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Prof. John K. Landis.

Prof. John K. Landis.

Professor Emeritus John Landis returned to Kutztown University for the dedication of the Landis Press. It’s a rather small press in a very small room, but the event was large. Prof. Vicki Meloney recalled her days studying typography with Prof. Landis at Kutztown in the 1990’s.

Kutztown U Communication Design Prof. Vicki Meloney

Kutztown U Communication Design Prof. Vicki Meloney

She saw the first Apple computers arrive on campus. The visionaries of the digital revolution persuaded educators all across the nation to trash their letterpresses and make room for computers.


Vicki Meloney recalled learning her love of typography in Landis’s Letterforms class. She told current students how she drew lines of type with ruling pens and rapidographs on illustration board. “It’s how I learned to love type,” she said. “Kerning was something we did by hand and eye. There was no a keyboard command for kerning.”

John Landis with Prof. Ann Lemon displaying the commemorative plaque.

John Landis with Prof. Ann Lemon displaying the commemorative plaque.

When Prof. Meloney was granted a sabbatical she tracked down press equipment John Landis had saved from the dumpster. She brought a rusted Thayer and Chandler platen press (circa 1900) to her home and asked her stepfather to help restore it. It was a family bonding experience. Her stepdad, unbeknownst to her, had worked on a similar press as a teenager. Meloney thanked Ron Lamm, KU’s Studio Art Technician for work on the press, and Prof. Ann Lemon, who poured enormous energy into making the Landis Press room a reality.

Printed work by students of John K. Landis. circa 1985.

Printed work by students of John K. Landis. circa 1985.

John Landis brought dozens of samples of student work he had saved. He said student designs were ganged together and sent to Reading, PA for photoengraving. The plates came back to KU to be inked and printed on the university letterpress under his watchful eyes.

Sophisticated type styling for Bangkok by a student of JKL

Sophisticated type styling for Bangkok by a student of JKL.

These images are about the size of index cards. I asked if they were meant to be luggage decals. He said, no, just graphic designs, mini-posters, really, their small size dictated by the size of the press.

Chigago Landmark.

U.S. Landmarks by students of John Landis

Besides foreign nations, he assigned a variety of projects based on landmarks, great cities, and unusual numbers.

Design like this is coming back, I hope.

KU student design showing “visual verbal synergy.”

John Landis taught many of the KU profs who now teach Communication Design at Kutztown including Professors Cunfer, Kresge, Bosler, Doll-Myers, Meloney, and Chairperson Todd McFeely. I’m told that makes him a “grandprof.” Someone said he is “great-grand prof” since he taught Prof. Cunfer, who taught Prof. Doll Myers.

From the odd numbers file, student of JKL

From the odd numbers file, student of JKL

Looking at the student samples, Prof. Landis remarked that what he hoped for in the typography project was “visual-verbal synergy.” That phrase still echoes in the studios at Kutztown. Speaking to current students Prof. Landis said printing is a proud part of our history. “Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia did many great things in his life -signer of the Declaration of Independence, ambassador to France, experimenting with electricity. But for the inscription on his tombstone he chose simply, ‘Ben Franklin, Printer’.”

Ribbon Cutting for the restored Landis Press. Photo by Chelsea Gassert.

Ribbon Cutting for the restored Landis Press. Photo by Chelsea Gassert.

More info about The Landis Press, including hours of operation can be found here.

"Jesus is Condemned to Death." Station of the Cross by Tom Quirk.

“Jesus is Condemned to Death.”  1st Station of the Cross by Tom Quirk.

St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Kutztown, PA is out by the Rt. 222 bypass. From the highway it looks like a typical mini-mega-church. Inside there is something to behold -the art of Tom Quirk. Stations of the Cross are a fixture of Catholic and some Protestant churches. The stations are 14 sequential images depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

2. Jesus carries his cross. All art by Tom C. Quirk, Jr.

2. Jesus carries his cross. All art by Tom C. Quirk, Jr.

Thomas C. Quirk, Jr. retired from teaching illustration at Kutztown University in 1989. I know the year, because 25 years ago I got his job.

