Back to school, from the other side.

Photo: Brigitte d’Autremonte

Today was my first day of school and, after nine years and one bona fide degree later, I’m finally experiencing it from the other side: as a teaching assistant for Tom Prochaska’s beginning intaglio and lithography class at PNCA.  While the position is unpaid, it offers some excellent advantages: first, it allows me continued access to the marvelous print facilities at the school; second, it provides some teaching experience that I can add to my resume and breadth of experience; and third, I effectively get to relive my beginning print class all over again, which put me on the creative path that I follow today.

Thanks largely to the founder, Gordon Gilkey, the print facilities at PNCA are easily the best equipped in Portland.  Being part of an educational institution is a big help, of course; they have tuition and donors to maintain and supply the studios.  They also have people like me: alumni all too happy to donate a few hours of work a week in exchange for access.  There aren’t many of us who get those coveted positions, and with the ever-growing student body, space is harder to find and shared responsibility for the studios is even more important.

There are a plethora of other places to go to make prints in Portland: Flight 64, Atelier Meridian, Radius Studio, Bite Studio and any number of smaller operations, run out of private studios. (If I left out any printmaking studios that allow the public to apply for and purchase memberships, please let me know.)  While I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the three months of access to Atelier Meridian that I get with my PAN Emerging Printmakers Residency, it’s a blessing for me to have three more months at PNCA first.

As for the teaching experience, I am pleased to report that Tom is not only allowing me to share tidbits of my accumulated knowledge, but is encouraging me to teach.  I got to show the beginning class how to use the chopper, with all the grisly emphasis of the “you can cut your WHOLE HAND off” cautionary sign adhered to its side.  Next week: biting the plates, setting the press, making ink, and printing.  What a treat it will be, watching them pull their first intaglio prints!

As I stood there today, watching that group of students gamely polish their first pieces of copper with 2000 grit sandpaper, I couldn’t help but remember my first time polishing a sheet of copper.  It’s so difficult to explain to these students what this step means, what the pliability of the copper allows it to do.  I told them that polishing the copper allows one to form a relationship with the surface before even getting around to drawing an image on it.  That sentiment seems so tawdry written here, but in the timeless magic of the etching studio, it makes perfect sense.


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