Alex Escalera

This week on 'The Inkplate' we talk to Alex Escalera, a copy writer by day and printmaker by night. He shares his struggles as a pandemic printmaker and his epic green outdoor studio!

Daniel: You have a different approach to printmaking, you come from the advertising world. You are a copywriter, how did you get started in printmaking?

Alex: In my career, copywriters work with art directors to come up with the ad, the look and feel. So my job is to do all the writing, with all the scripts, or messages that have to be said. It my be as simple as a tweet, or a social media post, or an Instagram post for a client and then I work with an art director who comes up with the visuals.

I have always loved being artistic, I used to be more when I was younger but I never took care of my supplies so my parents just stopped buying them. So, I found this new found love for writing during my senior year in undergrad. I was already in marketing, but I knew I wanted to be on the creative side. I wanted to be the person coming up with he idea, and I ended up going to this school called the Creative Circus for grad school in Atlanta. That school specifically focuses on advertising, and you go specifically to build your portfolio.

So, like a lot of people during the pandemic it was just a hobby that I picked up. Funny enough, I saw one of my friends who also works in advertising, and she is an art director she got into linocut and it was one of those oddly satisfying things. I knew I would love to do that too, so I bought myself a whole bunch of stuff at the beginning. Not knowing where to start, I had all these materials and just picked it up!

I have this notebook, a sketchbook, where I keep everything. I believe I dated it July 2020 and so I started practicing, with simple designs, just getting used to the tools. Then I stopped for a while and picked it up again recently. Copywriting is my day job, and lino printing is my 5-9! It has been a lot of fun!

Daniel: We both started with the pandemic, what do you feel has been one of the greatest challenges you have experienced with linocut and printmaking?

Alex: At first it was just the carving of details. Not digging in too much, and having the blade slip off and breaking something off and ruining the block! There was a lot of that. I bought a bunch of supplies, because I told myself I need this type of cutter, and this type of tool I should have just started with one and just practice! I treat everything the same way. I go all in.

I worked for about a month straight then I got frustrated and fell off and didn’t touch it for months.

I learned to be patience and write stuff down, and doing it for me.

I think at some point it just felt like a chore. It should have not felt like that, because this was my escape from my day job. Once I was ready to pick it up again I was just watching videos, and seeing people doing it so I was ready.

When I get into something I really get into it. My nearest art store is a good 20-30 minutes away so I would buy something, then I would tell myself I needed something else. So wasted a lot of my time going back and forth. I wanted to take this seriously, so I opened and Etsy shop, and Instagram page, and then I needed to create content. That is the point I overwhelmed myself, how do I do this? What do I record? What do I share?

I realized that the phone was sort of impending me from doing a lot of stuff.

The last print that I did, and I am working right now I did not record any detail shots or carving shots. I just felt like the camera was an extra set of eyes watching over me, and I did not like that. I did not record anything, because I was too worried if my head was going to be on the way, so I decided to focus on other stuff. So, I think learning what tools to use while carving. I can be a perfectionist, I am not perfect, but I can see something and I want it, I want to replicate it. I would give something a shot and be disappointed it was not working it, but I have learned to do it little by little, just sitting down one night or afternoon and go at it. It has been nice, because I can get my (day) work done, and have something to look forwards to. Yeah!

Daniel: That is so cool! I so relate to the supply issue, because it is something I did too! I would compare what people would be using and just get all frustrated about it!

Speaking of tools, do you have a favorite tool?

Alex: Funny enough I started off with the regular Speedball gouge, and then the fancy ones. I bought a couple of the small ones to test them out. Mostly gravitate to the smaller detail tools, since I don’t trust myself with the larger gauges yet. I end up always end up going back to the red Spedball gouge all the time, I don’t have all the blades inside anymore so I may need to order them again.

Now I take things slower, and feel more confident in the work.

I have recently started using Power Grip tools, I feel they have more of a handle, those are really nice. Although, I feel I end up using those more when I take the photos of the final product, when they are a detail shot. Recently, I bought a brayer that is mostly metal, it doesn’t have a plate on it. This brayer is very thin, because I felt the other brayers would get so much gunk under them, and I don’t like the cleaning part honestly.

Daniel: That is true! You always end up with ink stuck to them. Especially if you are using oil inks I feel it gets all over the place and can be a hassle to clean.

