Having won an appointment with Seattle’s technology startup liaison
he finds that she is a Startup yenta—matchmaker among entrepreneurs and he wonders
if she can find a match for the technology sector of his ten-year plan for a Seattle
What the art schools overlooked was that printmaking is a performance and social
experience. The experience of printmaking involves more than merely producing prints
or a sideline to painting and drawing. Printmaking involves mechanical and technical
skills, equipment, chemistry, photography and—today—computers. To call it an art-form
is to miss the point. Hand printmaking reduces the technological expectations of
the user so printmaking does not need to match the look and feel of magazines and
Where does this bring us, today? In a roundabout way, the failure to catch the
meaning of a performance and social art in printmaking, we have Seattle’s numerous
incubators for tech startups today. The city’s technology initiative, Startup Seattle,
is part of it--a city government belief that new businesses, not business
as usual, will help Seattle's economy grow.
Is there a new business in the missed opportunity—when the UW printmaking department
was deconstructed in 1984? Instead of being transformed for the coming digital age,
the printmaking facilities at the UW (also in other state-run art schools) were
folded into an extension of design area. Instead going for a curriculum for a reinvented
printmaking in which majors could have practiced video, computer graphics and laser
technology, they came up with a substitute cocktail of communications and design
The word “printmaking” was relegated to catacombs of dead courses—alongside
art education, interior design and weaving. This is a key to understanding why a
new business startup, based on a transformed printmaking, is timely.
Printmaking always attracted a big following at the UW art school and it was
partly because of the tumult of developments in the 1970's that made it so. Off-campus,
you had a booming economy. There were jobs for printmakers who could work in the
fine art publishing houses. There were jobs for graduates who wanted to teach college
and in schools. On campus, you had experiments in art and technology, and printmaking
was one of the portals that could lead students to film, video and computer graphics.
The best part of it was that these forays into new technologies (and associations
with new people and new jobs in technology) was a double-door: You could spend mornings
doing computer graphics and afternoons making woodcut prints.
Death of academic printmaking
It’s just as well that printmaking at the UW should end the way it did, because
as long as printmaking was yoked to painting and drawing, printmaking could not
be anything but a substitute for those mediums - in multiples. Colleges are restricted
by national federations dictating what qualifies for student loans, grants and credits.
For example, there are no credible business classes for art majors, but there
are classes that teach art majors how to land jobs in the museum and government
arts agencies. It would appear that innovation has no place in a system of state-run
higher education. The opposite is true off-campus, in a world economy helped by
incubators for start ups.
Released from the art schools, printmaking can fulfill another mission—that
of offering an experience not enjoyed by painters. Printmaking is experience
more like the performing arts in their communal and collaborative nature than
painting and drawing. Printmaking is a social art and rich with innovative
potential and the potential to attract money.
Convinced of these other sides of fine art printmaking, a business start up
is possible if it is one that serves both the old notions of prints made by renowned
artists like Rembrandt and Warhol and the new kinds of printmaking done with laser
engravers and 3D printers.
Central to the success of this kind of start up is communication - presence
on the Internet and a subscription online magazine. Alongside it, the production
of spin-off games, apps and equipment for printmaking can be the work of young people
who want to work with hands in both worlds—the world that has died a hundred deaths
and the world that is being born hundreds of times a day.
Life after death
A born-again printmaker needs to find a co-founder, an angel and an incubator
in which to take the initial steps to produce an online magazine for the Printmaking
Or, an angel who wants to start the incubator, the Seattle Printmakers Center.
While updating one of the web pages of the owners of his press
design the author is beset by a vision of digging for treasure—a childhood
fascination with lost treasure which is symbolic of what he lost when he was
forced to resign from his treasured job.
Picture me digging
“Drilling down” is a current expression used by people in the IT industry
when referring to digging into computer code. Computer code is the
machine-readable language people must use to make all computer devices
For me, drilling down has a visual quality like digging down into the
earth. Maybe if I had been born into a family of a well-driller, it might have
been a different image. I was born and raised as a farmer, so “digging down”
makes more sense.
