52 Weeks of Printmakers: The Little Friends of Printmaking

The Little Friends of Printmaking is just one of JW and Melissa Buchanan’s many creative ventures. Artists and designers, JW and Melissa met at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where they studied Fine Arts and Art History.

But that’s a rather dry introduction for two artists who are both fun – and funny. A few years ago I saw a hilarious poster in a photo of Ink + Smog Edition’s studio. It said “Print Faster, Mother Fucker,” and I knew I had to have it. Turns out the poster was designed and printed by JW and Melissa. I think that hilarious irreverence is such a hallmark of their work (and not all of it uses cuss words), and I am, as my Grammy would have said, tickled to introduce you to their work and them here.

JH: When kids say that they want to be artists, most grownups assume that they want to become painters or illustrators (or, occasionally, sculptors) – but never printmakers. How did you find your way into this medium?

TLFOP: Melissa is a bone-deep printmaker who made linocuts as a middle-schooler and exhibited her childhood prints at the Wisconsin State Fair. JW took a vocational silkscreen class in high school and loved it, but didn’t return to it until college. At the UW, the printmaking facilities are palatial monuments to process and detail, buzzing with energy and filled with strange characters. And so it didn’t take much convincing from Melissa to get him to switch over to printmaking from sculpture.

How would you describe your work?

Cartoon pictures for dumb babies? Couch Art for weirdos? We’re screenprinters, and the peculiarities of the silkscreen process completely inform our aesthetic. We love flat expanses of ink, overprinting and underprinting, off-register-ness, trapping that looks good, the color and texture shifts that happen when two layers of ink interact. We love thick ink that you can feel with your fingernail, and prints that consider the materiality of the paper and the ink, and prints that you can consider as a 3-D object instead of an image. And so we put all of that into our work. That all of that rigor gets applied to some dumb cartoon picture for babies is beside the point.

What’s the first thing you ever remember making?

The first thing we can remember making together was a collage that Melissa then adapted into a linocut.

In addition to your fine art work, you also design a lot of commercial, client work. Do these two distinct practices influence each other? If so, how?

It’s really impossible to keep the two practices separate, and that’s been a very helpful thing, actually. The self-initiated artwork we make has a huge influence on the direction of our commercial work, as art directors typically use our prints as suggestions for new commercial projects. So it creates a kind of self-sustaining cycle where we develop a new style (or a new set of imagery, or a new context for our work, etc.) and then we get hired to create more of it. Hopefully. Well, anyway, it’s been working thus far.

It’s hard to quantify the influence that doing commercial work has had on our prints. We know it’s forced us to become more fluent in the language of design, and to give more consideration to merchandising and the market for our own work. I hope that doesn’t sound super cynical, because we mean it in a positive way!

How do you balance your creative practice with the demands of also running a business?

First, we’ve been very, very lucky to have sort of cultivated an image as two fun and funny people who are brimming with ideas (not untrue, tbh). So, the work we get asked to do is usually pretty fun and art directors will give us a lot of room to express ourselves and indulge our silliness. We don’t find our commercial work to be a chore or something we do as a way to keep the studio lights on.

How we cultivated that image, and I guess how not be driven crazy by the rigors of running a business generally, is to do every little part of the business your own way and let each little thing be an expression of your own personality. Make it part of your practice, and the people who consume your work will get to know you better. This can only be a good thing. (Unless you have a terrible, monstrous personality, in which case go ahead and be opaque and don’t express yourself outside of your work.)

What are you currently working on, and why?

We’re working on a bunch of little things right now. A record cover, because we’re music fans and we like doing them. A Japanese scarf design, because we’re fascinated with hand-printed scarves. It’s an area of screenprinting where we feel we just know nothing. We just came back from Tokyo (for an unrelated project) and the idea that all these scarves were still being hand-printed in the traditional way just blew us away. The project just dropped into our lap, unrelated to our trip, but we’ll take it! Some commission work, which we almost never do (mostly because people blanche at the cost of producing a custom edition). This project is for some friends, including an art director we love working with.

Do you have a dream project (or two)?

We feel we ought to be doing children’s picture books, and as dreams go, it seems pretty achievable. We’re always on the treadmill of the next print, the next illustration, the next event. The idea of clearing the schedule and spending x-amount of time on a long-term project is scary to us, because it’s just not part of our process. So we need to recalibrate our brains a little.

What’s next?

Summer art fairs are coming up, and then the fall fairs and the winter fairs after that. In between, we’ll be printing new editions and making new pins & patches and trying out new product ideas and doing illustration work. Repeat ad infinitum.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?

Take it easy and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. We spent that time of our lives feeling so impatient and anxious, which definitely fueled our productivity, but also took such a personal toll on us. This is a special time, and you’re lucky to have it, because no one expects anything of you yet. And so you have all of this time to explore new ideas and new processes and figure out what your practice is going to be like. Have fun.