3. Jesus falls the first time, and 4. Jesus meets his mother.

3. Jesus falls the first time                                    4. Jesus meets his mother.

Tom Quirk’s obituary tells the story of a life well-lived. He was born in Pittsburgh. He died in Pittsburgh this month. He was 91 years old.

5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross.

5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross.

Tom Quirk went to Catholic high school in Johnstown, PA where he lettered in football and baseball.

6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

He was a WWII Navy veteran. He illustrated popular coloring books for Dover books.

7. Jesus fall a second time. (detail.)

7. Jesus fall a second time. (detail.)

He also illustrated a number of natural history and gardening books for Rodale Press, including The Field Guide to Wild Herbs.

8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.

8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.

A former student, now an art teacher herself, Maureen Yoder, remembers Tom Quirk as a great teacher and “master of watercolor washes.”

9. Jesus falls the 3rd time.

9. Jesus falls the 3rd time. (detail)

Illustrator Martin Lemelman shared an office with Tom Quirk. Martin fondly recalls “His ink work was meticulous, masterly… breathtaking.” 

10. Jesus is stripped of his garments.

10. Jesus is stripped of his garments.

He also taught oil painting. Kathi Ember, the children’s book illustrator, had Tom Quirk for Intro to Painting. She remembers a very organized teacher who was incredibly patient with his students’ first attempts at painting. She calls him a “sweetheart of a prof.”

11. Jesus is nailed to the cross. (detail)

11. Jesus is nailed to the cross. (detail)

It wasn’t until he retired from teaching that Tom Quirk devoted himself to sculpture. In the 25 years after his retirement his focus has been on the religious sculpture. Notice how for stations 1-11, above, he carves squares of unpainted wood into relief illustrations and places them on decorated cruciform panels.

12. Jesus dies on the cross.

12. Jesus dies on the cross.

For the 12th Station, the crucifixion, he created a near life-sized figure of Christ. The crucifix measures 6 feet across. It is carved from laminated basswood. It is polychromed in parts. Other parts are animated with illustrated biblical scenes, including the stories of Abraham and Lazarus. He carved this masterpiece in an old red barn on Rt 73. I went out there one day around 1992 to see his progress. I told him I thought it was extraordinary. He shrugged and got back to his carving.

13. Jesus is taken down from the cross.

13. Jesus is taken down from the cross.

Stations 13 and 14 are mounted on gray crosses.

14. Jesus is taken down from the cross. (detail, Q.. in lower right corner)

14. Jesus is laid in the tomb. (detail, Q.. in lower right corner)

In the lower left corner of the 14th and final station, less than 1/4 inch tall, you can find one carved initial “Q..” – followed by two dots. I’m guessing the dots stand for junior, the signature of the artist – Thomas C. Quirk, Jr.

Thomas C Quirk, Jr. (1922-2014)

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Update: Kutztown U’s Oaxaca Course will be offered again. Tentative dates: Dec.27, 2015 to Jan.10 2016. Details in August. For a new non-credit 6-day (Jan 10-15, 2016) Oaxaca printmaking workshop see offering here via Oaxaca Cultural Navigator.


Kutztown University is offering an affordable opportunity to study  in Oaxaca, Mexico with Prof. Kevin McCloskey. Oaxaca may the best place for a visitor to experience art in all Mexico. This beautiful colonial city is famed for its markets, street art, and printmaking studios.

Oaxaca Street scene, art by Arte Jaguar. photo ©K.McCloskey

Oaxaca scene, street art by Arte Jaguar. photo ©K.McCloskey

Students will experience many things they can’t do in Kutztown. For example: We’ll climb and sketch ancient pyramids. Visit a papermill that makes fine art paper from indigenous plants. Work with local artists. Drink spiced hot chocolate in the lobby of the chocolate hotel.

Corey Reifinger sketching a pyramid in Queretaro,  Mexico

Corey Reifinger sketching a pyramid in Queretaro, Mexico, 2008.

