Girl Power at SGCI Sphere Knoxville

Faculty Guest Blogger: Christine Medley

Christine Medley: I recently traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee to participate in the 2015 Southern Graphics Council International (SGCI) Sphere conference for four days of printmaking lectures, demos, exhibitions, reviews, print exchanges, and vendor swag. SGCI is an educational non-profit organization bringing together artists who work in printmaking, book arts and hand-made paper. Art undergraduates, art graduate majors, and art faculty from all over the world came together to discuss and celebrate the art of printmaking.

One of the activities I participated in was a roundtable discussion about why so many women are involved with letterpress, hosted by the founders of Ladies of Letterpress (http://ladiesofletterpress.com/). LoLP was founded in 2007 starting out with around 220 members in the early years and then exploding into the current membership of 2600. Of course, I was very interested in this discussion being a female and having my own letterpress studio, Crow Designs Studio at The Workshop in Scranton. At least 50 attendees, 49 of them female, spent 1 ½ hours discussing why so many young women are starting their own letterpress studios. After literally tossing ideas written on crumpled up paper across the room, this lists it the outcome of what we discussed:

  • It’s hands-on, we like making things–part of the DIY movement.
  • We like the community that printmaking/letterpress offers; we belong to a group that is creative, supportive and like-minded. Perhaps references the old idea of community through the quilting bee.
  • It allows us to be independent.
  • We like getting our hands dirty, we feel strong, empowered by running big old machines; it’s physical.
  • It’s like cooking; there’s process and recipes, we can make multiples and we share what we make but can keep some for ourselves.
  • What we are printing is appealing; wedding invites, baby announcements, stationery, cards, beautifully crafted works, art…
  • It’s rewarding.

In addition to why, we discussed the how, and where to learn letterpress skills. There is no real dedicated letterpress schooling out there, it’s more piecemeal by finding workshops and classes. Most shop owners are self-taught, learn through each job, and learn from retired old school letterpress printers, letterpress collectors, and enthusiasts whose knowledge is well documented and shared through BriarPress.org, the go-to resource site for all things letterpress. The Ladies of Letterpress web site is another great resource and they have a conference coming up this June 2015 in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, which will offer many hands-on workshops to help spread the knowledge of letterpress and train a new legion of printers. For conference information, visit http://www.letterpressconference.com. I attended it two years ago and learned a wealth of information, which proved invaluable for running my shop.

The Sphere conference itself was energizing and inspiration with a strong sense of artistic community throughout. Knoxville itself has some great letterpress history and active studios. There was an exhibit by the now defunct YeeHaw Press that offered some wonderfully complicated and satirical broadsides. One of the active studios, Pioneer Press, formerly of YeeHaw, filled a storefront with amazing woodcut posters in day-glow inks, letterpress posters along with a traveling show of Dolly Parton prints.

The 2016 SGCI conference will be in Portland, Oregon. If you have any interest in printmaking, letterpress, book arts, and art making in general, I strongly encourage you to go. It’s great for students to learn new techniques, see new art, listen to great speakers, network with artists, learn about graduate schools, trade work with other artists, show your work, be mentored by established artists from all over the world and get to explore the culture of another city. For conference information, visit http://sgcinternational.org/

Christine Medley is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Marywood University
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