Michelle Krasowski was enjoying her first semester as a transfer art student at William Paterson, especially her Printmaking I class with Professor Eileen Foti. It was her first opportunity to use the variety of equipment available in the printmaking studio in the Power Art Center.
When the University transitioned to remote learning after spring break, students no longer had access to the printmaking presses in the studio. So Krasowski did what many people do when they want to know how to do something: she turned to Google, found a YouTube video of how to make a printing press, and worked with her father to assemble one in her garage.
“The video was informative but we ended up improvising in terms of some of the materials we used,” she says. They gathered wood 2 X 4s, plywood, bolts, springs, steel, angle iron, lag eye screws, and a hydraulic press. The pair built the first version of the press in about six hours, but the wood snapped in half the first time Kraswoski used it. So they replaced the wood with ¼ inch steel tubing that is 5 inches wide that came from a car carrier scrap—and she was in business.
Professor Foti says she is “thrilled by the inventiveness and innovation” of her students as she has worked to redefine the teaching and learning experience for what is by definition a hands-on craft.
“Teaching a fine art studio class like printmaking has been a real challenge,” she says. “My students don't have access to any of their tools, to ventilated work spaces, and to watching me handle the tangible materials that they would be utilizing as they learn.”
But then Foti considered the role of printmaking in history. “Printmaking has been referred to as the ‘democratic art,’ because it offered an inexpensive and more immediate way to disseminate imagery, writing, and communication to the masses, regardless of financial constrictions,” she adds, pointing to examples such as leaflets, murals and posters, and more recent things like zines and graphic novels.
“So I bombarded them with the works of both historical and contemporary printmakers who create imagery with social, political, environmental, humorous, and satirical themes,” Foti continues. “I wanted them to see that there is no need for expensive materials, equipment, or a dedicated printmaking facility, and that the focus should be on creating images that communicate what they are passionate about.”
Students are now making their own visual statements, and Foti has challenged them to be inventive in terms of materials. While some may draw, collage, make their own carved stamps, or include printed text, Krasowski is using her homemade press to experiment with making linoleum prints.
“We are all doing the best we can to turn this terrible time into something positive,” says Foti.
William Paterson University
300 Pompton Road
Wayne, New Jersey 07470