Located high in the mountains of Southern Mexico, January weather in Oaxaca is typically sunny with highs around 80°F

CDE 375: Drawing on Location in Oaxaca is a 3-credit Communication Design Elective. A hand’s-on course, students will complete a sketchbook documenting their personal response to the travel experience. Includes a 3-day relief printmaking workshop in a fully-equipped artist’s studio. Field trips to museums, markets and historical sites will provide immersion in the unique cultural traditions of Oaxaca.

Oaxaca Street art by Swoon. photo © K.McCloskey 2012

Oaxaca Street art by Swoon. photo © K.McCloskey 2012

The cost?  For in-state (PA) undergrad tuition, airfare, shared accommodations, printmaking workshop, museum entries, and daily breakfasts should total approximately $2,400. Out-of-state students’ will be need to pay more. (Fees must be approved by KU council of Trustees.)

Young girl in one of Oaxaca's many parades. photo ©K.McCloskey 2012

Young girl in one of Oaxaca’s many parades. photo ©K.McCloskey 2012

Prof. Kevin McCloskey has been visiting Oaxaca for over 30 years. In 2007 he was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to study the visual arts of Oaxaca. He received a second NEH fellowship in 2011 to explore the visual culture of the Maya regions of the Yucatan and Belize.

Kevin McCloskey with one of his woodblock prints at Espacio Zapata, Oaxaca.

Kevin McCloskey with one of his woodblock prints at Espacio Zapata, Oaxaca.

He has written extensively about Mexican political prints. He has curated eight exhibitions of Mexican prints across the U.S, notably at the Fowler Museum, UCLA. In 2012, he was invited to Princeton University to lecture on Mexican prints at the Woodrow Wilson School of International Studies. Here are two of his recent  articles on the Oaxaca art scene, one at Project Bly, one at Printeresting.

Interested students can email for more info:

'Taking the Plunge' graphic designed by Prof. Karen Kresge

‘Taking the Plunge’ graphic designed by Prof. Karen Kresge

“Taking the Plunge” is an annual event at Kutztown U’s Communication Design Dept. where (very) recent grads share with current students their experiences after graduation. Prof. Karen Kresge runs the show. Someday, KUCD is supposed have its own social media campaign, meanwhile Prof. Kresge’s personal Facebook page serves as the resource for recent grads to find and share job news.

One Trick Pony's mascot  © 2013 One Trick Pony

One Trick Pony’s mascot © 2014 One Trick Pony

Speaking of social media campaigns, Danielle McShea worked on a wild one at One Trick Pony, a creative agency in N.J.  She handled social media postings for Virgin Mobile’s FreeFest 2013. Virgin may not be the biggest phone company, but thanks to Danielle, they have a lot more Facebook friends – like hundreds of thousands of friends! Danielle shared advice from her first meeting with Bill Starkey of One Trick Pony at a portfolio review. Starkey asked to see only the one worst piece in her portfolio, saying,  “You are only as good as the worst piece in your book.” By the way, according to their website they are hiring ‘client whisperers.’

Image from the Phillyosophy campaign from

Image from the Phillyosophy campaign from

New York, New York, or NOT!

Kelsey Kolvacik got a job for a big NYC agency, McGarryBowen, working on American Airlines social media. One day in NYC she saw a Visit Philly ad that she recognized as the work of the cutting-edge Philadelphia agency, Red Tettemer O’Connell. She had interned there and realized that it was her dream job. Kelsey got in touch with her old supervisor. At the exact moment she clicked the email from Philly offering her the job, You Make my Dreams Come True by Hall and Oates came on the radio.

From Possibilities, the Nike ad that changed Jessyca Pacheco's attitude.

From Possibilities, the Nike ad that changed Jessyca Pacheco’s attitude.

Living Here in Allentown

On the other hand, Jessyca Pacheco, had her sights firmly set on NYC. She went so far as moving in with an aunt and uncle who live in New Jersey. She managed to do bit of freelancing, but needed to waitress to pay her bills. Then a job opened up at the Media Arts Group, the in-house design studio at Allentown’s Morning Call. She got it, but admits that at first she felt she had failed by returning to Pennsylvania. Then a one-minute Nike commercial called “Possibilities” turned her attitude around. She sent me the link. Just click it. Taking the message of Possibilities to heart, Jessyca says she is thrilled by the challenge of projects like this “Red Hot Chili Pipers” cover for Go Street.

