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A Passion for Printmaking

(November 2005) posted on Mon Nov 14, 2005

A look inside Coronado Studio


By Ben P. Rosenfield

click an image below to view slideshow

"You better find some other career, because you're going to starve to death." Sam Coronado was an art student when one of his Army buddies gave him that advice. Fearing that his friend might be right, Coronado enrolled in courses that taught him drafting and illustration. He then used the skills he developed to earn a living by day and fund the creative painting he did in the evening.

Coronado's life in the arts began in 1969 when Texas Instruments hired him as a technical illustrator. He has since undertaken numerous endeavors with museums, schools, and his own studio to draw attention to serigraphy and Latino art, and his artwork has been exhibited in the US, Mexico, Europe, and Africa.

Coronado calls Austin, TX home. It was there that he co-founded the Mexic-Arte Museum in 1983. Mexic-Arte's mission is to educate the public about Mexican and Latino art, and the institution is Texas's official state Mexican and Mexican-American art museum. Coronado began teaching art and giving lectures at museums and schools in 1986. He's currently a professor at Austin Community College's Visual Communication department.

Coronado Studio, which he opened in 1991, was initially dedicated to his work with paintings. It was a trip in 1992 to Self-Help Graphics, a community-oriented art center in Los Angeles, that turned Coronado on to serigraphy. "That was what started me on the course I'm on now," he says. "I brought the [business] model here to Texas, set up shop in my painting studio, and eventually it became a printmaking studio."

Painting has always been Coronado's passion, but he says serigraphy has proven to be a good fit for him—and for many of the artists who visit his studio. "Surprisingly enough, I can get pretty close to what my painting style is," he says. "We've had artists come in with color renderings or paintings to use as a guide to create their piece. Sometimes they get pretty darn close to the original. It all depends on the artist and their style. If they're working hands-on with separations, they have complete control over how they approach the piece."

Coronado says part of the reason he switched his focus to serigraphy was to give Latino artists a chance to learn printmaking. His studio serves as a venue for the expression of the Latino artistic voice. What exactly is the Latino voice? Like a work of art, the true meaning is anyone's guess. But from Coronado's perspective, it's the embodiment of the influence that Mexican culture has had on the imagery of Mexican-American, Chicano, and Latino artists in the southwestern US.

"You can see a lot of that influence in the artwork, more so than if you ventured into Mexico, where most of the imagery and a lot of the cultural influence is sort of delegated to the crafts world," he says. "The fine-art end of it has been influenced, in terms of Latin America, quite a bit by the Europeans."

Even though a big part of the studio's goal is to bring prominence to the Latino voice, Coronado welcomes artists from other backgrounds to work at his shop. Consequently, not every serigraph created at the studio depicts Latin- or Mexican-American subject matter.

The studio

Coronado Studio takes a minimalist approach to equipment—a majority of it is homemade. The shop has a Cincinnati One-Man Squeegee system, but Coronado says artists who visit the studio usually prefer the feel of manually pulling prints with a handheld squeegee. And even though budgetary constraints prevent the studio from purchasing what Coronado likes to call "fancy equipment," he does own computers and makes sure that everyone who works with him can use them. The computers also allow artists who work digitally to translate their software-based creations into serigraphs.

The studio almost exclusively uses water-based inks. These formulations allow for simpler, less chemical-intensive cleanup, as well as air drying the finished prints. Coventry Rag is the substrate of choice for a majority of the serigraphs produced at Coronado Studio. The pH-neutral, 100%-cotton, archival paper has textured and smooth sides, giving artists the option to incorporate surface texture into their prints.

The studio's staff consists entirely of part-timers: an administrative assistant, an accountant, a technical director, and interns. The internship program is informal. Candidates usually come from local colleges, and two or three interns work each semester. "They're young people who are really enthusiastic about screen printing," Coronado says. "They try to learn the art from us and move on to follow their own paths."

Coronado's crew also is able to bring in any of three on-call master printers to work with visiting artists who are participating in the Serie Project (which is discussed in more detail in the next section). A master printer is paired up with an artist according to the artist's style and the printer's expertise. One master printer may focus on tightly registered art, while another may be more experienced with digital images. Coronado says master printers, whom he describes as those who have a degree and have regularly worked in the field for at least six years, come in on a per-job basis. They're paid, but some projects require in-kind contributions.

Master printers also help Coronado conduct serigraphy workshops at the studio. Each session is limited to four participants and is scheduled far in advance to ensure the availability of adequate shop space and access to equipment. The course for beginners teaches the basics of cleaning and preparing screens, producing stencils, setting up colors, and printing. The advanced class gives students a chance to focus on techniques and aesthetics and print fine-art serigraphs.

The studio began offering the workshops three years ago. Coronado says the response is always good. To keep the studio in use between artist visits and workshops, Coronado may rent the facility to printers or take on contract work making posters to help museums, galleries, and other arts-related groups promote their events.

Marie Garza, technical director at Coronado Studio, says these organizations may hire the studio but send in an artist who is familiar with serigraphy to work alongside a more established printer when producing the promotional graphics. These works are called special editions, and Garza says the studio may keep one or two of these prints for its archives.

The Serie Project

The Serie Project is another Coronado creation. He founded the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to produce and exhibit work from Latino artists and others. A limited number of artists can participate each year. Artists are picked by way of a unique jurying system: Each is accepted based on recommendations, typically from artists who have already participated in the program.

