When you take a look at Masha Tiplady’s exquisite linocut prints it is hard to believe that not so long ago she wouldn’t have described herself as creative at all. She’s now a full-time printmaker, juggling being a busy mum of a toddler and running a small business “Masha and the prints”. Her linocuts are selling well at the Scottish Design Exchange and 3 other galleries in Scotland. Yet, if it hadn’t been for the post-natal depression that followed the birth of her daughter Nika her life might have taken a different turn.
“Linocutting was a therapy at first, says Masha, something to do that was absorbing and purposeful and, as I realised straight away, I really enjoyed doing. So I just kept studying the techniques and practising, rather obsessively. There is a rich source of online learning, where I was able to watch the techniques of the best on You Tube and Facebook. The latter has a 20,000 strong community of linocut enthusiasts willing to share their knowledge and skills. The downside, of course, was that I was comparing myself with the best - something I had always done in the past. This time round, however, I just kept telling myself this wasn’t a competition. As Mark Twain once wrote ‘Comparison is the death of joy.”
Masha is now producing an extraordinary body of work. “Linocut, she says, is the perfect medium. It combines thorough planning with a methodical labour-intensive process. There is also an element of complete surprise - you really don't get to see the final result until you’ve drawn your picture on lino, carved it, inked it and rolled it out on paper. I also like that linocut allows for endless possibilities with colour - giving you subtly different and often exciting results. One of my prints, ‘The Pushkin’s Tree’, has 21 colours and took two months to finish. Looking back, I think perhaps I should have chosen a more commercial theme than Alexander Pushkin’s poem”.
Masha draws her inspiration from music, books, history and retro fashion. The beginning of the 20th century and 50s-70s are her two favourite eras. “The aesthetics and culture are absolutely fascinating and will find myself going back to those eras in my prints.”
Her first commercial break came when she was passing a small gallery in Edinburgh’s Causewayside. “I did something uncharacteristically bold. I walked into the Gallery and asked if I can show my prints. The owner was lovely and when she asked me how many I wanted to display there, I was thrilled. Here was someone immersed in the art world who thought enough of my work to want to display it. I had been raised with the belief that if you didn’t have a degree in something, you could never do it professionally. Yet, here was I - self-taught and about to sell my artworks. The Scottish Design Exchange was another massive break. I made an approach and was accepted with open arms. It’s an amazing opportunity and my stuff is really beginning to pick up. July has been a really good month. I am very driven at the moment, when I finish one print I have to start another one straight away.”
Despite her long-held belief that she was an arts outsider, creativity did feature in the young Masha’s life – taking evening art classes and attending music school in her home city of Moscow and becoming a proficient pianist. “Even then, I was comparing myself with the best and thwarting my own chances.’ After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, young people were being driven to study what were seen as more commercially useful subjects. “I completed an Economics and Marketing Degree - admittedly that wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed doing. Later on I ended up doing another, this time much more interesting degree in Theory of Translation in Russian State University of Humanities, it opened up new horizons.”
After a succession of jobs Masha arrived in Edinburgh 15 years ago to do a Masters in publishing and it was love at first sight.
“I had a choice of London, Norwich and Edinburgh. It was an obvious choice for me. Like so many people I have met here from other parts of the World, the city grips you and you don’t want to leave. Edinburgh is small enough to feel part of a safe and welcoming community, yet big enough to have lots of cultural activity going on. It’s perfect for me.”
Masha is married to Doug; a Kiwi Jazz musician whose saxophone seduces audiences in the city’s best known jazz clubs. Her daughter Nika, is now in Masha’s words ‘fun, strong-willed and independent. My message to her is to be brave, don’t second guess yourself and be confident.’ It’s been a long and circuitous route for Masha and the journey that started in Moscow in 1972 seems to have found a happy destination.
To see Masha’s work go to the Scottish Design Exchange at Ocean Terminal or online: www.mashaandtheprints.com