Stefanie Dykes is a multi-genre printworks artist creating new designs and prints from her studio at Poor Yorkic Studios in South Salt Lake, as well as a founding member of Saltgrass Printmakers. Her Querl designs have been attracting people to her work for years, along with her blue-on-white prints and various other forms of that have given her artwork different platforms to be displayed in, from fashion to gallery exhibition to hand-held. Today, I chat with Dykes about her career and work, as well as her thoughts on local art. (All photos courtesy of Dykes, profile picture by Cat Palmer.)
Gavin: Hey, Stefanie. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Stefanie: I share a birthday with Elvis Presley and David Bowie, but I can't carry a tune in a bucket. Born and raised in the Salt Lake Valley, I LOVE road trips; just turn up the music and drive fast. Many circular journeys, I go out and come back again. I drive down to Calf Creek Canyon to feel the mist and power of a waterfall, to Delta to dig up trilobites, or up to the Spiral Jetty to wade in the water, risking a salty, buggy bath. There are so many places in Utah I have never been. Right now, I'm making a list for this summer's road trips.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art, and what were some early influences on you?
Stefanie: At Mountview Elementary, the fifth graders every year produced and performed different Shakespearean plays. I remember being really happy to be out in the hall painting the castle scenery instead of memorizing poor Ophelia's lines as she slowly fades into despair and insanity. I was free to create whatever I wanted to in the hallway. Can't remember my early influences -- William Kentridge, Anish Kapoor, Rebecca Solnit and Ann Hamilton. A longtime favorite artist I like to hear speak is Lesley Dill. She is coming to Salt Lake City next year for the College Book Art Associations conference at the Marriott Library at the University of Utah.
Gavin: What drew your interest toward printmaking, and what was it like learning the craft?
Stefanie: I have always liked to create images that are transformed through different media or translation by using multiple processes. Sometime during high school, I started taking more "graphic" art classes. Those art classes seemed to make sense, since I was on the newspaper and yearbook. I took first place at the VICA competition (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America is now SkillsUSA) for the state of Utah and placed second in the National VICA competition my senior year.
Gavin: Prior to this, had you taken any formal college classes or training, or was it all self-taught?
Stefanie: I have a MFA from the University of Utah, 2010. I received my BFA degree from the University of Utah with an emphasis in printmaking, 2003.
Gavin: What was it like for you learning the craft and honing your skills?
Stefanie: It’s exhilarating! I go to national and international printmaking conferences, where printmakers demonstrate their approach, style, or technical expertise in printmaking. I can’t wait to get back to the shop and try out what I learned. I have been awarded a scholarship from Anderson Ranch Art Center in Snow Mass, Colo., to work with Charles Cohen. We are going to be creating large collagraph matrices. Rumor has it, we will be working with fire to create our matrices!
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up Saltgrass Printmakers, and where did the name come from?
Stefanie: Sandy Brunvand, Erik Brunvand and I co-founded Saltgrass Printmakers in 2003. Sandy had returned from the Southern Graphic Print Conference in Austin, Texas in 2000, wondering why there weren’t any small printshops in Salt Lake City. It was during my last year in the print program at the University of Utah in 2003, when Justin Diggle, the associate professor of printmaking, suggested that Sandy and I get to know each other. We pooled our resources and plunged into organizing and setting up the print studio in the Sugar House area. Sandy had been playing in a band called Saltgrass. She suggested we use Saltgrass because of the reference to Salt Lake City and to the actual plant. Saltgrass is an indigenous plant to the Great Basin area, drought resistant, and grows in "communities," which kind of describes starting up a non-profit organization: stay grounded, promote local artists and engage the public. Plus, the band gave us permission to use their name.
Gavin: What was it like for you setting up shop and finding clients to do work for?
Stefanie: Starting up a nonprofit organization involves quite a bit of hard work, personal investment and belief in the unknown. Erik built our first press. We built tables and scoured the surplus outlets for lockers, flat files and cabinets. It takes all three of us to keep the records and bank accounts, write the grants, maintain the equipment and facilities, host gallery stroll and artist openings, teach workshops, install exhibitions and stay actively involved with the national printmaking community. Saltgrass Printmakers doesn’t work for clients. We aren’t a publishing print shop. Our mission is to advance, promote, and support printmaking as a fine-art medium by providing educational programs open to the public, open community access to professional-grade printmaking facilities, and supporting collaborative opportunities for artists and for the public through a gallery program. Through these activities, we hope to engage the community to increase the appreciation for and understanding of prints and printmaking. Thankfully, we have been supported through grants and funding made available by the Utah Arts & Museums Council, Salt Lake County’s Zoo Arts & Parks Program -- ZAP grants, and Salt Lake City Arts Council. Without the support from the Utah taxpayers and local organizations, Saltgrass Printmakers wouldn’t be able to offer such a diverse program, i.e., printmaking classes, steamroller events, Gallery Stroll demonstrations and DIY printmaking opportunities.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a new design, from initial concept to final product?
Stefanie: I start most mornings writing and drawing in my sketchbook. It’s a place for musings, research and the development of ideas. I’m a strong advocate for "paying attention to what your are paying attention to." Everything goes into my sketchbook. For example, if I am thinking about flight-- and I am -- you will find in my sketchbook references to inertia, how to calculate the gravitational center of a plane, Russian blueprints of American planes, lyrics to Gillian Welch’s "Paper Wings,” lift, drag, and the importance of symmetry in your materials. Apophenia is the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. My metaphors and subject matters attach themselves to me. It’s my job to discover those ideas and concepts. At some point, there’s so much material amassed that the images just migrate beyond the sketchbook to become a printed object, 2-D or 3-D in nature.
