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Printmaking Workshop Teaches Students to Think Big

Posted on 22 January 2014

Pierson's Sydney Mitchell in front of her large scale print of Burano Island in Venice.

Pierson’s Sydney Mitchell in front of her large scale print of Burano Island in Venice.

By Annette Hinkle

While the goal of many high school teachers is to get his or her students to think like college students, Peter Solow strives to get his students to think like something else….

Artists.

Solow is a professional artist and a teacher at Pierson High School, and last month, visiting artist and printmaker Scott Sandell joined him in the classroom for a digital printmaking workshop using new Epson printers purchased for the school through the Reutershan Educational Trust.

“They’re large format printers,” explains Solow. “One is 44 inches wide, so we can print in sections imagery that is actually the size of a wall — eight to nine feet high by eight to nine feet wide.”

“It’s an incredible tool, because it also affords the opportunity to use papers not normally used with printers,” he adds, explaining that from glossy photo paper to water color paper and even fine Japanese art paper, students have a range of choices that raise their imagery to a new level. In the end, the ability to create large, high quality prints Solow notes, expands an artist’s vision exponentially.

“We’re still experimenting with a lot of this stuff – the kids and us,” he says. “This is cutting edge. It’s what professional artists do and it enables you to take a small handmade image, scan it in and then blow it up to a larger size and work back into it.”

“Under Scott Sandell’s guidance, we’re able to integrate all the fine art stuff into the printmaking process,” says Solow who finds that when students are treated like professional artists, they produce that way.

“That’s the key to the whole thing,” agrees Sandell. “What you’re trying to do is coax the art out of the kids and get it on paper.”

“They’re wonderful kids and really work,” he adds.

This weekend, the results of the Pierson printmaking workshop go on view at the John Jermain Library in Sag Harbor. The exhibit opens with a reception this Saturday and features imagery in which students explore what’s possible with the new technology.

“One of the things that’s always interesting is scale,” adds Solow. “It’s a really important thing in art. It doesn’t mean photography has to be large but blowing something up that’s intimate changes the relationship with the viewer.”

A good example of that is an image by student Sydney Mitchell. A photograph of a courtyard lined by colorful buildings on Burano Island in Venice, its position on the wall at Pierson makes it look as if another world lies at the end of the corridor.

“All you see is the bright buildings of Burano,” explains Solow. “Because of the perspective, the floor leads you into the village. It’s like a site specific piece.”

Another student who has explored the concept of scale in printmaking is junior Theo Gray, an aspiring photojournalist who will travel to Prague this summer as part of a program offered by National Geographic. One of Gray’s images on view in the show is of a woman waiting on a New York City subway platform as a train rumbles into the station. She is seen from behind, unaware of the camera’s presence.

“I just liked the position,” says Gray when asked what it was about the scene that made him want to photograph it. “It’s the rule of thirds — she was to the side, her bag was held loose and I liked the movement of the train.”

While he was happy with the shot, printmaking allowed Gray to expand on what was there. He now sees that photograph in a whole new light.

“I’m used to seeing it on the computer, now it’s six feet by five feet and at that scale, the person in the photo is life size. It looks so professional,” says Gray who has found that when printed large, unnoticed details come to the fore. “You see reflections that you’ve never seen. I see what you can do with the photos and it’s inspired me to look outside the box and be more creative.”

Though students may be tempted to use the printers simply to make large images, Solow notes there is more to it and intention plays a big role in these decisions.

“We ask, ‘What is the imperative for making things bigger?’” explains Solow. “The big challenge is figuring out how to use this new tool in a way that’s useful and authentic. It’s not just taking small images and blowing them up.”

And it’s not just photography. Many students create mixed media pieces using layered imagery which is hand-painted or manipulated in such a way that a print becomes something entirely different — a collage, for instance, or even an art book.

“We’re using machines that can replicate, but creating the work in this medium at that size for this purpose on that paper makes it special,” says Sandell. “You’re making something that doesn’t exist in any other medium — and using the print medium to create it.”

“Digital Artwork” by Pierson High School students is at the John Jermain Memorial Library, 34 West Water Street, Sag Harbor through March 15, 2014. The reception is Saturday, January 25 from 3 to 5 p.m.

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