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  • Bethany Barton

An interview with Melanie Dorson

Hair-Raising Times, 2017. Artist's book with 6 aquatints with chine collé, including a 3-plate aquatint with spit-bite, each page 5 x 5 inches.

1) Describe your typical week- in your studio, at home, other activities?

I split my week between studio time and my job as a therapist/art therapist. I work 3 days per week for an agency that provides therapy services to students in the public schools. Most weeks I spend 2 days in the printmaking studio. I make sure to spend time drawing every day, anywhere I can fit it in—on the bus, in down moments at my job, or in the evening—I’ve done a daily mandala drawing every day for 6+ years which directly informs both my printmaking and my art therapy work.

2) Describe your influences- what sources or artists do you look to for inspiration?

I’m drawn to anything that combines darkness with humor and storytelling. I very much admire the prints of Audrey Niffenegger with their ominous narratives, as well as Charlotte Salomon’s expressive paintings with their narrative arc. Illustrators, especially of young adult literature, are a big influence, including Edward Gorey, Quentin Blake, Jules Feiffer and Trina Schart Hyman.

My Teeny Tiny Ever-Shrinking Island, 2016. Artist's book with 5 aquatints, each page 4 x 4 inches.

3) Where is your studio and what does it look like? How do you find materials and resources to make work?

I belong to a cooperative print studio in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco that was founded in 1952. It’s a shared space with seven presses and facilities for etching, aquatint, relief, litho, letterpress and silkscreen processes. Currently about 25 members belong to the printshop and share maintenance and upkeep duties. The printshop is housed in a former industrial building. It has a spectacular view of the bay, is freezing in winter and super hot in summer and I love it and fear being displaced by the rapidly rising rents in the area. I also have a dedicated studio space in my apartment, where I do my drawing, bookbinding, weaving, and (sigh) framing and marketing.

4) How do you balance your art practice with other jobs?

Stubborn determination and a lot of compromise in terms of finances. It’s taken me almost twenty years to find the sweet spot of meaningful paid work + sufficient studio time.

5) What opportunities for your professional development have been helpful to you? What were more helpful earlier in your career?

Being part of a cooperative printshop has been key—in terms of consistent access to printmaking equipment and exposure to other artists and their diverse working processes.

Chasing the Oracle, 2015. Artist's book with 4 aquatints, each page 5 x 5 inches.

6) Do use printmaking as a part of art therapy and how? Do some processes lend themselves better to art therapy?

I find printmaking therapeutic in many ways. It can allow clients to experience a transformational process of discovery, to take a step back from perfectionism through an art medium that builds on “happy accidents,” to detox from our technology-saturated culture by working with their hands, to work cooperatively in a studio environment, to practice problem-solving and flexible thinking within a step-by step process, to re-energize and re-activate though a kinaesthetic process that involves the whole body, and to experience the present moment through process-oriented artwork.

I incorporate printmaking whenever I have the opportunity/access to dedicated art therapy spaces (with good work tables, an operational sink, and a decent supply budget). More often I work in temporary, shared school therapy rooms and use less process-intensive media, such as drawing materials, watercolor and tempera paints, clay and playdough.

7) Can you share your process of getting your work out into the world? (types of venues, exhibit planning process)

Getting my artwork out into the world is an on-going, evolving process. I participate in a limited number of events, like SF Zinefest and Open Studios. My cooperative printmaking studio has a monthly calendar of shows and I contribute work regularly to those. I find print exchanges and collaborative art projects to be a meaningful way to get my work out there and develop connection with other artists. I maintain a website, blog, and instagram account, and have found instagram to be the most helpful in terms of making connections to venues and staying informed about local shows and opportunities.


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