The five-day Copperplate Photogravure workshop at Paul Taylor’s Renaissance Press was an extraordinary experience. What made it singular was that Paul brought to his teaching decades of experience as a master printer, the analytical rigor of a scientist, and the eye and spontaneity of a working artist. Paul understood and was adept at shifting the conversation between the nuanced relationship of technique, the need for mastery of process, and the unpredictability of creative expression.
With an eye to gaining complete control over the tonal range of the final print, the first two days were spent in a careful analysis and explanation of the steps required to create a perfectly tuned digital positive to use as the foundation for making the plate. Although I had some experience working with Photoshop, and some modest success in working with photopolymer plates, this discussion brought me into areas of digital technology that previously just contemplating made me break out into cold sweats. However, Paul’s patient and clear step-by-step explanations allowed me to acquire the tools and understanding necessary to apply his processes to creating a precise digital positive, and with that technical and aesthetic control over the final print that I had aspired to but as yet had never been able to achieve. What made this process such a powerful and original creative tool was that the linearization techniques Paul has developed take into account the artist’s equipment, workflow, paper, chemistry, exposing unit, (etc.) and ultimately allows one to create a positive that results in prints unique to the vision of the artist. Since I also have worked with platinum and other alternative processes, what I also found exiting about Paul’s approach was that what I learned during the film-making aspects of the workshop could be also applied to creating negatives for all other types of contact printing processes.
As the days progressed, we moved from the computer to the darkroom and finally into the printing studio. Each step of the process was clearly presented in a way that can only come from years of teaching experience. By the end of the workshop, I had acquired a vast amount of new knowledge and understanding as well as two copper plates, and from them prints that possessed exactly those long-sought qualities of tonality and richness that are the hallmark of the photogravure process. Paul also encouraged the members of the workshop to work together, to problem solve and in this fashion not only gain understanding, but ownership of the gravure process, so that now, having returned to my own studio, I am able to truly utilize the tools and creative techniques that I acquired.
The workshop was further enriched by any number of spontaneous discussions about art, artists and the history of the gravure process that put the technical aspects of Paul’s teaching into a larger context. Paul arranged for a visit from a friend who ran a local letterpress studio and who brought an example of a book of poetry, exquisitely printed and bound, and illustrated with photogravures. In addition there were several discussion sparked by his collection of gravure prints that further put into an aesthetic and creative context the techniques we were learning.
In an incredibly intense five days I acquired an amazing amount of information and as I now begin to put just some of what I have learned into practice I continue to appreciate both Paul’s vast understanding of the gravure process as well as his generosity and skill in sharing that knowledge.
Chair, Department of Art and Design
Queensborough Community College, CUNY