BY JO ANN WEST
Before the holiday season and for the first time since February 2020, I reserved two days of private studio time to practice printmaking. For the first time in a decade I was alone in a large art center studio, this time in a mask, missing the collaboration and inspiration of other artists, where cleaning up is usually shared and where someone else is responsible for locking the doors. In spite of these protocol differences I quickly fell into a mindset that resembled a silent retreat, a welcome peace that made more room for the creative process. I set up all the necessary stations for finished prints, color mixing, paper cutting, the water bath for paper, prepared the press, turned on some soft music and began. For the first time, I realized I didn’t have to watch a clock to clean up before four hours passed; this was a new freedom in this unusual pandemic time.
My intent was to work on a multi plate process, another first and this is where I particularly started to miss someone to talk with. My only reference to time was the studio getting darker and lights had to be turned on. I stayed until nine pm when the exterior doors would be locked. I checked in remotely to a hotel next to the center, enjoyed a dinner I had packed in a cooler, alone in my lovely sanitized room and spent well into the night studying printing books I had packed in the car. I returned to the studio the next morning when the building opened and delighted in the fact that all of my workstations were ready to go.
The process seemed to go slow as I was feeling my way back to mixing color, inking plates and working on multiple registrations before printing, yet another day in the studio went by in what felt like an hour. That beautiful zone of forgetting about time. The large print that was my study for the process is far from perfect but it intrigued me all the same and the time spent working on it was rewarding.
It wasn’t until I was safely home, my mask off for the first time in two days that I started to reflect on how much the Covid protocols had me on edge. All of this was a first, even as I processed the studio time with my husband, the art on the table in front of us. My entire experience highlighted the inseparable connection between the spoken word and visual art. My prints were created in a wordless place but it took conversation to bring them to life.