Andra Goss

This week on 'The Inkplate' we talk to Andra Goss, a lifelong creative who teaches us that it is never too early or too late to get into printmaking.

What mediums do you work in and why?

Currently I work in linocut and woodcut. At first I learned printmaking by doing etching: drypoint. When I turned 50 I went back to college, and I needed to take a class in the arts & humanities. So I took this class, and had no idea, zero knowledge of printmaking. I was head over heel, and fell in love with it right away. The class was focused on classic printmaking drypoint, chemical etching, aquatint. We never did lino or woodcut.

When the class was done, the heartbreak was I couldn’t do any of those techniques at home. Like a lot of people I went online, to YouTube, learning different techniques and eventually I stumbled on lino. I started putting it all together, after seeing the printmaking category on my local craft store. I figured out that it's literally something I could put it in a suitcase and take it everywhere. I was a little naive at the time, because it actually takes more space than a suitcase! It's been a journey!

I transitioned from lino to woodcut because I wanted more detail, harded lines, I wanted texture without having to carve everything. So, I did a couple projects with wood, which can be very hard on the hands. So, lino and woodcut are where I have landed, but I would like to go back one day to drypoint. I don’t see myself ever going back to etching, because I don’t want to keep cans of chemicals. But [drypoint] is beautiful, it's fantastic. Have you ever done one?

I have not done them, because of the chemicals around it. One of the reasons I left oil painting was because I would get really bad allergic reactions and rashes to certain pigments and solvents. I was the guy wearing gloves, painting with sweaty hands. I tried to stay away from any practice that involves too many chemicals and certain pigments.

You already answered a little of my next question, which is how long have you been printmaking?

I took this class when I was 52, I’m 60 now. There was a period of time when I did no printmaking at all, probably like 5-6 years ago when I started collecting items that I needed. A couple tools, inks, and something to get me going. Because I knew I really wanted to do it. I bought some flexcut tools, a simple kit, and started adding them. Some cheap water based ink, and I found those to be very frustrating, because they dry so quickly! It's such a mess.

It is true they are very frustrated to work with! This leads me to my other question when you say “I really wanted to do it.” Why printmaking, and not painting, sculpture, pottery, what was it that led you here?

I have always been into art, I am an artsy, crafty, creative person. I’ve read your bio, and read a lot of your articles, and like you it's been a hard few years. I like you, have trauma in my background and art generally, is a great way to release my stress. But printmaking visually is an aesthetic that I like, I really appreciate etchings. Especially after having taken a course, most people after they look at an etching or a print can’t possibly comprehend the work that goes into it. I like the fact that I get, to get, that I get that. I have tried to do some watercolor, but I am not very good at it. I like painting with my granddaughter, and sketching. Most of my ideas start with sketches. When I was younger I liked lettering, I just have always been into the arts. Making things with my hands. Making cards for people, I detest going and buying a $6 card. I just need to make things, I can't quite define it, it's who I am. It's in there, it’s a way to show, tell my friends and family that I appreciate them.

I am starting a project with sculpting clay. I do all sorts of things, but I am quite frankly addicted with printmaking, it calms me. Some people through stress, take drugs, cut themselves, overeat. I always liken this to a game, since I can block everything else and melt away. I can put all my energy to the one line that I am cutting, or music that I am listening too. When I work, I can get lost in it for hours. Troubles don’t go away, but you are relieved from them for a while.

Printmaking is very tactile.

This art or carving something away, it’s alamos like you are a piece of it. Printmaking is intellectual to me, really causes me to use my brain in ways that at times are uncomfortable. The art of doing a reduction, and mapping that backwards, that process is very challenging.

I am really liking this conversation. We are vibing out, and you are answering my question before I even ask you. The next thing I wanted to talk about was about that reduction project you are working on, the butterfly.

It’s really a mind twist. You see, in the past I used to sit on the couch and play “Words With Friends” on my ipad. I wouldn't call myself a sketcher but more a doodler. Then my son introduced me to Procreate. Do you have Procreate?

I do not, but have heard of it.

Well let me tell you, printmaker to printmaker. It’s awesome. You can take your basic sketch, and work out every color scheme on your head, on the screen in minutes. It’s a next level tool, you can sketch in layers. It allows you to play with every thought you have in your head about that.

I can see the benefit since you can map out every layer of a reduction print and know exactly where and how much to cut.

