This is a tale of two print studios, one at home, and one far away. This is a tale of an artist who never wanted to leave his studio at home, but always wanted to go paint in Venice. After his wife came back from one of her many residencies, all blissful and at peace, he decided that maybe it was time that he took an art residency. So he had his wife look into it, because she is a researcher, and he only had to say ‘venice’ and ‘art residency’ and she immediately came up with several printmaking residencies that looked good. So they applied to several, but there was no reply at all from one – a snub? – and a negative reply from the other – love the work, unfortunately we’re full now, come back next year. But that wasn’t good enough for Jim, who wants what he wants when he wants it, so he set his wife to magically get them to Venice so he could paint. And lo she did it, for she is a genie.
So there they were in Venice, and decided to stop by the place that had accepted their application for a residency – Venice Printmaking Studio (who really didn’t have any room at the moment, because they were busy moving to Venice from Murano (a single vaporetto stop away on another island that prior artist residents didn’t think was all that convenient (Murano having gone from a busy, thriving glass industry on its own, to a tourist selling extravaganza with expensive tourist restaurants), and lacked the space to get away from the tourists the way it’s almost possible on the north side of Venice)). So, the printmakers were still setting up shop when our adventurers found them.
But this is getting old, so let’s stop. They lived happily ever after. In Venice. How does that sound?
Back to the post, which is to compare and contrast – and the object is to eventually forge a link between – two great print studios.
Venice Printmaking Studio is on the first floor (not the ground floor) of a building on calle della testa, or calle del squero; it’s hard to tell on the map. You either get off the vaporetto at Fondamente Nuove and turn down calle dell squero, or start from the basilica of saints giovanni e paolo, cross the bridge over rio mendicanti, and take the next right, thru a few jogs and past a few campielli, and you’re there, just past the hardware-type store.
It’s a nice building, well lit, spacious, and the neighbors have roof deck patios and gardens so it’s beautiful and you have a good, complex view. And it’s in Venice. I can’t stress that enough. Overall it’s basic, but that’s because they’re just setting back up in their new space. It’s actually two spaces; they have an annex somewhere close by (that we didn’t get a chance to visit) that is used for chemical etching and other messy processes. It’s on a ground floor and has a garden, both plusses – my wife wants to spend time in all the gardens of Venice – and there are surprisingly many, most hidden away.
This is a picture of the clean room, where artists draw their designs and carve and scrape their plates in preparing the image for printing. As you can see, it’s full of light, and overlooks someone’s rooftop patio, with plants on racks just outside the window. They have all the equipment needed to create the image on whatever substrate you’re using – wood or acetate or zinc or copper.
When we arrived, artist in residence Michael Rich was in the middle of a print run, so we let Connor – our three year old grandson – loose on the space with a scooter, and joined the artists, staff and the director in watching Michael work on his printing.
He’d spent time cutting his design into a panel about 20″x30″, and he was printing out a bunch of prints in different colors. He had a multilayered design and planned to overprint details onto each one.
The first of this batch of prints on the drying rack.
Michael is a prolific worker, but because of the variable nature of prints – what you get is not repeatable – he expects to complete perhaps a dozen good prints out of the batch. It’s harder than it looks, and there are many details to deal with.
Jim talked to Stefano, the director of the studio. Stefan’s father started the printmaking studio many years ago, and Stefan is an artist raised in the medium, and he’s got a vision for the studio, and knowledge and enthusiasm for the craft. He speaks excellent english, as does the other administrator and artist – Caroline, who is french, and handles the residency program with her husband, Manfred.
Here they have set up the clean room as an etching room, with plastic covered vats and all the other various materials you need to etch plates.
Tho the materials are basic, there are enough of them, and of good quality, to do the work you need to do.
There are also many etching plates and rolls of finished etchings in the studio. They are still finding places to put all these supplies.
It’s good to see signs of neatness in an art studio, especially one that is used by several or many people. Everything in its place.
The etching bath and a sponge, or a cloth’ it’s hard to tell.
And just look at all these tools. Many of them are quite old, and have been in use for many years. Other studios might have fancier equipment, but these will get the job done long after the fancy ones with computer chips have broken.
Etching inks, fluids, polishes, glues, stuff you need to make you go.
Then he places the plate on the print bed and prepares to cover it.
The first thing over the plate is a clean sheet of dampened paper. Then more paper goes on, and finally a set of etching blankets.
Then he rolls it thru the printing press – that big metal roller in the middle of the print bed. Here Connor gets to help roll the wheel and feed the paper and block thru the roller. Look how big that press is.
Connor loves to help, and it’s so well oiled that even a child can print on it.
Connor likes it so much that he takes their distracted conversation as an opportunity to roll the print himself, nearly bringing the print bed to the edge of the roller and out from under it, which isn’t something you necessarily want to do with an eight-foot board.
Disengaging Connor from the wheel, Micheal rolls the roller back off the print, and takes up the blankets.
And there’s Michael’s print, first stage in green, ready to dry and overprint with another plate. in a different color
So he adds it to the rack and goes back to prepare the block for another printing.
By the way, this is the view from the print studio, which is up on the first floor. Everyone loves plants in Venice, and every corner is filled with them. You can see the garden below, with its banana tree, and then there’s the cubbyhole garden on the first floor, and a back porch garden on the second floor. If there was an altana on the roof, it would have plants in baskets.
