Sam Marshall and the Divine Miss Marple

When approaching Sam Marshall’s work, the first thing that any viewer will notice is that she’s not going at it alone.

Her studio practice as a relief printmaker – specialising in linocuts – is divided between London (where she teaches at the Royal Drawing School) and a country cottage in Northamptonshire, in the East Midlands.

 

Sam Marshall
Dog Days (2019)
Linocut and screenprint
44 x 54 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Her indefatigable studio assistant? A five-year old mini dachshund named Miss Marple, with her own Instagram army numbering 11,500 strong.

More than just a sleek sausage dog for all to admire in the social media-verse, Miss Marple’s sassy charm finds its way into all of Marshall’s works, even if she is a tiny spot in a landscape filled with self-aware, majestic creatures and richly abundant foliage.

 

 

Marshall respects traditional printmaking by depicting the natural world as one to be observed closely and duplicated in as many media formats as possible. As one of humanity’s oldest documented art forms – dated at roughly 53,000 years old from designs found in Java, Indonesia – engraving and woodcutting has both illuminated and decorated both flora and fauna. Linocutting, however, was introduced (by comparison, practically yesterday) in the modern era with the German Die Brücke artist group in the early 1900’s.

 

Sam Marshall and her five year-old mini dachshund, Miss Marple
Photo credit: Sam Marshall

 

As the medium migrated to depicting human forms in their triumphs (specifically with coinage and commissioned portraits for mass printing), animals and plants increasingly morphed into a subject of nostalgia and fantasy. Marshall’s work captures this phenomenon in both monochromes and dedicated, art naïve color fields.

But back to Miss Marple (because, duh).

Apart from being a stalwart companion, Marshall finds that Marple provides an unusual, productive atmosphere for her students. Dogs and artists are hardly a novel sight. What is truly enchanting about Marple, though, is how her personality shifts when in the presence of other working artists. “When she’s in the studio with me,” she says of Marple, “she sort of quietly observes my students and they sense that she’s like a kind of sentinel to them.”

 

Sam Marshall
Llama (2019)
Linocut and screenprint
36 x 29 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

As this author can attest, she is a perfect lady in public, happily accepting of pets and hugs while still maintaining an air of comic aloofness. Which is probably part and parcel to her mass social media appeal. She is as spicy as she is sweet. When confronted with either a bird feeder or lawnmower? “Oh, she goes absolutely mad. She hates them. She is vocal, that’s for sure.”

 

 

The author, enchanted, with the Divine Miss Marple
Photo: Sam Marshall

 

 

Back at the studio, Marple (according to Marshall) is focused and respectful; which seems to yield positive, tangible results for the students. “They are extremely surprised and excited by what they find they can achieve. That’s what I love most. To see them say, “Wow! I actually made that starting from some seemingly chaotic little hash marks.”

To those students and newcomers looking for a path into manual printmaking, Marshall offers concise advice. “Do a short course, get some kit and just try experimenting – it’s good to know the basics but try not to be too prescriptive. Have a play, and see what you can do with these traditional techniques.”

 

 

Marshall’s studio cottage in Northamptonshire
Photo credit: Sam Marshall

 

 

As is the golden virtue, “Be patient,” says Marshall, “it takes ages to be proficient with these techniques. Keep chipping away and you will get there.”

Marple seems to agree with a quick head tilt to the left. Class dismissed.

 

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