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Communicating Through Craft: A Profile of Aaron Hughes

portrait of Aaron Hughes working at the press in the letterpress studio

 

Art, activism, performance, protest—for Aaron Hughes, the lines between them are blurred and insignificant. “All my work is about creating stories and sharing stories,” he explains. “I’m trying to find space for people to bridge the divides we have in our world through art and through stories.”

As a veteran who served in Iraq and Kuwait for fifteen months in 2003-2004, Aaron is sharply aware of those divides. His deployment introduced him to a rougher and more complex world than he’d known growing up in the Midwest. “I felt like the ideas from my upbringing, my religion, my country didn’t make sense anymore,” he remembers. “But what did make sense was art. I felt like art was something I could invest in and believe in and put my energy into. It was something creative and not destructive.”

Aaron came home from his deployment determined to use art as a tool to generate conversations and connections about difficult topics like war, trauma, and oppression. In 2006 he graduated from the University of Illinois with a BFA in painting, and in 2009 he received his MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University. Then he went on to work with organizations such as the National Veterans Art Museum, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and the Center for Artistic Activism.

 

Drawing from the series 21 Days to Baghdad/Chicago
One of the pieces from “21 Days to Baghdad/Chicago,” a collection of drawings and maps Aaron made after returning to Illinois from his deployment.

 

In the summer of 2013, Aaron came to Penland for the first time with a Windgate Charitable Fund Scholarship. “I had spent so much time helping others to tell their stories and listening to other people’s stories that I had neglected any kind of personal work I needed to do,” Aaron explains. “I applied to Penland as a part of my transition back to focusing on my own art practice.”

He has returned to Penland each summer since to take classes in the printmaking and letterpress studios. “One reason I’m super invested in the printmaking program is that I’m interested in the way printmaking and politics can help to popularize language, stories, and movements,” he says. The connection is clear for Aaron: “Your ability to communicate lies in your ability to execute a craft. That’s what I’ve been gaining each time I come to Penland—the opportunity to develop my craft and to improve my communication skills.”

Aaron readily admits, however, that his time at Penland has been about more than gaining skills in the studio. “Penland is a generous space for me as a veteran,” he explains. “It’s a place of transformation and growth and learning. I’ve been encouraging other veterans to apply there because it’s such a healing, generative space.”

When he’s at Penland, Aaron describes himself as a “studio hound.” “I just want to make, make, make, make, make,” he laughs. But Aaron also values the quieter, more contemplative moments on campus. He describes the short walk back from dinner to the print studio: “There’s a little bench that’s halfway. I’ve often enjoyed sitting there, embracing the evening as it approaches and watching the Appalachian dusk. It’s so beautiful—transcendently beautiful. And I just sit in between all this creativity and embrace the present moment of being there. I feel like that’s healing. That’s wholesome for anybody.”

–Sarah Parkinson

 

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Printfest with Aimee Joyaux | April 10-16, 2016

Letterpress print on old ledger paper
Aimee Joyaux, “Posh RVA,” letterpress, rubber stamps, ledger paper, 16″ x 20″

 

“I love narratives,” says Aimee Joyaux. “Life is full of stories.”

As a mixed-media artist and educator for the past 30 years, Aimee’s life is certainly rich with stories—her childhood on the island of Maui, her time as a photographer for a local newspaper, the eleven years she and her husband spent renovating the historic Virginia cotton warehouse they now call home.

“My work examines contradiction and bias, situating a personal experience within a grand narrative through language, iconography, and gestural fields of color,” Aimee explains. “This engagement with cultural memory explores ideas of power and place.” All that, and Aimee manages to do it with a bit of fun and whimsy.

 

PAAL_Aimee_G_JHW_9648

When Aimee was able to salvage hundreds of printing plates from a seed and feed bag company in Richmond, VA in 2011, the plates and their history quickly worked their way into her explorations of narrative. Through Cornmeal Press, Aimee’s co-op community print factory, she and others have been telling stories of agriculture, local production, and the southern United States—with a personal twist. The prints draw on historical imagery but add new layers through color, text, paper, and composition so that each one also speaks of its maker.

 

letterpress print on old wallpaper
Aimee Joyaux, “Don’t Postpone Joy,” letterpress on hand-printed wallpaper, 24″ x 30″ (1 of 15)

 

This spring, Aimee will bring Cornmeal Press and her love of stories to Penland for a week-long printing spree appropriately titled Printfest. “It’ll be crafty and fun—perfect for those new to printing (we’ll cover lots of basics) and the old pros (they can crank out a bunch of work),” Aimee says. “Come on down to North Carolina and put a pig on it!”

