Posts By: Studio Assistant

Member Interview Series: Holly Cahill

Holly Cahill is a Chicago based multidisciplinary artist working in painting, drawing, fibers, sculpture, print, and collage. Her process-oriented abstractions weave together elements of the fantastic found at the heart of our domestic and shared environments. Cahill received her MFA from the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning at the University of Cincinnati and her BFA from the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University. She is the current Director in Chicago of Tiger Strikes Asteroid, an artist-run, non-profit network of gallery spaces with locations in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Greenville.

Holly was interviewed by Samantha Foster as part of the Summer 2021 Internship at Spudnik Press Cooperative. Sam is a printmaker pursuing her MFA in Fine Arts at Columbia College Chicago.

Below is the interview that touches on community involvement, artistic collaboration, Holly’s 2018 residency at Spudnik, and her career trajectory.

SF: Let’s start with what brought you to Chicago. Why did you move here, and what made you decide to stay?

HC: I moved to Hyde Park with my husband, Zach, when he got into University of Chicago for his MFA. We love Chicago and it’s always a challenge to take in everything the city has to offer. There are a million things happening at once and I often feel I fall short on everything I want to be doing and seeing, which is to say that I’m very proud and grateful to live in such a dynamic and engaging place. Relocating to Chicago was tough in the beginning, just trying to find community after graduate school and not knowing anyone. That was over 15 years ago now.  It was a saving grace that Zach was going through his MFA program, so I got to meet all his colleagues and fellow students at the start of our time here.

SF: Community seems to be a thread that connects your work as an artist and an organizer. What does community mean to you and how does it manifest in your artwork?

HC: I think, community can mean a variety of things in different contexts. For me, being part of a community is essential. It has to do with considering those around you and feeling a sense of belonging to something whether it’s in the context of a print shop or an exhibition space and, as artists, finding ways to share our practices, goals, values, and resources. In any community, if we can get to a place where each person we are spending time with feels valued, then I think we can all grow and learn from one another through our involvement. I feel this sense of community as a member of Tiger Strikes Asteroid (TSA). We each take turns curating exhibitions, but we also collaborate on them and other projects as a group, which has brought us closer together in creative ways. We aim to be supportive of the artists we work with through our exhibitions and programming and consider them to be a part of the community as well as those that visit and are supportive of our program in other ways.

I’ve thought about community in terms of my own practice too. I refer to my collages as mimicking an ecosystem.  They contain scraps which originate from a variety of processes, sources, and points in time that are then gathered together in forms that more recently reflect on growth within a diverse ecosystem. In many of these works, I’ve been inspired by vines that navigate the shadows to locate other plants they can use as support for their development. I’ve also referenced roots in my work and the vast networks that trees, for example, form with one another underground. More recently, I’ve been learning about moss, which is a very ancient plant species that is incredibly adaptable and can serve as a protective environment for a host of other creatures like insects.

I’m always interested in the many ways we can realize how interconnected we are within our environment – how we can respond to and find meaning through those experiences.

Detail of Study of Thorns (unfurling) | acrylic, graphite, ink, watercolor and velvet flocking on paper mounted on velvet 36″ x 30 x 1.75″ 2020

SF: It’s great you’re able to make connections between your own work, TSA, and the organizations you’ve been involved with. Does collaboration impact your art practice?

In a way as artists we’re all working somewhat collaboratively by sharing our work, through our awareness of the trajectory of art history, and being influenced by those experiences. For the most part, my practice has been a fairly solo one while my curatorial work has been more collaborative. I have co-curated several exhibitions and find that a really generative way to be working in collaboration.

It wasn’t until more recently that collaborative elements began to enter into my own practice. A very old and dear friend of mine, Meredith Haggerty, started a project called Collage Stop. The first iteration was a workshop she organized at the Art Therapy Institute of North Carolina where she invited myself and another artist from the San Francisco bay area, Erin McCluskey Wheeler, to participate by contributing scraps to the event. The community from the area was invited to make work with our scraps and contribute to a fundraiser for a new program that they had been working on to support immigrants and refugees.

That was the first time I was part of something like Collage Stop, where I was giving parts of my work away for others to use. The funny thing is with scraps, the more you use them the more you have. Since the event, Meredith kept some for herself and mailed others to Erin and I. We have all been using them in our works since. Erin will often post images of her work and point out where scraps of other artists are within it. It’s fascinating to see a little piece of my work in hers. Likewise for my collages, there are little scrap pieces of Meredith’s painted gold, and Erin’s variety of different types of colorful marks. During all the isolation we’ve been experiencing throughout the pandemic, having their scraps to use made me feel a closeness to other artists working.

The experience also broadened my vocabulary which is something I’m trying to do within my work – to bring together these varied and rich surfaces, marks, and colors. Once I started working with their scraps I thought “wow, I would have never done this.” Working with gold seemed like too much, but collaborating with Meredith got me engaged in the ways she finds meaning within it. The same thing happened with Erin. There are certain colors she gravitates toward that I would not normally use because my color palette tends to be a certain way. This project broadened the way I was working and the choices that I was making. There are definitely some collaborative elements to that way of working even though I feel strongly that Erin’s work is hers whether she uses my scraps or not, and the same with Meredith.

Study of Thorns (regenerating) | acrylic, graphite, ink, and watercolor on paper mounted on velvet 30″ x 30″ x 1.5″, 2020

SF: Like a behind the scenes collaboration. It’s not the first thing you know about the work, but there’s another layer. You’re not necessarily saying “this is brought to you in part by a collaboration with Holly, Meredith, and Erin.” It’s more like, this is the work, which includes collaborative aspects that makes it rich and dynamic.

HC: Yes, that makes it all possible: shared resources. It’s similar to how Spudnik not only has equipment, but knowledgeable staff and printers that you can learn from when you are occupying that space together. I think art benefits from that kind of cross pollination. One of my favorite things is working alongside other artists and participating in that way of observing the activity around you that also allows each person to work independently – where we can come together and veer apart.

SF: Speaking of shared resources and collaboration, how did your Spudnik residency create new methods of production that helped you make discoveries, and do you still utilize them today?

During graduate school, I was very active in print, especially lithography. After graduation the idea of working in a cooperative print shop didn’t occur to me, and I didn’t have the equipment to continue making prints on my own in the way that I once was. Subconsciously it didn’t seem like an option to explore, so it took seeing the inspiring work that was coming out of Spudnik to get me back to print. Kelly Kaczynski made an incredible set of woodcut prints at Spudnik with Stan Shellabarger where she developed a technique with many pieces where they could be assembled and reassembled over time to build up the stages that appear in much of her work. Seeing Kelly’s work led me to apply for the residency at Spudnik. At that time, I had been deep into the development of a body of work on paper that references illuminated frameworks created with painting, resist, and graphite. Through the residency, I wanted to tease out the dense layers within that work.

Because I was just getting back into print, I thought it would be interesting to explore several types of processes. I used aquatint, sugar lift, engraving, and other techniques too. I worked with the idea that each plate was a field of activity and tried to rethink my process of layering. I was also interested in chance elements, so I was placing objects between the paper and plate too – different pieces of fabric, cut paper, egg shells, and threads. In the beginning, the layers retained dense space that was closely related to my prior works and I felt stuck. That’s when one of the other resident artists suggested printing off the plate. I tried that and it opened up and allowed this light to come in. All these layers were relating, but then I could build on that to create a matrix. I used monotype on some of them so there were continuations/repetitions of forms. It was satisfying for me because they were all unique prints but then they also formed one work as a whole when I arranged them together and continued working on them.

Shuffle | intaglio with monoprint, grid of 16 12″ x 12″ prints, 2018

SF: Having the other resident give that suggestion also ties into this shared space. Especially with anything creative, you can get lodged into one way of thinking and it takes someone with fresh eyes to give another perspective.

HC: It’s so true. I will be forever grateful for those suggestions. I think as artists we often want the idea to only come from us, but sometimes a little push from someone with fresh eyes is just what you need and kind of the reason you’re there to begin with.

SF: Your CV shows an upward trajectory. Were your achievements planned or did they naturally grow into further opportunities?

I think opportunities build on opportunities. The biggest shift for me was being able to leave the full-time paralegal work that I was doing and to focus more on my own practice. At the same time, around 2016, I was approached about becoming a member of Tiger Strikes Asteroid and it wasn’t even on my radar to eventually take on a directorship. Anna Kunz and Michelle Wasson were the first two co-directors who started the chapter here and got the program running. Being a member of TSA was an important shift in focus for me. I’ve benefited a lot from not only having more time for my practice, but also by curating and working behind the scenes as a member of TSA.

In terms of curating, my first project with TSA was a big one because I discovered curating can be a productive way for me to explore my interests with other artists while also creating a space where I felt I was supporting them in ways and growing in new capacities. This has thankfully led to curatorial opportunities in other spaces.

In terms of my art practice, I had been working in the studio in a very solitary manner for quite some time as well as participating in a few residencies outside Chicago. I wanted to have those same types of opportunities I had at residencies far from home, but in my own city. Spudnik was a big step to getting me more entrenched in Chicago, then more recently I was a resident in Hatch at the Chicago Artists Coalition. Not every opportunity is strategically targeted for a particular outcome, but I think as artists we need to be proactive and seek things out. These experiences have been important to my development, especially being out of school for so long. It’s like another form of education to go back and participate in these types of programs.

SF: That’s really key: lifelong learning. It’s so vital.

HC: Yeah, exactly. And to push yourself and reach out to people.

SF: Do you see any similarities between Tiger Strikes Asteroid and Spudnik?

I like to think of Spudnik as a role model for how it treats people who come into the space. It’s always welcoming and open, and that’s what TSA members hope for our visitors’ experience. We’re both non-profit, cooperative models. Our members pay dues and volunteer, which supports the space and is similar to Spudnik. The way we provide exhibitions for artists is similar. Spudnik is helping to support artists through programming, career development, exhibitions, and facilities access. Our facility is the exhibition space and we are trying to be supportive of the artists that exhibit with us. We also make time to review proposals or have studio visits with our members. These are ways we can be supportive of the members that are similar to how Spudnik operates – this interview for example!

Untitled | watercolor, ink, and graphite on paper 22.5″ x 30″, 2014

SF: I love seeing crossovers like that and how it’s mutually beneficial!  Focusing back on your personal practice, you utilize themes of shared environments and the natural world. How do these elements inform your work?

HC: I go for walks in the same places most days. I enjoy seeing how the landscape changes and what’s growing, what’s dying, how the light affects everything – whether it’s sunup or sundown, or midday. All those subtle and not so subtle shifts and trying to be present in the landscape is a huge inspiration for me. My walking time is somewhat exercise, but more like time to think, open my senses up, and observe what’s around me. I would say too that traveling has been really great over the years. Something that struck me when I was an undergrad – I went to Italy for a semester – was just how different the quality of green was there and how the colors would change so much. Later when I traveled to Japan and spent time in Kyoto, I thought about the possibilities within the space of the garden – many very small in scale while immense in the space they created utilizing distant views along the turns in the path. Though, I think my work currently is more grounded in my everyday experiences with the same places and seeing new things that come up that influences me the most.

Holly in her studio

SF: Is painting and print a springboard to trying other disciplines?

HC: My painting background is informed by my interest in a lot of other disciplines. I’m working to incorporate a number of different techniques like needle felting, hooking, various types of fabrics, and objects that can be manipulated are still like painting. Somehow the more I stick with painting, the more I am devoted to it, but I want it to incorporate all these other interests too. That’s part of the challenge which is fun and interesting. There are  always new things to discover. My love of working on paper and process is also connected to that interest in print as well.

SF: Your recent shows were fantastic – is there anything upcoming that you would like to share?

Thank you so much, Samantha! One thing I want to share is an exhibition I co-curated with Teresa Silva that is installed on the fifth floor at Mana Contemporary called It feels like the first time. The exhibition includes forty-six of our artist members across the country and is on view through September 30th with some programming to come. Teresa and I are excited to share the exhibition more in the coming months. Aside from that, I’ve been invited to make a piece for Western Pole, which is an artist-run space run by Jesse Malmed. I’m excited to be part of that program, which is just one of the many innovative projects he’s developed over the years.

