Real American Prints

Henry David Thoreau Cabin 2012 by Alan Michelson. Handmade paper over balsa wood.
Comanche Kiowa, Jason Lujan, 2014, serigraphy on mylar stretchers.

Alan Altamirano, the printmaker from Oaxaca, and I visited IPCNY, International Center for the Prints, NY.  It can be hard to find the first time you look for it. If you walk the High Line in the Chelsea gallery district you might spot the signage in their 5th floor windows on the south side of 26th St.  Enter 508 W. 26th St and you can ride an old gated elevator with a human operator up to the gallery.

There is always something interesting there. One of the two current exhibitions is  “Weaving Past into Present: Experiments in Contemporary Native American Printmaking.” There are over 40 works by artists who identify as Native Americans: Mohawk, Seneca, Navajo, Flathead/Salish, Chiricahua Apache, Cree, and more.

The work pictured above is food for thought. Perhaps the naming of military helicopters was meant to pay the Kiowa and Comanche warriors a compliment. Seems Jason Lujan sampled the graphic images directly from the instruction sheets for Tamiya plastic model kits.

Assembly instruction sheet for Kiowa helicopter model.
Assembly instruction sheet for Kiowa helicopter model. (detail)

Earlier in the day I seen a room chuck full of Andy Warhol’s Campell soup cans at MOMA. I had forgotten his Cream of Asparagus. Warhol and Lujan remind us that appropriation is a given in the fine art world.

Brad Kahlhamer, Looking for Water, 2004, intaglio
Looking for Water, Brad Kahlhamer, 2004, intaglio

I especially liked the expressionistic etchings by Brad Kahlhamer. They seem quite original and energetic. For me they evoke animal totems, handmade maps, and sketchbook art.

Henry David Thoreau Cabin 2012 by Alan Michelson. Handmade paper over balsa wood.
Henry David Thoreau Cabin 2012 by Alan Michelson. Handmade paper over balsa wood.

My friend Alan Altamirano was most impressed by Alan Michelson‘s meticulously constructed paper houses. Altamirano is quick to admit he can’t read English, but he appreciated the tonal effect of the text and he presumed that the writing was a personal reflection on the concept of home. He noted that had seen prints transformed into three dimensions before, but these he found particularly well done.

Screenshot from ICPNY website.
Screenshot from ICPNY website.

There are over 40 works in the exhibition in a wide range of styles. The show runs until Nov.10 and then might travel. All of the prints can be seen on the ICPNY website. There is also a contextual essay by the curator, Sarah Diver, explaining some of the specific events in U.S. history referenced by these works.

My grandmother was an Indian, can you tell?
My Grandmother was an Indian. Can you tell? Lynn Allen Litho, chine collé

ICPNY’s website is worth a visit for its up-to-date list of NYC galleries specializing in prints. ICPNY is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the print, so they are not in competition with commercial fine art galleries. If you ask the staff will gladly point you in the direction of other worthwhile print exhibitions in the neighborhood. We would not have know about the Shepard Fairy show at the Pace Prints if we hadn’t asked.

BIG SNOW in Kutztown, PA -Dec.6

All art in the post © Jonathan Bean
All art in the post © Jonathan Bean

Jonathan Bean now lives in Harrisburg, PA, but he grew up in Fleetwood and so, of course, he has often been in Kutztown. The gifted illustrator and author is returning Kutztown to share his new picture book Big Snow at Firefly Bookstore, Friday, Dec 6th from 6-8pm.

Big Snow has wonderful reviews. Publisher’s Weekly writes “another terrific offering from Bean   -his subtly rhythmic prose and elegant, astute watercolors hit just the right notes of comedy, suspense, and fantasy.”

“This delightful picture book… begs to be read aloud.” – School Library Journal

The town pictured in Big Snow looks a lot like Kutztown. We see lovely watercolor images of familiar-looking row houses, several Lutheran church steeples, the smokestacks from the old foundry. Matthew Williams of Firefly Books pointed out the most conclusive evidence, “Look at the water tower,” he said, “and you will see the letters ‘K U T Z’!


Jonathan Bean’s prints can be seen in Harrisburg at Robinson’s Rare Books and Prints. He also sells prints at his online Etsy store. One of his charming works is the limited edition linoleum print of the Big Snow boy.

Firefly Bookstore, 230 W. Main, Kutztown is a wonderful place, a true independent bookstore, supportive of local authors and illustrators. I love the place. Meet Jonathan Bean there 6 – 8 pm on Friday, December 6th. There will be children’s activities and cookies.

