This week for the 'The Inkkplate' newsletter I interviewed Chilean artist Camilo Navarrete. A linoleum and woodcut printmaker, living in Valdivia, Chile. The interview has been translated from Spanish. Interview date: April 11th, 2022.
Hi Camilo, thank you so much for being available to talk, I know there is a big-time difference between us, you are in south America, correct?
Hi Daniel, nice to meet you, thank you for this invitation. Yes, I live in Valdivia southern part of Chile.
Let us begin with the basics, what mediums do you work in and how long have you been making art?
I have worked in linoleum printmaking and woodcut. Overall, I have been working in art for the past 5 years.
Are you a full-time printmaker?
I work as a psychologist a few hours of the week, the rest of the time I dedicate as a printmaker. I spend a few days framing, carving, others I draw, and there are some I rest. Taking breaks is important in the creative process.
How did your printmaking journey start?
I went to a free intensive printmaking workshop one Saturday morning a few years ago. I ended up liking it so much I decided to enroll, I spend the next two years studying under a visual artist.
So, you had an apprenticeship?
Yes, and it came with everything you would expect. I would work at the workshop two hours a week. Simultaneously, I bought all the tools I needed, so that I could work in a second print when I was at home. I spent those two years like that working on two prints at a time, until the pandemic arrived.
Then you have a lot of great experience, and you learned from a professional.
Based on your experiences with this professional artist, how do you think he molded or changed your way of working? Did you learn to work faster, do you take longer on certain parts of your process, or how would you describe your experience?
I think that it taught me to work neatly. Helped me created something “good”, for example studying my artist proofs, and to stop at the end to contemplate the work that sis being created. Also, to strike out those proofs, and see how they could turn out with a different approach, but remaining playful until you reached the desired product, a finalized print. I think that’s what I learned, I was influenced a lot and I like that because I spend a long time just on carving and contemplation. As a matter of fact, sometimes I leave a print drying two or three days, and once its ready I then stare at it, I think about what I could do about it, what I don’t like, and what could improve.
Generally, how long does it take you to complete a piece? How does your process work?
I can spend between 20-25 hours on a single plate, but I like to work faster. My goal is to be done within two weeks. I am not sure if this happens to you, but I get that anxiety after I get off work, I get home, have coffee and I get to work. Sometimes after two hours you only carve a small section of your block, but you are seeing results and perhaps you like what you are seeing. I wish I could work every day and at the same time on my carvings, which tends to happen more with my monochromatic prints.
I also like to work with reduction pieces, it’s one of my passions. I’ve been slowly improving my technique and I think I can do it well now, with some difficulties obviously. I always want to advance on a piece, but with reduction pieces you must wait, I always feel a bit anxious, waiting for the moment on which I can add the next layer of color so that I can keep advancing with the project.
Yes, yes! I get you. It is the same thing I have been having a problem with. The last reduction piece that I was working on took me a long time to complete. Last weekend I sat down and worked Saturday and Sunday, because I was determined to finish it on the weekend.
Yes, or sometimes I get carving and lose track of the time. I must remind myself that I cannot place down another layer of ink so late, it will have to wait until the morning. But it is that anxiety of having to wait, whether the piece is monochromatic or a reduction.
Tell me about this important date you mentioned before we started the interview. On which gallery are you going to be showing your work?
I applied to this gallery in January. Chile is a very centralized country; most artistic opportunities are in Santiago which is the capital. Everything always takes longer in the southern part of the country, you may have to apply to galleries an entire year ahead, and if you are not chosen you must wait until the next call to artist in January. By exhibiting my work, I am attempting to enter the fine art world, and you only have two places to do that in this city! Which is very frustrating. Because if you are not chosen [by the gallery] you must look for external spaces and that means more costs, which one is not able to immediately cover. For example, you must get your work matted and framed, shipped to the gallery, lodging, food, and travel expenses, which only increases your out-of-pocket costs. Although these trips are a wonderful opportunity to see other territories.
Yes, it is a big expense. Is this gallery in Santiago then?
I applied to the Casa Porchelle at the Valdivia Municipal Cultural Center. I sent them my artist statement and portfolio, my information, and a date, and I completely forgot about it. I kept living my life as usual and they called me last week letting me know they had accepted my proposal and that my show would open on May 2nd, 2022. That is only three weeks away and I have nothing framed! I have seventeen pieces!
I had completely forgotten about applying to this show that I did not save enough money for the show. If were only exhibiting one or two pieces it would have not been a problem, but seventeen pieces is an astronomical price considering all that is needed. I mean wow, I am against the clock! Fortunately, I have already ordered the frames, which they sent me all the way from Santiago. You even must order art materials from the capital city, many things come from there.
What is the distance between Santiago and Valdivia?
900-920 kilometers, a day away. (528 miles or 10hrs according to Google Maps) At least I order the frames last week, so I know that next week all I will be doing is framing. I need to make sure everything is matted, framed, and hanging by April 29th.
What does your show consist about?
