Bed & Breakfast: www.maisonconti.com
I grew up in Palo Alto and Santa Cruz, California. My parents moved quite frequently and I attended many different schools. I think this turned me into something of a gypsy, because moving from place to place seems to be in my blood. The furthest we've moved so far is France. We left the Bay Area in 2004 and spent the last five years living in a tiny French village, learning a new language and different rules of the road, both metaphorically speaking and literally. Our village is located about an hour and a half west of Paris. The house is 300 years old and very pretty. We spent a year fixing it up and adding 5 bathrooms. We opened it last year as a Bed & Breakfast, and that is the main work we do to support our printmaking habit. One of the reasons we moved to this nice big house is that it had a space for our printing press, which we had just bought. For the first time in my life I really have a great space to work and a full-fledged studio. I dragged my husband Rick into the studio with me, but not kicking and screaming. He has enjoyed becoming involved in all the technical aspects of the craft. He's the pressman, the aquatint box builder, the photogravure developer and all the things not involved with image-creating. That's my field. It's super great to have someone with clean hands when its time to pull the prints. For him it's a change from sitting in front of a computer. We both love the tactile, mechanical nature of printing.
How did you get started in printmaking?
My brother had one of those old metal printing presses where you could arrange rubber letters to create your own newspapers or posters. I found the process of multiple copies of an image really magical. I took several printmaking courses at the University of Oregon, where my teacher told me I was one of the messiest students he had ever had. I love ink!
Describe where you work.
I have a very generous space for creating my prints. I have a big room which I call the salle de classe (classroom), since I also give etching courses. In that room, painted a bright, happy yellow, I have a big table for image-creation, which can accommodate several people. In the press room, down two steps, I have my press (from Art Equipment), my ink, my bath for papers and even a little corner for a boutique. There is a big door which opens onto the street. The third room I call the lab. There I have my acid baths, my aquatint box, three sinks and a large drying rack.
What's your favourite printmaking process?
I love etching, which I find the most wonderfully free process. In my opinion one can hardly ever make a really bad etching, whereas some of the other processes seem much less forgiving. I also like the way one can take lots of proofs as you develop an image, and don't have to wait until the whole process is over before you know what you have. If you don't like something you can remove it or add something so easily.
What's your creative process for any given print? (eg. sketch first? Pre-planned or free-form?)
I tend to work from photographs I've taken to inspire my drawings. I almost always start by creating a drawing, transfer that onto a plate and then begin to make marks on the plate in different ways. Another reason I really enjoy etching is that one can make almost any kind of mark. There is hard ground for an ink drawing effect, aquatint for a ink wash effect, soft ground for a charcoal drawing like effect, sugar-lift for a painterly effect and spite bite for a water color effect.
I almost always start with a clear idea in my mind, but the process itself usually takes over and leads me down a different path than the one I imagined I was following.
What do you enjoy most about printmaking?
I enjoy the process of making marks, of experimenting with new effects. If I lived a hundred years, I don't think I could discover every possibility for image-making. The possibilities seem almost endless.
What's your least favorite part of the process?
There's not much I don't like about printmaking. I do get frustrated sometimes with how few hours there are in a day to spend in the studio. I also, sometimes find that hunching over a plate can be hard on the body. I begin to see cross-eyed after a few hours.
What are your inspirations (other artists, people, places, events, etc.)?
I find inspiration in many places. Even television advertisements can spark some kind of an idea. I have many more ideas flashing through my mind than I can ever accommodate on paper. I especially like watching other artists work and seeing how they make their images. Invariably they have a totally different approach then I do and their work can open up a new window to my own process. I generally like to work from photos I've taken of landscapes or natural things, flowers, birds, trees. Sometimes I like to express something completely non-visual in my work, and that's a challenge, of course. The sound of the wind in the trees, the way a poignant story effected me.
How has your work changed and evolved since you started?
I suppose my art changes as I change. I have gone through lots of phases and each one suggests different ways of working, different images to focus upon. I become curious about a certain process and I follow that for awhile, until another way of working presents itself to me, and then I'm off on a new path.
How do you get past creative slumps?
My biggest problem is finding enough time. I generally have so many images stored up in my brain that the slumps are not so common. If I begin to feel dry and unfocused, I simply read a really good book or flip through books with images of some of my favorite artists, or take a walk in the country.
How do you promote your work?
Promoting my work is my biggest challenge. I am trying to get some insight into this from my fellow Etsy sellers. I find that there is a lot of wisdom and saavy in this community. I do find that sitting at a computer can be really draining. I'd so much rather be out there getting some ink of paper.
Any other comments or advice for others who want to try making hand-pulled prints?
Be bold and don't get precious! Let the process take you by the hand and lead it where it wants to. It's easy to be friends with a printing plate. It's such a friendly surface!