Rosanna Morris is a printmaker and illustrator based in Bristol, UK. Drawing is at the heart of her practice. Her striking relief prints demonstrate her ability to design timeless relatable images, which she often combines with text. These powerful works bridge the gap between fine art and illustration, and have been used as posters, banners and album covers, as well as original editioned prints. In this interview Rosanna talks about co-founding a print studio, the importance of collaboration in creative process, and how a Moleskine sketchbook can help keep ideas all together when juggling parenting, creating and vegetable-growing responsibilities.
Lisa: Can you tell us about Cato Press – your aims when you set it up, and how it’s grown in the past 4 years?
Rosanna: We set up Cato Press 4 years ago with an ambitious dream of creating a community print studio that was welcoming and accessible for its local community. We wanted to build a space that embraced its makers and harboured collectivity whilst engaging with local groups and causes. We were ambitious and young and had so much energy. We really didn’t realise the full extent of what we were building until it was built. It is now a thriving space which supports many full-time artists and has worked with a long string of community groups over the last four years.
Lisa: Your work often has a political slant to it, and you have made posters and prints for a number of organisations, such as the Land Workers Alliance, The Smallwood Trust, and most recently you made some unsigned, printable posters free to download in support of Black Lives Matter. How do you know what will make a striking poster that will resonate with others?
Rosanna: Oh that’s a good question, I think I’ve realised over the years that actually my best work is usually the work I make for myself. If I design truthfully to what I want to see and use for my own walls and protests, the pieces have more life to them. It’s a hard one to remember, especially in the world of Instagram likes and dopamine hits, that actually the most important thing is to come back to yourself and to create the things that speak to your heart (not what you imagine will sell!)
Lisa: Does the feeling of responsibility as an artist sometimes make it hard to create? And what words of advice would you offer to artists who struggle to translate their political views into an image?
Rosanna: For me the responsibility as an artist is actually what gets me going, the importance of good visual propaganda for a cause I believe in. I think for those struggling to translate their ideas into an image, I’d say go back to the basics, and generally from my experience, the first idea is the best idea. Over thinking things can ruin them, let the ideas flow out and don’t dismiss anything until you’ve got it out on paper and you can stand back and assess.
Lisa: How do you go about developing your ideas? Do you keep a sketchbook?
Rosanna: Yes I keep a thick a4 Moleskine sketchbook where I try to keep my ideas, I used to work on sheets of paper which I kept in a folder, that made it easier for me to decide what to keep or not. I loved that, but now as I juggle making and motherhood pieces of paper get scattered everywhere and ideas lost. I find it easier now to keep it all in one place for easy reference.
Lisa: How important is the community spirit of Cato Press to your own development as an artist?
Rosanna: For me printmaking and community are intrinsically linked, I’m hugely influenced by the DIY Mexican printmaking community, where studios are open onto the street and people are making work that engages politically and socially. Prints are seen as an immediate way of communicating with people, rather than an esoteric art form for gallery walls. I think also, working as an artist can be incredibly isolating, for me it’s really vital to feel part of something more than my small studio and my own thoughts. I love being able to produce art that works towards positive change and has a purpose in the world, I guess it’s this that fuels me.
Lisa: You are also a mother, and have an allotment, and I think growing your own fruit and veg is very important to you. What’s your secret to managing your time and keeping all your projects afloat?
Rosanna: It’s a constant juggle and sometimes I feel like I’m losing my head a bit, but ‘bullet journaling’ all those little tasks really does help! I think it’s also a deep determination. For us the allotment and growing is a vital part of raising our kids to understand nature and appreciate it. Living in a very urban environment it has become a lifeline for us and our own mental health. I believe we are all intrinsically linked to the land and need it to feel human. When everything is swirling in the air with a million projects and deadlines the only thing that clears my head and calms my mind is the fresh open space and the feeling of mud between my fingers.
Lisa: Do you consider yourself an art materials geek?! How important are art materials to you and do you have favourite inks/paper? And can you tell us about your amazing press!
Rosanna: Yes I guess I am, it’s very important to me that I have the right pencils, papers and inks. I use Caligo Safewash inks as I believe they are brilliant and I love that I don’t have to use harsh chemicals to clean up, I first started with them at home on the kitchen table before Cato Press was born. I also use raw Nepalese papers, I love the texture of them and the warmth they give my images.
The Press that is at the core of our studio and the living heart of it all is Bouboulina, our giant handmade etching press. She was designed and handcrafted by my partner 4 years ago and without her I don’t know where I would be now. She has a huge wheel we reclaimed from an old factory that was about to be knocked down and great big metal rollers that my partner lathed at a studio nearby. Her namesake is the great Laskarina Bouboulina, a Greek navy heroine who at the age of 40 lead a whole army and an armada of ships against the Turkish empire. She was a truly powerful revolutionary woman and we like to think her spirit lives on through the many political prints that roll through our press.
Lisa: As lockdown is eased, what are your plans for returning to Cato and have you thought about how you will start up the courses there again?
Rosanna: At the moment unfortunately the course are very much on hold, it is a small space and it would be very difficult to socially distance within it, also the common use of the press and some tools would make it very difficult to run the courses as we were running them before. There have been some talks about running our community print sessions outside, however we’re not sure how soon this will be possible.
Lisa: Are you working on any prints currently?
Rosanna: I’ve been working for several months on some projects that I’m really excited to share and will do so soon over on my Instagram and mailing list. I’ve also just begun work on my third Landworkers Alliance Calendar which will showcase the brilliance and diversity of farming currently being practised here in the UK. Hopefully that will go on sale in October.
Lisa: Where can we see more of your work?
Footage from a Community Print Night at Cato Press, led by Rosanna Morris
Header image: ‘Boots’ by Rosanna Morris, linocut on handmade paper, 59.4 x 42 cm