Print Therapy

Normally I work from a studio at Hot Bed Press in Salford, Manchester. However, during the peak of the Covid-19 crisis, I was unable to access my studio, so worked from home on my dining room table. Several workshops I was due to teach, and events where I would have sold work, were been cancelled or postponed, so I am currently relying on selling my work online for income.

I was fortunate to be awarded an Artists’ Newsletter/Arts Council ‘Time Space Money’ bursary, which allowed me to continue my professional practice, focusing on the positive effects printmaking has on mental health. I explored abstract monoprinting techniques utilising the basic tools that were accessible to me: a small, portable etching press, paper and ink. Creating this artwork felt soothing and therapeutic at a very uncertain and stressful time.

Last year, in collaboration with the NHS, I ran some printmaking workshops for Lime Arts, helping staff create painterly screenprints, exploring mark making and colour. NHS key workers responded exceptionally well to these sessions, reporting increased feelings of wellbeing and value in their employment. I further investigated the benefits of ‘Print Therapy’ during my time working from home by creating online video ‘how-to’ tutorials to share the outcomes of my experiments and allow others to benefit from the magic of printmaking.

It was quite a learning curve, making, editing and uploading videos to YouTube, but very satisfying. I have some more ideas for workshops that I could run outside, following the principles of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, so watch this space.

You can watch the videos here. Let me know if there are any other simple printmaking techniques you’d like to learn about, and I’d love to see what you make, so tag me on instagram, @nellsmithprints!

Screen printing adventures!

Tim Heidecker Neil Hamburger Yellow layer screen printing layers

I had the pleasure of printing up some excellent illustrations by my pal Simon Turner recently. He designed these mega posters for the Tim Heidecker and Neil Hamburger gig at Gorilla. If you missed it, you missed a hilarious treat! Simon has some of these lovely prints leftover, signed by the guys, so get in touch with him if you would like one, and check his awesome work while you’re at it! I screen printed these 2 colour prints onto 135 gsm Pristine White G.F Smith Colorplan paper.

I have a new studio at Hot Bed Press, so am spending more time there, and honing my skills. If you are an artist or illustrator with some screen printing requirements, get in touch and I’ll see if I can help!

Letterpress Love

Last August I applied for funding from the David Canter Trust, through the Devon Guild of Craftsmen to enable me to take a course at Hotbed Press. This award is made every other year, each time focusing on a different craft discipline. Last year was print, so I applied in August, and found out in December that I had been successful, and was able to pay the deposit on the Complete Letterpress Printer course! Originally I had wanted to take the Complete Printmaker course, but it was fully booked by the time I found out I got the funding, and I didn’t want to wait another year to start learning! The emphasis in my funding application was on sharing my knowledge with others, so over the past few months I have been thinking about how I can do this with letterpress, through demonstrations and workshops. I had read about Nick Hand and his Printing Bike project, and thought it was an amazing idea, to be a mobile print workshop! I thought I could do a slightly more localised version of this, get an Adana press and a trailer for my bike, and take letterpress to those less able to access print studios. I started to look at presses on ebay, just to get an idea of price and what was out there. Presses and type go for crazy prices, letterpress has seen such a resurgence in popularity lately that people are getting caught up in wild bidding wars. I was idly looking on instagram a couple of weeks ago and what popped up in my timeline, but an Adana 8×5 press for sale from a print studio in London! A SIGN! I swiftly emailed the director of the studio, and put in a offer. He got back to me with a counter offer, and said if I could come down to London the press was mine! So, in a characteristically hasty move, I took his offer and spent all my Christmas earnings before I’d even been to my first letterpress class. Sometimes you just have to take a risk, right?!

Well, luckily I absolutely LOVED my first taste of letterpress! Everything about it is so beautiful and sensory, from the smell of the ink to the clunk of the press. Elizabeth Willow is such a great teacher, incredibly knowledgeable and patient. It was so nice to hear everyone’s reasons for taking the course, too, and how important we all felt it was to carve out some time for ourselves, and have permission to explore a new technique thoroughly.

On Monday I travelled down to London to collect the press from Marcroy Smith at People of Print Studio. I was little nervous about how weighty the beast would be, I was armed with a £10 trolley from Clas Olhson, and a LOT of bungee cords. Marcroy was lovely, and helped me get it into a taxi. Wheeling it along was fine, but the less said about my stance on the escalators at Euston the better! Anyway, he’s all settled in at the Craft Centre now, and I’ve done my first test prints, using one of my linocuts and a precision mounting base in the chase. I don’t have any type yet, so if you, or anyone you know is selling some, let me know!