As a kid, I loved stories of digging for lost treasure. Sometimes I would
bury something with the purpose of digging it up later on. In fact, somewhere
along the road between Wapato and the Yakima River in central Washington State,
there is a fruit jar buried and it contains treasures I put there in the 1940s—a
fake ruby and a mummified chameleon, as I recall.
Today I was drilling down, as information techies call it, into the
information about Josef Beery, one of the owners of the Galleon Halfwood Press
I designed. Josef bought the press from me earlier this year, and now a photo
of it is on his website. I was looking for more information to put on his web
page on my website—a listing of all the owners—and this meant “drilling down”
with Josef’s name as the search term.
While this is happening, I’m also beset by another topic, which is whether
or not to go to a barbecue being held by the local printmakers club, the
Seattle Print Arts. This club has a peculiarity about it for me. I am probably
the only one who has ever attended their meetings and joined—for awhile—as a
As a print maker who has lived and worked in Seattle for almost fifty years,
you would think I would be a member, but I am not, currently, a dues-paying
member. It is odd, and you would think I would go to the barbecue, naturally.
The trouble is, I am miserable when I go to their meetings because I am
like an outsider. Maybe it’s because I’ve been around for almost fifty years
and I can see through every facet of the club—who founded it, why they started
the Seattle Print Arts, when, how, etc. Also, I saw the predecessors of this
club—the Northwest Print makers for one—plus the other printmaking clubs around
the USA, of which there are almost one-hundred.
Printmaking is one of the art forms which naturally attract people into a
social group. The members benefit from the organizations’ work for education,
training, exhibition and community activism. There are art clubs for almost
every art form and technique, the crafts, and new technologies. Printmaking is
a social art form, and a performance art with a strong technological element
about it that makes a club almost a necessity.
So, why the hesitation to go the barbecue? That’s what I wonder every year
since I first learned they had barbecues. It is odd. As I drilled down into
Josef Beery’s presence on the web, I pictured digging for treasure. What was I
expecting to find?
When I found the image of his Galleon Halfwood Press on Josef's website and read
his comment, I saw why I don’t want to go to the barbecue. With the “treasure”
of Josef’s comment online, who needs to go to a printmaking club barbecue when
only one member among the 100 or so who belong to it owns one of the presses I
From around the United States and in a dozen foreign countries, almost
one-hundred fifty people own presses I designed; but here, among the members of
the city’s only printmaking club, only one person has come forward, talked with
me about the press, bought one, came to my studio and tried it out. She would not
mind me giving her name—Lu Mcbride.
I’m not going
What I remember most from past visits I made to the barbecue was like being
a wallflower at a high school dance, where no one would offer to dance with
me. If there is going to be a conversation with someone, I will have to
initiate it—with the exception of Sheila Coppola, the hostess and owner of
Sidereal Press where the barbecue is always held.
So, I will stay busy digging in the data of those people, like Josef, who
have shown me they value what I do and do not ignore my effort to be a part of
the greater community of printmakers, designers, students and strategic
Like the storied “lost treasures” of my boyhood reading, I will find
my treasure close to home and where the treasure is most likely to be found.
Reading a tome of a book titled, “Diffusion of Innovations” by
Everett M. Rogers, this artist/teacher must pause and ask himself, “What, if
anything, did I innovate?” and, then, “Why was any one of these adopted and
diffused?” The question bears thinking.
It started with a trip to Europe
If I “innovated” in any pursuit, it probably started with the trip Lynda,
my wife and I, took in 1969 to work in Europe with Rolf Nesch in Norway, and
some follow-up visits to Stanley Hayter and others on the continent.
My pursuit was an unanswered question: “What was it like before WWII when
it appeared that printmaking innovation was diffused?” Such diffusion of the
inventive printmaking that Nesch and Hayter—to name only two renowned artists
who helped make printmaking a fine art form in its own right—is an example of “Diffusion
of Innovations” which Everett M. Rogers wrote about in his book of that title.
