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See inside Canberra artist John Loane's Mitchell studio

Forget romantic notions of paint-splattered tables, air spiked with solvent fumes, overflowing ash trays and long-forgotten coffee mugs. The reality is a little different in the studios of three Canberra artists.

Nestled among plumbing, plasterboard and steel workshops in a Mitchell industrial estate the studio of printer and artist John Loane looks pretty nondescript.

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The only indication of what goes on behind closed doors is the faint stains of red ink on a piece of plywood blocking the window next to the steel door.

Inside, a huge multi-panelled print by famed performance artist and printmaker Mike Parr looms large on a side wall looking down on an etching printing press, cabinets, travelling trunks and tables dotted around the room.

Printmaker John Loane with the etching press in his studio at Mitchell.
Printmaker John Loane with the etching press in his studio at Mitchell. Photo: Jamila Toderas

The back wall is lined with stacked panels, airing racks and occasionally one of Loane's own prints and in the corner of the room his 20-year-old artist son Francis is crouched over a desk busily drawing.

Loane has been based out of the cavernous, concrete-walled warehouse for the past three years after his six-year stint in a much-smaller space at the ANCA ended.

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With printmaking his primary focus, Loane says he works closely with artists to find the best technique to fit their ideas – whether it's etching, lithography or relief printing – as well as occasionally working on his own pieces.

But he's quick to shy away from the idea that the end product is collaboration.

"The C-word is a big word at the moment, but in a way there's a clear distinction between the artist and the printer," he says.

"I like the way that really good artists work with a printer ... people often ask me ... 'does he [Parr] need a printmaker because he's got one arm?'... but the answer is that Stelarc, the other senior performance artist, has three arms on occasion and he also uses a printer."

Currently he's immersed in the mammoth task of collating material from 28 years of working with Parr for a catalogue to coincide with Parr's retrospective at the National Gallery later this year.

After starting art school to paint Loane fell in love with the "indirectness" of printmaking in the late 1960s because it was "easier than drawing".

He describes his own art as "automatic writing", blaming the "non-referential scribble" made by reworking etchings with layers of ink added with spatulas and stamps on his ancestor Sir Isaac Pitman who invented shorthand.

Loane says he only returned to creating his own work about 10 years ago when he moved to Canberra.

In early 2015 he had a show at Megalo.

"I'm not looking for something particularly aesthetic, it's an action and then if I don't like the look of it I cover it all up with ink," he says.

"I was never interested in figuration; I was never much good at representational drawing.

"I enjoyed printmaking more I suppose because of the materials ... and the indirect production of image was less scary then the immediacy of painting and drawing.

"My favourite aspect about printmaking is the smell."

Loane says he has no set schedule when working in the studio unless an artist is there, but usually arrives early in summer to avoid the heat.

"If Mike's here it's usually a full-on few days at a time ... at the end of the day I'm beat," he says.

"It's very physical, especially working with Mike. On a normal day there might be 12 big plates that make up one work.

"There's a lot of printing of big plates, or they might be biting the acid ... inking them up, running them through the press, banging them up on the wall to see how it all looks together."

Loane says the end result is always a surprise.

Other than the artists he has worked with over the years – including Imants Tillers and more recently Filipino artist Jigger Cruz, Aboriginal artist Daniel Boyd, and Melbourne artists Brent Harris and Sangeeta Sandrasegar​ – Loane says his son Francis also inspires him.

As does literature and music which he often plays while working in the studio.

"There's a lot of good artists around and if they're conceptually sound that's what interests me more than a particular genre or way of working," he says.