Note: Lisa Scheid of The Reading Eagle wrote an interesting story about Jonathan. It is worth reading and can be found here.

Irving Herrera, the Artist and his Models

Irving Herrera creates wonderful images of beautiful woman. What is so remarkable about his artwork is that he appreciates the beauty of the indigenous and mixed-race woman of Oaxaca.

Throughout Mexico the leggy newscasters you see on T.V. and the models on billboards, calendars, and magazines often look like pure-blooded Europeans. I took a walk looking for examples and found this mind-boggling image in the lobby of a liposuction clinic.

And here is a more typical image from a dress shop window…

Such images of so-called ‘female perfection’ bombard the men and women of Oaxaca daily. Dark, broadbodied Indigenous women might play the sympathetic maids, but not the love interest in telanovelas (soap operas.) Irving was born to an indigenous Mixteco family in the high mountain village of Huajuapan de Leon in 1984. He came to Oaxaca and studied with the master printmaker Shinzaburo Takeda.

20131022-182332.jpg Today, Irving Herrera is an artist on a roll. He illustrated the current issue (Oct. 2013) of the magazine, El Jolgorio. It is a special Oaxaca Poetry issue and can be downloaded here. Irving recently had a roomful of his prints exhibited at MACO, The Museo del Arte Comtemporaneo de Oaxaca. He has twice won ‘Young Creative Artist’ grants from the State of Oaxaca to complete the series of oversized portraits he calls, ‘Senora Matanzas.’ I don’t know how to translate this, maybe,’ Killer Women?’

He told me he carves these portraits from models directly into the wood in a matter of hours. Then he crowns the portrait with the bones of a slaugthered animal, often a goat. The senoras’ seductive expressions are jarringly juxtapozed with the formal posture and dress of the Porfiato (Mexico’s version of Victorian era.) Irving says he’s mixing memories from the slaughterhouses of his boyhood town and the prints of Jose Guadalupe Posada. This past weekend Irving travelled into the mountains accompanied by his beloved teacher Maestro Takeda. The two artists were honored guests at a regional festival in Irving’s pueblo, Huajuapan de Leon, were the woman are so very beautiful.

20131022-230329.jpgIn Oaxaca, Irving Herrera and his talented companeros of Gabinete Grafico studio can be found at 307 Xincotencatl.

Medula Negra of Xalapa


Sebastian Fund is an artist on the move. He was born in Argentina, moved to Mexico as a child, and is now beginning an artist’s residency in Havana, Cuba. He collects abandoned shoes. He deconstructs them, inks them up and prints them. The remarkable results evoke the humanity of the individuals that once walked in those shoes.


Javier Arjona is the second half of the Taller (Studio) Medula Negra of Xalapa, Mexico. He does woodcuts. He likes to use a technique he calls placa perdida. A single plank is carved and printed, color after color, for as many a six colors. Because there is no turning back with this method some U.S. printmakers call it a “suicide print.”


I met these two dedicated young artists in July in Xalapa. They gave me a studio tour, and we drank a toast of mescal at their printing press.  They have invested heavily in their studio and put in long hours at the press. I wrote about Medula Negra for the online  journal, Printeresting. They lent me a batch of their small works to exhibit at Kutztown University’s Rohrbach Library.

The press at Medula Negra, Xalapa. Photo by Tirso Pérez
The press at Medula Negra, Xalapa. Photo by Tirso Pérez

They have a killer website: Their photographer friend Tirso Pérez did a photo shoot of the studio. His black and white photos are far superior to mine, so I will share a few of his fine works here. More of the photoshoot entitled “Un Dia de Trabajo” (One Day of Work) can be found here on Medula Negra’s Facebook page.

Javier checking a proof. Photo by Tirso Pérez.
Javier checking a proof. Photo by Tirso Pérez.
Sebastian preparing shoes to print. Photo by Tirso Pérez
Sebastian preparing shoes to print. Photo by Tirso Pérez

Medula Negra: Grabados Pequenos de Xalapa is on exhibit until Oct. 16 on the 2nd floor of Kutztown University’s Rorhbach Library in the Voices & Choices Gallery space.

The exhibit at KU's Rohrbach Library runs through Oct 16.
The exhibit at KU’s Rohrbach Library runs through Oct 16.



