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Skidmore College

Artists, students collaborate in studio art program

July 22, 2019
by Angela Valden

Professional visiting artists are learning alongside students during Skidmore’s Summer Studio Art program.

Renowned regional artists Jenny Kemp, a painter whose intricate and layered abstract work is inspired by organic imagery, and Sharon Bates, who creates site-specific sculptural installations and black-and-white drawings, added to the engaging summer experience the program offers to students while also seizing an opportunity to learn a medium neither had ever tried before: printmaking.

Skidmore’s well-equipped Printmaking Studio has resources for techniques as diverse as linocut, woodcut, letterpress, book arts, stone and photo lithography, polymer plate etching and mono printing.

“It’s an amazing shop for an undergrad school,” said Kate Leavitt, associate professor of art, who has been running the studio since 1986.

Students of the summer program are benefiting from the types of rich learning experiences that are often reserved for graduate students, she said.

In the class Translations and Conversations: Printing with Artists, taught by experienced printmaker and guest instructor Patrick Casey, Kemp created three variations on an original drawing she designed specifically to be made into a print.

Visiting artist Jenny Kemp

Visiting artist Jenny Kemp stands next to a wall of sketches and graphic renderings of the design she created for the Translations and Conversations: Printing with Artists class.

Then, the three Skidmore students in the class — rising seniors Ella Long, Emery Spina and Daniel Strauss — set out to transform the three variations into woodblock prints. They scanned the pencil drawing and printed it in Xerox form, transferred the design onto wood blocks, carved the lines and shapes out of the blocks, mixed the paint, transferred the paint onto the blocks and pieced together the prints layer by layer.

“I am brand-new to this process, and it’s a huge learning experience,” said Kemp, adding that creating a print is a much different process than painting. “You design, dissect and reassemble.” Some mathematical problem-solving is even involved in lining up the colors and shapes, she pointed out.

Printing press

Ella Long '20 pulls a layer of color off a woodblock print that was just rolled through the press.

Instructor Casey also gave kudos to the students, who are all pursuing printmaking concentrations at Skidmore.

“They’re the crew. They keep it running,” he said of their command of the two-week project. “They’re running it themselves at this point. A really good sign was when they told me I could go get them coffee.”

The students maintained their focus as they moved quickly from one step to the next. Printmaking is often social in nature, and the dynamic of the class was interactive and relaxed. Students engaged in playful banter, at one point debating the strengths and weaknesses of American and British versions of “The Office.”

“The presses are all in one room, where everyone is. A lot of mediums require isolation,” Strauss ’20 explained.

Long ’20, who specializes in a form of printmaking called intaglio with copper, said Skidmore’s metal studio is also impressive.

“Most big schools don’t even have the equipment Skidmore has,” Spina ’20 added.

Katie DeGroot, director of the Summer Studio Art program, said the class is a good fit for the program, the students and the artists because it involves translation from one medium to another.

“It’s wonderful for students to work with an artist who’s never made a print and to see an artist talk to a printmaker,” DeGroot said.

A finished print

Daniel Strauss '20 holds up a finished print.

On the last day of the class, Spina brought out lapel pins in the shape of rollers for his peers, instructor Casey and for Kemp, who had completed her journey to becoming a printmaker.

“She’s one of us now,” Casey quipped.

On Friday, July 26, the Printmaking Studio will be open all day for PrintNation, a “hands-on printmaking extravaganza” in which anyone from the Skidmore community can use the presses to print art, T-shirts or tote bags.

Also, “Summer Swoon,” the Skidmore summer art faculty exhibition, will be on display in the Schick Art Gallery through July 26. Kemp, Bates, Casey and DeGroot all have work in the show, in addition to Paris Baillie, Angela Heisch, Kathy Hemingway-Jones, Sophie Isaak, Joe Klockowski, Janet Sorensen and Emily Vallee.

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