Susan Rice on Her Love of Drawing, Cartoons, Printmaking and Other Things: A Conversation

I first saw the work of Susan Rice in a group art exhibit at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, roughly two years ago, months before I started working for the organization itself. I then met Susan in person when I assumed the role of Program Director and worked with her in scheduling the printmaking classes. Susan Rice is an illustrator and printmaker who considers herself to be primarily a drawer. She has served on the board of the Somerville Arts Council and helped oversee Somerville Art Beat festival, an outdoor arts festival in Davis Square, as well as the Windows Art Project, one of the largest public art projects in the Boston area. Susan has exhibited her work through the Somerville Arts Council, The Cambridge Center for Adult Education, Arlington Center for the Arts and at the Nave Gallery, among other venues throughout Massachusetts. Susan continues to do a lot of illustration work for magazines including Dig Magazine—a magazine for children ages 9-14, published by Cobblestone Publishers. She is a member of the Blacksmith House Printmakers, a group that got its start at the Cambridge Center, and also the Earthscape Printmakers. I sat down with Susan on Monday December 7, 2015 in the Vogt Studio at the Cambridge Center to candidly talk about her work as a printmaker and illustrator, her influences as an artist and many other topics, including propaganda posters. This is the last interview in a series of interviews featuring the work of artists that will be part of the exhibit I am organizing for the Cambridge Center in January.


Susan Rice, Image Courtesy of the Artist

Anulfo Baez: Susan, I wanted to thank you for taking some time to meet with me and interview you for my blog. I do have some questions about your work, but it is a conversation, so we can just go with the flow. One of my first questions is about your education. You went to RISD and you graduated with a bachelors in illustration, correct?

Susan Rice: Correct. That’s right.

AB:And did you take printmaking classes at RISD or how did you come about into the printmaking scene?

SR: Good question. I did take an etching class, an intaglio class at RISD, which I loved. I had taken a printmaking class prior to going to RISD, but it was sort of an introduction and I didn’t know very much.

AB: How long after RISD did you start getting really into printmaking?

SR: It was some years, after RISD. I had a friend, another teacher who was a printmaker and painter who taught a workshop on linoleum cut. So it was a very slow sort of evolution, but a natural one. Printmaking as you know is naturally affiliated with illustration, drawing and painting and many other of the arts.

AB: You’ve done a lot of things. Would you call yourself—an illustrator? A printmaker?

SR: I would call myself primarily a drawer. Drawing underlies almost everything I do and love of line was really my first love. It took me a long time to learn other things aside from line, but it was well worth the effort.

We both burst into laughter simultaneously

SR: I would say primarily a drawer and that goes into every field, really.

AB: Absolutely. You can apply that to anything. You have been a longtime supporter of CCAE, when did you get started with the organization?

SR: I took a printmaking class here—Printmaking without a Press—which I loved and then I took printmaking with Selma Bromberg.  It was a really great group, so I stuck with it.

AB: That seems to be the starting point for almost everyone who I’ve interviewed. They started with printmaking here at the Center by taking a class with Selma, so she sort of has been the anchor for printmaking here. You’ve also taught printmaking here at the Cambridge Center, when did you start teaching here?

SR: Yes, I teach a print workshop and have been a monitor in the print studio for eight years.  I have also been a substitute teacher for Selma. In addition, I have been teaching at a number of other places for about 14 years.

AB: So tell me about your work. I first came across your work at a group exhibition here at the Cambridge Center. Can you tell me more about your work and what inspires your work?

SR: Sure. My illustration work informs much of what I do in printmaking. The difference is, with illustration I obviously have to do work for clients so the venue determines how the  work will look. However, much of my work is either humorous or editorial—which means it has a point of view. Usually it goes along with text, so it has to reflect an idea or concept. That work actually carries over into a lot of my printmaking work; frequently, my printmaking work has started with basic ideas or concepts that interest me. Most of my work tends to be figurative or representational; however, I am branching out much more into abstraction through printmaking.

AB: Were you also part of the Blacksmith House Printmakers group?