Linsay Derecola
Lindsay Derecola

The Legendary Drive By Press,  touring woodcut printmakers, will print in Kutztown, PA, next week. They will do a brief residency in the KU Printmaking Studio and present an illustrated lecture: Thursday, Sept 12 6pm @ 120 Sharadin, Free and open to the public. Here is the scoop thanks to this guest post by Lindsay Derecola, KU student and President of the Art Club:

Drive By Press is a portable print shop made up of artists and designers that believe process is just as important as the results. Quality over quantity; while we live currently in a world surrounded by the desire for instant gratification. Drive By Press believes that craft is and always will be top priority. It is about doing what you love because you love it, not to be the next superstar in the art world or to make lots of money.”

29_n copyI found out about Drive By Press through Evan Summer, Printmaking Professor at Kutztown University. He mentioned he met Greg Nanney and heard about this amazing tour he puts on with his crew. The idea of a portable print shop was intriguing, so naturally as I explored their website and social media outlets, I was becoming even more excited over their work and their mission. I persisted in making it official to have Drive By Press come to Kutztown to bestow their wisdom and creativity on the student body. Thankfully, everything worked out marvelously.


Founded in 2006 by Greg Nanney and Joseph Velasquez, the Drive By Press team finds the best designers and artists to work along side them on their mobile printing journey across the country. They have two studio locations, one in Austin, Texas, the other in New York, NY. They are currently on tour doing educational and promotional trips to “spread the ink” about their purpose and passion. They will be making their next stop at Kutztown University on Thursday, Sept.12 and Friday, Sept. 13 in the Sharadin Arts building’s Printmaking Studio, Room 12G.


During their stay they will be inhabiting the University’s Printmaking studio that Evan Summer, Professor of Printmaking at Kutztown University, has opened up for their special visit. Drive By Press will be in 12G from 12-6pm doing demonstrations on various printmaking processes, techniques, talking about history of their medium and their process of printing t-shirts. At 6pm, Thursday 9/12 in room 120 Sharadin, they will be presenting the history of their company and how they have evolved and progressed through the years. The Printmaking Studio will be open for all students Friday for additional demos, or just to say hello to the Drive By Press crew. Please stop by to welcome Greg Nanney and crew Thurs Sept. 12 and Friday Sept. 13.


T-shirts and prints for sale for $20. Bring your own t-shirt and have it printed for $10! Don’t forget to spread the ink!

North Carolina’s Monster Man

Hypnotic Skull (detail) linoleum cut © Bill Fick
Hypnotic Skull (detail) linoleum cut © Bill Fick

Bill Fick wrote the book on printmaking. Actually, he co-wrote the book, with Beth Grabowski, Printmaking: A Complete Guide to Materials & Processes. He is a part of the group known as the Outlaw Printmakers.

Bill Fick, headshot, (detail) photograph © Bill Fick
Bill Fick, headshot, (detail) photograph © Bill Fick

Bill Fick draws monsters. He is a nice guy. I met him one rainy night at the Atomic Cowboy bar in St. Louis. Tom Huck was throwing a party and Bill Fick was among the invited Outlaws. I remember a protester outside the bar carrying a sign saying, “STRIPPERS ARE BAD.” The bar was so crowded that I never saw the strippers; maybe they were bad.

Fick's Printmaking text, cover image by Sean Starwars
Fick’s Printmaking textbook, cover image by Sean Starwars

Bill Fick teaches printmaking, drawing, and comics at Duke University. He has set his mind to building something off-campus in Durham, N.C. He has a vision of a self-supporting printmaking studio/work space/ exhibition space, with artist access to equipment, workshops, and classes. There is nothing like it in the area. It will be super and it will be called SUPERGRAPHIC!


Bill Fick’s art has been exhibited all over the world. He’s won a National Endowment for the Arts award. His monsters are included in famous collections such as Harvard’s Fogg Museum. His art can fetch thousands of dollars. But his SUPERGRAPHIC dream is your opportunity to own an original Bill Fick artwork for a donation of as little as $35.

pigbat-animated-smaller The details of the SUPERGRAPHIC project can be found here.  If you want to learn more, or donate, check that out. Also check out where, oddly enough, there is a photo of Kutztown printmaking grad Josh Dannin working on a monster print project.

"Homer Johnson"  linoleum cut, © Bill Fick
“Homer Johnson” linoleum cut, © Bill Fick

Jim Haverkamp made a charming 7-minute documentary of Bill Fick at work, Anatomy of a Linocut. Another video by Frith Gowan and Ayanna Seals lets Bill Fick speak his mind. It is called Controlling the Monster. He admits, “I am fascinated with the idea of the monster… ugliness… misunderstanding… For me, making the monster may be some kind of response to the constant drone of bad news.”

Moku Hanga, Not a Coffee: Lessons in Japanese printmaking

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.