This week's Go Street, cover design by Jessyca Pacheco

This week’s Go Street, cover design by Jessyca Pacheco

Kelly Arsi talked enthusiastically about her work at Allebach Communications in Souderton, PA. As a transfer student to KU she had to stay a fifth year, but felt the extra workshops paid off as she designs everything from packaging to annual reports. Jessica Savard is doing a wide range of graphics at MCS Industries. Matt Stachewicz got hired by recently at MAG/Morning Call, joining Jessyca there. Court Woytko, who is a sports and entertainment fan seems to have landed her ideal job at the Sands Event Center in Bethlehem. She met Iron Mike Tyson this week. Raychale Fulginiti and Kelsea Ashworth couldn’t be in Kutztown, but phoned in video greetings from Disneyworld (Rachel) and Boston (Kelsea) where they are happily employed.

Self-portrait illustration by Mellen from

Self-portrait illustration by Mellen from

This blog is called Illustration Concentration, which admittedly is the smallest subset of the larger Communication Design major at Kutztown. Typically, only a handful of students complete the illustration concentration. One who did so is a wonderful illustrator who goes by “Mellen,” Melissa Rae Rheinbold. She graduated in December and just began her job yesterday at Crayola. Mellen said Prof. Kresge suggested she send a copy of her illustrated book to Crayola, and the job offer came quickly. We will give her a few days to settle in, but hope to have a future post devoted to Mellen and her illustration work.



Here is your invitation to walk into Lucky 13 Tattoo & Piercing Parlor and The K’town Pub and Basin Street Tavern. If you don’t want another tattoo, go to Lucky 13 before you hit the bars! Meet Kutztown area artists at a variety of local businesses. Each venue will feature works from one or more artists, and many of the artists will be available to talk to about their work on Friday evening.

Linear Composition, painting by Jan Crooker.

Linear Composition, painting © by Jan Crooker on view at Lucky 13.

What I really like about this event is this: it’s not a fundraiser!  It is meant to build an audience for Kutztown artists and give you a reason to enter a new business. It is free to see. The artists don’t have to pay to play; perhaps someone might buy their work. The Kutztown Community Partnership is the sponsor. Thanks to Kutztown booster Jim Springer of Dunkelberger’s Jewelers for coordinating this unique event.

Navajo Madonna and Child by Maureen Yoder. Kutztown

See Navajo Madonna and Child © by Maureen Yoder at Vynecrest Wine Shop

Artists will also be at Global Libations, Uptown Espresso, Jackie & Daughter, Monaghan Realtors, Wholesome Foods, Adam N’ Eve, Firefly Books, J.A. Meyer, CC’s Wooden Grill, Pop’s Malt Shoppe, Main Street Inn, and Spuds. Start anywhere and grab a list!

Portrait of Azuka ©Leah King at KTL Cigars.

Portrait of Azuka ©Leah King at KTL Cigars.

Leah King was my illustration student at Kutztown. She’s had success lately doing art for children’s books like Bathtime for Brandon by Angela Hunt. Leah will be showing her mixed media artwork at KTL Cigars, 100 Constitution Blvd. Two of my former KU design colleagues are Artist Harvest participants, Dianne V Dockery and John K Landis.

Clay monoprint © by Dianne Vottero Dockery at Dunkelbergers.

Clay monoprint © by Dianne Vottero Dockery at Dunkelbergers.

John Landis is sharing his hand-made miniature buildings. His work will be on view at Colasanti Printworks. He sent me some photos of his tiny buildings based on real places he recalls from his childhood, like the one below. What is happening on the second floor?


Dress Store and Doctor’s Office © John K Landis at Colasanti Printworks

All the artists and venues will be happy to see new faces. Most are located along Main St. At the edge of town Nectar’s Cafe will be open for dinner Friday Oct. 4 from 5-8pm in celebration of the Artist Harvest. My friend Camille Eaton Romig will be showing quilts there and Nectar’s will be rolling out a new orange cognac coffee just for the event.

