Sunday, September 19, 2010

Eric Hoffman

Eric's site links are at the bottom of this interview.


I am a printmaker residing and working in Providence, Rhode Island with a B.F.A. degree from Rhode Island College, concentrating in printmaking, drawing, and art history.

How did you get started in printmaking?

I was a student at RIC taking an advanced drawing course with Professor Stephen Fisher. Nearing the end of the semester he mentioned that I should think about taking the introductory printmaking class the following Fall. I was absolutely clueless to what printmaking was. After a few failed attempts by Stephen to explain Intaglio etching, I just signed up and jumped in. I was in love by the second class and I’ve never looked back. I even changed my major from Art Education to the B.F.A. program to spend more time in the college’s print shop.

Describe where you work

I currently split my time between my studio/loft in Providence and the print shop at RIC. It helps being in my own space and having no time constraints during the engraving process. Being able to play whatever I want on the stereo helps too. My engravings are very small in size, and making them does not involve any toxic chemicals or solvents, so I use the RIC print shop only when I need to proof a block or print an edition. There is an old Vandercook proofing press and plenty of eccentric print students hanging around! It’s nice to bounce ideas off of other printmakers and get quick crits from both the advanced class as well as Stephen Fisher, who is still the printmaking professor.

What's your favorite printmaking process?

I have tried many, but I currently work in relief engraving, which is essentially wood engraving on blocks of resin instead of end-grain wood. The material I use, called Resingrave, comes in small blocks and engraves beautifully. The cost of end-grain boxwood (normally used in wood engraving) is incredibly high due to the small supply of it left. Resingrave has the qualities of very high-end boxwood at a fraction of the cost, with the added bonus of saving the little boxwood that’s left. I only use hand engraving tools, mostly small sharp burins and gravers. The process is essentially simple on the surface - it is all of the detail work that goes into each engraving that keeps me up at night!

What's your creative process for any given print?

I’m constantly coming up with ideas for images; making lists of these ideas and preliminary sketches on bits of scrap paper until my desk is piled high. Eventually this leads me to come up with a solid idea for an engraving. I tend to work from photographs, so a large part of the creative process is either photographing subject matter or finding source material and composing interesting ideas from it. This has included self-portraiture, still life, animals, skulls, flowers and nature. I’m all over the place. My work has always been more about the process of creating the prints and engravings while the themes and subjects of the prints are secondary.

What do you enjoy most about printmaking?

Physically engraving the lines into the blocks, bringing the light out of an image from a completely black space - there is something about drawing with light that works better for me then traditionally drawing with black ink on paper. If I could go back in time I would be one of the industrial engravers that just consistently produced work 40 hours a week rendering products for ads and reproducing paintings. For me it really is about the process and honing of my craft.

What's your least favorite part of the process?

Unfortunately, I have to say printing the blocks. I love the physical act of printing and making an edition, but the press I have access to overtime has been modified and is not ideal for fine line engravings. It is difficult to hand burnish prints on anything but thin paper and I like printing on really thick paper or at least having the option to print on the paper of my choosing.

Someday I will have my own beautiful press and this will all be resolved!

What are your inspirations (other artists, people, places, events, etc.)?

Stephen Fisher. His work is so beautiful and intense, and he’s a hell of a motivator. Other printmakers I admire and look to for ideas and inspiration are Barry Moser, an incredible engraver, bookmaker, and teacher. I enjoy the work of Andy English and Simon Brett, as well as G. Brender à Brandis, Gustave Doré, and Thomas Bewick.

I am also a fan of Film Noir imagery, Egon Schiele and German Expressionism, and the men and women industrial steel and wood engravers of the 19th century. Käthe Kollwitz, Jim Dine, Aubrey Beardsley, Otomo Katsuhiro, and Aaron Horkey are all huge influences as well. Music is constantly on in the studio and has a profound role in the making of my work. I am a huge fan of 1950’s – 1960’s Blue Note jazz and many other types of music.

How has your work changed and evolved since you started?

In the beginning I was very interested in mark making and experimenting with tools and materials to get interesting textures and effects. I began engraving with an emphasis on light and shadow, often making images emerging out of the pitch black, dramatically lit. In the past year I have stepped away from this extreme lighting to focus on rendered subjects intermingled with pattern, filigree, and decorative-like elements. Again, my focus is on honing the craft of engraving, so I am currently pushing ideas like “how fine can I engrave this image?” and “How can I add spatial information into this block rather then engulfing the subject in black?”

How do you get past creative slumps?

Going to gallery openings and talking with working artists and friends involved in the arts. I have many friends who are printmakers and musicians in Providence that all have the ability of sparking ideas in my head. My wife Liz is awesome at pulling me out of a slump. I think it’s a combination of her inspiring words and her ability to kick my butt when I’m moping around and watching “Law and Order” all day! John Coltrane’s “Live at the Village Vanguard” works too.

How do you promote your work?

I take full advantage of the Internet. Between Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Etsy and various forums I have been able to connect with printmakers and wood engravers around the world. I have gotten advice and ideas, sold some of my work, and made some great connections that have turned into everything from print exchanges to gallery shows. I network throughout the Providence gallery scene as well, and am lucky enough to have a great group of artist friends that are constantly spreading the word around for each other.

Any other comments or advice for others who want to try making hand-pulled prints?

You should try and take a class in various types of printmaking to get a good retrospective of what you can do with the medium. Most people that ask what kind of art I make have no idea what “relief engraving” is. But everyone I’ve ever spoken with has had some kind of interest in prints, be it screen-printed concert posters and shirts to letter-pressed wedding invitations. Printmaking is fantastic! The first time you pull a proof off of a block or a plate is pure satisfaction! Building a print collection with peers, trading work with professional printmakers, and selling your work are wonderful ways of making connections and friends in the world. And the beauty is that you can always keep one of the prints you have poured your heart and soul into, even after selling or giving away as many as you can make. This medium has changed my life!

Eric’s Etsy Site
Eric’s Web Site

1 comment:

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

I just love the puffer fish!