Interview with Nick Wroblewski

October 12th, 2009

McClain’s:
I read on your website that you were in the circus. Can you tell us about the experience? Do you find links from your circus past in your prints?

 

 

Among Silence

Among Silence

Nick:
As a young teenager I traveled with a circus that put on a show called The Circle of Water Circus. We performed a show that was about the Mississippi River in every state along the river. The tour started in Minneapolis and ended in New Orleans. In my main act I was dressed as a mosquito on stilts and along with three other stilt walkers and a “mosquito tamer” we enacted the lives of a family of river mosquitoes. I feel like the experience of traveling along an entire river from its source to its end, and being a part of a creative expression about that experience, familiarized me with an activity that was about taking in a landscape, internalizing, and coming up with a way to express the “gesture” of that form. This process was one that I would latter use to create much of my imagery.

 

McClain’s:
You taught yourself Relief Printmaking in 1996. Did you just grab a plank of wood and a gouge and have at it or did you have instruction of some sort?

 

 

 

North Wind

North Wind

Nick:
I went to a high school that emphasized the arts. We had a printing press and an extremely enthusiastic printmaking teacher. I was really influenced by his encouragement. Although he showed me the basics of carving, inking, and printing technique I took the skills further after graduating and taught myself a way to do larger scale reduction woodcuts. It was a slow process of gathering ideas from various instructors and books, but it was an evolution that really was based on trial and error. I feel like printmaking is only a technique, the important part is the intent. I studied painting and sculpture in college and later found relief printmaking to be an appropriate means to express the ideas I wanted to share. For me, it was about learning the process of isolating concepts, refining the form, and translating it through a medium that was enjoyable to work with. I taught myself a way to print my images from carved blocks of wood because it seemed to be the most effective way to express the ideas I wanted to be dealing with.

McClain’s:
Are all of your prints – from the 22×30″s to the 7×10″s – reduction blocks?

 

 

Full Moon

Full Moon

Nick:
All of my color prints have some elements that are printed as a reduction. Working with the reduction method requires a certain amount of fortitude. I really strive to have a clear image of the final piece in my head. It must be clearly imagined to be manifested. However, because the method is so inherently predetermined I try to leave room for spontaneous decisions. Sometimes I will make decisions with the carving tool as I am carving that don’t necessarily correlate with the original drawing. I also don’t fuss too much over mixing colors because it seems with layering in a reduction print the colors end up becoming something entirely different anyway. I do enjoy the challenge of being able to commit to a process that allows very little room for error. Once the edition has been printed that is the end of the process and it cannot be printed again. It is a challenge to take a carving tool to a meticulously carved texture that has already been printed and remove it all to prepare for the next color. This is a lesson in non-attachment!

McClain’s:
You have an extreme range of print styles – from your simpler black line images to your large detail-filled color prints to your abstracts and animal portrait abstracts. Do you find you enjoy one style more than another?

 

Pollinators Rest

Pollinators Rest

Nick:
I do have different styles to express similar ideas. Sometimes it manifests itself in a representational way and sometimes the concept is best expressed abstractly. I don’t really have a preference between these approaches. It’s all essentially about natural phenomena, transformation, and the interconnectedness of it all. Whether this is expressed literally or through refined concept alone does not really matter to me. Lately, however, I have been merging the two more often. I still really enjoy the technical challenge of pulling off a detailed landscape print. But I am finding more abstract elements weaving their way into these versus what is. I like balancing out incredibly intricate areas with areas of open space. I imagine my prints becoming more and more sparse. Switching between modes does help to keep the imagery fresh and exciting. It also keeps the audience from being able to predict my direction.

McClain’s:
Do you have a favorite print that you’ve done?

 

 

 

Nick:
My favorite print at the moment is probably my recent diptych, “Anatomy of Nothingness”. These two prints represent a concept that is close to my heart. I really value those types of landscapes that are possibly seen as nondescript or lacking in grandeur. I appreciate the simplicity of a flat landscape, and look to the “gesture” that these subtle lines manage to express.

Anatomy of NothingnessMcClain’s:
I know your prints are derived from nature but it seems that your recent natural/abstracts are influenced by something mechanical as well. Can you talk about that?

 

 

Speaking in Order to Create

Speaking in Order to Create

Nick:
Some of my abstract prints are possibly influenced by my interest in sculpture. They do speak to a certain mechanical, structured process that nature embodies. I think sculpture deals with dimension, texture, and space. These are elements that I strive to carry through in some of my prints. Partly due to the fact that the imagery is, after all, carved or “sculpted” from wood I feel the final two-dimensional work is quite sculptural.

 

McClain’s:
A friend looked at your recent prints and made the comment that you must have found love (due to the pairings of birds and the halving of shapes and compositions). What inspires your imagery – your personal life, an author, an artist?

