Irenka Pareto

This week we talked to Irenka Pareto. We chatted about how her compositions, the ways she removed her creative blocks towards drawing, and defining success.

Daniel: What mediums or techniques do you work with?

Irenka: I am mostly a relief printmaker. I work with linoleum, up to this moment I have been working in black and white. Very graphic images, I am fascinated by mark making and how to create that balance and tone in an image. I have not been in the field for too long, I am quite sure there will be a long journey ahead of me. Black and white images will always be there for sure.

Daniel: That leads me to my second question. Every time I look at your prints, I see these very quiet and peaceful moments. You capture a moment of silence and peace amidst what could be a very chaotic day. How do you capture those fleeting moments in your compositions?

Irenka: I love that you say that! So, I am happy that you say that and see that in my images. So, my business name is The Wonderstruck Printmaker. The ideas behind that name were my attempt at capturing what you just described. Before I became an artist, I always paid attention to the little moments that occurred throughout a day. The moments that make life worth living. As you said these are moments of quiet, stillness. You are with your partner on the couch, watching Netflix and your feet touch. To me that is what is worth living for. It is what makes life beautiful.

I started drawing in 2019. After that I did not do art at all whatsoever, and I had been craving to make art. I have this book by Danny Gregory, Art Before Breakfast, and others about how to draw every day. I had that book with me, I would flip through the pages and never pick up a pen. No, this is not my life. This is only for people who are born artists. At that point I had a career in education, but I was clearly craving the arts. I started becoming more aware that I was feeling frustrated.

In 2019 I decided that I would draw one drawing every day for 30 days. I had also been craving printmaking, but I did not know how to carve because I did not have an image to carve because I did not know how to draw. With all of that combined, I went ahead and worked on my drawings for 30 days. In those days I was working until midnight, and I would work on my drawing around one in the morning.

After 30 days I was so hooked, and I could not stop. Now I carry a sketchbook everywhere. So, when you mentioned all these quiet moments. Those happen because I am in my house with a sketchbook on hand and I am drawing something. Now I do not draw every day because well life! I like to sit there with a pen and a marker and just capture those moments.

Daniel: How long have you been printmaking then?

Irenka: When I moved here to do my Ph.D. at U.C. Berkeley. I started seeing prints, but I was not sure how they were made. I thought they were posters, or ink drawings. Now I know that most of those pieces were woodblocks, and some were papercuts. Again, I did not have the words to talk about those artworks, now I know I am very drawn to negative spaces. I see those spaces and I want to go there. I would say this happened for a couple of years, I kept thinking about it, until someone showed me how it was done. In 2016 I did a class with Deborah Harris who is a printmaker here in Berkeley. It was a two-weekend class with her, I was hooked, but I did not have the time.

From 2016-2019 I only did like five prints. Christmas cards and things like that. I did not have the time. Once again, I did not draw at that time, so I was frustrated about it. Then in 2019 I was drawn down by all these ideas that wanted to be born. I kept telling myself I am a hard worker, but I am not an artist. I feel extremely grateful, for the alignments of the planets or whatever, that helped me decide that it was not normal [to hold back]. You can do whatever you want to. It has really brought a lot of joy to my life and has improved my life too. The last piece of this transformation process was that COVID did impact my job. In January of 2021, my job was impacted, and I had this weird moment of time, when I was at home, my son was in zoom school, and I also had these pockets of time. Printmaking had been something I really, really wanted to do. So, I started printmaking like a crazy woman!

I started dedicating so much time into it, I decided that I better start making some money to pay for my supplies, so it became a business. That on itself became a learning process because there are so many things to do, but for the meantime I am here. I am not sure what the next chapter will be, But I will ride it!

Daniel: Yeah, I agree with you on that part. For me I was not planning at all to make this into any kind of business. It was simply a way to take a break from an intensive drawing program that I was in. Now I am just going with the flow and opened to the opportunities that have shown up.

Irenka: There was also a period when I was looking for another job. In the middle of the pandemic things were very hard, so I decided to see if I could really do this full time, especially since my life improved so much. In my case I had a conversation with my husband. Can we invest in this and see if I can continue growing and make it?

