Navigating through the narrow streets of Easton on our way to Rosanna’s home, we start reminiscing about our first encounter with her: a bright and crisp October morning at the Wild Sage & Co HQ in rural Herefordshire, being introduced to the wonderful world of three generations of wild, sage and down-to earth women. Keen to dig deeper into Rosanna’s world, we took up on her invitation from that day to meet her partner Konstantinos and her son Robin, and to have a chat about their collaborative relationship, their current projects and the things they are passionate about.
An illustrator and printmaker specialised in woodcuts and relief printmaking, Rosanna creates work revolving around the themes of nature, community and sustainable food-growing. Her Greek-born partner, Konstantinos, is a freelance photographer, tireless craftsman and skilful knifemaker. Driven by their shared passion for printmaking and their desire to build a community of printmakers, Rosanna and Konstantinos joined forces with Meg Buick in Spring 2017 and opened Cato Press, an artist-led printmaking studio located in a former Victorian factory on Mivart Street in Easton.
After hearing the story of Bouboulina, Rosanna’s printing press skilfully handcrafted by Konstantinos, and being treated to a first hand glimpse into her printing technique, our exchange of ideas twisted and turned joyously and kept rolling ahead, touching on a myriad of existential themes, in such a way that, at the end of it, we’ve realised that our conversation had only just started. Having seen this beautiful family in their natural element going about their daily acts of being, doing and making, from quince picking to breastfeeding and printmaking, we said goodbye to Rosanna, Konstantinos and their amazing children, Robin and Daphni, thinking that they possess the rare ability to nurture a welcoming and inspiring environment, where everyone can be part of a bigger, kinder and more purposeful reality.
Who are Rosanna and Konstantinos, the creative couple behind Cato Press? Tell us a bit about your backgrounds.
Rosanna is from Bristol and studied illustration in London and Konstantinos is from Thessaloniki and studied Photography also in London. We have two children, Robin and Daphni, a print studio, a knife studio, an allotment and three chickens.
How did you two meet?
We met in London by chance after seeing each other a few times around the city. From the first night we met we were pretty much inseparable and ended up going to Mexico together for a big trip a couple of months later. In Mexico we visited so many incredible artisans using their hands to make beautiful things and it was that inspiration that stayed with us.
Rosanna, how did you get into illustration and printmaking? What are the milestones of your journey?
I started carving large pieces of wood when I was 19. I was studying my foundation at Bristol School of Art and I was living in a squat at the time. I had no money but I wanted to make my drawings really big, big enough to go up on walls and for people to notice. It seemed like a really natural choice to start carving into wood. I realise now that it wouldn’t have been most people’s natural conclusion, but it got me excited and I kept rolling from there. My first carving was an intricate meter high portrait of a friend sleeping. I printed loads of them and pasted them up around Bristol. I immediately fell in love with the process, it is meditative, slowly cutting away at a block and not having to think. Over the years I worked with different printmaking practices, but it was relief that always drew me back.
What about you Konstantinos? Tell us about your passion for photography and your knifemaking venture.
Photography was my passion as a teenager and it became my gateway out of Thessaloniki, my home city. I studied photography in London for four years and after that worked in the industry for a couple of years but I knew it wasn’t the right thing for me. Rosanna was the first person that encouraged me to follow my need to create things with my hands. Where I come from, making things by hand can be kind of looked down on. When we moved to Bristol and were expecting our first child I ventured into loads of different trades. Trying to find something that worked for me and also paid the bills was hard. I ended up working at a workshop owned by two very extraordinary minds, Kevin, a blacksmith and John, a designer. While prototyping some of John’s ingenious contraptions I ended up doing some metal work for Kevin and thus I had the first go at hammering hot metal. Bladesmithing was a very natural development for me, it combines a range of skills and the difficulty of the craft got a strong hold on my stubbornness for perfection.
Tell us a bit about your collaborative relationship. How do you influence each other and what are your strengths as a team of creatives?
