Monday, 10 December 2018

Printmaking residency USA (2)

Earlier this year I announced that I received the Visual Artist and Craft Maker Award to do a printmaking residency at Zea Mays Printmaking (ZMP) in the USA. You can read more about that in my previous article. From 30 October until 12 November I was there and below you can read about my awesome experience there.

Zea Mays Printmaking
Zea Mays printmaking studio is based in a former cutlery building in Florence near Northampton, Massachusetts. It's a huge building!

Zea Mays Printmaking on ground and second floor

The ground floor is where the printmaking courses are run, research into non-toxic printmaking is done, the Sanford gallery is for members' exhibitions and where the Annex (my studio) is. The first floor contains the members' studio, the office and the appartment (where I stayed).

The Members' studio

Rolled up ink in the members' studio

Participants during a printmaking course

Participant during a printmaking course

Participants during a printmaking course

Relief rollers

Instructions for non-toxic etching

Inky scrim

Letterpress alphabet

The Loo Gallery with a monthly rotating member exhibition

Members' exhibition at the Sanford Gallery

The huge Takach press in the Annex which was exclusively mine for this period!

My plan during the two weeks I was here was to create large collagraph prints and then make artists' books from these prints. I had ordered some materials in the USA and had it sent over to ZMP. That was easier than to add to the already full suitcase with other materials I brought from home. As I hadn't chosen my subject yet, I decided to let the environment inspire me. I was there in the most beautiful season with some decent weather and just in time to see the vibrant colours of the leaves before they fell off. ZMP lent me a bike so first I spent time to get familiar with the area. They have many bike-friendly roads, traffic is not heavy and they are very cautious drivers. There was also a dedicated bike track, the Norwottock Bike Trail which I really enjoyed!

Cycling the Norwottock Bike Trail

The Norwottock trail is part of the Mass Central rail trail

The rail bridge at Northampton

The Connecticut river

The railway bridge gave splendid views over the Connecticut river and that's when I decided to choose the flow of water as my subject.

Using the map as my guide I carved/cut out from the chipboard I had purchased in the USA. It was the first time I was using this kind of board so I was a bit nervous and hoped it would work. I was luckily not disappointed; I could easily peel off the top layer from the parts I had cut, making a nice indentation for the ink to set. I also scraped into the surface to add some more texture. Instead of sealing the plate with Shellac which I normally do, I used a non-toxic method in the form of acrylic varnish. That worked really well too and no bad smells!

Carving chipboard with a scalpel to create a collagraph plate

Me in action in the beautiful studio

As the plate was quite big it took a lot of physical effort and time to apply and wipe off the ink (intaglio method). For the first few prints I had to find the right balance in amount of ink, especially in the smaller grooves. Initially I only used one colour (Prussian Blue) but after I received some very valuable feedback from one of the tutors, I experimented with combining two techniques in applying ink: intaglio (which I ususally do) by using a squeegee + toothbrushes and once wiped off and the relief method where the ink was applied only to the raised area of the plate by using a relief roller (I only used this for some linocuts in the past). For this layer I used a terracotta colour. Normally you would leave that second layer of ink as it is, but I wanted to manipulate it and create various tones on the plate (while the blue was still underneath) so I had another intense session of wiping off the ink. All the effort was definitely worth it, I was very pleased with the result!

One of the final prints inspired by the Connecticut river

Inspired by the flow of water, I made another collagraph plate (with same kind of chipboard) by creating textures in a abstract way. I used molding paste, scrumbled up tissue paper, pieces of paperbags (every supermarket has them here!) and netting. This video shows (speeded up) how I wipe off the ink with scrim.

                                                         Wiping off ink from my collagraph plate

Certain areas were more wiped off than others to create tonal effects. As a print on its own, I don't think it works as there is too much going on. There is no point of focus and the netting is not the right texture. My plan is to use the print in artists' books so I was not too bothered. It was all about experimenting and having fun with different materials!

Water texture print

Before I left for the USA, I heard I was selected for an international print exchange (via Instagram). 20 printmakers would take part and each person would receive 19 different prints at the end. The theme was reflection. I had brought some Toyobo photopolymer plates and my design on film so that I could work on that too at ZMP. A positive and a negative image based on one of my photographs was printed on Pictorico Ultra Premium OHP Transparency film. I then exposed both images onto two different plates with the lightbox in the darkroom with the settings for a relief plate. Then I washed off the photopolymer that had been masked by the film.

The lightbox in action in the darkroom

 Here's a video while printing off the two plates onto one piece of paper.

                                                            Pulling off my photopolymer print

This is just a small batch of the prints. In the end I had to make about 30 so that I could select the best ones.

