A Studio Visit with Kathy Carl

November 9, 2021

“One doesn’t arrive—in words or in art—by necessarily knowing where one is going.” —Ann Hamilton

Kathy’s studio is a detached building in her spacious back yard. 

Inside it is very light. The equipment and supplies are arranged thoughtfully, and the room feels larger than it really is. Tables and tools are easily accessible, and the walls are a place to keep her work and to have it on view. I was impressed by the cleanliness and order.

“In a small space there’s no choice,” she said. “And, anyway, I tend to work best when there is order.”

So, basic question: how did you come to be making art?

"I started drawing in high school, and found I loved it. When I got to college, I worked hard to learn academic methods. Initially, I struggled with traditional practices of adding value and color. One class required sketchbooks and it was there my unique line style evolved. And then I took a printmaking class. That was it—I was hooked!”

What attracted you to it? What held you?

"Printmaking was thrilling partly because of the technical challenges—maybe I have some of my father’s engineering genes. Then I found my sketchbook drawings could be the base for my images. Making a print involves many steps, so I could work out value and color as I progressed through the stages of the process, watching it grow. There are always surprises, and ways to change what’s happening. I think I needed the slower process of printmaking; I could figure it out on my own, at my own speed.”

Isn’t printmaking a toxic process?

“Fortunately, I learned of a simpler, eco-friendly method from Dan Welden of New York. Solarplate is a light sensitized, steel-back polymer material which needs ultraviolet light (the sun) to expose an image, and simple tap water to develop the plate—no toxic acid bath needed!” 

The Solarplate—ready to be inked, hand-wiped and printed in the traditional intaglio process.
The etching press—on wheels! (It’s very heavy.)

I see a lot of variety in your work. 

"I have made Solarplate prints from original photos, sketchbook drawings, and ink drawings—created as transparent film positives. But my favorite method is when I work directly on the plate, pulling the image out of the ink-covered surface. It satisfies my wish to create an original print as opposed to one that is reproductive—taking something and making a copy of it.” 

This photo shows a piece of clear acetate, created with opaque drawing ink with the aid of a light table.

What has inspired your more recent prints? You seem to have moved away from representational imagery.

“Because of my essential tremor, it became a challenge to do traditional drawings. I began using unusual tools and new methods to draw the image out of the ink: the edge of a credit card—AAA works well—a piece of cardboard, chopsticks, adhesive spreaders, etc. I started getting these abstract plant-like forms. I’m not looking at nature, but they are impressions that somehow have been stored and came out on the smooth, slick surface of the matrix. Marks made from surface tension.”

Planted, Solarplate etching, hand colored

And that’s the title of Kathy's show, Surface Tension, on the walls of Partners Gallery in November. 

Miriam Davis
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