Ich Bin: Russell Frost, letterpress artist

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Each week a different local takes our Ich Bin Q&A. First off, a New Zealander who’s just opened a little place on Church Lane

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‘My beard makes me look like a geriatric wannabe-lumbersexual’. Photo: Joel Gomes
Originally from New Zealand, Russell Frost is a letterpress artist who has recently leased Hooksmith, a small shop and gallery on Church Lane selling affordable artworks and commission pieces. He is mostly open at weekends, though says he is happy to show readers round by arrangement, as his home-based studio is only a few minutes away. Russell is exploring his new, urban environment by bike with his daughter, and enjoys “the friendliness and sense of community in E11”. One such work, Leytonstone Full Day Scenic Excursion (edition of 11), features a graphic of a 1962 Thames Bus.

When were you happiest?
I’m fairly happy in general. Catching my first trout on a fly-rod I had tied myself was a pretty special moment. Running my small shop is good fun, and it’s amazing who you meet.

Where would you like to live?
In a cabin overlooking a rushing stream plentiful with wild brown trout, and with a view to a mountain-top which receives good snow in winter.

What is your favourite sound or smell?
Favourite sound is the dawn chorus and the call of the Kokako. Here in Leytonstone it’s the whistle on the tube trains.

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What is your greatest life achievement?
Not sure – still existing?

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Get on with it while you can, do what makes you happy. Be yourself and don’t waste time with nay-sayers or those people that take themselves too seriously.

What is your earliest memory?
Being on the side of a mountain in a backpack, looking down on a small mountain tarn.

Russell favours a coffee at Horizon, corner of Burghley Road. Photo: SE
Russell favours a coffee at Horizon, corner of Burghley Road. Photo: SE

What makes you unhappy?
Graduating over twenty years ago and still having a student loan.

What simple thing would improve your quality of life?
A continuous walkway along the bank of the River Roding, in Essex, and improving the water quality of this stream.

What is your most unappealing habit?
Procrastination.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Fresh black mulberries at all cost. General hunter-gathering and foraging.

Where do you hang out?
I hang out in my shop on the weekends and mostly in my studio at home mid-week. I enjoy a pint or two of good IPA at the Red Lion. The Jazz bands at the Luna Lounge add a buzz to the town. I like to ride along the Lee Navigation or just go exploring random places. I walked to Barking one day to get my bearings. A morning coffee at Horizons (pictured) usually hits the spot.

Who or what do you hate and why?
I was taught hate is a very strong word, but I do hate a few things, especially the way the A12 is dug deep enough to be a tunnel – just that they forgot the lid. I dislike the betting shops and also the swathe of unimaginative businesses on the High Road. I must confess that the approach on Joseph-Ray Road to the Post Office for collecting your parcels underscores my pet hate: rubbish and disregard for the public realm. You don’t get to choose whether you walk here (tut tut Network Rail!).

What’s been your best experience? Worst?
A season tree-skiing in deep-dry powder in Canada a decade or two ago would be a best. Worst experience as a teenage was thinking the tide was going to get us on a coastal night-walk scout exercise in Taranaki. We tried to climb a cliff and ended up in a land-slide. We all survived but was pretty freaky.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My beard makes me look like a geriatric wannabe-lumbersexual. The sad thing is I have walked to work carrying a chainsaw and an axe.

Tell us a secret.
I don’t like goat’s cheese; and I fear I’m developing a phobia of social media and most things online.

What has your career taught you?
As a professional fly-fishing guide, I learnt that money and gear didn’t necessarily make you a good fishermen or good company on a river, for that fact. I also learnt that women are better listeners and they generally catch bigger fish. As a landscape architect, I learnt to move on. And now I’m a humble letterpress printer.

A favourite: meze at Olive. Photo: SE
A favourite: meze at Olive. Photo: SE

What is your favourite dish and why?
Here in Leytonstone I enjoy the mixed meze at The Olive (pictured). My all-time great however would have to be freshly harvested oysters, scallops or crayfish lightly steamed.

What are you working on right now?
I’ve been hand-carving a fount of 10-Line (120pt) wooden type for an art project in New Zealand for the past fortnight. This is a challenge with over sixty characters to make from Rimu timber recovered from a house ‘red-stickered’ or condemned after the Christchurch Earthquake.

Describe yourself as an animal.
I’ve been described as a bear. I like their surroundings, and the way they can swoop up a salmon is good by me.

Finally, who or what do you love?
My wife and six year-old daughter. I also love fly-fishing and downhill skiing. Currently though, letterpress printing with old wooden type is right up there.

Interview: Tim Sowula @timsowula

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Find Hooksmith on 54 Church Lane, Leytonstone E11 1HE. Follow @hooksmithpress on Twitter. Do you want to star in our Ich Bin Q&A, or know someone who should? We urgently need interviewees so please email: info@leytonstoner.london. Thanks!
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