Monday, March 31, 2014
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Perfect Storm of Printmaking
Conditions for Seattle Printmaking Center
In 2000, a film, based on a book by the same title, Perfect Storm was released and the expression perfect storm has become popular. It means any event where a situation is aggravated drastically by an exceptionally rare combination of circumstances. It can mean, for example, a list of meteorological factors that lead to a flood. I am using the expression to describe a series of seven factors spanning fifty years that may bring about a new printmaking center in Seattle.
Factor 1 - luck
While I am not the smartest person you will meet, I have been one of the luckiest. Starting my life as a farm boy was a positive factor in my ability to study my way off the farm and use artistic skills I inherited from my mother. My father taught me discipline and with these i was able to get my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and—what is factor 1—a college teaching job.
Factor 2 - naiveté
In the nineteen years that I was a college teacher I went from a naive 26-year old instructor—the lowest rank on the academic ladder—to a naive 43-year old full professor with tenure. In my naiveté, I carried my first impressions of what higher education means all the way to my resignation from the University Of Washington. It was my belief that the system was corrupted by a few university administration people, some faculty, and some students.
Factor 3 - corruption
It is said in Sayre’s Law, that "In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake." By way of corollary, it adds: "That is why academic politics are so bitter." My bitterness in resigning was not so much the fact that my research in art, technology, and emerging globalization was stymied by art school politics as it was in the opportunities that were showing up all around the Pacific Northwest. From Oregon to British Columbia, new technologies useful to artists were inviting and open to exploration.
Factor 4 - students
In the ten years before I resigned, I had a decade to work with students who, like me, frustrated with the art school dogma, nepotism, male chauvinism and rigid curricula. It was the height of protest in the United States with issues that included civil rights, the Vietnam conflict, assassinations and government corruption. The fourth factor in my “perfect storm” was the intellectual and ethical expressions my students were involved in; I was swept up in their curiosity as to what the new technologies and new artistic movements might offer them for their careers in art. They graduated and went on to prove their point by being successful on their own terms, not the terms of the schools of art.
Factor 5 - restraint
For ten more years I struggled to find ways to make a living for my family by applying what I had been teaching in college. The system was against me, however, because technology continued to be anathematic to the existing art museum and gallery atmosphere. For awhile, alternative art galleries gave artists some space and time—notably And/Or and COCA—but the art medium I believe to be the root of all new art and technology developments (which is printmaking) continued to be restricted to traditional printmaking, thanks to the UW School Of Art, which was putting printmaking back in its pre-war level as being a minor art.
Factor 6 - internet
The internet opened up in 1994, and my cocoon period ended because with the internet I could apply what I had learned in college. The globalization I witnessed when I went around the world on my fact-finding mission of 1983 could now be realized. I took what I learned in school from my students, who by now were successful mid-career professionals, and architected a curriculum around printmaking as the nexus of new technologies. I put a high value on the intellectual side of artistic creativity, discovery, imagination and invention and made it an imaginary place I named Emeralda, referring to the emerald region spanning Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
Factor 7 – Halfwood PressGhost
Researching the term perfect storm in Wikipedia, I found: “The first use of the expression in the meteorological sense comes from the March 20, 1936, issue of the Port Arthur News in Texas: "The weather bureau describes the disturbance as ‘the perfect storm’ of its type. Seven factors were involved in the chain of circumstances that led to the flood." (My italics). Seven is a good number to stop on, and Factor 7 is the press I designed I call the Halfwood. By adding the flash memory drive so I could put my ghost in this new machine, it is more than an etching press; I borrowed the term platform from the digital technology industry and I applied it to what this etching press really is—a platform for both intellectual, artistic, learning and communal pursuits.
Bases for a Seattle Printmaking Center
Since 1966 when I came to Seattle, I have wanted to be part of a printmaking community which had both a clearly beneficial position in Seattle and a fluid, creative core. In that year, the Northwest Printmakers Society was slowly shutting down—for reasons I am still not sure of but probably because of a lack of money. That organization re-emerged in Portland about ten years later because Gordon Gilkey—the city’s most ardent advocate for traditional printmaking—cultivated the idea successfully.
Traditional printmaking clubs and workshops are located in major cities—and some out-of-the-way places—around the world. However, when I visited them in 1983, they were moribund, often empty rooms with plenty of space and equipment but few people actually working there. Sometimes, but rarely, I found foreign printmaking workshops were dabbling in things like video and computer graphics and this gave me the evidence I needed to transform printmaking back home in Seattle.
It is not only money that keeps printmaking organizations from becoming important community centers, it is a backward-looking policy, a fondness for hands-on, old timey crafts similar to what you see in weaving, ceramics, and other crafts centers. Tourists visit these centers to see how things used to be done, or clubs form around resurrecting the old days of war, agricultural practices, and entertainment. Experience is key to the success of these centers.
A Seattle Printmaking Center would combine the seven factors above, which would culminate in the printing press platform for using digital technologies to be both teacher and stage for the artists who use the Halfwoods. The presses are gateways or portals to bigger worlds, yet they are simultaneously a beautiful functional instrument for the art, craft and design of printmaking for the 21st Century.
Best of all, the Seattle Printmaking Center would also be a factory school located in a place like the Pike Place Market redevelopment where people learn all about printmaking while they produce the cash-cow of the center—Halfwood Presses.
