A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to teach a printmaking workshop at one of my favorite places in the world, Wildacres. It’s been a long time since I’ve been up on that mountain…I used to work there, eons ago, and frankly it was the best job I ever had. Sometimes I still kick myself for leaving. It’s in an isolated part of the Blue Ridge, a secret getaway that is still below most of the world’s radar, and folks there like it that way. Folks who have been here, we don’t tell just anyone about it. (So consider yourself on the inside track.)This is the place where I learned to drive a stick shift–by driving an old dump truck on a winding mountain gravel road. It’s where I had a fender-bender with a golf cart while shuttling an old rabbi to the dining hall. It’s where I met some of my best friends, and it’s where my boss said to me, “You can do anything you want, haven’t you figured that out yet?” The people who keep coming back will tell you it’s a magical place, and they’ll say it with a straight face, because it’s no exagerration. This place changes people.
I’ll use any excuse to get up there, so when my friend asked me to come teach a printmaking workshop, I jumped at the chance. My students were all beginners–most had never done any sort of printing, but they were game for anything. We started simple with faux-gelatin prints. (I like the results of gelatin prints, but I hate making gelatin. And disposing of gelatin. And trusting myself to make it correctly so it does what it’s supposed to do. So when I found I could reproduce the results with a soft rubber-like material, I was all for it.)This technique was a crowd-pleaser. We had a smattering of leaf prints and some serious experimenting. Folks were getting all inky and giddy, going wild in the print shop. Smears on noses and handprints on jeans are always a good sign for me. Then we got into monoprints using plexiglas, carved linoleum blocks, and practiced our layering techniques. We added chine-colle to the mix, and then did some collographs–it was a crash course over three fours days, but my group were troopers for sure. People quickly found their favorite methods, and we started to see some small editions coming out. The whole idea here was to learn some printing techniques that were low-tech. Before I had constant access to a studio (in my years between academic programs) I was rubbing out woodcuts with a wooden spoon–sometimes it’s a luxury to have a studio with a press. Sometimes you have to find ways around that. We practiced with bamboo barins, used our hands and rolling pins, experimenting with a lighter and heavier touch. We used the etching presses we had in the shop just so everyone could get a feel for them (and get the bug–where can I get one? how much do these cost?) but all of the techniques we learned, you can do those with limited tools and no press.
In the end, folks had a great time test-driving print methods. They surprised themselves, and had an energy that was contagious. And I got a little of the bug again, too. I carved out a couple of hours to do a print myself, and had just enough time to remind myself why it is I do what I do, and why I love it so much. I won’t say it’s like breathing, but it’s maybe like exercise–you miss it when you don’t do it for a while, and that feeling compounds over time, until you really don’t feel like yourself anymore. But when you do it again, you feel alive, like the person you know you’re supposed to be, living the way you’re meant to. Before this trip, I felt like I’d run off the rails–left them way in the dust, but it only took a few days to remind me of why it is that I do what I do. This is why folks say this mountain has magic–it has a way of getting you back on the rails. It reminds you of what you love, and why it’s important to you. And it’s important to hang on to places like that–and keep them just a little bit secret.