This morning, I sat for a bit in Johntimothy's studio while he worked and asked him a few questions about printmaking and the work that he loves. My notes from that conversation/interview with Johntimothy are below. I have to say that even though you know someone so well, or think you do, there is always room for surprise and delight in the course of a conversation. Hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did!
Patti: I know that you are enamored with nearly all the printmaking processes! Right now, you are concentrating your time in the studio on intaglio . Can you tell our blog readers why you are so drawn to these processes?
Johntimothy: First and foremost, I'm attracted to the way ink sits on paper with intaglio. It's dimensional! Then there is the fact of the bravado--being able to draw into metal. My first printmaking course in college was an intaglio class, so that may have left its mark...pun intended. Intaglio is sculptural--there is a sculptural aspect to creating the plate and I am drawn to the physicality of it. There is a kind of resistance that you have to fold yourself into. While it is also there in other printmaking processes, it is especially the case with intaglio. I just find it engaging.
Patti: Is there anything about the slowness of the process that is part of the attraction?
Johntimothy: Yes, with engraving especially. Some people don't like these processes because you don't see the final product until it is printed and that takes quite awhile. There is a delay for sure. But through time, you can learn to read the plate as you go to be able to see or envision what the image will look like. You do have to slow down and I do like that aspect.
Patti: You are an artist/teacher, so can you talk about what your decades of teaching have taught you about the learning process? What words of advice or bits of wisdom could you share with someone who wants to begin making art, but finds that fear and doubt hold them back?
Johntimothy: Teaching all this time has taught me that the learning process is just that--a process. For a variety of reasons, in the arts, doubt and uncertainty are always present and are compounded with the cultural stigma of fear of failure. In education, we talk a lot about the importance of failure in the learning process, yet there is still a good deal of teaching connected to just how to deal and learn from failure. In my own practice, this is something I still deal with on a daily basis. Connected to all this is the aspect of confidence. Is it learned or innate? Maybe both. Also, we have to be open to being vulnerable. When you fail, you are vulnerable. When you are open to an experience, to see it for what it is, you are exposed--and therefore vulnerable. We aren't taught how to be vulnerable. Instead we are taught that vulnerability is weakness and that showing any signs of weakness is bad. You can be taken advantage of....you could lose to an opponent. Maybe it's part of the fight or flight aspect of our brains.
Patti: Those "survival" skills serve us well in certain situations though.
Johntimothy: Sure, but they don't serve us well at all times. They can throw into question what is meant by "strength". There is that old cliche that "might is right", but strength comes in many forms. Vulnerability can certainly be a strength. This calls to mind one of our ongoing conversations and the advice that you share with me about working through your hands and trusting your inner self. Looks like I have some future questions formulating for when we reverse roles and I interview you.
Patti: Printmakers love process and they also have some pretty cool tools that go with each method....any favorite tools?
Johntimothy: Yeah, printmakers can geek out on tools. And there are lots of fun things to play with. Sometimes it's just because they look cool--I do have lots of tools and a lot of really fun ones. Does the tool direct me to a process? Well, with engraving, yes. With that, there's a go-to tool....because of the size, it's the #8 burin. That one is my go-to, but does that make it a favorite? I suppose. But, then again, I may not use a favorite tool as much, because I want to save it. There's that idea of babying it--that you only bring it out for special occasions. You could have the workhorse tool that is favorite...or you could have the favorite you only bring out at special times.
Patti: How about that big magnifier you look through to draw? Could you do this work without it?
Johntimothy: I could do it, but it I would not find it as easy. Printmakers love process and I question how early engravers could have worked without any magnification to achieve the fidelity, delicacy and nuance of the marks they made. Those are drawing marks that often I don't fully see or appreciate until I see the print through a magnifier. Then I am astounded by the confident, gestural sureness of those marks and I ask how could they have even done it without magnification!
Patti: I just have one more question. I think I know the answer to this, but I'm prepared to be surprised!. Your printmaking heroes...can you name a few?
Johntimothy: It's a long and varied list....there are too many to name and I'll probably forget some of my favorites. If I focus on artists working in intaglio....well, historically, there is Rembrandt, of course, along with all the typical hitters, including, Goya, Durer, Mary Cassatt and Kathe Kollwitz. Perhaps lesser known are the beautiful drypoints of The Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet and Martin Lewis along with the etchings of Charles Meryon and Felix Bracquemond. A small sampling of the variety of contemporary artists that immediately come to mind include Karla Hackenmiller, Art Werger, Doug Bosley, and Tanja Softic.
Patti: Thanks....I'll stop distracting you and let you get to back to work. See you at lunch!