What else do you want readers to know about you or your work?

It probably hasn’t come across in this interview, but we are two deeply unserious people. We like fun. FUN IS GOOD! We have a cat and a dog, and they will vouch for our character. Moving to California changed our lives, mostly for the better.

How can people find you?

Our shop is at thelittlefriendsofprintmaking.com/oops, and our IG handle is @littlefriendsof. For everything else, just use Google.

 

52 Weeks of Printmakers: Erin Dollar

You may already know Erin Dollar from Cotton & Flax, her line of printed textiles. But Erin is also a fine arts printmaker, with a degree in fine arts (and a concentration in printmaking) from the University of California Santa Cruz.
I met Erin at a craft fair way back in 2009 or 2010, before she’d started Cotton & Flax. In this interview, we talk about how her practice has evolved – and continues to change.

JH: When kids say that they want to be artists, most grownups assume that they want to become painters or illustrators (or, occasionally, sculptors) – but never printmakers. How did you find your way into this medium? What other media do you work in?

ED: As a kid, I was lucky to have been exposed to tons of different art media and ways of making art. I tried ceramics, oil painting, drawing, collage, and even some printmaking techniques! My high school had a wonderful art teacher who always gave us interesting assignments, and I felt truly challenged and excited to be in her class.

I didn’t plan to study fine art in college, and yet I found that I couldn’t stay away. I took one fine art elective… then three… and eventually decided to double major in Fine Art and English Literature. I focused mainly on photography and drawing, until one semester I took an intro to printmaking course, and was instantly hooked. It was like magic – a weird blend of science, chemistry, and art. I was in love, and after that first class, I spent the majority of my on-campus hours working in that print studio.

I continue to do a lot of drawing and some painting, but the process of printmaking still captures my mind in a unique way.


How would you describe your work?
Pattern-focused, full of repetition. The printed textiles I create for Cotton & Flax have a minimalist modern aesthetic, but my fine art prints tend to be more densely layered.

What’s the first thing you ever remember making?
I have a few fuzzy memories of making art in kindergarten, with those big, fat paintbrushes and jars of paint with plastic lids. It’s hard to remember what I was actually making, but I do recall the feeling of enjoying the process and the messiness of it.

I have one of your prints on paper from 2009, I think before you’d started Cotton & Flax. What prompted you to focus almost exclusively on working with fabric?
Cotton & Flax was an offshoot of my fine art practice that eventually became a full time job. I started experimenting with printing on fabric in 2008, when I was really getting interested in quilting, and I had just learned how to screenprint. At the time, I was working in a cooperative print studio up in Portland, Oregon, and selling my fine art prints online and at craft fairs. Sometimes I’d bring these printed textile experiments to shows, and I would get great feedback, which encouraged me to make more.As I continued to refine my screenprinting technique, I decided to add a small collection of my hand-printed textile pieces to my online shop. They sold well, and I loved the process of designing more utilitarian objects, so I decided to launch Cotton & Flax as a new project, separate from my fine artworks. That was back in 2012, and since then, it’s totally taken over, to the point that I only rarely get to work on fine art prints on paper! I love the challenge of combining the creative aspects of pattern design and printmaking, with the technical challenges of product design.
What are you currently working on, and why?

I’m continuing to expand my product line for Cotton & Flax, and collaborating with as many other artists and makers as possible to make new work. I love the process of collaboration – it invigorates my work with fresh perspective and ideas. One of my favorite collaborations that I’m currently developing is a collection of pet beds and accessories using my signature printed fabrics.

Do you have a dream project (or two)?
I hope to do more large-scale projects that aren’t necessarily products. In the next few years I want to focus on installations, murals, and other big impact uses for my designs.
What’s next?
I’m absolutely thrilled to be launching a fabric line next month! I am so excited to see how other makers use my fabrics to create their own pieces. I also teach printmaking workshops on a regular basis, and I have a fun block printing workshop coming up in Los Angeles in April. So far, 2017 is shaping up to be a year of fun collaborations and time spent with other makers and artists, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
Don’t be intimidated by printmaking! One of the things I stress in my screenprinting class is that many printmaking projects can be tackled from home, without needing to invest in a ton of equipment. Most artists learn by doing, and we all make mistakes along the way – the best way to learn and improve is to practice!
What do you want readers to know about you or your work?

I hope that more people will take an interest in hand-printed textiles – they are so different from mass produced fabrics. That tactile quality of screenprinted fabric is really unique, and I think it makes all the difference.

How can people find you?
You can learn more about my printed home goods at cottonandflax.com, and see more of my fine art prints at erindollar.com. Come say hello to me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook!

Tea Towel of the Month Club Is Back!

I’ve re-opened Tea Towel of the Month Club memberships! I’m once again offering two levels: a quarterly membership for April-June 2017, and a nine-month membership which will take you through the end of the year.

I’ll close memberships on April 16, so pop over to my shop now if you’d like to subscribe.

