Though torrential downpours took over Wilmington on April 13, 2019, it didn’t stop 200 people from coming out to support PrintFest on UNCW’s campus. The event began a decade ago and takes place every other year. 2019’s PrintFest will benefit the Plastic Ocean Project.
“Teams of students from schools across N.C. collaborated on developing designs that embraced the mission of the organization,” lecturer Shannon Bourne tells. Bourne organized the event.
“They then hand-engraved woodcuts for ‘steamroller’ printing [done on muslin] in the parking lot of UNCW’s Department of Art History. Local artists also carved individually designed blocks that were printed.”
With a two-ton construction paving roller, 18 blocks were printed three times each, plus a 4-foot-by-30-foot long image, which took up five blocks, was steamrolled twice. In total around 60 total prints were created on 4-foot-by-6-foot blocks. “The multi-block piece took approximately 20 people to help get it printed,” Bourne explains of a piece done by local artist and UNCW faculty member Jeremy Millard created six months prior to the festival.
All imagery centers on ocean conservation, marine life preservation, or coastal cleanup. Millard’s work showcases members of a crew constructing a structure on the coastline.
“It reflects teamwork, love of craft and the ocean, which has been an integral part of Jeremy’s life,” according to Bourne. “The imagery goes well with POP’s mission to clean up the ocean and how it will take teamwork from all us to do this.”
PRINTFEST: Wood cuts were pave rolled with muslin from images that students across the state created for PrintFest 2019. Photo courtesy of UNCW’s CAB Art Gallery
Millard’s work and prints made from other artists at PrintFest are on display currently at the CAB Art Gallery on UNCW’s campus through July 3. As well, folks will see photographs, video and tools used from the April 13 fest. encore interviewed Millard and Bourne to find out about the exhibit.
encore (e): Shannon, give us a little background on construction paving on the woodcuts and this format’s history…
SB: Relief printing—an art process in which a carving is created in wood and then surface is inked and brought into contact with paper or other material—is one of the oldest methods of printmaking. To take relief printing from a small size up to a much larger 4-foot-by-6-foot size, adds a spectacular, over-the-top, quality to this type of art-making. Plus, larger size prints mean you’ll need lots of people and unusual equipment to pull off being able to print the carved blocks.
Many groups across the country host events such as PrintFest; one of the longest running ones is held by the San Francisco Center for the Book. They’ve been doing it for at least 16 years now. I am not aware of other groups that combine with non-profits.
I was first introduced to this type of printmaking through the Atlanta Printmakers and then locally through artist Jennifer Page, who held the first steamroller printing event locally at Carolina Beach in 2009. After hosting the event there for three years, UNCW was asked to take it on.
Aaron Wilcox and Courtney Johnson (faculty members at UNCW) reached out in 2013 and asked me to helm the event, so UNCW has been hosting it ever since. PrintFest has now become a biennial event, held during the spring. UNCW and the faculty have been incredibly supportive.
When the event moved to UNCW, we felt it was important to tie it in with the work of a different local non-profit. Additionally, we wanted to not only involve our students, but reach out to colleges across NC involving the community, the students, and education about the amazing work our local non-profits do are integral to the event.
Printmaking is typically a medium done by an artist alone in a studio but working with such a large format requires the help of many other people to get the woodblock printed. The format demands collaboration and it brings a large group of artists, students and community together. When people attend PrintFest, they are not there just to watch. We pull them in and get them involved with the inking and printing.
e: Jeremy, what were some of the challenges in creating your piece?
Jeremy Millard (JM): Making sure not to carve away too much of the wood surface at a time, as well as combining the multiple-block imagery as seamlessly as possible. Also, it was difficult to keep the rhythm and carving style of the design maintained across the five blocks to create an overall image that was unified. Working with imagery this large is difficult to visualize and presents unexpected problems. The physical work of carving blocks this large demand a lot.
e: What do you find most appealing about this artform?
JM: The way the design changes from when I first conceived the idea through the actual carving of the blocks. I’m never sure exactly how the actual print will look in the end and this element of surprise is very appealing.
e: Shannon, tell me about the other participants…
SB: Even though we printed 18 blocks, many were carved collaboratively by multiple artists. I would estimate at least 35 artists participated in carving this year. Several of the blocks were created by students who came from different schools—UNCW, CFCC, UNCG, and App State.
e: And what were other images?
SB: We have sea creatures, both real and mythical, ecology-inspired imagery, ocean conservation imagery and images that send messages about what will happen if we don’t take care of the ocean. The blocks are all very inspiring and incredibly different this year.
e: Who decided upon the theme and why? What do you hope the show does for the nonprofit and the public at large?
SB: A few of the faculty members at UNCW discuss which non-profit to reach out to during the fall before the event in the spring and the designs are always inspired by the specific non-profit chosen. We feel it is very important to help give these non-profits more exposure and support all of the amazing work they do. The event also serves as an introduction to their work for our students.
Many UNCW students are from other areas of the state and country and probably don’t know about the non-profits local to us. We hope through this introduction, it inspires some of them to get involved and volunteer. Plus, many local Wilmingtonians also get introduced to these groups. The idea of using art/printmaking to create action and awareness is one of the driving ideas behind the event.
e: How is the Plastic Ocean Project benefiting—from sales or just awareness?
SB: A percentage of the sales of the prints during the event and throughout the gallery exhibition goes directly to the non-profit. The day of event, the non-profits set up display tables for their organizations and hand out materials to educate attendees. Usually they also put out sign up sheets to solicit volunteers. We also give each non-profit one of the prints each year-they get to choose-and it usually hangs in their office, etc. Of course, through social media, the event is live-streamed and hundreds of photos are shared, which also gives the non-profit exposure. This year we have sold more of the prints than ever before, a percentage of which will go directly to POP. Because the exhibition continues for a few more weeks, we hope that sales will continue.