Highland Print Studio | Make Works

An interview with our studio manager John McNaught, held by Make Works

As part of our ongoing Factory Friday series, where we delve into the stories behind Scottish manufacturing, we are focusing in on some of the facilities and workshops where you can make work yourself in Scotland.

This week we’ve interviewed John McNaught, technician at Highland Print Studio, an open access printmaking workshop in Inverness.

1.Could you tell us about how Highland Print Studio got started?

It all started after a public meeting in 1986, under the name of Inverness Printmakers Workshop. The volunteers who established the workshop were artists, art teachers and enthusiasts – all of whom gave tremendous amounts of their time to get things going. It grew slowly, scraping together equipment, slowly securing funding, which eventually led to the appointment of staff in 1989. The company was initially a printmaking workshop with a gallery and a small shop, all housed in the Bank Street building. Through a sometimes turbulent history, the building was converted to gallery space, and a studio, against public opinion. Eleven years ago, it finally found its feet as Highland Print Studio and staff fundraised to return it back to it’s spiritual home on the banks of the River Ness.

Highland Print Studio's spiritual home on the banks of the River Ness
Highland Print Studio’s spiritual home on the banks of the River Ness

2.What kind of people come into Highland Print Studio?

There is not a typical client. We’ve worked with children as young as 4 years old, primary, secondary schools, disabled children and adults. We’ve had projects with people disabled by long term mental ill health, vulnerable children and adults and older people – most recently our Wise Guys program for older men.

The Wise Guys group with John at Highland Print Studio
The Wise Guys group with John at Highland Print Studio

‘Wise Guys Illuminate Art’ – image taken from Highland News

People sharing the space range from complete beginners through to professional artists, both Scottish and international. Our geographic area is different to other print studios, so we have a different way of working in order to serve our area. A lot of users from the Highlands have to travel long distances, sometimes by ferry to get here. In recent years we have more and more users from Central Scotland, England and overseas.

3. Where can we see work from Highland Print Studio out in the world?

Recent work includes Below Another Sky, a collaborative project between all five Creative Scotland funded Scottish Print Studios. It toured to venues in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Inverness, and now a complete suite of prints will be toured internationally by the British Council.

Talking Sweepers, 2014, Amol Patil, Below another sky
Talking Sweepers, 2014, Amol Patil, Below another sky

Work by Amol Patil, image from belowanothersky.org

Sexy Peat, our project celebrating the blanket bog, has been shown in Edinburgh, Inverness and Thurso. Connections North was a joint project with Chrysalis Arts in Yorkshire and two studios from Sweden and Finland. Each country hosted the subsequent exhibition. Our work is publicized via our website, facebook and twitter.

4. Could you tell us about some projects that have come through Highland Print Studio over the years that have been particularly memorable?

Every project we have worked on has been memorable in one way or another. As well as projects already mentioned, highlights that come to mind would be: Wise Guys – our older mens group, now in it’s fourth session. This has been one of the most successful programs we have run. The initial idea was to try to address the lack of engagement of older men with the visual arts. Now we are overrun with old blokes – they have become an integral part of the Studio.

Wise Guys at Highland Print Studio
Wise Guys at Highland Print Studio
Highland Print Studio, Inverness, Highlands

One has created magnetic registration blocks for etching and does our framing, another has designed and, with a friend, built an etching press, and two are now on our Board of Directors. They have been on Radio Scotland, charmed the Culture Secretary and given talks at conferences. And their prints are terrific.

Another project that comes to mind is A Brief Lesson in Caledonian Anti-Syzygy. This was a look at why Scotland is culturally tied to opposites. Why do we celebrate failed icons, but ignore a hidden history of success? Eight hand-printed books were created; some on Unsung Heros (produced by several Primary Schools across Highland), and some on Much Sung Zeros (created by older peoples groups). This was eventually exhibited in the Scots Parliament, ironically during debates about introducing the teaching of Scottish Studies in our schools.

5. What’s it like being based in Inverness.

We are the only visual arts production facility in Inverness, and as such, we are extremely busy.

Hard at work in the studio at Highland Print Studio
Hard at work in the studio at Highland Print Studio

We tend to look at the whole of the Highlands rather than just Inverness, and I would say that in many cases there are refreshing ways of working being shown all over the region. The geography demands innovative working methods, and an expansive viewpoint. We are in a wonderful building, with lovely arched windows looking out onto the River Ness. We realise we are very fortunate in our location and enjoy attracting people to the city of Inverness to share it with us.

Thank you very much to John for taking the time to tell us about the exciting history of the Highland Print Studio.