Friday, March 14, 2014
Life after Death
Where printmaking springs anew
One of the games I play is to start an essay—an exercise in creative journalism cum blogging—with an overview of what I have written before I write it. Call it an abstract or whatever, but a rule I made up is that this overview or abstract must be exactly 255 characters, including spaces and punctuation. The rule came from another rule I learned about in database design—that any searchable field had to be in this number, 255. It sometimes happen that I get that number in the first try. Then I give myself a “Bingo!”
In my fifty years in printmaking, I grew up with the short happy life that this art medium experienced in the 60s and 70s when there was a boom in public interest in hand printmaking. The art form had morphed from a purely commercial reproduction industry that started before the 14th Century, played a decisive role in the industrial revolution in the West and, and then, late in the 19th Century, printmaking was raised to the level of a fine art thanks to numerous painters and sculptors took up making printing plates into their own hands.
By the mid-20th Century—the time of my entry into printmaking with 25 years in college art schools—printmaking was taught all over the world as a fine art equally with painting, drawing and sculpture.
However, things changed in rapid order as technology and economics merged with artist’ studios, their gallery owners and publishers. In a corporate effort, institutions and the private sector turned art collecting into a commodity exchange niche and mass production overtook mass customization.
In my opinion, printmaking was cut off from its ties to authentic creative artistry which I feel is at its best when an artist is at once the creator, crafter, designer and producer of their artworks—in prints or in any other medium. Printmaking requires expensive resources to sustain that, in a perfect world, could be offset by the dozens of people who would buy their art.
From the time printmaking became a fine art in the hands of painters, it was often because the paintings were relatively expensive, whereas a mass customized print, produced in small, limited editions, helped put bread on the artists’ and dealers’ tables.
However, when the artist’s hand-made prints, from their hand-made plates, became commodities perceived as equal to machine mass-produced prints (such as posters, magazines, etc.), at that juncture then printmaking had a setback—about a one-hundred fifty year setback.
Most printmakers today continue to use the old methods set up by publishers to make prints more bankable—things like edition numbers and limited edition prints. Also, most printmakers follow the canon of institutionalized printmakers who were their teachers. I am both a student of these printmakers and I was also one of them as a university professor. Such canon includes large-scale prints that compete in scale and color with paintings.
Competition, too, has become commonplace—from competitive print exhibitions to winning space on art gallery walls. Competition in art is never questioned in the art world; I think the acceptance of competition in art is a result of competition for secure jobs teaching in college. These “plum” jobs—which include having the run of great printmaking facilities, salary, benefits, a retirement plan and a bountiful flow of young, creative artists—are hard to get. Winners have to compete with other faculty to keep the job and gain tenure.
This ambiance creeps into the young artist’s awareness and so it seems this is higher education, knowing what the printmaking world is all about. Woe be unto the printmaking professor who suggests that new technologies—video games, for example—are descended from the ancient days of handprints on cave walls and, therefore, video games should be part of the printmaking curriculum.
Printmaking is dead
In the era of protests in the 1970s, when printmaking was at its apogee in its short happy life as a vibrant art form and presaged the flowering of the art and technology movement, I had an epiphany as some critics declared that art was dead.
Conceptual art was the rage and I made two rubber stamps that said, “printmaking is dead.” One stamp was made the correct way, with the letters running backward so it stamped out the phrase correctly. The other rubber stamp was made (after some resistance from the rubber stamp company who made it to my order) so you could read it, but when you stamped with it, it read backwards. I thought it was hilarious, because if you could make a statement like that in multiple and thus get a larger reading audience, then printmaking was definitely very much alive.
Maybe this qualified as an oxymoron made physical, and completion required the actual stamp pad and something to print it on. My point was—and I was still a printmaking professor at the time—to show students that you can say something is dead, but in saying so, you bring it back to life.
Every time I make a plate or a print now—fifty years after my first drypoint prints and screen prints in college—I am living in the fact that printmaking is alive. However, always at my back I hear the mechanical and digital reproduction boom sounding in my conscious.
Music and printmaking
It is a dilemma in a way, and I settle the dilemma for myself by seeing how printmaking is not only related to painting but that printmaking is related to performing arts, too. By identifying myself with performing artists in any little way that comes to mind as I make plates and prints, I reconnect printmaking to what the art was severed from in college by the compartmentalization of printmaking and painting and the walling-off of the visual arts from the performing arts into separate departments.
Printmaking thus lives on in me.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
When a press goes Zine
The Halfwood Press transformed printmaking for me. Looking back at presses I had known—all the way from the 17th Century replica of Rembrandt’s press I saw in Amsterdam in 1969 to my own design of the Century Halfwood press in 2004—presses (both intaglio and lithograph) fascinated me. Before I got my first press in 1968, I used to dream about owning a press. Evidently, as I love prints, printmaking and the people who make prints, the press came to be a symbol of my passion for printmaking.
A press is loaded with potential, and what the press produces is comparable to a loaded gun—it can be good or bad, depending on the human or humans behind its intent and its effect. Recently we heard about three-dimensional printing run by computers which someone proved could print a gun that works. At the same time this news came out, I was considering a printing press, the parts of which could be printed out and used to make a press that works.
I might still do this!
