I was contacted by Larry Hewett, an art instructor at West Columbus High School in North Carolina, asking me for some information about printmaking with MDF, and then asking if I'd consider participating in an interview for his forum. Of course, I'm always happy to talk about printmaking, so here is the interview, which is posted on Art and Art Ed, a Ning social network set up by Larry for artists and art educators to communicate and share with each other.
Larry: Can you tell me something about your arts education in elementary and high school? What about college also?Thanks for the opportunity, Larry!
Amie: My parents kept me entertained from a very early age by providing me with newsprint and crayons. I've kind of been hooked on art ever since. I enjoyed art throughout my schooling, although I wouldn't say I had great art instruction, especially not in high school. I didn't take art for my post-secondary degree; I have a B.Sc. (Hon.) in conservation biology. Most of what I learned was either self-taught, through my grandmother (Caro Woloshyn, an accomplished artist), and I took continuing education courses and workshops through the Federation of Canadian Artists, Emily Carr University of Art & Design, and a local printmaking studio, Dundarave Print Workshop, to expand my knowledge in specific areas, such as elements of design and composition, colour theory, and techniques (painting, printmaking, drawing, etc.)
Larry: Where do you get the inspiration for your prints? From photographs, from life experiences, etc.?
Amie: The inspiration for my work comes from my fascination of the world around us. My scientific background strongly influences my choices of subject matter. Nature and the artifacts of civilization are my subjects. The interaction and inter-relationship of our technological heritage with nature, the irony of the competition between nature and progress, and the sheer beauty and diversity of the natural world form the content of my current work. My imagery is realistic, but my focus is often abstracted through magnification or cropping to an almost unrecognizable result. I work almost entirely from photographs, because then I can get the detail that I wish to achieve, especially with mechanical subject matter.
Larry: Why do you do woodcuts? What about them is so intriguing? Do you do other forms of art as well?
Amie: Please allow me to clarify. I don't actually do woodcuts. None of my prints are the result of blocks carved from wood (the only exception to this was a single wood engraving I carved from boxwood). I do relief printing; most of the material I use as my substrate is man-made (e.g. Safetycut, linoleum and high-density fibreboard or HDF). I don't currently use wood because I don't really want to incorporate wood grain into my work; neither the challenge of carving with and against the grain, nor the texture provided by the wood grain itself. I might change my mind one day!
I enjoy the graphic qualities that I'm able to achieve using relief printmaking. The technique is also very easy for anyone to try: I emphasize the low-tech aspects whenever I'm teaching beginners. Of course, you can get as much equipment and tools that your heart desires; but you can also start with a simple lino cutting set, a wooden spoon, some paper and paint, if you want. Remember potato stamping as a kid? That's relief printmaking!
Other printmaking techniques that I've done include watercolour monotype, acrylic monotype, intaglio (etching), wood engraving and stone lithography. They all offer their individual appeals. Monotypes are extremely painterly, loose, spontaneous and colourful. Etching and wood engraving both provide opportunities for extremely fine line work and detail. Stone lithography is an extraordinary print medium: you can achieve almost any texture, line or mark-making quality with the materials and techniques available in lithography. Unfortunately, it's very material- and equipment-intensive, and the smells of the chemicals rather bother me. I take advantage, now and then, of a friend's litho studio, when I want to create a print that has a more immediate mark-making quality, especially if I want to get the feel of a charcoal drawing in the print.
I have also done watercolour and acrylic painting, and still create pen & watercolour sketches en plein air now and then. I also enjoy pyrography (wood burning), but haven't done much of that lately.
Larry: How many colors do most of your prints have? How many prints in your editions?
Amie: I keep my editions quite small. The largest editions I have are about 40, and that's only when I'm participating in a print exchange, where various printmakers each contribute an edition of prints equal to the number of participants. At the end of the exchange, you have a complete collection of prints from 20-40 other printmakers. Normally, my editions are between 8-12, because I don't have much use for a large edition (I have a hard enough time selling one, let alone 100!). Not only that, each print is very time consuming, and I lose interest after too many pulls of one run. I love figuring out the process of getting all the colours I want, but once I've done a few successful ones, I'm interested in moving onto the next image.
As for colours, I don't have a "standard" number of colours. Three or four colours is pretty common. I think the most colours I've ever done in a print was about eight.
Larry: What size do you normally work with?
Amie: I tend to work on a small scale (3"x4" is common), because I feel that the delicacy of my work mirrors the beautiful minutiae we are surrounded by. The inherent physical restrictions challenge my skills as an artist and as a printmaker. By working on small, detailed images, I encourage the viewer to stop and look more closely, as I do, whenever I see a rusty hinge, an insect, or a tidepool. I have also done some larger prints, especially with lithography and monotypes. Until recently, I didn't have a press, so it's very difficult to work very large without a press. Not impossible, but more challenging than I'm interested in. I also like to enter international miniature print competitions, and they have very specific size restrictions, so that provides another incentive to work small. I have started doing larger prints, however, now that I have a press (see below), and it's nice to have more flexibility in size. Even though the outer dimensions of the prints are getting larger, I still like to work in really tight details, so that hasn't changed, just the surface area covered by the details!