Adana 8x5

Adana 8×5 in his new home

letterpress print

Ride. Copper on black


I really think that a mobile press would be a most excellent thing, and will be setting up a Kickstarter to get funds for a trailer for my bike, and the accessories I’ll need to bring print to the people. I need a lot of type, ink, and paper! At the moment I’m trying to get a bit of interest going in the project, and put feelers out about the kind of rewards people would like, workshops, prints and that kind of thing, so get in touch if you have any feedback!

Paul Peter Piech at the People’s History Museum

Paul Peter Piech

A couple of weeks ago, I had a little staycation in Manchester, and went to an amazing retrospective exhibition of the work of Paul Peter Piech at the People’s History Museum. It was incredibly inspiring, included in the display were politically charged lino prints, book covers and posters.

I love the urgency and sheer volume of his work. The prints he made were innovative, bold and powerful. He never stopped making and making, frenetically producing his prints. It made me want to put some Sun Ra on and carve lino blocks.

The exhibition runs til the 12th of February, and I urge you to go and see it.

Women in Print

I was super excited to be invited to take part in the exhibition Women in Print by Jane Bowyer, illustrator, designer and all-round good egg. I’m exhibiting alongside 15 top-class female artists, so I feel very flattered to be asked to contribute. The launch is tonight at Rudy’s Pizza, one of my favourite pizza joints in Manchester. It runs ’til the 30th of August, so get yourself down and buy some prints, all proceeds go to Manchester Women’s Aid. Prints, pizza and beer, what’s not to like??


emmeline pankhurst print

Lino print of Emmeline Pankhurst for Women in Print exhibition


“From political reformists to palaeobotanists, the work of women has helped to shape Manchester into the great city it is today. Women in Print is an exhibition of work by sixteen local designers, print-makers and illustrators that celebrates the life and achievements of sixteen iconic female figures who’ve made a significant contribution to Manchester.”

Launch Night
July 18th at 6pm

July 19th – August 30th

Rudy’s Pizza Place

Manchester Histories Festival

Manchester Histories Festival launches tonight at Manchester Craft and Design Centre. All the studios were invited to get involved in the Heritage Windows project, and the members of Studio 25 were keen to think of something groovy to do in our window. As I have been drawing some Medieval monstrosities lately, I thought it might be a nice idea to collaborate on a medley of mash-up creatures, inspired by all the animals that have called the Craft and Design Centre home over the years. The centre was originally a fish and poultry market, part of the larger Smithfield Market, so alongside the stallholders wares, there naturally would have been mice, and cats to chase them away! We often have little birdy visitors that get tempted in by cake crumbs, and last year one of the tenants, Jon, found a snake outside! A veritable menagerie! Tib Street used to be full of pet shops back in the day, and if you look up in the Northern Quarter, you may spy a few avian tributes to this heritage, perched in stone on the buildings.


My initial idea was to play a game of visual consequences/Exquisite Corpse, with each member of the studio drawing a part of the creature in turn, head, torso, arms, feet etc, but in reality, we ran out of time and I ended up starting the drawings on my own on the day of the launch. The window will evolve over the course of the festival, with creatures being added, edited and adorned. Look out for Lobster-men, Chicken-mice, Cat-eels and much more!  

Working on the window for @mcrhistfest Greetings from the Lobsterman! #illustration #mhf2016

A photo posted by Nell Smith (@iamnell) on

You can read more about the history of the Craft Centre and the Northern Quarter here, on the Collecting History blog.



Art Battle Manchester

Back in March I took part in Art Battle at the Deaf Institute. The deal is that 10 artists each have 30 minutes to produce a piece of work in front of an audience. In January I must have gone a bit mad, as I thought this would be a good challenge. Cut to March, I was thinking more along the lines of, ‘how can I get out of this?’. I searched for the hero inside myself, and with support from my most loyal pewtersmith, Ella McIntosh, set out, armed with paper, pencils, ink and paint. I’d spent most of the day preparing, which may have been a bit of an error, as I wasn’t feeling particularly relaxed. I had been drawing 1920s women for a brief, and loved this image of Clara Bow in Rough House Rosie, and thought the idea of a tough boxing woman was ideal for art battlin’!

