In the midst of all of my preparation for the holiday season, I decided to make a limited edition of screenprinted calendars. I’d happened to walk into a screenprinting shop while hanging fliers for a bookbinding class, and I was excited when the owner of the shop said that he’d prepare a screen for me. It’s been many years since I’ve done any screenprinting, and every step of the process felt especially labor-intensive and thrilling. I tied on my apron with my old printmaker’s pride, took photos of each step of the process, and enjoyed the anticipation of seeing the final prints.
I’ll insert a disclaimer here: Those of you who read my blog regularly might have noticed that I often present my experiences here in a rosy light. Because I don’t really love reading personal stories that are heavy with self-pity or complaining, I tend to think of my blog as a place to put my best face forward; that is, I like to express a positive attitude with as much humor and humility as possible. And while I’ve recently noticed that my first wrinkles appear to be smile lines, I have at least my fair share of bad days and creative ruts. I’m an emotional person, for better or worse. It’s important to me to be a real person here, even if it’s only the internet and not real life, and to express my doubts and failures as an artist when that’s the reality.
With that said, I wanted to write about my attempt at printmaking because I felt unexpectedly satisfied with what ultimately turned out to be a failure. I realized tonight that even though I make my living (in a good month) as a bookbinder, I’ve still considered myself a printmaker at heart, and always had a longing to return to printmedia and be a “real artist” again. When I meet printmakers, I feel a wonderful kinship and pride at knowing such an amazing craft. And I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt that same pride in being a bookbinder.
But…I’m a bookbinder! That’s my work. That’s how I spend my days and nights, toiling away in my much-too-small studio. I teach amazing students how to do what I do. Friends and fellow artists think of me as a maker of books. And what’s so wrong with that!? I thought that making these prints would give me heart-expansive pride and quiet joy…but it was not to be, and it felt more stressful than satisfying. And in the end, they just didn’t look very good. I spent bunch of time and some money on an unsuccessful batch of prints, and I’m happy to move on, continuing to work on the craft that I’ve grown to love so much. I can’t separate the creative work that I’ve done in the past six years – starting a business, becoming a bookbinding teacher in spite of the terror that made me want to give up, moving to another state and working so hard to support myself by doing the work I love instead of getting a job where I could probably make more money – from my personal happiness and pride.
So at the end of this day I’m sitting in my studio in my printmaking apron, barefooted, drinking a beer, remembering times when creative failures made me break out in a sweat, or burst into tears, or obsess over all the time and money wasted. When I told Andy that all my work on this set of prints was for nothing, but that I was kind of relieved to move on after all the hard work of the sort that I used to love, he looked up from his book and said, “If you’re not upset, I’m not upset.” Well said.