The printing press is, in a way, like a platform in the sense that it gives footing to those people who would effect change or, the obverse, to stop change. For thousands of years, ever since the first handprints were made on the walls of caves by prehistoric people, a kind of mechanical reproduction took command of human expression over time and space.
The mobile, today, is the descendant of the handprint, and the uses to which mobiles and other computer-type devices are put have decisive effects on human culture. This used to be the job of printing presses—but not so much any longer. As an artist and teacher, I have watched the changes with interest for fifty years.
When I plugged my Halfwood Press into my computer, I had a breakthrough idea. As a teacher, I could teach at a distance over time and space; as an artist, I could use the press to make my art and apply my craft in its making. A set of instructions that, fed into a 3D printer, produces the parts to a printing press is, I think, an example of recursivity.
Wikipedia gives a definition, with pictures, of recursive:
“Recursion is the process of repeating items in a self-similar way. For instance, when the surfaces of two mirrors are exactly parallel with each other the nested images that occur are a form of infinite recursion. The term has a variety of meanings specific to a variety of disciplines ranging from linguistics to logic. The most common application of recursion is in mathematics and computer science, in which it refers to a method of defining functions in which the function being defined is applied within its own definition. Specifically this defines an infinite number of instances (function values), using a finite expression that for some instances may refer to other instances, but in such a way that no loop or infinite chain of references can occur. The term is also used more generally to describe a process of repeating objects in a self-similar way.”
Halfwood Press Ozine
When I forecast that my hands-on press making days would come to an end within the year 2014, what I wanted to do with the resources remaining for me is create an online magazine in the field of printmaking. I announced my intention to my family, friends and associates. I called it, Printmaking World Online. I came close to paying for the trademark—I was that close!
One person said she didn’t like the title. That gave me pause. I signed up to attend the Southern Graphics Council conference coming up in March, 2014, with the Halfwood Press as the name of our booth. As the date approached (and my debt approached $3,000 for the project), the opportunity to announce my brainchild—a printmaking magazine online—began to beckon me for attention.
When it was necessary to design the paper handouts and business card that reflect the name of our booth, Halfwood Press, I took the picture which I had used in 2004 when Tom Kughler made the first Mini Halfwood Press and it occurred to me that the online magazine should be, simply, Halfwood Press.
Is this recursive?
Is this not an instance of recursivity, I wondered. The picture showed the first Mini, the press that is the prototype of all the small Halfwoods that followed. It lacked something, so for an hour I doctored the photo and added the clock—updating the Legacy Mini Halfwood to the way it is today. Then I added the PressGhost—cutting and pasting in the red and black USB connector. Finally I pasted in the image of the Smartphone with its image of Rembrandt on the screen. The original already had a CD/ROM in it, plus hand tools for traditional plate making. The hand that reaches in from the upper left is pulling a proof from a drypoint of our granddaughter at age 5.
The photo—meant for the business card for my online magazine (re-named “Ozine”) has a great narrative value. I think about making it available online, with hotspots so someone can explore the elements of the photo and learn what they mean to me.
My time is running out here—I am going to work with one of my associates at the Pike Place Market in Seattle. He is spending several days a week to explore the potential of the Busker Etcher—a musician who not only knows how to play for the public but also how to print for the public at the market.
Good subject for Halfwood Press Ozine, init?
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Halfwood Press Ozine
A different slant on this year’s topic
Walk the line
Johnny Cash’ famous song goes:
“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line.”
The Halfwood line of presses has kept me focused for ten years, giving me a thing to pop my eyes wide open in the morning and work on all day. I keep the incoming feedback from people who bought them, and that gives me ties to bind my artistic vision with social and economic ties.
In this sense, I could say I “own” the Halfwood press; it’s mine. I wanted to be a printmaking teacher, and because the Halfwood Press is mine—and my invention of the PressGhost and serious games—I walk the line.
Almost a year ago—on the tenth anniversary of the Halfwood Press concept that came together as the Century Halfwood Press—I knew change was coming. We are deep into the age of digital reproduction and the conventional printmaking world has drifted far from its roots in performance and technology arts. A new generation, led by the Millennials, is re-shaping the printmaking world, finding in printmaking elements suitable to the 21st Century.
Printing has been the Nexus of performance and technology which has given us the artifacts of human history. For example, an ancient people’s civilization is discovered and we see it in printed and broadcast images. A prehistoric person in a cave smears his or her hand with paint and prints it on the wall, or spatters pigment over it to leave a stencil—an act, a performance. It might have been a performance we can guess at and, again, we see the artifact in printed and broadcast pictures.
Thanks to the art world, printmaking has been isolated from performance, and only artifact of the printmaking performance—the fine art print—is celebrated and traded in the art market. With the generation of young artists with whom I spent the first part of my career as a college teacher, I learned how to restore the tie that binds printmaking with performance arts and, subsequently, to photography, film, video and games.
Everything ventured, everything gained
I walked off campus in 1985 never to return to the cloistered academic world where printmaking was hewn of its branches to the performing arts and technological inventions of the digital age. The root of printmaking is to be seen in those hand prints on the walls of caves, alongside the laborious, gifted work of painters and sculptors who gave us the paintings of their game. I like to think it was an impulse that made someone figure out that they could make a perfectly good image of their hand by painting and printing it, or stenciling.
