Keeping the good work rolling

Printmaker and teacher Wendy Orville participates in a new show at Roby King.

Printmaker and teacher Wendy Orville participates in a new show at Roby King.

Wendy Orville’s monotype prints prove that translucence and color saturation aren’t mutually exclusive. Her layers and washes of color generate extraordinary amounts of light.

“Monotype is a very intuitive and expressive medium,” Orville said. “You can really play with it in different ways.”

Through this month, Orville’s landscape prints are on display at Winslow’s Roby King Galleries, mingled among the work of other island printmakers including Lynn Brofsky, Patty Rogers and Helene Wilder.

Orville based most of the works now hanging at the gallery on a series of scenes she photographed in Battle Point Park, tableaux of ground and sky punctuated by shrubs and sharp streams of horizontal light.

The luminous pieces all possess a painterly quality with evidence of what Orville describes as “manhandling.” Scratches, sanding and erasures let sub-strata of ink show through.

“I’m treating printmaking in a lot of ways like painting,” she said. “I wanted to make the effect of a worked canvas.”

Orville did come of age as a painter, emerging from Yale University in the mid-1980s with her painting degree bolstered by a three-year concentration in art history. A post-college year in Berlin, Germany, left Orville reluctantly steeped in abstract expressionism, with an instinct “to come back and make colorful, smaller pieces.”

So she tested various locales around the country, each one with its own distinct palette: back to New Haven, Conn. to teach art in a junior high school; graduate school at American University in Washington, D.C.; and a two-year stay in Taos, N.M., where she gained exposure to master printmakers, took up her own roller and became so enamored of the region’s vast expanses of terrain and light that she returned to the area again after school.

“A lot of the work I’m doing now is influenced by that space – that wide, open space,” she said.

Given that, Orville’s trepidation about the misty, forested Puget Sound region was understandable.

With a sister in Seattle, she probably would have come to the area far sooner if she hadn’t been worried about the light.

But the artist discovered that in combination with its naturally dramatic landscapes, the Northwest atmosphere she feared has become one of her assets.

The environment has helped her hit upon her own process for building strong relationships among strata of color to generate a mood-inducing glow.

Orville begins by rolling onto her Plexiglas palette a slight neutral under-layer derived by mixing a hint of pigment into a base of transparent, oil-based ink. She then places the color plate on the press, followed by paper, newsprint and the “blankets” that serve as a roadway for the smooth, nearly soundless glide of the large, heavy roller.

With that first translucent wash, the tone of the paper comes through; each successive application of ink is informed by the one before it, resulting in “veils of color and light.”

“What interests me is how in layering colors, you make the most surprising and luminous color combinations,” she said.

In her classes – she’s taught printmaking at Seattle’s Pratt Institute and now teaches out of her Bainbridge studio – Orville frequently brings out the art history books, and keeps reference points in mind when making her own art as well.

Inspirations include painters of the early Renaissance, the English romantic painter J.M.W. Turner and the American artist Albert Pinkham Ryder, who has been called “the painter of dreams.”

Orville doesn’t hurry through any piece; she’s interested in developing a relationship with each print and seeing the ways in which it takes on a life of its own, as well as how different prints-in-progress, which line the walls of her studio, relate to each other.

Also hanging on Orville’s walls are two surprising pieces, a sheep and a pig, complete stylistic departures from the Battle Point series. She did the sheep to help brand a new Seattle restaurant owned by friends.

“It’s lovely when it’s playful, and it feels like there’s a lot of joy in the process,” she said.


Shining through

The Printmaking Exhibition 2007, a show of monotypes, etchings and woodblock engravings by Lynn Brofsky, Ruth Hesse, Stephen MacFarlane, Keith Mallet, Jim Meyer, Wendy Orville, Dale Rayburn and Patty Rogers, is on display at Roby King Galleries, 176 Winslow Way, until Oct. 27. For more information about Wendy Orville’s prints and classes, see