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Artists from Mosaic Collaborate with Budding Printmakers

Assistant Prof. Tyler Starr with printmaking student and artist
Assistant Professor of Art Tyler Starr transformed his basic printmaking class into a community-based learning course by inviting local artists to collaborate with students.

Students in a basic printmaking course this semester acted as "master printers" when they invited artists to the print shop and introduced them to new techniques.

Assistant Professor of Art Tyler Starr explained, "It's a way to expose the artists to new ways of working and hopefully result in an interesting collaboration where the printmaker uses their technical skills to facilitate and interpret the artist's idea."

Starr invited artists Neville Herbert-Reynolds and Gina White to the Belk Visual Arts Center print shop. Mosaic is an art studio within the organization LIFESPAN, a nonprofit in Charlotte, N.C., that empowers those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The art studio provides a space and materials for artists to create pieces for personal enjoyment as well as to sell.

"We primarily use water-based media in our studio," said Art Assistant at Mosaic Rachel Ohls. "If the artists don't already have a portfolio when they arrive, we'll show them different media until they find the one that they prefer."

Herbert-Reynolds prefers watercolors and acrylic, and White works primarily with oil pastel.

In the print shop, Starr's students introduced the artists to lithography crayon and ink made from copy toner, which they applied to four sheets of plastic film. The artists work in black tones because the printmakers need opaque information to transfer the drawings to photolithography plates.

Students were divided into two groups, four students per artist, to suggest different tools and provide feedback as the artists worked.

"Tyler and his students have been very good at working one-on-one with them," said Ohls. "We want our artists to be able to come to a studio and be treated like any other artist, with the focus on their artwork rather than the abilities that they do or don't have, and we feel like they've been able to have that here."

Starr intended for the experience to benefit not only the students but also the invited artists. "The students have acquired certain skills, and I thought it might be interesting for them to practice those skills with artists who maybe have not had the opportunity to use a print shop as nice as ours and got the idea to work with artists with disabilities," he said.

Starr approached Professor of English Ann Fox who teaches a course on disability in literature and who introduced him to Mosaic. After visiting the studio to meet the artists, Starr solidified the partnership.

"I was really impressed by the sophistication of their work," he said. "I thought it would inspire the students on many levels, simply by watching the artists work and by their level of technical skill." He described the artists' approach as prolific and spontaneous, qualities that the students often strive for in their own work.

Printmaker's Role

After the artists finished, the students spent the following two weeks printing editions of 11 for each of the artist's work. Lithography is a planographic printing process in which greasy ink is applied to a flat aluminum plate that is treated in such a way that the ink sticks to the image areas-the non-image areas are protected with a thin film of grease that resists water.

Biology Major Julia Sacha '17 said, "I'm in an organic chemistry class, and it's really cool to see the way that we're looking at these solutions and they're interacting in ways that I've learned about in my chemistry class, but now I'm seeing it on paper."

Because the artists work in black and white, it is part of the printmaker's role to determine how the layers should be ordered and which ink colors to apply to each layer. White and Herbert-Reynolds talked to the class about the colors they had in mind, and the students mixed colors based on the artists' input and their own interpretations.

"We're going to subdue the color to push the work toward a more monochromatic scale, which is drastically different from the bright colors the artists typically use," said Starr. "It might be an opportunity for them to see new possibilities for the direction of their future artwork."

Traditionally, the printer keeps a printer's proof and the remaining prints go to the artist. In this case, the students each received a proof, and Mosaic could potentially use their prints for fundraising opportunities. Students presented the final proofs at the fall semester community based learning poster session.

In addition to the technical skills the students have gained from the project, Starr hopes they also have learned how the print shop and art can function within the community.

"The print shop itself is a communal atmosphere where printers need to work together to accomplish projects," he said. "To bring an artist from the community into the mix allows for unique opportunities for dialogue about art and the art making process."