same pattern over and over and the pattern is something Bodman says she still remembers today.

“I was just the monkey printing on the screen bed,” Bodman explains. “We had an automated screen bed, so it was doing this hideous pattern that I’ll never forget. Our centre tested them for universities and colleges due to the new COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) regulations that had come in.

“I think a lot of print studios in universities or art schools were really worried that they would have to stop because they couldn’t afford to put in the extraction that was needed. That was why they started doing the research into water-based inks because people can use those without the need for massive extraction. I think we tested every single one available on the market.”

Fishing for Compliments - letterpress printed postcards by Gen Harrison of typochondriacs

Already working as a researcher at UWE, Bodman took over the role of course leader for UWE’s MA Print Making course when Richard Anderton retired.

Through the MA course, students study the printed artefact in the 21st century and are encouraged to extend a conversation around what a print is, and also what an original print is in a digital era.

Bodman says: “They do have that discussion through the artwork and that can be anything from really traditional print, doing an etching or wood engraving, right through to working with robotics and adding parts and sound and light to their work. So the range of what they produce is pretty mind blowing, which is what I love.”

In terms of how students come to know about the MA and the typical paths into the course, Bodman says that this is what makes the course so interesting.

According to Bodman, 80% of students will have traditionally studied fine art, graphic design, illustration, or textiles – all of which take print as an element. The other 20% can be engineers, archaeologists, creative writing students and geologists.

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With Bristol being home to so many independent studios such as Spike Print Studio, students often complete courses and workshops in print and decide they want to continue learning the skill through the MA.

“It’s so nice to have that mix of backgrounds but also, we have quite a mix of generations as well,” Bodman says, adding: “We’ll have people who have graduated in the last year or so, right up to people in their fifties and sixties. It is nice because it’s a different kind of person. We always say they have the hunger.”

With students coming from such a variety of backgrounds, the routes into employment in print also tends to vary.

Bodman says that a lot of students will be self-employed creatives such as graphic designers or illustrators, but the MA course gives them a particular specialism of print to add to their offerings.

“For example, they might use print to make a beautiful one-off bespoke thing for someone that they can turn into digital iterations of things,” Bodman says. “It gives them that edge, I think, of a different understanding of that design as well.

A collaborative COVID-19 Poem (Part Two), ‘Him, Her’ relief print by Ben Jenner

“We’ve had students set up their own textile design studios, a lot of their own print studios, independent studios around the country. Or work within them, they’ll get jobs either as lecturers or technicians. That’s either in universities, art colleges or in schools.”

One recent graduate from the MA has won an enterprise award from UWE to set up her own press. This will involve using really old presses such as Gestetners and Adanas to print bespoke items for customers. The idea is to reinvigorate old technology that is often sitting in people’s garages rusting.

In the last two years, the centre, which was originally based at UWE’s Bower Ashton campus, has successfully won a Research England Funding Excellence Bid. This has helped it to grow so much that it is now moving 90% of the centre to a new site on UWE’s Frenchay campus.

The new purpose-built centre will include a graphene lab, a printed ceramics section, and the centre’s robot arm.

Bodman and anyone involved in teaching PHD students are staying at Bower Ashton along with the centre’s archive of artists prints and editions.

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