SR: Yes

AB: And what does the group mean to you and when did you get involved with that group?

SR: I got involved with the group probably soon after I started Selma’s class—within a year, I would guess. I was still working as a monitor for the studio because I learned how the studio worked. It has been a great group. People share knowledge and processes. That was really fun and helpful.

AB: I know that the group has been very influential in other people’s lives and I know that a lot of people from the group have gone to have their own one-person shows elsewhere, so it’s been a really tight-knit group that supported each other, but also pushed each other when it came to making work here at the Center or elsewhere. Has teaching or being in the Blacksmith House Printmakers changed the way you do work? Has it influenced in any way how you make work as an artist?

SR: I’m sure it does. A lot of artmaking can be a solitary pursuit which is very difficult, it’s a chronic situation for artists.  Artists need to interact with other artists of any sort not just for inspiration, but also for practical knowledge and support. Yeah, I think learning about materials, and the practical nuts and bolts aspects of artmaking is really helpful, but just as important is just learning about other people’s working habits. For instance, some people jump right in and start exploring right away and other people are very deliberate, very methodical and slow. They know exactly where they want to go. I love seeing this range of approaches because it is a reminder not to be judgmental about my own process.

AB: So would you fall into the more experimental—you come into a studio and you start experimenting or you fall into the more methodical—let me do this and get to where I want to go?

SR: Good question! I would say it actually varies. It varies with how much time I have in the studio. If I only have half an hour to finish up a print, I have to make decisions quickly.  Art is all about decision-making. Sometimes it is a real pleasure, and sometimes it is like pulling teeth, so a deadline can help push one to make decisions. Other times I take forever and ruminate on an idea for months before doing something about it.

AB: yeah, that makes sense. As artists, everything we do needs to have a purpose, there needs to be a decision for every little move we make. If you’re not really thinking about the work, then what are you making? This leads me to your process. What is your process like? How do you start making work?

SR: Frequently, I write a lot and sketch a lot—sometimes very crude, rudimentary sketches, sometimes elaborate ones. This comes out of illustration work, especially conceptual work in which you have to work with both ideas and imagery at the same time. There’s a back and forth, an interplay between the verbal and the pictorial ideas, so I do a lot of note-taking.  If I want to create imagery about something that is not right in front of me, say a cow, I do research and I usually end up doing lots of sketches of cows. My illustration work for children’s magazines about archeology and history, also provides ideas for other work. I find out all these fun facts about history and I think “oh, that would be something really good to explore.”

AB: That’s very cool. Do you tend to prefer printmaking over illustration or are the two intertwined and they become an entire process that you follow along and it leads you to somewhere?

SR: I love both. Clearly there are limitations to each and advantages to each. Printmaking I would say is more of a fine art outlet for me, illustration is much more circumscribed, but I like that too. I like the fact that I have to work within parameters—physical and visual and conceptual and time-based parameters. It’s sort of like working a game or a puzzle.

B: Has your work evolved as an artist since graduating from RISD?

SR: It definitely has evolved. Going to art school for me was great, but school is just the beginning for any artist and you realize when you get out that you’ve barely scratched the surface of any topic. One thing that I’ve continued from RISD and from illustration work, is that I try to keep building on the skills I already have and improving them and honing them. In terms of evolution or change, I’ve really come to love printmaking and fine arts. I understand more than I used to, about the formal concerns: color, texture, form and composition.

AB: How did you get involved with publishing in general?

SR: Well, I majored in illustration.

AB: Right.

SR: And it was my goal to work with a publishing company. However the illustration field changed pretty much overnight with the digital revolution and the sort of the collapse of a lot of the publishing industry, in particular newspapers. Illustrators also organized themselves differently. They used to be hired in-house, or they’d be in illustration firms so they could all share the administrative costs and all that, and now the field almost all freelance. This means you have to be a business person and administrator, and salesperson as well as the illustrator—you have to wear a lot of hats and that I find problematic. I tend to find clients and stick with them. I got involved with Cobblestone Magazine through some graphic designers in the area that I knew through the Somerville Arts Council, and they referred me.

