Thomas Murphy and Hugh Barrell run Make-Ready. Together, they specialise in silkscreen printing for contemporary art and design through a consultancy-driven service and collaborating closely with artists through all stages of print production.
The level of dedication to their craft is remarkable. It was a thoroughly engaging conversation that meandered through music, colour perception, technical printing knowledge and an unexpected Instagram account they are big fans of.
We met up with Thomas and Hugh at their studio in Chalk Farm.
Thomas: Black coffee
Hugh: Black coffee
Tell me about an ideal day for you.
Thomas: Probably not being on the computer and printing.
Hugh: Having work on press and it’s a day reserved for printing. All the preparation work is done and it’s purely production focused.
Artist: United Visual Artists
Artist: Will Gates
What do you like to listen to while working?
Hugh: There are 5 albums that are usually on rotation.
Thomas: But one, in particular, gets played more than the others. It’s the soundtrack for the movie, ‘The Revenant’. It’s a mixture of classic string arrangements and some very dreamlike sequences.
Hugh: Also, Max Richter recomposed some of Vivaldi’s pieces. That’s another good series.
Thomas: Generally, we prefer music without lyrics so we can concentrate on our work with the machinery. Everything is indelibly made and the materials we use, from the paper to the inks, are very precious, so it demands our full attention.
Hugh: We have had freelancers here before and one of them did request for a working day without the soundtrack from ‘The Revenant’. There is a possibility that we do listen to it too much.
Thomas: I listened to it this morning.
Artist: Anthea Hamilton
"Generally, we prefer music without lyrics so we can concentrate on our work with the machinery. Everything is indelibly made and the materials we use, from the paper to the inks, are very precious, so it demands our full attention."
What tool, digital or analogue, can you not live without?
Thomas: I have this inexpensive tape measure, which has some nifty features about it. Typical tape measures have 1 end point but this one has 2. This allows you to get an unusually steady and precise measurement. I can use it accurately to score a 2 metre line against.
It saves us so much time.
We really like tools that make the process of screen printing as smooth as possible. Even having magnets around to hold tools within reach or colour-coding them allows us both to work seamlessly on a busy day.
Hugh: I would pick 1 particular scalpel we have. Out of all the ones we use, it is a flat one that doesn’t appear as ergonomic as the others on first glance. However, it’s definitely my favourite one to use. Like everything else in the studio, we’ve marked it with bright orange tape so we can easily spot tools from afar.
The tape serves as a useful form of non-verbal communication between ourselves and any other freelancers we may have working with us. Especially when you have loud machinery, it just means we don't have to ask each other where things are as often.
It’s extraordinary how much time that saves us in the long run.
If you could invite 1 person to dinner, whether dead or alive, who would it be?
Thomas: Mine would be printmaking related and it would be Alexander Heinrici. He was Andy Warhol’s main printmaker.
If you do any sort of research into screenprinting, Warhol and Rauschenberg would automatically come up. Heinrici's name would also be there, hidden away in the same articles. He’s one of the original pioneers of our field and I would love to pick his brains on his career.
Hugh: I’m going to the same dinner because I would not miss meeting this printmaking legend.
Artist: Jacky Tsai
What are you currently reading?
Thomas: I just read Animal Farm. Surprisingly, I have begun to use the idea of Animal Farm as analogies in my conversations with friends. I’m also reading ‘Interaction of Colour’ by Josef Albers. It’s such a fluid discussion of colour.
I've also read a more scientific book on colour by David Hornung. It’s called ‘Colour: A Workshop for Artists and Designers’. It discusses the technical aspects of colour wavelengths while Albers is more about the artistic and emotional aspects of colour.
Hugh: These books have been integral to helping us ‘problem-solve’ on a day-to-day with anything colour related.
Do you both have colourful homes?
Hugh: Absolutely. It hasn’t really been a conscious aim to make my home colourful. It’s just been a combination of noticing things in stores and going to charity shops to pick up items with interesting hues.
Thomas: I'd echo that.
"He just effortlessly transcends gender, cultural backgrounds and every boundary imaginable.
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or what you do, everyone loves or at least knows who ‘The Rock’ is."
Imagine it’s a late night and you have a deadline. What’s the takeaway craving? (We are not promoting working late.)
Thomas: There was a period when we ate a lot of burgers. It was before we started Make-Ready. It was the easiest type of food to get at that time. But now, we make it a point to work until 6 pm and if there is a deadline, we would rather come into the studio early in the morning.
Hugh: We go to a natural food store called ‘Earth’. It’s a store that has been there for decades. They have a hot food section and every time we go there, it is unreal.
"Question any book you buy about screen printing. The individuals who make inks, papers and machinery for the process are more interesting to try to speak to. Seek them out."
What’s the go-to dish at ‘Earth’?
Hugh: The menu changes all the time so you never really know what you are going to get. But we always find ourselves in awe of the food they make. It is just so consistently delicious.
Is there someone you particularly like to follow on Instagram?
Thomas: The obvious thing to say would be some artist that I like. However, I especially enjoy ex-WWE wrestler now turned Hollywood action star, Dwayne Johnson aka ‘The Rock’.
Hugh: He just effortlessly transcends gender, cultural backgrounds and every boundary imaginable. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or what you do, everyone loves or at least knows who ‘The Rock’ is.
Thomas: He also just looks like the nicest and funniest guy. I didn’t watch Jumanji but Kevin Hart and ‘The Rock’ in interviews create entertainment gold.
Artist: Daniel Clarke
Any advice for a younger self or for someone entering the field?
Hugh: I would emphasise the practice of ‘fact-checking’. What I mean by that, is being considered about where you go to get experience from or work in. As a fresh-faced graduate, you’re raring to go and could easily just grab at every opportunity that comes your way. You have to find your own way to cut through the noise for yourself.
Thomas: If someone wants to come into screen printing commercially, I would stress discernment and patience is understanding the process.
Be curious and don’t believe every opinion in the ‘industry’ wholeheartedly.
Question any book you buy about screen printing. The individuals who make inks, papers and machinery for the process are more interesting to try to speak to. Seek them out.
Artist: Oliver Osborne
If you had to pick someone who is at the top of their creative game, who comes to mind?
Hugh: Thomas and I probably have the same answer for this. We got into this through an artist who we both hold in high esteem. It’s Oliver Osborne and there was a period of time when we were making a lot of work with and for him in East London.
We would drive up in a van to his studio with loads of screens and kit. He is an amazing painter and we actually did a reproduction of one of his works, which is hands-down my favourite piece of his.
Working with him took us to a different place. He was hugely influential to our practice.
Oliver wouldn’t get invited to dinner?
Hugh: He knows us too well and he wouldn’t want to come to dinner with us. We talk too much!
Any friends of yours that you think I should visit next?
Quickfire round! Pick 1 of the 2 choices that comes to your mind.
Hugh was chosen to answer.
Hip hop or Jazz? Jazz
Red or Blue? Red
Kitchen or Living Room? Kitchen
Spicy or Non-spicy? Non-Spicy
Summer or Winter? Winter
Serif or Sans-serif? Sans-serif
Museum or Library? Museum, unless it's the library in the V&A museum