Spark Box Studio

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Spark Box Studio is an artist residency and printmaking studio located in Picton, Ontario, Canada. Located about two hours east of Toronto, Picton is the main town in Prince Edward Country – a rural outcropping of land on the northern brim of Lake Ontario. The multi-acre Spark Box property is made up of a beautiful old farmhouse and a converted outbuilding, which now exists as a well-equipped printshop. They’re setup for intaglio, relief, non-toxic lithography, screenprinting, and letterpress.

Founded in 2009, owners Chrissy Poitras and Kyle Topping have created a warm and welcoming atmosphere that fosters both creativity and community. Chrissy explains, “Spark Box Studio is a charming rural farm house that offers an affordable, focused environment encouraging artistic exploration, experimentation and the cultivation of new ideas. It is a space which provides access to resources, expertise, and printmaking equipment that might otherwise be difficult to find. Through our residency program, community workshops and open studio we make it our business to provide artists, at all stages of their careers, a place to live and work without distraction.”

I had the pleasure of meeting owners Chrissy and Kyle in 2011 when I spent a month in residence at Spark Box. Since then I’ve made multiple trips up north to visit, and have seen the operation and facilities expand each time. These guys always seem to have new and exciting things happening, which makes sense considering they have up to three residents from all around the world living on site at any given time.

I took these photographs of their ever-evolving printshop during my latest snowy visit right around the start of the new year. Chrissy was kind enough to answer a few questions to accompany this printshop tour, shedding some light on how Spark Box Studio came to be and where they’re heading.

It’s worth noting that these photos only give a look at the printshop facilities, which is only a portion of Spark Box Studio. More images of the Spark Box house (including it’s amazing kitchen, living room, and private resident bedrooms!) can be found on their website.

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Parks Litho Press & Sturges Etching Press

Josh Dannin:  How did the idea for Spark Box Studio come about and how’d you turn it into a reality?

Chrissy Poitras:  The idea for Spark Box Studio came about just before Kyle graduated from his undergrad at Queen’s University. I had been out of school for a year and we quickly realized that we needed to make a plan for our future. We sat down with pen and paper and started jotting down some “big picture” ideas and running a print studio and residency was something that just kept coming up. We began building on the core concept and brought it to the economic development office in Prince Edward County (where I had grown up) and they saw potential. It was pretty organic actually and we were lucky that the people we first contacted saw promise in what seemed like a pretty crazy idea on paper. As soon as Kyle graduated in 2009 we jumped right into building a shop and opening our own business with help from a grant supported by the Prince Edward County community.

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JD:  What unexpected speed bumps have you faced as you established and continue to expand Spark Box Studio?

CP:  There have been tons … I suppose the biggest have been knowing when to say no, so you don’t take on too much, and understanding that you can’t do everything and you can’t please everyone (especially when running a print studio in a rural area). Through all of the changes, moves, new equipment, and adjustments of the business plan we have learned the value in a clear plan of action (so you don’t waste time on projects that don’t go anywhere). This led to realizing that sometimes you need to let go of an idea and that this loss doesn’t mean you are a failure. The biggest speed bump is money management. From the start we quickly realize how much we took for granted while at school and how expensive a professional art career actually is.

JD:  You have artists come to Spark Box from all over the world. Talk a bit about the diversity of your residents, both in terms of geographic range and artistic discipline. Are residents primarily printmakers?

CP:  Yes, we have had artists from all over and the network of areas continues to grow every year. We are always open to assisting artists who want to travel and work on projects out of their home country. In some cases this experience is part of what their practice and for others it is just a way to liven up the everyday. We try, as best we can, to have a range of practices at the studio (i.e. painters, printmakers, writers, filmmakers, young artists, established artist, etc.). We love it when we can give a printmaker full run of the shop so we prefer to have one print resident here with two other artists of different disciplines. Plus, this gives way to new ways of thinking, interesting flows in conversation, critical dialogue and unexpected collaborations.

JD:  What’s the future looking like for Spark Box? Any big plans or projects?

CP:  We are constantly adjusting and ever changing. Aside from constant improvements to the studio we are working on a mobile store and planning to host a large woodcut printing event. We love the idea of having a bunch of wicked printmakers here at the studio, camping, carving and pulling giant prints!

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Last summer Chrissy and Kyle had the opportunity to expand the studio further when they stumbled upon a letterpress shop for sale. Thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign, Spark Box Studio is now home to a Vandercook SP-15 and a nice collection of type.

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One of three private resident studios. This one is in the printshop building, while the other two are inside the main house.

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The printshop is also home to quite the nice little library. Plenty of good reads for technical reference and inspiration.

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In addition to being a talented printmaker, Kyle is also a skilled contractor and cabinetmaker. He and Chrissy essentially built the printshop from the ground up with minimal assistance. Kyle has constructed all kinds of space-saving and brilliantly designed shop components throughout, including modular shelving and drying units on casters. This allows individual artists working in the studio to reconfigure its layout to optimize their workflow. There’s also plenty of custom built-in cabinets and storage, as pictured below.

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The studio includes a nicely sized darkroom for screen and plate exposure, and a washout booth. Film photographers will be happy to find an enlarger and chemistry as well. Like the rest of the space, it’s clean, efficient, and super organized. Everything has its place, and Chrissy and Kyle do an excellent job keeping it that way.

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If you’re interested in learning more about Spark Box Studio, their website is a great resource. It features an active blog with updates on current residents and studio happenings, interviews with previous residents, and plenty more. They also have a whole section of the website devoted to the business of art and resources for emerging artists – Certainly worth taking a look.

And if you’re heading to San Francisco this week, be sure to pay Spark Box Studio a visit at the SGCI Publisher Fair. Chrissy and Kyle are super friendly folks.

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Categories: Interviews, Printshop Tour


4 Responses to “Spark Box Studio”

  1. Fizza Siddiqui says:

    Its an amazing apportunity for the artist i m from National college of arts (pakistan)
    i m printmaker i want to avail the residency , can you pleaae tell me in detail how to apply for this

  2. What a great article. Congratulations Chrissy and Kyle, the studio looks amazing!

  3. It’s good .This is Prasad Nikumbh. printmakar, from sir jj school of art Mumbai. Maharastra, India. If any activity about residency please infrom.

  4. […] We had a great article on Printeresting written by past resident Josh […]