Fluvanna Art members learn home-grown printmaking

By Page H. Gifford

The members of the Fluvanna Art Association learned on May 16 a fun and easy way to make prints at home. Monoprints, often done on a commercial gel plate can be done on other surfaces as well. Fenella Bell, an art instructor with PVCC, demonstrated making prints with a glass plate. Plexiglass can also be used. This is monoprinting without a press. Bell demonstrated two methods – one of hers and one by abstract master artist Paul Klee.

Klee’s method creates an ink transfer for a drawing, like carbon paper. By drawing the design on the paper, it transfers from the inked paper underneath. 

Bell takes the more modern approach, by simply spreading ink or acrylic paint on an appropriate surface and using a brayer, rolling the paint several times until smooth. To make a pattern, stencils or any objects can be used to create designs and patterns. Once the design or pattern has been established the paper is smoothed over it and lifted to show a print.

“I am not a traditional printmaker in that I don’t do traditional techniques of etching or lithography. But printmaking is the medium that I return to over and over again,” she said. “It is often a step in my process, although not always the main goal.”

Her prints are fun and another way for artists to combine mixed media techniques. Bell discussed why she loves printmaking and how the process transforms ideas in unexpected ways.

“I fell in love with printmaking in part because of the way it takes my input, my design, my drawing, or my plan, and in the process of printing things often happen that transform my original design. I am not a printmaker who likes to control the whole process, I like to embrace the unexpected and be surprised. Play is a big part of my process. I love the fact that when you can make multiples of an idea it is easier to be less precious about it,” she said. “So for me, the multiples aspect means I can cut it up and re-organize it into a collage, or in the case of screen printing I can print a single design over and over again onto a long piece of fabric or paper, that can then be reconfigured into large installations in a room that you can walk through.”

Like many artists, she was exposed to art at an early age.

“I am one of those lucky people who grew up in a household where art was in the air we breathed. My mother was a painter and an art teacher, and my father was an architect.” She said their friends’ artworks hung on the walls and the dinner table was often filled with interesting characters, all artists. She admitted that for a long time, she resisted the urge to become or declare herself an artist because it felt so impractical. The hard practicalities of earning a living as an artist still exist but less so as the current generation sees many possibilities. “Finally, in my twenties, after trying a few other things that made me miserable I realized the only thing that felt right was being an artist and a teacher.”

Artists draw on many things surrounding them in their environment for inspiration but nature always tops the list followed by the work of other artists.

“Like many artists, I’m inspired by nature, it’s so constantly amazing and the urge to capture a little bit of that wonder is always tempting. I have also been inspired by other artists who have broadened my ideas of what art is. The first time I saw Alexander Calder’s circus video I recognized that there was no separation between art and play for him,” she said. “The first time I walked through a Robert Irwin scrim installation I was amazed at the way his wimple white translucent fabrics created a visceral shift in how I perceived the physical gallery space. These two ideas continue to intrigue and inspire me.”

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