intaglio processes

Morning Chat: A Conversation With Johntimothy

Johntimothy at an interlude with moments of play on the tiny Buddha Board, a reusable calligraphy pad.

Johntimothy at an interlude with moments of play on the tiny Buddha Board, a reusable calligraphy pad.

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.

A proof of a tiny engraving plate in process

A proof of a tiny engraving plate in process

detail

detail

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.

Engraving.jpg
full engraving (with some mezzotint marks)

full engraving (with some mezzotint marks)

detail of plate showing engraved lines and mezzotint burr marks

detail of plate showing engraved lines and mezzotint burr marks

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.

A few of the well-loved tools

A few of the well-loved tools

#8 burin....a go-to tool

#8 burin....a go-to tool

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!

A major tool....for working on difficult-to-see plates

A major tool....for working on difficult-to-see plates

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 HackenmillerArt 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!

 

 

Prints in Process: A Visit with Johntimothy Pizzuto

Greetings, with an update from Missouri Bend Studio, where Johntimothy and I are busy in the studio. As I've given some thought to this blog, I think we'll focus a Tuesday post on what Johntimothy is up to, both in and out of the studio and a Friday post will feature my work...Studio J and Studio P, so to speak. So, today is Johntimothy's day....I'll follow him around a bit!

Working on one of many mixed intaglio plates he has in the works!

Working on one of many mixed intaglio plates he has in the works!

Johntimothy and I have been attempting to maintain a somewhat strict studio schedule of late, trying to keep ourselves productive and on course. He is on sabbatical this semester and therefore doesn't have any classes to teach, so is dedicated to spending time making new work and finishing some other projects. We both spend mornings in the studio and he too has begun working on his own daily drawing project....but, more on that another time. 

This morning he worked on a number of plates he has had in process. All are intaglio plates, which means that he is creating the image by incising into the plate with various tools. Intaglio is a broad term, which might include any number of processes such as etching, engraving, drypoint, or mezzotint, to name a few....and in fact, to name all the processes that have some part to play in each of the plates he is currently working on! He refers to them as "mixed intaglio". Some of the tools that come into use can be seen below on his desk. That's quite a magnifier, eh? I think my work is hard on the eyes, but try drawing fine lines and tiny marks through a zinc plate and being able to see what in the world you've done!

John at work 2 8 29 17.jpg

Over lunch I asked Johntimothy to define the printmaker's lingo in layman's terms, so I could help relay it to our readers. I'll give you the basics here, but you can click on each of the terms and be taken to more expansive Wikipedia definitions and discussion. He loves all these processes and depending on what he wants the image to reveal and what kind of mark he wants to make, he will choose the method and proper tool for working the plate.

Drypoint: drawing directly into the matrix or printing plate (could be metal or even plexiglas) with a sharp stylus.

Etching: image in the plate is the result of etching with acid or corrosive salt (he uses ferric chrloride, a safer etchant) in order to hold ink.

Engraving: Cutting incised lines in a metal printing plate with the use of a burin (there's also wood engraving, but that uses different tools).

Mezzotint: Reductive process in which the drawing is revealed by scraping and burnishing the image of the dark background surface created by a making a field of dense burrs with a tool called a rocker. Mezzotint creates a tonal image.

Those are very basic ways to describe the different processes, so I encourage you to follow up and investigate these links to find more information. You will see the evidence of all of these processes in his work....check out his gallery page here on the website.

Earlier proof below, today's proof above

Earlier proof below, today's proof above

So, after working on a plate for some time, it will be time to see just where it is and how far it's come from the last proof. So today, some fresh proofs ended up pinned to the board in the studio. Check them out....everything still a work in process. He'll often pin an earlier version below and the fresh proof above in order to check progress, as seen here.

Earlier proof below, today's proof above

Earlier proof below, today's proof above

The changes in the print immediately above here are the most striking. See especially the difference in the rich darks that show up in the upper example. That's the mezzotint....so he "rocked" that part of the plate to create the tiny burrs that hold a lot of ink, creating that rich, deep black. Where you see white on the plate, the ink is wiped off, leaving ink only in the incised lines that show the image. This image will go through quite a bit more change, I'm quite sure. I'm glad he was ready to do some proofing today, as there are many many hours of work on the plates in between printing even just a proof.

I have immense appreciation and respect for printmakers and ability to create such richness from a simple piece of metal. There is a long history, tradition and dedication to craft that comes with the territory, which draws many folks to become printmakers....and others of us to love what they are able to create!