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Posts Tagged ‘Surviving as Printmaker’

Getting Set Up

You’ll need some conditions for working, and it’s better to get them right from the beginning: a dedicated workplace, an etching press, heat, light and water, work surfaces and materials. You might be able to start out in a collective studio but, sooner or later, you’ll need a place of your own, even if it’s a garage or a garden shed. Creativity demands concentration, and you need to organize the studio to your own needs and standards of order and cleanliness. If you don’t have much money to invest, invest something else. Invest generosity. A gift of a beautiful print can start a chain reaction. Be generous with your time. Help other artists all you can. Don’t be stingy with your knowledge.

In our early years in Pinos Genil I used to give free painting lessons to kids in the village square and the garden of the old hydro-electric plant. The provincial cultural authority put up the materials, and I even got some mothers painting. That was in the late seventies and early eighties. My pupils were mostly eight-or-ten-year-old village kids. Today I’m old friends with most of the 50 and 60 year olds in town. An old friend in a small town is a rare luxury. A few years ago I was invited to pronounce the “pregón,” the ritual opening speech of the annual fiesta mayor, Pinos Genil’s most important fiesta of the year.

One way which enables you to survive is to swap your work, no money involved. My list is so long: I have exchanged my work for wonderful clothes, dentistry, years of attention from Granada’s most-prestigious gynecologist, a year’s dogfood for a family of Great Danes, a patchwork quilt, artisan pottery, handmade jewelry, original lamps, garden furniture, a magnolia tree, some beautiful handmade paper from the Paperki paper mill in the Spanish Basque country. When my friend, Luisa, closed her decorating business I exchanged two big paintings for a big sofa; some rugs from Taroudant, Morocco at the edge of the Sahara; some lovely lamps, beautiful hand-made curtains and tapestries. Start proposing swaps now. You will be pleasantly surprised. Boths gifts and barter will get your art out and about. You’ll be surprised to find how many people will be enchanted by the idea of doing business without money.

About Selling

My favorite place to sell my work is in my studio. It has a special allure. I’m not sure if it’s the exoticism of the etching press, the busy look or the smell of paints and solvents. It puts them in the mood. I like to sit them down on a chair facing a document chest full of prints in layers of drawers, and say to them, “See if there’s anything you like.” The drawers hold years of prints and proofs, large and small. If they purchase a few prints I make them a gift of another one. I can do that because I’m not paying any commissions. They’ll be back, often bringing along some friends. Studio sales are ideal, and you don’t have to frame anything or get in the car and drive anywhere.

My least-favorite way of selling prints is exhibiting. I’ve had some disappointing experiences. All veteran artists have. Sometimes, when we get together, we share stories. Many years ago, before my print lifetime, through some wonderful French friends, I got an invitation to exhibit in the municipal museum of Agen, in the south of France. I had all the arrangements fixed and we were invited to stay there with our friends, Olga and Touné. I had all the paintings nicely framed and securely packed and had made shipping arrangements with the biggest, most expensive transport agency in Spain, given the possibility of problems at the Spanish-French border. The shipment arrived at French customs a week before the scheduled opening and was turned back for the lack of a single document. I had bought my bus ticket for the following day. Exhibit cancelled.

You Can’t Live Without It

Obviously, there’s no way for an artist to avoid exhibiting, especially when he or she is starting out. But please be careful. I have come to the conclusion that the only thing you can do to avoid problems when you exhibit is to do your homework beforehand. Take the process seriously. Check out everything, Get references. Get it in writing. Even then you may sometimes bump into an unpleasant surprise. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve done everything humanly possible.

At the end of the nineties my sales drooped a bit, but that coincided happily with a query from one of my friends, an art teacher in an International Bacalaureate (IB) school in Germany. She wanted to know if I could put together a one-week printmaking course for a dozen or so students from her art classes during Easter Week. That’s what got me into printmaking workshops, and at a propitious time. Happily, the studio that Mike built for me back in the eighties at the bottom of our garden was quite large, 50 square meters, so it admitted small groups. Though one time I had a group of 20 from The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) and managed it by habilitating space in my Gallinero artists’ cabin and calling in my two part-time assistants, María José and Carmen. Martyn, the head of the TASIS art department, and Frank, the photography teacher were also valuable help. The result was an inspiring setting for creative high-school art students who had never done any printmaking. My experiences with groups of European students, which all repeated over a series of years, have been extremely positive, due both to the personal qualities of the students, as well as their exceptional teachers.

Workshops to Afront the Crises

My work with students opened the door to workshops with artists. That turned out to be a life saver in the lean times ahead. I started with mostly Spanish non-printmaker artists. It was rewarding to see them getting into ink. Then, thanks to the websites Mike made for me and kept up, I started getting artists from abroad, first in small groups, then individually. It turns out that the most productive mode of launching or perfecting one’s printmaking is in one-on-one sessions with a master printmaker/teacher. That’s how I learned at the Rodríguez-Acosta Foundation in Granada. The workshop had a lot of members but I was the only one who attended every day. José García Lomas, “Pepe,” the wonderful printmaking maestro there, appreciated that loyalty and took me on as his protege. Everything I know about teaching printmaking, I owe to Pepe Lomas. His method can be summed up briefly. “Respect the taste and talent of the students. Let them follow their own stars.” I can’t remember how many nationalities have passed through my studio over the past four decades.

“Creativity” Covers More Ground Than You Think

Creativity is not just putting paint on canvas or scratching a copper plate. Creativity begets creativity and, once you get in the habit in your studio, it extends to other facets of your life. It becomes a lifestyle, and people who come here notice it. Virtually all the artists who stay in my Gallinero artists’ cabin comment that they sleep better. Serious printmaking is relaxing, but also tiring. The biggest commission I ever had was from a big Paris construction company. They wanted gifts for more than a hundred of their clients and employees. I made several different prints for them in order to keep the edition numbers down, assuring true limited editions. And I ordered some beautiful hand-made-paper, and envelopes in bright pastel colors, from my friends at Paperki. Beyond my most optimistic expectations, those atypical gifts were a big success and the company repeated the commission for two more years.

When Covid 19 shut down the world I went into shock for a while, but eventually decided I had to work my way out of it. So I produced a portfolio of my favorite recipes illustrated with prints. That was an extremely limited edition (limited to the amount of paper I had on hand) and it sold out in a couple of months. Then it occurred to me to convert it into a little book which, with the help of my wonderful printshop neighbor, Ricardo, was a big success. I’m currently working on etched VIP invitations to the inauguration of our village’s new Sierra Nevada Tram Museum. María del Mar, the new director there was one of the 10-year-old students in my village painting classes all those years ago.

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