Gavin: How was it watching your business grow and become an influential source of art in the community?
Stefanie: We are doing what we are passionate about and that turns out be the right thing for this artistic community. We are very pleased to see print artists and businesses continuing to grow and prosper here in Salt Lake City – Cameron Bentley and his crew at Copper Palate Press, Leia Bell’s Signed & Numbered and Ben Webster’s Mandate Press.
Gavin: Prior to the printing phase, is there a lot of experimentation or do you stick to a design once you think of it?
Stefanie: Standing on your feet and printing is a very different intuitive act than the initial planning and drawing of the artwork. I think in layers and information. I try to stay open to how the image is developing and may alter or eliminate something that’s not working during the printing phase. It’s like creating your own visual alphabet. Once the small elements are created, there are endless possibilities of how you can combine them. Often, one printed layer will spark an idea that keeps the work evolving well into its final proof. I utilize printmaking’s unique ability to create multiples -- not to create several prints of one image, but to generate printed material for me to work with, alter and recombine to create the final print. I guess the answer is, "No." I don’t come to the printing portion of my work with a fully formed image of what the finished product will look like.
Gavin: What made you decide to go back to the U and get your MFA in 2010?
Stefanie: After five years of working to help establish Saltgrass Printmakers, I felt it was time to invest in my personal work, to push beyond my current skill set and develop new conceptual ideas.
Gavin: Currently, you're housed in Poor Yorick Studios. What made you decide to move in there, and what's it like running your business and personal art studio in the collective?
Stefanie: Printmaking by nature is a collaborative activity. We share our facilities, classrooms and equipment. It’s one of the things that attracted me to printmakers, but sometimes you need to be alone to think. My studio at Poor Yorick’s is my private studio where I can work solo. But then, twice a year during Poor Yorick’s Open Studio event, I get to throw open studio doors and invite the community, friends and family into to my studio. It’s the best of both worlds – community and solitude.
Gavin: Going local, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Stefanie: With impending exhibition-gallery closures and rumors of more galleries closing, I worry about the impact of fewer and fewer exhibition spaces available to show contemporary art and emerging artists. Not all art is made to be taken home with you. Some ideas and artworks you need to experience, interact with and think about. Where will we find those places in the future? There’s something in this artistic community for everyone! We often overlook and take for granted just how rich our artistic community is and most of the events are free to the public. Whether you are interested in film, dance, theater, literature or the visual arts, this community has a wealth of internationally and nationally recognized artists, musicians and writers to discover. What if you picked something new to experience once a month? Image that!
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Stefanie: That’s the eternal question, isn’t it?
Gavin: Who are some local artists you like checking out or recommend people should look for?
Stefanie: I am on the board of Artists Of Utah and help organize the 15 Bytes 35x35 exhibition every three years. It is an exhibition of 35 young artists under the age of 35. The latest exhibition closed on April 26; I was very excited to see the range of materials, issues and conceptual development in the work of these emerging artists. I’d recommend watching any one of those artists. I wish Joey Behrens was back in town. She’s been in graduate school at Ohio University, Athens, for the last two years.
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and the work they're doing to promote local art?
Stefanie: Boy, I’m not a marketing strategist. I wouldn’t know where to begin. I do wish there was a central art district where galleries, studios and music venues were clustered together. That way, you could attend more galleries and see more artwork during the monthly three-hour stroll.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Stefanie: I will be an artist in residence at Surel’s Place in Boise, Idaho in September. I am headed to the IMPACT8 Print Conference in Dundee, Scotland, with a portfolio I organized, “A Token Gesture.” The portfolio includes local, national and international printmaking friends of mine. I’m working with Justin Diggle to organize the Rocky Mountain Print Alliance Symposium in October.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Stefanie: Master kite builder Scott Skinner from the Drachen Foundation will be at Saltgrass Printmakers on May 25 for a kite-building workshop. Contact Saltgrass for more information. Scott, of Monument, Colo., is a former instructor pilot at the United States Air Force Academy, and has been designing, making, flying, collecting, and teaching about kites for almost three decades. He has written extensively on the sport and is an advocate for the educational power of kites. He is also a board member of the Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, Mass. The second Friday of every month is the Sugar House Art Walk – Saltgrass Printmakers has demonstrations, DIY printmaking projects and new print exhibitions every month. Escalante Arts Festival/Everett Ruess Days & Saltgrass Printmakers mark the tenth anniversaries this year. Saltgrass is planning on being at the Escalante Arts Festival teaching linocut workshops and hosting a hands-printing event during the festival. If you are in Escalante the last weekend in September, drop by our booth, ink up a block and take home a print. It’s worth the road trip! Rocky Mountain Print Alliance Symposium. The University of Utah is hosting a regional print conference this October. Several galleries and studios in Salt Lake City will be hosting print exhibitions and print events. For more information about call for entries, panel proposals and demonstration, check out the link above. And Saltgrass Printmakers, 2126 S. 1000 East in SLC, 801-467-1080. Like us on Facebook.
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