Sherman Alexie, live and in person

Yesterday, I braved the APD protests and also parallel parking with Jamie to see what Sherman Alexie has to say. (Although about 25 police with riot gear were swarming the Yale campus access point when we got there, it was more stressful to me that it took, oh, about 1000 back-and-forth maneuvers to get parked.)

Anyway, if you don’t know who Sherman Alexie is, go read up on that. And then come back and read this. His web site gives a very, very good insight into how he presents himself on stage, by the way. The 4 blurbs on the main screen really do justice to the persona. He did say that off-stage, he is a conservative prick, but I am not sure I believe it.

In no particular order, he discussed racial profiling, airports, infidelity, indian-ness, white-ness, road rage, What Marriage Is, how beautiful Navajo are, how bad res schools can be, masturbation, daddy issues, banned books, how confusing Albuquerque is,  confluence of ethnic types, 9/11 aftershocks, and the importance of being a freak at the correct time, and not rebelling when it will ruin everyone else’s day / life / culture / world. And these are all good topics!

Because I can’t even begin to do justice to the insight and energy and way with words the man has, I will simply encourage you to seek out some of his work. His writing, his public appearances. Don’t stalk his family; that would be wrong. I will tell you, however, what his time on stage made me think about.

He talked about the plural nature of “being indian”… what is indian-ness for him isn’t what it is for any other indian. Or anyone else, for that matter. Lately I have been thinking a lot about whiteness, and the associated characteristics — sure, the physical ones are obvious. But the social / cultural / historical connotations of being white are kinds harsh, and frankly, I am not sure how much responsibility I share in those heavy legacies. White People did this, white people did that… Were they MY white people? Did I do those things? I don’t condone them, does that mean I am honorarily not-white?

I have heard more than one European express annoyance that Americans like to associate with their ancestry back in Europe, even if it was many generations past. In Europe, being white seems generally to be trumped by what kind of euro-thing you are. (“euro-thing” might be another way to say “nationality”, but there are trans-national ethnicities in Europe, too.) In America, there isn’t differentiation beyond what we claim. My ancestors were ___________, with a little bit of _________, and some __________ for good measure. It doesn’t matter what is in those blanks, really, because most white Americans of non-descript european descent tell the same story. Jamie said that she doesn’t identify as white, because she was raised poor. But poor and rich aren’t check boxes! And no one cares about my ancestors. (Even me? Hmmm….)

Being white can be a very dismissed space. White means … oppressive. Privileged. Abusive of others. Rich. Educated. Advantaged. Somehow On the Inside. Good looking? Presumptive. Arrogant. Grabby. Selfish. As a person who has spent some time poor (by American standards, where we flush toilets with drinking water and even our house pets are fat), I know for a FACT I have experienced white privilege on many occasions. I will even step up and acknowledge that it is likely far, far more often than I can even begin to guess. But I kinda think I’d rather have a concrete ethnicity beyond guilt-by-association. There is no way for me to claim that, now — not sure there ever was. White isn’t entitled to ethnicity; white is, by definition, lacking it.

Mind you, I am not complaining. This is more like mourning. I have heard people of many different ethnic and culture groups talk about deciding – consciously – how much they want to blend in with their like-cultured folks, versus how much they want to pass for white and get the associated benefits, perceived or real. I don’t have a choice in this — I couldn’t pass for not-white if my life depended on it. Meaning (in case you were going to ask, as I just asked myself) that I have no physical or social characteristics associated with anything outside mainstream American-ness. As Sherman Alexie might put it, I might as well be the white guy with the dreads, holding up his iPad on which is written I AM THE 99%.

Is there An Answer to all this? No.

Is it possible that to be white in America these days means I am supposed to believe I am entitled to anything I can imagine … as long as that doesn’t come from anywhere else other white Americans?  Maybe.

Should we see about adding Rich and Poor as checkboxes on the forms? Definitely!

Tell me your thoughts, darlings. Especially if you are Sherman Alexie!

The Kinds of Printing I Do

I am including a link to the Wiki entry on Intaglio printmaking, because it has some nice, clear pictures of how intaglio works. We will begin with the pronunciation: in-tah-lee-oh That g is silent, as it is in lasagne. And for much the same reason.

Intaglio (printmaking) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Anyway, go read all of Wiki, and come back here, feeling happy that I have explained everything….  😀

Kidding, of course.