At 72—the same age that Rolf Nesch was when I went to work with him and see
his technique he called, “material grafiks,”—I look back almost every day and
wonder why my innovations were not diffused. Or, the most important ones to me,
the innovations in printmaking as the art is taught in college.
Rogers’ book is helping me understand why my innovations weren’t adopted in
college art and why I continue to see my innovations slow to be diffused to the
degree that I wish they would.
A current example is my proposal for a Seattle Printmakers Center—I find
very few people interested. Rogers might tell me why. Thus far his book has
taught me the truth that even though an innovation might be a good thing for
many people, not many people will take it up.
Those who do are called “early adopters” of the innovation. Their number is
small at first, but it grows over time and then it soars—providing the
circumstances are right for it.
What did I do?
This morning, as part of my research, I thought it would be instructive to
list what I think are my innovations—the ones that have not been diffused.
Uncertain whether to start at the top—the Seattle Printmakers Center—or at the
early innovations of my career, it’s hard to choose.
The old innovations are easier to understand—starting in 1969 in other
words. My innovation that year was that printmaking shares with painting,
drawing and sculpture certain creative processes. I was steeped in creativity
theories, not only in art, but in science, mathematics and music. What is the
creative process, anyway? Whatever it was, it seemed to be the key to success
for artists. Whether it is innate or if creativity can be taught—these are the
questions that motivated me to go to Europe in 1969.
And the question was specifically grounded in printmaking, because
printmaking is not a creative process itself, but a repetitive, mechanical
process that lent itself to non-human production. If printmaking were to be
valuable in the humanities, or if printmaking were to be justified as material
for higher education, then creativity might be the only question to study.
Creativity in printmaking was the only thing that interested me after that
epiphany, and might save me from a long, dull career in teaching college. If I
could share with other university teachers a kind of research, worthy of the
name, then it would be to find the keys to creativity in this otherwise
mechanical reproduction process called printmaking.
I learned there are many people in secure positions, socio-economically
speaking, who deny there is any such thing as creativity—that there is nothing
new under the sun. When Glen Alps, whose innovation was the collagraph name
twenty years before I came to the UW School of Art, began his push for
diffusion of the process, it took ten years for him to enjoy the recognition of
having named it.
It was what Rolf Nesch called “metal grafik” or “material grafik” but the
name collagraph (collage graphic, and also collograph, with an “o” referring to
gluing) was more popular in the United States printmaking nomenclature. It was
an innovation, but to me it was not important that a person used one technique
over another to make a work of art that had something about it that was
creative and important.
Technique can be learned by machines. I was looking for the human element
that must be part of the experience. Besides books on creativity, I also read
books like, “Mechanization takes Command,” “Prints and People,” and “The Work
of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”
Paralleling this literature I read books on education; one that sticks in
my mind is “Art on Campus,” because it is here that I learned the history of
art becoming a topic worthy of university-level study, research, production and
My first innovation
That must be my first innovation—that the four cornerstones of university
work are teaching, research, production and services. Not really an innovation
when you realize that these are the basis of all great universities for
hundreds of years, actually, but my adoption of this as my mantra (signified by
the acronym, TRPS) was innovation enough to keep me on course for fifty years.
Fifty years ago he was introduced to art as serving people who
like fine art prints according to tradition and innovation in printmaking,
which is his domain of expertise. Service changed as the art form evolved to
include digital in addition to material.
Prints and people
“Prints and People” is the title of a book published in 1971 about the
social and cultural aspects of printmaking. A. Hyatt Mayor, the author, points
out the effects of prints on literacy, commerce, science, fashions, religion
and political power. I must have read it soon after it was published, because
the early 1970's marks a turning point in my career. Or, you might call it a
time when I came to a fork in the road and I took it—famously advised by Yogi
My life up until then had been okay. I had a wonderful wife (still do), a
house, a car, two daughters and, to keep this good life going, a pretty good
job. The job was being an art teacher at the University of Washington School Of
Art. This job required that you keep studying art, practicing the art you were
hired to teach, be a good teacher and stay out of trouble with the bosses.
