by ALEXANDRA RETTER
After just a few hours at a printmaking class, Jen Benson didn’t want to leave. Today, she continues to appreciate the surprises that come with this form of art. “There’s no limit to creativity. It’s something where you can sit at that press for hours and hours and create image after image,” she said.
Benson applies this creativity while making prints with a group of fellow community members at open studio time with the Winona Arts Center’s (WAC) printing press. “We learn from each other,” she said.
Recently, one of Benson’s favorite prints came from making a design with feathers. Community members also used materials such as 3-D stickers, leaf-shaped stencils and ribbons at a recent open studio time. The participants kept testing how they put the stickers or stencils down on the plates to get different designs. They might put another material on or take one off, or even paint another one. They might also free hand a design, or cut a piece of paper into a design — the same way as is done to make a snowflake decoration — then put that on a plate. “It’s just all about creating and … being willing to be flexible and willing to look for different designs and shapes and colors,” Benson said.
Along with designing, the community members made sure the paper they put over the plate was damp, but not too damp. “You want your paper not to be wet, but just to feel cool to the touch,” Dan Grimslid, who helps lead the group, said. The participants next put cloth over the plate before running it through the press, ensuring it was lined up how they wanted it and that the pressure from the press was right. Spinning the press’ wheel is what actually makes the plate go through the press’ rollers.
Making art in a community setting was another perk of the open studio time. The attendees traded tips and enjoyed one another’s company while keeping track of all the steps in the printmaking process. “It’s a place for people to gather, to share ideas and to work on their art with other people,” Benson said. Even though designs may not always go to plan, the community members just kept brainstorming.
“You’re not going to fail. You might have a bad print, but you can print over the top of that,” Grimslid said.
“A bad print is in the eye of the beholder,” attendee Fran Goodin said.
The art created here spreads outward. Benson sends her prints as cards. “There’s something nice about getting something handmade,” she said.
The art form and printing press specifically at the WAC inspired other artists from the community, as well. Ian Hanesworth used the printing press at the WAC while in high school in Winona, and though living out of state now, tries to work on it whenever they are in town. They recently had a show of prints at the Blue Heron centered on the land of the Driftless area. Community member Matthew Wagner experimented with some prints on the press while creating his show about local animals, up now at the WAC. “I think it really still has its place in making artwork, and just connects to a tradition I like to keep going, because I think the visual payoff is so worthwhile,” he said of printmaking.
For more information about Open Studio with the press, visit winonaarts.org.