Printmaking has been around for centuries. Even screen printing dates back to China between 960 and 1279. Mostly used in industry to produce advertising, concert posters, t-shirts, etc., screen printing is known as serigraphy by artists. This term distinguishes the artistic application of screen printing from its industrial uses, though artists do definitely create concert posters, t-shirts, pillows, stationary, and so forth.
In college, I had a painting professor who told me that if I wanted to be a printmaker, I needed to be a painter first. He meant this in the best possible way, I’m sure; if I wanted to make money or have any prestige, I must first be known as a painter. I did not think at the time to bring up Andy Warhol and his notoriety as a printmaker, but I digress. I did not become a painter. Since that day and that conversation, I have come to know that there are many facets to printmaking, and printmakers are quite successful if they use their skills in jobs such as illustration, textile and wallpaper design, and graphic design. One such up-and-coming printmaker and illustrator is Emily Maryniak.
“Yes, mainly I’ve been working with silk-screen printing,” Emily tells me. “I always work from drawings. That’s my main focus. All my work starts with a drawing or a sketch. I start with a drawing and divide that drawing into layers for each color. I use photo emulsion to burn a stencil of the drawing on the screen. I make a stencil for each color or layer of the drawing. There are so many things you can do with transparent layers and creating that third color when two colors overlap. Finding those moments, it changes your work, I think. I’ve been using transparent base a lot more to try to enhance this.
“A lot of times, I just try to draw as much as possible. Everything from nature inspires me. Oftentimes, things that I’m drawing are from nature that are interesting to me, or I’m drawing things I’m studying and trying to understand better. Finding a way to interpret those things and then put them down on paper, that’s my goal. And I think it can help sharing it with other people, having them see what I see. It’s for me, and then it’s a way of clarifying what I see and then pushing it further and helping me to understand a person or an object I’m drawing or a room or an experience. Even things like my next idea, that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, are some drawings and a print about ice fishing.
“I didn’t grow up here, but in the time that I’ve lived here, I see those people in those little shacks on the lake and I’m fascinated that people go out and do that and use those big drills. Last year I went out on Lake Wingra and asked people if I could take pictures and do some drawings, and I started talking to them about ice fishing. It seems like a thing that is passed down through your family. It’s not something that most people just pick up. It’s a way into that world to help me see that side of life, and those are the things that interest me: something that I’m not necessarily a part of, but then I can share my view of it and understand it better myself. I think my art is about capturing the essence of something I see.”
Emily’s work is also about narrative—about telling the story of a place or thing. I purchased a print from her several years ago at a craft fair titled Lightning bugs . It depicts a farmhouse at dusk with lightning bugs illuminating the foreground as simple swipes of neon color. This illustration spoke to me due to my association with catching fireflies in mason jars at my grandparents’ farm when I was young. Successful artwork shows the point of view of the artist, but also allows for the viewer to bring their own story to the work. Emily has found this balance in the images she creates.
“Right now I’m in the graphic design and illustration program at MATC,” Emily informs me. “I substitute at Preschool of the Arts one day a week, and then I’m in school fulltime and trying to still make prints and make work. Illustration is the main drive for me, and learning to use silk screen for illustrations is something I’m really interested in.”
Traditionally, illustrators have used watercolor, gouache, charcoal, ink, etching, and woodcut. Renowned illustrators include Norman Rockwell and John James Audubon. What I love about Emily’s work is that it is descriptive, but loose. There is a painterly quality to her drawings, and in today’s world, it seems there are no rules about what makes a good illustration as long as it is helping to illuminate the story. Eric Carle, for example, uses painted and cut paper. Other artists use collage and mixed media. Why not silk screen?
“Ideally, I’d love to be an illustrator,” Emily says. “I think striving to make picture books or even writing a book, I don’t know. I think my work at the preschool has helped me to connect with what’s inspiring for kids, and I don’t think there’s that big of a difference for adults, either, with appreciating picture books.”
Emily is a part of Polka! Press, a local printmaking cooperative cofounded in 2010 by Heather Buechler and Tracy Honn. The cooperative recently relocated to Fordem Avenue on Madison’s northeast side. The studio features screen-printing, letterpress, and bookbinding equipment.
“I’m also just inspired by other artists, people I’ve met through Polka! Press, like Emily Balsley, an amazing illustrator, and Nate Koehler, who used to be part of Polka! and is a freelance illustrator. It’s inspiring that these people have made this career and that they make beautiful work. It really inspires me.
“Polka! is always looking for new members,” Emily gushes. “We have, I think, 19 now. We went from about six or seven to moving to this new space, where we gained a bunch of new people. I’m just so excited to be a part of it, and it all started because a lot of towns like Milwaukee or Minneapolis. I know those are bigger towns, but they have studios for printmaking. We needed something here. There’s nothing if you’re not affiliated with the University, which can be really tough to get into, and that’s why it started.
“You can share prints much more readily than painting. It’s so much cheaper because you don’t have just one copy. I mean, I couldn’t afford to buy an original painting, but I can buy a print of someone’s work that I love. And at Polka!, we try to do collaborative prints sometimes. We did a book where we all printed our own patterns, then we exchanged the patterns and each printed a vegetable that we had chosen from a hat overtop of the patterns. It was a fun way to play together and get to know one another. We have open houses where we demonstrate what we do, and also sell work during Gallery Night and things, too. Some of my closest friends now are people I met at Polka!
“Recently, I have been making relief and silk-screen prints on paper. I also make cards, notebooks, and t-shirts for children and adults. My favorite part of both processes is that moment when you first see the image after printing, when you peel it from the block on the press or when you first lift up the screen. There is a little bit of mystery and magic involved in this historic process, and I feel so lucky to experience it!”
You can view Emily’s work at emilymaryniak.com, and it is available for purchase at Hatch Art House (visit the Polka! show July 1–31) and at Juneberry Studio and Marketplace. More information about Polka! Press is available at their website, polkapress.org .
Kay Myers is a local artist and freelance writer.