Registration is currently open for Printfest, which will take place April 10-16, 2016. If you’d still like more information after reading the course description below, take a look at the Cornmeal Press page on Aimee’s website.

 

Three women working at a printing press

 

Printfest

Aimee Joyaux — This workshop will be a fun week of introductory printmaking using dozens of plates salvaged from a seed and feedbag company in Richmond, Virginia. We’ll mix and match chickens, pigs, cows, and horses to make unique posters and simple broadsides. We’ll review basic printmaking processes with an equal emphasis on fun and exploration. We’ll cover ink application, color mixing, and printing on paper and fabric (tea towels!). We’ll print with a press or by hand using oil-based inks. Students will leave with a shared portfolio of prints and will contribute to the collective work of Cornmeal Press.

Aimee: Studio artist; teaching: Visual Arts Center (VA), Ball State University (IN); exhibitions: Catherine Edelman Gallery (Chicago), National Museum of Women in the Arts (DC), Melanee Cooper Gallery (Chicago), Center for Book and Paper Arts (Chicago); representation: Quirk Gallery (VA), Walton Gallery (VA).

Register to be part of Printfest.

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Aimee Joyaux, “5 O’Clock Somewhere,” letterpress on Atlas Sheets, 11″ x 15″

 

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Hand in Hand: Books, Paper, and Print from the Top

christopher davenport making books

 

Christopher Davenport is a storyteller. His stories are personal and complex, weaving together ecology, people, place, and lived experience:

“The place and people I grew up with in rural northeastern North Carolina through the lens of time in 7 poems and 7 photographs.”

“A meditation of places beautiful, able, and unable—Utah’s Wasatch Range and Iowa Corn Fields—from 30,000 feet and memory.”

“Acceptance and resignation as contemporary ecological narratives of extinction.”

“Of place, wilderness, what we see, what we collect, and what we keep.”

“A look beyond experience. Photographs from infrared cameras placed on family property in Washington County, North Carolina.”

 

Christopher tells his stories through text and images strung together into artists’ books. When he describes what drew him to the book format, he explains, “I’ve worked with film, video, photography, and other mediums, but none of them could fully touch on the total idea or experience I was trying to relate to other people. Books just seemed to fit that.”

 

wood case, binding, and interior pages of Ease
Details of the case, binding, and interior pages of “Ease out of your skin, Ease out of your ways, Ease out of your mind.”

 

Christopher’s books work in layers to communicate that complete experience. Take Ease out of your skin, Ease out of your ways, Ease out of your mind, a book he made last year while spending time at and around Penland: Christopher describes the book as “an ecological action and visual poem to intersecting place, commitment, and shared space.” Many of its pages are dedicated to a series of cyanotypes of a young male deer that Christopher took while observing from the grass nearby. But the book’s story is much fuller than that, and each of its elements contributes in some way. The handmade abaca spine and reclaimed poplar case speak of human ingenuity as well as our dependence on the natural world. The cotton cover made from a feed sack from nearby Bakersville, NC details a connection to place, while pages bound in from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac locate this moment within the greater narrative of human and natural history. Even the beeswax used to finish the book—harvested from Penland’s own beehive—adds a layer of meaning.

 

Artist's book by Christopher Davenport
“Twelve Days,” a book Christopher made in 2014 to document the time he spent in wilderness over the year and to mark the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Wilderness Act.

 

As the instructor for our Spring 2016 concentration Hand in Hand: Books, Paper, and Print from the Top, Christopher will spend eight weeks taking his students through the many details that, together, contribute meaning to an artist’s book. From papermaking and binding to strategies for building type, image, and ideas into a narrative, the class will be in-depth process and experimentation at its best.

 

Hand in Hand will run March 13 – May 6, 2016. Registration is currently open.

