For some artists, it takes years of trials and tribulations before they discover what type of art they are truly passionate about. For Leah Jachimowicz, it seemed like she was headed down the same road, until she pulled her first print, and fell in love. Now Jachimowicz hasn’t quite found a way to quit her day job just yet and focus on printmaking, but she is well on her way.
Whether it is fine art, stationery cards, or wedding invitations, Jachimowicz has put her considerable printmaking skill into Coffee n Cream Press, her online shop where she sells her best work and tells the world a little bit about her inspiration as well. You won’t find anyone who doesn’t consider printmaking an art form, but you will find plenty of people who probably don’t know the first thing about printmaking and how it is done.
Luckily for you, our goal with these interviews is to help shed light on different art careers that might otherwise go unnoticed and unappreciated. And luckily for us, Leah didn’t just half-ass the interview, she was thorough and detailed, and the result is an engaging interview that has information, anecdotes, and lessons to be learned. Enjoy!
When did you really become interested in art and think about it as a career? Was there a seminal moment along the way or have you been interested in all forms of art since you were young?
Art has always been an integral part of my life- be it crafting my own stationery, drawing my favorite cartoon characters or attending oil painting classes as a child, I have always loved spending time on my art practice.
Talk about your art education a little bit. Did you major in an art-related subject for undergrad and then attend the Academy of Art, or was the decision to get an MFA rather impulsive?
When I was an undergrad student at the University of California at Santa Barbara, I was not sure which major I wanted to apply to- in fact it took me until the last possible moment to declare Art Studio as my major. I attended the basic Art Studio courses intended to give an overview of the program and was not entirely satisfied until I discovered printmaking. As crazy as this sounds, the moment I pulled my first print I was hooked. Since that defining moment, I have studied various different printmaking techniques at both U.C.S.B and The Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
The decision to attend Graduate school came about a year and half after finishing my Undergraduate Degree. I felt empty without the facilities to print regularly and was enamored with the idea of moving back to the Bay Area and living in San Francisco. The Academy of Art University was extremely intriguing for these very same reasons; I loved the idea that I could attend Grad school without having to go back to a college campus- The Academy is right in the heart of the city. Upon my first visit to the school I knew I wanted to attend.
Talk about your education a little bit. What were some things you learned in school that you still use? Were there specific teachings that were essential to your printmaking development? What was the education like as a whole?
The first type of printmaking I studied long enough to perfect was letterpress printing. U.C. Santa Barbara has an amazing letterpress and book arts program where I learned my printing skills from Harry Reese of Turkey Press. It was also in this program that I learned Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and how to build website. I use these skills today with my business and custom print jobs. I also learned the process from start to finish in making my own film and photopolymer plates, both skills I use today.
I was very satisfied with the program and as senior, I earned credits working in the Print Lab as tech. This was extremely helpful in understanding the inter-workings of a shared printmaking studio. Since the majority of artists involved in printmaking work in shared spaces and on communal presses, I believe this was extremely detrimental in my development as printmaker.
At the Academy of Art I was able to perfect and refine both my skills and conceptual process. Because the professors are working artists, I learned an abundance of skills that would help me to plan for projects, explain my concepts, and take criticism to enhance my work. I learned many different and new mixed media practices which Carrie Ann Plank introduced to me in my last semesters of study. I currently use those skills to create limited edition mixed media prints (involving drawing, painting, and different photo-copy processes) as well as currently sharing an artist studio with her.
My first year at the Academy Macy Chadwick of Incahoots Press started the letterpress printing program. Since then, I have not only taken classes from her, but I also have been an assistant in her studio and have the fortunate opportunity to use her letterpress in return for work hours. It was in her studio that I started my own business, Coffee n Cream Press.
Explain the process of printmaking to someone who might not understand it fully? Maybe broadly take me through the steps of a project from start to finish. What is your approach? What are some of the key steps? How long does it take?