 

52 Weeks of Printmakers: Eric Rewitzer

 

I met Eric Rewitzer many years ago, right when I was starting out as a printmaker. What immediately struck me about Eric was how generous he is – with his time, his space, and his knowledge – with other artists.

Aside from being an all-around lovely human being, Eric is also an incredible artist. His work is often large and incredibly layered, and it seems that he is working on something new and/or experimenting with a new technique every time I visit the studio.

Eric and his wife, the artist Annie Galvin, run 3 Fish Studios in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood. It’s a large, beautiful space, just three blocks from the ocean. It’s a working studio, a gallery, and a neighborhood community space all in one. Stop by next time you’re in San Francisco!

JH: When kids say that they want to be artists, most grownups assume that they want to become painters or illustrators (or, occasionally, sculptors) – but never printmakers. How did you find your way into this medium? What other media do you work in?

EW: Drawing came first to me, since I was kid. Learning to draw meant everything. I felt I had to learn to draw before I could learn to paint. Printmaking came only later – as part of the wider discipline of drawing and painting while in art school. I remember taking to printmaking quickly – I liked the tools, the process, the immediacy. But it would take another 20 years before I embraced it as my primary medium.

How would you describe your work?

My work is inspired by feelings evoked by what I observe – a stand of trees, the silhouette of a crane on a industrial shoreline, a surfer contemplating the ocean, a B-movie from my childhood. I find beauty and interest in these moments, and this gives me a real connection with my subject matter. I enjoy spending time in the creative process bringing these observations to life in print.

In addition to creating your own work, you also run a busy shop/gallery in San Francisco. How do you balance your creative practice with the demands of also running a business?

One fuels the other. I wouldn’t be busy running the gallery if people weren’t responding to the artwork I was making. And I don’t think I’d be able to support myself as an artist if I didn’t have my own gallery to sell my work. Since I made the jump to being a full-time artist 10 years ago, I suspected I’d have to approach my new career this way. I’m glad it worked out.

What’s the first thing you ever remember making?

I grew up in Michigan, and we had a walnut tree in our backyard. The nuts would fall to the ground, and once exposed to the elements, they would reveal a beautiful wooden shell, and when that shell would be separated into two halves, each half would look like the face of an owl. So I would glue a half walnut on top of a intact walnut, creating a tiny owl figurine. Then I would glue a couple of pussy willow buds on the side of the owl’s head to finish them off, and sell them for 25 cents on my front porch. It was good candy money for a 6-year-old.

What is a recent project that you’re especially proud of?

I recently finished a piece called “California Rising”, which is an image of bear rising up on its haunches and roaring. I did it in response to the federal election last November. It found its way to Sacramento, and it caught the attention of senators, congresspeople, and the press. I was thrilled when it was recently featured in Time Magazine in an article on the California resistance to the new Trump era. Some have called it a symbol of resistance. I think that is pretty cool.

What are you currently working on, and why?

I’m working on a piece based on a photo I took at Point Reyes. It is of a tangle of cypress trees creating a tunnel over an access road to a old signal station. I’ve always loved the spot, and think it will make an interesting print.

Do you have a dream project (or two)?

I really want to go to Japan and learn the fundamental skills of mokuhanga (water-based woodblock printmaking). I’d also like to travel the world and take pictures of its most beautiful trees, and make a series of prints from them.

What’s next?

I plan on beginning a new series of work based on National Parks. I have always been inspired by nature, and my thought is that I will spend the next year visiting parks here in the West and create a body of work from what I experience there. Point Reyes is up first, then I look forward to trip to other natural wonders in California, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, and more.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?

Build a community. No single thing has inspired me to work so hard than the example of other people working just as hard. I find them and keep them close. We share our ideas, opportunities, successes, failures, hopes, dreams – because we get each other and know this is what we choose to do and know how much work it is. As time goes on, that community grows as you invite people in to see the results of your efforts. Establishing an authentic rapport about the work you do is so important, and you learn this by doing this day in and day out. This is something I never really thought of at all when I was younger – but it has provided a great sense of satisfaction as I’ve matured as an artist.

What else do you want readers to know about you or your work?

I knew I was going to be a printmaker when, at 40 years old, I took a printmaking class at City College in San Francisco to re-introduce me to the artform. I had not picked up a carving tool in 10 years, and when I started carving a block, I realized that I was carving the same tortured German lines that I drew. I loved the tactile nature of the process, I loved the paper, I loved the press. I also thought it was important that I focus on something that would differentiate me – so relief printmaking became my practice.

How can people find you? (website, shop, Instagram, Facebook page, Twitter, etc.)

Web: www.3fishstudios.com 

Facebook: facebook.com/3fishstudios 

Instagram: instagram.co/3fishstudios

Best of all, come to the studio, at 4541 Irving Street in San Francisco. Right now we’re open from 10am to 6pm Weds – Sunday, and every day after June.