The Up and Coming | Interview | Dan Howden

Sometimes illustrations whisk you away to another place and make you daydream of unvisited locations. This week Yorkshire based printmaker Dan Howden had me fantasising of travelling alone and exploring more of my own city – his vibrant linocuts are full of adventure but charmingly ‘normal’ too. The London series focuses on his favourite but less-known spots in the city and if Wes Anderson did linocuts they would surely look something like this. Other series include inspiration from Kuwait and Cape Cod which have had me reminiscing of my favourite Pop Art period. These prints certainly iconify the standard. Dan is a recent graduate from Liverpool John Moores University and he’s probably given me some of the most interesting answers to date so be sure to take it all in and check out his suggested illustrators. I’m SUPER excited to follow his journey and perhaps purchase a cheeky print along the way (the boy is a big fan too!)

Firstly, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you’ve got to where you are today?
I consider myself a fairly private person. I’m over-apologetic, awkward and often eccentric. I’m organised, a good runner, and I use hyperbole too much. I have an extremely small group of friends that I’m open with. This is perhaps one of the reasons why illustration has become such a prominent aspect of my life, as it presents me with the opportunity to create something tangible from my thoughts and get things off my chest to an audience who don’t know who I am. Hard work has been the vehicle that’s got to where I am right now. I’m happiest when I’m put to work and being creative and I strongly believe that boredom doesn’t exist. There’s always something that I can be doing and because of this, I make copious amounts of lists, which tend to litter my desk a lot of the time. 

You say you love the process of Lino cutting, how did you get started with this printing technique? 
In 2011, after sixth form, I did an art foundation year at York College. I arrived wanting to experiment as, prior to this, I’d only ever painted acrylic footballers. It was here that my tutor, Dan Bugg, introduced me to linocut. He had a fairly hands-off approach that I really appreciated. It took me a while to understand the basic technicalities of printmaking, especially the layering process. I didn’t have much patience but after weeks of bloodshed from catching myself on the blade and still without a firm grasp of the fundamental principles of linocut, I began taking off-cuts home to practice on. It was during this time that I taught myself how to etch and this laid the foundations for the technique I’m still using today, which I’d describe as unorthodox. 

Travel seems to play a large part in your work. Where do you take your inspiration for projects from and do you have a way of collating this?

Sad, I know, but I really enjoy traveling by myself. Some of my fondest memories are from doing this. Past experience plays a huge role within my work. Whether it’s being ridiculed at a party for playing Michael Bublè, an incredibly attractive waitress who I used to wait alongside, or simply gliding around Cape Cod on a chunky American bicycle, memories such as these form a rich pool of inspiration that I draw from. As a result, my work is often nostalgic and it is this, combined with my appreciation for western culture that steers my work. I consume an enormous amount of American content on a daily basis, from Beats 1, to NPC radio, SNL to Conan, through to Casey Neistat; all of these avenues mold my sense of humor and perspective. As is often the case with most creatives, ideas usually arrive throughout the day and as a result I’m often scrambling to write them down in the notes app of my iPod. This is where they’re collated in their rawest form before I transfer them into books, of which I’m currently on my 4th. But, that said, I’m not above taking a cheeky screenshot of something I see on Instagram that strikes a chord. 

How long does it take to create each piece? 
Naturally, the timeframe of each piece I do varies depending on its scale and the detail required. I’m obsessed with detail and therefore the duration is often closer to days rather than hours. But whilst this can take time, the biggest attributor is the number of editions I decide to produce. Due to the amount of colour I include, large editions are almost impossible as I use a reduction technique that gradually destroys the lino. Because of this, I usually manage 5-6 editions as overtime prints fall by the wayside and become practice sheets. It’s a large-scale process and on average each piece takes about 20 hours to produce, and that’s not including the time spent preparing the lino and drawing the crucial framework out beforehand.

Tell me what makes you different? Why should people commission you? 
I strongly believe that lino, as a medium, is becoming rather twee. It’s synonymous with folk art, Christmas cards, countryside landscapes, Hares and Birds. This was the landscape when I was introduced in 2011 and it hasn’t changed much, in my eyes, since. When I scroll through Instagram I see a lot of the same, and I believe there aren’t many people approaching the medium like I am, in a contemporary and adventurous way. I’m trying to do something new with linocut and hopefully people like what they see. As I mentioned before, I have a fascination with detail and this often culminates in me using a lot of colours and consequently, a lot of layers. It’s this aspect, along with my subject matter, that makes my work visually different from that of other illustrators. Because of the unorthodox way I learnt to etch, my work isn’t governed by many rules or boundaries. Those that are there, I learnt myself through trial and error during uni. Because of this, I feel my practice has a certain rawness to it. 

Although you got a first, is there anything you would do differently if you could start you course again? 
Having graduated in July, I find myself asking this question a lot! And the answer is yes, but only to feed my curiosity. I missed out on most social gatherings and events because I was too work-orientated. I could have been more present at times. In particular my first year. I must have been the only person who wasn’t aware that it counts for nothing as I’d been giving it my absolute all. Needless to say, when I discovered its lack of importance in January my effort eased up. This initial level of effort kind of set the president for my time at uni because I went with the intention of getting a first. 

Who would you advise that other illustrators and artists check out?
 I’d advise that other illustrators and artists definitely check out the work of Israeli animator and illustrator, Assaf Benharroch – his work with Studio Poink is fantastic. Chris Brown was a tutor of mine at LJMU and also teaches at Camberwell. His linocuts are ridiculous. Another Chris who’s fantastic is Chris Lyons. He’s been a big deal for a long time across the pond so I doubt he needs a plug, but he really helped me out with my dissertation and more recently gave me some great advice. His work, and moreover his ideas, are seriously good, and on top of that he’s a wonderful man. 

Finally, what is next on your agenda? Anything exciting coming up? 
What I do next has been the cause of much debate over the last month in my household. I had my heart set on doing a masters course in print at Camberwell, but they axed their one year course and I don’t want to be penniless when I come out so I’ve decided to commit everything to freelance. I did apply to the RCA on a whim but I’m keeping my hopes very low. I’ll be exhibiting at the City Screen in York in early 2016 and there’s the York Open Studio in April of next year for a fortnight which I’m really enthusiastic about. I’m also currently in the midst of doing some work for Intern Magazine which is exciting as f***, as it’s my first taste of proper “official work”.


Thanks to Dan for providing all of the above images. You can see loads more on his website here: http://cargocollective.com/thehowden
Instagram: @how.den
Twitter: @NedwohNad

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