Artist Interviews

Q&A with printmaker Lisa Takahashi

Lisa Takahashi's colourful prints often focus on everyday life and what she sees around her, but we wanted to learn a little more about the printmaker herself, so asked a few questions.

By Ruth Reyes | 03 Jul 2014
Lisa Takahashi's colourful prints are particularly inspired by the vibrancy of everyday life, finding beauty in the world around her, and simplifying it in order to create patterns and strong geometric designs that communicate their very essence. Many of her prints often focus on cycling, and with the beginning of the Tour De France begining today, we thought it would be a perfect fit to ask her a few questions.
How did you get into printmaking?
Print and I have been having a bit of an on-off relationship for some time. It all began at secondary school where I remember my first foray into linocut, which I enjoyed until I saw the horrific sight of Theo’s face turn a ghostly white after he inadvertently gouged into his finger in a bout of over enthusiastic carving. I fell in love with copperplate etching while at art school, making images of my red-headed friend Allie as the Venus in furs whipping Andrew the art technician. After art school my friends James and Vicky and I set up our own little print club, an excuse to get together for brunch and sit and cut lino. That definitely fired up my curiosity in lino again and when I got stuck with my painting 18 months ago I found that lino printing was really where my creative heart lay.

Lisa Takahashi
The Chain Gang (Yellow and Grey)

What's an average day look like for you?
My working week is split into 2 – Mondays and Tuesdays are my 9-5(.30) days where I head to Jackson’s Art Supplies and earn my bread and butter, writing articles for their blog and helping to maintain their website. I love interviewing artists and getting to know about what inspires them and how they work. Wednesday – Saturday are my artist days. I rise at 7am, breakfast with a huge fruit salad and toast (essential for a successful working day!) and discuss with my boyfriend what we’re going to do in our respective studios, then cycle from Crouch End to the Abbey Art Centre in Barnet, where my studio is situated in a beautiful 2 acre garden, and feels as if it is in the deep countryside. It’s been a commune for artists since the 40s (and there is a short pathe film to prove it! - I work, either drawing designs for prints, carving them or printing them on my press, usually until half 6 and then cycle back. My studio is pretty small; it has just enough space for a desk and a printing press. I hang my prints to dry on a washing line that zig-zags across the room above my head. I love the variation of my working week and feel very lucky that my office job inspires my work as an artist, and vice versa.
You do a lot of cyclist prints, are you a cyclist yourself?
Yes, although not a very good one! My first cycling print ‘Tour de Force’ was designed to commemorate my participation in a charity cycle, where I cycled 300 miles from Tours - Richmond in 3 days for Right to Play. I was only ever a commuter cyclist at best and so it was a real challenge for me. I made the print to sell and raise funds for the cause. It was really good fortune that it was accepted into the RA Summer exhibition and sold out of its edition at the private view. I’m glad I didn’t have to sit in a bath of baked beans or anything to top up the fundraising.

Lisa Takahashi

Describe your work in 3 words?
Cheaper Grosvenor School
Tell us about your portfolio for the Royal Society of Printmakers elections & how this partnership came about?
I’m at a place with my work where I am full of ideas and really, the most prolific I have ever been. I think it’s really important to try as many opportunities as is possible when you’re feeling relatively confident – it can be crushing to receive the rejection letter but when you’re on a high you’re better equipped to dust yourself down and try for something else instead. I hadn’t really ever got accepted for anything until the RA Summer Exhibition last year, and if I’m honest, I needed that to get the confidence to take the rejections I had before and after in a way that didn’t affect my practice.  The Royal Society of Printmakers is just another opportunity, albeit a massive one. The society has some of the most well respected printmakers in it including Norman Ackroyd, and so it would be a huge honour to exhibit alongside them. I don’t really hold out a lot of hope but you know; you don’t get if you don’t try.
You recently sold prints to 'Working title films' who gave them as gifts to the leading cast members of the new Lance Armstrong biopic, how did this come about?
Someone from Working Title bought a Tour de Force at the Summer Exhibition, and then they remembered my work and thought it was better than the official Tour de France merchandise for gifts for the cast. I was incredibly excited to receive that particular order.
Did you see the new Lance Armstrong biopic, if yes, what did you think?
Oh no, they’re still making it I believe. 

Lisa Takahashi
Tour de Force

How long does it take you to create a print?
It really does depend. Designing the images through drawing is usually the longest part, it can take weeks to get it right, and to break down the image in the right way into the 3 colours. The carving take ages too as there really is no room for error. Each colour needs to dry fully before the subsequent colour is printed. Anything from a week to a month!
Contrastingly you work with still life ('Still Life With Flowers'), yet still manage to capture the momentum associated with moving objects such as your bicycle series e.g 'Allez Allez' - How do you do this?
I treat every subject in the same way – that is to be sympathetic to the qualities that inspired me to make a print of it in the first place. If it’s the energy of a peloton of cyclists or the delicacy of a flower that has inspired me, then that is what the print will portray…if the design has worked!
Do you work from photographs or memory? How do you get inspiration?
Always from drawings made from photographs or direct observation. I’m inspired by what I see everyday. I’m constantly looking for strong bold images as I cycle to work, or walk to Jackson’s, or read the paper. Everyone is constantly bombarded with images. I like to make images of images and tell people ‘this is worth looking at again….in these colours’.
You're teaching the printmaking component of the new art course being run in Bristol at the Grenville School of Painting, what would be the best advice you can offer someone looking to start working in prints?
You need to be patient. You need to have a clear idea of what you want to do with your print so that you can work out how to realise your idea with conviction. And you always need to have more paper to hand than you think you do.
If you had to choose, would you say your Art would fit best in: a minimalistic 'Muji' style home, as a compilation series on the backdrop of a contrasting wall paper, an industrial/warehouse setting, as a statement piece in a minimal home?
My prints will blow your mind anywhere.
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