 

 

Stargazers

Stargazers

Nick:
I do agree my work is often divided by two. Whether this is shown through “pairings” or by a simple compositional separation, I am intrigued by the dialogue that is created when there is two of something. I am always striving for balance. And because my work is inspired by the presence of balance within nature – light and dark, sun and moon, wet and dry, hot and cold – I find it is a recurring theme within my artwork. Most of my work is really just a way of expressing gratitude. If two birds in a print represent love, that is my way of representing an overall appreciation for the splendor of it all.

McClain’s:
Do you work from photographs, imagination, computer generated imagery?

 

 

Space for Sky

Space for Sky

Nick:
I work from many different sources. When I am creating specific landscape from a specific area I will work from photos. Ideally I would work from drawings, but I can justify working from photos due to the fact that the woodcut process is already one of the more time consuming processes out there. So one shortcut is allowed. Otherwise, I will work from memory or from abstract sketches. I always draw the image, whether from a photo or from my mind, on the block by hand. I never want it to be an exact transfer, I always want there to be an interpretation through the movement of the hand.

McClain’s:
Do you make some prints with the specific intention of selling and some simply for the love of the print? Some to feed the belly, some to feed the soul?

 

 

Red Tailed Hawks

Red Tailed Hawks

Nick:
I really try to make prints that I am compelled to make. A print made to simply please a buyer has no life to it. At times, if I have an edition that seems to have a good response I will make a new print with similar concepts or themes. But I really try to avoid creating something in anticipation of a good response. On the other hand, when a print is received well and folks spend money on it, I see it as a general affirmation of the power of the message. The money is nice and it does help to sustain my efforts, but it is an overall exchange that represents a resonation between artist and audience. I try to not get too commercial about it.

McClain’s:
You have many prints of flowers. Are you interested in the meaning of each flower you carve?

 

 

Columbine

Columbine

Nick:
I haven’t made a flower print in a while. These images represented a simple rendition of a generally agreed upon form of beauty. They were often created in response to a specific experience with a particular flower. I think I may return to some flower prints in the future. After looking at more traditional Japanese woodcuts, I finding myself interested in the pattern, form and decorative aspect of flower prints. If I were to make another series of flower prints they would be more abstract and less literal. I am interested in the significance of particular flowers and plants.

McClain’s:
Can you tell us a little about your carving and printing techniques? Do you have any carving/printing secrets you’d like to reveal or advice you’d like to pass along?

 

 

Heat of the Earth

Heat of the Earth

Nick:
My carving technique is fairly straightforward. I tend to make my first detail cuts with a small u-gouge as opposed to any straight blade carving. This may not be the most precise method, but it is quicker and somewhat more efficient for working on a large scale. I use a lot of transparent medium with my inks to create the subtle gradations and will often print transitions a couple of times with two different colors from each direction. I have recently been playing a bit with placing a board on top of the paper before I lay the felt down. I find it can print a little cleaner, however it doesn’t allow for the nice embossment that not using it creates.

 

Heat of the Heart

Heat of the Heart

My small prints are all done with water-based ink, usually Akua Kolor. And the larger prints are made with either Daniel Smith or Graphic Chemical oil based inks. I have started to only use the Takach brayers and rollers. Although these are more expensive, I find they are the most consistent and effective. I have been very satisfied with the Josei Moku Hanga To carving tools and the 3/8″ Shina plywood. I am printing everything on manual etching presses, a large Takach and a smaller Griffin. The simplest and most effective registration system I have found is the Kento carved directly into the margin of the woodblock. This is great because all orientation is in relation to the block and not the press. So the block can go through the rollers slightly askew but the paper will always be aligned with the block itself.

McClain’s:
As every artist knows, it’s hard to carve out time in your day to get into the studio. You’re making a living as a print artist (congratulations on being one of the few!). You sell prints online; in galleries and shops; fairs and festivals and you teach workshops. How do you ever get a block carved? Do you work on a schedule? Do you forgo eating, bathing and bill paying? Do you have a personal assistant or a fairy godmother?

 

Waterline Greets the Skyline

Waterline Greets the Skyline

Nick:
The unfortunate thing about making a go at being a full time artist is that half the time will be spent dealing with the commerce o f it all. This is hard for the flow of creativity and I find I must be open to switching the valve more often than I would like. There definitely is an art to shaping the way the work itself exists and becomes integrated into people’s lives after it is created. This is a delicate process, but the better one is at maintaining a full circle, where the work is exposed in enough venues that enough people see it that enough people make purchases that enough of the work is sold that there is demand to create more, the more one has a better chance at surviving as an artist. But, yes, it is a challenge to simply have the mind space to sit down and have the satisfaction of being able to simply slide a knife across a nice block of wood. It is all-consuming, but the times when all the logistics are settled and the mind can find that peace where nothing exists but artist and block, there is a great enchantment and freedom that I find with this medium and I am so grateful for it.

Click here to view Nick’s website.

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