As a medium, printmaking embodies both mechanical and physical processes: the digital and the hand, rules and freedom. Explore this back and forth in a conversation between artists Savanna Snow (MFA, 2012) and Rebecca Chou (SFAI Board Member), both currently involved in SFAI Public Education as a teacher and student, respectively.
Savanna Snow (SS): I consider myself a printmaker; a majority of my visual art is created through screen printing and relief prints, but I also paint. For many years I’ve had the pleasure to share my knowledge and experience of the printmaking process with students through SFAI Public Education.
Rebecca Chou (RC): I’m a painter; I use acrylic on canvas with different mark-making tools, like brushes, knives, fingers, paint markers, sprays, or oil pastel sticks. I work directly without much pre-planning so that my work is immediate, fresh and intuitive. Practicing art has freed my power of observation and creative thought process. For inspiration, I look to space sciences, physics, new technology, current events, pop culture, and business and leadership essays.
I’m currently working abstractly, experimenting with lines, shapes, and colors and how they influence the overall composition. My geometric paintings focus on colors and geometry, and are devoid of brush marks and lines.
SS: I think we share a commonality with our rigid painting practices. For me, where printmaking and painting meet is that they’re both practice and process oriented. There’s a lot of set-up in printmaking, but after you have your screens, there’s a freedom. With my painting, I lose myself in the process—the geometric patterning and clean linework is a process-oriented way of working.
I usually combine both practices in my work. I’ll screenprint photographic or figurative imagery, but sometimes the medium is too literal. Painting allows me to create something and address the topic in a different way. I’m currently building on an existing series which consists of serigraph portraits depicting oracles, diviners, healers, and female prophets alongside abstract paintings that capture moments of magic during ritual.
RC: I’ve recently begun to incorporate fabric or hatch marks into my abstract paintings through image transfers, which led me to take this screenprinting class, my first one. I’ve watched videos online, but that’s nothing like the opportunity to learn the entire process and figure out how to incorporate the medium into my work.
There are a lot of steps and processes that I had no idea were so involved, from how to wash your screen, edit in Photoshop, and make sure your image is clean. With painting, it’s almost like the opposite, so I take lots of notes.
SS: Yes, printmaking is a lot less immediate than you would think. It might look easy, but no; the process goes from photographing, editing, and color separating the image into films to cleaning, coating, and burning screens. When you’re finally there with a piece of paper and your inks mixed, you can do whatever you want. It’s a nice space.
In the realm of the classroom setting, there are certain standards that exist in printmaking, and I hold our class to it for our first print, things like alignment, color, and clean prints. These are hard to achieve, but give an understanding of the historic perspective of printmaking.
RC: My first print—a self-portrait—was inspired by Andy Warhol’s Mick Jagger screenprints that I recently saw at Saatchi and Saatchi Gallery. I’ve done three colors of my self-portrait in two different styles. Now I’m doing a series about Angry Birds; maybe I’ll do Pokemon Go next.
I think that screenprinting will inform my painting a lot, I’m already getting more sensitivity to color intensity (i.e. black ink) and negative space. In the future, I might want to use screenprinting on my canvas and still paint with a brush, so I have a mixture of the two. I’ve been able to incorporate the color and gesture into my screenprinting so far; the effect is half-graphic, as the brushstrokes come through.
SS: Yeah, you have a really nice hybridity going. Printmaking is this other realm—an intersection of different forms of media, art, and design. You can paint directly on the film, for example, so that the hand of the artist is present rather than the digital technology. Especially if you’re already a painter, why not incorporate that into your printmaking. But Rebecca, you’ve found your own path and process.
RC: I just don’t feel like there are any boundaries…
SS: To your point, it’s actually not very restricting; once you have that screen done, you can essentially do anything you want with color and composition. It’s really liberating. You’ve been inspiring people in class too! You recently poured all these different colored inks on the screen, which makes a gradient, technicolor effect.
Your approach seems to be an interesting contrast to your painting process, which is so clean and graphic. You’d think this would continue for a medium that’s technically graphic art, made for mass-production of graphic images—but you’re almost painting with screenprinting.
RC: In printmaking, there are a lot of surprises; you don’t really know how your work is going to turn out until the very end. There’s a lot of build up, and the climax is when you print on your paper, or add colors to an existing print. And certain happy accidents can happen, such as if you run your screen too many times and your image gets shaky, not overlapping exactly. I find that effect interesting…
SS: I’m currently really inspired by work happening at Paulson Bott Press, specifically these prints of Tauba Auerbach’s work. Talk about color! What’s amazing to me is that they’re able to recreate these ephemeral moments in multiple.