 

Hand in Hand: Books, Paper, and Print from the Top

Christopher Davenport — This workshop is about making books—with our hands, our tools, our paper, and our ideas. We’ll cover gathering and preparing fibers; constructing molds, deckles, and tools; drying; surface treatment; finishes; Western and Eastern binding and printing techniques; and conceptual considerations of the book, book design, visual narratives, and generating content. We’ll divide our time between the paper and book studios with a week or two spent printing in the letterpress studio as we gain skills, explore possibilities, make essential binding and papermaking tools, and make books. All levels. Code S00B

Studio artist and teacher at University of Alabama; other teaching: Robert C. Williams Museum of Paper Making (Atlanta), Kennesaw State University (PA); Alabama Arts Council Arts in Education Residency; collections: Wesleyan University (CT), School of the Art Institute of Chicago; his Pocket Knife Press books are represented by Vamp and Tramp Booksellers.

pocketknifepress.com

 

Penland Spring Concentrations, March 13 – May 6, 2016
Books  |  Clay  |  Glass  |  Iron  |  Metals  |  Textiles  |  Wood

 

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Printers in the Making | Fall Concentration with Phil Sanders

Phil Sanders working in a print shop

“Printmaking in and of itself is a very simple idea,” says Phil Sanders. “It’s the transfer of one image from one surface to another.” But this simple definition belies the true complexity and range of options available to the skilled printmakerlayers of ink and paper, levels of opacity, a myriad of textures and techniques. And if one thing is for sure, it’s that Phil Sanders is a skilled printmaker. Lucky for us, he’ll be coming to Penland this fall to teach an 8-week concentration on the ins and outs of his trade, including etching, aquatint, drypoint, and more. The course, as he says, “is a rare occasion to get an intaglio apprenticeship-style immersion.”

Space is still open in this print concentration, and some work-study scholarships are still available. Register here.

 

Printers in the Making

Phil Sanders – As a printer and a printmaker, I understand the difficulty of switching between “printer brain” and “artist brain.” The pull between “how to do” and “what to do” can leave you lost in the middle. Consider this class a technical apprenticeship combined with the creative space to experiment with your artistic voice. We’ll demystify all intaglio processes plus monotype, monoprint, and chine-collé. We’ll make ink, grounds, and drawing supplies, review tool maintenance, paper conservation, and more. We’ll tackle drawing, composition, design, and color theory through drawing calisthenics and composition exercises. This workshop is ideal for artists looking to hone their printmaking skills and artistic voice or working toward becoming professional printers. All levels. Code F00X

Phil Sanders is the director of PS Marlowe, a creative services consultancy firm. He is a former director and master printer at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop (NYC) and a former master printer for Universal Limited Art Editions (NY). Phil’s teaching experience includes Stanford University (CA), San Francisco State University (CA), and numerous courses at Penland.

phillipsanders.com

 

Two prints by Phil Sanders
Two prints by Phil Sanders. At left, “Check Mate,” a lithograph with digital inkjet and watercolor. At right, “Black Star (IQ Test),” a six-color silkscreen.

 

Phil Sanders Print
“Presence of Another,” a four-color letterpress print by Phil Sanders.

 

In a 10-Minute Talk created for MoMA, Phil emphasizes that printmaking is a very old and diverse fieldhumans have been making prints ever since the first footprint in the sand. “One of the major reasons that printmaking has survived and continues to thrive is its collaborative nature. Printmaking is never done wholly within in a vacuum. It’s a cumulative knowledge process that we add to as participants in it.” If you want to be part of that rich history, eight weeks of instruction and experimentation with a master printer might just be your chance.

 

REGISTER NOW FOR FALL CONCENTRATIONS
September 20 – November 13, 2015

 

As for the rest of us, we can at least get a taste by watching Phil in this short video on intaglio processes!

 

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Inside 8 Weeks of Penland Letterpress

students printing on Penland's letterpress equipment
Penland letterpress photo by Lauren Faulkenberry

 

Spring and fall are intense times at Penland. Students and instructors spend eight full weeks here, fully immersed in deep creative exploration in their studios. For many, these concentrations can be rigorous and sleep-depriving, but also enlightening, recharging, andultimatelytransformative.

Lauren Faulkenberry, who taught the spring concentration “Letterpress Books: Guts to Glory,” shared her thoughts in her blog about the “wild ride” that was eight weeks at Penland:

“To sum up: I had fantastic students. They made amazing things. We had a slew of letterpress adventures in the form of tiny books, broadsides, and ephemera that ran the gamut from poignant to wickedly funny and downright dirty. There was pressure printing, block carving, impromptu screen printing, and enough experimentation to warrant calling the studio a laboratory. Art. Science. Madness. Delight.”

