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Utah Arts Festival 

On a Roll: Saltgrass Printmakers demonstrate one heavy process of creation.

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When I show up to talk to Saltgrass Printmakers’ Erik Brunvand about the steamroller-printing demonstration at the Utah Arts Festival, he is online ordering more aprons for the event. Printing can be a messy business. But when you are using a piece of construction equipment for your press, it adds an extra dimension to the splay of ink and woodblock image introduced to one other by a diesel engine. “Since it’s just relief printing, with the raised surfaces conveying ink to the paper, it’s as easy to drive over it with a steamroller as run it through a printing press,” explains Brunvand.

But then, it adds to the fun as well. Fun enough that August 2008’s Steamroller Day—the first for the nonprofit community printmaking studio—included 9-year old Patrick Thomas Smith (with parents’ help) creating his own wooden board with carved-away outline of “Ducks” for an image in the concurrent show of steamroller prints at the Main Library through July 19. Seventeen other artists from last August‘s event can be seen there as well.

After the design is carved away from the wood, leaving the untouched surfaces, ink is applied with rollers to the board right on the street; paper is placed on the board and blankets are put on top to protect the paper. A halfton of pressure later, a work of art is born.

As opposed to traditional printmaking, where the paper is left pristine except where touched by ink, you can see dimples in these prints from pebbles in the road—“evidence of the steamroller process,” notes Brunvand. There are so many variables in the printmaking process, from different papers to the volume and viscosity of ink, but with the single-color black ink Saltgrass has reduced the process to its essentials for the Arts festival. “Bring your own board; we provide the ink, paper and steamroller,” laughs Brunvand. A workshop was given June 6 to show how to carve designs into wooden boards, and the cost of supplies is subsidized by the festival. Anyone wanting to participate can e-mail ebrunvand@hotmail.com .

The first printing session will follow an opening reception for the library show, on June 25 at 8 p.m. The show, including wooden carved “matrices” as well as the resulting images, and photographic descriptions of the process, vividly illustrate step-by-step the creative process. Routers, chisels and power tools had to be used to create the impressions on the wood. “Traditional woodworking tools are too small,” explains Brunvand.

This is perhaps illustrated best by Stephanie Dykes, who founded Saltgrass five years ago along with Brunvand’s wife Sandy. Her work “The Split in the Sky Grew Larger,” composed of two great masses that could be clouds or amoebae, was made of lines carved into wood with a router tracing wildly wavering outlines, then lighter shadings created by delicate knife work. Hers is an example of a composition created by rivulets in the wood without ink, the negative space around them filled in by the raised surfaces of untouched wood.

The other examples in the show represent an incredible diversity considering the unsophisticated process. Tyler Hunziger’s “Untitled” shows striking detail on the wooden block, deep carvings made to reveal the relief of birds and trees. Randy Hankins’ “Untitled” makes use of screws and metal meshwork embedded in the wood to make their own impressions in ink. Maura Naughton’s elongated “Giraffe” demonstrates the scale possible. Since the paper is on a roller, the length is practically unlimited; images are only constrained by the paper’s 39-inch width.

Art educator Lisa Nichols worked with her three children to create one of the most complex pieces, “Creation From Dust.” Faintly enunciated lines evoke fish, trees and what might be a bird-woman to shape some kind of creation myth. Sandy Brunvand’s “Trails and Layers” both fits into the thematic tempo of her recent work and describes this unique printmaking process itself. And Shawn Young’s “Towers,” with its bare outlines of towering buildings, manages to be almost photographic.

The steamroller demonstration will take place on 200 East near the outside book depository, and Brunvand jokes that it’ll give people another reason to go inside the library. Although the single-color ink process eliminated any problems with matching registry lines, Brunvand does note that it was a challenge to frame works 8 feet long for the show.

But that’s about the only headache, as the steamroller doesn’t really have any challenges to, uh steamroll. Heat didn’t pose a problem at the demonstration last August, and rain wouldn’t be a showstopper at the Arts Festival if the unpredictable June weather we’ve been having continues. “This paper, unlike most, can get wet,” Brunvand says.

Saltgrass Printmakers’ steamroller demonstration takes place every day of the Utah Arts Festival at 2 & 7 p.m. For the complete festival schedule, visit UAF.org.

Library Square
210 E. 400 South
June 25-28

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