As far back as I can remember I have been roaming through the halls and doorways at Graphicstudio; rolling in office chairs down the hall, building cardboard robots in the Vault, coloring and doodling and making the occasional small print—under close adult supervision, of course. All this time I could never fully comprehend the gravity of the work being done there. This summer, I was able to participate and learn about printmaking and artist collaboration in a whole new light. Only at this facility can you see art from beginning to end, from the artist all the way to the consumer, and every step in between. In just a few short months I have had the honor and opportunity to participate as artists such as Sandra Cinto, Christian Marclay, Diana Al-Hadid, and Iva Gueorguieva conceptualized and created art in a huge variety of media and content. The delicate and somewhat largely unnoticed process of ushering artists though the creative process and providing for them a comfortable environment is one that every member of the staff contributes to constantly. It is this process that I found so fascinating during my time there. I feel that the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” applies perfectly to what goes on at Graphicstudio, except I would say it takes a village to make a work of art. Beyond that, Graphicstudio is an exceptional printmaking facility with equipment and staff of the highest degree, and over the months I spent there I fully immersed myself in the processes of etching, lithography, screenprinting, and curating.
In my educational experience in school and otherwise, I would say fairly certainly that most people believe that the work of art they see at a museum or gallery was created by the artist at their lovely, sunlit studio in their home, by the artist alone. It is hard to understand that the person credited on the label next to the frame may not have been the only person involved in its creation. Even harder to comprehend when viewing a finished product is the amount of time, work, and planning that went into it. One example I’ve seen specifically this summer is the Mound Doll project that is still in production at Graphicstudio. In my first week, the staff went as a group to the Ringling Museum to see Trenton Doyle Hancock’s exhibit featuring the prototype of the rotund and furry Mound Doll. Made to resemble a children’s toy you might find at Toys ‘R’ Us, with fluorescent packaging and pictures of over-excited children squeezing their own mound dolls, it’s easy to believe that it would be fairly simple to produce 18 more of these. In reality, almost every department at Graphicstudio was mobilized in the production of this doll. Each greenish, grinning Mound head was cast individually at their sculpture studio and weighs about as much as a small pumpkin. The black and white faux-fur bodies were all cut and sewn by hand, with matching pepto-pink pleather patches—the body alone taking about a day to complete. The package was laser cut, then carefully bent with a heat gun to curve around the puffy creature, with certain elements of the imagery on the box individually screenprinted. The cast heads were then to be painted by airbrush with yellowed teeth and brightly colored noses, as well as an overall blue tinge. Every small detail of this seemingly simple object was painstakingly executed by someone working there, and the project is continuing even as I write this. The same careful attention is paid to every work of art that passes through Graphicstudio. This constant commitment to the finer details of a project is one of the most valuable studio practices I learned, and one I plan to carry with me in my life and my design career.
For decades, Graphicstudio has been an established facility of the highest standard of art production and artist collaboration. I have found that my favorite moments in my college education have been in collaboration with my fellow students and instructors. Working together to come up with ideas brings out the very best that several individuals have to offer, and leads to something completely unique. At Graphicstudio especially, collaboration is at the forefront of every project. Working in tandem with an artist, the staff will offer their own experience towards a project’s fruition and provide for the artist fresh eyes and insight for their ideas and processes. To be in such proximity to an artist’s process is fascinating, and that wonder is only compounded by the subtlety and effectiveness of the staff guiding an artist through this process. I feel that I began to really grasp the complexity of this when artist Iva Gueorguieva came to Graphicstudio earlier this summer. Since nearly everyone working with the artists has been on staff for 5+ years, they have formed relationships with the artists and know them personally. Over time, when these artists return they have a history there, and the staff knows just what to do to give them the best experience possible. With Iva, the sculpture, etching, and lithography departments were involved to create her latest sculptures. Before she arrived, printers Tom Pruitt and Mike Covello went on a daylong treasure hunt for the perfect scraps of concrete and rebar to be used and manipulated in the sculptures. Fabrics that Iva typically uses were ordered in advance and other sorts of supplies were gathered so that work could start upon her arrival. Drawings on mylar were made into plates and printed on fabric to be carefully glued onto the surface of the pieces. For the duration of her stay, every need big or small was taken care of, and as I watched sculpture after sculpture came together in just a few days. It’s amazing how the event of having a visiting artist come through the studio appears to be so seamless, when in fact it’s a highly complicated production involving everyone working there.
Outside of general studio practice and artist interaction, the bulk of what I learned in my time at Graphicstudio was based in the various methods and processes that go into the printing itself. I have always been fascinated by work that comes from human hands. I love the human element involved in the time-hardened methods that printmaking utilizes. Plates that were scratched and etched by an artist have a special timeless wonder to them. When organizing the etching studio, we came across a plate by Leonora Carrington. Her piece Flight has always stood out to me in the way it seems to plunge you deep into the abyss of your own imagination, echoing distant memories of dreams you might have had. Even as a child that print has really made me think, causing me to invent wild explanations for the ghostly figure sweeping through the image. The plate that we found was of a different drawing, but no less thought provoking. The drawing was extremely intricate with almost impossibly fine lines and forms, and although Ms. Carrington died in 2011, holding this metal that her hands had altered so greatly felt like a bit of her was there in the room. What is so fascinating about a drawing that is immortalized on a plate this way is its continuity; how this one original artwork lives on in the prints on paper, tracing its lineage back to this one plate, becoming a sort of endangered species when the plate is damaged or destroyed. I feel that with all processes of the hand, a little bit of the human spirit enters the object being made, and those who handle it later can sense that life within it. With the prints that I have seen being made at Graphicstudio, not only is there the touch of the artist within the piece, but also the touch of each individual that carried it through its production. The web of people that worked together to complete these works of art gives what seems like a simple piece of paper a heritage, a family tree, and an element of life that a sheet of blank paper could never have.
Our design studio at UF is modeled after the collaborative, open layouts of professional design studios around the country. Natural light pours in, our desks face one another encouraging us to work together, and there’s a Mac on every desk. We designers often get near-sighted staring at our computers all day, and not just optically. In this digital age it’s the tendency of many in my field to forget to look beyond the screen and abandon the analog processes that comprise the very foundation we exist on. In my own work, I strive to incorporate design methods outside of a computer as much as possible through hand illustration, screenprinting, origami, and book arts. These sorts of practices encourage objects to be held, used, coveted, and shared. In spite of these efforts, often the work we produce as designers still comes across as a little robotic. When our courses are focused on things mostly digital, we tend to fall out of the habit of making art that is introspective, and therefore sometimes forget to incorporate that human essence into our work. At Graphicstudio, I was so relieved and grateful to get to work in a space where the main instrument of creation was the hand. It’s so challenging in design to bring the conceptual nature of fine art into things like packaging and typography, but working in the studio this summer reminded me that art is all around us, and that even small details have the opportunity to contain a world of depth and meaning. By learning under the artisans at Graphicstudio—true masters of their craft—I feel that I have rediscovered the importance of incorporating creative expression into all aspects of life, and treating every small detail as its own work of art.