Our Process – Norton (Sara Norquay & Mark Dutton)

by Wendy McGrath

In my collaborations with printmaker Walter Jule and the band Quarto & Sound, I valued how these projects plucked me out of the writer’s self-imposed isolation. As I met with Sara Norquay and Mark Dutton to discuss their creative work, I recognized other elements I liked about my collaborations and gained insight into an evolving project from two printmakers with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Norquay’s oeuvre is multi-disciplinary and encompasses printmaking, artist’s books and felt objects. Her impressive list of artistic collaborative credits includes prints as part of the trio The Compl( )ments with Andrea Itzeck and Brenda Malkinson, a deck of ersatz tarot cards and a postcard book with David Townsend, and artist’s books with Kristin Meller.

Dutton has some 30 years’ experience as a graphic designer. He is a partner in Halkier & Dutton, a design company started by his wife Laurel Halkier in 1987. As a designer, Dutton is no stranger to the collaborative process. When he and Halkier are working for a client they often discuss approaches in terms of problem solving. “We’ll get a call out of the blue: ‘We’re a potato company. Design us a brand.’”

Norquay and Dutton embarked on the first series of their “Norton” (a mash-up of Norquay and Dutton) collaborative project five years ago. These first prints are intriguing, at once playful and ominous. They began with woodcut backgrounds created by Norquay on which Dutton would silk-screen overlays. Two prints in this first series were auctioned at one of SNAP’s Print Affair events.

Norquay reveals she and Dutton don’t discuss beforehand what they’re going to do with a print. “It’s a flat out jump-off-the-cliff approach.” She adds, “This project allows me to go somewhere each time that I never would go otherwise. It’s an exercise to challenge the other person to go outside their box.” As Dutton says, “One of the biggest things about collaborating is being given the initial imagery—just the backgrounds— from Sara, which are different from what I’d do.”

“The design world is all about exacting perfection in terms of printing from digital,” says Dutton. “That was something I loved about printmaking and still do, the hand-made part. The huge thing for me was the physical process.” Expressing a similar draw, Norquay says, “I fluctuate between loving the hand-made and wanting the exact perfect result. In my own work I love the imperfections.” She continues, “With something hand-made you’re making a series of decisions. It’s evidence of time passing. Even if the viewer doesn’t know what the decisions are, I do. When you’re on a computer the history of decision-making is not there.”

Norquay and Dutton have completed a second iteration of their Norton project. For the third series each will choose six of their own prints from the previous two series and modify them further. As the duo sends proposals to galleries for an exhibition of their collaborative prints, Norton goes on…



Born Calgary
Education BFA (U of A)
Favourite artists Pierre Soulages, Robert Motherwell, Corita Kent
Favourite book Blindness by José Saramago
Favourite album Hard Again, Muddy Waters
Music you play while working Rodney Crowell, Lucinda Williams

What do you consider to be the greatest influence on your work?
SNAP. The printshop is a vibrant, encouraging community where conversations and ideas are freely shared. Beginners work alongside emerging and established print artists. It’s been a great place to develop skills and experience work from local to international artists.

When did you begin printmaking and what attracted you to it?
My introduction to printmaking was by way of a screen printing course through SNAP in 2009. Having spent 30 years in front of a computer as a graphic designer, the idea of stepping away from the mouse, getting my hands dirty and embracing the very human process of screen printing was an exciting departure.

You have collaborated before—what inspired you to undertake working together on a second series of this project?
I found the collaborative process in the first series to be both challenging and liberating. After some time away, we felt there was more we could explore together.

How does collaboration impact your process and your work?
My biggest take away has been the starting point of any of my newer work. Responding to Sara’s imagery has challenged some preconceptions or limitations I’ve put on my work and process.

What are the challenges of a collaborative project such as yours?
For me, it’s just trying to keep up with Sara. She is so productive, focused and energetic. I bring a nice balance of procrastination to the partnership.

How do you keep yourself open to random occurrences or ideas that may take your project in an unexpected direction?
I’ve always looked for the unexpected results, for ‘surprises’.

What do you admire most about each other’s work?
Sara’s use of vibrant colours and her playful sensibility. Plus, there’s her work ethic.



Born Edmonton
Education BA English, BEd (Elementary), ACAD (two years in painting), lots of printmaking workshops over the years. TESL certificate.

Who do you consider to be the greatest influence on your work?
Leofwin Luke, a deceased dramaturge and playwright who encouraged my creative impulses and ideas.

When did you begin printmaking and what attracted you to it?
I learned at ACAD (1974-76) and began practicing seriously around 1996. I like the process and the various steps required for making work. It slows my creativity down.

How is this collaboration different from how you work on your own?
I plan my own work, but this is more of a responsive kind of work.

How do you keep yourself open to random occurrences or ideas that may take your project in an unexpected direction?
Each challenge from Mark is different so there is no way to plan. These prints are visual conversations between us. Each print is unexpected.

Can you describe your collaborative process?
Each collaboration starts with an idea and a structure or set of parameters that is negotiated. Two rules are enough. Firstly, the process must be enjoyed by both parties throughout. If anyone

becomes unhappy, communication and renegotiation occurs. This requires honesty by both parties. Secondly, all contributions are accepted – no micromanaging or demands for specific elements produced by the other person.

In the case of this project, series one proceeded without problems. Series two took longer with some stops and starts and we are still finishing it. Series three has been negotiated but we haven’t started.

What do you admire most about each other’s work?
Mark’s design ideas are very sophisticated. His colour palette is similar to mine and he is flexible, easy to negotiate with. He also isn’t afraid to tackle subject matter and composition that is new to him.


Image credits:
(Header image) Norton, Shrouded Ornament
(In text) Norton, Dialogue