Rough House Rosie

It had sold out in a record time of about 4 hours, and I was going to have to draw in front of 200 people under strict time constraints. Shit. This is exactly the opposite of how I like to work, and in fact live my life. But, that’s why it’s a challenge, right?? The easels were set up in the middle of the dance floor, with many hot, hot spotlights glaring down. I was sweating already. There were 2 rounds of 5, luckily I was in the first round, so I could get it over with and sup down a beer!

Art Battle Manchester

The stage is set


I’d prepared a pumping playlist of exactly 30 minutes to help me concentrate and block out any audience noises. Unfortunately the music and crowd were so loud I couldn’t really hear it, so it didn’t help much! My hands were shaking so much for the first 10 minutes that I messed up my pencil lines, the perspective was really off. I knew I was rushing, but the nerves had taken hold. I settled into more of a rhythm when I started to ink my lines. I realised my paintbrush was too small for the shading effect I wanted, but it was far too late to do anything about it, just had to persevere. People came right up to us as we were working, which was a bit disconcerting, but more so was the camera right in my face! Eek!

Art Battle Manchester

Battling it out

At the end of the 30 minutes I felt relieved that it was over! I wasn’t completely happy with how my painting turned out, but I don’t think I ever would be in half an hour. By the end of the evening I felt completely drained (I had also given blood 2 hours before the event started, oops). All the artworks were auctioned off, with half the money going to the artist, and half to Stretch charity, which was really nice. I was super happy that my painting sold! All in all it was a great experience, really nerve-wracking, but I got up there and pushed myself, met some lovely people, and made some money for charity. I think I would do live painting again, but maybe not under the 30 minute time constraint, it’s so hard to produce something in that time. I need to edit! If you are interested in attending an Art Battle, the next one is 9th July at Mantra Warehouse. It looks like a much bigger space, so I think there may still be tickets left for it. Massive thanks to John and Sophie for their amazing organising and for putting on such an ace event! If you have an interest in graffiti/street art generally, look out for some amazing work popping up around Manchester at the moment, as part of the Cities of Hope convention.

Rough House Rosie

My finished piece on the right

Art Battle Manchester

Concentration. Photo by John Banks Photography

Female Icon Portrait Workshop


Over the last year I have been getting more and more into drawing portraits. It’s so much fun, it makes me laugh a lot when I get faces a bit wrong and they end up looking like someone else (accidental Steve Wright instead of Jeff Goldblum was a highlight). I really wanted to get involved with 16 Days of Street Art Action in December, it’s a project about feminism which runs alongside the international campaign ‘16 Days of Action to End Violence Against Women’.
During the campaign 16 pieces of street art created by 16 women from across the North West appeared in Manchester city centre depicting unsung female icons of past and present. Sadly, my chosen female icon, Frida Kahlo, had already been taken, so I didn’t get to paint a mural, but I did go along to the pen and ink workshop to make some little playing card sized portraits of top women Iris Apfel and Dolly Parton! If you’ve never heard of Iris Apfel, I urge you to watch the film about her, Iris, and also Fabulous Fashionistas. So inspiring! I really enjoyed the workshop, it was so nice to switch my brain off from stress and worry and sit with some lovely women making art. I am realising how important making art is to my mental health. The dotwork drawings are challenging and soothing to my frazzled brain. When I step back from them, I feel very calm.

The New Whitney Museum of American Art


I was super fortunate to go to New York this Christmas. The festive season was spent in the Hamptons, where I got geeky about American birds – red cardinals, bluejays and chickadees, it was incredible! I had a day in Manhattan before I came home, and went to the new Whitney Museum of American Art. The temporary exhibition was a Frank Stella retrospective. Themes of discipline, systems and repetition are all obviously of great interest to me in my work, alongside abstract geometry, so I was really happy to catch this show. I love setting myself projects and challenges, the idea of a painting for all 135 chapters of Moby Dick was really interesting.

The permanent collection was pretty amazing, and the building itself is really cool too, set between the Hudson and the High Line.

British Ceramics Biennial

Back in November, Ella and I took a trip to Stoke to check out the British Ceramics Biennial. This dinner set by Katie Schwab was my absolute favourite, I love the naive forms and the pop of mustard behind the monochrome. Lots of beautiful work there. I also really enjoyed the mesmeric Geysers by Caroline Tattersall. So glad I managed to catch this, my aim for this year is to get out and about to more exhibitions. Tomorrow: Bolton!