Avian Oracle I, II, and II | ink, watercolor, and acrylic on canvas, velvet, hand needled felt and thread 120″ x 41.5″ each, 2019

Member Interview Series: Jennifer Ackerman

Jennifer Ackerman is a Chicago based graphic designer and printmaker. She is also the designer and owner of PostScript Paper, a stationary boutique specializing in letterpress wedding suites and personalized stationery. 

Sierra Shih: Tell me a little about your background, and how you started PostScript Paper (PSP).

Jennifer Ackerman: I went to school at Loyola in New Orleans on a full scholarship. I was rocking it, and I wanted to take an art class. But I ended up getting a C, and lost my scholarship. I had initially been planning on going to Rome the following semester to study abroad, but my parents said they couldn’t send me there anymore. I was devastated. So I decided that I would go to Louisiana State University (LSU) for a semester, and that would be my Rome. I would take all of the art classes I wanted and have fun, and then I would come back and finish my degree. When I got to LSU, I discovered graphic design, which they didn’t offer at Loyola. I fell in love with it. It was this perfect combination of art and problem solving, kind of like doing puzzles. 

It’s one of those stories I always tell my kids, because it’s the perfect example of when you think the world is over and it’s the worst thing that could happen to you, but it turns out to be the best. I had discovered something that I truly love to do. After I graduated, I moved to New York to work for a while. I met my husband there and we moved to Chicago where I worked at a design firm for around 10 years. After I stopped working, I took a letterpress class and just fell in love with it. I loved designing something and seeing an image on the computer screen become real when I printed it myself. So I started doing little freelance things, mostly invitations, which led me to other design projects, and doing larger print projects like wedding invitations and personalized stationery. 

Letterpress wedding invitation suite with gold foil and custom printed envelope liner

SS: I feel like a lot of PSP and letterpress in general is about patterns and textures. What are you inspired by?

JA: Definitely patterns I see. I’m sort of a preppy aesthetic mixed with simplicity. I love looking at interior design, high end interior wallpapers, and things like that. I look at a lot of fashion to spot current trends too. I’m not creating things from scratch, I’m always getting inspired by things around me and putting it out there. 

SS: What’s your favorite part of PSP, working with clients, and the printing process?

JA: It’s very personal. And I think that’s what letter writing is all about. It’s personal, and people who enjoy that kind of stuff are willing to go the extra mile. They’re willing to have someone design and hand print something instead of just ordering things online. It’s the whole process, it’s me holding your hand through the whole thing. I’m super customer service oriented, it’s always a full service kind of thing when you work with me. Whatever the client needs, I’ll do it. I sort of become their assistant. For wedding invitations, I’m the one who assembles everything by hand, old-school, and takes it to the post office to send it out. A lot of my clients don’t even see the cards until they get it in the mail. It’s a lot of trust, a lot of responsibility. I really value that relationship where they know I’m going to take care of things for them, and I know that they’ll be thrilled in the end. The first few weddings I did, I would get so personally involved that they would actually invite me to their weddings afterwards. I actually did wedding invitations for a Blackhawks player once and they invited me to their wedding!

Letterpress graduation brunch invitation

Letterpress Invitation

SS: Do you mainly focus on letterpress, or do you do other processes as well?

JA: I really want to screenprint but I haven’t had an opportunity that makes sense to do it yet. I’ve done some myself personally, but not for PostScriptPaper. It’s mostly letterpress and I also bought a little tabletop foil press, which has been super fun to have. It lets you stamp little foil details onto your cards and paper. It’s probably why I started doing some of the little trunk show, pop up things where I set up a booth in person because I can bring the press, set type, and even order plates I design on my computer. I have a lot of fun with that. It’s fun and instant, and people can walk away with it. I’m always open if any one wants to use my foil press, or see it. I love sharing what I do and how I do it, and seeing what other people create because everybody does something different. 

Foil stamped stationery. Photo from

SS: What do you like to do in your free time?

JA: I do a lot of crafts. Knitting and sewing, and cooking and baking, that kind of stuff. I watch a lot of Chicago sports with my kids. I also love to travel. Whenever I travel, I shop for stationary. I’m always searching for the art supply stores. Stationary is accessible, you can bring it home with you, and it’s not that expensive. I love finding little ephemera from places I go to, like paper clips from Paris, twine from Amsterdam. That becomes the hunt for me while being on vacation, finding those little objects that inspire me later.

A lot of the times I end up using those things in client projects. I bought some sort of twine last time I was in Amsterdam and I used them in some wedding invitations I was printing!

SS: Are you working on anything right now?

JA: A lot of Christmas cards. I’m also doing a really cool project with a woman who is developing a line of handbags. She travels a lot, and is working with a nonprofit where women in Kenya will bead the bag straps. I’m working on designing the shopping bags that the handbags will come in when you buy them, hang tags, and a little booklet with that shows how your purchase affects the global economy of female artisans. It’s really cool!

To keep up with Jennifer, visit or follow @postscriptpaper on Instagram!



Member Interview Series: Teresita Carson Valdéz

Teresita Carson Valdéz works in fiber, film, photography, printmedia and installation. She received her BFA from SAIC. Recent exhibition sites include Sullivan Galleries, Adds Donna and Mana Contemporary. Her awards include winning first prize for her screenplays Poly Esther, Chucky’s Feast, 1st and 10, Shlomo’s Night Out, and Ratacholo. Her short films have been shown at festivals around the world and at the Museum of Contemporary Art of San Diego.

Alex Janakiraman: In your artist statement, you talk about collective history and personal history – how do you think about time?

Teresita Carson Valdéz: I read recently about the difference between Kronos and Kairos to the Greeks. Kronos is Western, linear time. Kairos are those time-related occurrences that we can’t explain, like déjà vu. Non-westerners – Indians, Aztecs, Mayans – all divide time in different ways. My practice is based a lot in cultural production through migration – not just of people, but objects. I can do a performance with film, paint on film, photograph it, then start to print on textiles or paper and use those images in collage. Time is collage: if you really try to remember your life, you don’t know what you’re remembering, you’re remembering the last memory that you had. 

AJ: Within this framework, could you tell me about your childhood and how you’ve gotten to where you are now? 

TCV: I grew up in Mexicali, Baja California, and immigrated to San Diego when I was a teenager. I took classes at many schools, but eventually started to take my photography practice seriously. When I moved to Chicago 3 years ago, for the first time I felt like an immigrant, because of the segregation of the city. You either have to be this or that — what the white western world tells you is Mexican or what other Mexicans tell you is Mexican — but what we know as Mexican culture was really manufactured by the government after the revolution. I had to do a lot of thinking and dwelling in nostalgia, trying to make sense of where I was. But disidentification happens. Pilsen used to be Polish Czech, and then Mexican communities colonized it, which is visible especially looking at that church that has scaffolding around the towers [St. Adalbert’s, now closed]. This architecture and the negative space remind me of the Mayan arches, and the Spanish-built cathedrals on top. We need to look at culture and life from the side and backwards and in every direction, but that’s not what Western thought teaches us. We’re basically sitting in ruins all the time; we need to think about constant construction and deconstruction. That manifests in the self as well. If you had a traumatic experience and you buried it, to get to it you have to dig. I took this turn in the past three years of working through that, going back to the idea, in terms of time, of being in exile. If your first language was not English but you’re forced to work in English, it’s always filling this displacement, like Kafka and the idea of minor literature. Before I moved to Chicago, my practice was very much a performative, image and text based interplay. Now I’m really into queer formalism. Although I don’t identify as queer necessarily, I think if you’re not a cis white male, then you’re something else. That’s the whole point. Normativity is the thing that’s not normal. 

Salvage: After T’ho. Multidisciplinary installation made from thinking about the negative space in architecture, specifically the scaffolding around St. Adalbert’s.

AJ: Could you talk more about your process and why film photography works for you?

TCV: I love the magic of seeing the image appear, and also the fear that you did something wrong and nothing is going to be there. If I know how it’s going to turn out I’m not interested. I’m very experimental with medium, always. When I’m weaving I’m not interested in repeating the same structure; I set it up and see what surprises come. Even etching or screenprinting is not about editioning, it’s about the high of the surprise. To me there’s process, and what’s made is just the evidence of that. If I can’t push it further, I move on to something else. One of my professors always said: you don’t adapt the idea to the form, the form adapts to the idea. 

A recent weaving by Teri.

AJ: What reactions do you want from your work? Do you think people need to understand the context and histories that you’re referencing?

TCV:  Sometimes I struggle with that, because people are attracted to my work on an aesthetic level.  My last installation was about a very horrible ugly thing: feminicide in Mexico. Femicide and feminicide are not the same thing. Femicide is killing a woman because she’s a woman. Feminicide is the killing of women in a system that creates the perfect conditions for it to happen. I printed silk and at first glance it’s very beautiful, it’s pink, bright, and moving… but when you get closer, you hear women talking about their daughters and the sounds of protest in Mexico.

Monument for the Disposable, Or, Declaration of Value.

But it’s not about who I am as an artist or what I am trying to say. That installation is for women and if you want to get more specific, for Mexican women, or women from countries where violence against women is state-sponsored. I don’t think you have to know a lot to understand when you hear the pain in a mother’s voice. 

AJ: What was your process of making that installation? 

TCV: That was such a process! I was living in Logan Square at the time, and feeling segregation, I started looking for signifiers of culture. When you go to Mexican businesses you always see the Guadalupe Virgin. I started excavating the histories behind her. The Catholic priests colonizing Mexico had to come up with a narrative to unify Mexico. The indigenous people were pretending to come around to Catholicism but would still worship the Aztec goddess, so priests made this brown virgin that was  Mary but also incorporated symbolism from the indigenous goddesses. They created a myth that she appeared to the city and said to build a church here. You go back and start looking at the female deities of the Aztecs and they were very feared. Monster is what men, if you start misbehaving, call you. It’s that idea of the “monster” – which the patriarchy has tried to squash – which is powerful. To me it was about creating sort of like my own deity, who women that are suffering at the hands of the patriarchy can look up to – bring her back. I did a drawing and many iterations of Coatlicue, the famous sculpture at the Museo Nacional de Antropología, and started to distill that image. How did we get from all powerful deities to women being powerless and disposable in Mexico? Different cultures have similar stories, and to me it’s important to move through these mythologies so we can enter consciousness in a different way. We can talk about feminism in many ways, but storytelling always make people think. 

Todos Somos Hijos de la Chingada y Todos Queremos Bling!

I’m also trying to interplay the migration of violence. I had a panel with a map of a product from a maquiladora to a suburb in Illinois, a migration parallel to feminicide. It’s caused by NAFTA and the migration of people who have to work in factories because of the dissemination of agriculture from the center of Mexico. Are we not complicit if we’re buying products made in Mexico or working for companies that use Mexican labor? Young women are trying to get to work and that’s when they disappear. It could be a serial killer, a cop, anybody, and they’re protected by the state sponsored creation of this system. You think that things have gotten better, but for who? Which women? When Trump became president, people of color were like well it’s expected and we have to keep doing what we’ve always been doing, because nothing has changed. But white liberals were losing their shit, because, finally, their way of life was being threatened. And all this is really inherent in the voices of the women; it’s all in Spanish but pain has language. You can try to create a container with the way that you arrange an exhibit or an installation but really sound is what calls to you. I think that when you distill it to installation, art can really reach beyond the trained artist to any audience.

AJ: What are you working on currently?

TCV: Everything is based on what I’m experiencing in the moment. There comes a certain point where the sense of urgency is too much to bear. So, do you just retreat and check out of life? Or do you use your knowledge and your resources to do something? You just make a gesture with what you have and what I have is a lot of skills and a lot of knowledge. But I can’t keep it to myself. I think that’s the most important part. I have this coffee shop, Intersect, in Pilsen, and in the back I have a space I try to activate with gestures that extend to the community. Sometimes it’s just me at the table making. I look at that table as a site that needs to be activated by people’s interest – asking what I’m doing, wanting to sit down, make together, and talk.

Front cafe space at intersect.

Inside the back room at Intersect, with two large tables for working or creative workshops and collected art all over the walls.

