Printmaking with Julia

Posted by Deborah on October 17, 2012

On October 1st I began an intense two week immersion into intaglio printmaking with master printer Julia D’Amario at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, tucked into ancient Sitka forests on the southern side of Cascade Head.  Only 60 miles south of our home in Wheeler, it felt like a world apart.  I had promised myself complete concentration on the experience which would unfold and reveal this unknown and technically complicated medium to me.  Carl and I arrived with a few clothes, some simple food and little else to distract us from this pocket of time away from the details of our regular lives.  After four solid months of unceasing construction on the studio we welcomed the opportunity to disappear into more creative endeavors, and to take a break from the physical and mental demands that the planning and execution of the major restoration of the house has required. 

This opportunity for me came in the form of the Jordan Schnitzer Print Residency, an awarded resident program, endowed by Jordan Schnitzer and designed by Julia D’Amario and founder of Sitka, artist Frank Boyden. Its intention is to introduce the medium of etching to artists whose main medium is not printmaking.  Julia D’Amario is a master printer who worked for Pace Editions for twenty years with artists the likes of Jim Dine and Chuck Close.  Her knowledge, experience and technical sophistication is unmatched and I feel immensely fortunate to have been able to work under her tutelage.  Two artists each fall spend two weeks each with Julia in the Smith Print Studio.  There is no requirement to produce work, but as Julia says, everyone who she has worked with produces something they are pleased with.  This work is then editioned by Julia the week following the residency, and Sitka receives half the edition, the artist the other half.  Julia as archivist of the collection receives a printer’s proof and then Jordan Schnitzer, a major print collector and the Portland Art Museum also receive prints from the editions. 

applying whiteground

The first week was punctuated by sleepless nights brought on by my sheer panic in the face of a copper plate with tools and materials I was unfamiliar with.  Julia eased me through all this and by the end of the middle of the second week we had finalized three etchings and I was well on my way to finishing the final plate. 

marking proofs with their state

We spent eight hours of each weekday and a few hours of the weekend days in the studio, forgetting time. Julia did all the masterwork—laying down the asphaltum, biting the plates in the acid, applying aquatint, tearing paper, inking plates and pulling proofs and prints.

Julia applying hardground

wiping the plate


pulling a proof

 I never got dirty other than scenting my hands and clothes with 3in1 oil as I learned the magic of burnishing. 

At Julia’s suggestion I came with no preconceived ideas about what sort of imagery I might attempt, allowing the new medium to guide me instead. The weather when we arrived at Sitka was glorious-clear, dry, windy and leaves were falling, chattering and blowing everywhere.  They, leaves, became a theme that entered each of the images I worked on. Julia helped me narrow down the repertoire of techniques that suited my hand and my vision and encouraged my own way of handling them by making it all seem effortless with her expert skills.

“Foot Print”  12″ x 16″  the first completed etching

Printmaking is truly a collaborative medium and the experience of working together with Julia to create something beautiful was a unique and inspiring experience for me.  It will have its effect on me for a very long time, if not forever.