One of the cool things that you are doing, which I have not seen a whole lot of people do is having an outside studio. How did that idea come about?

Alex: So, right before the pandemic started I was working in Austin, Texas and when the news of the COVID shutdowns started I was lucky that my lease was up. Regardless of what was going to happen with work, I was going to return back home to California. I came back to my hometown, and this is a small house there is not enough space to settle down with all my stuff. Weirdly enough I like working on the floor, if I could work on the floor I would. I tried finding a coffee table that was low enough but never found one. I worked on my room for a little bit, I would just hang stuff on my room to dry. Then, I came to the kitchen, on the little bar, but I tend to be a bit messy and take over everything. I needed a spot just for me.

I had already had a storage locker, but that had been a gift for my brother to put his shoes in and when he didn’t want it I left it outside behind the back porch. So, I decided to use it for my stuff, then I needed a desk, and I kid you not I found a desk at 11PM one night on Facebook marketplace. I picked top the desk the next morning!

You know, being in the California Central Valley, it gets hot during the day but at night it get cool. So, I realized that I do a lot of my printing at night anyways, and it is always way cooler and breezing at night. Now I work outside! It’s a nice way to give myself some me time. I might get myself a little cart so that I can roll things away to the garage.

I honestly I like being outside because it is so peaceful and quiet. I still use the kitchen, but now only to bring things inside after I printed them so that they don’t fly away or get dusty. Once I am done printing I move them to where I hagn them. It has been nice, I have used whatever tables I have int he patio, and work where no one is on my way or I am on anyone's way. I really like it, it is really peaceful.

Hopefully, once that the temperatures go down and it is not as dusty and windy. I will have a spot to hang my work. It is really nice to have your own studio because you can make it your own, hang some lights or so. I love it!

Daniel: You have one of the hot tools make the round of Instagram right one. You have one of the Woodzilla press'. How do you like it, not like it, would you recommend it?

Alex: So, I honestly would recommend it because if you have a small space it’s great. For me it took a lot of the frustration of printing, I had a cold laminator press before, it was working but every time I would transport it I would change the levels. I would never get an even print, I tried every trick to fix the calibration, but was going through so much paper attempting to get the right amount of pressure.

With the Woodzilla, it’s so much different and I love it. Yesterday, I printed ten or twelve prints. I was done with close to an hour with the printing, before with the cold press or by hand I was always trying to figure out if I had applied enough pressure. I am very clumsy person, and in some of my videos you may see my hands are very white and chalky. That is because I was that if you put baby powder on your hands, you will not get the ink on your paper. That was one of the ways I was ruining my prints, the ink would just get everywhere that I would touch.

I have also learned how to registered them a whole lot better too. I know that they are kinda pricy, but at one point I was willing to buy one of those big (etching presses) that are a couple thousand dollar, but I decided on the Woodzilla instead! Ha! But honestly I love it!

Daniel: Well, honestly that is great to know! I am still on the hunt for a press for myself but space is definitely an issue for me.

What advice would you give another person thinking of getting into linocut and printmaking as a whole?

Alex: Do it for yourself. That is when it become the most fun. Cutting through whatever material you have, linoleum, wood, or easy carve it’s soothing. Even if it just taking a gouge and making some lines, I think that is what becomes the addicting parts. Outside, of the peek and peels! Honestly, start with the pink easy carve stuff, make something small even if its just a small greeting card. Do not try to be super ambitious, like I was trying to be. You obviously have to understand your tools, know how to use them, and how to be careful not to stab yourself.

Start small and do it for yourself!

From there you will see how you can do more and more. Fair warning it does get addicting! Remember to work with your primary colors, because you can always mix them. Use water soluble inks, that is what I started with, because they are super easy to clean up. Cleaning up oil based inks, is one of the initial reasons why I stopped at first. It is a lot of fun, and I love watching other people create. I am at a point where I don’t care about what I sell, because I became addicted to carving.

Funny enough I have this sketchbook where I keep all my tests. Whether they be color, or patterns, or a whole new print, it is something cool to document the process. I love picking ups that sketchbook, every now and then, seeing my first stamps. It is cool to see the progression.

Daniel: Thank you so much for sharing that! That was such great insight into your process and recommendations. Lastly where can people get a hold of you?

Alex: @descalerastudio