2017 Accelerator Fellow
Where did you grow up?
Nashville, Tennessee, a.k.a. The Music City.
When/how did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?
As a small child, I knew that every odd sock or errant piece of paper held an entire world in its fiber. All I needed was a bit of glue, markers, some time, and a story. I suppose it was inevitable that I become an artist.
Where do you currently live/work, and how would you describe the arts community?
I currently live and work in Spokane, Washington, which is on the eastern side of the state, on the way to nowhere. The city’s motto is “near nature, near perfect,” and it couldn’t be more true. It’s beautiful here. The art scene is small but vibrant, much like the city. When I first arrived, I was very eager to dive into the print community, but there was little opportunity, so I decided to help create the kind of print scene I envisioned myself joining.
I found a few like-minded folks who wanted to create a space where artists could learn about print and access the necessary equipment and training, so I am currently in the process of growing a nonprofit printmaking production facility and community co-operative space. Additionally, I am outfitting my home studio to improve my production capabilities. It is my firm belief that an art scene should represent the individual needs of each artist who’s involved, as well as those of the greater community, which also benefits from a place where it can express itself. My practice is composed of a business that I nurture and a community that I feel committed to nurturing.
There are a few galleries in town that I choose to frequent. I attend pretty much every community arts meeting and have had the pleasure of watching our city’s arts budget more than triple in the two short years that I have been here. As folks are priced out of nearby cities like Portland and Seattle, Spokane remains an affordable destination with amazing cultural offerings. Investment in the arts is a thoughtful prequel to this influx of new residents. A few months ago, I submitted a design for tree grates for the convention district of our beloved downtown, and it was accepted. I get to make a public contribution to this city I love. It is a powerful moment to be a part of this blossoming arts community.
How would you describe your art to someone who’s never seen it?
I like to deconstruct the constructed. It brings me joy to take something that was once confined and set it free. That can mean crumpling graph paper and depriving it of its previous identity with spray paint and collage. Sometimes, my color schemes and geometric collages echo 1980s video games I love, and sometimes I also sew geometric shapes over the collaged paper.
Each letter and image is an individual block that must be arranged to tell a story with words and pictures, then I press the letters and images onto paper using antique presses. I also like to carve into materials to create images that I can then print using relief printmaking techniques. I use old blocks, newly carved images, and antique type to create utilitarian (and beautiful) posters and cards, as well as reduction methods to carve away a block as I print it, purely for the sake of the image. After each layer of color is added to the paper, another one is carved away from the block, and the block is printed in inks from light to dark. This occurs over and over until the image is complete and the block is destroyed. I cannot imagine a more cathartic method of execution.
I also create children’s books and illustrate these using all of the aforementioned methods. They are all for my son, and they echo his development. As he grows in complexity, so do the images and stories. I sometimes hand-bind the pages and letterpress-print the images, but I hope to release them on a larger scale through digital print.
What do you hope to communicate to your audience?
I hope to inspire children to enjoy books—not just reading, but the very tactile artwork that I produce through letterpress. I hope that my work delights and entertains them while offering an inroad to one of the most amazing human experiences: reading the printed word. It is through print that we able to share our ideas with the world.
What’s been your biggest business challenge?
My biggest challenge has been the journey toward understanding that making money through art is a form of commodification, but that it does not have to taint the purity of the expression. Once I accepted that there is nothing wrong with wanting to create art, sell it, and provide for my family, I wanted to become a part of CHF’s program to further develop my business.
As artists, not only do we choose to create for ourselves, but we also interpret the world around us, providing an invaluable resource. Like any other trade or profession, we should be compensated monetarily for our efforts. The mentality of “artist as ascetic” was my biggest stumbling block.
Tell us about a business success and what you did to achieve it.
Being accepted into this program was a massive business achievement. I have sold artwork, shown in many galleries and museums, and studied with incredible artists, but this is the first step toward legitimizing my efforts financially.
I want to work for myself and do what I love while saving for my child’s future. I have become highly skilled in my field, overcome my personal misconceptions about artists as entrepreneurs, recognized a deficit in my practice, and sought the guidance of skilled professionals. My previous decades of training, including graduate school, never provided the necessary tools to apply my skills and talent in the business world. This program offers that opportunity. Thank you.
