Lonesome Bill Walker

This week we talk to interdisciplinary artist Lonesome Bill, currently residing in Milwaukee. Bill talks to us about expressing yourself through art, embracing the awkward moments of art, and drops some fine advice for beginners.

Daniel: Thank you so much for taking time to talk to me and the reader of The Inkplate. Let's jump right in. What techniques and mediums do you work in?

Bill: Although I have dabbled in printmaking, I have found I have a more painterly hand. Which had been a fun challenge to try to translate into printmaking. I mainly do work in woodworking, painting and illustration. I like to bend the rules of what a medium and what a tool can do. When I do woodworking, I mainly use a scroll, jig, or bandsaw, but within those tools I am trying to make some organic shapes.

I was taking sheets of plywood and cutting out incredible organic shapes and then painting them and screwing them or binding them together. In that element you are making a 3d element out of these 2d forms. So, I try to bring that style with everything I do, I like to figure out how to layer things. When I work with multimedia, the more illustrative painterly side of things, I am using watercolors, I am using oil pastels, graphite. I like to use the same colors and the same tools, but then figure out how to layer them differently. How does this change the way colors move with blending?

So, I think a lot of the techniques I use are bending the rules, and spending time with the materials themselves.

I call myself a jack of all trades, by detriment. You know, sometimes I look at projects, and say if only I did one thing, if only I did paint, or if only I did woodwork. Because I love learning new mediums so much, I mean I am going to be taking welding this semester, I love it. I think that I let the medium guide the type of art I want to make. If there is a story I want to convey, I am not forcing it to a certain medium. I figure out emotionally or visually what I can accomplish and let the medium guide that. I let that be a path to find what my final project is going to be.

Daniel: Knowing that you let the medium guide your work, what was it that led you to printmaking? How have you incorporated printmaking onto your overall practice?

Bill: I mean it's funny because the process and the intention of printmaking is why I have such a love hate relationship with it!

Daniel: A lot of us do!

Bill: Totally! I laugh here because my practice looks so different. Sometimes, I have the passion that I need to sit down and make something now. I have tried doing that with printmaking and forty-five minutes in and I am still not making something. I love that too, there is such an intentional energy, because like I may have to cancel all my plans, I have the whole afternoon and honor this art practice spending this loving intentional time. So, I think that in itself, makes me wonder how desperately I need to get this done. What is this passion monologue, what I am going to make or this intentional manifesto that I am going to build?

The latter, that sort of manifesto art, is where printmaking comes in. It is actually interesting to say that because I came into printmaking through political art. It's this very accessible art form, and I think that is why I have seen, historically, anarchist art, unions, you see these socially politically movements that are making these incredibly beautiful prints. It was just so inspiring to me when I was a young artist, and first being introduced to what it is to think and live in the world as a radical person living outside of society’s norms to think about social justice. Having that brought to me on this platter of printmaking, part of that intentional What am I trying to say or do? It's all a very beautiful moment, and I think too that printmaking puts you in conversation with yourself because you're planning, thinking in reverse, then working on all these lines. You are looking at your initial drawing and asking yourself what I was trying to tell you in the future, you are not just thinking about the art itself and process itself, but also who you are going to be when you are making it!

What kind of mood am I going to be in? Will I have access to a studio? How much time am I going to make? Printmaking is a very personal process, but with this politically sort of history, and once again I think that aspect all has to do with access.

You have linoleum, wood, gouges, paper and ink and that’s all you need.

It's such a low buried cost wise, I mean it takes skill, don't get me wrong it is not as easy. As in anyone can do it, but it's also not the hardest thing I have done. I think that's what drew me to it, how to get back to those roots, those radical, queer, trans, anarchist, socialist, workers right roots. It's a cool way to connect to that history while asking yourself all these questions of who you are as an artist.

Daniel: I think it’s so accurate when you mentioned what kind of person am I going to be when making this? Because it has happened to me, I make an overly ambitious design and then I am stuck with all of this work!

Do you think it's important to show your identity through your work? Or do you believe more in doing art for art’s sake?

Bill: Well, I think both are so deeply intertwined, that it’s hard not to show your cards a little bit when you are making art. I think that there are different things that art accomplishes with your sense of self, and expression of self. There is so much that is not even intentional that still shows who you are.

I think that can be scary for some people for sure, I think that if you are doing identity as a survey about a specific type of identity. I don't think you owe anyone but yourself that kind of work. I am a queer trans artist, I am an artist who doesn't have classical training. I have a bachelors in linguistics when I was 30, and I bring that identity in, that institutionalized knowledge now at an older age. These are things that are so deeply important to me that I want to talk about, not only in my personal life, but that I want to engage in the world with those conversations because it is important to me to talk about them. However, I don't owe anybody that.

I think it’s very important for artists to remember that the pressure of making your art mean something in an academic way can kill your practice.