There are two important genres in my work. Fauna, as a local territorial theme. I like exploring texture with monochromatic pieces. Once you have a piece frame you can perceive its depth, sometimes you can almost like extend your hand and see if it has depth. The other genre in my work is illustration, caricature, I also like that very much and I incorporate it to my printmaking. I alternate my work between those two genres.’ In this show I will highlight our natural heritage, fauna, and texture. My show is titled “Fauna, Texture, and Hatching: Graphics Through Printmaking,” where I will share seventeen prints, 6 reduction pieces, and 11 monochromatic in different seizes.
No doubt about it, it is a big project! You have a lot of work ahead of you, just the framing itself it is a big job. I hope you have enough time to get it all done!
Another question that just came to mind while talking, based on the remoteness of your city and the accessibility to galleries. How has the power of the internet transformed the way you share your work, especially for those folks who may not be able to visit your show?
I consider Instagram as a powerful social media, each day I am impressed by how large it is as a social network. It goes beyond just uploading a picture, sharing a like o comment with your friends, it is reach is so wide, it is amazing truly. Facebook can be too more or less, I do not really use it really, I feel our generation has moved away from Facebook. Twitter is another one of the tools I have been working with for a long time, but I have made an artistic take with it. Twitter is also a great space to promote your work [particularly] for people who do not use other social media. TikTok is another niche I am exploring a bit, with a more educational approach to printmaking and the way I present my work.
Social media has played a fundamental role in highlighting my work. I have a larger following on Instagram where I update and interact with my base frequently. In fact, which is where I bumped into your account and sent you a DM. I like Instagram very much. I have a website that serves as a virtual gallery, but that has other requirements like constant updates, besides, the public is always searching “immediate” content like Instagram.
Features like Instagram’s store are wonderful, I like that a lot because these tools are great for people considering purchasing one of your pieces. I also work with an agency that helps me with my digital marketing. This year I decided to invest in people who know more about this kind of stuff, because well one can always make an ad, but at least personally I am not very proficient in this area. I plan on learning in the future, but for now, I am working on other projects. That is why I decided to hire this agency which has been helping me create a niche for southern Chile.
That is wonderful. What would you recommend a student, or a beginner who is starting their printmaking journey?
Oh! First, talk to other people, interact, build your own niche. Hopefully, you can interact with people face to face, but the pandemic has shown us that you can also do this virtually. Have a set of printmaking tools. Having cotemporary reference is also particularly important. See exhibits, don’t ever get tiered of seen exhibits, use your free time to see what other printmakers are doing. Be aware of what is going on in the community, draw and hopefully carve every day.
For example, if you have a small plate, say a 10x10cm, enjoy that plate as if it were the last piece, you would get a chance to work on and watch you will create a unique print inside those 10x10cm. Make sure that you do something every day. Especially when you are starting off, it is more useful to focus on drawing than carving, try unique way to arrange your compositions. Because in the future, and maybe happens to you too, you will have to split your time framing, photographing your work, dropping off a package, an artist time spent making prints.
We do a lot of things, like resting which is very necessary! Someone who is starting off may not realize all this, especially if you are going to live off your printmaking. Use your time to sketch and draw, which I think is the most important thing starting off.
How do you balance your mediums? When do you decide to do a monochromatic or reduction piece, when do you sketch? How do you balance it all, or does it happen spontaneously?
It is so visceral! I would not be able to answer that. I see an image, and well image how I would like it. Monochromatic or reduction? It is all very visceral and spontaneous. However, if we are talking about proportion then I would say I like to one in color and three monochromatic pieces. Two small prints, one large or medium reduction piece, it is all relative, I like to have color pieces in stock relative to my monochromatic work.
We are getting close to end here. What do you do when you hit a creative block, how do you get out of that space?
I go walking. I like watching and observing, connect to reality through contemplation. The wonderful thing about when I live, is that in Valdivia, there are a lot of green spaces. We live in a sector near the Valdivian Jungle, so there is lots of forests, rivers, flora y fauna. There are a lot of open green spaces, urban parks throughout the city. For example, you could go walking through wetlands, the Calle Calle River waterfront. You could walk through the city an entire day and you would not get bored. Even though it is a small city, there are many spaces for contemplation, so when I reach a creative block, I go walking.
On my walks I like to take pictures of nature and see the colors that it offers us. I take these pictures with my cellphone, I look at the colors, at the image and think about how I could reconstruct that on a block. About 90-95% of those pictures never make it to a block. But I am working in seeing my reality through printmaking. Or I will also edit the picture, I lower the contrast or see how I could interpret this image as a monochromatic print.
I also have about four or five different sketchbooks. I always carry the smallest one alongside a pencil, that way whenever I am bored, I can sketch.
During summertime I showcase my work on the streets, one day I didn’t sell a single piece, so what I instead was draw the expression of people as they way by me, I would people watch, and sketch out their facial expressions and in a few hours, I had a collection of faces. It is fun because whenever I need to make an illustration, or the stories I like to draw, I can use these sketches as references and see which [face] could be included in the piece. It is like preparing for a future creative block, and curating this reference material, so that when I need it, I have something to refresh my ideas with. I really enjoy doing that.
That you so much for your time Camilo, and for sharing your knowledge, experience, and insight with all of us. Best of luck in the May show. Lastly, where can people find you?