Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Laying It On Erik Waterkotte’s many-layered printmaking

Perhaps it’s my fascination with layering paint that attracted me to the printmaking work of Erik Waterkotte, a recent printmaker-in-residence at Saltgrass Printmakers. With a lecture at the Salt Lake Art Center, and a class at Saltgrass, as well as an opening reception for his exhibition there, I had multiple opportunities to see and learn about his process. For one who knows almost nothing about printmaking, I needed all this, plus some tutoring by other printmakers on the side, to get ready to write. Thus, I’m writing as a printmaking novice, from the perspective of a painter, looking at layering as part of an artist’s process to create meaning for the viewer. A true printmaking “how-to” can only be achieved hands-on at Saltgrass.

Waterkotte’s web site gallery is a good introduction to his surreal world view. His various series of works are characterized by dichotomies – destruction and utopia, idealism and depravity, romanticism and disaster. These dichotomies are revealed through his juxtaposition of disparate images, which, even in the flattened view on a computer screen, creates an amazing depth of field — achieved in part through his process of layering. Waterkotte’s layers are not simply multiple runs through the press, but often prints on different thin Japanese papers, which are sandwiched together, sometimes with the addition of collage in the final layer.

Waterkotte’s inspiration comes from a variety of sources: poetry, music, images in the newspaper or comic books, or on the covers of old record albums or science fiction books. His process starts with a collage of images, which he scans into his computer and manipulates into a composition that will become a printed layer. He uses a variety of printing processes, including etching, relief, chine colle, and silkscreen. Having studied painting, he enjoys working intuitively, spontaneously responding to the previous layer with an image and process that works with the narrative he’s building.

An art instructor once told me that the highest compliment an artist can receive is from fellow artists wondering, “How did you do that?” Waterkotte’s print, especially seen up close, where the layers of ink on translucent paper produces an almost 3-D effect, elicit just that question.

The day I visited Saltgrass Printmakers to attend Waterkotte’s class, billed as “Low-Tech High-Fun Printmaking,” eight students were about half way through the three-day class and were beginning to print. Starting with a digital image, they had created a film positive of the image, adhered it to a silkscreen coated with a light-sensitive emulsion, “printed” the image onto illustration board using acrylic medium, and sprinkled the wet acrylic image with grit to create a rough relief image. The entire board/plate, including the grit-covered part, was then coated with more acrylic medium to seal it for inking and printing.

Students had printed the image on a second illustration board plate as a guide to designing additional printing layers. Either building up the plate with collage, or cutting into it, they now had a more complex composition to be printed in two or more layers.

Stefanie Dykes and Sandy Brunvard, veteran printmakers and founders of Saltgrass, were on hand to assist Waterkotte and his students, as well as answer my questions. From inking rollers to cleaning the press bed, they helped keep the workspace ready for the “big events” – the printing of each student’s work.

As each student was ready with inked plates in hand, Waterkotte and others gathered around to help place the plate on the press for proper registration, place the damp printing paper over the plate, cover it with paper and blanket and crank the big roller over the plate. As the blanket was pulled back and the paper lifted, there was much “ooo-ing and ah-ing” as the artist’s vision came to life.

Waterkotte is about to begin a new job as visiting assistant professor at Indiana University, where he expects to continue his exploration of many-layered printmaking.


For information on future Saltgrass Printmakers classes, visit their web site and sign up for their email list. And, if you already have printmaking experience and want to use a press, ask about membership or open hours on Saturdays.

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