Saturday, November 12, 2011

How do we get the presses to the second floor?

Charlie, that's how. 

There are three very heavy presses on this trailer. Poor trailer.

5 am and raining.

That...was awesome!
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The BB Fixie.

We built an etching press this summer. A big one.

We cheated... a little, by canablizing a Herb Fox press that was given to us by the lovely Mrs. Beth Baird.
Herb Fox was awesome. He built lovely, simple presses. By getting to know this press, he inspired us to build our own. We didnt really need another medium sized machine so we disassembled this press and used what parts we could.

It had good bones.

We used oak plywood for the sides of the bench. We got all designy with our rails and borrowed the look of the French tool.

We had new rollers machined. (the most expensive
portion of the project)

The press reassembled fairly easily and the uptake bearings, overbuilt to begin with handled the load nicely.

Moment of truth. Having an architect around, Christopher Campbell, probably helped things line up... a bit.

The side rails are aluminum agle iron. It was an easy solution, and by extending them we were able to avoid bed-stops. Really, most of the work was in building the bench. It got a little fussy there for a while and there are still a few tics but its come together nicely.

Irina and David doing the dance. Printshop ballet.
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Friday, September 23, 2011


We hauled out our presses to the street and made ANALOG TWEETS. Strangers filled out "tweet" forms with clever/ witty phrases, we printed them, hung them up the side of the artist building and had so much fun.

Thanks to everyone who came to watch, submitted tweets, our crew of amazing volunteers (the young aspiring MECA printmakers) and everyone that helped out! And of course thanks to SPACE gallery for making the event happen.

Also check out this great video of Block Party, 2011 - Portland Maine from Andrew DeVecchio on Vimeo.

Our first two tweets

Pickwick disassembled and brought down our giant press for printing the tweets and the little press for printing customized t-shits

We carved our own wood type

Kris Johnsen and DIane Ferdinand printing some shirts

Setting up the jig for the type

We took out the bed of the press and ran the jigs with the type strait through the two rollers

LIsa Pixley is driving the fun train


All photographs © 2011 IRINA A. SKORNYAKOVA

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The vagaries of the Creative Process

Dear Pickwickians, I feel I must explain the lapse in posting. It is purely my own fault. Work has been proceeding at a rapid pace at the Pickwick Independent Press despite the drop in correspondence on this page. The shop has doubled in size; lots of counter-building, cupboard assembling, and other construction-type hootenannying has occurred.

"But what of the Valentine printmaking project?" you ask, oh normally patient Reader. And rightfully so! For did I not promise a second installment of the story in progress? Did I not lead you on into thinking that any day the project would be completed, and presented for your edification and approval? Well, I will explain what happened, and you will judge for yourself whether the reasons are sufficient or not.

Firstly, I did print a proof of the printblock as promised. However, I made a mistake, in that I opted for the quick, easily available ingredient of water-based ink. Dear reader, that was a terrible mistake. "Why?" you ask in your innocence (perhaps a few of you are nodding your heads wisely). I sigh, and must answer you by saying that I loathe water-based blockprinting ink. Yech! It does not have the sweetly malleable consistency that makes oil-based ink such a pleasure to roll out on the slab. Instead it is a sticky, chalky-colored abomination that besmirches the name of ink everywhere. Bah. Needless to say, it did not produce pleasing results.

Secondly, after pulling the proof print, in revisiting my print block to make improvements to it based on the proof image, I found that the softness of the material of this particular type of stuff is so soft that making precise alterations to the original cuts is very difficult to pull off smoothly. This is a terrible irony, since the softness of the material seems to make initial cuts very easy. Ha! So, as many artists find, the original project idea does not always work out as envisioned (a lesson to all of us on waiting until the last minute to proceed). This often leads to distraction by other, more promising (or less argumentative) processes. So in order, here is the visual trail of my Valentine travails:

1. I have inked the block for a proof print of my valentine design.

2. I use a flat block of wood to hand-burnish the paper onto the block, making a proof print. Firm, even pressure is necessary, but care must be taken not to wiggle the paper around on the block, smudging the ink and ruining the image.

3. I carefully peel the corner of the print up to make sure it printed thoroughly. Yep!

4. Now we can compare the print and the block. Right off, I can see that I definitely want to clean up some of the fineline detail, since it just seems to get muddy when printed. I also want to clean off the background around the heart and print it clean. Sometimes it's nice to have a bold, expressive border, but I don't think I like it this time.

5. I made an abortive attempt to address some of the aforementioned desired changes. Annoyance, disaster, a feeble foray into finetuning -- the results. The list is short and also annoying. Linocutting tool -- the set at hand did not have the same keen edge as the set I had used to start the block. Block squooshyness -- already mentioned. These two factors made adjustments to the fine detail of the block impossibly infuriating (not to mention just plain impossible).