AB: What are you currently working on in regards to illustration and printmaking?

SR: Well, with illustration I have on-going work with Cobblestone, and that’s been great. With prints, I’ve been doing a lot with monotypes. I’ve really started to expand beyond representational work and beyond my comfort zone.

AB: How do you feel about making work that is outside your comfort zone?

SR: Actually, I love it. Doing fine art or going outside my comfort zone is a lot easier if there aren’t ramifications. I know that my paycheck isn’t hanging in the balance.

I’ve tried these techniques—monotypes and collagraphs—in the past and just fallen on my face, you know, not done well with them and sort of backed off. I started taking them on again under the tutelage of people who know what they are doing and I’m doing much better.

AB: Do you have a preference for a certain technique in printmaking?

SR: I’ve done a lot of solar etching and some traditional intaglio which I love. With intaglio my imagery tends to be quite representational. These prints tend to be monochromatic, which I like, but I think it’s also great to branch into the wide world of color. I’ve really got into color with collagraphs, monotype, and linoleum and woodcut to a lesser extent.

AB: Do you feel attach to any of those over another?

SR: I would say intaglio etching. I think it’s my obsession with line.

We both laugh at Susan’s comments on her obsession with drawing lines

AB: I know that you mentioned you do a lot of research for your work. Where else do your ideas come from besides the research that you do for your illustration work?

SR: They come from life experiences outside of art. Some of my imagery that you would know is about animals, and although most of the images are not overtly political, I have an interest in the relationship between animals and humans and how conflicted that is, and has been through history. I’ve explored that theme without getting too hard hitting about it. I’ve sort of touched on that in a lot the imagery—whether it’s monkeys in a laboratory or animals in factory farms—I haven’t shown animals in a factory farm, but I am implicitly thinking about that when I portray farm animals.


Susan Rice, Image Courtesy of the Artist

AB: Have you always wanted to make work with a political tone to it?

SR: Yes. I have yet to fully succeed or fully developed that desire. Part of it it’s because I am an illustrator and you have to curb your own opinions. The second reason is that working in fine art has not been a full-time pursuit. I usually squeeze it in between other work, and so I have been taking baby steps towards what I actually want to say—the imagery is still developing. I actually, love propaganda—not propaganda I don’t agree with, but propaganda in terms of posters with a definite point of view. It’s been a long tradition from all over the world. I love the ability of words and images to combine to really have a very profound impact on the viewer. Of course, there can be problems with propaganda too, as we know, when it is something vicious or underhanded.  I think posters work to distill thoughts down to something that is understandable at a common level.

AB: Absolutely, in fact, propaganda posters have been the subject of many recent exhibitions and almost every major museum has shown or is in the process of showing exhibitions relating to the art of the poster. I was just recently in New York City and there were at least, two or three museums with shows about posters: The Cooper Hewitt’s How Posters Work, the New York Historical Society’s Art as Activism: Graphic Art from the Merrill C. Berman Collection which showed posters made between 1930s and 1970s and while not an exhibition exclusively devoted to posters, the Museo del Barrio is still showing, I think an exhibition with activism posters in it. This leads me to the next question, who are your influences as an artist?

SR: In terms of printmaking, I look at a lot of different printmakers. Obviously, I’ve been influenced by Selma Bromberg and the other people in the Blacksmith House Printmakers group. I really like printmaking that is of a place and time, or it could be of a conceptual place and time. I love the Japanese printmakers, of course. Everyone is influenced by Goya, Manet.   Michael Mazur is a contemporary influence. He illustrated Dante’s Inferno that was translated by Robert Pinsky. Really incredible illustrations; they’re monochromatic prints. Grace Bentley-Scheck is another contemporary and local printmaker from Rhode Island. She makes collagraphs based on urban architecture, and is her work is informed by engineering. They’re absolutely incredible. I had a brief internship with her when I was at RISD and witnessed her process which was so far beyond anything I had ever seen. It’s unbelievable to see her process, it can take her months just to make one plate, they are so intricate.