Printmaking is a multi-process art form, involving many steps before actually “pulling a print”. When working on a letterpress printing project I either draw or paint an image to create the first step of a design. I then scan that drawing or painting into Illustrator to use the program for creating text and refining the drawn or painted images. Once the final design has been approved (either by a client for a custom job, or myself) the file is then sent to a company to make them into photopolymer plates through a photographic process.And that’s not even the printing part.
The type and images are raised up on the photopolymer plate and form the printed image area. I then print the plates by hand on the Letterpress at my studio. Each print is hand fed into the press and then rolled over the plate on the press bed manually. Ideally once the press is set, it should only take a few hours to start and finish a job. But, according to Murphy’s Law, that rarely happens. It’s a lot of perfecting, muti-tasking and putting out fires.
It is clear that your history plays a significant role in your art? Explain why you chose to use your history as an influence rather than just creating pretty patterns? How specifically does your history and family background influence the art you make?
I think because the subject of the Holocaust is so heavy and emotionally demanding, I find it less challenging to express myself through my art rather than through talking or writing about it. I almost feel like I don’t have a choice, like it just comes pouring out of me without even knowing it. I have always been intrigued by the Holocaust, even as a child and the images from that event are forever etched in my head. I also think that more recently my rich family history has played more of a stepping-stone in creation rather than the main focus. I have a few issues of my own that tend to show up in my work now, more so than ever.
What are some of the worst and best parts about printmaking? What are some of the particularly difficult or interesting challenges you face when making a print?
I wouldn’t say that any parts of printmaking are necessarily bad- but I can tell you that it is a labor of love. It’s time consuming and can have it’s off moments, but there is something extremely satisfying about the way your image makes an impression into the paper that is unlike any other art medium.
Obviously you knew this was what you wanted to do when you went to school but was it a nerve-wracking decision to sell your art? Did you think about only doing printmaking as a hobby or doing it on the side?
It was extremely nerve racking. I had a very difficult time coming to terms with the fact that I was, not only going to put at price on my work, but was going to have to deal with rejection along the way. I was pretty much kicking and screaming the whole way leading up to finally making the steps to owning a business. There was about a two-year period after graduate school where I didn’t know what to do with my degree. I have always waited tables part time and continued to do so after graduating.
I tried applying for teaching jobs at local colleges, but was told I didn’t have enough teaching experience to qualify. I spent time looking into working at art galleries, and dabbled in picking up weekend shifts here and there at a gallery in Potrero Hill. Nothing seemed to stick. I worked minimal hours at the Academy of Art supervising printmaking and book arts workshops and doing one-on-one tutoring, all the while still feeling unsatisfied with my life. Even doing a few custom print jobs and working, as an assistant to Macy Chadwick just wasn’t enough.
My sister is a jewelry designer and owns a business, her and my mom work together and they not only inspired me to look into working for myself, but they pretty much forced me into it. Rachel was participating in a local artisan event in San Francisco and encouraged me to print some stationery cards and sell them at the show. I designed about ten prints and made a little over a hundred cards, I sold almost all of them and ran out of a few of the designs. The rest is history.
No, it wasn’t that simple, it still took about a year to really understand that I could make a living off my stationery cards, custom wedding invitations and fine art. I am still in the process of getting to that final step of being able to quit the restaurant and focus solely on Coffee n Cream Press, but now I can see it on the horizon.
What are some of the pros and cons in having a career that is your art? Do you ever get burned out?
I have always worked in the service industry while preparing for my own career; so working with people has always been a strong point for me. The good thing about being an artist is it’s hard to get burned out on something you love. If I am feeling like I’m teetering on the edge of a mental breakdown, I take time off. The hardest part about working for yourself as an artist is that the work is never done. You can work on your business twelve hours a day and you still have to get up the next morning and keep at it. But, because your concepts and designs are always changing and evolving it makes it tolerable. I can tell you for sure, it is not a monotonous job.
What advice would you share with someone who is considering a career or a major in art?
I would say the thing that everyone says, never give up. As hard as it is it will only be harder if you don’t do it. Artists are meant to create, and we are destined to do so. Oh and one last thing, there’s no crying in the print lab.