Reflection print from two photopolymer plates (Toyobo)

According to Wikipedia "Northampton is known as an academic, artistic, musical, and a countercultural hub. It features a large politically liberal community along with numerous alternative health and intellectual organizations. [...] Northampton is the most politically liberal medium-size city (population 25,000–99,000) in the United States. The city has a high proportion of residents who identify as gay and lesbian, a high number of same-sex households, and is a popular destination for the LGTB community".

I only found this text after I had come back, but this is exactly how I experienced the culture there. I felt at home from the day I arrived!

To give myself some rest from all that printing and learn more about Northampton's culture, I visited it's Historic Museum and saw the exhibition "Chaotic Freedom and the scars of slavery: from Baton Rouge to Northampton". Distressing but important to not forget this horrible past!

I also visited an exhibition at A.P.E. gallery where selected members of ZMP showed their work.

A.P.E gallery in Northampton

I was instantly drawn to one of the ceiling hangings and artists' books by Edda Valborg Sigurdardottir.

Detail of Edda Valborg's mixed media work

Another artist whos work inspired me was Nancy Diessner. She had incorporated intaglio prints in a kayak sculpture!

Print sculpture by Nancy Diessner

Print sculpture by Nancy Diessner

On another day Liz Chalfin, the director of ZMP, invited me to come along to a talk by German book artist Veronika Schaepers, organised by Special Collections at Smith College. She brought a few books that were not in the library's collection. The amount of detail and dedication to create books like that is just mindblowing! Here are two videos where Veronika shows one of her "woven" artists' books.

Veronika showing her artists' book

   Veronika showing her artists' book

At the end of my residency, I went down to Special Collections again to see 10 other artists' books with unusual structures such as Daniel E. Kelm, Liz Chalfin, Julie Chen and Ken Botnick.
Back at ZMP I had the opportunity to see their own artist' book "Traces", a collaboration between poet Annie G. Rogers and selected ZMP members.

Artists' book "Traces" with prints from ZMP members

I also viewed artists' book "Of Thin Ice" by ZMP member Tekla McInerey which had just been purchased by the New York Library Special Collections. It was inspired by Shackleton and Scott's expeditions to Antarctica. The photos here don't do it justice, you really have to feel the different (handmade) papers and see the subtleties in the prints upclose to fully appreciate the making of this book!

Artists' book "On Thin Ice" by Tekla McInerey

Artists' book "On Thin Ice" by Tekla McInerey

Detail of one of the pages "On Thin Ice" by Tekla McInerey

While I was there ZMP heard they received a grant to fund improvements to their studio. A fantastic achievement! During the preview of one of the members' exhibitions a local tv crew from 22 News came round to cover the story. Unfortunately the directors Liz and Sheldon had other commitments that night, but members were able to inform the journalists. And then they interviewed me! I was a bit overwhelmed (and not prepared at all!) but I think it went ok. You can watch the broadcast here.

Having fun AFTER the interview

My plan was to create artists' books from my new prints, but as it took much longer to make them and then to dry them, there was not much time left. I also realised I had to print the back side of the prints too before I could start making books. So while they were drying I made some mock-ups, inspired by Paul Jackson's books about cut and folding techniques.
This one is made by embossing paper first with one of my collagraph plates and then rubbing graphite on top.

Experiment pop-up card

I also brought Hedi Kyle's Art of the Fold book with me which gave me many wonderful ideas what to do with my prints. This one is a mock-up of the crown book made with newsprint. My head was spinning with the amount of possibilities!

Mock-up crown book

At the end of my residency I had an informal open studio event for ZMP members and tutors. I showed them my work and spoke about the various printmaking processes I had used. It was really lovely to hear their positive feedback and questions. I was actually quite sad that I had to say goodbye to this wonderful community!

Back home I made this card to thank ZMP. It's the crown greeting card structure from the Art of the Fold book. The designs come from my collagraph prints I made during my residency and are reproduced on Canson Aquarelle rag fine art paper.

Card for ZMP (front)

Card for ZMP (front)

Last but not least, I would like to thank Aberdeenshire Council and Creative Scotland. They have given me the chance to develop my non-toxic printmaking in a totally new environment and be part of a renowned, privately-owned printmaking studio. I have learnt new printmaking techniques, have experienced working on my art full-time and worked with a different press. I have been inspired by its members and other artists in the local community and their exceptional quality of artwork. The feedback I have received from members and tutors has given me more confidence to continue the creative path I'm following now. I'm ready to take my art practice further and look for opportunities to exhibit my artists' books nationally and internationally.

VACMA award sponsors

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