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!

52 Weeks of Printmakers: Hilary Williams

Hilary Williams was one of the first printmakers I met, long before I’d thought about becoming a printmaker myself. I was struck by how painterly and collage-like her prints are; silkscreen has a reputation for being a rather flat medium, but Hilary’s work is layered and full of visual texture.

A graduate of the California College of Arts, Hilary now lives in Santa Rosa, CA, on a small homestead complete with chickens, goats, and a vegetable garden.

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?

HW: I started in drawing and painting when first in college, but my first year I took etching and bookmaking. I did not take a screen printing class till my second year but as soon as I touched the medium I was hooked. I had been doing a lot of collages and using my photographs and pattern papers, so to me the medium was a perfect way to put all that together in a nice clean piece that had the bonus of multiples. I also fell in love with printmaking because I think of it as more accessible. Prints are original art works that more people can actually own and enjoy.

I also create one of a kind mixed media paintings that include screen printing, hand painting in acrylic mostly and often collages of fabrics.

How would you describe your work?

I like to create surreal urban, natural or imagined environments using collages of images or ideas and a mostly bright color palette.

When I first met you, you were living and working in San Francisco. You’ve since moved to Sonoma County, where you have a small homestead. Has that move changed your practice? If so, how?

Definitely. It has been wonderful in many ways for my work and quality of life, but also created some obstacles for me in my career. I love being up here where it is more quiet, I have more space and lots of natural light in my studio. I also love some of my new inspirations derived from these surroundings. The homestead however can be distracting and requires a time commitment that also takes me away from the studio. Also being over an hour away from the urban Bay Area where most of my work activities are still based is hard. I don’t get to interact with and support my artist peers as much as I would like, or do some of the little things like small gallery shows or be involved in cooperative art spaces that I used to have time for in San Francisco. Overall I would not change the move though. I love my little mini farm and all the joys and challenges that it brings to my life.

What’s the first thing you ever remember making?

I was always a creative kid. Drawing, painting, and crafting were my hobbies. It’s not the first thing at all, but I remember in 6th grade I would run through the neighborhood collecting Snapple labels off empty bottles out of people’s recycling bins and I made a whole wall of wall paper out of it.

What are you currently working on, and why?

I am working on another “big” print. I have some limitations on size because of my equipment set up, but I have been pushing the boundaries a little and going outside the size that is easiest for me to create some bigger prints. I just like the way a bigger piece can create a bigger impression and more involved layers and registration challenges. I am trying to push my skills more this year. I am also experimenting more with oil paints. It’s good for me to experiment sometimes and create things that I am nervous about doing or showing. This is a good time of year to do that as there is not much going on on my farm.

 Do you have a dream project (or two)?

I am always having ideas that seem too big, but I have one that I have thought about a few times. I love baseball and I have done a couple of prints of the San Francisco Giants stadium. I have always thought it would be fun to travel to each team’s stadium and do a print of it. Maybe it’s a future Kickstarter campaign!

What’s next?

I have traveled to the Southern California desert a couple times recently and I’m thinking about working on some pieces from the photographs of those trips.

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

If someone is just getting started in printmaking, I would say take the time to learn the process and the craft. It can be super fun and easy to create images, but getting everything to be clean and printed well is another story that can take some time.

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

I guess that in my prints I hand design most of my stencil layers with hand painting and drawing with india ink on film and then I use Photoshop to convert my photographs to black and white and then print them out as stencils. I really create the whole edition as I go. I don’t usually know what color I am going to print until I am about to print it. I like to treat the medium with a more painterly feel.

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

My website is the best place to see or shop for my work, but I like Instagram and Facebook too if anyone wants to follow along.

Website: www.hilaryatthecircus.com

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New Field Bag Collaboration with Fringe Supply Co.

Fringe Field Bag by Jen HewettFringe Supply Co. and I collaborated on a new Field Bag. My newsletter subscribers got first dibs on the first batch, but another batch will be available at 10 am PST today.

These are limited-edition bags, so once they’re gone, they’re gone! You can get yours while they last here.