Personal Manifesto for a Sustainable (Printmaking) Practice worth Practicing
What does it all mean?
- Ask questions.
How did you do that (most amazing printmaking thing)? Why did you choose do work this way? How much does this cost? Is there an alternative? Can I use less? Can I use more, better? What does it mean by “non-toxic” – to myself, to fish? In what quantities? Can I sustain this? Can I teach this? Can I scale this up?
- Answer questions.
Be generous with knowledge. Holding information back does not make me a mysterious, enigmatic, printmaking wizard, it makes me greedy, selfish and privileged. Look it up, privilege is by definition a special advantage available only to a particular person or group. So what if it took me ten years to work out a closed-loop water system for etching? Do I want to put someone else through that: the potential waste of resources, of creative time, the potential loss of a fellow sustainable practitioner, when I could have just shared when they asked.
- Consider the before and after.
How was this made, how did it get here, where will it go once I’m done with it? This is tough. In some cases, materials and substances that are non-toxic to the user, may not have been so in its manufacture or its disposal. Likewise, repurposing items for use in printmaking may take them out of a recycling loop and actually add to waste. Further still is the possibility that the less ‘green’ choice might be longer lasting and therefore more sustainable in the broader sense. This is proper wormhole stuff, but I try to bear it in mind. I refer to Points 1 & 2.
The first time I made a stone lithograph, it was a stone cold turd. It was nothing like anything I had done before, I’m not sure what I remember now, or if I even enjoyed it. What I did know was that artists whose work I admired had made beautiful prints this way, and I wanted to be one of them. It will get better with practice.
- Remember that one size does not fit all.
It is very easy to judge others. I know I do it instinctly; it’s an impulse, a reflex. It is hard to stand back and remember that the choices I have made have been guided by resources and privileges that may differ for others. Money, time, space, concept, body, knowledge, matters when it comes to making choices.
I am going to give a complex example, which I will explore further in a later post. A printmaker who owns their studio, has weighed the safety and health issues of solvent-based, acid-based systems with which they already familiar, against the environmental issues of acrylic-based, salt-etch systems, which have their own issues in regards to dissolved plastics and waste disposal, and which would be completely new to them.
They consider frequency, cost, and access. They can afford to install good local exhaust ventilation and hazardous storage. They work alone, on small plates, and in short bursts due to family commitments. Which option is the most sustainable, financially, socially, environmentally? What if they asked me?
My response: I need more information, and a bit of both systems, probably. I would say that a decision taken today can be allowed to change incrementally over time. I would also say, my own conditions are different, so my solutions are different: I rent a studio, I sometimes work with others, I work very long hours (not meant as a boast, but to indicate potential length of exposure to a substance!).
Not very satisfying, is it? It would be so much easier if there was one right answer for everyone, but there isn’t, especially when technical processes are intimately linked to creativity and artistic expression.
- Embrace change.
Printmaker is not about tradition, printmaking is about change.
Change does not have to be big, or fast, or expensive, or time consuming. It can start with a small pivot, a slight tilt.
Change can be incredibly positive. The work I make now is far more visually interesting and involving than anything I made in the past, because I think about sustainability at every stage. The work I make now is more rewarding, more challenging, more exhilarating, because I am less afraid to ask questions of it.
Change is necessary. I thought long and hard about including this, because it may come across as forceful, but so be it. We have a limited amount of time, space and resource on this earth, and if we want our practice to be sustainable, and for it to sustain future printmakers, we must change.
- Give yourself permission.
To make prints. To be frustrated. To be delighted. To be confused. To make prints. To make bold choices. To change your practice. To look to the future. To make prints.
Next post: An example that worked