Interview with Douglas Bosley
1. What does a typical work week look like for you? How do you balance making your own art with other obligations in your life?
I work part time—typically Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and every other Saturday—so my workweek starts with going into the shop. I work at a local frame shop so it’s a good set of skills for an artist to have. It’s a small business and the person who owns the shop used to be a practicing artist himself, so he lets me take care of whatever framing needs I may have at cost and he’s very flexible with my schedule. It’s also been good for networking since it’s the cool shop in town that all the local artists and my colleagues at the university frequent. I usually take evenings off from work, although that does depend a little bit upon deadlines. Sometimes I get a notion and want to do more drawings and prep work, so when I get obsessed with an idea that will keep me going later.
For the most part though, any day I’m not at work is a day I spend in the studio. I say studio, but really this is a section of the living room in my tiny one-bedroom apartment that is cordoned off.
Every day I start with a bagel, a cup of tea, and I read the news online. After that, the fun starts. I have started working a bit bigger so when I am working on a plate I generally take over the kitchen table and work there. One side effect of this is that before I can start working for the day, generally things need to be tidy and clean. Most of the day is spent drawing with a generous compliment of music and tea as needed.
2.What is your research process like at the beginning of a new project or series? My work takes so long that I usually have time to ruminate over several ideas at a time before I am ready launch into a new project. I’m not great about keeping a sketchbook but I’ve been sketching on my tablet lately and that has been a boon. I will iterate in my head for quite a bit, and then once something I like forms then I start putting things down on paper, or sketch them out and refine the idea further. At that point, once things are starting to come together I typically have to hit the books to and go after specific information that will define the look and details that I strive for in my work. Once I’m satisfied with all of that preliminary drawing and research I start to compile source material.
I really like to generate as much source material myself as I can; this really ensures the quality of the final work since I have a tremendous degree of control over what informs it. I like to set up tableau that I draw from and take photographs to form a collage that is the final composition of the print I am about to undertake. I will do quite a lot of work in ‘the sandbox’ where I set up little samples I’ve collected and models I have made. I have been adding more and more 3D printed objects to this vocabulary and now my tableau are drawn from these figures more often than not. Sometimes I will need to spend a few days designing and testing objects to print before getting ready to work on the composition.
3.Could your share a particular moment when you decided to pursue mezzotint more specifically over other sorts of printmaking media? The answer to this question goes back to when I was in graduate school and first seriously learning mezzotint. I had actually just got back home from my first trip to Frogman’s Workshops where I had taken Art Werger’s mezzotint class. It was late summer and I incurred the wrath of one of the professors I had been working closely with. I was making a lot of lithographs at the time and this professor was in charge of that area but had closed the shop to do a bit of maintenance. Before my trip to Frogman’s I secured his permission to finish up an edition I was printing for a portfolio exchange—it was sixty prints that I had decided to print over two days—but when I got back and started working he had forgotten that he had given his permission to do this. When he saw that I had been in there working he wrote me a very nasty letter—which he even went to the trouble of writing on departmental letterhead paper—that in a nutshell kicked me out of the studio. This letter is now one of my most prized possessions.
I received that letter right at the start of my last year of MFA studies and I had to prepare a thesis show in the spring. I had always wanted to get a better grip on mezzotint from my earliest printmaking class so that’s what I did. I decided to just focus on making mezzotints for the year and for my thesis show. That turned out to be a good decision and my committee was very pleased with the work I had done. This also solved the problem of what I would do once I left grad school and no longer had access to the labs, acids, and equipment. Since mezzotint is purely mechanical, all I need is copper plate, a rocker, scraper and burnisher to do fine intaglio work.
4.What would you suggest to people in terms of studio set up? Would you share a couple of photos of your studio space?
I’m not sure how much I really have to offer in terms of advice for studio set up since I have literally just occupied half of our living room with my art/junk. I think the most important thing is to find a space that is affordable so that you can afford to maximize time in the studio. My studio currently consists of a flat file, drawing desk, a small chest of drawers, and stacks of framed work. If nothing else, at least I can be an example that good work can be accomplished without fancy digs or equipment. I don’t have a press or any of that equipment, so I finish my plates at home then visit a printshop and pay for time to edition.
5.What sorts of professional development opportunities have been the most beneficial for you?
Juried shows, especially those that make catalogues were more important than I ever realized. I never knew just how many professionals actually keep track of artists through these. When I first started showing with Davidson Galleries, it was because their curator of prints had seen my work at a lot of different shows. Seeing that work in multiple places and seeing it continue to develop over the years is what peeked her interests. I’m sure you know how important it is for university faculty to be publishing work in peer reviewed journals. What I didn’t realize is that for most universities with art departments, juried shows fulfill this requirement. That’s a little counterintuitive since curated or solo shows are therefore less prestigious for tenure reviews because they aren’t peer reviewed, even though to an art professional they’re typically the most prestigious.
Grants and awards have been very helpful too. I was able to fund my undergraduate education through private donor scholarships and with grants. There’s a renewable grant called the Albert K. Murray Fine Arts Educational Grant that I was able to receive for both my undergraduate and graduate work. I also went to a public university for my graduate education and was lucky enough to receive a teaching assistantship along with a tuition remission.
I also received an early career award that was very helpful. It was the first place prize in a national printmaking competition that carried a large monetary sum with it. As these things go, the bigger the prize money the more people pay attention. The year I received that I made sure to send out press releases to and send submission packets to galleries. That was also the year that Davidson picked me up and I had a solo show there in that fall, and a solo show at a gallery in Milwaukee in the winter. News spreads quickly and that was also when Jeremy Menard invited me to teach a workshop at Frogman’s. I decided to use the prize money itself as project funds and opened a new bank account that I topped off whenever I spent from it. That allowed me attend residencies in Australia, Finland and Ireland when those opportunities came up; otherwise I don’t know how I would have paid for travel.
Going to conferences has also been very important. I always kick myself about how expensive it can be to attend, but the opportunity to network is invaluable. Just about all of the professional invitations I have received have been because of contacts I have made at these sorts of events. I haven’t just limited myself to art conferences either; I have crashed some of the scientific conferences that have come through town. Attending workshops is important for the same reasons. Having curated shows and written a few panel presentations and been on them, it’s really difficult to include the best people: if you don’t know somebody or know about their work, it’s really hard to include them. Even if you are able to research somebody effectively they may not know and trust you.