That might have been one of the creative leaps of imagination and realization of something new, and that was the beginning of mechanical reproduction. This was the coming together of art and technology, and the Halfwood Press venture taught me how to make an instrument out of an etching press to go along with restoring the ties of printmaking arts with performance arts.
It helps that the presses are beautiful and functional “machines” in ways similar to musical instruments—harps, pianos, oboes, guitars, etc. A renowned guitar musician was interviewed on the radio and I heard him say, “You define your instrument, and then it defines you.”
We—my wife and I and quite a number of our friends—invested everything in the Halfwood Press venture. Now it would appear that the winds are shifting and our craft is going to become an online magazine, the Halfwood Press Ozine.
Monday, March 10, 2014
What is the Wow Metaphor?
How Emeralda and the World of Warcraft compare
Note that this essay is created in the realm of Perfect Studios, the domain-of-expertise in artists’ asset management and legacy transfer. On this island domain, we consider all the ways that the works and offerings of artists, crafts people and designers may be maintained, cultivated, and incorporated in the EarthSafe 2022 mission.
Perfect Studios is one of the ten domains-of-expertise in the imaginary place called Emeralda, and this imaginary place is devoted to games for the gifts of life. On each of the ten islands, different strategies are practiced, but they are all related to printmaking, a performance, time-based art that developed concurrently with painting and sculpting.
The World of Warcraft evolved in the United States, starting with a company that designed ports for other companies’ games. Then, three recent graduates from UCLA eventually brought about the earliest versions. This was in the early 1990s, as international events impinged on the United States political and economic policies, laying groundwork for an undeclared civil war in this country. Generations of failures in American education policies resulted in dominant ignorance and American vulgarity which had worldwide consequences.
My casual encounter with the Union of Concerned Scientists—which I had never heard of until one day, on Guemes Island, I happened to find a brochure that this organization published entitled, “Worlds’ Scientists Call for Help from all Humanity,” in which 1,500 renowned scientists signed an agreement that five problems would end Earth’s Human Life Sustainability within ten to thirty years. It was 1992, and counting.
Thirty years would put us at 2022. Our two daughters—Billie Jane and Nellie Adelle, would be 53 and 50, respectively. The scientists were describing five factors in human societies all over the world which needed to be addressed immediately if the Earth was to be able to sustain our daughters’ lives. As an artist, what could I do to help? And, if 1,500 scientists of high reputations could agree on five points, despite their nationality, religious beliefs and other commitments, would there be 1,500 artists of comparable accomplishment in the field of art who also would agree to sign up to help the scientists?
I felt like a person who had been living in a cave, and in that moment I had stopped my clumsy scrawls and my handprints on the walls of the cave, and looked outside. I saw nothing—no one who called themselves an artist who would sign such a call for help as did those scientists. To agree on five points would require, first, reading them. Who did I know that would read the UCS’ brochure, and immediately agree to help?
Despite that I was close to several renowned artists, I felt reluctant because my past experience gave me to think they would dismiss the brochure. I found the brochure in the community center on Guemes Island; I had been invited to talk about new technologies I adapted to serve traditional printmaking education—things like the first PC-based hypermedia tool, ToolBook—which was Paul Allen’s answer to the Apple Macintosh Hyperstack.
In the coming months I made up my mind to do something—but what? I didn’t know; but I made my resolution to put my future in the context of EarthSafe 2022—do things to help the worlds’ scientists as well as my talents would allow. Because if, by the year 2022, I had done nothing, then my daughters—in their middle age by then—would know the shame.
WoW and me
When I visit the websites for topics on the World of Warcraft, it seems to me that the three graduate students who started it (at the same time that I discovered the Union of Concerned Scientists’ brochure) belonged to a college-educated generation who were oblivious to the five issues of which the worlds’ scientists referred. Well-trained (I will not say educated) in computer science, they found easy money was to be made selling violence in the game industry.
I think violence of the kind you see in WoW is the result of ignorance and vulgarity of the kind we think of as having existed in the Medieval ages when people were barely surviving the elements and who were easily influenced by those who had superior intellect and creativity and could conjure spiritual and ineffable answers to basic questions of sustainability.
For example, questions like, “Why did the neighboring tribe attack?’ The leaders’ answer: “Because they worshipped an inferior God.” What should be done? “Fight back, to the death if necessary, for it is written that we are superior because we are the true human beings and they are animals.”
This thinking had nothing to do with the availability of resources and what is needed for sustainability. If the neighboring tribe wore their hair a certain way, or their skins were of a different tone, then these appearances were somehow lumped into the need to scorn them, destroy them and take their homes and kill their leaders.
WoW employees at company headquarters in California create and sell monsters and evil forces easily enough after generations of failed education in the public schools and colleges of the USA. For the past century classroom teachers have had to fight for their students’ attention and respect ever since TV took over American thinking as regards education.
Teachers have also had to fight for public support and, often times, they have had to fight their own school administrators for their pay. Today, getting young students’ attention is even harder because of video games. And there are more dire forecasts. TV shows of the 50s may have presented a skewed view of American values, but they are nothing compared to the impact of WoW and other games such as Grand Theft Auto.
Many United States children are being set up, in my opinion, to rally to almost any call to help reduce Earth’s human life sustainability for the coming generations. In my opinion, those who call themselves artists and who create those monsters and virtual experiences are minions for the industry, not artists at all of the kind we need to help the scientists save Earth’s human life sustainability.
