This week on Meet the Printmaker, we meet Becky from BirchBones Art, whose artistic energy and positivity was a joy to read in this interview, something which is reflected in her beautiful prints.
Please introduce yourself and what kind of prints you create...
My name is Becky Schaffer and I am a part-time printmaker based out of Boston, Massachusetts USA under the store name BirchBones Art! My primary medium is linocut prints, but I also really enjoy intaglio and dabbling in other print mediums (my dream is to one day be able to try mezzotints and lithographs!). It seems I have a very short attention span for projects and I'm always itching to try new forms of art-making, so I have also recently engaged in painting murals, doing some digital drawing, and using some watercolor in my work.
How long have you been a printmaker? Is it a full-time career for you or a lovely hobby? If you are a full-time printmaker, what does a typical day for you look like?
I pulled my first ever print about two and a half years ago when I was in my last semester at university. I went to school for psychology rather than art, but I tried to cram as many art classes in while I had the opportunity. I had been told many times that my art style would transfer really well in printmaking (I was primarily doing really detailed line work with micron pens at the time), so I finally took an into class right before graduating. I immediately fell in love with the medium, but lost access to a print studio right after finishing the class, so I adapted to making prints out of my bedroom whenever I had time! My full-time focus for the time being is doing therapy with kids, but my dream is to become a part-time social worker and part-time printmaker with a little home studio!
What was the spark that first got you hooked on printmaking? What is it about your medium that draws you in each day?
I was lucky to have a really great mentor, artist Antonio Fonseca, to start me on my printmaking journey. He taught me the basics and encouraged me to keep going even when final pieces didn't turn out exactly the way I wanted! There are countless things I love about printmaking, but I'll try to name just a few. One thing that makes it stand out to me over other mediums is how tactile and hands-on the art making is. I have struggled with anxiety my entire life, and keeping my hands and body busy is something that helps calm my racing mind. Carving into linoleum and being able to both see and feel my progress is extra rewarding to me. The process-oriented nature and ability to engage all my senses in the printing process is also so beautiful! Being able to engage with my art so intimately every step of the way and use all my senses while doing so (the smell and sound of rolling out ink is my favorite thing, I am such a nerd 😭) really makes me feel connected with my final product.
What inspires you? What or who would you say your biggest influences are?
I am definitely most inspired by the natural world and humans, which I think are actually exactly one and the same! A lot of my work is centered around the ways humans connect with nature and each other, as well as the concepts of the internal "self" vs. the external world around us. I think that in the present era, often due to forces outside our control, we have somewhat lost touch with the universe around us and with each other. My belief that everything in the universe is connected is, to me, the most beautiful thing about life and I try to capture that in my work. The things that therefore inspire me the most are times I have felt truly connected to people, places, or existence itself. Some of these include meaningful conversations with friends about the cyclical nature of hurting and healing, lessons and ideas I have learned from the kids I work with, and my own connection with the Earth. I am constantly learning and growing with others, and I try to preserve those experiences in my prints.
If you could give some advice to new printmakers, what would be your most useful tips for beginners?
First, be forgiving and patient with yourself! The medium takes a little brain re-training, since oftentimes you are doing the exact opposite of drawing and carving the image backwards. Take some time to make some small, silly prints to get a feel for the medium. Also, once you feel excited about printmaking and know you want to continue, don't be afraid to invest in some high-quality tools! They will save you a lot of time and frustration later on.
What do your prints say about you? How do you want people to feel when they look at your prints?
All of my prints are reflections of my own experiences, often surrounding my mental health journey and existential struggles. Making art is a way for me to "figure things out" and make sense of the world around me. I also really try to capture the beauty I have found through these struggles: connection to nature, growing with other humans, and experiencing the capacity people have to love each other. I know that everyone will have a different experience when looking at my work, but I generally hope to remind people of the beauty of human (and universal) connection.
Are your prints influenced by external events (social, political) or do you prefer your work to remain neutral?
I believe that even trying to remain neutral would be a political act because my art is rooted in my life experiences and views on the world. My work is influenced by struggles I believe to be common to the human condition: wanting to feel like we belong, being able to communicate our needs and desires to others, and to be at peace in the world around us. These are some of my core values that I also try to bring into my roles as an activist, therapist, and proponent of mutual aid, neurodiversity, and community care
Do you have a favourite part of the printmaking process? What brings you the most joy?
I love all parts of the process (except cleanup hehe), but my favorite moments are finally having the image transferred or drawn onto a block and making that first carve (the first one is always the scariest!), as well as the moment I make the first proof of something I have finished carving. Even if it isn't completely finished yet, it's still so rewarding to see the printed image.
How do you print? Do you have access to a studio or are you a home printmaker?
I mostly print out of my bedroom and I do all of my carving at home! I invested in a tiny etching press recently and that has been a huge time saver. I also recently joined a studio about a two hours drive away from me called First Proof Press in Brattleboro, Vermont. Dan has such a beautiful space with great energy I knew I wanted to be a part of it, but I do work a lot and it is a far drive so I can only get up there once or twice a month. Having that access allows me to continue to do etchings though, which I am really grateful for!
Every day feels like a school day when you're a printmaker and failure is not talked about too much online.. what would you say is the most challenging part of printmaking?
Remaining flexible and patient in the carving process is definitely the toughest! I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to achieving the vision I have in my head, so whenever I make a stray mark I try to remember to take a step back instead of trying to overwork the area, because you can't really un-carve something! The fact that you can't see the finished product until you're done carving makes this even more difficult, so I try to stay flexible if I make a mistake and remind myself that tiny imperfections likely won't be noticeable in the final print anyways!
What is your next big printmaking challenge? Do you have a plan for the next 12 months or do you take each day as it comes?
I am currently working on an A2 sized linocut that I am really excited for! Tried to push myself at creating equal detail in the background, since filling the entire space of a piece is always a challenge for me. Other than that, I have a ton of ideas always floating around, but I generally wait until it feels like the right time to create them.
Where can people find out more about you and your prints?
My website birchbonesart.com, which links to my Etsy (BirchBones Art!). I am trying to get better at updating the shop, so you can mostly find what I'm currently working on on Instagram @birchbonesart.
What is your favourite print (of your own)?
Definitely my gigantic woodblock I made with BigInk Prints! It was a completely new medium and scale for me and it came out pretty much how I saw in my head, which was amazing.
Music/podcasts when you're creating or silence?
Always music or podcasts! I have been listening to a lot of old folk music and the printmaking podcast Pine Copper Lime recently.
Printing press or by hand?
I try to get up to the print studio as much as possible, but sometimes a baren and some elbow grease will have to do.
If you could meet any artist (alive or dead), who would it be?
One of the early Dadaist or Surrealist artists, like Andre Breton, Rene Magritte, or Frida Khalo! I feel like I really identify with their work and their politics
One word to sum up your style?