AB: I also love the Japanese printmakers.

SR: Did you go to the Hokusai exhibit

AB: Absolutely. I loved it.

SR: Yeah, that was amazing. And Hiroshige. We think of them as printmakers, but it is interesting to learn that they were the designers, not the printmakers. It’s actually helpful to understand that because you can start to think you’re an underachiever when you see what other people produce, but it turns out they had whole  print shops with staff. I also saw an exhibit about a year ago of Winslow Homer’s work of Civil War sketches for newspapers. Here again, he didn’t do the engravings, but he just did sketches for the newspaper engravers. He did have to adapt his imagery for the publication format. The British also have a great tradition of printmaking. I think if one likes books, one will like prints because print imagery has a long history of existing to be part of books and newspapers.

I am also influenced by cartoonists and by the art of sumi-e—being a lover of line. I also like painters who have a sense of humor.

AB: Who are some of your favorite cartoonists?

SR: George Herriman who did Krazy Kat would be a big favorite. I really like cartooning from the early part of the nineteen hundreds, not just from this country, but from around the world. Whenever friends of mine travel, I ask them to bring me back a magazine or newspaper that has a cartoon from that country.

AB: I take it that you’ve looked at a lot of cartoons throughout your life and a lot of them have had a profound impact on you as a person and on your work as an artist. That’s something I really don’t know much about, which is why I am asking you which cartoonists’ work influence you. I think it would be very interesting to look at some work by cartoonist you are influenced by.

SR: Sure. In terms of contemporary cartoonists, and political ones, you can take a look at Nick Thorkelson. He’s local. He’s a painter, printmaker, graphic designer but he also does a lot of cartooning and illustration, including illustrating very difficult political concepts. He’s made graphic novels about various political and historical figures and ideas. He’s really good at translating very abstract ideas into understandable ones, using the medium of comics.

AB: Thank you for the recommendation!

AB, December 7, 2015

The Peabody Essex Museum Announces A New Exhibition Co-Organized with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam


Plaque. Delft, The Netherlands, 1670–1690. Tin-glazed earthenware (faience). 25 × 36 1/4 inches (63.5 × 92 cm). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Purchased with the support of the Stichting tot Bevordering van de Belangen van het Rijksmuseum, BK-1971-117 Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Following in the footsteps of its critically acclaimed 2011 exhibit Golden: Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection, the Peabody Essex Museum announced on December 1 its new exhibit, Asia in Amsterdam: The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age, a collaboration with the Rijksmuseum. On view starting February 27, 2016, the exhibit will feature 200 works ranging from paintings, textiles, ceramics, silver, furniture, books and many other objects that illustrate the influence of Asia on Dutch culture in the 17th century. The Peabody Essex Museum will be the only North American venue for this exhibit, highlighting among its many objects from their world-renowned collection of Asian Export Art, masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum as well as from private collections throughout the Netherlands, Europe and the United States.

Asia in Amsterdam follows what seems to be a trend of exhibits seeking to investigate the influence of Asia on western cultures. For example, currently on view until February 15, 2016 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is Made in the Americas: The New World Discovers Asia, an exhibit that traces that impact of Asia through objects produced in the colonial Americas. At the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, Looking East: How Japan Inspired  Monet, Van Gogh, and Other Western Artists looks at the burst of creativity that emerged as a result of the international trade among Japan and other nations in the 1850s.

If past Dutch and Flemish art exhibits at the Peabody Essex Museum are any indication of how exquisite and beautifully installed this exhibit promises to be, Asia in Amsterdam: The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age is most definitely not to be missed.