Every conversation is different. Photography, film, and installation can be a little too much. Some people check out of contemporary art because they don’t understand it or want to understand it, or they feel intimidated. Craft is the perfect entryway to art aesthetics and conversations. We all start at the same point and know that sensorial experience from the warmth of the womb directly into the warmth of a blanket. I’ve had a four year old weave on a cardboard loom. She did it because kids like to do stuff, but then when she started to see that cloth, she realized oh, I’m making a blanket for my unicorn. That’s how we all begin. It doesn’t matter what her ethnicity is or what color she is or what she comes from. Once the cloth starts to build, the amazement and discovery in people is . . . you just have to be there to feel it. 

The space is filled with small fiber pieces made by Teri.

AJ: Do you feel like you’ve built a community around Intersect and in general in Chicago? 

TCV: It still hasn’t become what I thought it would, but I see it like I see my practice: it’s just about having it, being there and being surprised. We’ve had performance artists, open mics, experimental sound night. You do what you want to do; tell us how we can help you and we’ll make it happen. I’m empowering myself by empowering people because that’s the way I’m coping with what’s going on. I just want young people to get out of that funk of anxiety, get out of bed and not be afraid. Teen girls come in and they don’t even want to talk to you. Then we start the workshop and they’re writing poetry. And at the end of the day they’re standing in line to get up on stage and read. To see that happen in six hours is amazing. 

Stage space in the back room at Intersect, with fiber work by Teri visible in the left, covering her office window.

I guess right now I’m using people as material, but that’s just the way I’m coping with what’s going on in this country and getting worse and worse. I think it’s important for anyone who reads this to know that I have the space and it’s available. It’s ready to be activated in any way you want to. I aspire to put art in a public place where people can have access to it. Access is important. I want to give opportunities to people, do whatever I can do with whatever I have. That’s the goal.

Keep up with Teri on Instagram @dizzydentfilms, check out her website, and be sure to head to Intersect at 1727 W 18th Street! 


Member Interview Series: Lisa Glenn Armstrong

Lisa Glenn Armstrong is a multi-disciplinary designer, artist, and educator living in the Humboldt Park neighborhood in Chicago. She received her MFA in Motion Graphic Design from California Institute of the Arts in 2018 and her BFA in Graphic Design from DePaul University in 2012. Her work focuses on themes of movement, time, and the tensions between artificial and emotional intelligence. She currently teaches motion graphics in the School of Cinematic Arts at DePaul University and is part of an electronic music ensemble called Chandeliers. She was also recently a Spudnik fellow.

Kirsten Holland: How did you get into printmaking?

Lisa Glenn Armstrong: Well, I studied graphic design in undergrad and grad school, and I got really into screenprinting at CalArts (California Institute of the Arts), which is where I went to grad school. They have this long history of printmaking in their program, and this kind of beautiful, but a little decrepit, print shop. I just kind of fell in love with working in there. It changed the way that I worked and thought about designing things.

KH: How do you feel it changed the way you worked and thought?

LA: I think a lot of times, things are really kind of hands off in design schools today. In my undergraduate experience, we didn’t do any screenprinting. We did digital printing for posters, but even then we weren’t always required to print them. So being able to pick out the inks, design within constraints for silkscreen, and then actually physically print it—something that you designed—yourself was this sort of empowering feeling. It can be frustrating and time-consuming at times, but it’s a very rewarding process. And, since it’s actually made by hand, you get a very different look and feel that I think people now really appreciate. You can see the mistakes and the texture. There’s more of a human touch that’s evident that is lacking when I print things digitally.

A collection of Lisa’s prints.

KH: Do you have any favorite mediums that you’ve tried so far?

LA: I mostly work in silkscreen and risography, but I’ve also done some relief printing. I don’t have a favorite necessarily, but I would say that I do silkscreen and risography the most. And there are different things that I like about those two. Risography is the cheapest form of printing. You get those amazing fluorescent colors that are harder to achieve and retain with silkscreen. So, it’s a great way to produce things quickly and cheaply. And, silkscreen… it’s just fun (laughs). It’s just fun to do. If I haven’t done it in a while, I feel like I am missing out and I’m not working that part of my brain. But I also carved a lino block recently, and it was really satisfying to spend a couple of hours carving away at something. So it just kind of depends. I would love to get into etching at some point; I haven’t done anything with that. And letterpress is really high on my list of things that I want to try next.

Einfühlung I, risograph print, 2019.

KH: We already touched on this a little bit, but how do you feel your work in print relates to your more digital work in design and motion graphics? Do you feel that they inform each other or intermix at all?

LA: Yeah, I’ve been working on this short animated film about that pretty much since the start of the fellowship. It was a response partially to teaching motion graphics at DePaul. I was also just thinking about how much time I spend on the computer for my own work, and how much ownership I can claim over that work versus an algorithm. So, I decided that I wanted to take these things that I was designing and building (digitally) in 3-D and translate them into print, and then bring them back into the computer so that there’s kind of this feedback loop between the digital and the analog and back again. A lot of that is just sort of trying to bring some of the humanity back into the work, because when I look at 3-D rendered work it sometimes feels cold or austere. And, there’s something that happens when it goes through the riso that gives it this sort of like warm, grainy, tactile feel to it, almost like 16 mm film. And of course, there are mistakes that happen along the way. So, a lot of it has been kind of experimenting with the mediums to see what happens. Now I’m trying to organize it and put it all together into a finished thing.

Frames from risograph-printed animations, 2019.

KH: Do you have any other current projects on the horizon besides that one?

LA: That’s pretty high on the list, but I also started making a book last week when I was in California with some of my friends from grad school, and it’s inspired by Sister Corita Kent. We were looking through her book, Learning by Heart, which is something that has informed a lot of my work, and so has her teaching and her work in general. We decided to create these assignments based off of her book, and make a book of those assignments that we followed through ourselves and then documented, showing the outcome of what you could do with it. So that’s being pieced together and hopefully printed soon. I also want to do a curated artist’s book. I would put out an open call for submissions, loosely around ideas of the paranormal and metaphysics, and get people to contribute their alien encounters or ghost stories. Then the plan is to donate whatever proceeds are made from it to the ACLU. I’m still kind of working out the prompt and everything, but I think it will be a risograph printed book. There’s a lot of aliens and sci-fi throughout what I do.

KH: Would you say that you are inspired by aliens and sci-fi? Or how is that integrated throughout your work other than the curated book you just talked about?

LA: In a lot of my work, I take inspiration from books and text, like how I mentioned Sister Corita Kent. I read a lot of kind of new-age-y, almost self-help stuff, but also a ton of science fiction, especially feminist science fiction. So, I love Octavia Butler and Ursula K. Le Guin. I love science fiction as a tool for thinking critically about the conditions of the world that we’re living in now. It gives us this critical distance and space to think about what else might be possible. Or, if we continue down on the road that we’re going on now, where will that lead us? As a designer that is interesting to me, to think of how you can structure or think about designing for the future. There’s definitely an interest in asking questions, thinking about the unknown, and thinking of things as fluid and relative rather than binary and black and white. A lot of the text in my cards and things that I was printing came from Octavia Butler and another writer named Adrienne Maree Brown, who basically researches Octavia Butler’s work and writes about it too. There are a lot of interesting ideas specifically in Octavia Butler’s work about adaptation and social change, and those are all interests of mine.

To Create is to Relate, risograph-printed miniature poster and artist book, 2019.

KH: Switching gears a little bit, what sort of directions to you see your work going in the future? Or do you have a particular direction you want to head in?

LA: I want to just try to remain open and adaptive to whatever comes my way. I try not to get too set in working in one particular way. The nature of working in design especially is constantly changing, so just being able to be open to either working in a time-based medium, or print, or something else is really important. I’d also like to do more teaching, and use that as a way to complement my practice too. There are also just a lot of things I want to learn how to do. I want to copper plate etching, but I also want to learn 3-D sculpting software. So I have interests in very different realms, but I’m interested in how those might inform each other.

KH: You’ve talked a little bit about how you also teach at DePaul, and want to teach more as a part of your practice. What has your experience teaching been like, and how does it inform you?

LA: It’s been great, and challenging, but I feel like in the back of my mind I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. All of the sudden, I just decided, “Okay, I’m going to do that thing.” So it feels right, I guess. I’m happy in that role, and I love that my job is to be excited about something and get other people excited about it. And, it could be, you know, changing a tire or something. I’m just happy to be in that kind of environment, sharing ideas and getting people to think about what they’re interested in. It’s inspiring to see what people are making, what they’re thinking about, and to see the kinds of patterns across too. The common themes are interesting. This is also my first year teaching, and so, it’s been good.

KH: You also recently finished your fellowship at Spudnik Press. What was that experience like?

LA: It was really nice. Because I had just moved back here from California a couple months before starting, I was really looking for a place and a community of other creative individuals to fall into. I think I was really lucky with the group that we had too. We all just clicked really well, and had similar interests. I think my favorite thing was the public program we did. We did a workshop called Paper Trail, where people came and tried out different printmaking techniques, and it was just a lot of fun to do. All of the planning leading up to it and working with the three other fellows was really nice. It’s also just been good to have access to the studio and be around other artists, to see what they’re doing and get feedback on what I’m working on. It’s a motivating environment where you encourage each other. So yeah, that’s been really nice.

Einfühlung II, risograph print, 2019.

KH: We’ve been talking a lot about your work, so I have one more question that’s more just for fun. What do you do when you’re not making art or designing? Do you have any other hobbies or interests?

LA: Yeah. I like to ride my bike. I like to watch sci-fi movies, and read sci-fi books, and just watch lots of movies in general. I’m also just trying to get outside as much as possible, and enjoying that it’s not ten degrees outside right now. I think moving around is how I get ideas and work through things, too. I like to try and travel if I can. I have family in North Carolina and two little nieces, and I like to go visit them every once in a while. And go to art shows, museums, and galleries, and stuff like that. And I play in an electronic synth band too.

Zeta Reticuli Incident, risograph-printed artist book about Barney and Betty Hill’s 1961 alleged UFO abduction, 2019.

To learn more about Lisa and see more of her work, you can follow her instagram @liselefteye or check out her website.

Member Interview Series: Elke Claus

Elke Claus’s career began at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she worked in a professional print studio, The Rutgers Center for Innovative Printmaking. There, she collaborated with New York City artists in the creation of lithography editions. At the same time, she was an intern at the infamous Franklin Furnace, an avant-garde art space in Tribeca. During those years it housed the country’s largest collection of artist’s books, which she helped organize. These two formative influences have left her with a deep love for technical craftsmanship and the daring of non-conventional, contemporary artworks. After moving to Chicago, Claus became a teaching assistant at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has taught printmaking at Lillstreet Art Center and The Hyde Park Art Center (both in Chicago).

Reevah Agarwaal: How did you get interested in printmaking?

Elke Clause: I’ve been interested in it since I was a kid. Back then I would take pieces of scrap wood out of our garage and cut into it with razor blades, making my first woodcuts. Later, I was lucky enough to go to Rutgers University for college and major in art with a concentration in printmaking. It was just kind of a natural thing; something I just fell in love with immediately. I ‘ve been a printmaker ever since.I came to Chicago to go SAIC (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), I also had a concentration in printmaking when I went there.

RA: How did you decide to come to SAIC?

EC: Because I wanted to expand my horizons and live somewhere else. I knew about the history of art in Chicago. I was really impressed with the tradition of non-conventional printmakers: people like Nancy Spero and Jim Nutt, both of whom went to the SAIC, so I was honored to be accepted.

RA: Do you think living in Chicago has impacted your practice?

EC: Yeah, especially Anchor Graphics and The Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College. There are some opportunities here and a pretty big community of printmakers, but it’s not always the best place for artists. We don’t get the same kind of financial support or publicity here that we do in other cities. It seems like almost every artist I know who leaves Chicago is much better off for it. Still, there are an impressive number of printmakers here. During the Print Crawl in May, we saw an amazing diversity of people, a variety of artists and print shops. The bar of quality was just excellent. I don’t know any other city in the Midwest that has that.

RA: In your bio I read that you worked at the Franklin Furnace for a little bit…

EC: Yeah, that was a long time ago, that was the late 80s.

RA: How was that experience for you?

