I had the exceedingly good fortune of chatting with Wildwood Press' Maryann Ellison Simmons this week (via email). She shared with me some insight into the process she uses with those gorgeous Valerie Hammond Traces prints as well as a bit about her own background and how she came to printing. Enjoy!
WC: How did you meet Valerie?
Michael Byron, a painter living in St Louis and longtime family friend of Valerie and her husband told me that I should see a piece of Valerie's work he was having framed across the street from my studio. I am usually reluctant to take direction, but eventually took myself across the street. I saw a small piece of Valerie's - one of those lovely waxed hands - and was floored.
WC: Did you know right away that you wanted to work with her?
Yes. But there is a lot of great work out there and not all of it is appropriate to the scale at which I print. It takes me some time to figure out how to scale-up to meet the challenge of our 5' x 10' press bed and I won't approach an artist unless I can approach them with at least something that looks like a plan. That was harder with Valerie's very delicate, very specifically life size hands. I simply told Valerie to come up with a strategy and that gave rise to the work that retained the life size hands with the sprigs of flora flowing from them - Blue Ghost, Seance, Garland, etc. After we worked together on those editions, I convinced Valerie to do the 6' high hands - the Traces.
WC: How did you develop the printing technique you use to make the Traces prints?
I tell my artists who use our handmade paper not to fall in love with the raw paper- although it is certainly lovely and so seductive. But raw paper paper limits an artist's choices as to color, of course. So we quickly find ways to alter the paper. Valerie and I chose to use the dark blue ground for reasons specific to the subject of memorial and remembrance in our first edition, Blue Ghost (white ink on Midnight Blue) and the reversed image of Spectre (Midnight Blue on mottled white). We continued the strategy with the Traces.
WC: Can you tell us a little more about the technique?
We make the paper. We print a flat color, in this case very dark blue. Once the paper is dry, we print the (white) image, using four large lithoplates rolled up and assembled together on the press.
WC: when/how did you start printing?
I only do two or three projects each year, so it takes some time to get a new artist on the schedule. Several years after I first saw Valerie's work, I was showing our work at the EAB show in New York and Valerie was there. We had some email correspondence but had never met. When she introduced herself, we screamed like nine-year-olds. We talked and set a date. I asked her to the scale up for 4' x 6' paper and we were off!
WC: What do you love most about the printing process?
I have a very different approach to printing, unlike more traditional printers. Perhaps it is my very short attention span or my desire to get up to the edge of the cliff and look over. I love to see what can happen, to make it happen.
WC: If you could tell everyone just one thing about printing, what would it be?
Know the rules and break them. We aren't making prints here. We are making art.