Jill Storthz

Printmaker, San Francisco // September 2011
I really get a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from the process: the different stages, the minutiae of each phase, the surprises that come up, the challenges that need to get worked out, the opportunities to experiment and explore...

We visited Jill at Graphic Arts Workshop, the printmaking co-op that she has belonged to for the last 10 years. It’s in the Dogpatch neighborhood, in a huge building with long, wide hallways flanked on either side by rows of closed doors. As we walked towards the yellow doors of Graphic Arts Workshop our voices boomed and clattered along the floors and walls, moving quickly away from us, echoing on down the hall, dispersing wildly and finally disappearing into an unsettled silence. While visiting with Jill, we somehow lucked out and got to have the entire space all to ourselves. The space is big and organized to maximize functionality, with windows at the back that look out onto an industrial lot and then beyond that, the blue expanse of San Francisco Bay. The space almost has the feel of a turn-of-the-century library— a perennial sense of purpose and pared-down practicality pervades the space, and all the vintage-looking drying racks, drawers, and flat files are reminiscent of card catalogue cabinets and old bookshelves. Jill suggested that she do a step-by-step demonstration of her printmaking process, and invited us to ask as many questions as we liked along the way. We asked a lot of them, and Jill managed to respond to our many queries with a great deal of attentiveness, enthusiasm and self-reflection while simultaneously showing us each stage required to produce a single piece. So much of Jill’s satisfaction and enjoyment comes from her total immersion in each and every detail of the process. I was very much taken in by her love and respect for the necessary succession of actions that eventually come together to create a sense of completion. I learned quite a bit during our visit, and left feeling grateful that Jill had not only opened her doors to us, but that she took the time to show us her practice, bit-by-bit.

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
When asked “what I do” I usually tell people that I work in a bookshop and make art.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
I work at Dog Eared Books in the Mission. It’s an independently owned bookshop and we get a lot of wonderful, old books of all sorts. I love being surrounded by books and people who like books.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
I create drawings and relief wood block prints. When I draw, I use pen and ink, watercolor, colored pencils and acrylic paints. When I create woodcuts, I use Futatsu Wari carving knives and Hangi (Japanese basswood) blocks. I use oil-based etching and relief inks to print and Reives BFK paper. I create prints in a reductive manner called “suicide method” in which one block is used the entire time. In the event of a mistake, there is no “going back”, so it makes the process exciting. I don’t like to spend too much time trying to make something perfect, so this method is good for that, and because I can’t go back and fix something it forces me to push forward.

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I am always listening to music and I know that is a huge influence on my work, especially when I am drawing, because I find drawing to be so meditative and I can easily get lost in a record. I recently picked up the new Zomes record at Aquarius and I really love it. I also like drawing to an artist under the name Hala Strana. I tend to pick up a few records a month, so there is no shortage of inspiration. Often when I am printing I have my ipod on shuffle or listen to an old cassette from high school so it’s a mixture of songs that come up— contemporary and otherwise. I just finished reading Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, a short story collection by Wells Tower, and Donald Ray Pollock’s new book, The Devil All The Time. Presently, I’m reading Devil In The White City by Erik Larson and The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson. As for what I am looking at for inspiration? I guess I’m just looking at everything. I am often inspired by book covers I see at work— they give me ideas for particular hues and color combinations.

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?
It’s always a challenge to find time to create art. I try to discipline myself to work in my studio on Tuesdays and Fridays, but sometimes something comes up or it’s a beautiful day and I’d rather take a walk or go look at the ocean. I’m not too hard on myself about it though. I do this work because I love it, not because I’m making money off it. So if I don’t show up at the workshop for a day, I feel like that’s okay. Creativity comes in spurts, and some days I’m just blocked and I have to accept that, and not beat myself up over it. I try and navigate through the art world at a comfortable pace. I love to create art and see art and learn about art, but I don’t limit myself to it.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Having a physical space to make work changes everything for me. I cannot make the prints I make without a press and tools and solvents and the space I have to create them. I am a member of a great printmaking co-op called Graphic Arts Workshop and I feel lucky to be a part of the organization. I can adapt to new spaces and make new work, it just wouldn’t be the same work I am creating now. When I draw, I sit in my room and listen to records and zone out. It’s cozy and comfortable and I feel the freedom to do whatever I like and I think that gives me a more playful approach to creating.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
I cannot think of a particular shift in my life that has lead to what I am creating now. I know that when I moved to California from Chicago, my work changed. I started making softer, curvier lines, less harsh carving marks, and using brighter colors. I think that’s because the vibe of the city is drastically different and I’m so affected by my environment. Sometimes I’m not even sure if that’s a positive thing for my art work— I think that sometimes the darkness and challenges of a place can bring out some really powerful work.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I’m presently working on a number of different pen and ink drawings, some I keep coming back to and others I think are finished or not worth returning to. I am making two new woodcuts. The first is pretty abstract but there are some recognizable plant shapes in there. The second is a little more straightforward with a couple of suns and geometric patterns and some cranes. It reminds me of taking a spaceship to Egypt, though I hadn’t thought of describing it that way until you asked me what I was working on.

What are you most proud of?
What am I most proud of? I was really proud to have my very first solo art show at a printmaking gallery called Tinhorn Press back in 2003. The two owners of the space John Greunwald and Terry Chastain (two great printmakers) took a chance on me, and I was grateful for that as well. I was showing alongside printmakers like Carol Sommers and Mayumi Oda, and that was and still is a huge honor for me. I also was able to show with a hero of mine Antonio Frasconi in a group show curated by another wonderful printmaker named Art Hazelwood. The show was called “California in Relief” and I was honored to be asked to participate.

What do you want your work to do?
I want my work to grow and become more experimental. I tend to get comfortable in certain styles— like similar color schemes, print size, and a distinctive “feel”— and I think it’s important for me to push outside my comfort zone and see what comes up. I also want my work to evoke powerful emotions, and to allow all kinds of people to respond in many different ways that make the most sense for them.

What advice has influenced you?
I cannot think if anyone specific told me this or if I just give myself this advice, but I tell myself to have fun with what I’m doing. Creating art for me is a really necessary part of my life, and I have always seen it as a fun escape from the regular world and not as a job or a chore. For me it means having a playful approach to art and mistakes are just a part of the process. I really get a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from the process: the different stages, the minutiae of each phase, the surprises that come up, the challenges that need to get worked out, the opportunities to experiment and explore, and if I approach my work too methodically then it starts to feel serious, like homework. My good friend Veronica DeJesus is a wonderful artist and she taught me a lot about incorporating “mistakes” into the work. Often it’s nice to be able to see the human errors in a piece and more often they add to the work.

How will you know when you have arrived?
When will I know that I’ve arrived? I’m not sure that I ever will. Tough question.

To see more of Jill’s work: