“Biology is a very visual science—macro and microscopically,” says Fiona Watson. The Scotland-based artist channels her background in this field into a multi-media practice that spans photography, painting, land art, and printmaking. Observation, interpretation, and creativity by way of critical thinking are fundamental in both the sciences and art, and Watson harnesses these skills to create etchings of murmurations that mimic birds’ paths as they swoop through the sky. Collective flights “are extraordinary both metaphorically as shapeshifters occupying the space between heaven and earth and biologically as hundreds of organisms moving as one,” she tells Colossal.
Beginning with a digital sketch, Watson imagines various phenomenological patterns that she then translates to a copper plate using wax resists and acids. After inking the drawing, she sends it through the etching press, a process used for centuries.
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Norfolk-based artist Vanessa Lubach likens her printmaking practice to that of oil painting and draws on the latter to inform her vibrant compositions. “I linocut like a painter and paint like a linocutter, and the two disciplines work together to inform and enhance each other,” she tells Colossal. Whether depicting bunches of dahlias and cosmos in a ceramic pitcher or an enchanting forest landscape, Lubach’s works center on quiet moments in domestic interiors or out among nature.
Each piece begins with a sketch and a general idea of the palette. “I’m always optimistic that I can limit the colour layers to around a dozen at this point, but that almost never happens. They almost always end up in the 20s,” she says. After drawing and carving the main image, or key block, she prints and transfers the composition to additional blocks designed for each individual color. Some pieces, like the ceremonial “Allotment Bouquet,” take almost a year to complete.
Two of Lubach’s works are included in the traveling 84th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers, which is on view through July 9 at Sea Pictures Gallery in Suffolk. She also has a variety of prints available on Etsy and shares much more of her process and glimpses into her studio on Instagram. (via Women’s Art)
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Books have beguiled us since they first emerged in the form of ancient scrolls and codices around the world. The way we access, utilize, and enjoy reading material has seen technological transformation over the centuries, from Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the 15th century, to the first dictionary produced in 1532, to the advent of affordable pocket paperbacks in the early 20th century. Paper tomes have had an immeasurable impact on society and our ability to relay knowledge, and even in an age of digital e-readers, the physical volume still embodies an appeal as timeless as literature itself. In a new exhibition in London, the world of reading provides a starting point for the seven artists to explore a wide range of themes and materials, highlighting our perennial fascination with the printed and bound medium.
Cheri Smith, Russell Webb, Guy Laramée (previously), Aron Wiesenfeld, Guillermo Martin Bermejo, El Gato Chimney, and Claire Partington (previously) work across a wide range of styles including sculpture, illustration, painting, and printmaking. In Bookworks, Laramée’s deconstructed reference volumes are transformed into miniature topographical landscapes that challenge our sense of scale. Cheri Smith’s paintings, sometimes painted onto book covers, reference the eccentricity of animals and how they are categorized in natural history catalogues. El Gato Chimney constructs elaborate narrative illustrations in accordion-style publications that follow an eccentric band of characters as they confront giant creatures.
Bookworks is on view at James Freeman Gallery through June 4.
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Back in 2017, designer Roy Scholten and collaborator Martijn van der Blom brought LEGO into their letterpress workshops for elementary school students. Small and accessible to most, the ubiquitous plastic bricks were easier and faster to use than traditional lead type and were familiar creative tools for many of the children. Around the same time, the pair also developed a series of LEGO dinosaur prints in subtle gradients, an early collection that inspired Scholten’s ongoing project using the unusual material.
From his studio in Hilversum, Scholten forms dozens of winged creatures found in The Netherlands as part of 50 Birds. The 6 x 6-inch designs adeptly arrange the rigid blocks into beaks and round bellies with small lines of white left between. He describes his process:
Creating a design starts with establishing the outline, the total shape, and posture of the bird in question. Once that puzzle is solved, that construction is then divided up again into three to six different “lego stamps”, one for each color. Each stamp gets printed in the right order so that the combination results in the finished design.
