Interview With Maggie Stein

Maggie Stein has a long career as an artist and art educator, and when she creates her art, it shows. Her specialty, lino printing, requires an extraordinary amount of skill and patience. Art Pharmacy recently visited Maggie’s studio and spoke to her about her lino process, her artistic inspiration, and her current work.

Can you remember the first piece of art you ever created?
My older sister gave me a sketchbook and oil pastels when I was about nine. It was so exciting because back then I just didn’t have access to quality materials, I would draw on an envelope or bill, anything I could ! My sister did a drawing on the front page of the book, and I remember trying to emulate that drawing of a creek with a dry, eroded creek-edge and the pattern of the water. It took me a while to become more original.

Beyond working as an artist you also work as an art teacher. Could you describe the work you do as an art teacher?
I’ve taught in a few different settings, adults as well as teenagers. I’ve been at an inner city primary school for two years now as a specialist art teacher. My favourite thing is seeing kids who perhaps don’t fit into the education system really enjoy having a bit of freedom in art. There are some kids that just love being in the art room. I have a big art room all to myself, which gives me a bit of autonomy.

Linoleum is the main medium that you work with. Could you tell me a bit about the lino process?
Lino has been used as an artistic medium for about a hundred years. It’s a floor covering originally made of pine resin, glue and sawdust, pushed into hessian or burlap backing. Artists in England first started carving into it as a cheaper alternative to wood. Claude Flight taught  at the The Grosvenor School and introduced artits including Dorrit Black and Ethel Spowers to it in the 1920's. They initially used umbrella spines to carve designs, and then adapted wood cutting tools.

I have a very specific way of starting lino that I teach to my students. What a teacher would usually do is to tell students to draw a design on the lino and carve out the design that they’ve drawn, which creates negative lines. I do something really different. I paint black ink onto the lino and get my students to paint a white ink design over it so they can see exactly what their designs will look like once they carve it out. I also give my students  little scraps of lino to create different marks on before beginning to carve, this gives them a chance to explore what is possible. I think the inherent quality of the lino is that you get really interesting textural marks.

What are the pros and cons of working with lino?
I like the idea of being able to make a set of prints, and if it’s a popular image you have a few up your sleeve. There’s not as many people doing print-making, and when I started doing it again it was really nice to think that this is a craft, and if I do more and more of it I can get much better at it. On the downside I think printmakers aren’t always taken as seriously as painters and sculptors. The field is dominated by women, which perhaps contributes to that.

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What other materials do you work with?
I’ve done quite a few pastels lately. Pastel is the opposite of lino, it’s really quick and I find it easy. It’s refreshing to work in different mediums. I’m much more of a 2D person, but I’ve done some ceramics in the past. I love working with clay and I teach ceramics to children as well.

I’ve also made some little assemblages out of Cuisenaire rods – they’re wooden rods that children used to learn how to count with (popular in the early 70's in Australia). It’s refreshing to just do something completely different, and I do think I have a playful edge that sometimes gets lost in the lino. It’s hard to be playful when you’re trying to force a line through a hard material!

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I love your works on our site that depict Australian flora and fauna. Why is that an important subject to you?
I try and be observant of nature when I’m in it. It always gives you a sense of wonder when you’re in nature because you’re put in your place. You’re just one tiny little speck in this universe and it’s humbling just to observe yourself as part of a bigger cosmos. If I can take some influence from there that feeds my work, whether it’s literal or not, that’s rewarding. I was stimulated by my extended trip around Australia that I did in 2010 that led me on a continuing journey with those images. When we were traveling I would just work directly on the lino, from nature.

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a Summer Hill image. In my last show, a lady came in and mentioned the old flour mill there, so I went and took lots of photos of it. The mill is being converted into prestige units and I like the idea of recording it in the state it’s in at the moment.  I then want to start on an image of the Erskineville rail line heading towards the city. I’m already excited about doing it. I walk past it most days and I think when you walk past a scene regularly it grows on you and you are able to absorb the atmosphere of that place which in turn will feed into your work. You have to explore themes that excites you!

You can see more of Maggie’s work on her profile page here.

Words: Ellen Oredsson