Sunday, March 14, 2010

Printsy Interview - Liv Rainey-Smith


Brief Bio
Printmaker Liv Rainey-Smith works with woodblocks to create richly colored prints. Her process incorporates a mixture of traditional and modern tools as well as a blend of European and Japanese printmaking technique. She draws upon history, nature, religion, dream, and vision for inspiration.

How did you get started in printmaking?
I needed some more "secondary craft" credits as part of my degree requirements. Printmaking caught my eye because it was taught by Brian Shannon and I was curious about the process. Little did I know I'd be lured away from my primary craft (metals) and into the world of print.

Describe where you work.
I do my sketching anywhere and everywhere, I make sure to take my sketchbook whenever I might have some quiet time. Most of my carving is done in my home office on a small desk. I prefer solitude for carving and need to take periodic stretch breaks, being at home gives me plenty of other small tasks to break up the work and still feel productive. My office is a bit cluttered, with a full bookshelf, CD rack, two computers and desks, a rolling steel rack loaded with supplies, and a tank housing our pet mice. For the actual printing I'm a member of Atelier Meridian. The Atelier offers plenty of work space, several presses to chose from, and good company.

What's your favorite printmaking process?
Woodblock with oil-based ink. I'm particularly fond of reduction printing, though I've primarily focused on single-color prints this year. I enjoy strong solid colors and thick papers that take embossing.

What's your creative process for any given print? (eg. sketch first? Pre-planned or free-form?)
My process varies. My thesis, The Four Portlanders of the Apocalypse, was highly planned. I spent months developing the concept, taking photos of locations around Portland, drawing, and testing out the sizes of various elements on photocopiers. The finished designs were transferred to the blocks using carbon paper, and then I carved all four concurrently.

My current series, the Iunges, has been much more free-flowing. I start directly on the block, spending time looking at the grain, then sketching the outline of the Iunge. I make a few guidelines as the carving progresses, but for the most part the details are not drawn out first. I've found this technique very liberating since woodblock tends to be a very rigid medium.

What do you enjoy most about printmaking?
I love being able to make two-dimensional art using three dimensional means. I've always been more comfortable with mediums that require a certain amount of force and control. Metalsmithing was actually the focus of my education and taught me a great deal about precision. Ultimately though, I found the prospect of making the same pieces of jewelry over and over again unappealing. Printmaking has the advantage of allowing the production of editions without the same level of tedium.

What's your least favorite part of the process?
Cutting paper and mats. It is exacting and not very exciting work. I also have trouble photographing my own work as well as I'd like to, and job that out whenever possible.

What are your inspirations (other artists, people, places, events, etc.)?
As a child I went through the period of fascination with dinosaurs most kids seem to go through, but then I also got into ancient Egypt, the Aztecs, Hopi and Zuni lore, and natural history. My interest in historical art and cultures has continued on through adulthood, so it can be a bit difficult to pinpoint my influences. Some of my earliest print works are clearly influenced by particular cultures, but as my work has continued the connections have become less apparent.

Dream has also been a very large part of my creative life. I remember my dreams from every night, so the often non-sensible scenarios and beings I encounter within them are to me, normal. As important as rational thought is, I believe it is important to maintain a sense of wonder and awe. This will be a sad world indeed if we ever succeed in banishing all of the angels, devils, and bogeys from our minds.

How has your work changed and evolved since you started?
My first prints as a student were technical exercises. Not terribly creative, but very exciting to me as I could see the door to a new world of art opening up. Technically I see great improvement in my carving, even from the work I did a year ago. Familiarity with the tools and techniques of woodblock has allowed me to start experimenting more. I've been letting go of some of my rigid notions of how things "must" be, and allowed myself to work more freely.

How do you get past creative slumps?
When my cup of ideas runneth over, I lament my lack of time to pursue each idea fully, and sketch them out for future dry spots. When concept begins to weigh me down, I let myself just have some fun. Not every piece needs to have a deep meaning behind it. When I'm feeling a bit lost, trying out different block sizes has also proved fruitful. I followed up the largest blocks I've ever carved with the smallest I've yet carved. The transition from large to small was a fantastic mental exercise.

How do you promote your work?
I keep my business card in my wallet and car so I've got it to hand out any time I run into someone interested or interesting. I also apply for juried shows and send show announcements to my alma mater. Art and craft events can be good for creating visibility, and conferences have proven excellent for making professional contacts.

I use Etsy, Facebook (via a fanpage and a personal page for friends), and my website. I also have a blog but I've not really set it up yet. I'm not fond of sitting down to write long entries. I much prefer sharing photos with little bites of info.

Any other comments or advice for others who want to try making hand-pulled prints?
Take a survey class if you can. You never know what technique you might fall in love with until you try it, and a bit of hands-on guidance can make intimidating processes more approachable. Be prepared for some failures, but don't let them stop you.


Ellen Shipley said...

I love your influences. I'm curious about the Four Portlanders series. It sounds interesting.

Kelly O'Keefe said...

Wonderful prints! The thesis project is intriguing. I'm drawn to art that expresses the personality of a place--especially tongue-in-cheek stuff.

Liv Rainey-Smith said...

Thank you Ellen and Kelly! "The Four Portlanders of the Apocalypse" is as much a tribute to my city as it is a commentary on the tumultuous relationship between faith and reason.

I conceived of the riders as representatives of communities or political forces I see in Portland. Whether they embody good or bad is entirely dependent upon the morals and beliefs of the viewer. So while I chose to represent what I love about Portland, I picked groups that I know aren't always well accepted. Each rider is meant to be an archetype, and the building behind them is just one of the places in Portland associated with the community.

Just as the horsemen of the "The Revelation to John," work to bring about a heaven on earth, the riders I envisioned have set out to create their own heaven on earth. The white rider seeks to create a world where homosexuality is not called a disease, and equal rights are available to same-sex couples who wish their bond to be recognized by government and society. The red rider seeks parity with man -- a world where pay and promotions are doled out equally, and everyone has the freedom to chose their life path regardless of gender. The black rider seeks to bring about social justice. In his world Government and corporations respect humankind, and cruelty and war are eliminated. The green rider seeks to cleanse the planet. Her world is free from pollution, and harmony with nature is achieved. Individually they may look like average people, but united they represent a greater transforming force.