E: That was a great experience, it was a lot of fun, it was great too see how an alternative gallery space is run and this was at a time when they were a big deal and they were also in the news a lot for being controversial. There was a lot of discussion about censorship and the right to free speech that was constantly coming up because people were doing things like trying to shut down exhibits at the gallery. So, it was dramatic for sure. A lot of really interesting characters went through there because it was also a performance space, and a lot of the more avant-garde performance artists were really committed to promoting the kind of artwork that pushes boundaries and defies convention, and my work is not that unconventional but I’m so glad I had that experience because I learned so much.

RA: I think your work is quite unconventional, I feel like haven’t seen a lot of work like this around.

EC: It comes out of this tradition of pop artists and people like Rauschenberg and Lichtenstein and how they used printmaking to make products that in the end were more like paintings. They were so thickly layered, they were almost always one of a kind and things were not planned as meticulously as they are in a traditional print. I feel like nothing I do is a perfect edition and it really is more about the kind of issues that painters think about, creating depth and using layers and colors to create space, it’s very formal but the purpose is purely aesthetic.

Yellow Rocket, Screenprint, 2015

RA: I noticed that there are a lot of references to science and space exploration in your work, can you tell me a little bit more about them?

EC: I work with this imagery for a couple different reasons. First, the image of the sky is the most universal thing imaginable. There’s no cultural baggage with a star or a cloud. I’ve taken classes in astronomy at the Adler Planetarium and have researched and photographed art from their collection. I also collect old science textbooks. They have these illustrations that attempt to make visible the invisible. I find these images so fascinating, so sublime. They are a huge influence. Secondly, every surface I work on is an attempt to create depth; not a conventional perspective-based depth, but a cosmic type of depth. I want to evoke something like strata of atmosphere or the scene in the Flammarion engraving, which represents mystical space.

Celestial Cartwheel, Screenprint, 2014

RA: What are some other things that influence your practice?

EC: My love of printmaking, there is something about the technique that can be incredibly satisfying. The teaching I have done has informed my practice. I have always had interesting students, I feel like I learn as much from them as they learn from me. I’m inspired when I watch the struggle and the joy that they experience when they are creating

RA: Where did you teach?

EC: I taught one class here, which was a fantastic experience. It was the very first youth-based class they had at Spudnik, and Angee and I did everything from the ground up. We did a lot of research on grants and where to get money for the class, we were getting in touch with all the high schools in this area to help recruit students and let people in the area know that we’re here. It was a lot of preparation to get this class off the ground. It was a single class on Saturdays that went for ten weeks, we had about eight students and it was fantastic. I also taught at Lill Street, and the Hyde Park Art Center for nine years, that’s probably where I have worked the most consistently. I did teach one class, a really long long time ago at SAIC. I’ve taught workshops at a place in New Jersey called the New Jersey Center for Printmaking which is now called Frontline Arts and that was a really great experience too.

RA: How do you go about making your work? Are you a meticulous planner or do you go more by intuition?

EC: More off of intuition but there is a lot of revision in my work. I use printmaking not so much to create an edition but as an editing tool. I constantly revise whatever stencil or block I have and use different color combinations to get what I want. I think like a painter when I am printing. It’s all about constant addition and subtraction and just working with the canvas or paper until it looks right.

Plane with Radar, Screenprint with lithography, 2016

RA: I noticed that you integrate a lot of techniques in your work, how do you make decisions about what technique to use for what image or part of your print?

EC: That’s a good question, I layer oil-based and water-based inks in my work. This doesn’t always work but after some experimentation I found success. Basically it creates depth when the softness and transparency of oil-based inks form a background and the sharp, flat look of silkscreen is used in the foreground. I also experiment with cyanotype. It’s interesting how cyanotypes and gum prints are easily combined with silk screen, lithography and relief. I’m really surprised more people don’t do it, it looks fantastic.. There is just something about working with the chemistry of these alternative photographic processes that feels like alchemy, and the results seem magical sometimes.

Lucky U, Screenprint, 2017

RA: Do you have an example of the cyanotype?

EC: Yeah! This is a cyanotype right here. The stars were cut out of rubilyth and then I did a cyanotype over it, so all of the dark parts are cyanotype. It gave these really crazy crisp edges and fine detail. This is a gum print, all of the background stuff here where there are the little specs of white on this yellow-green color. Gum prints are a little bit fuzzier and not as dramatic in color but with a gum print you can choose any color you want even though they tend to be a little less intense than the cyanotypes, much softer. I love playing around with both of them. This is a cyanotype but unfortunately this is on paper that is not the best quality so it turns more gray than blue. I love cyanotypes because no matter what you do with them it’s a sky color. If you’re doing something that is a landscape or has a sky in it, cyanotypes just create a very realistic looking sky tone that works nicely for creating depth specially.

Example of a Cyanotype in progress

Work in Progress

RA: Your use of color is cohesive because there are a lot of common elements across your work like the pink and blue, is there a reason you’re drawn to these colors?

EC: I think that’s just something subconscious, I think there’s just something going on in the art world in general where people are really embracing color, and when you go to art fairs or flip through an art magazine a lot of the new artists are using a lot of really bright and intense color. In the 90s when I was going to art school it was exactly the opposite, very few people would have used a palette like this, everything was shades of ochre and lots of black and white. So I think I am subconsciously being affected by trends in the art world but a lot of it also has to do with my love of silk screen, and one of the things that’s very inherent in working with silkscreen is that you can get these amazingly bright colors. You can’t really get that bold, vivid color so easily in any other medium. You can’t get this fluorescent red in oil paint if you go to the art store, you can’t find it, it just doesn’t exist, whereas when you go to the silk screen aisle there is tons of day glow colors and they’re fun to work with. I also like, in this one, the vintage circus poster-look that using fluorescent colors gives a work of art. It’s something that is inherent in the world of silk screen, you can use these intense colors and they always look so good so might as well have fun with it!

Work in progress

RA: Can you tell me a little about these works in progress?

EC: They’re about aesthetics, so I focus on formal qualities. It’s about creating depth and using balance, harmony, colors and layers to create a sense of vastness within a space that is actually flat and limited. I’m just trying to create a place of depth and mystery that elicits some sense of joy and wonder. I also want to celebrate all that is unique about printmaking. Everything originates from the hand of a printmaker, but is easily accessible to the viewer. I’m not making a message or trying to tell my life story. I just want these things to be beautiful. When somebody looks at my artwork, I want them to feel like they just heard a really good song on the radio. Art should offer that kind of simple pleasure.

Works in progress

RA: That definitely comes across, they’re very visually striking and beautiful to look at. Are these going to be in an upcoming show?

EC: No, I have an exhibit now that’s up for a couple more weeks. I’m just continuing to work on these. These prints are almost done but they need a little something to anchor them, give them focus and balance; but they’re pretty close to done.

RA: Where is your current show up?

EC: It’s at Morpho Gallery, 5216 N Damen.

RA: Great! What’s the best platform to keep up with your new artworks?

EC: Instagram!


Member Interview: Emma Bilyeu

Emma Bilyeu is a visual artist working out of her basement studio in Humboldt Park, Chicago. As a student of printmaking and book arts she likes to incorporate paper, letter shapes, book forms, and multiples into her work. With this she is able to explore ideas of communication and storytelling. When not in the studio, Emma is cuddling her dog, reading dystopian or self-help literature, or attending a Chicago Printers Guild meeting.

[Ruby LaPorta]: What has your experience been like as a Spudnik Studio Fellow

[Emma Bilyeu]: I’ve found that it’s nice to be held accountable. Before the fellowship, I had a membership here, but only made one or two prints. The fellowship has provided the kind of community and structure that encourages me to produce more. Even though working at Spudnik comes with a built-in community, my introverted nature felt more comfortable in the structure of the fellowship, which is a very personalized way of being involved with Spudnik. Being a fellow gives me a feeling of ownership of the shop, which in turn has improved my workflow within it.

[RL]: I read your project statement regarding what you wanted to accomplish through your fellowship. Do you think you fully realized what you set out to do?

[EB]: Well, it’s not over yet! Because I have made a lot of singular artist books, I thought it would be a good idea to use the fellowship to make a large edition. However, the idea of creating so many books was keeping me from just exploring my concept. I was paralyzed by the logistics so instead, I’ve altered my plan.  I am on the path of making a book that combines both etchings and screenprints. I’m creating a single book (instead of an edition), and exploring the same concept through prints, too. 


Emma Bilyeu, Guilt, 2015.


[RL]: What drew you to Chicago? 

[EB]: So, I’m from Indiana originally. I went all around for school—I ended up in Georgia. Then I had an internship in upstate New York. After that, I thought the natural next step would be to move to New York City, but the few times I had visited I felt very alienated. At that time I knew a few people in Chicago, not necessarily in the art community, but people I could reach out to if needed. And Chicago is close to my family, which is a plus. I have really enjoyed Chicago. It’s hard to compare to other places because every other city I’ve lived in has been experienced while being in school.

[RL]: How has Chicago helped you evolve (as a person/artist)? What’s it like being a part of the Chicago printmaking community?

[EB]: It was a learning curve at first, like learning how to make friends when you’re not forced into the same environment. When I moved here, I was too shy to come to Spudnik, so I was just doing a lot of drawing and painting. However, once I mustered up the courage, I realized the people at Spudnik are just like all the other printmakers I know—super rad, friendly, and encouraging. Nothing to be afraid of! Being at Spudnik has been great, especially having the other fellows to commiserate with and to encourage each other. It’s like a little family. We all get along really well. Spudnik definitely shapes my view of Chicago in a positive way.


Emma Bilyeu, Findings of Familiarity, 2014.


[RL]: Through your website, project statement, and artist statement, I noticed you play a lot with the idea of communication and not only the forms it can take—being illegible, repetitive, or layered—but the way this language is transmitted through “book-like” objects, as you put it. Can you speak more to this thought process?

[EB]: For a while I worked strictly with ambiguous letter forms, I didn’t know what kind of statement I wanted to make in my work. The letter-ish shapes seemed comfortable and at the same time ambiguous enough to be able to hide behind them. Yet, I know these forms take on more meaning as I keep working with them. Lately, I am building layers in my work to represent the mind’s thoughts and the complexity of them. Not knowing what to think, possibly avoiding thinking, and representing that kind of mindspace visually. So, book-form feels natural, almost journalistic, private, yet public, but somewhat illegible.


Works in progress by Emma Bilyeu.


[RL]: Your current project is titled “Vermilion”—what is the significance of the color vermilion in your work?

[EB]: I am simply drawn to the color. I find myself mixing that color, buying ink pens in that color. I am just attracted to it. I was googling around to research vermilion, because the origin of pigments are interesting to me. As it turns out, vermilion comes from the word “vermin” because there was a worm that they crushed and made into this pigment.

[RL]: Oh wow, that’s fascinating!

[EB]: It is fascinating! And beyond that, I am trying to make this connection in my book between simple thoughts and how they inhabit my brain where I wish more complex thoughts would naturally develop. So the simple phrases like the pest or vermin will be foiled with a more subtle, but still legible, dialogue representing more complex thinking.


Emma’s rough draft of her fellowship project, Vermilion.


[RL]: Is there a favorite printmaking or book-making process you have?

[EB]: When it comes to printmaking, I really like etching. It has a really gritty, physical element to it. It feels like a mini sculpture or something. I’m really drawn to the technicality of it, too. I go back and forth between deciding if I’m an artist or just a craftsperson. I feel like I am pretty skilled at printing on copper, and that’s satisfying to me. And for bookbinding, I think it varies. If I’m making a sketchbook I like to use coptic stitch because I like the look of the exposed binding. But it ends up that a lot of my finished artist books are bound as accordions or some variation of it.


Emma’s etching plates.


[RL]: Do you think that it’s important for the book form to reflect the text that you put inside?

[EB]: Yeah, I mean every decision is conscious. I try to put some thought into how the structure informs the content and vice versa. But sometimes it does just feel like bulls**t, trying to make all of these connections when it could just be straightforward, simple.

[RL]: Yeah, it’s completely subjective.

[EB]: Yeah that’s true. It adds another layer for people to get lost in though, which I don’t mind! The longer they spend thinking on it is fine with me.

[RL]: Since language is such a large aspect of your work, what are some literary pieces/ writers that influence what you make?

