What's in a Print? UGallery Artists Tell Us About Printmaking

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Doug Lawler, Magnificent Chemical, 2011, Drypoint etching using intaglio

Artists Doug Lawler, Elena Lacey and Karin Bruckner create distinctly different work. Doug uses muted, almost sepia shades while Karin oftentimes includes bright colors. Elena’s works have an intimate feeling to them, almost as if taken from someone’s journal. Doug’s pieces seem fantastical, as if plucked from a work of fiction.

Yet despite the differences between their work they all work with the same, complex medium — printmaking. It’s a medium that is not as easily explained as painting or photography. The process of printmaking, as with any medium, takes time and specific steps. But the awesome complexity and unique details of printmaking’s process make it especially fascinating.

In light of the upcoming Southern Graphics Council’s four-day event “Bridges: Spanning Tradition, Innovation, and Activism,” we talked to Elena, Karin and Doug about the unique medium that is printmaking. The conference will “investigate the intersections between traditional and emerging technologies” in printmaking.

The schedule includes exhibitions, demonstrations, panels and more. Elena, who has previously attended the conference, got interested in printmaking completely by accident. She joined the class after a life drawing class was too full. She fell in love.

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Elena Lacey, Odd Portrait, 2009, one-of-a-kind monotype print 

Elena focuses primarily on etching and mono printing and explained her process to us.

Etching is basically creating a drawing into a zinc or copper plate and rolling the ink into a plate and running it into a press onto paper. It’s a long process. It involves a lot of fire and tar and ink and its very hands-on, very messy — very fun, really! 

The process sounds complicated but Elena says that’s half the fun. 

It’s definitely a long process with lots of different steps. It’s very technical so even if you’re doing all the thing right steps, things can go wrong with the chemicals or random things — which is frustrating sometimes but also exciting because you can get some really beautiful mistakes.

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Karin Bruckner, EyeExam, 2011 

Karin also loves the accidents that can happen in the process. 

The elements that are my favorite parts of printmaking are precisely the ones that set printmaking apart from other mediums.  The ‘happy accident’ is an expression of elements beyond the artist’s control.

Karin made her first linocut in secondary school and later worked with a 19th century press donated to a community center in Manhattan. Once she started using that press, she was “hooked.”

Printmaking is a much less direct way of making a piece of art.  What you see is not necessarily what you get, you can anticipate but you can’t know until you see.  A printmaking press is much more interactive than a canvas, almost like playing chess.  

She continues to experiment with the medium for new results. 

I began pushing the boundaries of what is possible in printmaking and am currently working on combining everything I picked up along the way into my latest pieces. They are a combination of monoprint, etching, chine colle, painting, drawing and material. Layering continues to be very important to me. I work on either copper or acrylic printing plates. There often is an etching or a drawing on the plate before I go over it with layers of ink either applied with a brayer or transferred onto the plate by other means, such as plastic wrap, paper lithography or chine colle.

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Doug Lawler, Family Portrait Two, 2004

For Doug, one of the most important parts about printmaking lies in its history. He explains that in Paris, centuries ago, printmaking allowed artists to show their work beyond their small town. The medium served as a way to expand their marketplace.

Today, Doug enjoys creating narratives with printmaking and especially through dry point etching. Because there is no color involved, dry point etching involves a lot of attention to detail! 

You’re dealing with contrast between where the ink is and where the ink isn’t. A scratch in the plate has a width and a depth to it. The scratch is going to translate to how much ink comes off the surface. In other words, you can look at the finished etching and see that it’s raised up off the paper in some parts — it’s an embossment in a way. That’s what makes etching so beautiful. It has this quality you cannot get from any other type printmaking. 

Doug takes about an hour to create each etching. Using brushes and Q-tips, he adds the details that make each piece beautiful in its own way. 

Each of my etchings is completely different from the one proceeding it and the one after that – and the one after that. 

There’s still a lot more to know about printmaking and its processes but we’ve gained a new appreciate for the form! Visit our printmaking section for more artist and works. Happy art discovering!