"We rely on them to give us names of other artists who they feel strongly would fit what we're doing," Coronado says. In addition, Coronado meets every year with artists, arts administrators, and museum officials. "We go through all of the submissions and then choose the artists," he says. "And it also depends on how our grant sources and sales go. That all dictates how many artists will be in the following year."

Limited-edition serigraphs are printed at Coronado Studio as part of a week-long collaborative effort between the artist and a master printer (Figure 1). During the process, each artist must quickly learn the basics and finer points of serigraphy. Coronado says the one-on-one interaction between the artist and master printer is almost always enough for the artist to become comfortable with fine-art screen printing by the end of the first or second day.

"They get a feel for what is required of them," he says. "They're able to adapt to the process and let the process adapt to them. That's the trick there—to make sure the artist is aware of the nuances of the medium."

Artists are responsible for working on their own separations (Figure 2), and the studio encourages them to make each one by hand. Coronado may hire a service bureau to produce film positives when artists bring in digital images, but serigraphy always is the medium through which the artwork is expressed. Giclée (inkjet-printed fine art) is not a part of the Serie Project.

"I think there are two general options for how you use giclée. One is the reproductive option, where you take a piece and you just reproduce it—specifically to copy the piece. The second is where an artist works exclusively digitally and relies on the giclée for the piece itself," Coronado says. "If it's done with that intention, then I think it's an original art form. If it's done simply for reproduction, then it's not. The most important thing is for the artists to be honest with the buyer about whether the work is a reproduction or whether it's an actual piece that was created for digital output."

The Serie Project has exposed almost 200 artists to fine-art screen printing, and only a few have genuinely struggled with the screen-printing process. Coronado explains that the nature of the program prevents him from scheduling time to make lots of proofs. He says there's only so much time and money available to dedicate to each edition.

According to Garza, limiting the artist to a dozen or so colors helps keep the process moving at an acceptable pace. But she notes, "We do everything by hand, so the printer does get very tired."

Part of Garza's role at the studio is to document each artist's visit. She uses a combination of videography and photography to create archives and develop promotional materials for submittal to galleries and museums. Each artist prints an edition of 50 signed and numbered serigraphs, and each print is embossed with a crown—a mark that signifies the print was made at Coronado Studio. Garza notes that an edition of 50 is large, particularly when so much of a project's success depends on an artist who has little to no prior experience with serigraphy. Seeing firsthand the work involved in making screens and ensuring proper registration is usually enough to give the artist some perspective. Perhaps that's why some artists feel compelled to work around the clock.

The studio keeps 25 of the prints created in the edition to sell for budgetary support, and the artist gets the other half. "Artists can do whatever they want with their half," Coronado says. "That's part of the incentive for them to come in. It's all free to them."

Free? You bet. The entire Serie Project experience is offered to artists at no cost (with the exception of travel expenses). Coronado also offers artists a residence where they can stay and work at all hours of the night. He says some artists just stay in the studio all night long. After all, they only have a week to finish their work.

The Serie Project welcomes a challenge, and the organization gets one each time it extends an invitation to an artist whose work may not be easily represented in a two-dimensional print. For example, the studio hosted Marilu Flores Gruben, a Dallas, TX-based artist who specializes in three-dimensional installations of overlapping textiles. Simulating the materials Gruben incorporates into her work required a great deal of effort. After some experimentation, Coronado's team used Gruben's textiles as positives when they made the stencils for her serigraphs.

"We had to actually take the materials, place them on the screens, and expose the screens that way until we got the results," Coronado says. "Then we chose the amount of opacity or transparent base that would create the effect—the illusion of what her actual piece looked like."

The Serie Project has also worked with artists who create works in stained glass, pottery, and other media. Like Gruben's textiles, the stained glass served as a positive during stencilmaking to reproduce the textures and subtleties of the material. However, Coronado explains that potters and sculptors have to translate a lot of the work they do.

Once the work is done, the studio exhibits and sells its half of the edition, thereby promoting the artist at its own expense and, if all goes well, supplementing its budget. Exhibitions during 2005 were held in the US, Mexico, and as far away as Palestine. The cost of an individual print depends on the popularity of the artist and the number of prints remaining in the edition. The studio sells each unframed print for a minimum of $250 and can work out discounts with those who want to purchase numerous prints.

Sales and donations account for roughly 25% of the operating budget for Coronado Studio and the Serie Project. Local and national grants make up the remaining 75%, though the actual amount the studio receives fluctuates annually. Such is life in the arts, but Coronado relishes the fact that he's able to expose the public to fine-art screen printing and that his studio can work on many different levels with a variety of artists.

What's next?

If working on his own art, being a professor, running his studio, hosting artists for the Serie Project, and conducting workshops weren't enough, Coronado also plans to collaborate with other shops and explore combining serigraphy with other printmaking techniques. He says serigraphy has evolved since the 1940s into its own realm of fine art, although most people still think about woodcuts, lithographs, and etchings when the subject of artistic printmaking comes up. But if Coronado has his way, that will change.

Coronado's love of art was something that could have left him starving. Instead, his decades-long involvement in the field, from technical to commercial to fine art, has only made him hunger to expose more people to the uniqueness of screen printing.


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