Double Elephant Print Workshop
Double Elephant Print Workshop is an open-access printmaking studio in the basement of Exeter Phoenix, but they also work extensively in the community, including with schools, hospitals, festivals, art groups and businesses. We spoke to Business Director Claire Binden…
What do you do?
We offer training courses, resources and support for complete beginners to professional artists. We help people develop their artistic skills, their creative experience and their arts businesses. We use printmaking to start conversations and support people’s wellbeing. We do all of this in our premises here in Exeter, and travel across the county and beyond to reach people of all ages in their own venues. We promote the work of our artists, advise people on setting up their own printmaking studios, and we edition work for artists, too.
And what keeps you doing it?
We are just passionate about printmaking! It offers so many fantastic ways to introduce people to art making, as well as challenging those who are more experienced. It works brilliantly with all ages and abilities, and especially with those who are not confident about their creative skills. Our experienced artist-tutors can work with someone who thinks they are ‘terrible at art’ and quickly help them create work they can be proud of. But, equally, the techniques offer so much potential and variety that a professional printmaker will never tire of exploring what can be achieved. We see the people who work with us develop in so many exciting ways, and we love it!
How did Double Elephant start?
Double Elephant was set up in 1997 by Simon Ripley and Lynn Bailey when they graduated from Exeter’s art school. They wanted to build a community of artists around access to a printing press Simon had inherited. Over time, the co-operative they set up in a former bakery in St Leonards began to get requests for training and outreach work, so Double Elephant gradually expanded its focus to become a much more developmental and participatory organisation. We moved to Exeter Phoenix in 2007 into better facilities, which enabled us to more than double our membership, increase activities and build partnerships with other creative organisations in Devon. We celebrated our 21st year in 2018, and now have 110 members and reach 3,000 people in the community each year.
Who do you work with and why?
Many of our members and those who attend courses are returners to art after a break, or they learned a bit of printmaking at school and get hooked on the possibilities we can offer. We have artists and creatives of all disciplines who enjoy it either as a hobby, to generate work to sell or to develop their practice.
We work with all sections of the community and also have a long-running strand of activity for mental health service users. In a wellbeing setting, printmaking provides valuable benefits around growing confidence, learning new skills and building social connections. Printmaking is so versatile. We have partnered with dance companies, theatre companies, animators, film-makers, textile designers, lots of festivals and all manner of visual artists and makers to bring print to a project. We aim to spread the love for printmaking as far as possible and make sure everyone knows that every creative project can probably be enhanced with a bit of printmaking in it.
Tell us what a typical month looks like.
We have a good rhythm to our weeks. Our artist-members can use the studio as their own every day between 10am and 10pm, unless we have a course running. Courses run in terms, with day and evening sessions each Tuesday and Thursday. Every other weekend there will be a one- or two-day course. On Wednesdays, we have supported printmaking for new members who still need some technical support with their work. Any day of the week we’ll have a varied cohort of emerging and experienced artists working side by side in the studio, which offers an inspirational, friendly and supportive environment for members and course-goers alike. The community feeling that Simon and Lynn fostered 22 years ago is still very strong.
What’s been the best moment for you in the last year?
We were really delighted to raise nearly £1,000 in one day from people supporting our art sale during Art Week Exeter in 2018. We’ve since been able to add to that and gain some match funding, which altogether has raised £4,000 for Print on Prescription, our project for people dealing mental health challenges.
And what’s coming up?
We are coming to the end of a brilliant project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund for which we’ve been exploring the story of a local hero, Mary the Pigeon, who lived with her owner Charlie Brewer and won the Dickin Medal (the Victoria Cross for animals) for her work in the Second World War, flying messages over enemy lines. We’ve been working with a group of young people from Exeter to create a film about her for the last 18 months and we’ll be sharing that work in the autumn.
In what ways are you helping to put Exeter on the cultural map, nationally or internationally?
We attract regular visitors to Exeter from across the South West and further afield to work with us, as there is no comparable organisation south-west of Bristol that offers what we do. We are nationally known for our work and also get thousands of hits worldwide from viewers of our instructional films online.
We’ve supported dozens of people to become professional artists, helped retain artists in the area by providing work for them, and there are far more people offering printmaking courses and setting up their own print studios now than there were in 1997. We like to think we’ve been part of building a printmaking ecosystem here in the South West that has links around the globe.
…we could find sizeable, affordable new premises in the city – we’d fulfil our aim of being able to offer more accessibility to artists and run more projects for disadvantaged groups. We want to reach the people who haven’t found us yet, and to encourage creativity among a far wider audience than it’s possible for us to reach now.
How do we find out more?
Our website is www.doubleelephant.org.uk, and from there you can see the range of our work and our online instructional films. To see what artists are generating in our studio, follow us on social media. If you want to drop by, any Wednesday between 10am and 9pm is always a good day.