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Fun and prints at Seattle's Pike Place MarketI am making up a game to play along with another printmaker named Ethan Lind. We call the game, or project, "Busker Etcher," a name that derives from Ethan's drawings of bluegrass musicians and other artists who sometimes play for the public on the streets of Seattle and at the Pike Place Market. We started out with a rule that I would loan him a Mini Etching Press if he would get a spot in the Pike Place Market and use the press to print, live, at his place in the crafts and art walkway.
It was not long before Ethan sold a print, and on that day, March 7, 2014, I took the snapshot, above, of Ethan holding a freshly-printed intaglio print of a woman with a guitar, and the famous Pike Place Center sign and clock in the background.
Ethan can also sell the press, of course. If anyone reading this is interested in knowing more, or who also wants to "play this game" and be part of it, let me know! - B
Thursday, March 6, 2014
SEA of Ozines
Scarcity, exclusivity and alignment in printmaking world
I read an online advice blog from Mequoda—a Boston consulting company which works on transitioning magazines to online magazines. Their pitch is constantly toward the niche magazines, and this suits me because printmaking, my native art form, is definitely a niche enterprise. It always was, and always will be. This makes scarcity an issue because this has kept the printmaking market alive and gave hope to many printmakers who want to practice their freedom to make prints however they want, in their own way, and yet who hope to earn back their investment in materials and supplies.
Some printmakers have attempted, and succeeded, in earning back enough to make a living. A few got rich, but very few, and none of them did so without opting for conventional market practices—including the illusion, if not the fact, of scarcity. The edition number, for example, you see on most modern prints, is a sign that the artist and his or her publisher are banking on the scarcity factor. The illusion that there is a limited number of prints makes some buyers happy, even if they aren’t crazy about the image.
The ease by which digital prints can be made and distributed has more or less blown away the scarcity illusion. Practically every artist has a web site or a blog and they are likely to publish the images that they make as digital images—virtually free for the taking. Scarcity is an illusion, but two other factors remain which printmakers can use.
Exclusivity goes hand in hand with scarcity. For Mequoda, they equate exclusivity to the “most important pieces of real estate” in a paper-based magazine, which consist of the inside cover, inside back cover and back cover. The article says if you can sell these to one, two, or three advertisers on an exclusive basis, it is highly profitable.
Mequoda is writing about subscription magazines, just as the paper-base magazines rely partly on subscriptions for their profits (along with advertising). Free online magazines may advertise too, of course, without the readers being required to pay for their subscriptions. This is a blog, actually, and bloggers don’t assume they are making money on their work. If you, who are reading this on my blog, are not paying, you know what this means.
However, in my contemplating an online magazine for the printmaking world, exclusivity means more because at this time there is no online magazine—subscription or otherwise—for the printmaking world. There are social networks, but to date there are no online magazines as counterparts to paper-based magazines. In fact, there are only two paper-based productions that I know of in the English language: Printmaking Today and the Journal of the Print World.
This is where there is a shift away from the mega-markets of magazine publishing and the very tiny niche of printmaking. Alignment, says Mequoda’s article, “Technology allows every advertiser to access positions next to highly relevant content. But it’s highest for the niche subscription website publishers we advise, because their tight focus on specific topics gives them an advantage over general interest publishers.”
This means, one, if you start up an online magazine such as I envision, PrintmakingWorld Ozine, you can have a tight focus next to the elements that make printmaking a unique art form. It is aligned with performance art and technology. Performance art and technology are the core values of printmaking.
What this means to advertising, to start with, is that our printmaking press line is the veggies and potatoes of the magazine. Our press line treats printing presses as though they are musical instruments, comparable to the beautiful grand piano and the Casio keyboard. They are part of the public artist’s showcase when he or she gets a spot in a public market, art fair, or street location.
Alignment with editorial content is important, too. In my opinion, art education as it is known in the education world today is lacking in foundations that would, if it weren’t for college art departments, make human creativity more relevant to solving today’s problems and the problems that face tomorrow’s adults. My idea of content for a printmaking online magazine is content that restores the connection between human creativity, technology, and mechanical skills in a time-based, performance art.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Portal to a print pal game
What is Proximates?
This is a social networking game made for people who do hand printmaking. Nominally it is an extension of the fine art print field, and it originated as part of my campaign to restore the cultural value of hand printmaking. The physical platform for Proximates is the small printing presses I began designing ten years ago—the Halfwood Press as it is known.
These presses took several shapes and attracted hundreds of people. A couple years ago I got the idea to go back in time to the original designs of etching presses and I made mini-version of the press Rembrandt probably used to make his famous (and, also, infamous) prints. I named it the WeeWoodie Rembrandt Press.
Around five years ago I introduced the concept for an interactive game to go along with my campaign to restore the cultural value of hand printmaking. Printmaking is the ancestor of all media technologies and, for that matter, all technologies that depend on communication of exactly repeatable images by mechanical means.
In the age of digital communication, all of history that was limited to mechanical reproduction in the past—picture books, diagrams, magazines, etc.—took flight to the Internet. It was quite soon that people invented games to play on computers. The combination of printmaking with digital devices gave us so-called “digital prints” and expanded artists’ means of expression and communication.