That sort of pressure will kill your practice. If you just trust that what you want to make is what brings you joy and passion, you will find your voice, you will find yourself in your work even if you are not announcing who you are in the most obvious way through your work. Whether it is the content, or the medium, color palette or size of work you are drawn to, those things that you may think are so mechanical are part of the process. Those things say something about you.

People often ask me why I work so small, well I rent an 8x10 bedroom that is in the suburbs of the city I want to live in, so I don't have any space for an easel. So, I have to work in these small pieces that can fit on a table in my bedroom. I don’t think no one else would know that, but as I look back, I see the progression of my art as the size of my work changed. Your work whether you like it or not is saying something about you through a snapshot, it's only important if you want it to be. For me I personally believe that whatever makes you do art is important, don't get in your own way or practice trying to intellectualize.

Daniel: You work in a diverse range of mediums; you have work on paper, you don't have puppets, and most recently you mentioned you would get into welding. Do you think it is important to diversify as an artist when it comes to mediums or techniques or just stick to one lane? Do you think it's important to have your hands in more than one pot?

Bill: I think that it depends on your style of printmaking and on the goal you have. My personal goal and interest are knowing how things work, and in order to learn that I have to learn a new skill set to fully understand it. I am an amateur filmmaker, so that means I have to build sets, and costumes. For me a lot of the skill building that I engage in is for the end product, say I need to build this one thing and that will require woodworking, welding, painting. For me I am strangely fixated in one medium, but that one medium requires so many skills.

I am a jack of all trades to my deterrent.

I go and see these beautiful gallery shows, and I think I will never be able to see that it is a bittersweet thing where I am happy for my friends, but I also know that my interest stretches me thin. I think that there is value if you have a set style, and staying there for a while, putting your energy into one thing. There is something so exciting about pouring yourself into one way of creating, you get to learn the history of the use of this particular medium, the medium, when did it show up? Why did people use this?

That is when I get jealous of my printmaker friends because they know all the history, and they know the important printmaker and here I am with all my interest like crap! I think it comes with knowing who you are, if you are comfortable with familiarity, then absolutely nestled down and enjoy printmaking. But if you see it as an exploration or a tool or path to you being a multidisciplinary artist, then branch out!

I will say that when it comes to the digital world, I used to be very scared of technology because I thought it would take me away from the process. I love having chalky fingers, being covered in paint, it’s part of who I am. So, I was very hesitant to get into digital stuff, and in spring in 2020 I got an iPad.

I was scheduled to have surgery and I wanted a way to still be able to sit in bed and draw without having all these things around. I am too messy to actually paint in bed! I realized that it was a great tool to get my sketches out, take notes and plan. I think it's very helpful. It is also very accessible to access technology, you can do it through a public library and have access to all these programs for free like photoshop, illustrator, etc.

Technology can be very helpful if you do a lot of sketching, like for me I would go through entire notebooks just doing notes.

I would just watch dollar signs fly away on each notebook, all this nice paper I was supposed to print on when writing notes or sketches. Technology for me is great for sketches, because there is no use of extra-material. There are accessible ways to access technology.

During the creative process we all make mistakes, and if you like your mistakes to be this physical thing that you can learn from then I wouldn't use an iPad or Photoshop. However, if you are tinkerer, a problem solver, and note taker then technology can be a huge boom.

Daniel: I was on the fence about an iPad actually. Last week I talked with another printmaker who explained how she used to Procreate, and I was so amazed because she is on to something. She has such a creative and efficient way to work, and now you mentioned this and only reaffirms that these can be great tools to have.

Bill: I think it’s a great tool. I don’t personally use it for a lot of finished products, but it’s a great tool. You know I like my tools!

Daniel: What advice would you give a beginner, who wants to be an artist and doesn't know where to start?

Bill: Me being me I would want to touch on the emotional aspect of art first. I think it can be very easy to give people these bullet points list. But for me, first and foremost would be: give yourself a lot of grace and do what makes you happy.

Like we talked earlier, if you are trying to make art with a profound statement, and you don't have the skill level to convey that. It can become this stage of grief that can deterred you. Do whatever moves you, if you follow your passions, any challenges that arise you will be up for it. Do not make the type of art that you think you should or have to be making. If you feel forced or pressured to make these sorts of images or statements, I like to call them “intelligent art.” That is going to frustrate you, because your brain is working both visually emotionally storytelling and through technical skills. You find yourself in the dilemma of figuring out how to tell your brain, to tell your hands, to put this thing on paper.

Be kind to yourself.

On a practical level: Find materials in what you think you want to work in and get a mid-level quality medium. If you are working with the cheapest mediums possible those are often the hardest mediums tools to use. You may get something that is not sharp enough and then it will be hard to carve with, or your ink may be gummy. If you get something that is really expensive you are going to be blowing through your money. So, if you get a mid-range tool you will have a more positive experience, give yourself the ability to invest in yourself and art practice. It is not just a financial investment; you are trusting the fact that you are worth exploring with decent materials.