Graphic © by Matt Williams of Firefly Books, Kutztown

Graphic © by Matt Williams of Firefly Books, Kutztown

Depending on the venue, the art work may be on view Saturday and Sunday Oct. 5 and 6, as well. However, if you want to meet and great the artists, get to Kutztown Oct. 4. It’s like New York, but smaller.


Kutztown,PA: Sometimes on our beautiful Berks county campus we forget 16 miles away our county seat, Reading, is the poorest city in the entire U.S.A. Thanks to KU Prof. Ann Lemon for providing this story.

 Mural Volunteer, photos © Ann Lemon

Mural Volunteer, photos © Ann Lemon

Reading,PA: The mural at Family Promise of Berks County in downtown Reading was a collaborative effort between the Outreach Team of Immanuel UCC Church of Shillington and KU’s Designathon.

Designathon is an annual KU Communication Design event where students work for free for 24 hours to design projects for worthy nonprofit groups. The Designathon team consisted of Prof. Denise Bosler and designers/illustrators Mellen (Melissa Reinbold), Isaiah Arpino, Michelle Foster, Dana Harrison, and Brian Martin. Amos Lemon Burkhart, junior designer, was the link between the designers and the painting team from Immanuel. This mural’s “Wild Things” theme was suggested by Family Promise Director Gwen Didden.


Family Promise is an interfaith program providing homeless families a place to stay together ­through local churches.  This program is unique in that it keeps family units together. In a typical week, it serves three families, providing 168 meals plus shelter. Families are housed at local churches on a rotating basis. Although families sleep at host churches, they use the day center for services, like laundry and job training.


The Immanuel Outreach team transformed a vacant, gnarly yard at the Family Promise office into a playground for the homeless kids. The team pulled weeds, laid down mulch, and provided outdoor toys. The cinder block wall was an eyesore. Reverend Megan Huesgen and Sue McCoy of the Outreach Committee thought UCC parish teenagers might contribute a mural. KU faculty member Ann Lemon was drafted to design it. She turned to Designathon.

The Designathon process was remarkably smooth. Mellen took charge and the group collectively decided to assign characters, animals, and background elements to the various artists. Everyone sketched ideas, met to pick the favorite parts, then scanned and vectorized the final art into a unified scene. A simple palette of eight solid colors was chosen to make the painting process easier.


The paint was donated by Sherwin Williams. The design was traced on the wall using both a grid technique and projector. There was some excitement the first morning of painting when a car slipped out of gear, smashing through the back fence of Family Promise. No one was hurt. The hole in the fence made it easier for 30 plus volunteers to find the site. We had painters as young as 3 years old. A full crew of painters from Immanuel showed up, as well as KU Prof. Kate Clair and her daughter Sasha, and friends. Fleetwood High students helped, too.summer_mural_pics7

The painting took two and a half days, during beautiful cool, sunny weather. The exterior latex gloss paint went on beautifully. At one point the guys who hang all day at the neighborhood garage approached the volunteers and asked, “So, what is this mural FOR?” We explained it was to brighten the play yard for the homeless kids. Prof. Lemon added,”So I guess the purpose is to make people smile. Do you think it will work?” One guy took a long hard look. He smiled and said, “Yes.”

Ann Lemon and her son Amos Lemon

Ann Lemon and her son, Amos Lemon Burkhart

Art by Nathan Fox © 2011 detail from GQ  essay on the hunt for Bin Laden

Art by Nathan Fox © 2011 detail from GQ essay on the hunt for Bin Laden.

Nathan Fox will direct the new Visual Narrative MFA program at NY’s School of Visual Arts. Nathan is a comic book artist and illustrator. Like me, he is a grad of SVA’s MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program.

Nathan Fox's covers for Pigeons From Hell, Dark Horse Comics.

Nathan Fox’s covers for Pigeons From Hell, Dark Horse Comics.

