20 Artists Looking Back



“Practice. Experiment. Learn from your mistakes. When a gallery dealer offers to send images of your work to a curator in New York, don’t hesitate to do it. Not everything has to be a print.”


“Cowboy style (or cowgirl in my case). This is how I understand my approach to print. It is a no fear, all-materials-on-deck way of making and thinking. My first woodcut was 4 by 4 feet and I carved it with a circular saw. I printed it on a homemade press made out of car jacks that took about 20 minutes and a lot of sweat to pump by hand. The press could facilitate images up to 8 by 4 feet—a physical feat just to manage the paper, plates and ink. These are the attitudes that my younger self embraced—an unbridled creativity and joy of making coupled with it’s okay to fail. One of the things I love about print is that all of that repetition makes it full of second chances. Today I would add an always be generous policy, and keep working on your storytelling skills (at the very least pepper your demos and artist talks with some tall tales and a few jokes). I think it takes a certain kind of courage to sustain an artistic life, but eventually this relationship turns inside out, and it’s the artistic life that gives you courage to face everything else.”


“The first bit of advice I would give myself would be to work hard and work often. Nothing comes from inactivity or waiting around thinking about things. And, perhaps especially in printmaking, you need to jump right in to these wonderful, and likely foreign, processes to embody them as fully as holding a pencil or a paint brush. Only when we no longer have to think about ‘how to do something’ can we concentrate more on expressing ideas and concepts.

Then, consider everything you do in the studio an experiment. You just have to try things and see how they look and how they might read. If something works — great; but, if something doesn’t work, no worries — just give it another go.

Related to that is lighten up and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Recognize that everything you are doing today is just a prelude to what you could be doing tomorrow. Your next piece will be your best piece.

Figure out what something working means to you. It will be different for everyone so it is important to figure out what feels effective for you and your ideas. Then, consider why.

Get back into the studio whenever possible.”


“As a student I would have fun debating prospective manifestoes and theories of which my favourite was the “Stuff Theory of Art,” holding as its central premise that the more stuff you could fit in a picture the better. However flippant we may have been in intent I, and many of my classmates, had a hard time separating ourselves from our facetious maxim. I could not stop myself from adding stuff.

I still get into difficulty trying to impose information — keep it simple, meaning will attach itself.

I’ve said too much already but, seriously: listen to yourself, closely.”


“‘Learn it well but break it well, too.’

One thing which is often stressful in printmaking: it requires many detailed techniques in each stage. Art of making a plate, art of inking and wiping, art of printing and art of curating to art of signing (wow). It can be nerve breaking for a beginner to meet with all the rules of how a print should be. One smudge on the paper margin is not a print! Waaaaa!

I think it is important not to get trapped in that pit and limit yourself as a printmaker. Printmaking is so beautiful and wonderful and yes, the properly executed prints have a unique beauty (including an artist’s handwritten signature). It is good to master all those manners well.

At the same time, if you want to explore the potential means to express what you want to express, don’t be afraid to break rules: go off the margin, cut and paste, combine with other media. Break them but break them well so that your art can speak in multiple layers.

Expression of art is like an ocean with no limit.”


“Probably my main piece of advice would be akin to that which my 100-year-old father gave to a 25 year old who asked him this very question. His response was: “Don’t take yourself too seriously”. But wrapped up in that statement for me is the idea of letting go of your self-consciousness, and with that, your fear of failure. I remember the intense trepidation I felt as a young artist in grad school, and the fear of making ‘bad’ work. I wish now that I had taken more advantage of the situation and been more daring sometimes. I guess I mean to say… don’t forget to jump off the cliff at times to follow through on some adventurous and bold ideas! I now wish that I had done that more often as a young artist.”


