Question: What do you get if you cross an artist with a steamroller?
Answer: A live sidewalk painting.
Just joking. Actually, what you get is super-sized printmaking, and it’s going to happen here in Tacoma at the Small Press Month Wayzgoose. Held at King’s Books, the esoterically named Wayzgoose is a gathering of letterpress and book artists from around the region, with printmaking demonstrations, activities and sales of all kinds. This year, though, the letterpress folks are bringing in the big gun – a real, live steamroller for heavy-duty printmaking.
So how do you make an art print with construction equipment?
The first step is to make your design plate, and it needs to be big. (Six artist teams from Tacoma and Seattle will craft woodcuts or linoleum cuts around 3 feet by 3 feet, using a variety of techniques.) Then you lay carpet padding down on the pavement, put a lot of ink on the plate, lay on paper, throw some carpet on the top, and – well – drive the roller over it. Finally, you hang it up to dry for a long, long time, so explains Wayzgoose coordinator and King’s Books employee sweet pea Flaherty. It’s a printmaking technique that’s not original to the Tacoma Wayzgoose – notable other steamrolling events happen in San Francisco and Northfield, Minn., among other places – but it’s certainly new here.
“We found some instructions on the Internet,” says Flaherty. “And anyone can rent a steamroller.”
Creating the large plates is proving to be both challenging and fun for the artists involved. Jessica Spring, Tacoma letterpress artist and Wayzgoose organizer, is carving a 2- by-4-foot linoleum rectangle. Her initial design comes from an Indian matchbox illustration of an elephant, Photoshopped a little. After transferring it to the lino, Spring has to spend hours cutting it out by hand with wood-engraving tools.
Spring’s only occasionally a linocut artist, mostly using traditional lead type to make her prints and art books. This wasn’t the time to use them, however. “I sure wouldn’t want to risk my vintage type under a steamroller,” Spring says.
Carl Montford is a Wayzgoose veteran who’s making his print plate the hard way. The Seattle wood engraver is cutting a design out a 3- by-4-foot piece of birch plywood by hand, assisted by some engraving buddies. They’ve set aside an entire Saturday to do the woodcut.
Chris Sharp won’t join them. The Tacoma artist cut a 20-stitch-long gash in his hand in a high school carving incident, and now uses power tools.
“I’ve got a router and some bits, and I think it will go relatively quickly,” says Sharp, who drew a design based on downtown Tacoma architecture. “I normally don’t do woodcuts, but a really big one seemed like a challenge, something to measure your worth against.”
Other artists creating steamroller prints include the Beautiful Angle poster team, students from Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts and printmaking students from Stadium High School. Of the prints made, one will go to the artist, one to the fall Book Arts Auction at King’s Books, and the rest raffled off at the Wayzgoose.
The steamrolling will be done outdoors, as will papermaking demonstrations by L’Arche Farm and Gardens, but there will be plenty of the usual print-related events inside. Several artists will bring small tabletop presses with plates inked for attendees to print their own copy. There will be a bookmaking table, and artists like Jenny Craig, Lisa Hasegawa and Catherine Alice Michaelis will display work.
Some questions hover, though. What if it rains? “We’re using oil-based ink, and the paper will already be dampened, so we’ll deal with it,” Spring says.
What if the printing doesn’t work? “We’re scheduling a dry run at the roller rental place, to make sure everything works,” Flaherty says.
And what if something disastrous happens with the roller? “You can only go 2 miles per hour with this thing,” says Flaherty, who will share driving duties with some of the artists. “How much damage can you do?”
There’s only one way to find out.
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568
What: Small Press Month Wayzgoose
Who: Various letterpress, book and print artists
When: Noon-4 p.m. March 2. Steamroller printing will happen every half-hour outside.
Where: King’s Books, 218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma
Information: 253-272-8801, www.kingsbookstore.com