The UNI Printmakers Society of America (UNIPSA) attended the Southern Graphics Council International (SGCI) Printmaking Conference, Print MKE in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 20-23. The conference featured lectures, demonstrations, and exhibits by contemporary artists specializing in printmaking. Students also participated in the SGCI Member Portfolio Exchange and open portfolio, which allows students to get feedback on their work and network with other artists in the printmaking community. Printmaking professors, Tim Dooley and Aaron Wilson, also attended, selling works from their collaborative, Midwest Pressed in the Publisher’s Fair. Students in attendance included Jeff Bast, Ashlie Coady, Desiree Dahl, Ashley Fisher, Dana Potter, Derek Steffens, Zach Schnock, Randy Timm, Ben Uhl, and recent graduate, Jesse Parrot.

“My favorite part was meeting people with similar interests. The whole time I was talking to strangers about the most minor aspects and inside jokes of printmaking. Not many people really understand what printmaking is, so it felt good to bond on common knowledge. I loved the sense of community and shared purpose. Also, seeing all the great art gave me motivation to make new work,” said Ashley Fisher, UNIPSA President.

First-time SGCI conference attendee, Dana Potter also noted the atmosphere of community.

“The conference brings together a wide range of enthusiastic printmakers dedicated to the success of the printmaking field.Almost all the printmaking professionals I spoke with have worked or most often work collaboratively on projects or in co-ops and presses. This sense of community and humble artistry that comes with printmaking is best summed up by the recipient of this year’s SGC Lifetime Achievement Award in Printmaking, Lesley Dill; in accepting her award she refused to take full responsibility for the accomplishment and continuously gave thanks to the endless list of people she had helping her along the way,” said Potter.

Potter and the other attendees expressed that they found the conference to be an all-around rewarding experience.

“Printmaking conferences are an extremely valuable experience for students because they immerse you in an accelerated learning environment, offer networking opportunities, offer competitive/interactive experience in the portfolio exchange and open portfolio, and are immensely enjoyable,” said Potter. “The conference offers a huge networking opportunity that art students are otherwise not quite as capable of accessing. The SGCI Print Conference puts you in direct connection with hundreds of art professionals eager to speak with you about your work and your future.”

While many of the events were designed to create connections among artists, the students found that open portfolio was particularly conducive to interaction. It also gave students the opportunity to have their work evaluated and discover cutting edge advances in printmaking.

“I got a better grip on trends and innovations in the printmaking medium by going to open portfolio. Open portfolio is exactly what it sounds like: showing your portfolio of artwork to the public. Seeing the artwork of people my age from all over the country really helped me get an idea of what I’d like to do in the future and how I could stand out,” said Fisher.

The students in print club would like to use their experiences in Milwaukee to generate awareness in the local community by spreading their knowledge of the medium and how it can be used to foster positive change.

“Printmaking can be difficult and sometimes misunderstood. I think the medium is enjoyable for those who love graphic imagery and social commentary. It also should be noted that the process can take a long time and is labor intensive. However, I think people begin to appreciate that over time,” said Fisher.

UNIPSA was an organization originally created with the intent of bringing interested students together to organize and fundraise for the conference. However, in the last year, the group has attempted to expand their accessibility by hosting more events and community-based projects. Their goal is to increase awareness of what printmaking is and teach those interested about processes that may benefit their artwork.

“We’ve learned how to make a lot of different products in the last year. We had a Halloween fundraiser in which we learned to print masks. We also learned how to make calendars. We hosted a community printmaking workshop last fall, in which the public was allowed to come into the print shop and print their own shirts, records, or random belongings with our assistance. I think our goal for the future is to host more community workshops and engage ourselves more with the art community outside of UNI,” said Fisher.

While the club’s focus has shifted over time, they have no intention of abandoning the conference that originally brought them together.

“I will most remember the rich amount of knowledge that was shared,” said Potter. “‘This is where the Magic Happens’ was the beginning note for a speaker I listened to. He was very keen to say that printmaking conferences are a beautiful occurrence, in which many highly intelligent individuals come together in bursting enthusiasm to share new advancements and ideas. After having attended SGCI, I completely agree, that the magic of knowledge with excitement certainly happens.”