“Looking back, I would tell my younger self: do not be restricted by your own expectations. Allow yourself to take detours; sometimes the anticipated path does not get you where you need to be. I used to think I had to walk a singular path, choosing between art and other modes of inquiry. Disciplinary boundaries were not always so porous, and when I was a student, I worried that it made me less of an artist for straying off course. After I finished my BFA degree, I felt unsure of my next steps for the first time. A trusted print professor, Carl Heywood, wisely advised me not to worry about how making art was going to fit into the bigger plan, and just trust that it would. I travelled for a year and changed tack—eventually moving to the UK to complete a PhD in Anthropology on contemporary art and civil society in South Africa. The world and experience will open your eyes to a great many things. There are many ways to be an artist. In time, I returned to Canada and resumed printmaking. It takes finessing, but I have found some sense of balance, accepting that writing and research are integral parts of my material practice. The path forward looks obvious only in retrospect. It turns out that print was the shared touchstone all along. On reflection, the lessons that I learned early on as a printmaker taught me about problem- solving and trouble-shooting, collaboration, and the rewards of embracing the unexpected. To be honest, I’m not sure I would want to reveal this ‘spoiler alert’ to my younger self. Some lessons are best hard won across circuitous pathways.”


“What a great question! At the risk of sounding cliché, when I look back on my early days of printmaking, I wish I would have given myself the permission to fail more by allowing myself to experiment with materials, processes, and techniques that may not have yielded the “perfect” results each time. Now, in my role as an instructor at the University of Calgary, I have the privilege of working with emerging artists everyday, and I see the importance of letting go of the pressure of academic standing in order to really experience and understand a media or technique. In the short term, experimentation and failure may result in the production of some visually and conceptually sub-par works, however, in the long run, the work will be stronger due to a deeper understanding of materials, processes, and techniques. I have lived by the rule that I must do something that contributes to my creative practice everyday, but, reflecting on this, I think I need to take my own advice and give myself the permission to fail a little in my creative practice everyday as well.”


“Sometimes your sculpture is a print, and sometimes your print is a photograph.

Although arriving at printmaking late can feel like a detriment at times, beginning your art practice in other media will be critical to your perspective and love of expanded printmaking.

Don’t wait so long to join an artist-run print studio (you don’t need to know everything upon arrival—it will be a place to learn, experiment, and build community)!”


“Firstly, I would shout (not tell) myself to put on some gloves and a mask when I am cleaning my screen with gallons of screen wash and white spirit and that ferric will stain forever and ever so I need to invest in some good overalls! Once young Marilène had really understood that (she was pretty arrogant and strong willed), I would look her deep in the eyes and promise her that all these hours, days, weeks she is spending in the print studio will teach her much more than how to pull a perfect print: it will guide her to know how to be happy, believe in herself and appreciate others. I would tell her that printmaking will show her not only how to laboriously polish a copper plate with jeweler’s rouge, but also the importance of patient and methodical preparation. It will teach her not how to make a reduction linocut, but the profound value of making a deep commitment to herself and her ideas. I would explain that she will learn not only how to rock a mezzotint plate and make an image emerge from blackness she has painstakingly created, but that everything has its own pace and that she will be much happier if she surrenders to that pace. Most importantly though, I will promise her printmaking exemplifies that everything will be fine in the end, even if it goes terribly wrong in the middle — as long as she doesn’t give up and isn’t scared to ask others for help and advice.”


“Stop overthinking it! It is hard enough to make your passion for print a reality, constantly putting off projects until they are completely “flushed out” in your mind generally means you never actually start. Get in the studio and DO!”


“You can’t know everything in advance. Actually making something physical will tell you a lot more about how to proceed and what the next decisions should be than speculating (even when the speculation feels informed). Trying something will provide a foothold to move to the next thing.”


“Gain an overview of print culture. Working out of print shops around the world, you learn that there are so many ways of making prints, many styles and techniques in the print world, which is an intricate worldwide network. Places and people will change you.

Prioritize a stream of study at an educational institute. After a BFA, I would certainly not study art — my love of lithography would demand geology to better understand and appreciate the process. There are many fascinating areas of study that can reinforce one’s imagination.

Study brain surgery. My mentor always equated registering paper to brain surgery — connecting vessels and veins with precision. Knowing my slipshod registration techniques, this would have served me well! Plus, how many print artists do you know who also have a medical degree?

Learn to think in a classical analytical manner. Learn to ride and repair a motorcycle (after reading Robert M. Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). Gain a perspective of the mechanical and technical aspects necessary to print well or simply fix things.

