Thursday, August 02, 2007

Summer Workshops: Etching and Gravure

Master Printer Catherine Brooks and workshop participants

This is the last week of workshops at Crown Point Press. Once a year the studios are opened to all artists to study and experiment with our printers. This year the topics on offer are Etching and Gravure. Spots are awarded by lottery. The workshops are limited to 10-12 people in etching, four in Gravure. One workshopper commented that winners of the lottery must have some psychic ability because the randomly selected printmakers have made such a harmonious working group.

Students from all levels can sign up, from professional printers to people with curiosity about prints and just a little etching or darkroom experience. Everyone works at his or her own speed. The more experienced people cookan get more done, but everyone benefits from observing everyone else’s progress.

John McCaskill takes a moment out from the photogravure workshop with master printer Emily York to talk to me. He’s impressed that the workshop creates an atmosphere where you can learn and get a lot of work done. Some workshops feel like lectures, he says, but here there is space created for people to really concentrate on their own projects as well as listen to the demonstrations. He says he’ll never get over “how involved the photogravure process is – but the final product is so beautiful. I may never get a chance to make another one but now I know.”

Workshop participant John McCaskill

Leslie Andelin is working on a geometric fantasy in the etching workshop. Right now she's printing with a palette of greens and blues. She has been coming here as often as she has been able to get in (through the lottery process) _ since about 2000. She told me she has collected some prints from Crown Point Press: "I have a Chuck Close and some Wayne Thiebaud sketches. It’s wonderful to be able to own works by such important artists.”

I ask Leslie how the printmaking process affects her regular work as a painter. She says, “The printmaking really helps with my painting _ the ability to change colors. I just explore color and then I bring that back into my studio. You have to be able to take risks; you are forced to because of the nature of the reversal process. You just have to let go. I was working on a Venice boat scene, it was all red, yellow, blue, you know, beautiful daylight, and I flipped the colors _ same colors different order _ and suddenly it was a night scene and it was so beautiful! You can’t do that in painting.”

Shari Deboer and Jenny Olsson share a large table in the etching workshop led by master printer Catherine Brooks. I ask Shari how the workshop has been for her so far, and she says,”I thought I had come with an idea of what to do but after the first hour I just threw that aside. She showed us one print and I decided I just want to do THAT technique. You don’t need a plan!”

Jenny Olsson came here from Sweden. This is her first time in the United States. She misses her little son at home, but she is having a fine time experimenting. She has not done etching since college. Her eyes get very wide and she tells me, “I HAVE to try everything that you have here _ just get all of it. I’m using small plates, you see.” She shuffles her copper plates like a lucky poker hand. She’s etching gentle drips and blots on her plates. She says “I love the spit bite! I’ve tried the hard ground and printed that on top. I want to try the soap ground too.” She has three more days to get it all in _ I’m sure she’ll manage.

Workshop participant Wendy Kahle

Charles Stinson is working on a colored pencil sketch. His work area is giving off a beehive-like energy. I ask what he’s up to. He is making some psychedelic botanical images (more Lewis Carroll psychedelic than Pink Floyd) with aggressively primary colors. He calls them his "very weird flowers." I ask what techniques he’s using. He explains, “I’ve never done color separation using soft ground techniques, or rather when I have used soft ground before I’ve had terrific failures. I had to use those plates for other purposes. So this has been a big success for me.”

Carolyn Dodds is cutting up some Bay Area crusty bread for lunch. She tells me, “Irish genes require a lot of starch, and we have terrible bread in Australia !” It is her first time in the States. She is a printmaker who has been mostly relief prints because it didn’t require a studio but she was originally trained in etching. She always wanted to try photogravure. “I’d been fishing for a few years," she says, making inquiries about where she should go to learn. “Because this isn’t something you could just learn anywhere. It’s a lifelong ambition.” Crown Point press was recommended to her and here she is. She tells me that the studio experience here is special because of the design of the studio. “I find that American prints are always technically superb, but working here there a lot of practical things about the way the studio is set up that you constantly find yourself thinking, why didn’t I think of that?”

Paule Kraemer wrote in her post-workshop evaluation from the session last week: “All of my bad habits have been corrected.” We hope so, but just in case some of them persist, there’s always next year. Applications are due in March!

-Kim Bennett


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