Thompson Rivers University

Unpredictable ink: A screen printer’s journey

August 19, 2019

Local artist Ashya Cross grew up in Kamloops and set her sights on the Tournament Capital’s growing university, but she never thought she’d pursue a fine arts degree. Fast forward through half a decade of travel and three years refining her craft, and she’s just shipped a 42-panel first-prize submission to its new home in the Colleges and Institutes Canada’s permanent collection in Ottawa.

Cross’s winning submission—The Grind—is a silkscreen project she completed in her first year of the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program and submitted to the Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) 2019 Art Showcase. Submissions were accepted in six categories, with Cross’s The Grind taking first prize in printmaking.

“That semester I was taking five studio art classes and I was so tired and overwhelmed,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking and kept messing up on the project.”

The project was originally assigned at 12 panels, but Cross started to enjoy the chaos of the process and the fruits of her experimentation. Imperfections and even finger-painted colour swatches were not spared from inclusion in the finished 42-panel behemoth.

It’s been a long road to get to where she is today and although she took any art class she could in high school, she applied first to TRU’s nursing program for its concrete career opportunities. It’s a competitive program and she didn’t get accepted at the time, and advisors suggested she take some courses at TRU to boost her GPA before applying again. She was still passionate about art and decided to enrol in the BFA program in the meantime, to focus on courses she enjoyed while improving her GPA.

After completing her first-year courses, she took a five-year hiatus from post-secondary: “I just travelled. And grew up.”

Returning to TRU for her second year of BFA classes, she found she had a new perspective on her art. It was no longer about satisfying the expectations of others or securing a safe career.

“I found that I was actually super passionate about this and I have the life experience now to do it in a way that honours and respects my creativity,” she said, reflecting on the insecurity she felt as a young artist right out of high school. “Now I’m 27 and I know what I want, and it’s okay if you don’t like it.”

Cross was first introduced to printmaking in her first-year 2D Foundations class, but really found her stride when it was offered as a second-year course upon her return.

The proliferation of computers and creative software applications have fundamentally shifted what’s possible in screen printing. Cross used a simple process of photographing and vectorizing her coffee pot featured in The Grind, and she’s quick to acknowledge how her craft has shifted with the technology of the times.

“Now, with computers, you have so much flexibility in what you create. The possibilities are endless. I could take a picture of your face, my face, and I could put it in the computer and make it a CMYK. And I could separate it, expose it onto a screen, and actually screen print the image. I just find it fascinating all the things you can do, now that you can use computers.”

“I originally considered myself a painter, I love painting and that’s actually why I entered the BFA program. That was my thing. I find with screen printing, everything I create is unpredictable, because I’m not actually in control of the ink running through the screen,” she confided. “The squeegee is. And when I lift up the screen, what’s under there, that’s what I’m stuck with. You kind of have to be okay with the process, and what comes from the process.”

She’s really fallen for both the flexibility and unpredictability of screen printing, and has recently been trying to marry it with painting by finding ways to use both in multimedia projects. Such as a project she created for a painting class last winter, where she painted over nine panels of screen-printed image, and then screen-printed over that.

“It was just an overworked image, but I liked the abstraction of it. I liked that instead of it just being flat—which screen printing is—it kind of had a texture to it that added dimension.”

She would also like to learn how to produce larger prints, feeling constrained by the standard two-foot frame. Whether that’s learning to use equipment that allows pulling larger individual prints or tiling smaller panels like a mosaic, you’ll likely see more large installations from this up-and-comer.

Through the summer months between classes, Cross and a friend have kept their artistic expression satiated by taking a screen-printing operation on the road. They bought a cart and attached a screen-printing press to it, and voila! Hometown Pressworks was born.

The duo takes it to festivals where they live-print t-shirts, tote bags, bandanas and the like. They can’t expose the screens on site, so instead they utilize their Kamloops Print Makers memberships to expose various designs in their studio space, and take those to the people.

“We had people going and getting changed, and bringing us their own shirt to print it on, then they’d just put it back on. That was really cool because something I’m very passionate about is involving the community in art, and just seeing what it does to people. That’s part of why I’m taking the BFA, to learn how you can bring art to the community. To bring them screen printing and have them be part of the printmaking process and then take away something, is awesome.”

Learn more about visual arts programs at TRU

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