[EB]: I’ve been really into short stories lately. I like how they are just a window of a larger story. It leaves a lot to the imagination. So you pick up in the middle, and soon it ends, and it could be a satisfying ending or you could just be left on a cliff. Recently, my favorite collection of short stories is The Withdrawal Method by Pasha Malla. I’m really impressed by his ability to write from so many perspectives. If I remember correctly, in The Withdrawal Method there are perspectives from a child, an animal, men, women. That is really inspiring to me- that he can be so brief, but yet it so complex and it works. Also, I recently read the funniest, strangest story. It’s called Tacky Goblin by a local author, T. Sean Steele. I was reading it when I had to commute on the train to a job, and it had me laughing out loud. The story is so bizarre and I think the lightness and the strangeness of that book is a good reminder that not everything I put out has to be so serious.

[RL]: Absolutely. There’s also, along with pressure to create meaningful content, a pressure to constantly be creating “really good work”.

Sadie, Emma’s dog.

[EB]: Yeah! I’ve been using Instagram stories a lot, and people tell me I’m funny. They’re just feeding my inner comedian ego. I’m trying to figure out how I can get some of that reaction in the visual work that I’m making. That’s just a thought, I haven’t explored it much. Well, I guess maybe a little. I have one etching that says “Sadie, you ate my first skateboarding scab” (Sadie is my dog). I fell, and I got a big scab on my arm and I peeled it off like any human does, and for some reason I had it sitting on my laptop and I closed it and forgot to take the (this sounds so gross) scab out of my laptop. I took my computer to my hometown and was with my parents that weekend. As I was sitting on the floor and I opened up my laptop to do some work, Sadie just waltzed over and “slurp!” ate it. I was like, “Wait I kind of wanted to keep that.” Because it was a marker of me learning [to skateboard]… but I guess not. So I have kept the memory in an etching.

[RL]: Like you said, you find Instagram stories as your “comedy” outlet.  you see yourself exploring how your practice can evolve alongside social media more? 

[EB]: I think so. Because I think when I have the gut feeling that I should open Instagram and share something with the world, it would be smart to share it in a more permanent way. I don’t think I would catalogue my stories as finished work. I don’t know if that’s a thing, if people do that. But, I guess it’s more of like a sketchbook in a way.

[RL]: What’s next for you after your Spudnik fellowship?

[EB]: Well, November is busy. I am tabling at the Chicago Printers Guild Publishers Fair and the Spudnik Fellows have an exhibition opening, Bulletin, at Fulton Street Collective that same week. I am kind of in between jobs. I have thought about returning to school, since I want to keep learning somehow. Whether that’s through a university, or getting more serious about bookbinding and starting to master that craft. I really enjoy doing publishing. I was able to work on a piece with Angee, Spudnik’s founder and director, and I did a bit of that in undergrad with visiting artists—the technical side of making art. I’m not positive, but I would like to pursue being a tech person for artists and anyone who want to make books. I am still navigating how that will come about.

[RL]: It’s definitely nice to be at a place like this where that is so accessible and it’s so easy to learn and observe. There are so many people coming in and out, it’s great to be in an environment that allows that to develop.

[EB]: It is exciting to see people get excited about printmaking, or learn new ways to make.

[RL]: Well, my last question was if you have any pets, but…

[EB]: Haha yes, I have Sadie! My boyfriend got her when she was a puppy and I met her just after she turned 2. She is the sweetest; an angel.

If you want to find out more about Emma and her work, you can visit her website or follow @emmabilyeu on Instagram.

Member Interview: Ben Garbus

Ben Garbus is an artist who hails from Western Massachusetts, but is currently living and working in Chicago, IL. He received a BA in Studio Art with a minor in Art History from Oberlin College in 2017. Garbus was a Studio Fellow with Spudnik Press in 2017-18. His practice consists of creating thought provoking, humorous images of everyday mundaneness through painting, printmaking, and sculpture.

Emma Punch: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Ben Garbus: After finishing my undergrad I moved to Chicago and have been here for a year. During this this time, I’ve worked in a special education school, did some freelance art handling, and worked events for a photography company. I’ve learned many non-academic lessons this year, and that’s given me a lot of content for my art practice. I’ll reach some conclusion after participating in ordinary routines like when I go to work, come home, go to the supermarket, and generally relate to other people. My text work is the result of all those experiences and exchanges. Ideas get stuck in my head, and when I write my thoughts down, it helps me process them. Making prints or paintings from those notes can push the process even further. It helps me understand how I think, which helps me understand the context I live in. When I wrote my project statement for the Spudnik Studio Fellowship I was trying to theorize something that now comes more naturally for me, which is to use art to describe the ideas that might arise through ordinary circumstances. That idea seemed vague then, but for some reason, I get it now.

Ben Garbus, There’s Nothing So Sour As A Work Of Habit, 2018.

EP: In your fellowship project statement you talk about using banal phraseology in your work, how do you choose or come up with the phrases?

BG: I write notes on my iphone, mostly, and then I workshop them. I’m interested in cliches and jokes because they are often assumed as neutral, but I think there are underlying causes for this. As an artist, what you choose to latch onto can have an effect on people. It can get them to reconsider things they might otherwise overlooked. I reference cliches and jokes because they have a lot of content, but have lost their meaning. There’s a little bit of truth in every joke. Early in my practice, I was trying to directly use subjects that already exist, like a close reading of found objects or ideas. However, I wanted to shift into something that involved more writing rather than appropriation, and that gave me agency to interact with my subject matter, which seemed more creative or productive. So now I’m trying to write in the format of cliches or jokes to say something new, riffing on a given point of reference to get people to rethink it.

Ben Garbus, Optimist’s Complaint, 2018.

EP: So that’s why you came up with your own phrases?

BG: Yeah, I try to work around a preexisting concept or phrase. There is a Jenny Holzer quote that goes, “to write a quality cliché you have to come up with something new.” The way she writes is concise and she doesn’t waste words. All of her writing sits so naturally on the tongue, you don’t have to question her truisms, even though you’ve never read them before, and they are really direct. That’s super affective to see. You can engage people by tapping into their affinity for consuming language and art, and if you make something that is a little bit off within that, it can change how they think. But I’m not as good as her. I take a shortcut in my writing by riffing on existing turns of phrase, like what you might see on a poster at the doctor’s office, but rearranged. Creating something completely new asks questions of how ordinary phrases get to be ordinary. I think writing on the edge of what already exists is another way to do that, and it’s a little easier for me at this point. It can be funnier, too.

EP: What kinds of things and/or artists are influencing your work right now?

BG: I’m influenced by people who work with the visual culture around them, both in the popular realm and underground. I always saw Mike Kelley as having done that for some parts of American visuality. Jeremy Deller seemed to do that in England. I like them both. Jenny Holzer is of course an influence. There’s a sense of realism in those three artists’ work. They connect their lives to others through art and speak to a lot of different kinds of people. They imagine the role of artists as producers of new visual culture in conversation with what already exists, explicating some social narrative for their viewers. They have a good sense of the world in which they live, and it doesn’t take much effort to feel it in their stuff. They are obviously what I might strive towards; I mean they are monumental artists. Right now my work is smaller in scale and more personal than public. However, I try not to be influenced by artists as much as what I am making things about.

Ben Garbus, Existential Text Painting, 2017.

EP: I feel like your work is very David Shrigley-esque.

BG: Yeah! I think he’s funny. I think we share a dry sense of humor in our work, and I like his sculptures, particularly his life model projects. I do have a background in comics and that was how I first started drawing, but going to school for art and studying contemporary art history shook me into keeping my disciplines separate, or at least framing a single artwork into a more sturdy kind of category. I aspire to break that habit, but right now what I like about text art is that it combines word and image into one discipline. It’s about an image of a word, which is an interesting idea to me, more so than a word next to an image. Having words and images together only emphasizes their differences, which can reinforce barriers between disciplines. I only mention it because David Shrigley makes a lot of image and word paintings. So it’s not that I want to keep disciplines separate, it’s that I don’t want to pretend that putting them together alleviates their difference. I don’t think Shrigley purports to do that, but I want people to see that the walls between categories are malleable. An image of a word actually subverts the idea that they are two different things.

EP: Why is it important to you to incorporate sculpture into your printmaking and painting  practice?

BG: Sculpture can be good for helping people consider the whole work of art as part of its meaning, as opposed to just what it depicts. If you’re thinking about a print in a sculptural way then you add to its meaning a consideration of the way it was made, the paper it occupies, in what context it exists. There’s more to see. All the decisions that go into a work of art can be interpreted. With so many decisions at stake, I think making sculpture helped me to be more intentional about why I make anything. So if I’m going to make a painting, part of its conception has to be the idea that it’s a painting, or whatever that means. If you ignore that premise and only think about what the painting is of, rather than what it means as an object, you can miss a lot. Maybe that happens regardless, but if I think of myself as a painter, it’s never only about what I paint. It’s also about the making of a painting. I’ve made a painting and called it a sculpture and vice versa. 

Ben Garbus, This Side Up, 2017.

EP: What is your favorite medium to work in right now and why?

BG: I’ve been drawing and sometimes that leads to an idea, which will become something, but I never really show my drawings.

EP: What are your drawings usually of?

BG: They’re a lot of cartoons and intuitive things I don’t want to put out there. I don’t feel obligated to let everything I make roam. If I’m going to put something out to the public or consider it my work, I have to challenge it before I can let it go. Maybe I’ll grow out of that. While they help me pass the time, thoughtless drawings aren’t what I want to contribute to the world. I’m torn about what I want my aesthetic to be or how to make categories of art for myself, but I do know that I want my work to be thoughtful and careful. I like people, whether or not they’re artists, who do a lot of different things, and you can tell they did it because of the sense of humor in it or a specific logic to it or it shows a particular drive. I don’t like that some artists have to market themselves based on how the work looks.

EP: Is aesthetic really important to you in your work?

BG: Visually, I don’t like to do the same thing over and over again. I’m not very perseverant in that way. I like inventing. It can be good to follow through with a certain image or process, but I think it’s more productive to contribute a way of thinking to the world than to manufacture the same aesthetic over and over. That might be my short attention span talking, but it also has to do with what I value. Although, maybe those influence each other. I am falling into the habit of making work in a consistent style, which could be an improvement for me in the long run, but right now it only contradicts how I’ve figured out to best rationalize my inconsistency.

EP: What is something you want people to take away when they see your art?

BG: I want people to chuckle but also to think more about everyday life and to use art as a means to tap into their own thoughtfulness or mindfulness. Most art you could say is functional in making people content with being alive, or as being life affirming, and I do want my art to be life affirming, but that’s kind of a dark thing to sell to your viewers and a low standard to set for yourself. For me it’s important to connect to people at eye level, so I try to offer small poetic ideas that might stick with them.

Ben Garbus, Exactly What it Says, 2018.

EP: How has printmaking influenced other parts of your art practice?

BG: For me, printmaking has established a process of experimentation that’s been relevant to many other things. Patience and deference for structure is a lesson I learned from printmaking, but also knowing when to break free of that. That said, I’ve been trying to make printmaking less about how elaborate its process is, so I’ve been making these one-colored prints to make them as simple as possible while still being prints. I want my work to be concise both materially and conceptually.

EP: What do you think is the most important thing you learned as a fellow at Spudnik?

BG: Being a fellow was a really positive experience. It was a great opportunity to work on an artist talk, because I hadn’t done a public talk like that before. I learned how to take myself more seriously, which can be a challenge. To get artist opportunities you really have to seem like you believe in yourself, which Spudnik helped me with. It was valuable to have Marcela, Spudnik’s Program Director, around to nudge me along. It’s great to have other people keep you on track with making things. It can get exhausting when it’s all on your own.

EP: What are some recent, upcoming, or current projects you are working on?

BG: My most recent obsession is drawing varsity lettering. That’s the kind of American visual culture I’m interested in.

EP: Now for a fun question, what was the last song you listened to?

BG: In the car on the way over I was listening to Kuff by Shelley Thunder.

If you want to find out more about Ben and his work you can visit his website or follow gwiebus on Instagram.

Member Interview: Margot Harrington

Margot Harrington is a visual artist working in graphic design, print media and painting. She is the owner and founder of Pitch Design Union. Her work explores the contemporary landscape of Chicago, as well as the Internet, intersectional feminism, gender identity, Japanese culture, Scandinavian design, Chinese medicine, meditation, and art in support of oppressed peoples. Her work aims to discover and uplift new role models.

