Ridge and Roots

This week, we talk to Gina, best known online as @Ridgeandroots and the Block Printing with Gina Challenge.

Daniel: How long have you been printmaking?

Gina: Well, I was first exposed to printmaking in the sixth grade. In the Midwest printmaking is a very common middle school art project. I am not sure if it is over there in California, but it is a very Midwest thing. In sixth grade I carved my first block, that was over fifteen years ago! Gross, I am getting old!

I didn’t practice consistently, I loved it and I would carve it whenever they would let us. It was middle school so you could not just carve your own way. In high school my art teacher was fantastic. I took every art class I could and he would allow me to do whatever passion project I wanted to do. I did a lot of repeating patterns, even rolling the brayer onto the paper and adding prints in. I would stamp my plaques into clay and that would do 3D prints. I took printmaking in college, but focused outside or linocut, and studied woodcut, intaglio and screen print.

Essentially, I have been printmaking for over 15 years because of those early middle school projects. I probably did not print for a handful of years in between, but I ended up coming back to it in grad school. I went to college for counseling and art therapy, we had a studio class because as therapists we should be making art too! I carved my first block in that class in probably over five years and honestly I haven not looked back since. It has been a definite crazy journey when I look back on it.

Daniel: That is awesome that you had that early experience early in life. That is something that I have been hearing from other Midwest artists, just how mainstream printmaking is. A few days ago I spoke with my friend Bill who now lives in the Midwest and he told me just how big printmaking is over there. I also saw their other Bay Area based printmaker, who flew to Ohio to participate in a workshop. So everyone keeps telling me about the amazing culture around it!

Gina: The Midwest is just this cluster of printmaking. I get so many comments “I did this in high school, or middle school”. Everybody I know, whom I went to school with has basically done this, but they never follow through with it past school projects.

Daniel: How did you decide to become a printmaker?

Gina: I don’t think that it was ever a conscious decision. I was one of those people who had to dabble in every medium. I was one of those people who would walk into my studio there would be so many supplies: oil paints, watercolors, acrylics. There was also the fact that I was a teacher, so you know I had everything else that you accumulate. I don’t think that it was until grad school that I realized that I did not have to make everything. I could actually pay people to make stuff that I love, I actually just gave a lot of supplies away.

I may plan something, and carve it but you never know how it will really turn out. It was a medium that allowed the feel of a handmade item, but not as time intensive, because I am not doing a drawing every single time.

I love the printmaking community, it has also been a great way for self care. It allowed me to unwind. I gave myself an opportunity to try it. There is something about print. The sharp contrast, the meditative part of carving, the overall wondering of how something will turn out. The first ink roll is always so good! I am a sucker for crisp and clean contrast that you see in black in white prints. It is so hard for me to print in color!

There is something about print. The sharp contrast, the meditative part of carving, the overall wondering of how something will turn out. The first ink roll is always so good! I am a sucker for crisp and clean contrast that you see in black in white prints. It is so hard for me to print in color!

Daniel: You just planted a seed in my head. I have a lot of leftover things in my studio from my painting days. I may just have to take that jump and get rid of all of those extras too.

Gina: Don’t get me wrong I have a lot of stuff in my apartment. I'm also in the mood to dabble again, I want to be creative and follow instincts. However, I don’t want to dabble so much that I get overwhelmed between too many projects. I feel we all fall victim to that, I definitely fall victim to that.

Daniel: Do you have a favorite tool?

Gina: Oh boy, do I have a favorite tool? Well, yes actually. The micro v from Flexcut. The 1mm is probably my most used tool, and if it were to disappear or if Flexcut decided to get rid of it I would probably get like ten of them. Hands down this is my favorite tool, I love the Speedball soft brayer too it's a staple. You have a set of them too right?

Daniel: Yes, I have the set of four the MicroPalmSet. Sometimes, I will carve exclusively with them. So far I have not found a tool that compares to them.

What is one studio hack you can not live without?

Gina: I have two. I do all my drawing on the iPad now, there is something to be said about the ability of resizing perfectly without having to redraw the damn drawing! Or just being able to move your design, the iPad streamlined my process so much.

Second, I don’t do much registration. I just take a paper the size I am going to print on. I take the block, trace the outline, and once I have to print I just align both sheets of paper. It's an easier and hassle free method. I just have a pile of sheets for each block, I make sure to name them, and when I want to reprint I know I already have a system in place.

Sometimes when people start printmaking they think they need to have the best tools, or the most sophisticated methods, or even the most traditional way. I just get it done, through the path of least resistance making sure I enjoy the process.

Daniel: That is so smart! I actually do the same trick with registration. It is so easy, but I am also so messy that my sheets never make it past one print! Especially when I have to do multilayer prints, my registration sheets don’t make it untouched.

Gina: I like instant gratification, and multi color prints are not for me. I like the path of least resistance. I used to make these complicated registration jigs with cardboard…why? WHY? When most of the time I can get the piece of paper where I need it to be, without an extra hour of work. That is my style.

Daniel: Work smarter not harder!

Gina: I get plenty of questions regarding that sometimes, and I feel at times they get disappointed. Sometimes I measure, sometimes I eyeball it. It really depends how quickly I can get my ruler.

Daniel: How did Block Print with Gina come about? You are among the most popular printmakers on Instagram because of this challenge. How did you come up with this idea?

Gina: One of my friends actually nudged me, she said “there aren’t a lot of printmaking challenges”. As a matter of fact I am not really sure there still are, outside of printer solstice. I was trying to gear up for my summer shows. So, the idea was kinda like a reading buddy, you both read the book and hold each other accountable.

The more I think about it, people do inktober. We have expanded that idea because we are artists and we want to participate. However, to pressure someone to do one block a day…that was a lot. How you ever heard of the #100DayProject?

Daniel: Yes I have. Artists have been very creative as to how they use the tag and the work they create.

Gina: Yes! So, that idea came from a Harvard or Yale professor, the premise is that if you do something for 100 days you are going to get better. It’s not about perfection, it’s about the process, as long as you bring yourself to the task everyday you are bound to see progress.

Elle Luna, brought the idea over to the Instagram community and she was the host for a very long time, as of now she has since passed the torch. During that period I actually did a 100 day project on lettering, hand lettering a letter a day. I actually get a lot of calligraphy commissions that I don’t talk much about. All of those would have not been possible if it wasn’t for those 100 days.

When I get asked often: “How do I do this? How did you do that?” It is just repetition. There is this common misconception as a society that we are just naturally good at things. We are good at the things that we practice. If you look at the things you are good at in life, it is because you have spent a significant amount of time in those activities whether intentionally or not.

All of this mounted together, I had my friend push me to start the challenge, there really wasn’t a big thing going on in the printmaking community like activities that would bring us together. Just the idea that we can all be better if we have the accountability doing it everyday. So, the 100 days project is not feasible for a printmaker, but one block a week for five weeks is doable.

5x7 is 35 times twice a year 70 days out of the year that you intentionally bring yourself to the task, because I run the challenge twice a year. It is very close to those 100 days, alongside community, accountability, and opportunity to connect and learn from others.

That is one when you realize the world isn’t as big, because you get to know so many people. It also was a blessing to have all of that set up when COVID hit, because I was able to bring that space back. It has been the most humbling experience, because I did not think people would join this random thing. At the time I was around 7-8K followers and my recent growth has been part of that. It’s very humbling people actually want to come hang out with us, in this space to share their work and build community.

Daniel: I will make sure to carve time out my year so that I can join.

Gina: Traditionally I run the challenge in April and September because it helps folks prepare for the summer markets, and the holiday. This year I will do it in October, so mark your calendars now!