“There’s something magic when you pull back that paper — you never know what you’ll get,” says Virginia “Ginny” Furmanski, describing the appeal of the printing press. A machine associated with bookmaking and the Gutenberg Bible and credited with bringing modernity to medieval times may not, at first glance, seem like a tool for visual artistic expression. But the fine-art printmakers that form the artists’ collective known as the Inkspots have harnessed its unique properties to create textured, multilayered and, sometimes, multimedia compositions.
Printmaking covers a lot of territory. There’s relief, whereby a plate or other medium is carved so that the flat surfaces are inked. Woodcuts, the oldest printmaking technique, are created by carving an image into wood. Linocuts are the same as woodcuts, but made with linoleum (valued for its softness and more fluid lines). There’s also etching, engraving, drypoint; the list goes on. “There’s some confusion about the technical aspect of it,” Inkspots member Bay Hallowell admits. “People confuse a print with something mass produced,” Furmanski adds.
The works coming out of the Inkspots’ studio are anything but. Daring compositions, intricate carvings, mixing photography, drawing, painting, watercolor and text to create a single printed image — magical indeed — and interdisciplinary: different techniques and mediums are tools of the trade. Furmanski and Hallowell both appreciate the way the art form merges technical troubleshooting with creative inspiration. “It’s very intellectual,” Furmanski attests. “You have to think in reverse, a lot.” Hallowell adds that “there are a lot of things to adjust and figure out — which is why it’s so fun!”
And, in the world of fine art, affordable. A limited-edition print or even a single monotype will generally cost much less than a painting — think hundreds rather than thousands of dollars — making it more accessible. “It’s on paper, and more affordable, which I think makes art more democratic,” Hallowell explains.
The collective got its start in 2006, a few years after Furmanski moved to Ventura from Manhattan Beach. A retired art therapist, she was itching to create art for its own sake. “On a whim I bought a printing press and put it in the garage,” she recalls. She took classes and got to know other artists in the area, including Betsy Quinn, Judy Gibbs and Karen Brown, who were part of a group called the Odyssey Art League. The four artists banded together to find a studio for fine-art printmaking. The Inkspots officially opened their doors at the Sea Breeze Gallery in 2007 then moved to their current location on Ventura Avenue in 2011. (They share the space with Furmanski’s son, Matthew, an artist in his own right who teaches at California State University Channel Islands.) The collective, which this year boasts 13 members, was spotlighted by Focus on the Masters earlier this month.
Inkspots membership is somewhat fluid. “People come and go,” Furmanski explains. “And they come back. We ask them to commit to a year.” Artists pay a fee for use of the space, equipment and materials (They supply their own paper) and share the various duties, such as chairing quarterly meetings or organizing projects. Members are quite active individually, but come together once a year to do a show. This year’s exhibition, Inklings, runs through Dec. 19.
“I enjoy the synergy of the group,” Hallowell says of her artistic community. “We’re all very different; we have different messages and moods in our art. It’s very stimulating.” Furmanski appreciates having a community in which to create her art. “I just think everyone is very supportive,” she says. “There’s not a lot of jealousy. We’re not competitive — we’re collaborative. We teach each other, and inspire each other.”
When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1400s, he imagined it as a tool for disseminating information, not creative expression. The printmakers that make up the Inkspots have managed to do both. With their annual exhibition up on the walls, now is a great time to explore this age-old, ever-changing technique.