I’ve discovered a missing piece to my photography practice. A piece I didn’t even realize was missing until I began to explore it. But now that I’ve found this piece, it’s clicked into place with such perfection I can’t even begin to describe the sense of completion. That missing piece is print.
The journey of print has been a winding one over the last year. I returned from living in Italy last summer with a desire to figure out how to get some of my newly-created portfolio of images printed. At the start of this journey, I thought I wanted nothing to do with the printing process. I just wanted to find a place to upload my images and have them come to me. None of the fussing with printers and papers. More time for creating with my camera, I thought. At first, seeing my prints this way was fantastic. Just seeing a physical, tangible version of my images was amazing.
Over time though, I began to get a niggling feeling that the prints and the process were not all they could be.
First off, the process of uploading and sharing online was not fitting with me. That someone random could order a print from my RedBubble shop and I had no clue who they were, no way to say “hey, what did you like about that image?” or “thank you for your order” or to even sign the work and connect personally left me a little cold.
Next, I took a portfolio class in March and the instructor had wonderful things to say about my images. But, she said, I needed to learn about print. My black and whites, she said, could “sing” if printed well. I had no idea. So I started looking closer, more critically. And then, around the same time, I received my exhibition print order and was disappointed. They didn’t look as I envisioned in my head. Even though I did test prints prior to the full order and they looked fine, things didn’t translate to all of the images I had chosen. Either that or my internal quality level had changed. There was no time to revisit before I had to drop off the prints so I went with it. But the exhibition prints weren’t as good as they could have been. Lesson learned.
I was at a turning point… I realized I either needed to make a serious effort to find a professional lab and learn how to calibrate with them to get the prints I wanted, or I needed to learn how to print myself. It was an investment of time and energy either way, and it was clearly the next step for my artistic journey with photography. I decided I would learn to print myself.
It’s funny how the right resources came my way once I had made my decision to print. Craft & Vision had released an e-book in January called Making the Print by Martin Bailey. I had it sitting on my computer, ready to read. And then, a few weeks later, a workshop in Portland on fine art inkjet printing for photographers with Tyler Bowley, a photographer and professional fine art printer from Seattle, and Lauren Henkin, a Portland photographer and bookmaker, came to my attention. What timing! I signed up immediately. Both of the resources were exactly what I needed to give me the confidence to begin printing my work. I ordered a new printer* and started on this adventure of print about a month ago.
And what a wonderful adventure it has been…
Where I had struggled with any sort of home printing in the past, now that I had the right information I slid into it with ease. It took very little time to get beautiful prints, so much better than I had been getting. My images jump off the paper! I could make them look exactly as I envisioned. My first experiment (Remember I am an engineer, so there is going to be a methodical approach to this!) has been to try out all sorts of fine art papers with different images to see what I might want to use. Wow! What a difference the paper makes to the print as well.
I’ve tried to capture an example to compare between my online-ordered prints and one of my first home prints in the image below. On the left is the print I ordered online, on the right is the print I made. It was hard to capture the differences with the camera, but suffice it to say my own print was more to my vision. It’s less muddy and has clearer depth and detail. If I don’t like how it comes out, I can tweak it a little and try again.
This weekend I did my first larger print – 11×14″ – to submit to a community art exhibit. While it didn’t come out exactly perfect, it was pretty amazing to see my image large like this, and to know I was involved with the creation of it every step of the way. It’s my image, from concept to print. I set it across from my reading chair and couldn’t stop gazing at it, similar to what I do when I’m working on a painting. I can see a few minor things I would like to tweak with the print in the future, and I definitely would have preferred an off-white mat, but once again I was short on time before the exhibit. It’s all a process of learning. Every step of the way.
In some ways, this adventure into printing takes me back. My father owned a print shop. I grew up in and around printing and paper for as long as I can remember. I’ve always love the feel of paper, the smell of the chemicals. I understood Pantone colors, the difference between serif and sans serif fonts and phrases like “out of register” before they ever slipped into the mainstream consciousness. I knew how to tell good quality print from bad. I always had reams of different types of paper to create with. I loved to play the paper… different textures, colors, weights. I rediscovered a love of design and playing with paper when I started scrapbooking years ago. I’m discovering paper all over again, with my photography.
I think my history and love of paper explains how this is the missing piece of the photography process for me. It completes the circle of the creative process – from seeing, to capture, to edit, to print. Something tangible and beautiful in my hands. Something I can share with others that I’ve created and touched. It takes an image from an idea or a concept to something more real to me. This is my art.
*Before you ask “What printer did you get? How did you print?” I want to be clear that I am not going to make any specific comments on printer hardware or brands here on my website, nor am I planning to give specific technical instructions on the printing process. There is plenty of information available online on inkjet printing for photography.