Putting it down in print

Yesterday I attended a printmaking workshop at LARAC, one of my area’s most active organizations that supports local art and artists. I have been a member in the past, and even had one of my paintings on display at one of their shows several years ago. It’s focus is on visual arts, however, and I have gotten more and more into writing my poetry.

But I remained a fan and friend of the organization, attending shows and visiting the gallery. Last month they posted on Facebook about a workshop they were holding by Cambridge, NY, artist Jill Burks, whose nature prints are now on display in her own show at the Argyle Brewing Company. I loved her work right from the start, and signed up for the three-hour class.

It was a beautiful, cool Saturday morning. When I arrived at the gallery where the class was being held, I was happy to see a familiar face in the group, another friend I know from the Cambridge area. There were only 12 of us allowed in due to the requirements of social distancing. The small group was nice, however, as it allowed us all to talk easily, share supplies, and admire each other’s work.

We started off with a demonstration by Jill of her process, using a gel plate, inks, and a brayer (or roller, it’s other name). Ink is applied to the plate, in one color or more, and in various ways. Then items can be laid on top it – leaves, flowers, and feathers, in this case, as it was a nature print class – individually or in some design. Paper is then pressed on top of the plate, and once removed, an image remains. Using the plate’s remaining ink and replacing the items in various ways continues to result in different prints, each unique and interesting.

It was a very simple process, quite fun, and a little messy (which I actually enjoy), and I was really happy with most of the prints I produced. There was only a bit of a learning curve involved, and I quickly saw how I could get addicted to making prints.

I remembered other printmaking classes I’d taken in the past, mostly in college. They’d involved cutting images into cork board, wood, or other surfaces and printing from those, or scratching an image out of an ink-covered surface – all types of relief-printing, I think. None of it had ever really struck a chord with me, though.

Simple, reedy grass – one of my favorite prints from the workshop.

But this process I loved. Smearing the ink down on the squishy gel plate, watching it spread all over the surface, in one color, many, or just black, was satisfying. Then figuring out how I wanted to lay the leaves down, in a pattern or individually, or use other items, too, in the image, felt very spontaneous. No use of sharp tools I might gouge myself on, either; just ink that made its way under my fingernails, that I’m still strangely happy to be finding today.

And I loved most of the images I made, as I mentioned. They felt causally beautiful, both delicate and bold at the same time. Capturing the intricate patterns of the veining underneath leaves, or the tiny dots on ferns (my favorite) was fascinating to see, and I felt an instant connection to the old-fashioned botanical prints I like finding in books or antique stores.

Plus it was a fun, educational, and creative way to spend a Saturday. It got me out and about, meeting new people and trying new things, which I, like some of the other people I talked to in class, was sorely in need of these days.

When I was home I went through all the prints I made, there must have been 20 or more, plus a couple of greeting cards we created. I selected the ones I liked best and took some pictures. Jill had asked us to share them with her, and I also wanted to write and post on here about them. I also shared some pictures on Facebook, thinking some of my nature-loving friends would like to try making prints of their own.

Last night I started thinking that I would like to combine the print images with my poetry. Many of the ones I write now and post on Instagram are short, and would fit well into the block-like spaces. I liked the idea of merging the two, creating more of a visual element to my poems. It will be fun and interesting, I think , to see what I can come up with.

It is always good to be inspired, I think, to find something new (or old) that gets the creative spark going again. So stayed tuned if you like my work, and see what happens next.