Hello! My name is Alex Giffen and I am the Lead Printer and Shop Manager at Flatbed Center for Contemporary Printmaking, formerly known as Flatbed Press. Flatbed has been around for 30 years and let me tell you what, Katherine Brimberry is a POWERHOUSE of printmaking and I am so grateful to be able to learn from her. She started with a dream of a studio where everyone is welcome and everyone can share print, in addition to publishing prints for artists of all mediums. For a while, we focused solely on pulling museum quality editions, and we still do a lot of this, but we have also refocused on her dream with the Flatbed Community Press with our versatile membership plans.
If you are a printmaking artist without access to high quality equipment, we’ve got you covered. If you are a printmaking artist with a press, but need access to a 10ft aquatint box and acid tanks big enough to etch 3ft X 5ft, we’ve got you covered. If you are interested in print but don’t really know what you need, we’ve got you covered. Our community shop has two relief presses, two etching French tools, one litho press, two Vandercook letterpresses, (ok one is a proofing press Vandercook No.), screen printing stations, a two sided exposure units for polymer platemaking, and all the flat files of your dreams. We welcome all, and for those not yet comfortable to work solo, we have workshops throughout the year to get you familiar. We use Cranfield Caligo Safe Wash inks for all workshops and open studios. We love the luminosity of the pigments, color mixing and of course the clean up. In an effort to be more environmentally and health conscious, we clean up with soap and water premixed in a spray bottle and it could not be easier! Even traditional inks clean up well!
So, what part do I play at Flatbed? I’ve been with Flatbed for almost seven years now and I have worked my way up from intern to Lead Printer. I collaborate with artists, edition most of the prints, lead workshops, lead member orientations and manage the daily operations of the community shop. I started as an intern, as all of us do and then worked as an assistant for some time. I began taking my own projects about two years ago and now I work on the majority of editions we publish. A big part of my role is in artist collaboration. We work for about a week with artists to refine their ideas, make the plates, explore paper and color options and then I edition the prints! I’ve collaborated with painters, sculptors, printmakers, dancers, video artists and photographers so far, and I can’t wait to see who else we invite to the shop!
Editioning is no small feat, there are a lot of moving parts to every project. Once color and paper are decided on, it is my job to have a long conversation with the matrix, whether it is a copper plate, zinc plate, wood block, linoleum block or anything else that I can put through a press, and pull some beautiful prints. It may seem crazy but each substrate has different needs and quirks, and they will tell you what they want. Some plates only print well at certain angles, some blocks need to be inked with one inch brayers, some paper needs to soak for an hour or more while other paper just needs a spritz. I set up registration to ensure consistency but I allow for changes and adapt as the edition progresses.. Once I figure out just how all the variables are talking to each other I can learn how to get them to do what I need, and often it is smooth sailing for the edition!
Katherine has provided me with the knowledge, the tools, and the place to print pretty much anything with success. Some of my favorite projects are the ones that provide the most challenges and let me think deeply. I even dream about how to make the projects work, and research what has worked in the past, and what could work in the future based on math and the science of the materials we use.
I love printing giant woodcuts and am currently working on two editions of chiaroscuro woodcuts carved by Ben Munoz out of Dallas, Tx. The blocks are 62” X 36” and wildly detailed. Each edition has two blocks, one for the key line and one for the color. Registration must be pristine for the prints to read as intended by the artist, and my method is largely based on exponents and my eyes. The prints will be unveiled sometime after this Coronavirus calms down, as business operations have been put to a stop by our local government for the time being. Let me tell you what, they are STUNNING and I can’t wait for you all to see them!
I also print my own work in the Community Press and I love the creative energy the place holds. When we are all working together, ideas bounce around the room and the prints come easy. I wouldn’t trade it for the world! Whether I’m creating my own work, helping other artists bring their visions to print, leading workshops or just hanging out with members in the shop, you can find me at Flatbed slingin’ ink, crankin’ presses and jammin’ to some killer lo-fi. Come and see us if you’re ever in the Austin area, I’d love to show you the shops!