The sturdy geometric foundations of printmaker Julia Talcott’s roller coaster images give support to their more voluptuous and undulating aspects, bringing to mind the highly structured yet gracefully lolling curvaceousness of coral reefs. This conversation between the natural world and the built world is an apt reflection of Julia Talcott’s own internal artistic dichotomy.
“I love colors I see in nature and looking at patterns in nature. Arc patterns, branch patterns, seed patterns, all of those. I find them fascinating. If I look at nature, I come up with something better than what comes up in my own head just doodling from my mind. Even as a kid, I looked very carefully at nature.”
The roller coaster prints, part of her ‘built world’ side, came out of “an effort to do a really big print — some kind of organic thing.” Of my observation of the similarity between them and coral reefs, Julia says, “Coral reefs are great, huge growing patterns. Even though the roller coaster is supposedly made of steel girders, I wanted to make it feel like something that’s growing.”
A printmaker in her 20s, she got an MFA and then went into illustrating for a living. Life got busy. There were three children and an illustration career, and no time or space for printmaking, and her connection to it got lost in a very full life. Her illustration clients included magazines, books, advertising and design agencies.
She explains that being a vector-driven computer illustrator suited the hard-edged, graphic, word-loving part of her. “It was a function of the fact that I love line and graphics and color.” About six or seven years ago, she started printing again with Mixit Print Studio in Somerville. “I took a class with Annie Silverman to start, and I went ‘Oh, of course! This is what I want to do!’ I had the muscle memory from way back. Time is short — I don’t want to finish out the rest of my career doing just illustration.”
Her reconnection with printmaking served as a connection to her “interpretive, softer, more painterly” side. “I think I’ve brought the two together in some places,” says Talcott. “Computer illustration work somehow doesn’t have the heart that printing on paper does. I love printing on paper, and the impression of the ink on the paper, the slight embossment. It’s a handheld luddite activity. That’s why I returned to real printmaking. A computer printout is not the same.”
She still does illustration from time to time, but on average spends about five hours a day, five days a week, printmaking in her Newton studio.
PO: Do you have a group of specific artists who you think of as your community?
JT: I feel tied to two different communities because I switched courses. There are my illustrator friends, who I don’t see often, but are very supportive. We see each others’ work out there, a lot on Facebook, and it’s nice to hear from those people and see them from time to time. I appreciate their comments. Here in Boston, I am part of the Boston Printmakers. It’s still new to me — I’ve been there two years — and I’m getting to know those people now.
There’s also Lois Tarlow who is on the board of the Boston Printmakers and a well-known local artist, and Annie Silverman who nurtured my return to printmaking. Susy Pilgrim Waters is an old friend, and a marvelous illustrator. She’s a very talented, spontaneous person; I get carried away when I’m around her! She’s like a creative geyser. It’s great to stand in the spray around her.
PO: I saw you in Gracie Finn’s (shop in the South End) a few months ago and you were showing printed dishtowels.
JT: Sometimes Susy Pilgrim Waters has trunk shows I take part in. I teach printing on fabric as a class. It involves a lot of work, making linoleum cuts and getting the colors right. I teach and do it because fabric can just be hung on a wall rather than framed, or used as a curtain or a dishtowel; fabric is something to make everyday life beautiful. I feel very free printing on fabric. I have fun with color and pattern. It’s a rabbit hole I jump down and I could stay there for days at time. The trunk shows are fun, too, because I enjoy getting out of the studio and meeting new people.
PO: In 1996 you illustrated a U.S. postage stamp. How did that come about?
JT: As a general illustrator with a graphic style, I had been sending promotional pieces to a designer in Needham for a long time. I never heard from him and began to feel like I was wasting time and postage sending them. Then one day out of the blue, after about six years of sending promotional cards, he called me and asked me to submit ideas for a series of Christmas postage stamps for the US Postal Service. We did it all over the phone and fax. I never met him. I like to think of it as my biggest print run — there were 2.6 billion printed! Watching the Super Bowl on TV that year, there was an aerial view of the stadium, and it occurred to me that almost everybody there had probably seen the stamps or gotten mail with them on it.
Talcott told me that the Museum of Printing in North Andover, MA, a truly impressive museum I had the great pleasure of touring a few months ago, typically holds a print fair each Father’s Day.
“For a couple of years they hired a steamroller and invited artists to have their carved relief images printed with the steamroller,” says Talcott. “I carved my pieces offsite, but brought them with my roller and supplies to ink-up to the tent they set up in front of the building. It was raining. Dan Abugov, husband of a board member there, put on a yellow raincoat, got on the steamroller, and steamrolled right through the tent, over the artwork, and out the other side. The prints turned out pretty well.”
Because she loves helping people to create images themselves that they couldn’t have imagined, she loves to teach. Talcott says, “The approach I encourage in all the classes is to relax and enjoy the different techniques that I demonstrate, find what works for you, and keep exploring it. The possibilities are endless.” She teaches at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown and Maud Morgan Arts in Cambridge.
Mixit Print Studio’s “Rethink Ink: 25 Years at Mixit Print Studio” exhibit, including Talcott’s work, will be at the Boston Public Library April 12-July 31, 2012.
Also, the Newton Public Library will be showing her work for the month of July in the large gallery.
To see much more of Julia Talcott’s work, visit her artist website.