This week on 'The Inkplate' we talk to Emmanuel Tanus, a printmaker based in Puebla, Mexico. He talks to us about how he made his own press, what plans he has for the future, and his advice for beginners.
Daniel: What techniques do you work with?
Emmanuel: Well, I work the most in relief printmaking. Linocut and woodcut, but also etching and mezzotint . I want to experiment more, I have materials stored somewhere, for example I really want to do more mezzotint. I've only done it a couple of times.
What I lack is time. Also when people start getting to know you for a technique, they start wanting more of that one thing and it can be hard to get away. In fact, I currently have a scholarship from FONCA, for a linocut project. So I have to do a lot of linocuts!
However, I like linoleum very much, it has a high contrast and working in relief is unique. On occasions I feel like giving up linocut and working in metal. I also really like the etching process.
Daniel: Congratulations on the scholarship, because I know that sometimes it can be a hassle to find financing for certain projects. Congratulations!
Next question would be, how long have you already been printmaking?
Emmanuel: Well, look, actually I consider myself a young printmaker. I didn't know anything about printmaking, I had seen them but I didn't know how they were made. I actually studied graphic design at the UAP, which is the University of Puebla. I discovered what printmaking was until I went to an exhibition in downtown Puebla. They had Rembrandt's etchings.
Among etchings there was a video that showed the process. This is incredible! I told myself, I was amazed. Besides, I didn't know this facet of Rembrandt, we all know him for his paintings but not everyone knows that he made excellent engravings and he did so many. That exhibition was in 2016, I have been printmaking for 6 years now.
In reality I see it as if I were studying a career, I'm barely out of the university of printmaking.
Daniel: Even if you say that you are a recent graduate, you have very good quality and excellent work!
Emmanuel: I can't complain because the printmaking and etching has welcomed me very well, I wouldn't change it. In these 6 years so many things have happened that have made me reflect. One of the things that I have already accepted is the fact that I want to die printmaking!
I am not sure if this is on your list of questions, but I like nreflecting on what printmaking means to you. It is a question I like talking about.
It is very interesting to do an analysis to see what the printmaking means for each one of us. In my case, I think it is the fact of leaving a mark that cannot be erased, not just literally because you are leaving it on the plate.
Also metaphorically, because everything you are doing is a graphic record of your environment, of what you live, what you think, your feelings. So the pure word itself is printmaking* (In Spanish Grabado is the word for Printmaking, but it also is the word for to record).
I like that wod t's very unique. Since we all want to leave a mark, an impression of what we did in this life. Beyond the fact that we are all going to die, is the fact that there is going to be a small legacy or graphic record of us. I love that!
Daniel: Thank you very much for sharing that, what you say is very true. It is something that I have thought about, what legacy am I going to leave when my time ends in this world. Every time I work on one of my landscapes, I start to think these mountains will remain and if I am lucky my work will too.
Do you work at home or do you have a workshop? You mentioned working with techniques that require chemicals, how is it that you do it safely from home?
Emmanuel: I started working in a workshop in Puebla called Erasto Cortez which is very prominent. In 2017 there was an earthquake which permanently damaged the building, so they had to close their doors. All of the local printmakers were left without a workspace. Not to mention that it is not very easy for everyone to have access to a press.
I began to visit various workshops, until I said that I could not go without printing and decided to make a press. Presses are very expensive, I don't know if they are also expensive in the US, so I started to investigate and I made it with recycled materials.
For example, the rollers are from a hydraulic jack that used to be on a garbage truck. The steering wheel used to be on a truck, a semi truck. I put that steering wheel on the press. I didn't know anything about welding so I went to YouTube and learned the basics. It was a clumsy job, but it could do its purpose.
I did what I promised, and once I had my press, it was time to get to work. So, I am at home, here I began to create my studio little by little. Right now I have what I need to make etchings and aquatint. I only work in small formats, but I also just bought a bigger tub, so I already have what I need to be able to work with larger plates.
