Printmaking Project 1.0

As I write this, its spring break of 2022 and I’ve decided to write about the printmaking class I had last semester. It was honestly one of the most fascinating classes I’ve ever taken. Printmaking is using ancient technology to create multiples of various artistic renderings. Many great works of art have been created with this medium and I can’t say enough how interesting I found the process.

If you ever want to do something that’ll give you some stories to tell, I’d highly recommend taking this class, it’s fascinating.

Just to be clear, printmaking is basically drawing and then making it as difficult as possible in order to mass-produce your piece of art.

I’m going to spend several posts sharing stories about the class to illustrate the power and impact this ancient art can wield. I guarantee it will be entertaining:-D

The first assignment was to be an example of horror vacuii (a Latin phrase meaning a fear of empty space).

So for this assignment we would have to create a highly detailed drawing with little to no blank space to turn into a print.

The goal was to make a metal plate engraved with your drawing that you could use to make multiple copies of the same pic. It’s one of the most ancient forms of illustrations for mass production.

During our first in class peer critique I noted that everyone else was doing cute or comical or semi-gross designs; all similar to the classical examples we found online.

We were required to have several sketches to show and I received mostly positive peer feedback on my first few, but the teacher wanted to see all of my sketches. So I showed him and the class this sketch last. I thought it was my best, but I also thought it was a little… heavy, hence why I had saved it for last. I‘d had to explain the other sketches, with this one I knew I would only have to show it.

I had received comments from all my other sketches and there was a fair amount of noise in the room, but as soon as I showed the page to the class, I received what I can only describe as stunned silence.

After what had to be a full four or five seconds of quiet I had to fill it. “I don’t think I need to explain anything. It’s pretty obvious what’s happened.”

Only my teacher then gave a comment and asked for details about the drawing. So I told him the story behind the sketch. Then a handful of my classmates chimed in with quick assents and comments. You might recognize this image if you’ve kept up with the first few chapters of my book. It’s an illustration of a scene from the sixth chapter of my novel. I’ll be updating that chapter of my book with the same illustrations I’m using here. This illustration is of the moment when a three and a half year old Sharlie tells Eric, the sixteen year old, “big boy” who is spending time with her about a recent traumatic event. Her tears make him remember a time when he was small and helpless... I knew from the moment we were given this first assignment that I would be using the finished illustration for this chapter.

The teacher gave me some pointers on what direction to go with the sketch and how to work it up to fulfill the parameters of the assignment and we moved on to the next student’s sketch critique.

But something niggled at me, I’d wondered if, perhaps such an emotional scene was too intense for a class, so for the sketch I hadn’t put in Eric’s scars or birthmarks. When peer critique was over, I asked my teacher to make sure it wasn’t too intense. He assured me it was more than fine, saying that the point of art was to evoke emotion.

So I began the slow, painstaking process of “working it up”. This process is tedious, so let me give a quick explanation so you understand what I'm showing you here.

It begins with a drawing.

You take your completed pencil drawing, your copper plate, (which we had to order in advance for the class), and carefully placing your drawing on top of the copper plate, you roll it through an old fashioned rolling press leaving behind a perfect pencil imprint for you to use for a guide to etch the design onto the copper plate. At that point you are using an etching tool that looks similar to an awl to carefully scratch every little line and squiggle and dot of the design into the plate.

Once you’re finished with etching your copper plate, you clean it, dry it, ink it properly, (that part was really tricky and very messy), you use your good paper (which we also had to order in advance for the class), to roll through the press. For the assignment he wanted us to do several editions, the idea being to improve your design with each new edition of your print.

I tweaked my design several times before I was satisfied with the final product. When the day came for our final peer critique, when all the students are required to attend class and comment on each other’s’ work,(this counts as part of our grade), we all pinned our designs up on the huge wall sized cork board to display our masterpieces.

Due to its subject matter, mine stood out. Due to how our prints were set up, mine was one of the last to receive critique. Again, when we came to mine, there was a noticeable drop in the sound level. Like he had with the other students, the teacher asked me to explain my piece. So I did. Though I have never officially titled any of my drawings before, we were required to for this assignment. Mine is titled, “Unbidden Memories”.

I reiterated my earlier explanation. “Well, the picture and title are pretty self-explanatory.” I explained. “It’s obvious what’s happened. He’s just gotten her out of a pretty bad situation, and her crying and clinging to him is making him remember his own childhood when he was small and helpless. But she’ll be okay. He made it through and so will she. He’s been where she is. He’s not letting her go.”

Dead Silence.

Finally one student commented how I had managed to make the clothing read as hoodies and the crumbled down building in the background. Another said she liked how I had made the stylized bark and leaves for the tree. The teacher commented how the trope of the hero is so universally understood that a simple picture like this can tell a story. He actually stood up and looked at it as he slowly commented how even the fine details contribute to the narrative. “…the cuts on his hands and face, his expression, the desolation of the background all contribute to the story.”

I received an A for the assignment and a surprising revelation about myself: I wasn’t nervous about showing my art.

This was our first assignment for this class, but before, during and after our peer critiques, I never broke a sweat. In all the times I had to show my first sketch, work on my project in class among my classmates and show my work for peer critique, I was never nervous. I was very nervous about the process, it wasn’t like I had ever done anything like this before, but about my art itself, I was totally secure.

I remember a moment in class as I was etching, when I stopped and stared at this copper plate I was scratching an elaborate design into, and really took in just how much God has worked in my life. I’ve come a long way from when I nearly had a panic attack when I drew that first picture as an adult.

In many ways, as stressful and demanding as that class and the two others I was taking at the time were, they were almost therapeutic. They proved to me what I had felt God put on my heart for some time, it was never me that was too stupid or fat to do anything… it wasn’t my fault that everyone laughed at my dream drawing as a child.

I am capable of making art that tells a story. I am capable of making art that makes people stop and think and feel.

Now, among other adults, my work is respected, even admired.

God has brought me a long way. I don’t know where he’s leading me next, but if this is any indication of the places he can take me, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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