Michael showed his preliminary drawings, from which he designed his print block. Connor was impressed.
Here’s another view of the same courtyard area, as seen from the first floor studio. There’s a balcony for the studio; you can just see its white wall beyond the windows. It’s very nice out there, and a great place to rest between bouts of work. It almost makes you want to smoke, just to have an excuse to go outside and stand around gazing at your surroundings. You’re in Venice.
Here’s a drawing table set up with pencils and weights. Connor had just finished doing a drawing, and Caroline had tidied it up right before this picture was taken.
Another look at the wonderful order everything is kept in.
And as always, in a print studio, there are these little rags hanging up to dry. I love the look of them, so I always take a photo.
Jim and Stefan discuss printing and supplies for Jim’s planned return to use the studio to make prints. The room is quite large, and that’s the large format printer and its printbed behind the boys.
We had a very enjoyable visit to the Venice Printmaking Studio, and came back to Atlanta determined to make some alliances between printers in Venice, and printers in Atlanta, because we could see such amazing possibilities for exchange and interaction between the two cultures.
So we visited the Atlanta Printmaking Studio, and became members there as well. They have a spot in a large warehouse complex in west end, right off metropolitan. Atlanta is known for its old factory space turned into everything workshops and studios. There must have been a hundred different groups and businesses and individual artists and artisans etc etc inside a vast area of ex industrial atlanta laid out between railroad lines.
The space is large, and it has loads of equipment, and a nice airy feel to it. We went to visit Kathy, the director, and found two or three other members – that’s the education coordinator taking pictures of us for her records, just as we’re taking pictures of her for ours. There was another artist there, also, who was very interested in going to Venice to make art, and loved the idea that they would welcome her artist husband and their two kids. That’s almost unheard of in the residency universe, where they’d usually preferred just the artist on their own. But sometimes that’s impossible, and it’s either all of us, or nobody can go, as with us, who were privileged to take Connor everywhere we went in Venice.
You join the Atlanta Printmakers Studio the same way you join the Venice Printmaking Studio, with a membership, and then lab fees, or space rental – day fees – for when you want to use their equipment to make prints. They’ve got everything you need to make every kind of print, with computers and darkrooms and screens and movable type and etching baths and ultraviolet exposure boxes, with very generous stacks of flat files for all the donated pieces members have deposited over the years.
Not being a printer myself (this is the wife speaking), I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking at, but it seems to be two printing presses and a selection of movable type for printing text. Everything I looked at made me go oooh and aaah.
Movable type, alphabets in various fonts and sizes that can be assembled to say just about anything.
I believe this is the large press. It’s in the middle of the floor, and looks like it might even be motorized. It’s a serious looking press, at any rate.
And there are the rags, suspended in the air above the work and storage area.
This monster press is in the middle of the room, too, but I’m afraid I didn’t find out how large it actually is. I would say at least 30″x40″ but I could be off. Perhaps I’ll find the details on the website of the APS.
Racks. These are twice or three times the size of the ones in Venice, as is pretty much the case all around. They have everything in Venice, but they have EVERYTHING in Atlanta.
This is a view into the darkroom area from the main area of the workshop. Exposure/light boxes and the darkroom to the left, straight ahead a work table, then screens of all sizes on the right.
See nice big darkroom covered in black plastic. And a giant exposure box in front of it. There’s loads of room here.
They make some of their funds making and selling prints. There are a large selection of art prints you can buy, or you can get an attractive and meaningful print on a tshirt.
Screens. For screen printing. All sizes.
Jim spoke with the folks there for a long time, and had a look at all the nice work in the extensive flat files, and they talked about the different specialities of the two studios. The woman on the right, in the blue shirt, is very interested in going to Venice to make prints, so I spoke with her for a long time, and had a lot to say.
The APS funds some of their work with sales of prints from the various artists who spend time here, either on residency or as members. There are all kinds of pieces in these files, from etchings to encaustic monoprints.
And of course they’re set up to do all sorts of things on computer, and the staff has adequate working space. There is even an alcove or two in the front of the studio, that we didn’t look into, but that was draped more like a relaxing space than a working space, with cushions and fabrics, soft things which are anathema in a place that has a lot of ink (except for the rags; see above).
Jim then came home and started calling printmaking suppliers, because he’s attempting to innovate the etching process – reinventing the wheel using all the latest materials. He got samples from ulano (really helpful staff) – inkjet ready transparency film and photosensitive emulsion – and then he went up into the attic to find some unused zinc etching plates, and right now he’s in the studio making the drawing for his first test etching in almost 30 years.
This marks a milestone for Jim, who used to have a great reputation as a printmaker, before the company marketing his prints overextended and went out of business in the mid ’80s. He disassembled his etching press and stored it in the front of the studio, filed all his etching plates away in the attic, and stored about a thousand prints as well (that’s my job, going thru them all and making order out of chaos (especially because the cat’s been up in the attic chasing squirrels, and the nice pile of etchings is all over the floor at the moment…)…)…
So stay tuned, as Jim rediscovers old fashioned etching the modern way, working with ink on mylar plastic film instead of scratching on metal plates, transferring the image to the plate using an electric – instead of acid – etching process. And also stay tuned, in the closer future, for the last of the work Jim did in Venice while we were there all last winter. He did a dozen or two dozen pastel paintings when he was there, as studies for the much larger work he will be doing in acrylic and egg tempera now that he’s back in the studio.