Rosanna: I would say Konstantinos really pushes me to be better, he’s organised and has a technical problem solving mind. He likes things done properly, whereas I’m naturally much more slap dash and inclined to make do. I’d happily have stuck with my Nokia 3310 and classic wooden spoon for printing my blocks, but he’s pushed me to take myself more seriously and in turn it’s made my work better.
Konstantinos: On the other hand Rosanna tames my wild ideas, channels them towards doable things, she helps me understand people better and gives me that little kick to overcome my fears and believe in myself.
In Spring 2017 you joined forces with fellow printmaker Meg Buick and opened Cato Press, a quirky printmaking studio in East Bristol. How did this initiative come about and what is the driving ethos behind it?
Cato Press was first formed over a pint in the Plough, our local pub. Meg, who is the third founding member of Cato was talking to Konstantinos about the lack of approachable printmaking studios in Bristol, and he was saying how he wanted to build a press for Rosanna. Then the little bright bulb shined and we realised that building a press was really possible. The three of us scraped together our savings and invested them in materials, then Konstantinos set about designing and fabricating the huge beast of a machine.
Once we had the press we need to find somewhere to keep it and once we had that we realised we’d made something that was bigger than just ourselves. I think for the three of us the driving ethos was to create a peer led community of printmakers and artists who genuinely support each other. So often in printmaking and contemporary art environments there is a stuffy elitism that can stifle creativity. We were and still are striving to create a space that ignites inspiration and a love for printmaking.
What other collaborations or projects are you involved in?
We regularly hold community print nights at Cato which are an opportunity for members of the public to come in and see our workshop and have a go at woodcarving. Each month we collaborate with a different local group or charity to design and carve a large banner that promotes their cause. We post dates on our website or Instagram feed and everyone from beginner to established printer is welcome. We also work really hard on our allotment, which is a huge stretch of land 20 minutes from our house. When work gets a bit too much or we just need breathing space we take the kids up there with a big flask of tea and move some dirt about.
What is of importance to you at the moment, and how do you emulate it through your current work?
Rosanna: For me our relationship to the food we eat and where it comes from and all the processes involved in getting it there is really important. I make images of food growing and farming and horticulture because, to be honest, I would like to be working the land myself but with children and the life I lead at the moment that isn’t really possible… one day.
Konstantinos: In the last 10 years I was trying to find what I really wanted to do as a profession, I’ve tried many things and there have been many challenges. I think what I’ve come to realise is that I really am happiest when I’m making something with my own hands. Too much of our lives these days are dictated by what we can buy and so rarely do we feel like we can actually make something for ourselves. Striving for excellence in craftsmanship is what is really important to me and I strive for this with every object I make.
When you think about the future of Cato Press, what are you most excited about and why?
I think we are most excited about creating a community of printmakers who relish the process and who’s eyes glisten with excitement at the prospect of getting inky. We eventually want to expand on the courses we offer, open the studio up for residencies for foreign artists and provide more workshops and events for our local community. It’s been a tough few years as we’ve also been busy growing and raising babies but there’s light on the horizon and we’re slowly getting closer to it.
What about your personal dreams and ambitions?
Rosanna: Eventually the big dream is to have our own land, to grow our food and have a bit more freedom. My main ambition would be to grow grasses and hemp fibres to make my own papers for my prints and maybe one day sell them as well. Obviously there would also be a beautiful printmaking studio on the farm with giant windows, a wood-burning stove and a big comfy armchair.
Konstantinos: and I will be running an independent craft and design school on that very same farm.
What are three questions you don’t have an answer for?
Rosanna: When am I finally going to get a decent night’s sleep?
Konstantinos: Same here. And also: why do toddlers scream so much?
And now a Max Frisch question: What do you need in order to be happy?
Rosanna: Strong coffee. A bike to ride. And earth to dig. Happy smiling kids.
Konstantinos: The coffee for sure. A good workshop, and time…