However, despite the interest in and purchases of our Halfwood Presses, my goal—restoration of the cultural value of printmaking—eludes me because people are not aware of the creative possibilities of the act of printmaking. The creative act of making printing plates, preparing to print them, and pulling the prints is hindered by its connection to institutionalized printmaking. The way in which printmaking is defined as a “fine art” gives printmaking a mistaken identity.
When people think of visual arts, common sense tells them this means painting and the graphic arts; printmaking is lumped together with other visual arts regardless of the unique ways in which printmaking evolved. From playfully or ritually-made handprints on the walls of caves in prehistory evolved the invention of means by which intentionally made, exactly repeated images can record their own making and doing and—given the right materials—the act of creation may transcend hundreds and thousands of years.
If you look at an image of the handprints on today’s computer screen or on your mobile device, consider that you are seeing 30,000 years of printmaking but that it is also a moment in time, an almost immediate result of an act of human creativity. Whether those handprints are “serious” images (like their adjacent paintings of animals and human figures) or the result of idle play or entertainment we will never know.
I choose to think they are acts of creativity and mechanical experimentations with pigments and spray methods and so I associate printmaking with performance and creativity. Leaping through time and space, today my “game” I call Proximates is intended to underscore the actions of human creativity with transcending time and space—not only as a kind of painting and drawing that can be replicated for commercial profits.
It is particularly for young people who, from the ages of 2 to 18 years, are learning what they will need to know to understand their own potential in helping Earth’s human life sustainability. I refer to children all over the world who can connect to the Internet by computer, smart phone or tablet device if they learn how to print with a press.
Therefore I invented Proximates; lately my wife suggested I call it “Print Pals” after the old “Pen Pal” arrangements of our youth. My goal—to restore the cultural value of hand printmaking—will be assisted by developing Proximates as part of all the presses I design.
How it works
People schooled in institutionalized and commercial fine art prints have been taught to follow a system of edition numbers which was invented early in the 20th Century as a marketing tool. Publishers and art dealers meant to capitalize on the rarity aspect of one-of-a-kind paintings and drawings. Rarity is valued among wealthy people because a rare object, such as a huge diamond or old master painting is tantamount to economic and political power. It is easy to shift this factor to equate to cultural value because such rare and beautiful things as works of art have inherent cultural value, too, if they convey something of the person, the people, the materials and times involved in their making.
Also, the printing plates change because of the wear and tear of printing which, in the sales pitch of the publisher and art dealer, means there are variations in the print equal to deterioration. Therefore, print number one is “better” than print number 100. The numerals, 1/100 written on the print gives it a higher economic value. These edition numbers are as good as gold, therefore. Art is thus reduced to the level of plain metal; the act of human creativity that might have inspired the original print is lost as the print might be equal to the value of a gold Krugerrand coin. In this sense, power becomes the basis of the art, and the cultural value of the “fine art print” becomes—as Walter Benjamin described it—political.
Therefore, I reject the system of edition numbers and, instead, replace it with a time-and-space number I call the “moment number.” The moment number is in two parts: The moment in time that the print was pulled (within a minute in the 24-hour clock system) and, the second part, the space on the Earth where it was printed, expressed in degrees latitude and longitude.
The moment number is the basis for Proximates: The print pals game.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Old wine in a virtual bottle
"But that, I think, is going to be an exciting new area, new development, from crowd sourcing and if all goes well, those stories could be published in a fiction-only Femina special issue. We could select some of those authors, we could get them published, we could help them get published and hopefully at the end of it monetize it also for ourselves."
This is the last paragraph in the ten-part message from Rachel Bartlett, a British observer who wrote about the ten points of crowdsourcing for content of some online magazines. I caught the article when I considered crowd funding my online magazine, PrintmakingWorld Online. It was a case of mistaken identity—the ten points were not about raising money for a startup at all but rather the article was about getting an audience of readers and subscribers to provide content and ideas for the already-established magazine.
I used the ten points for ten days to help my thinking about starting PrintmakingWorld Online, or, as I have come to call it, Ozine—after the 1970s movement for alternative magazines called ‘Zines. By reading Bartlett’s account, and then extending the case of mistaken identity, I am making a hybrid out of mixing content-quest into a money-quest.
What came to me today was the fact that every time I tried to think of a successful printmaking magazine, in my mind I recalled the one magazine that stands above all the rest—a magazine I still have in my collection, called Artist’s Proof. Of all the magazines I read since the time I was an undergraduate in college (Gebrauschgrafik, Print) and subscribed to during my college teaching days (Print Collector’s News), Artist’s Proof stands out because it was not only a glossy magazine exclusively about printmaking and printmakers, but had very little advertising.
From that experience I concluded that future printmaking magazines would be very expensive to produce and therefore expensive to buy. The resources to produce a paper-based magazine are so great that they require multitudes of advertisers with little regard to what the advertisers are pushing. Subscribers, too, must be multitudinous and only by selling the magazine cheaply can enough subscribers be enlisted which means, often times, cheapening the content and catering to compromised human mentality.
This is elitist thinking, I know; yet it has been the elite who have preserved what we know of printmaking so that the printmaking experience can be shared with the people who count the most—the young people who are, at ages 4 to 18, in the years they will form skills, knowledge and an attitude suitable to help save Earth’s human life sustainability. A printmaking experience can be useful for the transferrable skills obtained by making prints or making associations between printmaking, society and economics.
