Visual artists contribute work for printshop’s fundraiser

Tara Bradbury
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Portfolios for sale are comprised on Newfoundland and Labrador landscapes

Six of the province’s best-known visual artists have created a portfolio of print work that’s being opened — and sold — to the public.

Gerald Squires, Christopher Pratt, Scott Goudie, Tara Bryan, Sylvia Bendzsa and Jerry Evans each produced their version of a Newfoundland and Labrador landscape, which were then printed by Mike Connolly and John McDonald of St. Michael’s Print­shop in downtown St. John’s. The pieces will be bundled together and sold as a fundraiser for the printshop.

Squires chose to make a copper etching, while the others drew on lithographic limestone.

Wednesday morning, Squires and McDonald demonstrated to members of the media how his image was produced.

Squires used a diamond-point stylus tool to scratch lines in a copper plate to produce “Night Forest,” a scene with moss, rocks and fallen trees printed in sepia-coloured ink. It’s a detailed and challenging process, since it’s difficult to see the etched lines, and it took about three weeks to complete the 10.5-inch by 17.5-inch piece, he said.

Squires then handed the plate over to McDonald, a master printer.

“When my work is finished, the master printer takes it over and he’ll print this until he gets what I think is a good enough print for me,” Squires said. “I rely a hell of a lot on these people and their knowledge. I’d be there at the first part, when they pull the first one or two prints for me, and when I feel that the edition is ready to go, I’d leave it in their capable hands.”

McDonald covered the plate in ink, wiping off the excess, before placing it in a large press, turned by hand.

“The technique is still the way they did it in Renaissance days,” explained Connolly, the print­shop’s executive director. “Because they’re hand-printed, there’s going to be variations, and that’s what makes it an original impression of the plate. Any that are substandard, misaligned, over- or under-inked we take out and destroy, so what we keep (are) the most consistent prints that are there.”

Once the edition was printed, Squires used the etching tool to write his name in the bottom right corner of the plate, cancelling the image so no other prints can be made from it.

In the case of the lithographs, the artists used grease to draw on large, heavy slabs of limestone. The grease is absorbed by the stone and creates a “memory” of the drawing. When ink is rolled onto the dampened stone, it sticks only to the drawing.

“It’s based on the fact that grease and water don’t mix, and it’s a fairly complicated process. It’s very labour intensive,” Connolly explained.

Once those editions were finished, the face of the stones were ground to a fine finish, erasing every trace of the image.

The printshop made 30 limited- edition prints of each artist’s piece — 15 were given to the artist, and the other 15 were put together in portfolios, which the printshop is selling for $4,500 plus tax each, unframed. Some were presold, Connolly said.

Printing exercise

The idea for the fundraiser started as a professional development exercise for printers at St. Michael’s, and a way for apprentice printers to gain some experience.

“Then, we thought if we invited the right artist, we could possibly make a pretty decent fundraiser out of this, too,” Connolly said.

“To see where all the artists have gone with the general theme of landscape is interesting, but also the act of making the prints — going through it really immerses you in the process. By the time we got to the last print, we were so much more confident. That was really the goal of it.”

The six artists and the staff of St. Michael’s will officially launch the fundraiser with a reception at the printshop, 72 Harbour Dr., between 7-9 this evening. The public is invited to attend, meet the artists and view the portfolio.

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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