Besides, I think that the material is important, but as happened with the press, the most important thing is that you want to work. You can have a giant tub, a giant press, but if you do not wor, they will be standing there.
Daniel: Very true, it is useless to have the best tools if you are not doing anything with them. It's amazing that you created your own press! To answer your question, presses are also expensive here! In California there are no manufactures of presses, the closest would be the Takach Press of New Mexico. They are very expensive, I have been saving to buy mine one day, but it is a very good idea to create your own press with recycled materials.
Emmanuel: Yes it was complicated, a headache. On several occasions I had to disassemble it because it was not working well, or something was wrong with it. There were times when I just wanted to give up, thankfully I did not and I was able to finish it.
Also, as an important fact, it is not this press behind me. I bought this one recently because it is small. It is the press that I use in workshops for children. Here comes the sad part of that story, I sold it because I needed money. I'm not worried because I got a smaller press, and I bought another one, and I'm currently working on a third one that will be bigger. I sold it but I had a back up press!
Daniel: Wow, so you're doing all of them?
Emmanuel: Well, I have bought two presses and I have one that I made, and a fourth that I am making. The most complicated thing is the space, because my idea for the future is to have a workshop where people can go to work. This room that I have is very small, here I have one large press. It would not be difficult to receive people to work here. My dream is to have a space big enough to have 5-6 presses and where everyone can work, and be able to do a major production.
Daniel: Well, you already have the desire and the vision, so I think it will definitely be something that you can achieve. It is a very good idea to create a community space, locally those spaces are rare here in the Central Valley. They are more common in the Bay Area, but not much here. That you're working towards a space like that is amazing. Good luck.
My next question would be, do you have a favorite tool?
Emmanuel: For linoleum it would be my Japanese gouges. It's a v gouge, and these work great for me. I have a set of 6 gouges, all different cuts, different blades. Also the ones that never fail is the Speedball gouge! It’s so versatile.
Daniel: Yes! Almost everyone I've interviewed has shared with me how much they love Speedball gouges.
Emmanuel: Yes, it is very versatile. I have a very old Speedball gouge, which I also really like. I think they don't sell it anymore, it's very good just because it doesn't have interchangeable knives.
Daniel: What do you do when you hit a creative block or don't think creative blocks exist?
Emmanuel: I do believe in them! I'm still trying to figure it out, because I don't have a precise formula. Lately, I've been doing something that has nothing to do with printmaking. I sweep the patio, I go for a walk, I go hiking. I get creative blocks. Many like to work from home, because they think it is much easier to have everything there. For me, the complicated part is that I get bored of working alone. I begin to lose the meaning of things, that's why I want a community workshop. Interacting with people who do the same things as you is important.
That is the idea of having a workshop, so that there is feedback of ideas. When I was in the workshop,I learned a lot. When I was there I would tell myself that I wanted my own workshop because there were so many distractions. Now I see it the other way, because those interruptions are the things that help you grow and motivate you to not have those creative blocks.
Daniel: What would you recommend to a beginner, to someone who has never done printmaking. Where should they start?
Emmanuel: I think that the most important thing to become a printmaker is to be able to draw. Draw first. In fact I say it because I have a son, and he comes and tells me he wants to make a print. The first thing I ask is that he show me his sketches. If you don't have an idea sketched out, you can't make a print. I always tell him that to make any kind of prints you have to know what you are going to do, and for that you have to have drawn it. Preferably several times, make a study of your piece before wasting any material.
In case the person already knows how to draw, the most immediate way would be to start with the linoleum. Take a gouge and just do it. This is the most accessible technique that you can practice, plus you can get some awesome results with very little.
Daniel: Thank you very much for your time, where can people connect with you?
Emmanuel also plays in rock band known as Té de Brujas (Witches’ Tea) they have this cool song about printmaking which you should most definitely check out!