Take Magazine
February – Get it On Film: The Artists and Collectives Who Are Keeping Analog Photography Alive


Big Red & Shiny
October 23 – Architecture under Threat and On Exhibit: Boston City Hall at the Boston Society of Architects
September 10 – Making the Arts a Priority at MassCreative’s ‘Create the Vote’ Mayoral Forum
July 23 – BLOGGED! A Roundup of New England-area Museums with Blogs
July 18 – Peabody Essex Museum Launches ‘Connected,’ Its New Blog
July 03 – Inside Out: Introducing Katherine Vene
June 06 – The Foster Prize: Luther Price
May 24 – deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum Gets Social with #DrawArt
May 08 – A New PBS Special Highlights 10 Buildings That Changed America
May 06 – Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion at the RISD Museum
April 17 – Five Questions with Arlette Kayafas on the 10th Anniversary of Gallery Kayafas
April 04 – Recap: Raphael Montañez Ortíz, “WHAT DOES FLUXES HAVE TO DO WITH IT, 2013” at the MFA
April 02  – Amalia Pica’s “Strangers”
April 01 – Covering Performance Art through the years on Big Red & Shiny
March 21 – The Bostonian Society to Restore Unicorn atop The Old State House
March 14 – A Community Mural is Vandalized in Jamaica Plain
March 11 – At the Gardner Museum, A Swedish Impressionist Seduces America
March 05 – Textual Image: Visual Text – Artists’ Books from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts
February 23 – Pacific Standard Time presents: Modern Architecture in L.A
February 13 – Works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres Currently Being Exhibited in the Boston-area
February 09 – How to Make an Igloo or Build Snow Sculptures
February 06 – Boston Does Boston Six
February 04 – The 2012 Harleston Parker Medal goes to MIT’s Media Lab Complex
February 02 – Upcoming Fashion Exhibits in New England
January 26 – Maya Lin at the Boston Public Library
January 18 – Museum of Fine Arts to Auction Significant Group of Works by African-American Artists
January 15 – Going Red – Saving Boston’s Historic Fire Alarm Boxes
January 11 – What Boston-area museums can learn from other museums and libraries on Twitter
January 07 – Noted Architecture Critic Ada Louise Huxtable has Died


December 30 – Kickin’ it – Sneakers Inspired by Concrete
December 26 – An Architectural Tour of Important Historic Sites in Boston – All at Your Fingertips
December 26 – A Struggling Local House Museum in New Hampshire Reflects a National Trend
December 08 – Two Local Youth Arts Programs Honored by the White House
November 21 – New Architecture in New England: The 1974 Catalogue
November 21 – DOT organization signs a 5-year lease for gallery, performance, classroom and workshop space
November 14 – Cityscapes of Boston, Robert Campbell & Peter Vanderwarker at the BPL
November 04 – Celebrating Boston’s public spaces
November 01 – Permanent dots connected by invisible lines
October 25 – H.H. Richardson’s Warder House portal and fireplace to be auctioned in Maryland
October 17 – Art Thefts Through the Years: The New England Edition
October 13 – The Big Bad at The Nave Gallery
October 09 – Portland Museum of Art opens Winslow Homer’s Studio to the public
October 01 – Terrain at Spoke Gallery
September 26 – Rick Lowe and Mel Chin – Artists and Community Planning
September 19 – Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles at MassArt
September 17 – If You Show It, Will They Come?
September 11 – Lincoln Arts Project Seeks to Play a More Prominent Role in Waltham
September 06 – Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones
September 02 – The Movement to Save an Ugly Duckling with Ties to Boston
September 02 – Guastavino Vaulting: The Art of Structural Tile
August 29 – Derrick Adams and Nuit Banai in Conversation at Mills Gallery


Boston Society of Architects
December 22 – Documenting Boston’s Murals: What They Say and How They Say It?


The National Trust for Historic Preservation
September 23 – ¿Quien Soy Yo? Who Am I? – Cultural Diversity and Preservation

Drawn Towards Arts: An Interview with Printmaker Janet Burns Campbell

Wind Harp in Rose w Fractals-Solar Etching

Wind Harp in Rose with Fractals, Solar Etching. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

Originally from Brooklyn, NY, Janet Burns Campbell holds a bachelor’s degree in History and Literature from Reed College in Portland, Oregon and a master’s degree in English Literature from Tufts University. A painter and a printmaker, Janet has exhibited her work at the Somerville Public Library, The Hills School in Belmont, MA, the Cambridge Art Association and at Somerville Open Studios among many other venues. She is a member of the Blacksmith House Printmakers as well as the Earthscape Printmakers. Janet’s art education has been primarily at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education where she now teaches a gelatin monotype class. You can see more of Janet’s work at the Vernon Street Studios in Somerville on December 5 and 6, 2015. Her work can be seen on her website.

