Following Great Migrations: Susan Amons in the Studio

February 11, 2017 by

Artist Susan Amons is careful to document, photograph, and archive each step of her printmaking process, and she offered us a peek into her practice. Almost every photograph in this post is through the eye of the artist at work. Special thanks to Susan for this opportunity.

Crows, octopi, and eels look down from etching studio walls. Each one comes from a Mylar cutout that has been incised with detail, layered with ink, and run through the press on a Plexiglas plate. The textured backgrounds are created with newsprint, a happy accident Studio Workspace Resident Susan Amons discovered years ago when she over-inked a plate.

Even when she’s not monoprinting, Susan still seems to think in terms of plants and animals. Miles away from her home in Maine, where she draws inspiration from the local coast and marshland, she takes breaks from the studio and explores the wildlife down the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. It’s not her first time down this path: Susan first joined WSW as a Workspace Resident in 1992 and has regularly returned to create new work. For this residency, she wants to develop new works centered on the snowy owl and black bear.

A self-identified “painter who prints,” Susan has developed a highly refined way of working on the press, where she plans and sketches the first print of each series thoroughly before cutting Mylar figures and mixing ink. However, her favorite part is after the first print is pulled, when she re-inks the cutouts and plays with new arrangements, printing the plate down to the final ghost—the last ink on the plate. While we were waiting for the last prints to dry, we sat down to talk.

Tell us a little about your twenty-five year relationship with WSW. What did you make during your first residency?

The first time I came to WSW, they didn’t yet have the intern house or the campus—I think that I stayed in Ann and Tana’s house!

I believe that I printed images of a deer and a bear. The deer had grape vines in its antlers and the bear was standing in the trees behind William’s Lake. Oh- that’s interesting! I’m revisiting the bear again!

Were you making monoprints at that time?

At first, I was painting right onto the plate, so I was making monotypes. I hadn’t yet developed my way of working with cutouts. It took so long to make an image, print it once, and then it was gone. Ann [Kalmbach] helped me discover the way Mary Frank used Mylar cutouts.  It became much more efficient to spend time making the shapes beforehand so that I’m not always starting from the beginning. The first time I printed with cutouts, I used so much ink that all of the images slid right off the plate!

I had the time to perfect that process here. Every time I returned, I might have learned what to add to the ink to make the prints work, or how to make big viscosity prints with the large rollers. Once, I made a six-foot long triptych of swimmers from a beautiful Greek vase.

You pull imagery from Greek pottery?

Many of the works that I make are inspired by Greek pottery. I love the very flat, simple way that they portrayed animals on their vases. The rest of my style comes from dreams and memories, or animals in dreamlike settings. I will go and paint out in nature to try and understand how it all works together. What are the shapes and textures? How does a tree lean over? How does it attach to the ground? Then, when I go to print, I pull from my memory.

The coast and marshland by your home have been a main source of material in your work. Has the environment changed?

Oh, you would hardly recognize it. Woodlands that use to have warblers floating around have been flattened, filled in, and build on. Everyone likes to have big green lawns, so they cut down the shrubs and trees. In the back of these lots, there is the Rachel Carson Wildlife Preserve, and that’s where I’ll find the animals: hawks, eagles, sea urchins. Sometimes there will be a new animal; snowy owls appeared in March and came further south than usual.

When her work dries, Susan keeps everything—ink tests, photographs, cutouts, and sketches—for her growing archive. In the last prints pulled, birds, bears, owls and their habitats fade away into ghosts, hopefully to be revived on the press again. Drawing from the shrinking American wilderness, Susan preserves these animal as a perfect dream, a collective memory to keep close and protect.

Susan Amons is a muralist, painter, printmaker and longtime friend and alumna of the studio. She studied at Massachusetts College of Art and works out of Peregrine Press, Portland, ME. Find more photographs from her residency on our Flickr, as well as photographs from past residencies here, here, and here.