Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman
We met this week’s artist, Master Printer Deb Chaney, during Bushwick Open Studios. In a sea of dozens of artists at Brooklyn Fire Proof, Deb’s studio shined a little brighter than the rest. She’s our first featured printmaker that focuses on printing other artist’s editions more often than her own, although her personal work is divine. Lithographers are a rare breed, making Deb a sought after commodity by big named collections like Pace Editions, among others. Keep reading to get into the mind of this professional printmaker and educator.
SHANON WELTMAN: I see that you do a bunch of different printing techniques, but what draws you the most to lithography?
DEB CHANEY: When I was in school studying I really gravitated towards lithography because I was really fascinated with the idea of drawing on rocks, drawing on stones. Traditionally, lithography is done on limestone and I just thought that that was the coolest thing ever, [Laughs] and very magical. There’s this mystique which just seems so strange and impossible, I’d never seen anything like it. So I just really wanted to take that class. When I did, it had the perfect union of drawing and working with my hands and being physical. Physically operating the presses and standing above the different materials. It’s very process oriented and I was pretty brainy in high school. I liked problem solving and things like that. Even though I was kind of good at math and science, I kind of wasn’t into it, you know? I knew that I wanted to study art. Just drawing, plain old drawing with plain old painting wasn’t interesting to me. I love drawing but the beauty of printing and printmaking is that you have this other element of this process. I just really love the ink. I gravitated towards litho rather than etching because I like the rolling of the ink, the physical process of it in general. The mixing of the colors of the ink, really stones really sold it to me. The magic of printing with them. It’s just the perfect union of drawing and operating these amazing presses.
DC: I was there 2003-05, what year was he?
SW: I think, right after that. Like 2007-8 maybe.
DC: Patrick, I don’t know… there were a lot of people at Tamarind, you kind of end up knowing them eventually or come across them or I don’t know. It’s a small world, everybody kind of knows everybody. [Laughs]
DC: My studio mate, Ana, she went to Tamarind but she was there in 2010. 2010-11, that year. I loved Tamarind, that was just a really amazing experience in general. Just to be able to go to Litho Mecca you know? [Laughs] To go to this mystical place that you’d always heard about. When I was in school my professors were really great about opening our eyes to the possibility of collaborative printing and being a master printer. It was talked about, I was shown prints from Tamarind. That’s a unique thing about printmaking too, you have this other world of potential career being a master printer, a collaborative printer. There’s so much process in it, it’s a real art in and of itself to learn the ins and outs of all these different processes. When I was in school, what really got me interested was the great visiting artist program there. They would have at least one or two artists per semester come and the students would be able to, depending on the artist, be able to help out a lot in the project itself, being really hands on and involved in the creative process of the artist. Every artist is different, their approach to image making and mark making, composition, just their decision making, completely different from one to the next. Some work with absolute plans and colors and how many runs, this or that stone or plate, other people are just like ‘Ah, whatever’ and it’s very intuitive. It was really interesting for me to see that as a young artist. I was really just young and trying to figure out my own manner of image making. It was really eye-opening to be a part of these, get inside these other artists’ brains and see through their eyes and thought process. Mix colors that you never ever choose to mix yourself in your own artwork. The color combinations that you’d never ever imagine working, work beautifully. You just learn a lot out there.
DC: Now, as a master printer, a collaborative printer, I’m making all different kinds of work too. Some people work very realistically, some work really abstractly, it’s really fun to be able to work in these different manners, these different styles.
SW: How many different artists do you work with monthly on average?
DC: It really varies. I have several clients that I work with. Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s three, depends on the project a lot. It depends on the flow of the work that’s coming in. Most of what I do is contract printing, individual artists or publishers will contact me to produce editions of the artist’s work that they’re publishing. So, I’m either given artwork by the mail, some people will ship drawings or layers of drawings on mylar to me. Some people are local so they’re able to come into the studio and work directly with me. I’m at the very beginning stages of doing my own publishing, so most of my work I do is contract publishing, people pay for the production costs and they get the editions in the end and it’s their responsibility for selling them. My goal is to to have the freedom to choose the artists who I want to work with, whose work I want to promote, and then I have the responsibility of selling the work. Or working with an art dealer, art consultant type person in order to place the work with different collectors or buyers, something like that. Getting to the nitty-gritty of the marketing side of the print world. It’s interesting starting that, I think it’s really exciting too. I’m excited about that freedom of being able to choose and promote people whose work I really really admire.
SW: Who are some people you’d like to print for?
DC: I have a wish list but a lot of them in the beginning are friends, friends who are artists. That’s the beauty of working in Brooklyn or just NY in general. There’s a plethora of amazing talented artist that are in your backyard basically, and you know, I’m fortunate enough to feel like I have a lot of different friends here who are super talented and I’d love to work with. Most of them are painters, some sculptors, but a lot of people who just draw. Drawing skills that are really astounding, I love their work. As a printer, the beauty of being a printer is you get a copy of every print that you get to work on too. It’s also kind of choosing whose work you’d want to have a piece of too. Like if you can’t afford somebody’s sculpture or painting, you can invite somebody to make a print with you.
SW: Do you get a chance to work on your own artwork?
DC: I do actually, it’s sporadic for sure because my own artwork isn’t my source of income. My main source of income is from my business of printing, and I teach too during the semester. I teach litho at Pratt Institute and then every other semester I teach an intro to printmaking class at Parsons.
SW: I was going to ask about that, I know a bunch of printmakers, but you’re the only one [I know] that’s a teacher as well. Besides a steady source of income, what draws you to teaching?
