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Friday, May 12, 2017

Thank you to Intern Jessica Gengenbach

P.R.I.N.T Press thanks Jessica Gengenbach for serving as an intern in spring 2017. Jessica is Printmaking major who is graduating this semester with her BFA. Here she writes about her role in several major projects:  

Working at P.R.I.N.T Press was different from what I'd done before in my classes at the University of North Texas. Printing someone else's edition was a unique experience because all of the artistic decisions have already been made before I arrived, and my job as a printing assistant is to match the "right to print," or RTP. This is a print which the artist and master printer have produced, which represents the standard for the rest of the edition.

Working at P.R.I.N.T. allowed me to focus on improving my precision and technique in intaglio, and also develop skills for organizing and managing large editions. There were so many things that I learned in every stage of production, that I just wouldn't have gotten printing my own work.––Jessica Gengenbach 

When I print my own work I spend the majority of my time in the process of finding the final image, by altering the plate proofing different colors. I am inventing and making aesthetic decisions, up until I'm ready to print the edition. In other words, I put most of my energy into the part of a project which, at P.R.I.N.T, is done by the artist and master printer. My job was executing their vision and print the edition; however, editioning is where I usually turn my brain off and let my hands do the work.
Plates for Linda Ridgway and Katherine Brimberry's editions
Functioning on autopilot was not possible when I was printing Linda Ridgway's plates, because of the attention they required at every step of the process. If I had to describe characteristics that would make an image challenging to print with copper plate intaglio I would say big, transparent, and yellow. Ridgway's prints were all three, and so we had to spend a lot of time figuring out how make them work. Yellow pigment in ink oxidizes and changes color as you wipe it, so you want to get the plate wiped as quickly and efficiently as possible. The transparent ink makes the consistency extra sticky so you have to wipe it even more to get if off cleanly. To fix this problem we used a hot plate and greasy ink modifiers to lower the viscosity of the ink. I had never used modifiers in my ink before, but seeing how they improved the consistency of the ink I will be sure to employ them in my own practice.

Another problem we ran into was consistency of the edition. When you print an edition you want them to resemble each other as closely as possible. The artist wanted there to be no plate tone so we had to selectively wipe the negative space, while avoiding the image area. We had to develop a series of steps that involved wiping specific parts of the plates with certain tools in the same order each time to get the desired result. I had to be attentive to minute sensations, such as the amount of drag felt when using a clean tarlatan on the blank park of the plate, in order to know when to move on to the next step in the process. I had to be able to spot and remedy blotchiness in the image area without overwiping. I may have complained about the difficulty of this edition at the time, but the precision I was able to learn from this project is something I would not have grasped had I been printing a less challenging plate.

The actual printing of the edition was only part of my duties at P.R.I.N.T. Me and Samuel Cowan––another intern––alternated during the semester being "clean hands." When serving this role, you work with the paper, so you avoid jobs where you could potentially get your hands dirty, such as printing or cleaning, in order to keep the paper clean. Before you print the paper you soak it in water and then blot off excess moisture with a towel. When the paper is damp it is very receptive to ink, which is why with intaglio you print on damp paper. However, this receptivity also means that it loves to soak up any stray ink or dirt that may be on your fingers, so I had to be very attentive to the state of my hands.

Collating prints
Being clean hands also required me to manage what had already been printed. When an impression was pulled and a sheet of newsprint was placed under the print to protect it. It was my job to annotate the newsprint with information, such as whether it was a proof or for the edition, and the order it was pulled. I had to ensure that this annotation traveled with the print, because it was important to keep track of that information for the signing at the end.

I was also in charge of flattening the prints. When you pull an impression the paper is wet, but you don't want to take it directly to flattening because it will smoosh the ink and the embossment of the plate. I would let the paper dry completely on the rack, and then re-soak it and put it in big flattening beds. It was important to keep a good system of organization and a consistent process in order to keep track of the annotations. This is where conventions, such as having the label refer to the prints above it, came in handy.

Printing with Jeffrey Dell
During the semester we stopped working on Ridgway's plates because the previous visiting artist, Jeffrey Dell, was in town to finish his edition. This was different from working on the Ridgway project because we were working on developing the final layer for Mr. Dell's edition. I enjoyed watching the artist experimenting with different options for the screen layer, and hearing him talk about his decision making process. This was the part of the process that I was not privy to for the Ridgway edition so it was a privilege to see how these decisions get made. I got to make stickers and buttons out of the reject prints, to be used as giveaways for the open house event. It was strange and enjoyable to cut up prints, after spending all semester treating them with so much care and reverence. It was fun to watch people get excited picking out their favorite button or sticker too take home, and to catch a glimpse into the enjoyment of these art objects, as opposed to their production.

Swag for P.R.I.N.T's Open House
Working at P.R.I.N.T. allowed me to focus on improving my precision and technique in intaglio, and also develop skills for organizing and managing large editions. There were so many things that I learned in every stage of production, that I just wouldn't have gotten printing my own work. Some of them were small adjustments, like carrying paper with your knuckles instead of fingertips to avoid damaging it, but some of the experience I gained will be seriously valuable, like learning how to use ink modifiers, and witnessing how art can be collaborative. I feel very lucky to have been a part of the team this semester and I am proud of the work we have done.