How do you feel about today’s technology (tools for your business, for creating your art, or both), and has it altered your way of doing business?
I began my artistic career as a tried-and true Luddite. I was off the grid and worked as a letterpress printer in a living museum that’s more than a century old. It took a great deal of convincing for me to embrace technology. Over the years, I have come to learn myriad ways in which technology enhances my practice and my potential to reach a larger market.
I remember the days of card catalogs and thumbing through art books that were not allowed to leave the library. With the Internet at my fingertips, I can see prints of almost any artist at any moment. That is beautiful. I can make a carving without ever touching a handheld tool—using an illustration, CAD program, and C-and-C router.
That being said, I prefer the tactile. I want to hand-typeset letters. I want to get inky, get splinters, and ruin my favorite pants. That’s the fun part. Then, I can use the vast power of technology to print ten children’s books (or a thousand), send them to publishers, and get them into libraries all over the country. That is awe-inspiring. Technology is our friend.
What do you think about the state of today’s art market?
I think the possibilities are endless. We have the pleasure of being a part of a global market, where you can find almost anything. There has never been a greater time to be an artist. Van Gogh might not have died destitute if he’d had an Etsy shop. Anyone anywhere can share their art in the manner of their choosing.
Give us an example of how you balance studio time with business time.
I am no maverick at time management. If there’s a choice, I would certainly rather be in the studio, as would most artists. That, however, is not the appropriate way to run a business. I am not satisfied with maintaining my practice as a hobby. My art must generate income, so I allocate several hours a week to sitting at the computer and strategizing.
I also set aside time every week to photograph my work, though not as much as I should. I maintain a list of digital “to-dos,” which helps me to streamline my business time, thereby creating more studio time. Separating my production days from my business-management days frees me from pressure when engaging in either. On Wednesdays, I am an artist. On Thursdays, I am an entrepreneur. This program has helped me clarify my objectives and dedicate my time wisely.
How have you evolved as an artist?
As a young artist, I wanted to make everything. My goal was to produce every object that I was using in my life, from skirts to mugs to knives. Granted, it was mad fun, but it didn’t allow me to become very skilled in any single medium, and I felt a little lost.
I decided to focus on one medium and studied ceramics intensively for a very long time. It was amazingly muddy. As I became quite skilled, I thought, “Maybe this is it, maybe this is the one.” Then, I found letterpress printmaking, and it was love at first sight. It has been an extraordinary affair that has lasted more than a decade, and I seldom look back.
I began working as a production printer and designer for a nonprofit called Hatch Show Print, designing and printing show posters for a half-dozen years. In the process of custom-designing materials for clients, I began to find my voice and style, and experimented in my free time. I learned to carve linoleum and other materials, and then created paper stencils. Eventually, I decided to go to graduate school, where I acquired digital skills that I currently use in my practice.
After that experience, I knew that I was ready to develop and explore my own press, so I am currently building out my personal studio. I was fortunate to meet an incredible 90-year-old man who lives nearby and has a collection of letterpress-type and presses. He is no longer able to print—his rocking chair finally got him—so he has agreed to pass the baton. This is someone who has spent 50 years building his collection, and he is now endowing my next 50 years with his hard work.
Letterpress moveable type is the method of printmaking that allowed information to be shared on the largest scale in human history, so this willingness to share is an intrinsic part of the letterpress community. I commit myself and my art to this method and history, and I am willing to share it with anyone who’ll listen and learn.
How have you evolved as an entrepreneur?
I’m trying. Lately, I have applied for several grants and have been working very hard in this program to develop solid goals. I have also come to realize that my business and volunteer efforts must remain separate. I began a nonprofit, Millwood Print Works, to help others learn this incredible art, and I also established an independent press, Interpunct Press, for my private business. To devote myself to financial gain, I have to dedicate specific time to each area. I firmly believe that I have to offer my skills freely AND for a profit. Finding the balance is the tricky part. I’m still searching for my entrepreneurial voice.
What role do artists play in our society? What role SHOULD they play?
Artists are translators. We tell the story that everyone lives. It is our duty to share the art that we create. It seems a disservice to hone a talent and develop a skill only to keep it sequestered in your studio like a secret. I compare it to a skilled and trained teacher who chooses not to teach. If we all share our abilities and our work, everyone benefits.