52 Weeks of Printmakers: Valerie Lueth of Tugboat Printshop

Overlook, by Valerie Lueth in collaboration with Paul Roden
Log, by Valerie Lueth in collaboration with Paul Roden
This week’s printmaker is Pittsburgh-based artist Valerie Lueth of Tugboat Printshop. A self-described “prairie gal” (born in Iowa and raised in rural South Dakota), Valerie creates intricate woodcuts of the natural world. Her work is large and stunning; for more photos of her work, and to learn more about her process, check out Tugboat Printshop’s website.
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?
I was one of those kids that always wanted to be an artist from the time I was young, very self-propelled to make, and interested in all mediums across the board but especially drawing.  During my first year in university, my drawing professor Lloyd Menard (also the professor of printmaking at USD) offered me a summer position assisting at Frogman’s Print and Paper Workshops and a work study job at the USD Print Department. That summer I took my first print courses and learned a tremendous amount working alongside graduate/high level print students maintaining the shop and assisting their projects. I really was unaware of printmaking as a medium until that summer, but from then on I was hooked! I spent the next 5 years (I took education at my own pace) exploring all facets of print. What interested me most about printmaking was how it furthered my drawings–and I loved the people I met, such a fantastic and upbeat community!
Working exclusively in woodcut came later for me, with the formation of Tugboat Printshop in 2006. Tugboat co-founder Paul Roden and I began collaborating in woodcut at that time. Working on blocks felt very natural from the start, and the work I made for Tugboat with Paul kept me thinking expansively and challenging woodcut’s possibilities daily. 11 years and many prints later, I continue to have a full blown love for woodcut; it is absolutely the medium I will continue to work in for a while to come!
Moth, by Valerie Lueth in collaboration with Paul Roden
How would you describe your work?
I like to make things that are beautiful, that transmit positivity and bring joy to others. My work celebrates the natural world, with an underbelly of prying at man/womankind’s relationship to it.
Daisy Bouquet, by Valerie Lueth in collaboration with Paul Roden
What’s the first thing you ever remember making?
A crayon drawing of a sky at sunset. And before that many, many forts.
Your work is so striking and so technically complex. Tell me a bit about your process.
I spend a good chunk of time developing drawings directly on the woodblock (3/4″ birch plywood), and then another hefty block of days patiently hand-carving those drawings in relief. Approach is very traditional, no computers, everything by hand. Color work is done on transfers printed from the key, typically not more than 4-5 blocks tops for any one print.
What are you currently working on, and why?
Right now, I am working on a new color woodcut titled “EVE” (on pre-order right now, almost done!). I started drawing “EVE” around election time last year; I have been thinking a lot about women’s roles.
Do you have a dream project (or two)?
Oh yes! Many! I’d love a vast amount of time to just make and make and make. And then be transported to someplace else exotic and new to do more making and making.
What’s next?
More woodcuts! Drawings! Maybe some ceramics? Planting my summer garden.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
Focus on doing work that you love and keep it a priority.
What do you want readers to know about you or your work?
Come visit Tugboat if you’re ever in Pittsburgh!  I’m happy to arrange visits to shop prints & talk prints at the T.B.P.S. studio!
10. How can people find you?
instagram: @tugboatprintshop
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