Nathan is juiced about what he calls “the future of storytelling.” I asked him how this new MFA is different. For one thing, it is low-residency with an emphasis on the concept of “Artist as Author.” In fact, writing will account for a full 50% of the program. Every student must create a digital version of their narrative. A narrative created for this MFA program might be a graphic novel, but it might also be an interactive game, an animation, or a mix of time-based and traditional media.


Visiting lecturers naturally include stellar comics artists and graphic novelists. Animators J.J. Sedelmaier and John Canemaker are on board. The program promises some unusual perspectives from game developers, typographers, copyright lawyers, and a neurologist.

Students will work in the studio in Manhattan for three intensive eight-week summer residencies. Nathan tells me the Chelsea area studios will have magnetic walls for slapping up storyboards of work in progress. There will be smart classrooms and pop-up studios and where each artist gets an individual workspace.


Between summer sessions students go home, but continue their projects online. Nathan envisions eight to ten hours work days, six days a week during the summer sessions.

How Much? If my math is right, the tuition will be near $70,000 for the three summers and two “winters.” I asked my junior level illustration class what they thought of this tuition. Several gasped, our instate undergrad tuition is about $8,500 a year. Hannah Stephey was the exception, she said, “Hey, it is a very specialized and really cool degree! It’s like -You want to be an astronaut?  -You have to go to astronaut school! It’s very specialized; and that’s going to be expensive!”

Tit for Tat © Jennifer Daniel

Tit for Tat © Jennifer Daniel (detail) from Latina Magazine

Jennifer Daniel, known for her witty iconic illustrations and infographics will be on the faculty. “Tit for Tat” piece above is a part of a page of slang terms for women’s breasts appeared that in Latina Magazine. Ross McDonald, whose humorous illustration appears below, is also a faculty member.

Art by Ross McDonald, Faculty member.

Art by Ross McDonald, SVA MFA Visual Narrative Faculty member.

Stellar faculty. Presuming he gets similarly stellar students, Nathan Fox may well be onto something as he races towards the future of storytelling with the MFA Visual Narrative. Apply here if you want in.

For God and Country (detail) drawn by Nathan Fox, ©2010

For God and Country (detail) drawn by Nathan Fox ©2011

By the way, the full visual narrative “For God and Country” on the death of Osama Bin Laden (detail above) can be found at Give it a minute to load. The writing is by Matt Fraction, ably illustrated by Nathan Fox, and superbly colored by Jeromy Fox.

Happy New Year. The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for the illustration concentration blog.

We had 39,000 views in 2012. The post that got the most views was a 2010 story about KU grad illustrator Amanda Geisinger working with Spongebob Squarepants. Next is a story about the folk art tradition of Kolam. That story gets a lot of traffic from India, presumably from artists who know more about it than I do. The post features Prof. Josh Miller before he came to Kutztown University.

Next is popularity is Denise Bosler’s guest post, Making it as an Illustrator. Then stories on artists Jerry Pinkney and Grant Snider.

Pigeon Sketch, watercolor © 2010 K. McCloskey

The surprise search term that bring folks to this blog is “pigeon sketch.” I wrote about my project drawing pigeons at Vinnie Torre’s loft in Hoboken. Vinnie helped me refine the sketch above; he thought it looked too much like a street bird. Every day a couple of people arrive at the blog by googling “pigeon sketch.” I guess art teachers are asking students to sketch pigeons, but instead of going out to the park, these students are copying mine. I can upload more pigeon sketches, but kids, pigeons are not that rare a bird.

The detailed 2012 stat report for the blog can be found here.


April Vollmer demonstrates how to carve registration notches on woodblock.

April Vollmer recently taught a two-day Moku Hanga workshop at the Printmaking Center of New Jersey.  KU Prof Elaine Cunfer and I took the class along with five other students. I know a bit about Japanese prints, but had never tried my hand at the traditional Moku Hanga woodblock printing technique. April, a great teacher and printmaker, has travelled to Japan to perfect her skills. She has an extensive gallery of her prints online at

Moku Hanga print "Migration" ©2008 April Vollmer, from

“Migration”  Moku Hanga print © 2008 April Vollmer

Moku Hanga is nothing like my prior printmaking experience. I am used to the down and dirty printing of Oaxaca or Tom Huck’s Evil Prints. Moku Hanga is far more refined. I came to class dressed in my ink-stained black shirt and raggedy painting jeans. I learned there is no need to dress like a hobo to print Moku Hanga.  The pigments are water-based and do not stain clothes like oil-based relief printing inks.

