Tacoma-based letterpress printer Jessica Spring loves the excitement she sees when kids visit her house as part of Tacoma´s annual artist studio tour.
“I have kids who come every year, and they kind of walk in the door and they’re like, ‘What are we printing this year?’” Spring said. “I love that they get so excited.”
This weekend, Tacoma will host its annual artist studio tours, part of the city’s October Arts Month. Spring and about 100 other Tacoma artists will open their studios to visitors interested in immersing themselves in the city´s arts scene.
Spring likes to bring something interactive to the event. She´s collected a number of different vintage printers, and she´ll set up some type and allow visitors to print their own pieces.
“Probably the all-time favorite has been the ‘You´ll Like Tacoma´ print,’” she said.
Born in Berkeley, California, Spring studied English at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota and learned to typeset in college, which was the pre-computer newspaper printing technology.
After years of a career as a typesetter and graphic designer, Spring decided to return to school and pursue a master´s degree in book arts at Columbia College Chicago. She studied papermaking, book binding and letterpress printing.
Spring has spent decades collecting the vintage printing presses which now sit in her studio. She´s sought out wood and metal type, which has become increasingly difficult to find now that typesetting has been replaced by graphic design and desktop printing.
Spring says it can be difficult to find the type styles she wants to use for her pieces.
When making prints, Spring says she needs to constantly think several steps in advance, and test how different colors of ink will work layered on top of each other. The process is more difficult and time-intensive than it appears, she said.
In 2008, Spring started to collaborate with Chandler O´Leary, another Tacoma printer who will also open her studio during this weekend´s studio tours.
The two decided to work together on their “Dead Feminists” series, where they design and illustrate quotes from influential feminists of the past which they fell pertain to current political issues.
Their first piece illustrated a quote by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and since then they’ve published a book and released a calendar, among other projects.
At the studio tours this year, Spring and O´Leary will release a new “Dead Feminist” print. Though Spring won´t reveal who the person is, she left some hints.
“We´ll have a brand-new dead feminist for studio tours, too,” Spring said. “She´s an eco-feminist.”
‘From science to art’
Tacoma potter Reid Ozaki´s house brims with greenery and natural light. Originally trained as a biologist at the University of Puget Sound, Ozaki now makes pottery which seeks to integrate Japanese aesthetics with Western ceramic techniques.
Ozaki, who grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, still remembers visiting his grandfather, who sparked his passion for integrating science and art.
“My grandfather was a self-taught gardener, and he did bonsai,” Ozaki said. “I think that made the transition from science to art.”
He moved to Tacoma for college and took a ceramics class his junior year, which changed his track entirely.
“I just sort of fell in love with the material, and the story goes on from there,” he said.
Ozaki stayed on at the University of Puget Sound and completed a master´s degree in fine art. He finished graduate school in 1975 and has been a professional potter since then.
He had a part-time job for the first few years, he said, and then worked as a full-time studio potter until 1996, when he started teaching at Tacoma Community College.
“That´s been really rewarding,” he said. “Being a studio potter can be a little isolating. Having a teaching job got me out, made me talk to people, because otherwise I can be a little bit reclusive.”
In his ceramics, Ozaki says he tries to navigate the intersection of western ceramic techniques with a Japanese aesthetic perspective.
“My work is heavily influenced by Japanese ceramics,” he said. “There´s a long and wonderful history of Japanese ceramics, but I´m trying to synthesize western technologies with the Japanese aesthetic.”
Ozaki will open his pottery studio to visitors during the tour this weekend and says he’s participated in it for the past several years.
‘The wildness and freedom’
Born in Quito, Ecuador in 1953, visual artist Mauricio Robalino still remembers the nearly one month-long boat trip he took from Ecuador to England when he was 10.
“We got on this ship, and I brought a little box of watercolors with me and some letter writing paper, and I started painting pictures of the ship,” Robalino said.
In England, Robalino said he loved to put together model airplanes and ride his bike. For college, Robalino decided to leave England and move to California, where he attended the University of San Francisco (USF) and studied business.
While at USF, he took a class in painting and another in education, which made him change his perspective about what he wanted to do.
“Those really made me feel happy, you know, I felt like I could do something with that, and the teachers felt that, too, so I decided to change my major,” he said.
Unhappy with his decision to stop studying business, his parents cut him off, Robalino said. That’s how he ended up on the streets of the San Francisco area in the 1970s, sleeping in buses and in the wilderness.
His time of instability and living on the streets helped shape his perspectives on life and art.
“To be an artist you really have to be an outsider,” he said. “You´re not going to get much support for your art. It´s a really tough way to try to make a living. Our culture isn´t really geared to making individual, beautiful things.”
After finishing college, Robalino decided to move back to Ecuador to get to know his home country better.
“I fell in love with my country where I was born,” Robalino said, “but I had to come back here. I liked the wildness and freedom of being here.”
He returned to California, enrolled in a master’s degree in painting and sculpture at the University of Santa Barbara, and when he finished, sold some of his art to the parents of someone he knew at the university.
“I gave them three things, and I said, ‘Take them home, see if you like them.’ A few days later when I was down to like 13 cents in my pocket, the son comes up and said they liked the painting, how much do you want for them? I said $3,333.33,” Robalino said, laughing.
The family then commissioned Robalino to make a mosaic in their swimming pool.
“I´d never made a mosaic in my life but if you pay me, I´ll figure it out,” he said, again with a laugh.
He finished the mosaic, visited Ecuador again, and then decided to move to Washington. He met his wife Melanie when she commissioned him to do some art in her house, and when they decided to have children, the couple moved to Tacoma.
Since then, Robalino has taught art all around Washington and Alaska and completed several large public projects. He says his art draws on his own personal experiences.
I like to observe things, see how they work, and then try to figure out some fun way to express that,” Robalino said.
He’s participated in Tacoma ́s studio tours since the early 2000s and says he always like to invite his guests to participate and get involved in art.
“I’ll have people come and draw and paint and I´ll have some cider and maybe a little bit of wine,” he said.
Robalino feels tuning into creative ability is an essential part of human life.
“We human beings need to have a creative ability for survival, and I think that art is a celebration of that ability to survive and create,” he said. “We need music, we need art, we need writing, we need storytelling, we need dancing. That´s what we do after we eat.”
Tacoma studio tour
When: Oct. 12-13, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.