A Printer’s Diary: A Year at Tamarind Institute

Demo on etching tusche wash tests for aluminum plates.

Ed. Note: Over the course of a few emails, Printeresting and Tamarind decided to team up to provide a bit a of a behind-the-scenes at at Tamarind’s Printer Training Program. One of this year’s trainees, Judith Baumann, has graciously offered to share her thoughts and experiences in a series of monthly posts. So let’s jump into the first installment of A Printer’s Diary: A Year at Tamarind Institute...

On August 18th, along with six other eager participants, I began Tamarind Institute’s ten month Professional Printer Training Program. I was first introduced to lithography as an undergrad in 1998 and spent the next three years making lithographs. After college, I apprenticed with Master Printer Mark Mahaffey at his beautiful workshop in Portland, Oregon. In 2005, I earned an MFA in printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University. Fast forward to 2014; at age 35, I quit my teaching gig of nine years at a small liberal arts college and relocated 1,500 miles away to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Many things drew me to Tamarind at this stage of my artistic career– amidst a whirlwind of life changes, the perfect alignment of time, financial ability, and wanderlust allowed me to summon the chutzpah to finally dedicate a year of my life to mastering the art of lithography. It is my hope that this monthly series give some insight into the experience of being a student at Tamarind, at a time when Tamarind itself faces looming transitions of historical importance in staff and administration.

Most of my talented program cohorts are art school graduates, having recently earned their bachelors in printmaking. This year, we are all women. There are two international participants– one from Sweden and the other from France, although they studied in Poland and London respectively. Education Director Rodney Hamon clearly stated on the first day of the workshop that it was his job to rid us of all our old bad lithography habits and begin to learn “The Tamarind Way.” After 16 years of running the PTP workshop, Rodney has all the qualities a student could ever desire in a teacher; he’s a clear communicator, extremely knowledgeable, infinitely organized, very patient, and, after decades of printing, is still passionate about his craft, holding a deep reverence and a sense of wonder for the sometimes unfortunate nature of lithography. Obviously, he also has well-honed sense of humor.

As of this writing, we’re nearly four weeks into the program. The first semester builds upon the basics of lithography in a series of “classic” Tamarind technical assignments, many of which have been passed down from previous education directors. This ensures that every participant who has successfully completed the Tamarind Professional Printer Training Program for the past 20+ years has endured the same frustrations from exercises aimed to teach proper processing techniques, use and safe handling of materials, printing methods, paper preparation, ink modification and identification, press set up, sponging duties, trouble shooting strategies and curation practices. On average, I spend 60 hours a week in the studio. At this point, all the students have gotten their weird jitters out and are quickly becoming more confident printers. The technical progress truly has been remarkable– in four weeks, we’ve learned (and learned better) what most college professors struggle to teach in an entire semester-long 4-credit lithography course.

In addition to the technical printing education, we also take a professional development course in workshop administration led by Marjorie Devon, long time Tamarind Director. This weekly seminar gets into the nitty gritty of running a lithography studio– from fundraising and filing taxes to collaborating with artists and publishing editions. We’ve had two generous guest lecturers visit our class– Jean Milant, founder of Cirrus Gallery and Editions in L.A. and Satoru Itazu, Master Printer and founder of Itazu Litho Workshop in Tokyo. Both provided invaluable insight into print publishing, how they initially envisioned and established their businesses, and how they continue to navigate the contemporary print market.

In the coming weeks, as we move into more technically complicated printing assignments, I hope to address what draws individuals to lithography, a medium of constant material changes and temperamental technical nuance, and why students still choose to continue their studies at Tamarind. I can be certain of one thing, however– after years of living in the Pacific Northwest, the desert feels full of possibilities, as does Tamarind.

The teaching studio-- clean and shiny on the first day of classes.

A history lesson: 60 years of lacquer bases for plates.

Always remember the exhaust system.

Counter etch project on stone with flats! Yowza!

Rodney Hamon giving a lecture on tusche tests.

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6 Responses to “A Printer’s Diary: A Year at Tamarind Institute”

  1. Amze Emmons says:

    This is so great!
    I can’t wait till the next installment.

  2. Linsay Proctor says:

    Wonderful. I just welled up a little, fondly remembering my time in the fantastic litho wonderland that is Tamarind Institute. I look forward to seeing the updates. Happy printing 🙂

  3. Valpuri says:

    Following this with great interest and warm memories in my mind!
    For how it really went there is always : http://talesfromtamarind.blogspot.fi/search?updated-max=2008-01-28T18:38:00-08:00&max-results=7&start=10&by-date=false&m=1

    🙂

  4. Clare Andrews says:

    Fantastic! Looking forward to following this blog throughout the year!

  5. Judith Baumann says:

    Hi Valpuri, Actually, the blog you cite is what made me put off applying to the PTP for literally 5 years. That blog made the experience, to me, sound terrible and terrifying. Happy to say my experience thus far has been nothing like it. XO!

  6. Hi Judith, Your article brings back many memories of the Big T. I went through the program from 1977 thru 1979 with Bill and Jeff Sippel who was the tech director before Rodney. Marge was the assistant Director then. I returned to SoCal and opened my shop called Ocean Works. I am now retired, but continue to put ink on paper for myself. I wish you success in the now and the future. Sincerely, Conrad.