But you know !No se me caen los anillos! I have worked since I was seventeen, I am ok.

I am still working; art is a lot of work! I do not mind trying to make this my life, that I would regret, I just hope I can make it because I am really, really, happy!

Daniel: Perseverance! I have definitely had the same idea that you mentioned before. I would corner myself and repeat some people have talent and some do not, and I do not think I do. One of the very first interviews I did was with Alex Carmona.

I asked him what advice he would give someone trying to become a full-time artist, and his answer was so like your answers. Keep a sketchbook so you never run out of ideas and keep moving to the next idea. Work through the boring part of the process, but do not give up, and just persevere, do it because you enjoy it but realize that it will be a lot of work. Showing up every day and working a little. Hopefully, we can persevere, and this works out for us both!

Irenka: Well, it is also important to define what does it mean to work out, that is something I visit when I have anxiety. Imagine, that I need to get a different job to support my family and I have another career that I enjoy as well, it does not mean I will stop printmaking. I want to be a 100-year-old lady, and I say that because I am high!

I feel living at least one hundred years is great! I have things to do! I want to be one hundred years old and be able to look back on my life and not regret anything. I think that if my life puts me between printmaking and another job, I will continue doing this because I am enjoying it too much. I would not stop.

So, what will success mean later in life? Right now, that means being able to make a living, and being able to do what I do and enjoy that process. It is a lot of work, I work days, nights, weekends, all the time. That is not all, art is fun. There is a lot of administrative work, website, taxes, this, and that! There are a lot of paths, and I think it is also an important conversation to have. Particularly if you are working alone as an artist, you are the photographer, the admin, the PR marketing person. You are doing all these things. It is a lot of work.

Daniel: You are so right! I had no idea about all of that when I started!

Irenka: Same here! I mean it depends if you have another job, and you do not want art to take over everything you can most definitely save art for the weekends and post it online on weekdays. It can be something very contained you know! That is why I said it depends on what your idea of making it is. Right now, I have a definition of success that might change by the time I am eighty!

Daniel: Absolutely, it is something that varies. Thanks so much for that answer. I love this conversation! Next question that I have for you is do you have a favorite tool? If you do, what is that tool?

Irenka: Ooh! I would say I have two favorite tools. Its not one or the other. It is this brush pen and I say this one first because it allows me to do all the rest. Like drawing directly with ink on paper and not with pencil, made me do it and not worry about making a mistake. Just to keep making drawings for the sake of drawing. Also, because I work in black and white designs it makes a lot of sense.

Then, I would have to say the Pfeil carving tool, the gouge. The .5 mm was a mind blowing achievement for me. It is expensive but it is wonderful. I love all my gouges, all the knives! I love my Flexcut set, because I can use it for rubber or linoleum, and I like that. There is one PowerGrip tool that is wide, I love that one to carve out flat surfaces. Hold on, I have another one! I love all my knives. That sounds a little psycho, but you know what I mean!

Daniel: Lastly, you are a teacher and have had your own workshops. What advice would you give a brand-new printmaker or a person wanting to get started on printmaking?

Irenka: First one is to just do it. You are going to make mistakes, keep going. Do not think that it is going to be great every time. Do not give up because the first one did not work. It is a learning process like anything else, and if you really like the process then keep going.

Second, it will take more time than you think it will. Do not have expectations that this will be quick. This is the slowest art method you can do, when you think this should take me this long to know that estimation was wrong. It takes more time.

Third, be in conversation with another artist. Do not be alone. For me Instagram has been great because I can watch other people’s videos and the printmaking community is extremely generous. For me, the Flexcut people have been amazing, the conversations from support from both printmakers and business I have not seen in other fields. I am talking about education, research, and academia. Even in art it is a very particular type of community that is very generous and wonderful with each other.

Reach out if you have a question, people will respond. I have a good friend who lives in the U.K., and we have become friends. That friendship came about because I reached out and asked if they were interested in talking about printmaking. Anything can happen, even if you do not become good friends with someone you will have a community.