Ali Tomek: To start, from looking at your website, your work seems to cross boundaries among fields like graphic design, illustration, and printmaking. How would you describe your work?

Margot Harrington: I mean, that’s a pretty great description. My degree is in fine art with an emphasis in graphic design. However, I do a little bit of everything. I have a lot of different interests. I’m more of a generalist versus someone who has a specific niche or very focused way of working. That’s how I’ve always worked, blurring lines across a broad range of mediums, which reflects my personality and keeps me from feeling too boxed-in.

AT: How do you find inspiration?

MH: The best answer is always, everywhere. I interpret this question as live a rich life. Say yes to things, go to concerts, go to shows. Sometimes I let myself work to the point of frustration before I step away.

I think a lot about this in terms of appropriation of cultures. For example, my dad and I, we used to email each other haikus once a week or so. Haiku led to Wabi-sabi, Japanese printmaking, and how Japanese people approach creativity in general. Obviously, I’m not Japanese, I am a white person, but I’m very aware of the privilege to learn about another culture and how important it is to be respectful of those historical practices.

Inspiration and appropriation are very closely related terms. Appropriation is rampant in the art world. That’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about for myself in terms of how to be respectful of other cultures and what is really meaningful to me: am I just borrowing for the sake of borrowing? I try to be super honest about it and approach it the best way I can.

AT: So what is it about Japan, specifically, that is so inspiring?

MH: Well, it’s a way of exploring my relationship with my dad. He passed away two years ago and studying Japanese culture helps me remember him. I will definitely say that he was appropriating Japanese culture in our home growing up, which I recognize now, but I learned about something different because of that. It planted a seed. I started to research all of these practices Japanese people have around making work creatively. There are terms for things that don’t exist in American culture that I think we could benefit from. Actually, there’s a few startups that have adopted some of these practices, with varying levels of success. One is the concept of Kanban, which is basically shorthand for defining your bandwidth to be able to complete or create a task. For example, do you have room in your Kanban for new work? It’s almost like efficiency is great to a point, but then you can become too efficient where you’re suffering or hurting yourself.

I also had a chance to visit Japan last year. I went there by myself for two weeks. In part, this trip was in honor of my dad, because he never went there himself, although he would have loved to. Also, I wanted to experience immersing myself in a place where I don’t know anyone or the language and where the culture is extremely different. You’re immediately labeled as an outsider.

AT: You mentioned printmaking earlier. How does your background in printmaking inform the rest of your work?

MH: The most printmaking experience that I have is in screenprinting, which is a similar approach to design in that you can collage a composition together and layer things. My work uses a lot of color, overlapping shapes, and abstract geometric forms, which I feel comes from a collage aesthetic.

The other thing that I didn’t mention is that I also paint. It looks similar to my prints when I’m finished with it, but sometimes painting to me is more urgent in that it doesn’t require as much setup or advance planning. You can just sit down and something comes out, which I find very helpful if I’m unable to make it to the studio. I can still do something with my hands that’s not on the computer.

I also always just loved vintage type and objects. I think that is what brought me to printmaking originally. I wanted to modernize a really classic traditional practice and do something new and fresh and vibrant with it. Also, my grandpa was a letterpress printer, which I didn’t know until after I started printmaking. It skipped a generation, but it’s in my blood.

AT: As someone who is studying graphic design now, I’m curious how you balance digital and physical making. Lately, staring at a screen for too long makes me a little sick.

MH: Yeah, it’s like you live your life by the glowing box. Like a weird episode of Black Mirror or something. I will say that I don’t always have a balance there. It’s not like I can have a perfect percentage or a perfect hourly breakdown everyday of what task I’m doing or if it’s on my computer or not. It still takes me a lot of discipline to be able to do both.

What I have at home — that’s my primary workspace — is a room with my digital desk, and then a similar version of my studio set up here at Spudnik. If I really need to, I step away from my computer for 15 minutes or so and do something else to keep my brain fresh. I also incorporate some illustration into my design work, so I’ll draw something, scan it, work on it in the computer, draw on it some more, scan it again — it’s somewhat of a cyclical process.

Harrington’s Spudnik studio.

And then here [Margot’s Spudnik studio], I really try to prioritize this space with my art, although as you can see I have another computer display on the floor. I take it off the desk most of the time because otherwise I just end up working on my computer. I try to visit my studio at least one full day a week and will come in more often if I’m working on a project. However, there are also some weeks where I’m just on a deadline and can’t do anything on the side.

Until I get paid as much to make paintings as I do for my design work or to build websites, they’ll be in conflict with each other, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily a bad thing. There’s always conversation about design and art and craft as these three opposing things, but I don’t think you really can’t have one without the other.

AT: Building off of that, I noticed a couple artist books on your website. I also make artist books and wondered how these fit into your practice? Additionally, how does writing and teaching inform your work?

MH: Through artists books, I can easily incorporate my painting, printing, and hand binding. It’s something I would love to do more of in the next year or two. I feel like I’ve fallen off that practice a little bit, but it’s super meaningful to me in that I also love publishing. Books were something I just fell in love with as a kid. I was one of those kids that always read, and my parents would tell me “Go, outside.”

One of my main clients and I also produce a quarterly magazine called Bitch. This, I think, scratches the same itch as producing artist books. I don’t know where this project will ultimately lead us to, but I like that it helps me feel like I’m connected to a literary community, and I get to produce a three-dimensional object that reads like a book that deals with social justice issues that are important to me.

I think writing is another important component of bookbinding or printmaking or comics or zines. There’s a very strong connection between these things. Through an image, you can share or convey a feeling in a way that’s sort of universal, but because words are so specific, to really say something bold, you have to have a clear vision of what you’re trying to say. It’s like a main line to your brain. I have a lot of respect for writers that are able to be so vulnerable and share so much of themselves with the world.

Teaching is a way to give back. I think I have a non-traditional path as an artist and creative professional, which I like to share with students and hopefully they can take something away from my experience and apply it to their own life. Teaching also lends credibility to my work and to my practice.

AT: What do you think it means to be an artist in Chicago? Do you feel like you are part of a larger artist community?

MH: Yes and no. I love Chicago because there’s less ego involved with making work here, which I think is a pretty known thing about this city. People live here as artists because they just care about the work. They’re not trying to move to Berlin and be a famous, capital-A Artist (although Berlin is great, and if you need to be there, do you, boo). Chicago has a kind of blue-collar approach to visual work or working in service of something, which I really love and connect with a lot.

However, at the same time because the School of the Art Institute is such a big part of the artist community in Chicago and because I didn’t go there, I don’t feel like I belong to it. That can feel like a little bit of a barrier at times. Yet this doesn’t stop me from establishing meaningful connections with other artists, even those who are part of the SAIC community. It’s more just a perception thing.

AT: Your perspective on Chicago is really interesting because I just came back from New York. I was there for two weeks and wondered what it would be like to live in such a pressurized environment all the time. It was thrilling, but Chicago feels more approachable.

MH: I could have moved to New York and lived with my dad and stepmom. I could have figured it out, but it would have been a lot harder. I definitely made the right call in hindsight. You can take more risks here because the cost of living is much lower. That, to me, takes a lot of the pressure off. It’s possible I would live in New York now, but it would require a major job change or a residency or a commission.

AT: As I was preparing for this interview with you and reviewing the work on your website, I noticed your riso print The Certificate of Safe Space. It seems like some of your work focuses on social issues/concerns, which you also touched upon in regard to Bitch magazine Bitch. Is that an important theme in your work? Do you feel like art can help build a better world?

MH: Totally. The piece you referenced was done for a show where every artist was assigned a topic, and mine was sexual harassment in the workplace. This was a couple years before the Me Too movement. At that point in my career, I had already experienced what it felt like not to be respected in the workplace. I definitely felt a personal connection to it. The idea behind The Certificate of Safe Space is that in the same way that spaces have to put up their business license, this is something someone could put up in their workplace that would tell employees they’re actively involved with creating equitable, fair processes or systems that would allow people to be treated with respect in their workplace, fighting microaggressions, racism, gender issues — really anything.

Harrington’s piece, The Certificate of Safe Space. Image courtesy of Margot Harrington.

The rest of my work is more abstract. You‘re allowed to project your own thoughts onto it. So when I’m projecting my own thoughts onto it, it’s always a mixture of what I would want to see in the future, but doesn’t yet exist.

A really concrete example of this is my painting, The Fifth Female President of Color. I knew the title of the piece before I had even started it. I created the painting in 2015 and during this time I wondered whether this was something that would happen in my lifetime. Because it’s an abstract painting, we don’t know who the person is, what they’re going to look like, or what the path is to get there. Despite this uncertainty, it’s a really happy, beautiful, and vibrant work. And while the results of the last election were not what I expected, I still believe that positive projection is really important in terms of manifesting what you want to see or be in the world.

AT: What are you currently working on, and where should people go to see your work?

MH: Today I’m working on some acrylic and acetate pieces I’m printing on slash painting on to use as photo shoot props. Also since the contract I have with Bitch is all year, we have one more issue left of the magazine that’s going come out in late fall.

Beyond that I have a couple feelers out for a mural that I’m still working on finding a location for. I ended up doing a small crowdfunding fundraiser for it since this type of work can be expensive. I’m hoping to secure a space and wrap up the project before the year is out.

AT: Awesome. And then a fun question: what are you currently reading?

MH: The book I’m reading right now is by Samin Nosrat. Salt Fat Acid Heat is the title. It is a cookbook, but not in traditional format. It teaches you how to cook and then sets up the variable types of dressings or flavor profiles to build your own recipes. The recipes are open-ended. Before bed, I read a couple pages. Usually I’m reading all sorts of things, but that’s the only one right now.

If you want to find out more about Margot and her work you can visit her website or follow margotharrington on Instagram.

Member Interview Series: Carla Fisher Schwartz

Carla Fisher Schwartz is a visual artist and educator based in Chicago, IL. Her studio practice investigates the relationship between the mapped image and contemporary notions of exploration, virtuality, and the simulated environment through print media, sculpture and video installation. Carla received her MFA in Visual Arts from Washington University in St. Louis. Her work has been exhibited at the Chicago Artists Coalition (Chicago, IL), Hyde Park Art Center (Chicago, IL)and the Kemper Art Museum (St. Louis, MO) among others.

Martin Feld : To get started could you tell me a little about yourself and your work?

Carla Fisher Schwartz:  Sure. I’m from California originally and came to the Midwest for Graduate School in Missouri and then ended up in Chicago. I took my first printmaking class in my sophomore year of college at the University of California Santa Cruz. They have a large lithography, intaglio, and relief studio overlooking the redwoods and the pacific ocean. When I first walked in, I instantly knew I wanted to stick around. I worked on my prints throughout college and afterwards interned at the Kala Art Institute in Berkley, California. Shortly thereafter I moved to Chicago for grad school. Right now, I would say my work has turned into many different things, but it’s definitely informed by the same thought process that I developed in my printmaking classes.

MF: Thinking about the work that does make use of print media, could you talk about the forms you are making with Binder’s board and speak to the shift from screen printing to using inkjet for those?

CFS: So I actually started those when I was a fellow at Spudnik in 2015. I was printing these open source textures for use in world-building video games, also known as sandbox games. I played these games in earlier iterations, such as SimCity, when the textures were pretty low resolution. While screenprinting the textures I experimented by turning them into more ambiguous forms, distorting them further and using halftones, without necessarily knowing what I would ultimately do with these. Eventually, I just cut one up and started folding and gluing it and that turned into a really fast way for me to work because I had access to screenprinting. I could print as many as I wanted without having to worry about technical specification. I let the process degrade the image instead of having to intentionally do it on a computer. At that time, I was just using paper to create these forms, so they had no support system and they would sink. In an effort to make them more archival and to be able to go bigger I switched to Binder’s board and started to use ink jet prints. This allowed me to work larger, and as quickly as I needed.

MF: Going back then, I was curious how your familiarity with printmaking informs the work that doesn’t fall within print media?