6. And then the distraction sets in. Why bother with clearly not-meant-to-be-done-in-time Valentine printmaking when other tools and opportunities lie at hand? How convenient for me that I was scheduled to take part in a Valentine's afternoon bombardment of Congress Street? I and two friends had arranged earlier in the month to sit ourselves down in the windows of a 4th-story studio at the Artist Studio Building and foist a fairytale-like fluttering of paper hearts out the window in an attempt to raise the drab February spirits of the general populace. As in past years, the means were many and varied. A humongous roll of pink paper had been scavenged from the Free Table on the third floor. Glitter had likewise been procured. With scissors in hand, we determined to run amuck in the spirit of Valentine bandits everywhere.

And so, dear Reader, a positive plethora of Valentine watercolor designs flowed from my brush, painted in waterproof gouache paint on a nice heavy white paper -- my personal addition to the pile of paper love to be tipped bit by bit onto unsuspecting passersby later that afternoon.
The paper was scavenged from the paper scraps in the Pickwick studio, from the bin where paper trimmings are left, etc. After painting designs down the strip, I tore them neatly into individual valentines.

NOTE: Dear readers, something tragic happened. This post was originally put up over a month ago, and then something peculiar happened and it disappeared from the blog. All that left was the truncated version above, which ends abruptly. I promise to re-write the rest of the post at some point, because the further events of Valentine's Evening are far too entertaining to leave you in the dark about. 'Til then, ....

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Valentine impressions -- Part 1

Dear Pickwickian people!

It is our hope and desire to use this blog as (among other things) a place where the seeds of ideas are planted alongside a little know-how. In other words, we are going to document how we do some of our print projects, both big and small, and put them up here in case any of you worthy souls might find them useful or inspiring, or in case you want to add any ideas of your own to the mix.

First, since Monday is Valentine's Day, yours truly has been puttering around with linocutting for the first time in a while. What is linocutting? Taking a plastic or rubbery surface (linoleum blocks or some of the newer, easier-to-cut materials like Speedball's "Speedy Cut" printing blocks) and cutting away at the surface, leaving an image to be printed.

While this produces similar marks to woodblock printing, the medium is much softer and easier to carve, so the effect differs somewhat, and the carving process is often much quicker and friendlier (especially for beginners or folks just starting to re-enter the block printing world).

Any of the images below can be clicked upon to see a larger version, for your detailed viewing pleasure.

First, it can be helpful to develop a simple design. Valentine's Day provides an easy inspiration! I sketched a couple of designs out in pencil, then picked one to work more on. This little guy is the result. Then I scanned the piece from my sketchbook page, and printed it at a larger size to suit the 4" x 6" block I was going to work with. If you are not computer savvy, don't have a scanner, etc., you can simply go to your local copyshop or library and use their photocopier to enlarge the original to the desired size.

Next, I turned to the back side of the printed version and over the design area I coated the paper with charcoal powder using a soft 4B charcoal pencil. Then I set the sheet over the carving block, and went over the design in ballpoint pen. This resulted in the charcoal powder being pressed into the surface of the block, reproducing the design. This process can be a little messy, and not foolproof, but in a pinch it does the trick.
Here you can see that after doing the tracing procedure, I laid clear tape over the design so the charcoal powder didn't get all over everything else while I used the design on the other side for reference while carving. Another thing I find helpful is to use a different color of ink to do the tracing in, which lets me see what areas I haven't traced over yet.

The other benefit of using the charcoal tracing method is that as you cut into the block, you can clearly see how the surface will look when inked. Each piece of the block you cut away leaves a white area on the design.
I discovered that my set of linocutting tools is stashed in some odd place that was not handy at a moment's notice, so I popped over to Art Mart and picked up a little starter kit. These usually come with a handle and a selection of a few interchangeable blade types, and run about $12-$15. A really well-stocked art supply store will have a bunch of the single blades that you can buy to customize your kit, but in a pinch these sets work quite well.

I started out by using the tiny v-pointed cutter tip, which has a very fine line cut and turns quite smoothly, to outline the areas I would use one of the wider gouge blades to clear out later. This is helpful if you are trying to create clean outlines/edges, because if you are carving carefully, you will find this slim gutter of cut serves not unlike a firebreak, stopping your blade's stroke before it inflicts its tiny but deadly wrath on the part of the design you want to keep whole!
The tiny v-pointed cutter tip can be used to clear out small areas, but for larger areas it's best to move into the land of the larger gouges, either v-shaped for tight areas, or the rounded gouge for wider areas without detail.
Once you've addressed the interior details of the image, you can take gouge in hand to divest yourself of the block that surrounds the image. This is an opportunity for experimentation -- do you really want to get rid of the entire surrounding block? Do you want to carve out a frame for your design? Do you want to leave it with an expressive surround with clearly visible marks that identify it as a blockprint? This part of the process is not unlike the opposite of that decisive moment when you add cream and sugar to your cup of tea. You can always add more later, but once it's in there, it's not coming back out!!! Similarly, you can take your time removing the material around your design, testing different approaches, but there's no going backwards once you've cleared it away.
With that in mind, we are going to try leaving a bit around the Valentine design just to see how it looks. The next step will be to ink it, and run a proof print. This will show us what it will look like as is, and unless we are the most perfect block carvers in the world, it will show us areas that need to be cleaned up or otherwise improved.

