Research center spotlight: Normal Editions Workshop
Since 1976, Normal Editions Workshop has served as an incubator for hundreds of printmaking projects created through collaborations between professional artists and Illinois State faculty and students. Housed in a single room in the Center for the Visual Arts’ printmaking facility, the workshop is one of only 12 collegiate print shops in the country.
Normal Editions operates as a nonprofit within Illinois State’s School of Art. The workshop is funded through the sale of limited edition prints, which are promoted online and at traveling exhibitions, and through grants from the Fell Trust and organizations such as the Illinois Arts Council Agency.
Interim Director Veda Rives leads the workshop. The printmaker took over for the longtime director, Professor Emeritus Richard Finch, in 2014 and now works with Sarah Smelser and Morgan Price, School of Art professors and printmakers. Rives talked about the workshop’s mission and history in the following Q&A. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Describe the research conducted at the workshop.
We have two missions: the creation of new work and the archiving, display, and study of work that has already been created. The art that an artist produces is evidence of their research in the studio. We are aiding the research of the individual artists that we work with because we are expanding their ways of being able to express their ideas and to bring those into a physical object in the world.
Then we also do research in the idea of what is the best way to do these things. For example, when photoplates were first starting to be available on the market, we would ask, How can that work better with our artists? In the past 10 years or so, there has been quite a lot of nontoxic ways of doing things. We are researching what works best and is least toxic, and making students more aware of studio safety. That’s part of the research too. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your health to make good art.
How was the workshop started?
Distinguished Professor Emeritus James D. Butler had the vision of having an internal internship opportunity for students. Anybody who had taken a printmaking course could work directly with an artist and a master printmaker and have more of a real-world experience about how collaborative works are created and published.
So we put collaborative teams together. It’s a really wonderful way for the things that the students have learned in the classroom to be applied to larger-scale projects and to have the networking with professional artists. The idea of doing something really large-scale or large volume is beyond what is really pertinent for their immediate use in the classroom, but it is really valuable for them as they progress and mature in their careers.
How do these collaborations work?
Each collaborative team involves an artist. Mostly they are visiting artists, though we do work with some Illinois State Art faculty as well. There are students on the team. Then there are staff members from Normal Editions Workshop, like myself, a master printer who makes sure that everything stays technically sound, especially when you are working with an artist who does not have printmaking skills.
The idea of the collaborations really is to bring together the talents of a lot of people and the goal is to help the artist create something that they wouldn’t have had a way of creating without the workshop and for the students to have that opportunity to contribute to the expansion of an artist’s skills.
What processes do the artists use in the workshop?
The dedicated press we have is a lithography press. The majority of the prints are lithographs, but our faculty members are generous and allow us to use other processes—etching, woodcut. We can do just about any traditional printmaking method.
We have a large-scale digital printer available in printmaking, so we can include digital elements in a print. Our tendency is to use the digital as a matrix and still do handprinting for the actual finished piece, which means ink is applied with hand rollers or hand-wiped in the case of an intaglio plate. Each impression is hand-pulled and not put on a machine and just set to go.
Who have been some standout artists featured by the workshop?
We are really proud of the work we did with David Wojnarowicz. He was here in the late-’80s at the height of the AIDS crisis. The work he did addressed some of those aspects. I’m sorry to say now those editions are sold-out.
There have been 128 artists and 270 projects created over the years. It’s hard to name names—Alex Grey, recently we had Judy Glantzman, Stephen Lacy, Robert Stackhouse, Rudy Pozzatti, Jane Dickson, and Julia Fish. Those were all standout projects.
To learn more about Normal Editions Workshop and to see the artwork it has produced, visit NormalEditions.IllinoisState.edu.