The false dichotomy of printmaking is this: There are two kinds, relief and intaglio. It is a false dichotomy because it leaves out monoprinting, lithography, screen printing, offset printing, and and and. It is a real dichotomy in the sense that these are the two kinds of printing I currently do.

Relief printing means taking a flat surface (also called a plate), carving off some material, putting ink on the remaining bits of surface, and then transferring that ink to another surface, such as paper. Most of the prints I have made are of this type, and many of my strongest influences in the world of art prints made this kind of print. For example:



(Franz Marc, MoMA collection)

(Pablo Picasso)

Intaglio prints are the opposite procedure: Mark a flat surface, and put ink in the marks, clear the surface, and press some paper really hard into the marks to extract the ink. It requires more pressure, generally, and finer ink, and normally very, very damp paper, because the moisture supplies a little capillary action to draw the ink from the plate to the paper. The amount of ink used for this is tiny, compared to the amount of ink necessary to get good coverage in block printing. In the example images above, you’ll notice the paper is almost completely covered in ink. In the images below, you’ll see there are a lot of fine ink lines, but probably overall there is more paper showing than ink.

Some famous examples of intaglio printing are:

(Paper Money!)

(Albrecht Dürer)


While there is a tremendous overlap in terms of technical capacity of the two techniques, there are a few distinguishing features. Relief printing tends to be broader, blockier, angular, and solid, a more graphical style. Intaglio tends toward fine lines, extremely detailed impressions, lots and lots of shadow and depth modeling.

Within each of these two kinds of printing, there are many technical variations. With relief printing, one of the biggest variables is what material is used for the image carving. A block of wood, for instance, is very hard, and holds finer details well, but does not take repeated usage as well as a sheet of linoleum. So, the artist might get more impressions (prints) from a linocut, but the details will be less resolved. (Wood may also impart some of the texture of the wood grain itself into the final image.)

My current personal preference for relief printing  plate material is a sheet of Teflon. Although stupidly expensive, it cuts smoothly, like butter, without dulling my tools, holds fine details like a champ, holds up well to repeated use, and is easy to clean. For reasons not totally clear to me, it also seems to be well-suited to embossing. Meaning, I could put the carved design through my press with a wet sheet of a paper, and get a perfectly good image without using any ink at all. Lately, I have begun experimenting with carving small motifs into cross sections of a little cherry tree that died in my yard a couple of years ago. The wood is SUPER hard, so good for printing, but getting it flat, smooth, and then carving the motif is seriously hard work. I plan to use these to print on textiles at some point.

For intaglio, probably the most common method is etching. This means drawing the design, reversing it onto (usually) a sheet of copper or zinc, sort of like printing a mirror image with something acid resistant, and using an acid bath to eat away the parts of the design where ink will be on the finished print. I … can’t be trusted with an acid bath. And the clean up for many of the associated materials, including the resist substances (varnishes, resins, asphalt paste…) is kinda nasty.

Therefore, I use a less popular technique called drypoint. Drypoint is called this because it is – essentially – just like drawing with a pen, only there is no ink on the pen. I use a steel marking stylus, intended for scoring and marking metal sheets. Instead of working on metal, though, I generally work on hard plastic sheets. Polycarbonate, acrylic, plexiglass … any plastic that is crush-resistant but scratches with relative ease works for my purposes. Because I tend toward abstract compositions with no text or other orientation-mandatory elements, it makes little or no difference to my work that I draw the design on the plate, and it prints in reverse. If I needed to put text, I would have to draw it on in mirror-direction, so that it would be right-reading after printing.

Drypoint prints tend to be distinctive in that the process of scratching marks into a hard surface raises a little burr at the edges of the scratch, which hold more ink than the smooth design edges of an etching (or engraving, which is what most paper money uses these days). Engraving is removing the material that is to be replaced with ink by hand, rather than in an acid bath. Think of the inscription inside your ring, or bracelet, or on a trophy plaque — most likely engraved, using a pointed, possibly vibrating tool to remove a bit of metal to spell out the message.

Printmaking is a phenomenally rich art form, and already this post, which barely dips a toe into the topic, is one of my longest ever. If you are interested in printmaking, or just want to know what some of the relevant vocabulary and visual reference points are, there are many fantastic online resources. I would start with Wikipedia, do some image searches, and perhaps check the library. If you want specific recommendations, hit me up, and I will ask more questions about what you are looking for, in order to make useful recommendations.