Tiger Lily Press Board Member Jay Harriman recently returned from two weeks at the legendary Penland School of Arts and Crafts.
I had the opportunity to attend a two-week intensive session at Penland School of Crafts this summer and it is an experience I recommend to everyone. Penland is a well-known center for arts and crafts in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and throughout the year it offers classes of varying lengths to people of all ages and backgrounds. The topics offered range widely from weaving to dyeing, from printmaking to ceramics, glass to timber-frame construction.
Instructors are artists and professionals from around the country who are sought out and invited to teach what they love. Fellow students were about one-third professionals, one-third graduate students and one-third people from other walks of life on retreat.
I studied stone lithography from Kathryn and Andrew Polk, artists who live and work in Tucson, AZ. I had been following Kathryn’s printmaking Blog for some time and in February signed up for this summer session when she wrote that she and Andy would be teaching a June session. Andrew Polk just retired as a Professor at the University Of Arizona School Of Arts after teaching printmaking for 40 years. Here is Andy’s Blog They both work with stone lithography, incorporating various non-toxic techniques such as polyester plates and alternative solvent combinations. It was great to work with them, and I also learned a lot from the other lithography students who each brought different experiences to class.
As Penland updates its studios, lithography was taught in the new printmaking and book arts building. There were plenty of stones available, ranging from 10×12 to 18×24 inches, and plenty of presses — four litho presses and three etching presses. Over the two weeks of the course, we were encouraged to use our own ideas and images to complete as many prints as possible. Since the studio had availability around-the-clock, some students started early in the morning and others worked late into the night.
Once you selected a stone the first task was to grain it, grinding the top surface away to remove the previous image or surface. Then you used one of many possible methods to image the stone, such as crayons, washes, toner or ink transfers, etc. We even found that you could make marks on the stone with India ink or the hand soap from the restroom. Once the image was complete you worked with nitric acid to etch the stone, roll it up with litho ink, and possibly do a second etch. When everything was finished and you were ready, everyone in class paired with another person to sponge the stone and print an edition.
Above all, Andy and Kathryn taught us that each stone is alive and has memory. They also lead the class like the married couple that they are. As soon as one of them demonstrated a technical fine point that seemed vital and had us all taking careful notes, the other one took over the demo saying that you did not have to worry about being so exact, encouraging us to develop a “feel” for the technique. They both had plenty of other examples from their fellow lithographers where people used seemingly conflicting techniques to get beautiful results. It all came down to developing a relationship with the stone.
Another benefit of working with Kathryn and Andy was reviewing the many print portfolios that they brought for Show & Tell. These lithographs by themselves and other professional printmakers (and often personal friends) were stunning and left everyone asking how they were made. We learned so much from their stories about the work and the artists behind the prints. They also talked about the importance of connecting with fellow printmakers and opportunities to show your work.
Although I had already enjoyed a stone lithography class with April Foster in 2013, the Penland experience provided a chance to concentrate on it for a longer period of time. Besides the school and the outstanding instructors, Penland represented a unique gift of new ideas and a real retreat.
Class tuition included room and board on the Penland campus, a beautiful settlement in a mountain valley an hour from anything else and at least two hours from the closest city. This unique package was key to focusing on art for the whole session with minimal outside demands, not even grocery shopping or laundry. Since it was within a day’s drive from Cincinnati, I packed clean clothes for two weeks, my coffee maker (did not want to risk being without it), and as many art supplies as would fit in the trunk. The Dining Hall was an old stone lodge that served great and simple food three times a day. There were free yoga sessions twice daily and walking trails into the surrounding woods among other things to keep the body active while the brain was engaged.
I encourage everyone to explore the Penland website and consider spending time in the mountains doing something you love.
Above is a copy of a lithograph, Ever After, by Kathryn Polk. I purchased this print at the concluding auction of donated student and instructor work which raised money for the Penland Work-Study scholarships.
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