Name: Sherrie York
I was born in the Los Angeles area, but my family moved to Colorado when I was seven and the mountain west has always felt like home. I went to college in Nebraska, where I earned a teaching degree with an “art endorsement.” (Art endorsement = Just enough knowledge to be dangerous in a classroom.) Presently I am fortunate to be living and working in a small town in the Rocky Mountains, sheltered by a rattle-y old Victorian house, challenged and cherished by the musician who shares it all with me.
How did you get started in printmaking?
You could say I got started in printmaking two or three times. The first was 25 years ago (ack!), when I took a college printmaking survey course.
From that experience I learned to love etching and collagraphy, but after college I didn’t have access either to a press or to landlords who looked kindly on nitric acid baths in the kitchen (party-poopers.) Printmaking fell by the wayside as I focused on watercolor painting, work for environmental non-profits, and a freelance graphic design business.
Second start? Hmm... fifteen years later, when I tried my hand at reduction linocuts. I made two or three reasonable prints at that time, but didn’t have a good system for registration. The entire process was just sooooooo painful that again it went on the back burner.
But you know what they say, “Third time’s a charm.” In 2000 I made one of those ill-fated 90-degree turns and took on a job that looked perfect but turned out to be a complete fiasco. For a period of 2 or 3 years I made no art whatsoever. When the job mess was over and I had moved 150 miles away, I picked up a brush and tried to get back to painting.
Let’s just say it didn’t go well.
Completely frustrated, I decided to simplify my approach to image-making. I made a few small lino blocks and started carving strictly black and white images, pulling editions of only 4 or 6 prints ("Lakeside - Franzhurst"). I worked in small, non-threatening formats and focused on composition. It was probably close to a year before I started to work in color again, developed the registration jig I use now, and made linocuts a regular habit.
Describe where you work.
So glamorous! My “studio” has typically been the spare bedroom in whatever apartment I inhabited at the time. These days I’m still working in such a space, but I share a house with a musician and he needs a studio, too. We’ve had to expand our selection of bedrooms.
I use the same table for painting, drawing, carving, and printing, so my setup remains simple and movable. When it’s time to print I put my registration jig on one side of the table and my inking glass on the other. I pull my inks, brayer, baren, and trusty kitchen spoon out of a box and I go to work. I’ve got a nifty little clothespin-and-1x2 drying rack that can be raised and lowered on pulleys hanging from the ceiling. That’s it!
What’s your favourite printmaking process?
As I mentioned before, I loved etching but my intaglio pursuit was thwarted by logistics. I’ve become quite attached to linocuts because I can print them by hand and because they are portable. From time to time I’ll take a plate with me into the field and draw directly on it.
I think it’s the quality of a carved relief line that charms me most of all. There’s a spontaneous quality to even the most carefully rendered lines, something I struggle to achieve in my drawings but which seems to come naturally to lino.
What’s your creative process for any given print?
I’m supposed to have a process? Yikes!
The starting point can be quite variable. I’ve drawn directly on plates when I’m in the field (“And then Jeff...”) and I have transferred images from my sketchbook to plates (“Tigerlily Sleeping”). Sometimes I have an image idea in my head and I go out with camera and sketchbook to hunt down my reference (“Summer Aspen”), and sometimes I find a subject when I’m flipping through my photo files (“High Tide Detritus”).
Once I have an image in mind I am quite impatient to start carving, so the planning stage tends to be skipped entirely. If I’m working on a multi-color reduction print I usually have an idea of what the first carving should be and what the last one might be, but all the colors in between? It’s a mystery that I like to let unfold. I almost always work from light to dark, so I find it easy to think one step at a time. I print the first color and as I’m carving for the next I ask myself “Does this section want to be the color I already printed, or something else?” If it’s the former, then I carve it out. Otherwise it stays put and I avoid making a decision until the next color.
What do you enjoy most about printmaking?
It’s satisfying to see a drying rack full of successful images, but the act of carving is really what it’s all about for me. Some years ago a well-known bronze artist suggested (tentatively, because he “didn’t want the competition”) that I was at heart a sculptor. At the time the idea filled me with terror, but I think now that he recognized a certain “tactile romance,” a need to manipulate surfaces.
What’s your least favorite part of the process?
Printing! I know, I know, it sounds so wrong, but it’s true. These days I challenge myself to produce editions of at least 12-15 prints, but I would probably be perfectly happy making editions of 6 or fewer. It’s the carving and unfolding of the image that intrigues me more than the capacity for repetition. I want to see the fully-realized image as soon as possible so I can get on to the next one!
What are your inspirations?
A pencil, chickens, and a man named Richard.
Richard Wiegmann took me to the garden to draw trees and to the neighbors’ to draw chickens, and he was the instructor for that college printmaking course oh-so-long ago. He planted the seed.
Other inspirations include printmakers Gustave Baumann, Andrew Haslen, and Siemen Dykstra. For drop-dead gorgeous composition and glorious line you can’t go wrong with Francis Lee Jaques or Denis Clavreul.
And it’s probably obvious that, for me, the greatest source of wonder and inspiration is the natural world.
How has your work changed and evolved since you started?
Certainly opening up a limited color palette has done a lot to help me develop my craft. Although I’ve confessed to starting out without a plan each time, I am more thoughtful throughout the process when I am considering questions of color and value.
It’s a curious time to ask me this question, actually, as I’ve got that snake-about-to-shed-too-tight-skin feeling. You know what I mean... a certain restlessness and discomfort that usually means I’m stretching out of my comfort zone. Or that I need to start doing so. Check back with me in another month or so.
How do you get past creative slumps?
Very poorly, with much whining and complaining and general malaise. I need lots of walks in the countryside, a stack of books, and often a complete change of perspective. I live in a small town (5700 people) 2 hours from any large city, which is fabulous unless I want to see work by people I don’t already know! The web is good for some visual inspiration, but nothing beats seeing the work of others firsthand. Getting unstuck from a serious slump almost always requires a road trip.
How do you promote your work?
I have a website, blog, and Etsy store. I also try to schedule two or three solo exhibitions each year and enter three or four juried shows. I teach field sketching, printmaking, and journal-making workshops and send a semi-regular newsletter to clients, collectors and friends.
Any other comments or advice for others who want to try making hand-pulled prints?
At the risk of copyright infringement, I’d say to just do it! Linocuts are such an easy way to explore printmaking. They require few materials and equipment, and most people are familiar with them at least in theory. Even if you weren’t the kid who carved designs and scandalous words into her Pink Pearl eraser, you watched someone else do it. Really, they’re just glorified rubber stamps. Or maybe upscale potato prints. And how scary is a potato?
Thanks Sherrie for the great interview!!