If you wanted to get an idea of what you can do with the art of printmaking, the Last Best Print Fest at the Zootown Arts Community Center would be a good primer.
And if you wanted to learn how to do it yourself, the nonprofit’s new print shop, which opened to the public last month, is where you can.
Started in 2010, the print fest works like this. Anyone can join in via an open call, said Patricia Thornton, the ZACC’s print-shop and gallery manager. Everybody produces a portfolio of 12 pieces they submit, and they get a portfolio of 10 prints back, and the ZACC now has an archive of 10 years’ worth.
"We have portfolios from everything from 2009 to 2020," she said.
In more normal times, there are a month’s worth of live demonstrations and interactive type things, such as a “Bingo” card (handprinted, of course) of local businesses.
Flipping through the stacks earlier this week, there are names of well-known locals — Bev Beck Glueckert, who co-founded the fest; Josh Quick, an illustrator/cartoonist; Sheila Miles, a painter and former curator of the Yellowstone Art Museum who’s now based in New Mexico; Kim Foiles, who's produced graphics and design for local places around town.
Each year had a theme — which can help explain why David Miles did a woodcut of an ogre drinking a cup of coffee. (The prompt was “Make Us Laugh.”) The show will feature up to 50, on view starting this Friday.
The demos help introduce the different types of prints: first up, there’s screen printing, which Thornton said you can learn quickly enough to make your own designs and then produce a T-shirt.
It’s among the most versatile and “open to all styles,” Thornton said. “You could do almost anything with screen printing.”
As an example, one recent student sketched a dog in a smartphone app and printed it in three colors. “So that’s success in my eyes, when someone can come in and they want to learn something and they can get their artwork directly on,” she said. (The kids summer camp bands, for instance, print their own shirts.)
Then there’s relief printing, where you carve on rubber or woodblock. The new shop has a letterpress, and a set of vintage letters donated by artist Christa Carleton.
Etching is where those who are deep into the fine details like to work. “If somebody is a cartoonist and likes to draw tight little drawings, then they’re going to want to do intaglio etching,” Thornton said. There’s also monoprints, where creators mix and match different techniques to produce a single piece.
Beyond the medium itself, Thornton said print-making appeals to her for business reasons. You could produce, say, 100 prints and sell them for a lower price.
“If you’re an artist in general, if you make paintings or drawings, if you make prints of those things, you can make more money because you can sell editions,” she said.
The print shop upstairs, with lots of natural light and space, is an upgrade from the former small space in the Northside ZACC (there was more room down in the basement).
During COVID, the print shop was closed, but now classes have started up again and the shop is open to the community, with tiered membership levels — some recent projects include album art for Anything Bagel Records, or T-shirts for the Clyde Coffee staff.
Named after the late artist Laura Grace Barrett, the space has been home to two resident artists already, with more in the fall.
“It is more space, for sure. We have our relief press, we have room for both our presses here and our T-shirt press, letterpress, all in the same room,” Thornton said.
Delaney Wascherol, who started in a new position as gallery and print-shop assistant, will be on hand Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for “office hours,” to help people as needed. (Thornton will do the same on Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. in a few weeks.)
Wascherol, who took classes at the ZACC going back to high school, is happy the new facility has a washout room of its own, and not shared with any other classes. The powerwasher makes quick work of cleaning the ink off the screens, and there's a nearby dunk tank where they can be totally cleaned and returned to a blank state, like new.
They only use environmentally friendly acrylic-based inks that can come off more easily. (Thornton said she stopped printmaking for a time in the ‘90s when the solvents involved hurt her skin).