By Alivia Stiles
Jessica Spring is a letterpress printer whose work “Hate Corrodes The Vessels In Which It Is Stored” appeared recently at the Lane Art Gallery. She is the proprietor of letterpress business Springtide Press, collaborator on the Dead Feminists project, and has work featured in the collections of esteemed institutions across the U.S. You can find her and her business on Instagram @springtidepress, as well as the Dead Feminists project @deadfeminists.
Alivia: “Hate Corrodes The Vessel In Which It Is Stored.” What initially inspired you to make this piece?
Jessica: The original inspiration was a print exchange. I really liked how it turned out, I was inspired by the idea of two faces, or one face, you know, that old optical illusion, I thought it was a really interesting way to look at perspective. How challenging that can be; especially when there’s so many fractured perspectives and dissonance within our culture. So that was part of it. I have a lot of blackletter type, which I think is really interesting to use because it references both newspaper mastheads, historically, and then Nazi propaganda. So, I felt like it was really the perfect type to use with the piece. Then I had the opportunity to reprint the edition for a printmakers against racism fundraiser. It was really, really exciting that a lot of other printers loved it, too.
Alivia: You have a very impressive CV. Your work can be found in collections at several highly esteemed universities and you’ve taught several workshops across the country. What does this process look like; having your art in a collection at a university and getting your art noticed, being recognized as an artist at that level?
Jessica: I feel like I’m still working at that. The most important thing is to just keep focusing on making the work. There are so many other things that you can’t control. Really focus on your practice and make the work that speaks to you. Tune out all the other noise, that voice in your head “God, this is so bad, why am I even doing this? Why am I leading myself down this path?” You just have to have faith in yourself and commit to making the work. Sometimes I’ll create stuff and there’s no explanation other than amusing myself. But then you end up finding out that other people connect to it somehow.
The other thing I would say is to find your community, whatever that is for you as an artist. Artists, bookmakers, printmakers, we have these really generous communities. Connect with other artists and learn from them, share with them, collaborate with them. I think that’s a really great way to discover opportunities. Plug into this community and support it with the work you do, then all the other stuff will come together. Work at it and don’t give up.
Alivia: A lot of people see the art industry and immediately conjure this image of creativity and this flow. Business and art can often be seen as opposite sides of the spectrum. However, a lot of artists are also really business savvy and know how to put themselves out there. You run a successful creative business, Springtide Press, how do you balance being creative and exercising business savvy?
Jessica: You mentioned balance; I think that’s so incredibly important. You can get so swept up in all the distractions of social media and operating your online store. Art making has become so much more entrepreneurial. That can be a slippery slope, you know, because your time is your most precious resource. You need to make good choices about how you use it. There’s always this danger of offers such as, “This is great for exposure, we’re not going to pay you anything, but all these people will see what you do.” I think so many young artists fall into that pit of the search for exposure, which can sometimes be, really, a waste of time. So, just be cognizant of that.
The other thing I see, especially with letterpress printers, I’m guilty of it myself, is to not value the work that you do. People sell their work for so little and the reason is, “Well, I just I love doing it, so I don’t really need to get paid.” I don’t think they think about how that devalues the work of everyone. You need to charge a fair price for the work that you do. That just circles back to my point about time, right? Just because you enjoy spending time doing this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paid for the work.
I’ve mentioned collaboration; it’s super important to figure out who you can work with that does it better than you do. You can trade, you can collaborate, which has constantly been beneficial to me as an artist. I would encourage people to find those connections in their lives that make it better. Barter, collaborate, and then you’ll have more time to do what you’re good at.
Alivia: I came across the Dead Feminist Instagram page. You and illustrator Chandler O’Leary, how did you start this initiative?
Jessica: I’m so proud of this. We’re going to have a new print out next month. It’s been been quiet because Chandler had a baby and pandemic happenings, but a new print is coming out.
The series started in 2008. Chandler moved here to Tacoma, I hadn’t been here that long. Obama was running for the election and we were so excited for the possibility of him as president. At the time, there was also all this focus on Sarah Palin. They constantly talked about how she looked, her glasses were this big focus. I thought “Who cares? Why are we talking about her outfits, she’s saying crazy stuff!” I met Chandler, found out she was this amazing illustrator, and came across a great quote by Elizabeth Cady Stanton: “Come, come, my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles, and see that the world is moving.” I thought it was such a perfect quote to encapsulate the frustration we had at what was going on with the election. So, I asked Chandler to draw glasses inspired by Sarah Palin’s glasses. She drew not just the glasses but every word of the quote, and we printed it. Obama won, and people seemed to love it. I thought, I think we’ve stumbled across something that is really, really exciting. And we enjoyed working together. She brings amazing illustration, I print, and it’s continued that way since then. There are plenty of issues of social justice we can look at through this lens.
Alivia: Art is a widely chosen medium to express topics of feminism and social issues. In your opinion, what made it such a good climate to communicate these sometimes controversial things?
Jessica: Back in 2008, we looked at what we had: a printing press, the ability to draw, and these historic words of women in history. We looked at the history of broadsides or posters, it’s not a new idea. But, it was something where we could harness the power of the press and our collaboration, tapping into that history and making artwork that was affordable. When we first started doing the broadsides, I think they were $25. We wanted people to hear what we had to say and to own a piece of artwork. It resonated, and it’s a way we can participate with the power of the press.
Alivia: What does it mean to you to be an artist?
Jessica: I’m going to confess, I was an English major in college and have always felt a little uncomfortable calling myself an artist. When people ask me what I do, I say I’m a printer. I really connect to the process, the physical work of it. I really am trying, still, to fill those “artist shoes” and feel more comfortable with that.
Alivia: What does that printing process look like, start to finish, from idea conception to completion?
Jessica: I would not want anybody to be in my brain seeing how this all works. Some people are like railroad track thinkers, very direct, they get from point A to point B with no messing around. My process is more like a ping pong table, always going back and forth. And sometimes, you miss the ball. It’s definitely more playful, less direct. Often, an idea I start with is not at all related to how it ends up. I’ve always thought I could change that, if I just had the right calendar app or some organizational thing. But I think it’s hopeless, I just can’t change it.
Alivia: I think a lot of artists relate to that. It’s what makes the art so unique.