Busy September is over and it was a lively one. I had an open art studio tour and an art show two weekends back-to-back. Though busy, the studio tours and shows are always a great way to showcase printmaking, and do demonstrations using my work.
I usually select something easy to demo because it’s tricky to create art while talking, explaining the process, checking quality control and doing those things that typically take a lot of concentration.
This year, I chose to print Christmas cards during the open studio weekend. These are something I have down. I hand-print about a thousand cards a year. Or, at least I THOUGHT I had it down.
Enter a lovely family of two children and their mom. The kids were all over printmaking. They got close to the table, they asked a ton of questions, they rolled my brayer and fingered my soft linoleum. I loved it. It’s such a treat to see children engaging with art, which is a big reason why I do these tours.
Then, the little girl (about eight years old), picked up one of my carved lino blocks and said, “OOoohhh. I LOOOOVE snowmen!! Print this one!” How could I resist?
So, with great flourish, I put the one I had been working on aside, squeezed out more ink on my plate, rolled up the block, and laid my paper down. All the while, keeping up the narrative stream I do that explains the process in simple terms.
Then the moment when the magic happens: I pulled the card off the block and **squishhhh** and **pop**, there was the print. They clapped and said, “Yay!!” Then the girl’s brow furrowed and she pointed to the card and said, “It’s crooked.”
I looked. It was! So I said, “Sure enough! Let’s try again, shall we?” So off I roll through the whole process…ink, roll, press, pull… annnnnd… Pop. “Hmmmm,” the girl declared, not looking pleased. “It’s crooked. AGAIN!”
Now, it IS a challenge to demo and chat and do everything perfect, but you know, I do this a lot. I love a challenge, so I say cheerfully, “No problem. We’ll try again!” One more card: partially uninked. Chuck. Another card: crooked. Sigh.
The girl says to me, “I know the problem. You CANNOT talk while you are printing!” She then added helpfully, “We aren’t leaving until you get a straight one!!”
This instagram video gives you an idea about how I create these cards by hand. Usually a simple process…
At this point, although it’s hard to embarrass me, especially where kids are concerned, I thought, “Damn. This needs another approach.” So I pulled out my other snowman design and declared, “Let’s try this one!” She throws her hands up and says, “Why?” I say, “Sometimes, you just have to admit defeat and put it aside.” She giggles.
From the new block, I nailed it. The little girl cheered, then pointed to the recycling bin where I had thrown the mis-printed snowmen cards, and asked, “What are you going to do with those?” I said I would recycle them. She says, “NO! Save them. Use them in another piece of art!” Then she skipped away.
This interaction still makes me smile. It’s sweet on so many levels. First, trust children to tell it like it is! She had that gorgeous mix of anticipation and realism. And, she wasn’t moving until I could get it right. Second, her advice (“you can’t talk…”) as she became a cohort in finding the solution. She even “shushed” me once and wagged her finger at me and put her finger to her lips when I started to chat! Third, her totally uncaring attitude about my mistakes. There was no judging, just shrugging and amusement. And, finally, her wonderful idea that you don’t throw art away…it can be used in another way for gosh sakes!
But, even with all her good energy, I glowered at that block all week, wondering how I could have botched so many in a row. And, with and audience to boot! So, when I got a call from a gallery this week for this very card, I recognized my chance for redemption. I set to work, determined I would print them without mistakes this time.
And, voila! I printed ten cards — in a row no less — and not one landed in the recycling bin. I declared out load to no one: “I still have it!” as I fist-punched the sky. And, that’s the other thing I love about my studio. These moments of triumph — that would look crazy to an onlooker — inevitably come … where I stare down the art, and win. Then I laugh at my seriousness and think: this job IS humbling, but also so rewarding.