By Robert Blood
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Barb Wills, group facilitator, and Maria Lynam, both of the Contemporary Printmakers of Prescott, whose show, “Outside the Lines,” runs through Nov. 22 at ‘Tis Art Center & Gallery, 105 S. Cortez St., 928-775-0223.]
How did this group and this show come about?
Wills: There was a discussion in an advanced printmaking class at Yavapai College. We talked about the fact that the work that was going on there was so individual that it’d be nice to get the community to see what printmaking is all about and what goes on at the college in the art classes. We started out in 2014. I put together a submission for a printmaking show, and we’ve done it every year since. This is our third annual show. We also had a printmaking show at the Yavapai College gallery in March.
Lynam: We got the opportunity through Barb, who’s on the executive board at ‘Tis Gallery, so she figured all this out. We got together all the advanced printmakers at Yavapai College and decided to have everything professionally matted and framed, and we went for it. We’ve done that show every year since then and we’ve also shown at The Raven. We’re all passionate about printmaking. It’s so interesting because there are 20 or so of us and, when you look at our work, nothing is derivative. Everyone has their own vision, their own approach to a subject, and nobody copies that.
Wills: The group is people from their 30s to their late 70s. The only requirement is that everyone has taken all three levels of printmaking offered at the college. There are 22 of us, plus the instructor, so that’s 23 artists total in the show.
What are the basics of printmaking?
Wills: You’ve got your base materials, which are what you’re going to be printing on, which can be paper, or metal, or fabric, or wood, or a lot of different things. Then you have the inks which are going to transfer the color and image from your plate. Your plate is where all the art takes place. You can etch into a copper plate, or cut into a wooden plate, or you can manipulate a monoplate, plus there are a multitude of digital processes. There’s also screen printing and also plates that develop in the sun called solar plates.
What’s the range of pieces and methods at the show?
Willis: You’ll see a linocut of Bob Dylan, an intricate print of a quarry in Minnesota, and some real fine line relief prints that are similar to the grid structure of an Agnus Martin. You’ll see monoprints of sweeping landscapes that were literally composed on a piece of plexi, and you’ll see reduction prints, which is when, every time you print one color, you cut away more for the next color so you can never go back. You’ll see some etchings, which are made by using ferric chloride to etch lines into copper. It’ll be a really good overview for someone who doesn’t know the range of printmaking and wants to see what all the possibilities are.
Lynam: Barb is exceptional at printing on fabric — that’s her area. We also have a gentleman in the group, Bob Edwards, who does very fine, very detailed woodcuts then collages them on the press. We’ve also go Steve Straussner, who does a combination of screenprinting and linocuts. He’s doing a series called “Idols, Heroes, & Villains,” that’s portraits of political and social figures from the 1970s, and it’s up to the viewer what category they fall into.
What’s been your progress as an artist since you started printmaking?
Lynam: I had no idea what printmaking really was. I’d met a woman in an art class and she had this cool little notebook and I asked her where she’d gotten it. She said, “I made the cover in printmaking,” and I said, “Do you think I could do that, too?” And I just signed up. That’s how I got started. I had no idea about all the different types of materials that you can get into. As I progressed, I learned all the different types of processes. That’s really the way you should do it. Learn everything, and once you have that under your belt, you can start combining media. You can start with a monoprint, where you apply ink to a plate and then you print on paper, then you could do an etching and sketch into copper, ink that, then print on top of the monoprint, then, if you wanted, you can add some add something via Chine-collé or collaging materials. You can have many, many layers when you’re printmaking. A lot of people who don’t do printmaking don’t understand that; they think it goes through the press once, and you’re done.
Wills: I’m a retired high-tech engineer, so I went in in 2004 knowing nothing about printmaking. My expectation was that I would learn something about art and meet other people interested in art. So, that’s how I started. I only knew color theory from the perspective of physics; I didn’t know how to mix colors and I’d never used a printing press before. It was all new for me, which was kind of exciting. You’ll find a lot of people come to printmaking from painting or photography, though. … I started with relief plates. It was surprising for me to see what happens to the image on the inked plate when you roll it through a press and apply pressure and transfer it to whatever you’re printing on.