2 horizontal pattern prints © 2011 April Vollmer

2 horizontal pattern prints based on nature © 2011 April Vollmer

April suggests beginners might start printing with tube watercolors, but a more economical color can be had by mixing pigments. She uses the pigments from Art Guerra. For wood and carving tools she recommends McClain’s Printmaking Supplies. The wood we used was shina plywood, imported from Japan. The shina and carving tools are rather expensive. A small, 8 by 10 inch, piece of shina ply costs $6.35. April says the expense is due to the currency imbalance between the Japanese yen and the U.S. dollar. If you have never used real shina ply, it is a joy to carve. McClain’s will send you a free sample; find details here.

Ukiyo-e print by Utamaro, circa 1800, printed with mica  background. (Wikipedia)

Ukiyo-e print by Utamaro, circa 1800, printed with mica background. (Wikipedia)

April showed us master Ukiyo-e prints by the likes of Morunobu and Utamaro before demonstrating her technique. One of the secrets of the art is cutting a precise registration corner and landing pad for the printing paper. The best paper, naturally, comes from Japan.

Blue Vortex, woodblock, (detail) © 2005 April Vollmer

Blue Vortex, woodblock, (detail) © 2005 April Vollmer

More of April’s tips: Your work table should be about navel level. Printing is not done with a press, but by rubbing the baren, a light weight disk, on the back of the paper. Printing starts from a balanced standing position with a quick burst of energy using upper body strength. April says she can print faster with a baren than printmakers who use a press. She claims she can print an edition of 25 in one morning and I believe her.

McCloskey making prints of St. Francis. photo: E. Cunfer

K. McCloskey making prints of St. Francis. photo: Elaine Cunfer

She also demonstrated the proper way to hold the paper, set up one’s workspace, and sharpen cutting tools. There was one student who had no prior printmaking experience; even he came away with successful prints. We managed to do an edition of two-color prints with a single block of shina by carving the second color on the reverse side. If you have the opportunity to study with April Vollmer, you can learn a great deal in a brief amount of time.

April Vollmer pleased with her student's prints at Printmaking Center of NJ

April Vollmer seems pleased with her students’ prints at Printmaking Center of NJ

For more insights into the history and current state of Moku Hanga (also spelled mokuhanga) check out April Vollmer’s comprehensive essay in Art in Print. There is also a brief (4-minute) documentary video filmed by Dempsey Rice of April Vollmer at work, here.


UPDATE: Dec.12, 2012: April Vollmer sent a note about the post above:  “I hardly recognize myself your review is so flattering, but it is great to have someone describe the class. I always have fun, and people learn a lot. I always talk about the history, and how the technique fits into Japanese culture. I do hesitate about the refinements, it can be overwhelming. But my printmaking career (if one can call it that!) has been about making mokuhanga accessible, less precious, but without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Good tools and good paper are such a pleasure, and actually much more affordable than, say, coated digital paper, computer software, etc. I paid $120 for my large soainomi (fan-beveled chisel), but I have had it for 20 years already!

Printmaking in NY is very different from Mexico, and that is completely different from Japan…The shina (basswood) plywood from Japan is good not only because of its even grain, but because the glue between plys is very thin and waterproof. Printing wet makes more demands on the wood than oil base does. Shina is also very lightweight which I appreciate, having to carry it around all the time!”

She also noted that she has met the legendary Tom Huck and went bowling with him when they both taught at Frogman’s Print Workshop in South Dakota.

Rostislav “Russ” Spitkovsky by Kevin McCloskey 2012

Russ Spitkovsky makes things happen. He came to Kutztown as one of the 9 artists in the 2012 Print Invitational at the Miller Gallery.  The founder of the cutting edge art magazine Carrier Pigeon hung artwork from the latest issue at the Eckhaus Gallery on Main St. He circled back this week as a visiting artist to spend time with students.

oil monotype illustration by Russ Spitkovsky for “Hall of Mirrors”

Carrier Pigeon is an artist-driven publication. Russ and friends began it after grad school at SVA’s Illustration as Visual Essay MFA Program. Each issue has works by six fine artists, plus six writers, and six illustrators.

