A Math Major’s Aesthetic

My first printmaking project: graphic and tonal linocuts.
Stippling with a drypoint needle for this Intaglio print.
Multiple screen prints of an entangled snake create a continuous pattern.
Hatching creates different tones for a pixelated effect (hard ground etching).

“This is the perfect project for you,” my printmaking professor says to me sarcastically, as I’m brainstorming ideas for my final project.

We had just finished a demo on photopolymer, the last printmaking technique I’ll learn this semester. Our final project focuses on deconstruction. We take an image and break it down. Tear it, smudge it, scribble over it, cut it up and tape it back together, photo copy it. These are a few of the ways in which my professor suggests we experiment with manipulating our images. One of my classmates asks if she can burn the film on which the image is developed. He tells her to see what happens.

Printmaking has been one of my most challenging classes so far.

This is totally not my aesthetic. Employing a technique without knowing how it will turn out does not appeal to me at all. I approach every project in the same way that I’d solve a math problem, deliberately and systematically. First, I look at what I’m given. We’ve covered relief, intaglio, and screen printing. Each technique has its own medium and its own tools.

Next, I identify the problem that needs to be solved. How do I make an image with highlights, midtones, and shadows, only using black and white? How do I render a realistic face in copper using a dry point needle? How do I make create a pattern?

I then plan out my solution. For relief printing, I researched different relief artists and looked at how they build tone. For my intaglio print, I tested out several shading techniques until I found that stippling would give me the look I wanted. And for screen printing I drew preliminary sketches to help me understand how patterns work.

Once I have my plan of attack, I dive straight in. I begin cutting or carving or etching. Even the way I implement my designs is methodical. I draw concentric circles with a compass and carefully angled lines with a ruler. For my intaglio print, in which I use stippling, I map out the areas of different tone on my reference picture.

Printmaking has been one of my most challenging classes so far. But as with any tough math problem, overcoming the challenge makes finding the solution all the more gratifying.

“This is the perfect project for you,” my printmaking professor says to me sarcastically, as I’m brainstorming ideas for my final project. “You can’t plan this out so meticulously like you always do.”

And I tell him, “I’ll find a way.”