Instead of playing games now on my ipad, I sketch! This way you are not wasting paper, or ink. You can work out ideas, electronically, which you can later export to another device or print them. I can work out all color schemes on the ipad before I even mix any ink.

That’s really smart because you can save on costs and reduce waste, in a more controlled environment.

I like the complexity. I think for me, in the case of the butterfly. I like the challenge of doing a reduction. I have seen artists who do hand coloring of their prints, and there's nothing wrong with that. I like the pure blakc and white, almost industrial, that vintage industrial look of prints. It speaks to me. But reductions are a challenge, that butterfly has 8 layers of ink. You can't see most of them, there is a yellow, lavender, blue, green, brown layer. All in there. You can run that plate eight times. My idea was to make that print for my brother’s celebration of life later this year. I have about 20 of those prints drying in the garage right now.

How many are you planning on doing?

Think about 8 layers and twenty prints! It just has been going on for ever! I have been working on it for the past two months, and it is taking up line space. I can't work on anything else until I get this done! One of the biggest lessons I have learned with that butterfly is that I have always used my premix Professional Relief Inks from Speedball. So I had to custom mix all of my colors, and since I have very little experience mixing ink I wasted a lot of ink trying to achieve a single color. There could be a whole segment on the newsletter on how to mix ink and not waste it. Because it is so expensive!

It is expensive.

So now I have three tins of green and lavender. I will have to use them up on something else, because I wasted all this ink trying to achieve the right color. I am sure you experienced some of that with your gradients right?

Oh yeah! The last two reduction prints that I have done, there was some wasted ink. When I did those prints I did not have a plan, but I had a general idea of what kind of day and light I wanted to show. Very similar to how Laura Boswell approaches her prints. I would mix inks, and as I would run out I would mix a little more, as a result every single print was slightly different. But at the end there were a lot of leftovers, since I was premixing it.

I follow a lot of printmakers, and I am part of a lot of forums. When I see other people’s work, I have noticed that there are a lot of printmakers who have a very abstract approach to what they are doing. In terms of lets see what kinda thing happens. By nature I am a lot more rigid about plans and what I want it to be. Going back to why printmaking, psychologically, I have to be really patient with myself, since it forces me to slow down. Something can be very difficult in my everyday life.

I am a mom, a grandma, and life has been challenging. This discipline of being patient with yourself, with your limitations. I am a big advocate, and dive into art as therapy.

I think that [printmaking] would be perfect for people who are in a drug or alcohol addiction program, it would serve as perfect therapy for people who have those struggles. Because of the amount of patience, grace, that it takes to work out an idea, carve it, and struggle with the outcome. There are analogies with life. I find a lot of parallels when I am printmaking, just calming down a little bit, not being too spontaneous. There are a lot of lessons to be learned by sitting down and doing a little printmaking, it's a test of a lot of emotions.

Challenges are good!

As a reduction, eight layers is a lot! I also learned how much I don't understand about, I used the Burton Pins. But what I realized is that I need to get my act together on registration, because I had too much movement in my plate. I just think it's how I set up my jig, maybe it wasn't secure on all sides. The print is so big, 12x18in, pretty big. My press is only 13in wide so I did not have extra room for jigging. Just a lesson learned!

Next question I have is, do you have a favorite tool?

Yes I do, I have a magnifying light. It's on a floor stand with an LED light. It is not technically a printmaking tool, but without it I could not do it. I can place it in front of me and look at everything that I am doing, basically I can see every fine line, every little thing.

My press is also my newest tool. I still don't know how to feel about it. So I got a very basic press from Speedball before they discontinued them. Well they didn't discontinued them, Speedball was selling press through Blick, but they were having quality problems and they were discontinued. I wish I would have waited, because Blick is selling the Conrad, within the same price point. Conrad is American made, and the only reason that matters is because of service and parts. This press that Speedball was selling, was made by Ravi Engineering out of India. During the height of the pandemic they were having quality problems.

The first press they sent me was damaged during shipping, and they sent me another one anyway. I ended up pulling it and putting it together, and I am still deciding if this was a colossal mistake to buy it. In the meantime it takes a lot of time out of printmaking, because I can run 20 prints in a few hours. I suspect that if I continue down this printmaking addiction, I would upgrade it to a better press. I would love to spend a day with you printmaking, you are welcomed to try my press!

Well we are not that far away so maybe yeah why not!