What can you say about your own art today?
Willis: I have a piece in the show called “Layered Structures” that’s done with multiple woodcuts. I do a lot of walking and hiking, and that’s where all my imagery comes from — the layers, lines, and shapes. Coming out of the high tech industry, I worked with a lot of multilayered circuits, so I tend to see the world in layers. When I started printmaking, I saw things as circuit structures. You don’t realize how much of what’s in your mind and what you visualize comes out when you start working with your hands. … Since 2004, I went from printing on paper to teaching myself how to print on fabric and coming up with my own recipe for an ink was permanent that worked on fabric and with a woodcut plate. Being an engineer, you live and die by experimentation, and that discipline helped with that process. I kept thinking, if it takes two years, then it takes two years. You have to keep trying things. I progressed. I was part of a show that toured museums in Europe for three years. I had shows in Korea. I got an award for design. I’ve actually surprised myself with how successful I’ve been with this, but I’ve had to really work at it.
Lynam: Right now I’m exploring digital methods. My backgrounds are either completely digital or they’re monoprints, then, after I print, I include collage. My pieces are considered multimedia. I’m trying to combine printmaking and other mediums, including painting. Right now, I’m working on a series where I start out by making my own linocuts, then I stamp them into a media that’s plaster-like, so I create a raised surface, then I sand it down and do it again, then add layers until I’m happy with it. Then I usually add gold leaf and paint into that. It’s a process I’ve developed myself. I try to avoid pieces that require framing because that can be quite expensive. That’s how this process started; trying to avoid that expensiveness. Anyway, I know what I’m trying to achieve, so I take my time, sand back, and reapply in certain areas as I go. It takes time to work that way, but that’s how I work.
Why forge a group from people who took a specific series of college classes?
Lynam: At the college, we have three presses available to us. It’s a great place to work, and we’ve had excellent instructors. Every new instructor has brought something else to the table. Our current instructor brings more of a professional printmaker’s mindset and has taught us so much. Our prior instructor was a book artist, who brought that skill to the table and also specialized in screen printing. Everybody works together, and it’s a great place to be.
Wills: We don’t want to be exclusive, and some of our younger members, when they hear that if they move up to the last class they can be in gallery shows, and that’s really exciting for them. Every year, we bring in one or two more people into the group, which only makes us better. At the college, we have access to all the materials, wonderful printing presses, and an instructor who’s a master printmaker with 15 years of university teaching experience. Even for people like me, who’ve been doing this for a long time, she can show us little refinements of things we’ve never heard before. It’s also nice being around people who are interested in the same thing. … A lot of us come out of bureaucratic and corporate jobs, so the last thig we want to do is have a whole lot of structure and meetings as a group. Once a year, I ask for updated images and bios for each member and update our show proposal with the help of Donn Rawlings.
What do you want people to take away from the show?
Wills: I think people just really need to take the time and look at the diversity of the work in the show. We’ll have some information about signing up for printmaking at Yavapai College there. We’d also love to have more people exhibiting with us. If we get more people to show, we’ll get more people to the school and get more people to the group.
“Outside the Lines,” a show from the Contemporary Printmakers of Prescott, runs through Nov. 22 at ‘Tis Art Center & Gallery, 105 S. Cortez St., 928-775-0223.
Robert Blood is a Mayer-ish-based freelance writer and ne’er-do-well who’s working on his last book, which, incidentally, will be his first. Contact him at BloodyBobby5@Gmail.Com.
Tags: 'Tis Art Center & Gallery, Barb Wills, Bob Edwards, Contemporary Printmakers of Prescott, Donn Rawlings, Maria Lynam, Outside the Lines, printmaking, Robert Blood, Steve Straussner, Yavapai College