Program Spotlight: Printmaking

As part of New Urban Art’s 25th Anniversary, we will be spotlighting current programs and initiatives across the organization. For our second month, we are highlighting our Printmaking program with an interview with our Printmaking Resident Artist Mentor, Ian, and two current NUA students that have been making regular use of the printmaking facilities, Pax and Sophia. 


How did you start printmaking at NUA?

Sophia: My sister was a part of Spanish Club, that’s how I found out about screenprinting. She was doing it a lot and I wanted to try it, so I decided to come to NUA. It excited me and it was super fun, and I kept wanting to start new projects and I just love doing it!

Pax: I just really wanted to make a t-shirt, so I asked Ian about how. 

Ian [RAM]: I’ve been screenprinting in Providence since the year 2000! I volunteered at New Urban Arts as a mentor from 2005-2008, then in 2015 I was part of the initial crew of Resident Artist Mentors on NUA’s staff. I am the Printmaking mentor which means I build and maintain the screenprinting facility at NUA, and I introduce students to printmaking and what the possibilities are in silkscreen and blockprinting, which are the main print media we offer.

Why do you like screenprinting/printmaking?

Sophia: I like the freedom that NUA gives me to organize it all myself. From the start I learned to do everything and then from there I got better and more comfortable in my skill. I could do things more efficiently and got better and it felt cool to switch from one color to another or from one project to another. It’s exciting, even if that sounds silly. It’s fun to know that a good product is coming out of it.

Pax: I have always wanted to make my own clothes, I used to paint straight onto t-shrits because I didn’t know screen printing existed. I’m not sure why, I really like the t-shirts that have cute little pictures on them and I want to put my own on there.

Why do you think screenprinting is important for the NUA studio?

Sophia: I definitely think it’s important. For me it’s where I am all the time at NUA. It’s fun because you can get something you can wear out of it. And you can make prints. Whatever we make in the rest of the studio can be brought to life on something you’d wear. It’s also really fun to teach other people how to go through it. 

Pax: It takes up a lot of space for sure so it’s a big part of the studio. I think it’s really fun, you can print on your own stuff and make your own designs and it easily bleeds over into other stuff at the studio which is cool.

Ian [RAM]: NUA students seem to really love screenprinting for the chance to print T-shirts and garments with their own designs, that they can wear, give to friends, or sell! Some students print posters or prints on paper or sticker paper as well, and some have printed on fabric and then used that fabric to create garments. Screenprinting is great cause once you make a design and expose your screens, you can print as many things as you have time and patience for… use different colors… experiment and try new things. At the NUA studio, it’s always great to see people making multiples of their images… to see students wearing each others’ designs… and young people sharing and spreading their ideas and art through printing. Also it adds color and chaos to the visual backdrop of the studio…. it wouldn’t be NUA without the visual chaos!


What else would you like to see in the screenprinting area at NUA? What do you imagine for printmaking at NUA going forward?

Sophia: Maybe like more student creations. There’s that really cool dress and those testers, but maybe more of those around. It’s inspiring to see all of the colors and prints. It would be cool to see what everyone’s working on.

Pax: I’m not sure, maybe another box to stand on in the printing area since we only have one. Maybe a slide?

Ian [RAM]: I’m hoping that we can make some more prints on fabric and sew those fabrics into things — before COVID, students and mentors had started designing repeating patterns to print on fabric and that was really compelling. I’d love to make tiny wallpapers (dollhouse scale?) and big wallpapers (human scale). Some students have been telling me about complicated project ideas and I really hope we can make those projects happen before the end of the year. I’m always excited to see more prints on paper and people experimenting with what can be done in that realm. And — I’m psyched about sharing student work in a show open to the public in April!

What would you say to students who have never tried screenprinting before? Do you have any tips?

Sophia: At first it’s really intimidating, because there are so many steps and in order for it to be a really nice print you have to follow a certain criteria. But once you get used to it it’s super fun and you can get really into it and it’s super rewarding because you get a really cool print. As for tips… don’t question Ian!!!! Ian knows what he’s talking about. Even though he can be OCD and want everything clean clean and perfect you will thank him in the end because any crusty paint left over you won’t want that on the squeegee the next day, so stick with Ian.

Pax: It’s a lot harder than it looks. When they explain it, it doesn’t sound like something that would be really complicated or hard to do, but it actually is. You put in a lot more effort than you would imagine. But it’s worth it, it’s very fun. My tip is to keep your first print simple so it’s easier to do the whole thing. Mine was kinda complicated and it made the whole process a lot harder.

What are your dreams for printmaking at NUA over the next 25 years?
Ian [RAM]: Oh boy… that’s so far in the future! I am not planning to work at NUA infinitely, so one goal of mine is that someone who loves screenprinting and is psyched about helping students realize their projects and goals can take my place as the printmaking resident artist mentor at some point. I think this job involves a lot of listening to students and asking students really substantive questions to get to the heart of their hopes and their ideas, so it’s not a grown-up just dictating to teenagers what their projects should look or be like. Not every adult artist is ready to do that listening, so it will have to be a special person! I’m hoping that the technical and organizational systems that I’ve created and put into place will continue to serve the studio usefully, both while I’m still here and for whoever comes after me. I would also love to see a formal archive of students’ print projects: there have been so many and I’ve saved copies of lots of them, I would love to see them archived and cataloged in a way that will be part of NUA history for a long time. And of course the main dream is that people just keep printing, keep making cool stuff, keep having access to the tools and materials and facilities here at NUA, and then keep going on out in the world to explore more printing and art forms, and to share their art with everyone.