CFS:  The way I think about it is that the first art medium you learn is going to inform the way your brain works whether or not you keep on doing it. So with printmaking I’m thinking in terms of variability and testing variables and this often carries over into my other projects. For example, when I’m making a video or working on an installation with found objects, I’m still doing the same thing I might do with an intaglio plate. I apply the idea of a matrix being variable to my work, regardless if it’s a digital file or and installation. It may not be explicit in the end, but thats how I work through an idea. I also think printmaking informs how I think about images. I think of what happens when we multiply an image and how does that gain or hide its power? That definitely conceptually informs everything I do.

MF: In that realm, you are looking at older maps that are being produced with various printmaking techniques and I’m curious how your tactile understanding of producing those maps informs how you look at them?

CFS:  Well, I suppose there are certain conventions and styles of early print ephemera and mapmaking, for example, hand painted lithographs, that inform what I do. For a time, I was making images that were mimicking 19th-century print ephemera, like scientific and diagrammatic reproductions. When you look at that kind of image, you read it as a certain degree of truth. So there is some kind of authority there that comes with those aesthetic conventions.

MF: Thinking about truth, one of the things I was really interested in while I was looking at your work is the idea of “un-discovery” that you explored in an older series, We Do Not Profess to Construct Planets, and it seems to be a thread that is still evident in your art work? That was the first time I had ever seen that term. Could you talk about “un-discovery?”

CFS:  I don’t think I made it up, but it’s not a term that people necessarily use. In the age of discovery, exploration, and colonization, there was adding. The adding of places, adding of territories and adding of landmasses to the map, and then after there had to be the process of “un-discovering,” or removing from the map. For example, removing Atlantis from the map, or acknowledging that California isn’t an island inhabited by Amazons. So there was this simultaneous process of “un-discovering” happening in a time period we tend to associate more with the act of ‘discovery’. The reason that came up for me stems from a project I was doing about Sandy Island, a nonexistent island in the South Pacific, that spans many different works. In the case of Sandy Island, however, it’s not a unique event. That kind of thing used to happen all the time; removing an island when it was determined to not exist. What is interesting about Sandy Island is that it was removed in 2012, at a time in which we have become accustomed to that not happening anymore, which makes us question our confidence in satellite imagery as an authoritative representation of the world.



MF: In that realm and thinking about Sandy Island Travel Bureau, I was curious about the role that fiction plays into your work.

CFS: Oh, I love fiction [laughter].

MF: What is your working process like in relation to fiction, especially with something like Sandy Island Travel Bureau that is fictitious but very much real in its fiction?

CFS: I’ve always been very interested in the blurring of fact and fiction. One of my favorite examples of artwork that does that well is the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. It’s a project by Dave Wilson, where once you are inside this museum, you’re never quite sure if the information in the exhibitions is factual or not. As a viewer, I love that kind of experience. The museum appears to present fiction as fact and then gives you information that is true, but seems like it is fictional. I think, in terms of my work, I’ve always been interested in how something that is fictional, like a place that exists on a map but not in the world, is in a sense real, because representations like maps very much inform our experience of the world. So for me, the line between fact and fiction, or physical and virtual, is indistinct. I enjoy artwork that uses tropes of science and museums to convey authority; Mark Dion, for example, does this so well.

MF: You toy with these ideas that have become absurd, like the mapped islands that don’t exist. I thought that piece were very funny in a certain way.

CFS: Thank you. That’s what I want.

MF: Can you talk about the use of humor in art and you’re approach to using humor given the difficulties it presents in terms of clear communication?

CFS: I I think there should be more funny art [laughter]. I guess I really enjoy funny artwork. Sometimes I struggle with this and feel this impulse that humor needs to be separate from art – that in order to have work that makes effective arguments and communicates ideas, my work should be serious. Yet it’s something I really try to emphasize in my own practice and really enjoy in other artists’ work. I think absurdity is a really effective tool for poking or exposing conventions that we have become accustomed to.

MF: Yeah, I’m a big fan of humor in art. I think of the ways in which humor is hard to control. The difficulty of knowing exactly how it works makes it a useful tool.

CFS:  That’s definitely something I’m still learning: How to not only make something funny, but make it funny in the way that I want to be funny.

MF: Thinking about being a virtual explorer and traveling across the globe from the comfort of your couch, how does that relates to your local context here in Chicago?

CFS:  In terms of the physical space of Chicago, it’s a place that’s full of hints of what the city used to look like. Even in little ways, hinting at how the street level of my neighborhood was originally at a different elevation, or the changing coastline of the city. When you walk around, you get these reminders of the city’s transformation. They are like traces of the invisible side of Chicago, and not totally apparent but really fascinating to me. I think it’s all part of the way we think about a place. A place is not just what it looks like; it’s all these stories, myths, maps and contexts that are layered within a place.

MF: Do you ever go around Chicago in street view using Google Maps?

CFS:  Oh yeah, all the time. You can do more now with the current Google earth. A lot of this work stems from me asking myself: is what I’m doing actually exploring in any way? What’s the space that I’m exploring? I know I’m not alone in that hobby. I’m a fan of physically traversing a space virtually and the slowness of the street level interface, while still being, of course, much faster than walking.

MF: As you mentioned, you were a studio fellow here at Spudnik in 2015. What were you doing while you were here? How was your practice influenced by your time spent here and how has it changed since then?

 CFS:  So I was a studio fellow here a couple of year after I finished graduate school. I I didn’t know a lot of people here in Chicago, and I didn’t have a connection academically to the area, which were challenges I encountered after moving here. My fellowship at Spudnik was really helpful, not just in terms of having access to the equipment, but also in meeting other Chicago print and art people. I had a little space at home to work from, but it wasn’t ideal. I know a lot of people like myself have trouble divorcing their art practice from their living space, so having this space to come to and not only get work done, but also work collaboratively was just what I needed. Being able to speak with the other fellows and studio users and bounce off my ideas was a huge boost and just what I needed in terms of getting going after school. I started making those sculptural prints and landforms and working through my ideas, figuring out what kind of images worked with what kind of forms. That was a large part of what I was doing here, and also getting to play with printmaking processes that I hadn’t had access to do in a while. I was getting back to my mono-printing, polymer plate lithography, getting some more time to play around with screen printing. Spudnik has such a comfortable place to do screen printing, and I needed to have a non-academic situation to play with materials. So that’s a lot of what I did, what was the second part of your question?

MF: How has your practice changed?

CFS: The fellowship at Spudnik was definitely a tipping point in terms of what came next. After the fellowship ended, I stayed on as a key holder for a while and that was when I started thinking about three-dimensional print as a place to locate myself. I think that happened here and started me going in that direction of visualizing these non-existent landmasses as dimensional forms, as well as the other tangents that have emerged since then.

MF: Does your teaching practice pertain to print media and how does that play into your studio practice?

CFS:  I largely teach art appreciation classes at Harold Washington College. I also occasionally teach printmaking there, which I love to do. I have taught at Spudnik and I’m also teaching an experimental print class this semester for high schoolers at the School of the Art Institute. To me, teaching and making are inseparable because it’s the same kind of output — drawing connections between ideas. I find that teaching always informs what I’m doing outside of the classroom.

 MF: Earlier we spoke about fiction and I was interested in your relationship to literary sources and their influence on your practice.

CFS:  Peter Turchi’s book, Maps of the Imagination, which uses mapping as a way to think about writing, was actually really important in framing how I think about mapping in my work, and also made me realize how much the fiction I read is important to what I do. I read a lot of science fiction and related genres. My latest obsession is the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer, which centers around this mysterious unknown territory, and I keep drawing all these analogies to the interests of my own practice.

I think a lot about how books are able to describe the kind of spaces I’m interested in, like how China Mieville’s The City and The City describes this idea of two cities coexisting in the same space. There is something about the way fiction can describe invisible spaces or spaces that exist and don’t exist at the same time, that are useful to me as I consider the spaces depicted through the visual representation of the map.

A lot of titles that I use are from fiction, and I look to a wide variety of texts for inspiration. These texts, for example Flatland, can introduce alternate ways to think about how we experience a place and how it can be radically different, or that show us how specific and limited our experience of a place is. I spend almost as much time looking at these sources as I do the historical records. Perhaps that’s how I would want to approach this kind of work if I had the aptitude for creative writing.

MF: What are you currently working on and what projects do you have coming up? Are you currently showing work anywhere?

CFS:  So my next project involves printed fabric and I’m thinking about it in relationship to a Jorge Luis Borges story about mapping, On Exactitude in Science. It’s still in progress, but it involves using printed textiles for installations, and will probably end up in a group exhibition at ACRE Projects here in Chicago. So that’s what I’m working on now and I’m hoping to do some larger floor and wall installations as a part of this project.

If you want to find out more about Carla and her work, visit her website or follow her on Instagram @carla_f_s.

Member Interview: David Alvarado

David Alvarado is an illustrator and cartoonist who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. A graduate from Columbia College, Chicago, David works primarily with screenprinting and risography to bring his illustrations and comics to life. His comics are characterized by dense illustrations, bright colors, and vast amounts of detail. In addition to making prints, self-publishing zines and comic books, he is also the artist behind “Life is Beautiful,” a comic series that runs on the back pages of Newcity, Chicago.

Manisha: How would you describe your work? 

David: When working on a publishing project I usually provide illustrations for editorial articles, cover illustrations, and comics for data reports. The content for my work stems from looking at the density of different environments, such as thick forests, cityscapes with overlapping buildings, and bodegas. I also like to create work with a touch of humor using silly concepts. I make goofy faces and characters because I love the idea of having the creative freedom to make a comic or character that I can place in embarrassing situations. My more serious work tends to be emotional and based on personal stories.

Manisha: How did you get into printmaking?

David: I was introduced to printmaking in high school. I took a block printing class where I worked mostly with woodblocks and linocuts. This really lent itself to my graphic style, which makes use of line art, thick lines, and solid colors.

Manisha: I see that in some of your print work you use heavy borders.

David: Yeah, it just made sense. I like the look of it and I like the crisp lines. So throughout college I continued to take block printing and screenprinting classes.

Clockwise: David’s cap, Plant Head, 2017 and 4 Rooms, 2017.

Manisha: What is your designing process like?

David: About ninety percent of my drawings and sketches are done by hand. But I do some of the sketching and all of the coloring digitally.

Manisha: When did you get involved with risograph printing?

David: I discovered the riso years after Columbia. I remember seeing it online. There was a lot of buzz around it at the time because it was being used to print mini-comics and zines. And then when I met Matt Davis at Spudnik I began to work on projects with him using the risograph.

Dirty Hands, Volume 4, 2014.

Manisha: Can you tell me more about a recent project that you’ve been working on?

David: I’m working on a mini-comic. It’s going to be roughly 30 pages. Half of the comic was made five years ago when I was still at Columbia. I screenprinted the cover and pages inside. The story was really short, only about 12 to 15 pages.

For the most part, the comic has retained its original look. It is green with blue and purple line art, and the story picks up where I last left off. Except this time, I decided to print it with the risograph because I didn’t want to do all that large-scale screenprinting again. The prints are slightly off-register but that is intentional.

A sneak peek of Today, Today, Better, Better, Second Reprint, 2017, David’s current project.

Manisha: What do you do when you’re not making art?

David: I have a full time job. I like thrifting and I run when I can.

Manisha: So what would be your top three thrift store recommendations?

David: The best one, in my opinion, is in the suburbs because everyone donates to this one spot. It’s a huge Salvation Army in Niles. That’s the one to go to. Then there is Family Thrift in Logan Square, which is pretty big. It has two floors and I’ve found some good stuff there, too. And then there is Village Discount on Montrose.

Manisha: Do you focus on something in particular when you are on a thrifting adventure?

David: I mostly look for clothing, weird art and books. I got a faded purple crew neck sweater recently. It’s so big and comfortable.

Manisha: What would be your dream project?

David: My dream project would be to work on a large illustrated accordion book. I was very inspired by Micah Lidberg‘s Rise and Fall. It’s a beautiful book about dinosaurs and was done entirely using the offset press.

Manisha: So does that make Lidberg your dream collaborator?

David: No, that’s just my dream project. I would love to work with Sammy Harkham. He is a cartoonist who does dense illustrations. I think his comics make really good use of space.

Manisha: Let’s end with a fun question. What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

David: Peanut butter and chocolate. I always get that. You know, I feel bad for all those kids who have peanut allergies. It’s like a whole generation of them.