DC: I kind of feel like it’s my duty [Laughs] for the sake of lithography. I’ve taught lots of classes and print workshops at other places. I’ve come across people who have taken printmaking classes before and they all have nightmare stories about litho and it breaks my heart when somebody’s like ‘I hate litho, it never works out.’ ‘It’s so hard’, and I just feel like it’s because – I don’t want to sound snobby – but I don’t think that people know how to teach it very well. It’s one of the most difficult printmaking processes. It’s chemistry, there’s tons of problem solving. If you don’t know how to troubleshoot or problem solve, lots of things can go wrong. A lot of times you get professors who get hired, and this is an issue within the academic system too, printmakers, most of the time you pick a medium and stick with it and may dabble in the others. Someone who is really great with silkscreen could be hired to teach printmaking. To be the printmaking professor means you have to teach all these different mediums, including lithography. Somebody whose strong suit is in silkscreen more than likely their strong suit is not also going to be lithography. That’s when problems happen. The expectations of the University is to hire one person to do everything. It’s nearly impossible for one person to, well not nearly impossible, but it’s hard. It’s a rare thing for a printmaking professor to really have a whole set of tools under their belt to be able to teach every single printmaking discipline.
SW: I asked before who you’d like to work with, of the people and galleries that you have worked with, were there any really exciting artists for you that it’s been kind of a dream for you to print their stuff?
DC: One major major project that I have been working on a little bit over a year now has been a project with Pace Editions, just being a printer for Pace is huge. It’s Pace, they’re one of the biggest print publishers in the world and it was just a real honor that they would entrust me to take on printing for an artist like Will Cotton. Will, they had an exhibition last fall, last October at Pace Prints in Chelsea. Will loves litho. He just loves it, and that’s one medium that for whatever reason, Pace doesn’t do. They don’t have litho facilities. The printer that introduced Will to lithography was Ruth Lingen who operates Pace Paper. She knows litho and she’s been through the Tamarind summer workshop summer program. I’ve helped her in the past on some of the Will projects that they’ve done. Once he got more accustomed to and used to litho and all of the materials and what you can do, she kind of passed on more responsibility to me as far as the technical side of it. Processing the plate and the print editions. She was the collaborative printer on the project working directly with Will, but she was there the whole time with me editioning. It was printed in my shop and I was the one doing all of the major processing and inking. It was a big collaboration between Will and Ruth, Pace and myself, it was really exciting. I think that was one of the most exciting projects that I’ve been involved with recently. Especially since I’ve gone out on my own. I started doing freelance four, maybe five years ago now. I was working at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking workshop, that’s how I know Russ [Spitkovsky], Justin [Sanz], those amazing printmakers.
SW: We actually interviewed Justin recently.
DC: He’s such a sweetheart, he’s so good. He’s such a good printer, he has a really great personality and temperament, a real sweet guy. After I stopped working there, I went on to do my own thing and freelance contract work. That’s kind of when I started using all the connections that I’ve made in the city and people that I’ve met. Just different artists, all through word of mouth I’ve slowly accumulated a pretty good base of work. Teaching and printing, four and a half years in now, I’m busy. Which is just fantastic. Since I’ve gone freelance that is pretty much the biggest project to date that I’ve been involved with. Almost every bit of that work that was up for the show [BOS] was printed in my shop.
SW: That’s exciting!
DC: Super super exciting. Will is a nice guy, it was exciting that he loved litho just like me. [Laughs] For a painter who shows with the Mary Boone gallery, somebody of that stature, with that level of success to really love printing, printmaking and litho specifically, that was really exciting.
SW: You mentioned you are able to work on your own work, but are you getting enough of your own creative expression out? Do you find that in printing other peoples things? The order?
DC: I do, it is creative, it’s not necessarily my signature, imagery or choices, but it is creative. I am totally involved, when if the color is too dark, so I’ve noticed it, brought it up and we’re collaborating. Working on this together, to make a successful piece together. That piece won’t happen with the two of us being involved, normally. Sometimes it’s just ‘here, print this, I want these colors, great.’ But most of the time, what I enjoy most is these kind of collaborations. You’re having communication, dialogue decision making. In the end, sure, his name is on it. I have a little shop, that’s my signature. But it’s not about me, that’s something that becoming a master printer, that’s what it is, that’s a part of it. For me, that totally satisfies me, it’s still very creative and I get a lot out of it and I’m working. It’s great.
SW: There’s definitely an art to being as organized and structured too. Like so clean and exacting, it’s its own art. I didn’t mean to ask it in anyway…
DC: No problem, I’ve answered that question many times. It’s not for everybody. People going into the Tamarind program, they think sometimes that’s what they like, that’s what they’re into, they’re okay with. Sometimes people just change their minds and they leave, halfway through or after the first year. I can’t not make my own work for myself. It’s just not for everybody. I look at it from the creative standpoint, I’m making more work than most people. Period. [Laughs] And I’m making a lot of work, and it is creative. It is not just reproduction.
SW: Yeah, it’s a fine art, you have to make art direction type choices. Last question: What mythical animal is your spirit animal?
DC: Oh gosh, well… my email is Brayer Rabbit, that’s like my dorky printmaker from the south name. Like Briar Rabbit, Briar Patch.
DC: I started drawing lots of rabbits in college, I was like ‘where is all this rabbit stuff coming from?’ Just thinking back, I had rabbits all over my house. My mom was obsessed with rabbits. I didn’t really realize until late. You know, you just start drawing stuff when you’re little and you’re just like, I don’t know where this is coming from. That’s when I just realized there was rabbits all over the place. And rabbit stories, you know? Like Peter Rabbit, that was my bedroom theme when I was a little girl. For whatever reason, I think a rabbit would be my spirit animal. [Laughs]