Print Camp 2019!

In June I had the opportunity to attend session 2 of Print Camp 2019. Print camp is a 9 day residency/ workshop conceived of and run by Shelley Thorstensen at her personal studio, Printmakers Open Forum in Oxford PA. Shelley embodies the spirit of community that makes printmaking so awesome and has a commitment to innovation and the sharing of ideas that I think is really refreshing as this becomes increasingly rare. She fully brings this spirit to Printmakers Open Forum and Print Camp, which she has been running since 2016.

A few years ago, Shelley and her husband Dale decided to build an entire printshop in their back yard and instead of keeping this amazing space all to herself Shelley graciously shares it with a small group of printmakers every summer. In order to keep the costs down and stay close to the studio there are tents pitched in the back yard where print campers sleep among the garden and fruit tree grove. 

There were two sessions this year and I was in session 2 with Sue Carrie Drummond, Amanda Kralovic, Emily Orzech, Christina Rose, and studio assistant Allison Rosh. Upon arrival we were welcomed with a communal lunch. Participants from session one were still there so there was a bit of mingling and discussion. We got an orientation to the printshop where we each had our own spaces set up that were positioned closest to the equipment we would need to use. 

  That first night we settled in with a trip to the grocery store, then making and eating a communal dinner. This dinner arrangement set a precedent for the week as we all thought up something we could cook and one or two people took the task of cooking each night so it became a shared responsibility, plus we always got to eat delicious home made food. The rest of us could work in the studio right up until dinner time and then we’d help clean up and return to the studio for a few more hours before turning in to our tents sometimes after midnight or even later more than a couple nights.    The week was a combination of personal work time and demos. Each day Shelley would share something or do a demo for us. That first night after dinner she shared some beautiful portfolios of prints, one of which was the Sanctuary portfolio, a wonderful collaboration by artists who contributed to the making of Printmakers Open Forum. She shared inspirational books and talked about how important the work of Stanley William Hayter and Atelier 17 had been and a bit about her personal journey. She also shared some new innovations like Jason Scullia’s experiments with electro etching that she had been a part of and ways of making equipment like Ross Mazzupappa’s hand made rollers. She also shared her own work with us with details about her own process. There were impromptu lessons scattered throughout the week on things like scraping and burnishing plates, doing a spray aquatint, and mounting thin eastern papers as well as a very in depth intaglio printing lesson. She even shared her method of rag recycling with us, a process that is detailed on the PMOF website.    The second night we had our Skill Swap presentations, which I think is really important in the spirit of exchange and maintaining an “Open Forum”. Each participant was asked to create a five minute presentation on a technique that they used in their work. This was such a wonderful alternative to the typical presentation about ones work because in most cases we still learned about each artists work but also learned something about their process in a way that we could take that information and use that technique ourselves. For my presentation I did a quick demo on Coptic binding. You can see the PDF instructions we all made to accompany our presentations here.   These demos and skill swaps supplemented all of the just amazing uninterrupted solid studio time we got and I really just took advantage of that every waking moment that I could. I decided that I wanted to focus on some techniques that I didn’t have much experience with and/ or hadn’t worked in for a while, those being etching combined with photolithography. In grad school I did a bit of photo litho but hadn’t returned to it since (turns out it’s not as dauntingly time consuming as I thought), while etching I had leaned the basics of but just never quite wrapped my head around how I could use it in my work. After about five years of just thinking about it I felt I was ready to give it another try.    Despite all of my best efforts at trying to have a game plan for what I was going to make I kind of showed up being really unsure about it and feeling really unprepared. I had planned to make my photo litho plates before arriving but because of a printer issue I couldn’t print my films and had to wait until I got to PMOF. I spent the first day and a half making plates. I made several plates, each with a single element that could be layered with one another and then ideally with the etching plates. The imagery for the litho plates were a combination of photos of dried flowers and stone carved botanical elements from architecture. While collecting these images I was thinking about man made nature, the separation from nature and man’s desire to exert control over nature. I spent a couple of days printing these and at some point realized I should move on to my etchings or I wouldn’t get to it.    For the etchings I had some very specific ideas about what images I wanted to make on the 5 copper plates I had brought and I had ideas of how these images would interact with the lithographs. I started a drawing on one with lots of pattern, very typical imagery for me, body elements with plants growing from them. It was becoming a pretty nice plate but I wasn’t sure how this would work with the lithographs after all, it had too much going on and would maybe be better on its own. I switched to another plate which was to be a silhouette of a female figure that would only be partially outlined. The figure would be completed by stenciling or chine collé during printing. Very ghostly. I had a book of figure models that I began to page through to look for the right one. I found several that would work and began tracing and creating templates for them thinking I would just choose one or two. As I began to simplify the body forms a connection between these women and the stone flowers became apparent because I felt that silhouetting the women effectively turned them to stone. They became featureless and stagnant, blank empty vessels but retained their female shape. This triggered something in my head about some ideas I had been thinking about for a long time that had been solidified by an interview I had listened to with Eve Ensler and Christine Schuler Deschryver about their work with City of Joy and V-Day. They spoke about the widespread use of rape and assault against women as a weapon of war, but also as a crime that is too often met with impunity and the parallel of this with the destruction of the environment and nature. This became increasingly apparent to me in the year or two leading up to the 2016 election and has become more and more critical in my mind.    So the remaining four plates each became a silhouette drawing and with each one I paired a flower and an object which reference things like home, nurturing, obedience, loyalty and motherhood. But also fatality, insanity, sexuality, and wisdom. So ideas of what patriarchal society expects of women and also ideas that subvert those expectations.   I created stencils and some chine collé pieces for these plates and printed them in antique colors over some of the lithographs. I really only got one round of finished prints. The plates still need a little work and then I’ll work through the lithographs making monoprints until I figure out what combinations work best. I may eventually work in some of the litho plate images I didn’t get to print or decide on some combinations I like and create an edition. I’m not one hundred percent sure yet but I am really excited about this work. It’s rejuvenated parts of my printmaking practice and brought some things I’ve been thinking about into my artwork. Having 24 hour access to this studio space was invaluable as the more I got into this series the more time I wanted to spend there and ended up staying later each night.    One of the best parts of this week was the group of fellow artists I got to work in the studio with. Shelley selected this group almost as if she knew we would be perfect for each other. I feel like all of our work had things in common but we also worked in drastically different ways, such that we could relate to one another and also learn so much from one another. I feel like there was  constant discussion and feedback in a way that felt completely natural among the group. Maybe it’s just being stuck in such close quarters with 5 other people 24/7 for a whole week, but I feel like there was something special going on.   To close out our week we built a camp fire and made s’mores. This was probably about the smokiest campfire I had ever sat around and I’m surprised we all didn’t get ill with smoke inhalation. The smoke was literally alive like the smoke monster from Lost. We made some s’mores and just relaxed, talked about the week, our summer plans. As the fire died down we all made our way back into the studio for one last late night of printing. More