Scholten releases 20 editions of each work, and keep an eye on Instagram for his upcoming renditions of the kingfisher, jay, dunnock, blue-headed wagtail, and the odd duck. If you’re in the area, he also offers weekly letterpress and monoprinting workshops at Grafisch Atelier Hilversum. You also might enjoy these LEGO typeface studies. (via Present&Correct)
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In a neighborhood of tech giants and startups, the San Francisco Center for the Book is decidedly analog. The nonprofit has been a hub for printmaking and book arts for Bay Area creatives since it opened 25 years ago, offering about 300 workshops and classes in papermaking, letterpress, binding techniques, and a range of other processes to thousands of students each year.
Beyond wanting to provide a space for local artists and those interested in the practice, though, one of the center’s tenets is community engagement, a commitment that manifests in the spectacular day-long Roadworks festival. The annual event, which was pared down in 2020 due to COVID-19 precautions, began in 2004 as a way to expand the organization’s footprint beyond its own walls, but it wasn’t until 2013 that it grew into the dramatic occasion it is today. Roadworks celebrated its 18th year this September and brought back its prized activity: printing dozens of linocuts with a 1924 Buffalo Springfield steamroller.
Each year, the center brings in the seven-ton machine from Roots of Motive Power to produce a series of 42-inch square prints in the middle of San Francisco’s streets. The process is as monumental as the event, requiring dozens of volunteers and fast-moving hands to create works successfully in the midday sun and wind. “It’s an interesting printmaking challenge in that you get to practice once a year,” says Chad Johnson, the center’s studio director and a resident instructor who’s been at the helm of Roadworks in recent years. “There’s no replication of all of the conditions except for when you do it.”
The actual process utilizes the street as the base of the press, with an insulating rubber mat on top to counter any debris. A piece of MDF particle board—the team prefers this material to plywood because it has no grain and can distribute pressure evenly—marked with a taped registration system sits on top. Once Johnson inks the plate with the yellow- and purple-tinted pigments specific to Roadworks, he has to quickly position it on the ground and have two others cover it with paper. “The only other trick is keeping the plate wet up until two minutes before. There’s no amount of ink that I can get on it that won’t dry in the wind and the sun,” he says.
After that, the rest is similar to the etching press, although it happens on a much greater scale. The team lays down a plastic tablecloth to prevent steam leakage on the paper, then a wool blanket, and finally a thick rug that serves as an insulator from the massive machine. After two rolls, the team peels off the layers and reveals the finished prints. Roadworks “has the ability to broaden the range of outreach by the sheer fact that it’s a steamroller,” Johnson shares, sometimes printing “Godzilla, sometimes a tree, sometimes a plant.” Most years, the group produces between 30 and 35 pieces within a few hours, although 2021 saw its largest collection of 38.
Alongside the larger prints created by a trio of committee-selected artists, the festival also sells linocut kits prior to the event that allows community members to carve their own works and see them realized day-of. “The idea was to get people excited about printing on a grandiose scale, and I think for me, that’s still really an amazing, powerful thing,” Johnson says, noting that these projects also garner essential funding for the nonprofit.
Although this year’s prints are sold out, the center is selling totes that feature a 2004 steamroller design by Rik Olson, a local artist who’s participated in the festival for nearly two decades. You can see more photos from Roadworks 2021 and watch for information on next year’s event on Instagram.
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An exhibition opening this weekend at the Art Institute of Chicago plunges into the vast archives of renowned Japanese ukiyo-e artists Katsushika Hokusai (previously) and Utagawa Hiroshige (previously). Fantastic Landscapes brings together the vivid scenes created by the prolific printmakers through the first half of the 19th Century with a particular focus on their innovative uses of color. Peach skies, grassy bluffs in chartreuse, and their extensive applications of Prussian blue—Hokusai’s “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” famously layers the chemical pigment—mark a broader shift in the artform. Today, the pair are largely attributed with sparking a worldwide fascination with Japanese prints.
Explore some of the woodblock works on view as part of Fantastic Landscapes below, and see them in person between July 17 and October 11. You also might enjoy this monumental book compiling Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji and Hiroshige’s delightful shadow puppets.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.