Rachel Bartlett: “10. Use the experience to refresh thinking”
For Toiminen, one of the most important outcomes of the experience has been to encourage Olivia's editorial team to "regenerate, recreate and innovate in a new way. I think it's a bit obnoxious to consider that everything we do that is new and fun for us will be interesting for the audience," she said, adding that by engaging with readers and considering the ideas they bring to the table, journalists can "find themselves in a different place which is a source for creativity".
Operating in this new environment can also spark entirely new ideas for products, such as the fashion blogger magazine at Bonnier, which incorporates some of the underlying crowd sourcing ideas. Similarly, at Worldwide Media, Rai said that other magazine editors within the group are now "thinking of ways to do crowd sourcing, whether it's an entire issue or sections". And Femina itself has also stumbled across a potential new business which could see its readers more regularly writing fictional content, under the name of Femina Fast Fiction.
"If our readers are so keen to write, we just want to check out whether they're keen to write only on subjects that we give them, or are they keen to write fiction? I am quite hopeful that within the next month or so, we will be launching this new platform where we'll invite people to write their fiction stories on our website, on the tablet, the mobile, as well as hopefully on Twitter. So we'll have fast fiction and very fast fiction! But that, I think, is going to be an exciting new area, new development, from crowd sourcing and if all goes well, those stories could be published in a fiction-only Femina special issue. We could select some of those authors, we could get them published, we could help them get published and hopefully at the end of it monetize it also for ourselves."
What did I learn?
What I take away from reading Rachel Bartlett’s ten points on the benefits of getting ideas from your readership is the interaction between the makers and those for whom you are making. It is the same relationship between the printmaker and his or her audience, if you will, in the performance mode. Printmaking is partly a performance art, a visual art, and a technology art. An Ozine has to celebrate and share this; and in the age of digital reproduction, this is easy.
The question remains, “How do I share my Artist’s Proof magazine experience through PrintmakingWorld Ozine? How do I balance the elitist idea of fine art printmaking with today’s realities?’
Monday, March 3, 2014
Social Manufacturing and Ozines
Searching for answers
Social manufacturing ozine
Quirky came up as a press manufacturing option. Quirky is an example of “social manufacturing,” where people wove factors of the social networking phenomenon into ways to solve the problems of getting a new product to market. At that time I was looking for ways to produce the new WeeWoodie Rembrandt Press in volumes large enough to get into homes and schools, and from the description I read about social manufacturing, it seemed worth a try.
Therefore I put the prototype WeeWoodie Rembrandt Press into the Quirky venue and collected enough votes of confidence to be encouraging; however, not enough votes to take the process to the next level. Quirky adopted an element of gamification in its approach to social manufacturing: the concept has to be popular enough to get the attention of the Quirky manufacturing team. If you do this, their team knows how to get the product made.
I learned from this experience that the Halfwood Press Workshop Association can use the Quirky model within its own configuration, that is, among the engineers, artisans, and skill-holders who make up the group. With a half-dozen members in the HWPWA (the acronym is pronounced “hoop-wah”) who have come to know the idea in its many dimensions,* a network exists which may be able to do what Quirky does.
The need for Ozines
From the beginning—ten years ago—the internet has been the only way that I was able to reach out to the people who are interested in small, portable, “designer” etching presses. The few times that I attempted to use print for advertising (i.e., buying a display ad) were completely without effect, which made me chary of trying it again until this year.
Meanwhile, the web has impinged on traditional print magazines and journals to the extent that these have made online magazines available alongside their print versions. Lately, online magazines have grown up where there was no printed equivalent. These are niche magazines which do not have a market base big enough to pay the cost of printed magazine production and distribution.
I loved printmaking-related magazines when I could get them, but they seemed unable to sustain for more than a few years; and I suppose it was for economic reasons. I have a theory that the failure of printmaking magazines, newsletters and journals is partly due to printmaking having been promoted as a form of visual art that owes its credence to painting and drawing. To me, printmaking is an art form that grew out of performance and social networks and its relationship to the visual arts has been a support role.
Therefore, I reason that if the basis for printmaking is a social, cultural, technological and performance or time-based experience, then a magazine for printmaking would look different than those that I used to receive in the mail. In fact, my concept of a magazine for the printmaking world of the future would be ten or a dozen magazines online, each one dealing with a factor related to the printmaking experience.
As part of my study to develop the PrintmakingWorld Ozine, I study a British news article on social or crowdsourcing magazines. At first glance, I thought the article was about financing a magazine startup. It turned out it was about getting content or editorial ideas for existing magazines, both paper-based and online magazines. My study takes ten days, with one of the ten points as a focus.
Rachel Bartlett: The Ninth suggestion “Consider sales strategy and timing’
“While there are certain challenges to take into consideration with these projects, such as the time needed to carry out effective crowd sourcing, many of the publishers reported healthy sales of the special editions and say the idea makes sense for sparking interest in the brand, particularly in quieter months.
“The co-created Olivia edition, for example, is sold "during the slow season", Toiminen said. "It really enhances both ad sales and newsstand sales because it's something special and it gets a lot of PR every time, and a lot of attention."