Check back next week to see how it turns out!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pickwick x 2 = We double dare you!

"The time has come,"
the walrus said,
"to talk of many things:
of shoes and ships
and sealing wax
of cabbages and kings."

And breaking down of walls and bars.
Away with unnecessary things!

Pickwick is busting out all over. Come see, come see! Two times the space, a cosmic explosion of inspiration, a stretching of both mind and limb!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cannonball Press makes a landing

It has come to our attention that there is a super-fantastic print show of amazing proportions and remarkably affordable prices just downstairs from Pickwick, in the SPACE Gallery!

Do your print-happy self a favor and grace your eyeballs with the gleam of black on white, slick and wild woodcut imagery as executed by the deadly skills of the folks of Cannonball Press. For those who can ill-stand the thought of walking away from these monochromatic lovelies once an introduction has been made, please be aware that the 18" x 24" prints are a mere $20 each. I know, I wouldn't believe me either. Better go see for yourself.

* * * * *
Burn the Lot: Splinter Heads, Nut Mobs & Ballyhoo
Friday 02.04.2011 through Thursday 03.24.2011

Neo-Pagan World Kings of scruffy pirate black and white hillbilly printmaking Cannonball Press return to Portland for a wild-ride print show extravaganza, with limited-edition prints, woodcut collages, and more.

Cannonball Press is run by Martin Mazorra and Mike Houston. Based in Brooklyn, NY, they've been publishing relief cuts and screenprints since 1999, selling them for $20 each. Around 2004, in addition to publishing, they started to make large-scale collaborative woodcut prints, sculptures and installations. Their work has taken them to Estonia, South Africa, Maui, Germany, Denmark, and numerous U.S. cities. In 2009 Mike and Martin were named US Artists Ford Fellows. They aim to make good prints people can enjoy and afford, adding some small chapter to the rich history of printing (namely, the scruffy black and musky-pirated hillbilly chapter).

The show will feature a huge new pile of limited-edition $20 prints by the likes of Dusty Herbig, Angela Earley, Drew Iwaniw, Sarah Nicholls, Tyler Krasowski, and Donna Diamond.

Also, Martin and Mike will premiere their new supersized woodcuts depicting the capitalist wasteland, as seen through the lens of a carnival for the ages. Mega carny prints on canvas!

The Cannonball Mission is a simple recipe:

The Cannonball Print: A down-home dish that is tasty hot or cold. For low-fat version,

substitute another printing press, because these things will put meat on your bones!

1 lurking artist

1 one-eyed master-printer

1 idea

5 cups backwater goo

6 spoonfuls of jumpstart and holler

9 lbs. mess with your face

1 bottle Tickle-My-Fancy

6 smatterings kick-ass juice

1 handful of Fine Art

Preheat idea in Oven of Rock. Make sure color is off! Allow images to gestate and contort

at will. When mysterious, funny or twisted, remove and slap on table. Add all ingredients,

and beat and cut until smooth and hot. Do not add Fine Art at this point. Add master-printer,

work him into a steady boil, edition. Throw Fine Art in trash. Sign and Serve.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

An introduction

While we muster our resources to give you a running report of what the dickens we are up to, we might as well get some of the housework out of the way. That includes the basic preliminaries -- who we are, what we do, and similar pertinent details. Future posts will be of a less lofty, more perspicacious and perhaps even sprightly nature, or so it has been rumored.

Pickwick Independent Press mission statement:
It is our intention to empower print makers and artists to use Pickwick's facility to promote and support their ideas and practices. With our key-holder members we will collaborate on a variety of events including workshops, open studios, editions, and group exhibitions. We will work together to seek out other presses and print collectives around the nation to build networking opportunities. And we will work together to develop and explore income generating opportunities for the shop and its members.

What Pickwick Independent Press is offering:
Press access that includes intaglio, wood block, and letter press. Non-Press processes that we provide equipment for include silkscreen and basic paper making. We have large work surfaces, meant for both clean and messy processes, paper storage, minimal screen and or photo sensitive plate storage, personal item storage and dedicated wash down and darkrooms. We will provide selected materials such as inks and solvents, and other miscellaneous necessities. Once we have defined the needs of our members we will have a small in-house supply store where members can purchase specialized printmaking materials. We provide free WIFI, roof deck access, kitchen, and wood shop facilities. Members may also choose to purchase a page on our website for a onetime fee.

Where is Pickwick Press?
Pickwick Independent Press is a fine art printing facility in the heart of downtown Portland Maine. The press is located in the Artist Studio Building, a community of 35 active professional artists. Our website is

What? I need more information!
For more information, contact Lisa Pixley, Pickwick Founding Member, in any one of a number of ways:

Pickwick Independent Press
Artist Studio Building
536 Congress St
Portland, Maine 04101



or visit us online for application forms and more at

Image culled from the amazing blog