Larry: Do you prefer black and white or color?
Amie: I don't think that I have a preference. I decide whether I'm going to work in colour or not based on the image that I'm working on. Some images speak to me specifically as a black and white; others challenge me to discover the appropriate interpretation of their colours. I do enjoy working with the reduction technique to create a multiple colour image: I start with the first ink colour, print up a bunch of those, then carve away on the block what I wish to stay that colour. I then print up the next colour, carefully registering the block with the first colour on the paper. I then carve away anything on the block that I wish to stay that second colour, and ink up the third colour and print that. And so on, until I've finished all of the colours for the image. As I carve away the block, I can't go back and change something in a previous layer or colour. So I have to print extras at the beginning to allow for registration errors, and to allow for changes to the image as I work through the colours, if I wish. The reduction method, while very challenging, is very satisfying; it's like solving a puzzle. It's also a case of "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts"; if you were to do a multiple block print, colours sit beside each other on the paper, whereas with a reduction, colours layer on top of each other, interacting with each other, much like glazing in a painting, to create different effects and colours than if you tried to mix that colour directly on your palette and print it.
That said, working in a single colour is also very challenging. Providing appropriate textures to imply changes in value and lighting, and getting a perfectly inked single colour both take a lot of work and thought. An effective balance of ink vs paper is very satisfying, especially if the image is graphically strong.
Larry: Do you print with a press of some kind or do it by hand?
Amie: All of my earlier work was printed by hand, and anything that I do during a workshop or demo is still printed by hand. My husband purchased a Richeson baby press for me in the spring of 2008, and we came across an incredible deal on a Conrad Combo etching/litho press that summer. So I've been using a press only for the last year. Before that, and still, when I'm teaching, I used a wooden spoon to burnish the back of the paper, which transfers the image from the inked block to the paper. As I mentioned, I like to emphasize the low-tech aspect of relief printmaking. For the longest time, I used my kitchen table as my studio, carving & printing by hand there.
Larry: Is there one particular print that you feel is your favorite or best? Which one and why?
Amie: That is a really tough question. I guess the short answer is no, not a single one. I have a few favourites for different reasons.
"Pays d'Hiver" (Winter Country) is a beautiful representation of a single colour relief print: the balance of black and white (or rather, ink vs paper, as it's printed onto grey paper), the textures, and the subject matter, all just work really well.
"Ootpik #1 (Not a Night Owl)" is a ludicrous, whimsical piece, and I have no idea where it came from. I don't draw like this! I love it because it's so different.
"Northwestern" - while not my very first reduction cut, it's one of my earliest, and certainly one with a lot of colours (I forget, but at least 6). I feel this is overall a very effective piece, is very representative of my style with reduction, and is of one of my favourite subjects: crows!
Larry: What advice would you give to a student just starting in woodcuts or reduction printing?
Amie: Just try it. Invest a little bit of money in real printmaking ink, and real printmaking paper, because the results will be more effective than using just anything you can get your hands on. Do a little research; if you're trying it on your own, get some books out of the library, and search the internet, especially YouTube. If you're able to take a class, definitely do it - there is so much value you can glean technique-wise that will make your printmaking experience so much more satisfying, stuff that you probably wouldn't have figured out on your own. Ask questions - find a printmaker (online or near by, whatever) whose work you admire and speak with them about it; chances are really good that they'd be only to happy to share their experience, at least a little bit, with you. Join an online printmaking community, like the printmaking forum on WetCanvas!, so you can chat with other printmakers, get some feedback and help. But the bottom line: just try it, and have fun.
Larry: Who are some of your favorite printmakers and why?
Amie: Well, given that I didn't do any art history, and am sorely lacking in any knowledge of printmakers before my time, everyone that I can possibly recommend as my favourites are my contemporaries in time (I would not dare compare myself skill-wise; I've got a long way to go yet!).
Andy English and Jim Westergard are two world-renowned wood engraving artists. Both are remarkably skilled printmakers, both have incredible talent for detail; Andy for an almost Victorian, illustrative quality, and Jim for his quirky sense of humour that shines throughout all his work. Both work almost exclusively in black & white, and I strive to have my work reflect the balance of ink and paper that these two engravers do so skillfully.
Natalia Moroz is a printmaker and illustrator (as many contemporary printmakers seem to be). I love her style - very European, graphic, and effective. Her colour choices are very simiple and naturalistic. I have learned a lot about plotting my colours from Natalia's work.
Sherrie York is a printmaker and illustrator after my own heart: I strive to have her skill at representing the natural world. She spends an awful lot more time drawing than I do; if I ever did as much drawing as she does, then I might approach her skill eventually.
Finally, as a collective, the printmakers on Etsy who are part of Printsy are remarkable artists; I find many of them incredibly inspiring and talented. Check out the Printsy blog for the weekly "Who's Printsy" and "Printsy Interview" features and you'll see what I mean. None of these people were juried into this, yet almost every Printsy member shows very high quality skill and talent in their chosen medium. Maybe it's the nature of the printmaker beast?