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Nik Semenoff, The Fine Art of A Master Printmaker

By ArtistsInCanada Interview April 14, 2003

} Nik SemenoffThe Fine Art of A Master Printmaker By Paul Constable Over the many years I have known Nik Semenoff, I have had the good fortune of a great friendship. His studio is a humble workspace situated in the basement under the stairs. All kinds of chemicals and powders are in Jars stacked to the ceiling. Not one square foot of wall space remains. The open ceiling houses all kinds of gadgets, and printing devices, Print making supplies and ink rollers hang suspended from their cradles. Mostly all hand made. We share a common interest in producing art; mine was mostly in painting until Nik introduced me to printmaking, his way. Fine art printmaking is a skill more easily attained today than a century ago because of many new revolutionary techniques and processes he has invented and refined over the past 30 years. He unfortunately is more-well known around the world than here in Canada. In the Arts as in many other professions, one must go away to be discovered before you are recognized at home. It seems to be the Canadian way. If you are a Student, an Artist, Printmaker, Secondary School Art Teacher, University Printmaking Instructor or you are just generally interested as a consumer in knowing how Nik Semenoff has changed printmaking, this will be of interest to you. Nik's processes still involve the traditional way of printing, by using a press, rolling up a plate and offsetting the image onto paper, cloth or other substrates. What is different is the artist has been freed up to work directly on the plate without the use of acids to etch the surface. Fine detailed intaglio like washes to hairline work can melt into solid fluid shapes; these are now possible through Nik's Waterless Lithography process. He employs photographic images, computer generated graphics and other directly applied markings that will give him the texture desired. His abstract artwork is produced in multiple colours, even up to 17 colours on one particular print, all in perfect register. Silkscreen Etching Linocut I asked," what qualifies a fine art lithographic print"? Nik says, "the artist must work directly on the original plate or plates". This can be photographic as well as drawing directly on the surface. Each plate is inked with a hand roller and the editions are traditionally in the lower numbers, with 10% allowed for artist's proofs. Each print is marked 1/10, 2/10 etc. titled if desired and usually signed in pencil. Editions are small as the plates eventually break down due to vigorous inking and the pressure of the press on the plate. Upon completion the plate image is marred to prevent further editioning and preserve the integrity of the print series. So what is the difference between the mass -produced offset lithographs available through the commercial printers and the process mentioned above? Today's technology allows photographic images of fine artwork to be reproduced with minimal variance. Full colour images are simulated through the mixing of 4 colours, magenta, yellow, cyan and black. Technicians expose plates for each of the colours desired and a dot or rosette pattern carry the colour and transfer it to the paper. The pressman adjusts the press for colour, through computer settings and runs-off as many as the client has requested. The artist may have done the original piece of artwork, but it has been transferred through a scanner, which tries to simulate the original. After the image is printed the artist quite often signs each proof in pencil and numbers the series. What for I don't know? The pressman is actually in control of the colour adjustments and image quality. There is nothing wrong with these poster images being made, but consumers should be aware of the differences and should ask the seller when ever they're uncertain. Look for the edition run marked on the bottom of the sheet, if it is above 300 it is suspect. The Research Medal Pride In 1992 Nik Semenoff retired and became an artist-in-residence at the University of Saskatchewan. Through those years of instructing he saw a need to economize and consider the working environment the students create in. He developed water-based inks for printmaking and silk screening. These inks stood up to many tests of light fastness, opacity and consistency. He has found many substitutes for the traditional chemicals used in the studio. A few years ago he figured out how to reuse his litho plates, a large part of the cost of printmaking. He also developed a salt etch (a copper sulfate solution) for etching aluminum plates, after a student couldn't work with the acids. A few years ago he developed a palm press, ideal for making monoprints and lithos. I asked him, what started him looking for alternatives? Nik said, " Living in Saskatoon, many supplies were not always available". Insight With the Waterless Lithography process, he had to discover products to act as a resist and an adherent to the thin metal plates. Through a process of trial and error and a basic knowledge of chemicals and their properties, he found photocopier toner made a great medium whether thinned with camp fuel or compressed into a stick. The toner is made up of 90% black plastic particles, so it had the density to draw with. Once placed on the plate, it is then heat sealed with a hot air blower. The background had to be blocked out and clear household silicone was found to work great. It is thinned with camp fuel and placed over the whole surface with a sponge. The silicone resists the ink, so the ink only sticks to the image drawn. Nik has a great web site where he shares all his findings freely. All the processes are written out and 100's of students and instructors visit his site daily to research the process or to email him their questions. Each year Nik teaches Summer Session, which is international in scope and held at the University of Saskatchewan. Other Universities around the world seek out his expertise for his hands on workshops. Nik Semenoff is regularly invited to exhibit in Printmaking shows from around North America. His work can be found in Calgary at Image 54 gallery. You may visit Nik's web site - duke.usask.ca/~semenoff/ or you can find him through www.artistsincanada.com.. _________________________________________________ Paul Constable is the Director of Artists In Canada. He is a Painter / Printmaker and Senior Graphic Designer for an Advertising and Communications company in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Paul Constable can be reached by email HERE. His paintings may be viewed at: www.ArtistsInCanada.com/pconstable. Your suggestions for future articles are welcome. _________________________________________________ © 2003 ArtistsInCanada.com