 

Letterpress-printed poster advertising a studio open house
Open house poster photo by Lauren Faulkenberry

 

Lauren also describes one of the primary challenges of Penland concentrations: that constant tug-of-war between intense creative work and the rest needed to refuel our creative engines:

“It’s not easy teaching every day for eight weeks, even in a place that feels like paradise. I was often just too tired to work on my own projects after dinner each night, but it was hard to make myself leave the studio. There’s something about being surrounded by creative people in a flurry of breakthroughs and troubleshooting that makes it hard to walk away.”

Now that those eight weeks are over, Lauren reflected on what she took away from her eight weeks here at Penland. As many people do, she found it was much more than simply new techniques or a piece of work to be proud of:

“After a long cold winter, my students and my new friends breathed some life back into me. I won’t lieit was hard leaving there and coming back to the ‘real world’… But I’ve got a notebook full of ideas and a high-five poster that will remind me to keep doing that thing I love, and that path will most certainly cross the ones of all those great folks on the mountain that reminded me of why we do these things that keep calling us to do them.”

 

To read more about the moments that really stuck out in her eight-week class, see Lauren’s complete blog post here.

 

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Moving Pictures: Animated Letterpress with Rory Sparks

rorysparks

 

Oregon-based book artist Rory Sparks will teach an eight-week concentration in animated letterpress at Penland this spring. Rory cites the useless machines of Bruno Munari and Marcel Duchamp’s film Anémic Cinéma as two sources of inspiration for the workshop. Below, she talks more about why these two artists and works animate her thinking about motion and letterpress.

 

 

 

 

“As a bookbinder, I’m often thinking about how text is read, and how the experience and act of reading can change with movement and environment. To me, Munari’s useless machines reference words in a graphic way. Sentences, or poems floating in three dimensional space. Here is my favorite useless machine (Maccine Inutilli):

Bruno Munari, Maccine Inutilli, via instenseminimalism.com
Bruno Munari, Maccine Inutilli, via instenseminimalism.com

 

 

 

Marcel Duchamp, Disques Avec Spirales (Rotorelief), via mfranck.com
Marcel Duchamp, Disques Avec Spirales (Rotorelief), via mfranck.com

“In Duchamp’s Anémic Cinéma, the optical illusions that are produced are incredible. Especially that moment when your brain clicks and your vision shifts, and you see the depth and protrusions within the illusion. But I’m actually more excited about the concept than anything–the idea behind the project–prints meant to be viewed in motion. I’m looking forward to exploring with my students what other types of imagery would be best viewed in motion.”

(At right: rotorelief discs that were placed on a record and filmed in Anémic Cinéma. Duchamp included this note: “The disc should turn at an approximate speed of 331/ 3 revolutions per minute, this will give an impression of depth, and the optical illusion will be more intense with one eye than with two!”)
 

 
Rory Sparks
Moving Pictures: Animated Letterpress
March 9-May 2, 2014
In the letterpress studio
Let’s get things moving! We’ll explore various methods of incorporating kinetic design and animation into our letterpress work, including flip books, thaumotropes, zoopraxiscopes, red/cyan 3d anaglyphs, mobiles, and combinations of all of the above. We’ll cover the fundamentals of letterpress including press operation, typesetting, and polymer plates, and we’ll use various low-tech methods for getting images onto paper. We’ll sharpen skills and employ the letterpress as a perfect modular system for stop-frame animation. Inspiration will come from Marcel Duchamp’s film, Anémic Cinéma, Bruno Munari’s useless machines, and, of course, Eadweard Muybridge. All levels.
 

To find out more and register for this workshop click here.
Spring scholarship deadline is November 29.
Please note: applications need to be at Penland by this date to be considered for scholarship. Overnight service may not deliver to Penland’s campus on time, please plan accordingly.

 

Rory Sparks, Live Specimen: 4 Line French Clarendon, thread, paper, letterpress-printed type
Rory Sparks, Live Specimen: 4 Line French
Clarendon, thread, paper, letterpress-printed type

Rory Sparks is a book artist and founder of Em Space Book Arts Center in Portland, Oregon, a membership-based studio. She specializes in letterpress printing and limited edition books for artists and photographers. She teaches at various institutions including Oregon College of Art and Craft, Pacific Northwest College of Art, and Em Space. She produced all three Orchard Editions for the Silas Finch Foundation, as well other projects and editions for them. In 2013, she was a master printer at Penland’s Winter Letterpress and Print Residency. Right now, she’s probably listening to Willy Mason sing “Talk Me Down.”