“Femina doubled the price of its Made By You edition, Rai said, but "circulation numbers went up" regardless. "We were sold out within the first week," he said. "So the opportunities are huge". Ms. White added that while "there's no miracle magic wand" when it comes to boosting sales by significant volumes, the experience can work to unite readers in a more meaningful way, giving the "feeling of a club".
"It feels very inclusive," she explained. "You are a Company girl, you know you're a Company girl. And in turn they are then spreading your word for you.
"And it's got to be a two-way street, so I hope by including them as much as possible we're showing a level of respect for our readership, and I think that's where brands need to go. It has to be a two-way conversation."
*Many dimensions means everything from etching presses to chocolate bars, serious games to fine art prints, 3D-printed presses, videos and comic books. Uppermost among the goals are two factors: education and jobs for people who agree that art, craft and design education is important in planning for Earth’s human life sustainability.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Exquisite Corpse Zine
Putting new shoes on old-hat printmaking
Like a battery
PrintmakingWorld Ozine is like a battery—it has potential. Electricity is stored in the battery, and it can drive something or light a bulb in a flashlight. However, I don’t see online magazines as being like what print magazines have been for the past couple-hundred years—since the days of Ben Franklin and Tom Paine. Their magazines (actually they compare to the modern ‘Zine better than today’s magazines) were part of a revolution, a spike in the history of printing, if you will.
The history of printing is important to creative visual and story-telling artists. All printmakers, book artists and graphic novelists know this, and we love it. We have a passion for it. Now we have an opportunity to meld our interests in a global online magazine. It is not a matter of quitting our devotion to handmade prints and making new designs for the tools to make prints and teach printmaking.
It is like putting new shoes on an exquisite corpse, starting with the old hat of traditional printmaking—and ending at the feet where magic shoes fly all over the world in the blink of an eye and bring faraway people and places to our computer screens, our mobiles, and our digital tablets. Does the shoe fit? Study the industry news from England and find out.
Rachel Bartlett: “Harness the PR and marketing potential for the magazine”
Not only does the experience help magazines build greater connections to their readers, and offer readers a hands-on role in the magazine's production – and therefore hopefully a highly relevant and appealing end product – but the magazines also enjoyed the "PR buzz" which came with the experience of doing something a bit different or innovative in the industry.
"It's a crowded market and magazines are not top of mind where media is generally concerned," Rai said. "Television and the internet are “sexier” than magazines, so you need to do things which get the attention of the advertisers, of the media, of people in the industry." He added that it also offered "marketing opportunity".
"If you want to be seen as contemporary, it's important to do contemporary things, not just look contemporary," he explained.
Old hat, new shoes
The Pike Place Market, in Seattle, Washington, is one of the oldest open markets on the west coast, so when it comes to “old hat,” what could be a better place to put on new shoes of the kind I envision for printmaking experiences via the PrintmakingWorld Ozine?
Local and Global
Advertising was never like this
News from Brazil
Our friend Cecilia, in Rio de Janeiro, wrote:
Greetings from Rio, Mr. Ritchie
I've been thinking of evening, sadly, here in Brazil people prefer paintings of great size and colored than a small engravers in black. So I think bringing in the engraving, not as a frame to hang on the wall, but with the preciousness of collectionism, the elaborate work in a detailed manner, why guess I'll have to market it.
At the end of July will happen here, the "FLIP," a literary international fair in the historic city of Paraty.
I want to go, but still do not know how to diffuse the engraving through the "Ex Libris", where I believe there may be market, because Brazilians like collections and they will appreciate their collections characterized by a sequence of engravings designed especially for this purpose.
It might sound crazy, but "Ex Libris" is valued in the countries of Eastern Europe, but may have a more current new expression. I'm sending a link on Ex-Libris and photos of the work of a printmaker, who is Russian. He lives in Montreal, is fantastic.
I do not know him, but is that kind of engraver that I like to do, maybe a little more realistic with my personality.
Will I ever only get it when I retire? I've arrive late getting home and no motivation!
But even with this news about the cancellation of the Conference, I booked the holiday (03 to March 10 - Carnival in Brazil now) to try to get good proofs with mini Halfwood and I'll be on my vacation in May in Paraty to inquire about "FLIP " that to take place in in late July and I will investigate the possibility of drafting "Ex Libris" to special books.
Best Regards, Cecília
On a day I was supposed to help a printmaker make his Saturday debut at the bustling Pike Place Market, a plethora of ideas befell me. I was too late for role call, so I spent the day catching up on press making, but the emails taught me a lesson about restoring the connection between the artisan printmaker and the people—call them audience or collectors—in these times of digital communication. Thus, “participatory printmaking” means print on demand, busker style.
Rachel Bartlett, again:
“7. Don't forget about new advertising opportunities”
Of course a magazine is not just about the editorial content, and the publishers also had to think about ways of bringing advertising into the magazine, or even into the crowd sourcing process itself.
At Olivia, for example, advertisers could set their own 'challenges' on the online platform, the results of which then became advertorials in the magazine.
And while it did not come to fruition at the time, the experience of crowd sourcing an edition of Femina did highlight new ways the magazine could run advertising in future versions, Rai said, with the possibility of getting relevant advertisers to sponsor the entire magazine. In April, "one of the leading mobile service providers" was interested in this prospect, he said.
"They said that this year their budget is already taken care of, but next time you do something like this, call on us and we will sponsor the entire activity. So the advertising opportunities are huge."