I used to call myself a painter. Joan Mitchell and Willem de Kooning books still stand proud on my studio bookshelf. Then, four years ago, at Montana State University in Bozeman, MT, I took my first printmaking class from Gesine Janzen. Ever since, the coat of dust on my paintbrushes has grown thicker as I have expanded my collection of brayers and carving tools. I was attracted to printmaking as a medium because of its ability to replicate imagery; to be able repeat an image, but to retain unique charms in each individual print. Through relief printing, I found a rhythmic sort of therapy in the carving techniques. However, it was the immense sense of community that comes with being a printmaker that caused me to fall in love with the medium.
With my passions aligned as they are, learning that one of the most renowned print intensive workshops in the world was located a mere forty-five minutes from my hometown of Sioux Falls, SD seemed like a scene out of my best daydream. Now, after having experienced Frogman’s Print Workshop for the first time last week, I am now of the opinion that being so nearby at all times of the year caused me to do Frogman’s all wrong.
Frogman’s Print Workshop happens every year during the first two weeks of July at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, SD. Well over a hundred printmakers come from around the world to learn new techniques, share their own processes and work, and to create new relationships with kindred souls who share their passion for print. The 2015 workshop was the 34th year of Frogman’s. There are two week-long sessions filled with multiple print and paper workshops going on at a time. Workshops range from lithography to letterpress, intaglio to print installation, relief, silkscreen, bookmaking, engraving, and everything in between. Each year, the list of instructors includes some of the most respected and accomplished names in the printmaking world. Or, as I call them in my sketchbook and casual conversation, “print gods.” This year, names included Oscar Gillespie, Johanna Mueller, Virginia Green, Douglas Bosley, Tom Christison, Anita Jung, Katie Baldwin, Drive By Press, Yuji Hiratsuka, Carlos Hernandez, and Nicole Hand.
Having fallen in love with the work of Johanna Mueller several years prior, it was practically an instinct to sign up for her HIPS engraving workshop during the second second session. HIPS stands for High Impact Polystyrene, a type of plastic (blue substrate above). We learned to carve into the plastic using engraving tools and then printed them on an intaglio press. I was able to fit twice the detail of one of my woodcut prints into less than a quarter of the space. The building is open until midnight each day so that participants can get as much work done as possible during the never-quite-long-enough workshop. Alas, because I chose to commute back-and-forth each day instead of staying in the dorms right across the street, I missed out on the plethora of studio hours that the were readily available to all of the participants.
In addition to teaching in a studio setting, each of the instructors gives a lecture about their background, work, process, and their advice to the rest of the print-inclined souls that travelled to USD to learn. Each instructor creates a slide show and a talk that brings unique perspectives on how to succeed as a printmaker.
After each lecture, the evening social activities were discussed. That’s right, its not just a week of printing, its a week of networking and making friends. Costume bowling, karaoke, banquets, print exchanges, having a drink or two, swimming in the river, and gallery hopping are all integral parts of the Frogman’s experience. Save for an enthusiastic karaoke rendition of my favorite Talking Heads song and one heck of a Saturday, I yet again failed to partake due to obligations in Sioux Falls.
Despite my errors in planning around the workshop, my experience at Frogman’s was far more than I could hope for. Being surrounded by a population that is as passionate about printmaking as myself felt like home. It was a week that made me proud to be both a printmaker and from South Dakota. I did far more than learn a new printmaking technique in Vermillion this summer. I created relationships with kindred spirits and was inspired to continue on my printed path with more confidence and enthusiasm than I have found in any other medium.
And next year? Next year I will do Frogman’s Print Workshop right. No commute and no other obligations. Just learning, printing, and fostering the community I have the honor of being part of.