A Field Trip to Cleveland: My Residency at Zygote Press!
June 2, 2022 Jamey Alea 0 Comments
I did something cool and interesting last week that I want to share about: a one week long residency at a printmaking studio in Cleveland, OH called Zygote Press! At only a week long, it wasn’t the same kind of residency I did at Book Arts in Buffalo, but in some ways it was a “truer” residency: I actually did stay in an apartment directly above the studio and I had 24/7 access to it while I was there, which was extremely cool.
Zygote is a really cool studio. Overall, it’s bigger and better equipped than Book Arts, and has a more active community, but it’s equipped for many more different types of art and letterpress isn’t a specific focus. The letterpress library isn’t as extensive as Book Arts, but they do have two Vandercook presses and a really beautiful Chandler & Price press that I used to work on the bonus tarot cards.
It’s located in a very cool old daylight factory building, and so is the loft apartment, ZPASS (which stands for Zygote Press Artist Share Space). ZPASS is a super charming space with a really specific vibe that I really dug.
I was incredibly productive while I was staying at ZPASS, doing most of my work after hours when the studio was otherwise empty, which was super relaxed and put me in a real state of zen focus to work on printing. I finished 4 bonus cards for my tarot deck while I was there (which are stretch goals from my recently funded Kickstarter campaign).
Like the cards in the base deck that I made at Book Arts, all the new tarot cards also had to be printed on the Chandler & Price press due to their small size. This was no burden for me, as that press was awesome and a joy to use! Apparently, it doesn’t see a lot of use there—platen presses are just not as commonly used as the bigger presses, since I’m usually the only one using our tabletop one at Book Arts too—and I was pleased to be able to breathe a bit of new life into an old machine. I made a video about how it works that includes some real satisfying imagery of how all the parts of the machine fit and move together.
One of the best things, though, about having so much access to the studio and the equipment was the opportunity to just… make whatever came to mind. I’ve been so busy with the tarot project for so long that I haven’t had much time for that kind of thing! So it was great to just let some weird ideas come pouring out of my head! Here are two prints that I made last week that I’m really happy with, haha.
I was also lucky enough to be invited to take a copper etching workshop while I was there, which was extremely cool! It was my first time doing intaglio printing, which is actually kind of the opposite of letterpress in some ways. (Letterpress is “relief” printing, where the ink is put on raised designs like a stamp, while etching is “intaglio” printing, where the ink is put into recessed designs.) I wasn’t sure if I would really enjoy or be good at copper etching, since it involves illustrating by hand in a way that letterpress doesn’t, but I really enjoyed the class and the history and the process and I was really happy with how my prints came out!
Let me tell you a bit about the process, because it’s super interesting.
So first, you cover your copper plate in a layer of “ground.” I’m not going to pretend like I know what ground actually IS, but it covers your plate and then you can easily scratch it off, honestly very much like those old scratch art pads where you scratch off the black to reveal rainbows beneath. Because I’m not an illustrator, I decided to trace an old alchemical etching from 1617, and here’s what it looked like while I was in the process of doing this first step.
The point of all this is so you can put the whole plate into an acid bath and the ground protects the copper in all the places you haven’t scratched it away (you protect the back of the plate with contact paper too). The longer it’s in the acid, the darker the lines will be, and you can get varying textures by giving it multiple dips in the acid bath for different amounts of time and either adding new lines or blacking out old lines. And when you clean the ground off at the end, you can see the etching you’ve made! Here’s what mine looked like as an etching.
Pretty cool, right? Then you ink up the whole plate and clean the ink off the surface, leaving it only in the recesses. (This was my least favorite part of the process, I found it difficult and fiddly and I was constantly stressed about adding imperfections to my plate while I was handling it, which I did a little bit.) I was so engrossed with my work, I forgot to take a picture of the etching press, but it basically rolls a big cylinder over your plate and your (damp) paper, so the paper pulls in all the ink. And here’s how my prints came out!
Letterpress is definitely still my thing, but it was awesome learning about another form of printing and the whole history of it and I’m really lucky it worked out for me to be able to take this class! They’ve actually asked me to come back and teach a letterpress workshop in the fall, so I’m glad I’ll be able to spend so more time at Zygote. Like I said, it’s a really cool press, great space, everyone is so friendly, and currently they’ve got a great art show up called the “Queer Ecology Hanky Project,” so… what’s not to like?