Arts and Entertainment

Bainbridge 'Print Chicks' making quite an impression

Lynda Swenson. The Print Chicks meet twice weekly at the Creativity Center. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Lynda Swenson. The Print Chicks meet twice weekly at the Creativity Center.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

When walking into the Creativity Center one rainy weekday morning, a voice calls out.

“Come on in, we’re just getting rolling here.”

The pun is unintentional but perfect, given that the occupants of the studio space are the Print Chicks.

This group of nine women artists met in the studio-classroom of local printmaker Wendy Orville. While studying with her, these self-described Orville disciples had the benefit of using her large press, not an easy tool to come by given its size and cost.

When Orville decided to take a break, the printmakers sought a way to keep going.

“We were on a roll, so we wanted to find a place to print,” said Mary Kay Thompson – again, the pun is unavoidable. “And then there’s this community aspect of looking at each other’s work, and sharing ideas.”

Richard Nelson, owner of Winslow’s Oil & Water Art Supply, had a press with a home at the Creativity Center, formerly off Sportsman Club Road and more recently, next to Island Music Guild in Rolling Bay. Going in together on studio space and press time seemed a natural choice for these women, most of whom had multiple and sometimes competing commitments – kids, jobs, art, life. How good it would be to have a set time and place to meet and work, with an emphasis on both practicality and community.

Thus, the Print Chicks were born. And their first group show, “Taking Flight: Nine Women Printmakers,” hangs at the Treehouse Cafe through the end of the month.

While many of the artists have their own studios at home and in some cases, even small presses, Print Chick Meg Hamlet pointed out that printmaking is an art form that naturally lends itself to a group setting, in part because of the large piece of equipment involved. Occasionally, you have to fix mechanical problems, and it helps to have a buddy or two around, as is evidenced when two other Chicks, Lynda Harwood Swenson and Helena Bierly, work together to straighten the large blanket on the press.

Efficient use of time is also key, so the atmosphere is workmanlike – er, workwomanlike – and people are quick to ask for and share tools, information and feedback. There are occasional calls to borrow a brush, a pencil sharpener or a piece of vellum.

The vellum was for Hamlet, who held it up and mused that it looked just like a piece of Fruit Leather. No one but a mom would even get that reference. Everyone around her did.

With each artist at her table, an initial period of setup activity and discussion was followed by an extended silence filled with concentration and productivity.

Then the interloper broke the silence with a query: “Do you chat while you’re working?”

Everyone laughed at once.

“We do have long periods of silence. And we have long periods of chatter,” Jennifer Mann said.

Mann calls her own work “experimental” – right now she’s using a process called transfer printing, which doesn’t require a press. She lays paper on an inked plate, and then draws on the paper to achieve an image on the back side. Sometimes, she uses tracing paper, and then layers the image on top of something she’s already printed. She uses the same five or six techniques and processes in a variety of ways.

“I never know what my final product is going to be. It’s the process for me,” Mann said.

And there, Mann hit on the rub of printmaking, which Bierly experiences regularly as she prints the luminous, imagination-driven landscapes that are her concern right now. Layer after layer and wash after wash, she’s never quite sure what she’s going to get until she rolls the press over the plate and lifts it off the paper.

“The joy and frustration of printmaking is that I can’t repeat what I’ve done,” Bierly said.

Still, there’s a quality to the process that, if not exactly forgiving, allows for experimentation.

Mary Kay Thompson was on this day doing color studies, looking for good tones to use as overlay for the black-and-white prints she favors lately. She had a stack of these close at hand, most of which she’d rejected as the final product but which would prove useful in figuring out which tones would render the effect she wanted against black and white.

For this reason Thompson, like Swenson – who pulled one piece off the press and essentially judged it “eh” – rarely throws a print away. Even if it doesn’t work now, it could aid a later study or even become the basis for something beautiful and final.

This sense of serendipity and lack of pressure are one of printmaking’s biggest appeals for Swenson.

“It’s just so relaxing. You don’t have to sit there and struggle so much,” she said.

The Print Chicks’ current work is all distinctive. Some artists are working with paper and collage; some use lines as their central focus; others are all about light or color. But the artists believe that the pieces included in the Treehouse show subtly illustrate their influence over each other, whether it comes out in color, composition, or a new angle that one or the other might not have tried before.

There’s also a sense of commitment that comes from the group endeavor, especially important given that every one of the Print Chicks is trying to work art in among her other pursuits.

“When you have a group, it makes it more real,” Thompson said.

The Print Chicks are Helena Bierly, Janet Branham, Karen Cornell, Pam Galvani, Meg Hamlet, Reneé Jameson, Jennifer Mann, Lynda Harwood Swenson and Mary Kay Thompson. See their show at the Treehouse through March 1, and see www.printchicksnw.com.

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