On The Wealth of Nations

I was reading an article on a website dedicated to Adam Smith while researching for this block, the society running the site felt such sympathy for Smith because his work had influenced Karl Marx, really as though this was a terrible legacy. Another legacy Smith leaves is his influence on an insignificant printmaker from north London and her winter 2020/2021 project.

Starring Adam Smith as the Division of Labour

I had always wanted to make a print influenced by the first few chapters of the Wealth of Nations. I had a vision of an early industrial factory and a pin maker/blacksmith/cog in the wheel character. It wasn’t until I reread the book last year that I decided to use Adam Smith as the star of this print, capturing his physical form to represent his intellectual one. My print stars Adam Smith as the division of labour, a character that works through every process of pin making.

My largescale graphic novel posters begin with small sketches drawn directly onto tracing paper. I can cut around the illustration and move it with the ease I imagine is afforded those people with the iPad pro. At the start of this project I thought my block wasn’t big enough, and sought the largest one I could find. Then, the illustrations were too large to fit words comfortably in between. Once both of these had been seen to, I had the pleasure of reversing the composition on to the block individually and transferring the print.

Block too small, illustrations too large

My favourite part of the printmaking process is always always the carving. While the illustration and composition of the print can takes weeks, the carving is completed in days. I used my Pfeil L11/0.5 tool exclusively on the letters and my Flexcut FR803 and FR802 on everything else.

The composition before transfer

In the opening of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith writes about the productivity of the labouring class being the measure of the wealth of the nation. He argues that one blacksmith would struggle to make more than one pin in a day, whereas ten men together working on different components of the process could make 12lbs of pins a day – and here we have the production line.

Sometimes I forget that Wealth of Nations was published in 1776, against a backdrop of feudalist economics. It’s difficult to consider that his book was also read at a time when capitalist economics wasn’t an established form of trading. Adam Smith argued that the correct way to practice economics was by the dictates of capitalism. In this part of the book he explains that while wealth is produced through labour, not all who work are afforded the produce of their labour. He argues that through hard graft workers may enjoy a better lifestyle. I’ve used the mighty hand of capitalism holding the worker to illustrate how industrial economics ironically grips the worker and keeps them in their place. This is the eighteenth century equivalent of a millionaire telling you to give up avocado on toast in order to save money to buy a house.

Reading this book in 2020 has been weird, the concept of labouring for ever is hard to digest, and in a century where we’ve seen a neo-colonial outsourcing of productivity, and a year in which we’ve seen furloughed workers, I really wonder about the future of our way of living.

a tiny Adam Smith leaning against a giant pin

You can buy this print from my Etsy shop, on the dukaan page on this site or by clicking the link below.


Published by iprintatnight

Carver of prints, taker of pictures, drinker of coffee and haver of all the feels. From my inky fingers, through the journey of my prints and all the way to you - these are my thoughts, the stories and the processes behind my prints.

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