WashU Spaces: Dubinsky Printmaking Studio

Tall, north-facing windows provide ample natural light in the Dubinsky Printmaking Studio in Bixby Hall. Photos: James Byard.

Posted by Liam Otten December 14, 2018


“Be nice.” “Clean up after yourself.” “Don’t lie.”

The three house rules are good advice—but especially critical in a busy print shop. On any given afternoon, a dozen students, faculty, and visiting artists might be preparing plates, cutting paper, mixing ink, and running the presses in Bixby Hall’s Dubinsky Printmaking Studio.

“It’s a collaborative space,” said Lisa Bulawsky, professor of art and printmaking area coordinator in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.

“It’s also a combined space,” Bulawsky added. “Most shops have separate studios for lithography, for etching, for silkscreen—everything is divided up. Here, the idea is about mixing and experimenting.”

The state-of-the-art facility, which was designed by professor emeritus Joan Hall, also serves as home to Island Press, which publishes innovative prints and multiples by many of today’s most challenging artists. Over the years, Island Press projects have been showcased at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Venice Biennale, and the University’s own Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, among many others.

Island Press takes its name from a massively oversized etching press—60 inches wide by 120 inches long—that was built in the early 1990s by Peter Marcus, professor emeritus, in collaboration with St. Louis machinist Warren Sauer.

“It’s pretty unusual for a student facility,” Bulawsky said. “The beauty of printmaking is that it’s something you do with other people. There’s always a built-in network and built-in help.

“It’s a democratic activity.”

The print shop lithography press. Classic litho techniques, which date back to the late 1700s, rely on the mutual repulsion of oil and water. Images are drawn onto a block of limestone with an oil-based medium. The stone is then etched with gum arabic, after which ink will only adhere to the drawn portions. Photolithography creates a similar chemical resist using photo emulsion on metal plates.

Printmaking ink typically consists of pigments or dyes suspended in a thick, tar-like oil- or water-based medium. In the print shop, colors are usually thinned and mixed on sheets of glass using an ink or palette knife.

Though typically referred to as an etching press, this hand-cranked model can be used for both intaglio processes (in which ink is wiped into lines incised into a metal or sometimes wooden surface) and relief processes (in which ink is rolled across the surface of the plate, leaving the incised lines ink-free.)

The Island Press. “It’s an electric, etching-style press,” Bulawsky says, “but we do a lot of other techniques on it, too — whatever you can make a good print with.”

A teddy bear monitors a flexible vacuum hose.

These student protest posters were created as part of a workshop on political art led by alumnus Cameron Fuller, MFA07. After printing them, participants marched along Washington Avenue in midtown St. Louis. Fuller’s own work has been exhibited at Fort Gondo, White Flag Projects, Gallery 210, and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, among others.

A mobile fume extractor, affectionately known as “the elephant’s trunk.”

Heavy flat files provide both storage and workspace.

House rules. Artist unknown.