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Saturday, February 21, 2015


When I discovered printmaking, I had just ended a 12-year chapter in my life devoted to writing bad fiction. I was desperately looking for a new outlet for my creativity. I'd been working as a prepress technician at a large local commercial printer which was, due to economic downturns and post-9/11 consumer wariness, heading for a massive layoff. They'd been very good to me, but I was first in line to be shown the door. Sensing this instability, I was looking in all directions for a trade to learn. In late summer 2001, I'd been flirting with carpentry, but I think I knew it wasn't going to work. Poor math skills and no real passion for woodwork, coupled with owning exactly two tools -- a hammer and a hand saw -- suggested that I was in big trouble. In January 2002, I started writing again, but found it terribly unfulfilling. It was a very ugly time, full of stress and doubt. It was also January, which is cold, white and awful anyway.

One night I lay in bed, trying to think of a direction, looking for some sign to help push me forward. I just began to fall asleep when I dreamed a quick image of a block of wood with an image carved in it, inked up and pressed on paper. My eyes flipped open, and my heart was racing. For a quick moment, I had thought that I'd invented woodcut printing. It sounds silly, but even though I was in the industry, and for a time in the 1990s even worked as a letterpress printer, I never knew the possibilities of printmaking. It was similar to a moment in 1987 when I was having dinner with my grandmother and her sister, and I mentioned wanting to be a writer, and I first realized -- again, silly to think now -- that people who wrote books got paid for their work, that it was a job (yes, debatable; but let's just say for now).

The next day I spent hours on the Internet researching woodcuts and printmaking, and names and images flooded my head, and it was wonderful. I'd found home. I went to the library and looked up every book on the subject (all three!).

And when it came time to press my dreams to paper, I used the only materials I had: a paring knife, a bag of potatoes, some of my wife's fabric paint, and some old newsprint.

The very first print was a goldfish (npot pictured). The second was the guitar, which I eagerly shared with my musician friend, Damon Pipitone, who promptly used it as artwork in the CD packaging for "Dark Guitar," an album from his band, "The Willies."

The third print was of a leaf, and it was printed in two colors. It has a very mid century design feel to it. Finally, I tried a bunch of grapes, printed in two colors. It was my first multi-color print, multi-block print.

A month after I discovered this world, I was carving the block with my brother's face on it. I created a quartet of prints for him for his office wall for his birthday, a take on Warhol. Here's another proof from that project, hand colored with sparkly fabric paints. I call it "Glam Rock Bill."


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