Sunday, February 7, 2010

Printsy Interview - James Beard


Brief Bio
Making things is a recent obsession of mine. Late into High School I started drawing and painting, though even this date is a bit fictional since I doodled during class before then. In college I began to meet people who shared my ideas on Art, Music, and Life and from there a few neuroses developed (and are still developing) and led me towards crafting, creating. During this period I worked heavily at WUSC-FM Columbia and with Platypussy Inc, a co-founded music label and production think tank. Then I lived in Japan for a year working as a Teaching Assistant, but it wasn't the life for me. So now I'm doing my best to live off of art and craft alone, with the occasional compromise here and there.

How did you get started in printmaking?
The very beginning of my journey into printmaking starts when I worked with WUSC-FM Columbia, the University of South Carolina's student radio station. While working there as a DJ, my friend Jordan introduced me to Etsy and we began to toy around with the idea of selling our work online. Around that time I was already printing t-shirts, tote bags, and art prints from my bathroom/living room for the radio station's annual fundraiser, which had a DIY theme.

Printmaking sat on the back-burner for awhile, but after graduation and a yearlong stint teaching English in Japan, I managed to gain access to a university print shop as a studio monitor. There I began to troubleshoot my way through learning everything I could about screenprinting and letterpress.

Describe where you work.
My love of printmaking eventually led me to look for ways to learn more about the technical aspects of printing, since I lacked a formal education in the arts. My earlier escapades in a noise band had lead me to Austin, Texas a few times before, and while looking for printmaking internships I eventually learned about Coronado Studio and their residency program, the Serie Project, where I currently work as the studio manager.

Every day brings a new set of challenges. We're one of only a handful of Latino owned print shops in America, and traditionally we focus on hand printing limited edition screenprints. During the Spring and Summer, we work with artists who may or may not have any printmaking experience and help them translate their work into print. Fall and Winter are then spent exhibiting these works internationally, with the occasional commissioned piece here and there.

My boss is fond of saying that printmakers have to wear a lot of different "hats", and it's something I'm definitely inclined to agree with. On any given day, I'm a printer, electrician, plumber, grants writer, manager, marketing expert, tour guide, shipping department, or nearly anything else as the job requires.

What's your favourite printmaking process?
I'm definitely partial to screenprinting, as I think it's one of the most versatile forms of printmaking. I like the fact that I can print on nearly any surface, and I don't have to worry about locating exotic or expensive supplies to make high quality work, as nearly every town has several suppliers.

When I began looking for internships in printmaking, I had to make a hard decision about whether to focus on screenprinting or letterpress. In the end, I chose screenprinting, mostly because it's more versatile in terms of the sizes I can print. Letterpress still holds a special place in my heart, but it's not a very accessible form of printmaking, as the equipment can be nearly impossible to locate and store unless you happen to be lucky enough to live in a city with an open shop space.

What's your creative process for any given print? (eg. sketch first? Pre-planned or free-form?)
Although I will say that I've been trying (without success) to sketch more frequently, my normal process is to begin with a starter image and embellish from there. I try not to get caught up too much in the details of a particular project, because I've seen way too many artists get bogged down in the possibilities of what they could do when they really should spend their time doing more. The majority of my personal work is created on the fly, usually from a written description of what I want to make. Normally this is only an idea or a catch-phrase, like "clouds throwing up -- 2008 will be the year of the BLAH." After I establish what I want to do, I usually look through some of my notebooks for techniques that I've wanted to try, and I fit one of these to the print I have in mind. A lot of improvisations occur at press, especially in regards to color, which is usually decided at the last minute.

Lately I've been trying to place more restrictions on my work, since I'm a firm believer that creativity requires some limitations in order to be successful. It's too easy to go overboard with ideas if you don't lay down some rules, but honestly I think those rules help me to be a more conscious designer. They can be fun too. I like working with deadlines for this reason as well, just to keep myself disciplined.

What do you enjoy most about printmaking?
The number one reason that I continue to print and produce prints is that I love seeing the transition from empty page to printed design. Screenprinting and letterpress both give immediate satisfaction in the regard. I can pull a screenprint in about 30 seconds, and in that time I go from nothing to a fully printed layer. Sometimes the process moves even faster when I'm working with my letterpress. It's that simple magic trick that keeps me interested.