Find exciting and relevant printmakers to work with. I am very thankful that I met master lithographer Don Holman, which allowed me to bring some technical focus to my aesthetics — otherwise it would have been like playing ping pong with a hammer! Also, J. C. Heywood, master of colour and composition. I thank Carl for polishing my appreciation of colour.”


“I remember feeling intimidated not only by print processes but the studio itself. I wasn’t a part of the print community in my school yet, and I wasn’t outgoing enough to just step in. Print and the studio space were unfamiliar to me; there seemed to be these invisible barriers to overcome. But what I quickly learned was how strong and welcoming the print community is, especially for those beginning their exploration. I would tell a new-to-print individual to step beside their intimidation (as it will very much still be there and that is okay!) and give the magic of print a go (as print can be quite magical, especially in the beginning when pulling a print off the press for the first time). To further that, give the magic of ‘screwing up’ your prints a chance too! Celebrate the failure, in the best sense of the word, you will inevitably work through when learning. When I first started to print I was so nervous to mess up a process. But I later realized that this is where conversation began to occur with the materials of print, with the space of print, and with the community of print. It is also important to note that print is a community as much as a medium, and this community is inclusive, supportive, welcoming, innovative, and exciting to be a part of (so don’t hesitate to join in!).”


“Advice to my younger self? ‘Don’t start with lithography!!!’ Just kidding, I actually think that kind of ‘Baptism by Fire’ aspect of my printmaking trajectory was a good choice, even if I didn’t know it at the time. Okay, proper advice: ‘Get more involved in community print shops, now!’ (and I’m not just saying that because SNAP asked me to answer this question). I never really met any other printmakers outside of my class when I was in my undergrad at York University, and it wasn’t until I went to the University of Alberta in Edmonton that I started getting involved with my local community printshop (which happened to be SNAP). Soon after I started volunteering there I got to know many of the printers and artists, I learned way more about letterpress (which is very dear to me now), and eventually I had the opportunity to teach some of my first print classes in screenprinting. When you finally bust out of the art-school bubble you quickly realize that printmakers go by a host of other titles in the Real World: artists, book makers, producers, master printers, small business owners, poets, crafters, industrial printers, technicians, hobbyists, curators, collectors, graphic novelists, publishers, and many more that contribute entirely different — and really valuable — perspectives to the contemporary printmaking scene. Wee Phoebe: go get your greasy mitts involved in a community print shop (just don’t touch the stones!).”


“Be patient, open-minded, and listen to others. Take advice and constructive feedback without becoming emotional or feeling hurt — these are learning opportunities. Understand that it is difficult for any person to make time and offer feedback about your work (especially when it is truthful) and know their intention is good. Appreciate when anyone is willing to discuss your work freely because they are also taking risks; feedback is not easy to give or receive.”


“Dear Kyle, you are not good at prioritizing your studio practice. You schedule every other task before your own studio practice; this fails to leave any time for creating art during the day. By the evening, you’re burnt out and full of excuses. Please change this. Start your day with your studio practice and let the other tasks come after. Trust me when I say, you’ll find greater fulfilment and satisfaction through maintaining a consistent studio practice than crossing off dozens of items on a mundane to-do list.”


“This is a tricky question… because I teach at a university, I think about it a lot! I would want 20-year-old Rob to understand that there is so much to know about being a printmaker, (and a person, too) and he’s never going to know it all. But try! When you stop wondering, when you stop asking ‘why?,’ you’re finished. Art is not about the answers, it’s always about the questions.”


“I would have encouraged my younger self to make lots and lots of small studies, not technical tests per say but small, well-composed-images in order to find my stride with mark making in addition to new techniques. I would tell Ericka — ‘Make tons of low-risk images, stop trying to make masterpieces, just make a lot.’ After the first few years I eventually figured this out and I began a series of nearly one hundred small etching. It allowed me to build confidence and a graphic language of my own.”


“Try not to judge something negatively before you make it! You will always learn more from making the artwork than if you keep shooting down your own ideas. Also, especially with printmaking, record everything that happens during your process. Did something weird happen and you’re not sure why? Write as much down about it as you can, photograph the process. If you can’t ask someone about it, you’ll at least have a record. And it’s still smart to do this even if nothing is going wrong.”