Friday, April 6, 2018

A Day with Big INK – 4/4/18

'The Big Tuna' printing press

It’s hard for me to sleep in unless I have to wake up to do something that I don’t want to do.  That honestly hasn’t happened too often lately.  I wake up and stretch and eat breakfast and drink coffee and go into the studio and create.  But seriously, I actually would’ve loved to sleep in a little bit today after such a long and exciting day yesterday and yet, I found myself on the floor at 7:30, reaching for my toes.  As I was down there, I noticed a few wood chips still embedded in my rug and I just had to laugh and smile–remnants of a project that had been coming together slowly over the last few months that all added up to an unforgettable day yesterday.

Haig holding up a print from his 7 foot woodblock

Earlier this year, my former printmaking professor, Haig, told me about an upcoming event at Salem State, the school I graduated from and where he still teaches.  Big INK, a mobile printshop led by Lyell Castonguay and Carand Burnet had plans to come to Salem to share what they’re most passionate about: large-scale woodblock printing.  The duo travels from New Hampshire with their portable printing press, appropriately named ‘The Big Tuna’.  While it is still 500 pounds, it may be the only printing press in the country that can be readily transported to print woodblocks up to 8 feet long.  Watching them set this thing up in the room was like seeing a couple kids unfold a plastic table for a lemonade stand; it truly seemed so simple but, the capabilities of this press are mind blowing.  

McKenzie rolling up her 6x2 foot woodblock with ink

Lyell and Mckenzie holding up her print titled, 'Listen'

Along with myself and Haig, a handful of other printmakers, both professors and students, began the process of designing, drawing, and carving our own woodblocks months ago.  I’ve only printed something this size (3x4 feet) once before and it’s actually been years since I carved and printed anything at all.  I was a little intimidated but, I knew I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.  I’m sure we all endured the same struggles while we worked to get these blocks ready: the immense decision to come up with an image worth spending so much time with, the physical fatigue of cutting away the wood for hours on end, dealing with knots and inconsistencies on the surface, maybe cutting away something unintentionally and fearing that the image might be ruined...  Art is something a lot of us make because we just don’t know how to process the world without it.  But sometimes it gets to us and gets us down, even fills us with doubt.  I think being isolated in the studio can be hard sometimes as much as it’s something all artists strive for.  It’s good until it doesn’t go right and then there’s no one around to relate to your frustration or your mistakes, no one to remind you that as important as all this may seem, we’re all just playing and having fun.

Mike and his first woodcut titled 'Queen of the Night'

While some bad days in the studio are part of the artist’s reality, days like yesterday with Big INK are a reminder that interacting and working with a community of artists is more rewarding than any good day spent alone in the studio.  Seeing the woodblocks everyone had spent months on was so exciting and working together through the whole process –from laboriously inking them to peeling the paper off for the first time– was so joyful whether we were printing my image or someone else’s.  Whether it was a combination of too much caffeine and not enough sleep or some sort of reaction to the ink, there was something in the air yesterday in those rooms we were working in, this whirlwind of excitement that I’ve only experienced when the passion of one person is matched by a roomful of people all working toward the same goal.  I’m very grateful I got to be part of such an experience even if I never get those wood chips out of my rug at home...

My 3x4 foot print titled 'There's Nothing As Comforting as Warm Light on a Cold Night, Other Than You'