If you want to find out more about David and his work, visit his website or follow tuffasaurus on Instagram. He will also be an exhibitor at Comic Arts LA  later this month.

Member Interview: David Krzeminski

David Krzeminski is an artist and designer that has lived in the Chicago area his entire life. He received his BFA in Visual Communications from Northern Illinois University. His current body of work consists of black and white abstract drawings, that he then transforms into vibrant, optical illusion screen prints.

Tell us a little bit about yourself; what you do and who you are.

Well, I’ve been into artwork since I was a kid. I always knew I wanted to do something with it. I always felt like I was going to be drawing, but when it comes to jobs, graphic design has a bit more leeway. I currently work for a trade show company doing graphic layout; displays and graphics for conventions, trade shows, and what have you. That pays the bills and the drawing keeps me sane because offices can get a little… they can wear on you. I need to do something a little funky sometimes to get out of the rut of very monotonous work.

Having lived in the Chicago area your whole life—growing up in Palatine and going to NIU in DeKalb—do you feel you’re a part of the greater Chicago artist community, or are you simply an artist living in Chicago?

I think as of recently I’m feeling more like I’m part of the art community. Spudnik actually has a big part in that. This is because I’ve been meeting more and more people that also use the space at Spudnik who then introduce me to other kinds of events and art movements. I’ve also been more and more active with my artwork as well. It wasn’t until I was creating more regularly that I felt like I was a part of the community as opposed to just an artist doing my own thing. Now I try to work at least a little bit every day.

Do you want to talk a little about the work you’ve brought with you; give us a peak inside your sketchbook?

Sure. This is actually one of my first prints from when I started printing at Spudnik. It’s one of those impossible triangles with my abstract, squiggle pattern. This was while I was still trying to figure out how to screenprint correctly. I was basically reteaching myself because I hadn’t printed at this point for four years.

These are two of my most recent prints. A few of my first prints had a lot of streaks through them or the ink wasn’t quite as opaque as I’d like it to be. It was just a lot of trial and error. I figured out a lot was because of the paper or the squeegee I was using. I was like, “Oh they’re all the same” until one day I realized, “Oh, I’m getting streaks because I picked the same squeegee all the time.” Now I’m figuring out how to print correctly.

And this one is just fun. Whenever I’m using drafting pens I have a scratch paper just to keep the ink flowing, and sometimes they turn out kind of cool. I’ve got a thing full of those that I kept that I haven’t thrown away just because they turn out to be…

Kind of a piece within themselves?

Yeah. They have little interesting patterns. They’re just kind of a mess. Maybe one day I can do something with them. I just can’t bring myself to throw them all away. But some of them I can definitely recognize are garbage. [laughs]

Unfortunately I don’t really use sketchbooks as often as I’d like to. [flipping through pages] I like this one. The abstract doesn’t really have any dimensions so I’m not really quite sure how it works with the realistic stuff yet, or if I can make it work somehow. This is one where I felt it worked pretty well, though.

Here’s an actual concept done in a sketchbook where I was trying out patterns. I did it wrong actually, because the black squares are supposed to be opposite of each other; they’re supposed to go diagonal. But then I realized this plays with your eyes a bit because you want it to follow that pattern where each diagonal one is black, but it isn’t. That made me think I should make it bigger.

When you sit at your workspace to create something new, do you have a playlist you like to turn on or anything else to create the right atmosphere for your art making?

It depends. Sometimes I’ll put on a TV show or a documentary just as background noise. But, especially when I do my abstract stuff, sometimes I’ll make it a point to not turn anything on, and to just sit and do it by myself in silence. I don’t want to say it’s therapeutic, but the method I use to make the abstract shapes and whatnot is almost equivalent to brainstorming or freeform thinking. I have some set rules and some basic things that I repeat, but other than that, I never really plan the drawing out ahead of time. Sometimes I’ll work in silence to start a drawing, and then once I have a feel for how it’s coming together then I’ll put on some distractions; just kind of go on autopilot with something in the background.

Where does the inspiration for your work typically come from, and what kinds of things are influencing your work right now?

I’ve been really into optical illusions lately. That’s always been a big influence for sure. One of the big name artists I’ve always liked is M.C. Escher because I feel like he’s the master of illusion. He not only understood the illusion, but had the ability to execute it as well. His work is just super clean, super high contrast, which is huge for illusions. Then, I wouldn’t say I’m going too deep into it, but I’ve been reading some philosophy books. And that’s where I got my idea that if I’m going to be drawing, I need to almost think of it as a meditation. Let my mind go blank. Because I’ve repeated these patterns so much I can let myself do that. I probably wouldn’t have come up with that idea if it weren’t for the book Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung. (Which is a good read. I would definitely recommend it because it’s interesting and not too preachy.) It’s more an overview of a few of Jung’s ideas. There are five different authors and they all touch base on how they think the mind works.

Then there’s one guy in particular from Japan who created the pattern I used for the piece that was in the Spudnik Press benefit show. His name is Akiyoshi Kitaoka. He’s a psychologist that specializes in how vision is interpreted by the brain. He started pumping out this huge series of optical illusions that he created and put them up on his website for people to use. I put his name in the title of my pieces that use his images since it’s his base that makes the illusion work. Then I use my own color scheme and patterns. Kitaoka’s thing is based on high-contrast, vibrant colors creating a vibrating illusion that tricks your brain into switching back and forth between what it focuses on.

Do you start a drawing intending to make a print of it, or do you just create something first and make that decision later?

I think maybe only a couple of times I’ve done something with the intent of printing it as well. Even the pieces I wanted to print, I was also making as drawings that could stand by themselves. I’ll go through my collection every now and again with a certain pattern in mind, or an idea of a color scheme that I really want to try out. Then I’ll see which of my drawings is going to fit that best.

Since you like drawing in black and white, why do you use such radioactive colors in your prints?

With my drawings I’ve always been pulled to using black and white. Very rarely do I draw with color, or add paint to a drawing. So when it comes to screen printing, why don’t I just do the complete opposite and go extremely vibrant? Which also goes hand in hand with trying to create illusions. The extremely vibrant, high-contrast colors mess with your eyes the most. That’s why I like using them. I like it when a piece is almost difficult to look at.

What do you want people to take away from your work when they see it?

I’d like people who see my work to take away that life is messy. Even if you do it the same way every time it’s going to turn out different. Like whenever I do a piece of just the abstract stuff—no pattern, no shapes involved—even if I start drawing the same way it’s a little bit different by the end. Also, I don’t know how easily it comes across, but I’d like to make the world a better place. Not to get too cheesy. [laughs] Basically, you need to keep an open mind that maybe what you’re seeing at first glance isn’t quite what’s there. So many people, especially nowadays, are too quick to think they understand something after just a quick glance. No. Look a little closer. Get your face right up to it and actually look really deep at what you’re seeing because it might evoke something different or spark a thought you’ve never had before. Where if you look from across the room, it’s just a couple black spots on a page. That’s what I want people to take away. Just, think abstractly sometimes. Things aren’t so set in stone.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a couple of things. Right now I’ve got a three-color print I’m going to do. It’s another pattern by Kitaoka that I’ve done before, but the illusion didn’t really work because the colors weren’t bouncing off each other that well. For drawing, I’m working with layers. I do an abstract base drawing, and then I have an almost translucent Yupo paper that I put on top. Then I’ll draw on top of that to get a two-tone abstract drawing. That’s definitely a new, recent revelation that was actually inspired by screen printing.

And where should people go to see your work?

I have two pieces in the Spudnik Press member show. Then Hope for the Day, a suicide prevention and awareness organization, is opening a new coffee shop/community center. They’re having a benefit art auction for that on December 2nd at WeWork (20 W. Kinzie St.). I donated a couple of pieces to that. There’s also my website as well as Instagram where I post finished pieces and works in progress regularly.

Just to close on a fun note, would you say your cat, LD, is a furrvent (pun intended) supporter of your work?

Probably? She usually leaves my drawing table alone—especially when there’s a drawing on it—unless she really wants my attention because something is bugging her. [laughs] She knows she can get a reaction out of me if there’s a drawing on the table and she jumps onto it. So I don’t know if she’s a fan of the art, but she definitely knows it’s important to me.


If you want to find out more about David and his work, check out his website or visit @davekrz on Instagram.

Member Interview: Jenna Blazevich

Jenna Blazevich is a Chicago-based product & branding designer, calligraphy instructor, and feminist artist. She also owns a company called Vichcraft that creates and sells a variety of calligraphy and print-based work.

So just to get started, where are you from?

I’m from here. My parents are from the south side of Chicago.

Has living in Chicago impacted your art practice?

Definitely. I think it affects the way that I’m able to make art, and the way that I’m able to access certain things and learn from certain people and teach people. I make it a point to share the craft that I’m interested in and it affects the subjects that I’m creating as well. Being in a really big and in some ways problematic city, it is inspiring even though sometimes [the inspiration] is coming from a place of frustration and confusion. I don’t think that would be the case if I were from somewhere else, so I’d say in a lot of ways it does impact my art.

Do you consider Chicago to be your city?

It’s the city that I’ve felt is the most aligned with my internal pace. I’ve lived a few places where I felt like I was operating on a different wavelength than my surroundings, which is frustrating and leaves you without an ability to find your place. I think Chicago is that sweet spot in between a smaller city that’s a little less progressive and something like New York where it’s really hard to find your place. It’s been the best option for me of any city I’ve lived in, and as a pace to start my business. The cost of living isn’t insane and I have communicated with people who I can work with and be inspired by, but I’m not a “Chicago for life!” person. It’s a fine way to be but I know that other cities are great and I’m very biased. But that’s being a human.

What got you interested in printmaking?

I was very big into gig posters in high school. I wanted to learn to screenprint until I learned that while it is not necessarily labor intensive, it requires a lot of specific tools and spaces. The first time I went to Pitchfork Music Fest when I was around fifteen was when I first found out about people making gig poster art as a specialty. I bought my first print there. From then on I was obsessed with googling and researching all about them. It wasn’t until maybe four years later that I actually learned how to [print]. The first design job that I had where I learned how to screenprint was at a gig poster shop in between my first and second year in college.

What are some of your current influences? (Cultural, personal, etc.)

Instagram seems to be the consistent source of inspiration and information. I use instagram a lot to follow certain accounts that I think keep white feminists on their toes. This is something that I really try to be mindful of, and not fall into. It’s a common and easy thing, in some ways, to make things all about you and the way that you experience the world. I also go to a feminist book club every month that aims to highlight intersectional feminist voices, which is really great because every month I get to have at least one major discussion with a lot of different female-identifying people that are bringing their own perspective on topics which generally aren’t highlighted in traditional literature classes. There’s a lot of room to fill those holes.

In your member profile you are noted as being a feminist artist. Why is that important to you?

Well, [being a feminist artist] is super important to me because it’s something that I feel was one of the first activist things that I was able to really connect with and create from. It affects my and so many people’s lives in so many different ways. I wish that I would have known about feminism earlier on because maybe it would have affected the jobs that I’ve taken on or the things that I’ve done. Once I did find a groove where I could understand things from a personal perspective and let myself take off in that direction it really started to affect me personally in the way that I view the world. The way that I create work, and Vichcraft, has always been very tied to me personally because it’s only me. It’s been important for a long time and it’s been a part of Vichcraft since the inception of it. The reason that I wanted to start my own thing is tied in to sexism in graphic design as an industry. Obviously, once Trump won, I feel like there was a shift from creating this work for more personal and introspective reasons to sort of deciding if [Vichcraft] wants to be a feminist product store.

On a lighter note, what’s your favorite type of dog?

I’m really bad about remembering the names of different kinds of dogs, but my parents have a Vizsla. She’s really pretty and I love her. She’s the perfect size and very playful. Her name’s Seneca. I don’t have a dog of my own but I like to hang out with her when I’m home at my parent’s house.

What do you think dogs do when their humans aren’t home?

Well, she sleeps a lot when my parents aren’t there. She’s grown to love sleeping because she’s an empty nester dog. They got her after all my sisters and I all moved out, which is a bummer. Sometimes I bring her to the city and she just loves to smell all the different things and smell all the different dogs. But she does a lot of sleeping.

If you want to find out more about Jenna, or see more of her work check her out on social media: Instagram, or on her website.