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Some groups wash cars or bake cookies to raise money. MATRIX Press prints custom T-shirts. 

On Thursday, the printmaking division of the University of Montana’s College of Visual and Performing Arts set out more than 50 carved woodblocks, displaying everything from birds and fish to Darth Vader and Prince. Whichever designs a customer requested, student Ellie Buick slathered them with ink. Kenzie Olson and Jordan Rauk then placed the woodblocks atop a T-shirt and rolled them through a press, leaving the designs on the fabric.

“I love the process,” said third-year MFA student Darla Pienciak, in between taking orders. “I love the methodical nature of it.”

The students were joined by UM adjunct professor Jason Clark, who’s been making prints since the 1980s. This medium, he explained, lets an artist spread his or her work far and wide. “You can make multiples of it, so it’s an easy way to get your work out.”

Pienciak discovered printmaking in an undergraduate art foundations class at University of Colorado in Boulder. “After my first print, I was hooked,” she said.

She picked UM for grad school partially for proximity to art professor and MATRIX Press founder James Bailey, who’s exhibited prints around the globe and founded UM’s annual Day of the Dead Steamroller Print Project. Now in the third year of her MFA program, Pienciak plans to teach at the college level and continue making her own artwork.

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The T-shirt sale, which Clark said has happened on and off for about 10 years, is meant to benefit students like her. Proceeds will help pay travel costs to the Rocky Mountain Printmaking Alliance’s biannual conference, scheduled for next month in Salt Lake City.

Pienciak’s been there before, and said it helped round out her education, giving her the chance to hear from panelists and learn perspectives that she might miss on campus. The demonstrations there also expanded her skill set, she said. “Sometimes they take an application I hadn’t thought of before.”

The T-shirt sale, which only ran Thursday, was racking up funds for other students to make the trip. New shirts started at $15; customers could have a design added to one of their own for $10. Clark estimated they had sold 30 to 40 shirts in their first two hours. Prints with animals and Star Wars characters had been especially popular, he said. The Pabst-Blue Ribbon can? Not so much.

“It seems pretty popular because people can make their own image, they can mix and match, make new compositions,” Clark said.

And they got to see their vision pressed into fabric in real time. Printmaking, Pienciak said, “just gets people together and makes community.”

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