52 Weeks of Printmakers: Lizzy House

 

You may already know Lizzy House from her many fabric lines, or from the classes she teaches all over the world, but did you know that Lizzy’s background is in printmaking? The Ann Arbor-based artist has a degree in printmaking from BYU Idaho, and just recently created a line of fabric that reflects her academic heritage.

I’ve never met Lizzy in person, but I’m guessing she’s just as lovely in person as she is in her interview and online. Whether or not you’re familiar with Lizzy’s work, you’re definitely in for a treat. Lizzy is wise beyond her years.

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?

LH: When I was 6 I told my mom that I would design fabric. It wasn’t until my 3rd year in college that I found printmaking. I was having a really hard time in my art program. Most of my professors were photorealistic illustrators and I don’t even feel like that’s art. They didn’t think my work was art either. We were at constant odds, and it started to reflect in my grades. I was so frustrated and disheartened by this overarching disapproval of the very things that I felt like were the reasons I needed to make work at all, that I decided that I would just graduate as soon as I could in graphic design. I was good at type, I had drawing skills, and I had a skill for laying things out. It was by no means what I wanted to do, but I knew I could get decent grades and I knew I could leave with a degree. I had a lot of credits at this point, and I was able to register early which I needed to do to get these specific classes to put myself on that graphic design path. It was really early in the morning and I was sitting in a computer lab in the basement of my the art building, I was registered for those classes, I was settling into this idea and my escape plan, and I heard a voice: You need to drop graphic design and take Printmaking. My immediate response was, “what’s printmaking?” Again the voice: you need to drop graphic design and take printmaking. My response: but I got into the classes I needed… the voice repeated itself a third and final time. You need to drop graphic design and take printmaking.

I didn’t know what printmaking was, I had already come up with a plan, and I was so weary from feeling like what I had to show for or contribute was unimportant, unworthy, and unrealistic.

So with all the faith I had, I did what I had been told. I opened up my class registration. Dropped the graphic design classes, and added Printmaking. My graphic design classes were immediately gone and filled, because they were in high demand and hard to get so there was no turning back. I called my mom after, and she knew my previous plan so when I told her that I had a serious prompting and that I was now going to take printmaking, she said, “what’s printmaking”. I was walking into the unknown, just believing that something could work, and on my first day of printmaking within 20 minutes of the class beginning I felt a deep confirmation that I was in the right place, and every time I print or teach someone to print, I feel that same confirmation that I am in the right place.


You are one busy lady – you have multiple fabric lines, you travel around the world to teach quilting and printmaking, you’ve written a book, you’ve taught at the university level (am I missing anything?). Most people would be thrilled to have just one of these opportunities in their careers. How did these opportunities arise?

It really started when I listened to that voice. But after that it was my blog, and a tutorial. In 2008 I wrote a block printing tutorial that went a little bit viral. The maker community was much smaller then, so visibility was a little more straightforward… And by that I mean, if you googled “block printing” it was wikipedia, and then me. I owe that traffic and so much help to the late and dearly missed Kathreen Ricketson who created Whip Up. Because of the visibility of that tutorial I was contacted by Elizabeth Duvivier who asked me to teach at the first fiber based Squam in the summer of 2009. It was another thing I just felt compelled to do even though I had no idea what it was or where I was going. I taught color theory, pattern design, and block printing on fabric. It was magic. I had never intended to teach, but there I was teaching. And I would say almost all my opportunities stem from that experience. Directly or indirectly. I was changed because I said YES to a lot of question marks. My closest friends in the world are women I met through or because of Squam. If I hadn’t changed my direction to printmaking I’d be a different person. I don’t believe in a luck. I believe in allowing. I believe in being in the right place at the right time. I believe in being proactive. I believe in listening, and I believe in the serendipity of all of it. Life is magic.

How would you describe your work?

I think like a lot of printmakers, even when I branch out, my work is driven by process. It is also deeply seated in the use of strong color and pattern. It can be very light hearted or deeply emotional (like most Geminis…)

What’s the first thing you ever remember making?

I don’t know if I can remember a specific first thing, I just remember that we were always making, and I owe that to my mother.

What are you currently working on, and why?

I’m really excited for my fabric collection Printmaking to be released. It is the first time that I have combined my fine art printmaking with my commercial textile design. To be honest, I don’t know how it will go over. Personally, I feel like it’s really lovely and a beautiful blend and pivot of my two worlds, but I’m just not sure how others will receive it.

I’m also actually working on ceramics right now (nothing I’m showing yet). Since moving to Ann Arbor in June last year right after my wedding I’ve just been trying to take it easy and find a place and a community here while still making.

Do you have a dream project (or two)?

I do. I have a million ideas. I would like to finally write a book. Ok. I’ve written books, but I want this one to be a vehicle. It’s like I can feel what it is, but I don’t know what it looks like or how I get there yet, and I’m ok with that. I just feel like its due date is coming.

Also, I plan to rent a house on Bornholm (a Danish island in the Baltic Sea) next summer and work on a collaborative body of work with my husband. He’s a pretty amazing artist, and I’m really interested in the work we will produce with some space and time in a place where my ancestors are from. We’d also like to hold a residency or workshops there to collaborate with more artists.

What’s next?

I’m not sure. I feel myself and my work moving in a new direction, and as I’ve shared, I am ok with the mystery, and I’m willing to work until it turns into what it’s supposed to be.

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

You have to work. I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in the online world and having a following. BUT, if you put your head down, and go to work, and if you’re being honest with yourself about the work that you’re doing then it’s going to find its way. Also do your own work. Don’t do someone else’s work because it seems to be working for them or bringing them success. You need to find out what is going to work for you.

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

That it’s true. There’s a lot of growing and honesty and searching in what I do. I feel like it breathes and changes just like me.

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

I’m still reworking my website, but it will forever be lizzyhouse.com and you can always find me on Instagram @lizzyhouse.

Craft Planner Podcast

Sandi, aka the Crafty Planner, interviewed me on her podcast. In addition to discussing my work, we also talk about working through anxiety, feeling nuance, and living between worlds. You can listen to the interview here.

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.