Gemini G.E.L in Southern California is also doing some really beautiful, massive screenprints of John Baldessari’s work. I’m always intrigued by things that are seemingly very simple but are extremely complicated in their creation and their repetition. The ability to repeat it is what I’m drilling in upstairs in our screenprinting class. That’s great that you did one, now do ten or twenty or 250. If you can do that, then you’re getting into being a printmaker.
RC: Printmaking is so new to me, but I’m constantly inspired by my surroundings. I live part-time in Paris and visit galleries and museums constantly internationally and in the United States. We’re always influenced by what we see, all the time, so I just keep myself very open.
Since 2011, I have taken courses in painting, drawing, sculpture, etching, and now screenprinting. I’d been self-taught, so I’ve been learning a new language here—the artist language.
SS: I started out teaching in the Young Artist Program, then PreCollege, and now in Public Education. I’m constantly awed by the quality of the work my students generate. You get to this place where you’re printing and it gets very academic and very serious—it’s your art. But when you’re teaching, your students just do things and you learn too.
I really get excited about getting to come back here and teach. It’s been a really great way to share what I’ve learned here. I had some really great mentors at SFAI, like Tim Berry, Amy Todd, Amy Ellingson, and Mildred Howard. Public Education is singular here because all ages can connect with SFAI and what makes it special.
RC: Yes, I’ve taken other classes in the city and there’s no comparison. I’ve always loved SFAI and all that comes with it; it’s intellectual, but encourages you to get your hands dirty and think outside the box. I like the energy and commitment of the students; you see people making art, doing art, talking about art, being excited, experimenting, and working without boundaries. It’s so freeing.
As a SFAI board member, I want to help move the school’s purpose forward and try to fill in the gaps and make it a highly successful institution. That’s my passion. I’m just naturally doing it anyway, I recruit people for Public Education and I bring people here constantly who aren’t artists to get them engaged in SFAI and the arts. I think the best speaker is the school itself—the atmosphere and the work we display.
SS: The school does have a presence; I walk through the archway and feel a thrill every time.
RC: Yes, there’s a lot of very creative energy in the school. It’s a sanctuary from the rest of the world, so I’m going to continue my art education and contribute to advancing this institution with time, energy, and executive experience from the business world. I want to share my excitement as a board member and as an artist—the possibilities are endless.
Rebecca Chou brings decades of experience in global executive management, leadership consulting and Fortune 200 executive positions in human resources management and professional development. She is currently a Principal at Ridgway Institute and Partner of Talent Age Associates and her consulting firm CXS. Chou held the role of Global Human Resources Vice President of SYNNEX Corporation and helped the company achieve an IPO at $8 billion in 2004. She was Sr. Director at Northwest/Delta Airlines, Pillsbury and Amdahl/Fujitsu Corporations. In the past decade, she has served on the Board of Directors of Asia America Multi Technology Association and championed innovation, thought leadership and professional networks, building business connections between North America and chapters formed throughout countries in Asia.
Ms. Chou holds a BA in English from Tamkang University and an MA in Counseling from the University of New Mexico. She has been part of SFAI’s Public Education since 2011 and has exhibited paintings in the San Francisco Bay Area and Paris, France since 2012. Chou joined SFAI’s board of trustees in summer 2016. Chou lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and part-time in Paris, France. Learn more »
Savanna Snow earned her MFA in Printmaking from San Francisco Art Institute and her BFA from Art Center College of Design. She has created permanent community-based public art installations in the East Bay. She has exhibited at the Laguna Art Museum and various galleries in the East Bay and Los Angeles. Snow is currently Public Education Faculty at San Francisco Art Institute. Learn more »
SFAI Public Education’s non-credit evening and weekend courses span the breadth of contemporary art—from traditional techniques in drawing, painting, photography, film, printmaking, and sculpture to radical excursions in food, art, meditation, and mapping. Register for Fall 2016»
Image credits:1-2) Photos by Stephanie Smith; 3) Savanna Snow, Chrysalis, 2015; 4 color serigraph, on vellum, 2015; Courtesy of the artist; 4) Rebecca Chou, Self-portrait, 2016; Courtesy of the artist; 5) Rebecca Chou, Self-portrait, 2016; Courtesy of the artist; 6-13) Photos by Stephanie Smith.