Anulfo Baez: Janet, thank you so much for meeting up with me tonight to conduct this interview. My first question to you is what is your background and training?

Janet Campbell: Well, it’s always been sort of a dual thing. There’s the art side of life and then there’s the history and literature side of life, and for me they’ve always melded. My BA at Reed was in History and Literature before they had the medieval studies program. I wound up in Boston and I was sort of looking at a catalog for art classes and found myself instead looking at the English classes and wound up in a PhD program over at Tufts. I worked on the degree for quite a long time and supported myself as a calligrapher, doing certificates, diplomas and some more imaginative work—some illustration; self-taught—but calligraphy was really my area. In the end, an illness prevented me from actually getting the PhD, but that diploma hadn’t really been the point.

AB: At what point did you realize that making art was something you’ve always wanted to do?

JC: Even as a child, I was drawn towards art mainly because there were members of my family who were artists—including my grandfather who was one of those old school artists with great realist technique and who was very daunting for a child to look at, “Oh, I want to do this, but how?” I was also very much drawn to letter forms even as a child and when I arrived at Reed College, they turned out to have this wonderful tradition of calligraphy. And in fact, Reed was at the heart of the calligraphy revival that swept the United States. Lloyd J. Reynolds was the founder of the Western American Branch of the Society for Italic Handwriting (now known as the Portland Society for Calligraphers) and he was of the “lineage” that went back through Edward Johnston to William Morris. He taught at Reed, and I did take a few classes with him. He’d left by the time I got there (he came back for special sessions).   The regular classes were now being taught by a Trappist monk named Robert Palladino, who was nationally known.  Calligraphy was a subject you could take a full year class in—calligraphy and paleography, very academically serious.  Portland was a mecca for really good calligraphers, and perhaps it wasn’t the best place to try to make a living for that very reason, but there were some astoundingly good teachers.

After leaving Tufts, I started taking classes at the Cambridge Center.  My idea was to find out what an art school education would have been like if I had gone in that direction. I took a lot of drawing classes with Phil Press, watercolor with Dudty Fletcher, and then started taking classes with David Wenstrom. Wenstrom’s background is very traditional—realist but not anti-abstract—he emphasizes transmitting the techniques that were handed down from the Renaissance and even before that. I took a ton of classes with him: silverpoint, pencil and charcoal, pastel and oil portrait.  And plein-air oil landscape.  He would organize groups to travel to locations around or outside the Boston area, so he started me in landscape painting too.  At the same time, I started taking classes with Selma Bromberg and I just stuck with them.

AB: You learned printmaking from Selma Bromberg and you’ve been teaching the gelatin monotype class at the Cambridge Center for a few years now. What is it about printmaking that attracts you to it?

JC: Several different things. The matte effect that you can get that you really can’t get unless you’re a master with watercolor. You spread out your inks, and turn the plate over and print it– and there it is. All the work is done beforehand, and you don’t really know what the actual print will look like (until you’re very good).  Printmaking is different from drawing, painting or whatever, where you are working on your surface and building up your image on your substrate—seeing what you’re doing. Printmaking is a lot more like a performance, where everything has been prepared in advance, all the special effects are put in place, waiting to happen.  Everybody—that is all the elements—have to be on cue– and then, Ta Da!–there it is—this is the great reveal and you never know exactly quite what is going to be–which is why everybody gathers around the press when something is going through.

AB: It’s funny you say performance because I interviewed Jason Asselin who is also a printmaker and he has incorporated some aspects of performance into his work. For example, for his MFA thesis at Cranbrook Academy he created an installation where he silkscreened 500 handkerchiefs and placed them in a gallery. Part of the work involved spectators taking the handkerchiefs and tying them to their wrists.