But, I think the other half of the answer would be that working primarily in printmaking helps me to slow down my artistic process. I have never been good at taking my time with a drawing or a painting; it makes me feel antsy and I have trouble settling down. With printmaking, I can pour my nervous energy into watching the technical point of the process, and by doing this I can allow myself to put more time and energy into a design than I would if I wasn't making a print.

What's your least favorite part of the process?
In printmaking, you have to put a lot of thought and guesswork into how your designs will actually look when printed. I've worked on a lot of prints that I was convinced would be successful, only to have the disparity between printed product and how I envisioned it ruin my feelings about a piece. I think I've gotten better at keeping my expectations reasonable while still growing as a printer, but it's still an occasional demon.

What are your inspirations (other artists, people, places, events, etc.)?
I'm very lucky as a screenprinter to have access to one of the best developed online forums of printmaking information in existence: The quality of the work and advice featured there is always inspiring to me, and it has been a great source of publicity and opportunities to display my work in public.

Locally, my own job at Coronado Studio has provided me with a lot of great connections and opportunities to develop as a working artist. I can't stress how important it is that all artists give themselves some form of business education. Even if you don't plan to pursue a career in the arts, you should always be interested in marketing your work, if only to help pay for supplies to create even more work.

Austin is also home to a number of artist-run galleries and project spaces, and I've been fortunate enough to forge a bond with CoLab, which is a new media focused gallery that I offer free printing services to. This has led me to a number of fulfilling collaborations with local artists that wouldn't have occurred without this connection.

How has your work changed and evolved since you started?
I've moved steadily towards a more design-oriented approach to printmaking. My professional work with Coronado Studio has improved my technical skill enough so that my past work now seems embarrassingly bad. I consider myself primarily a printer and an artist after that, though the line is blurred at times. As a printer, I am concerned with maintaining my level of craft for each and every piece I create, whereas in the past I was more willing to accept imperfections on the grounds that I was creating art. It's probably a maturing process that all printmakers have to go through, but I feel an additional pressure to create high quality work as a screenprinter in particular; there's a lot of misinformation out there on screenprinting, and many educational institutions themselves are guilty of passing on outdated information on the process. It's my duty as a screenprinter and a teacher myself to fight this and help others to realize that screenprinting should be considered an art form and not a gimmick. It's not just for t-shirts!

How do you get past creative slumps?
The best advice I can give on this subject is to make more work. You just have to force yourself sometimes to do things. Since my own creative periods tend to come in cycles, I keep a record of all my tiny inspirations and ideas for projects. When I'm in a slump, I can usually dig up something from this archive to tide me over or even inspire me to get going again.

Creative rivalries are also excellent sources of motivation. Pick someone in your town, or even a friend, and agree to prod each other into creating work or making commitments to complete projects. Oftentimes, I'll waste time when a project is just for myself, but if I have my rival send me a message, I get stirred into trying to top them. We used to have a catch-phrase... "Nothing possible is worth doing" i.e. aim for the impossible and see what you can achieve. But lately, I've really been into the phrase "fake it till you make it." There's some wisdom in that.

How do you promote your work?
Business cards, custom website, blogs, free gifts... there's a lot of ways to promote your work. The internet has been my biggest friend in this department. I wouldn't recommend putting a lot of energy into social media like facebook or twitter (I have trouble keeping up with my friends' posts... why would I care about your business?), but having a regularly updated website or blog can bring you a lot of traffic and inquiries. Etsy is really the best place to start, but you have to make sure to list new items or relist your current items regularly in order to see results.

Printmakers have a unique advantage in this department, as we can afford to give some of our prints away. Give test prints to friends and new acquaintances, and you'll be surprised what may come your way from it. Also, try your hand at offering certain services at a discounted rate to friends or people that you admire. I've printed posters for bands that I like, and even wedding invitations for my friends and family, and so far each 'freebie' that I've done has added to my resume and led to additional work.

Any other comments or advice for others who want to try making hand-pulled prints?
The best way to do it is to do it, but you'll find the going a lot easier if you begin with a workshop or by watching a friend print. I started out with a $3 zine on screenprinting, but ultimately you'll need to try a couple of different techniques before you find one that's right for you.

Inquire in your area to see if you can find an internship in printmaking. Oftentimes, print shops retrain all of their interns, so you might not need any prior printmaking experience. It's definitely a lot cheaper than enrolling in a class at a university, and usually the information is more relevant to printing anyway!

1 comment:

Daemon Flush Boy said...

Thank you very much for publishing this interview! Long live Printsy!