Carrier Pigeon cover by Cannonball Press, Martin Mazorra & Mike Houston

The magazine has included original etchings and woodcuts by Russ and guest artists including Marshall Arisman, Bruce Waldman and Frances Jetter. KU Prof. Evan Summer has contributed to several issues.

Russ speaking to overflow crowd in KU Print studio. Photo by Evan Summer

Russ shared some mind-boggling stories. Like the one about a meth addict who tells his wife he’s spending their life savings importing alpacas, but the alpacas are being held up in customs. There are no alpacas; he’s building a giant meth factory. The factory bursts into flames and meth maker gets encased in glass and, well, I don’t want to ruin the ending. The full story by Ryan Scamehorn called “Hall of Mirrors” can be found in Carrier Pigeon #3. It is fiction; I hope.

Illustration by Marshall Arisman for “Good Dog” by Erin Browne, Carrier Pigeon #7

Digression: Many years ago I sent a book idea to Lawrence Ferlenghetti’s City Lights Press. A few weeks later I got the best rejection letter ever. It said, ‘Your project is so interesting, you should publish it yourself. We are swamped publishing our own friends. Start your own press. Here are some resources…‘  Russ Spitkovsky never got that memo from City Lights, but certainly he embodies the D.I.Y. publishing spirit.

Kevin McCloskey, Moe Tierney, Russ Spitkovsky. Photo by Evan Summer

Russ was born in the Ukraine. Why do so many amazing printmakers come from Eastern Europe?  KU’s Print Invitational includes Michael Goro from Russia, Ivanco Talevski from Macedonia, Endi Poskovic from Sarajevo, and Russ. It occurred to me perhaps these artists find core concepts difficult to express in English and are therefore driven to excel at graphic communication. Russ provided a better insight into why so many extraordinary artists come from places once under the Soviet sphere of influence. Growing up in the Ukraine he showed a precocious talent for art. He was plucked from preschool and put in an art academy. He was drawing the human figure from plaster casts at the age of four.

Illustration by Russ Spitkovsky from Central Booking, his self-published visual essay.

On the night of January 3, 2009, Russ was walking down a Brooklyn street. The police stopped and searched him and found he was carrying a knife. It was an ordinary knife purchased at Home Depot. The NYPD decided it was a lethal weapon, “a gravity knife,” and threw him in jail. He spent the next 32 hours in an overcrowded holding cell at Brooklyn’s Central Booking. Charges were dropped, but Russ made art from the experience. Upon his release, drawing from memory, he transformed that grotesque night into a visual essay in book form. He published “Central Booking” via the print-on-demand publisher Blurb. The book was not a financial success, but led him to explore other self-publishing options.

Russ loves working with the likes of Martin Mazorra and Mike Houston of Brooklyn’s Cannonball Press. Russ calls Cannonball Press the pioneers of the indy press and affordable art movements. Russ advises art and illustration students not to hole up in their studios after graduation. “Find a co-op print shop; work among other artists.” He said the community of Robert Blackburn’s  NYC printmaking studio saved his sanity. He was able to get instant feedback on his art and stay in a creative loop.

Today, Russ works not only with graphic artists, but an ever-expanding community of playwrights, jugglers, Coney Island sideshow performers and puppeteers. Strange doors keep opening for Russ. Recently someone gifted Carrier Pigeon with a building in Gutenberg, NJ. To keep up with Carrier Pigeon news and events visit their Facebook page.

Justin Sanz, Eckhaus workers Nicole and Megan, Russ. Photo from

If you are fortunate enough to be in Kutztown, PA, get to Eckhaus to see the original art from Carrier Pigeon. There are copies of the latest issues for sale. Each issue costs $25. Twenty-five bucks is a lot of money for a magazine, but not a lot for a work of art.


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