JC: Certainly.  Many art forms could be called performance—where the artist and audience are in immediate relationship (as opposed maybe to reading)–actively involving the audience.  There are painters who paint in public and you watch this canvas being developed. In general, I tend to be a more private worker except when I’m teaching. I think that to really get into the zone, I need to be alone and undisturbed.



AB: In your own words, tell me about your work.

JC: Colors and shapes and trying to get them to work together. For me, that’s a big challenge because I do a lot in black and white design work and then a lot of color with monotypes—colors and different arrangements. Those are beautiful but they need something to hold them together—they need form, so that’s where the design stuff comes in. I take a woodcut and put it on top of a monotype and I also do a lot of combinations on the computer.

AB: You’ve been a student at CCAE for a long time, but you’ve also been a teacher for some time teaching printmaking. Has your practice change over time?

JC: Oh, very definitely. I have gotten better at integrating different elements, so that more and more of my work is multimedia. Also, just from sheer practice I’ve learned something about how I work, about how to organize myself in a way that actually promotes both doing and finishing my pieces–so that I don’t simply lose all of the drawings and prints that I’ve produced over the years. I’m getting into the whole artist journal thing now–as opposed to artist books, which as you know are a different ball game. Artist journals are supposed to be scruffy.  They keep me looking back—as all journals do. They keep things from getting lost, so that has been a very valuable tool.

AB: Have you been doing these artist journals for a while?

JC: Yeah

AB: What got you into them?

JC: I’ve always liked the idea of filling up books—that is, paper in actual book form. I’ve kept handwritten journals for a long time and inevitably I started to illustrate them.

AB: As a teacher, do your students inform the way you make art as well?

JC: I wouldn’t think of it necessarily as the students informing me. I’m so used to being in that print studio as a student and we all look at each other’s work and we all learn from each other’s work. When I have students coming in, of course, I tell them about the basics and they look at what they’re doing and I look at what they come up with and even on the first day, they’re doing these amazingly different things and just being in the midst of that, it’s bound to inform me and inform them and it’s really a group dynamic. I always come away amazed by what they’re produced and what they’ve thought of producing. Yeah, it’s definitely a two-way thing.

The Frenchman

The Frenchman’s Wife, Woodcut. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

AB: When it comes to printmaking, you’ve worked imonotype, woodcut, drypoint, collagraph and solar etching. Do you prefer one technique over another?

JC: Yes–I’ve worked in a lot of different printmaking techniques.  As well as those you mention, I think I’m the only one of Selma Bromberg’s students who’s ever tried to do a mezzotint!  Right now, I’m very much in monotype mode because of gelatin plate is a form of monotype. I got into that a couple of years ago. My first take on gelatin plate was that it was sloppy and made ambiguous messes, but it really isn’t. There a million things you can do with gelatin plate that are vivid and complex. And it’s a wonderful introduction to the printmaking mindset for people who have never done any printmaking at all–or just something simple like vegetable prints or things like that.  And at the same time very experienced printmakers can appreciate it.

AB: What is your process like? What do you look at to get you started?

JC: It can be either colors or letterforms–or something like that. It’s just important to get the pencil moving, doodles—I do a lot of that sort of thing.  I look at medieval manuscripts—children’s book illustrators, science fiction art.

AB: I’m probably going to pronounce this wrong, but tell me about your fascination with dracantapedes. What is a dracantepede and what do they represent to you?

JC: It’s a mythological beast that is associated with the snake in the Garden of Eden. There are snake people throughout world mythology, but this particular image, the Dracantapede, evolved in the Middle Ages.  She’s depicted as a snake with a woman’s head, often wearing a crown, usually shown proffering an apple– and often she is given the same face as Eve. She is connected with the whole idea of the lamia and with Lilith, the first wife of Adam. So this particular woman-headed snake seemed like a good symbol and I’ve adopted her. The one that is on the entry page of my website, it’s kind of an angry looking one. I’ve done her in woodcut and she’s more of a maze—I figured she’s a nice enigmatic symbol.

This interview was conducted on Monday, November 23 at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education

AB, November 2015