I was good at the first three requirements, but not so good at staying out
of trouble—but that’s another story. Those first three things—keeping on
studying, practicing and teaching—were harmonious. The catch was, however, that
the better you became at these, the harder it was to keep out of trouble. But,
as I said, that’s another story.
The benefit was that I kept my job for nineteen years and it was because I
learned there was a fourth requirement—one that people did not talk about very
much. It is service. So teaching, research, practice and service became my
magic formula for success.
At the university, for example, the professors are regarded as experts by
the people outside the university—the people in the community. This is a global
pattern. We—my family and I—traveled around the world one year and everywhere
we went I found people willing to help us in part because I had my professor’s
credentials. Doors opened, even on short notice, and people showed us things
and gave us things and hospitality which, I suppose, were given because of my
title—Professor of Art.
It follows, then, that when community people right around the university or
from abroad wanted expert opinion, they called me sometimes. Not only that, but
when my students needed extra service—such as giving advice on subjects that
were not taught in college at the time—they came to me. I learned, as Yogi Berra
said about taking the fork in the road, referred to a major life decision. If
the road forks, it’s like coming to an opportunity to take a new and better
direction. The first fork I came to was when we got back to Seattle after
studying in Europe for a few months—should I keep doing what I was doing in
printmaking, or take up video art?
It was risky. I was making a good salary, my art was selling, and I was
getting into art shows and winning prizes. It was recursive, because the better
I was at my art, the bosses gave me promotions and grants to keep doing what I
was doing. The road had been going along like a freeway and then I came to
electronic media—and I took it up. My stay in Europe had exposed me to old men—artists—who
had come to forks decades before me and made similar choices. Their art was
printmaking, like mine, and what I took for granted in my early days was new
when they were young artists. In fact, they invented printmaking as a form of
The expression “digital art” is commonly used today to refer to works on
paper or canvas that were made all or in part by computer-data driven printers,
cutters, laser-burners, etc. In printmaking, digital prints are accepted as
being the same thing as etchings, woodcut prints, lithographs and screen prints.
As A. Hyatt Mayor suggested in his book, “Prints and People,” the evolution of
the effects of printing continue and art teachers are teaching, researching and
producing digital printmaking the same way as they had been taught.
One thing I think that is under served, is service itself. This came to
mind today as I was updating a web page on one of my websites. This one shows
most of the people who own my work—usually known as art patrons. It occurred to
me that in the 1970s I spent as much time making a print as it took me to
update a web page today. Let’s say it was 15 minutes. In those fifteen minutes
I could have been printing an etching or block print or I could have been
working on a plate to print tomorrow.
I might, in time, sell the print to someone and then they would become
another patron. I have about four-hundred names of people and institutions who
own my work. In the past ten years, about 150 of those names are of people who
do not own my art but who own one of the presses (and in a few instances, two
presses) I designed. They sometimes call my presses, “Works of art.”
It calls to mind that I am doing a kind of service for my art patrons by
spending a quarter-hour updating their page on my website. The page is
dedicated to them, but it also has links in the page’s content. These may be in
the form of a YouTube video, or there might be links to their Website if they
have one. Some have links to the pages on my website of other people who own a
similar work of mine—such as one of the edition of the prints like the one they
own, or another press like the one that I made.
New market for artists
The college where I taught was pretty good at teaching art students how to
produce works of art; and in a few cases, they also taught art students how to
teach either by intention through art education classes or by chance. There was
not much emphasis on research outside of the art history classes, and almost no
science or technology. As for service, it was never mentioned that I know of.
And yet, in today’s world, service may be the only viable—that is,
sustainable—activity for artists. That was the choice I made—albeit unconsciously—in
the early 1970's. The road less traveled, as Whitman said, was the electronic
arts, and for me it has made all the difference.