They say behind every piece is a story. The massive black and white print hanging on the wall at the ground floor of the Harold Washington Library tells an unbelievable one−a journey of ten high school students coming into their own as printmakers, artists, and collaborators.
Celebrating the Artist, the Art, and the Artistry
On a Tuesday afternoon, the YOUmedia center for teens is livelier than usual. Music is on full blast. Food is served. Teens chatter happily as they pose gamely for pictures. And for a teen-only space, there are a lot of adults proudly viewing prints displayed inside and outside.
Tonight is a special night–a celebration as ten YOUmedia students showcase the product of an intensive 12-week printmaking program that kicked off last summer. “It was the best summer I’ve had!”, Jasper, 17, shares. A high school junior, Jasper initially signed up to the summer mentorship to improve his screenprinting skills. He ended up learning much more. “We explored the library’s special collections. We visited museums. We spent sessions trying cool equipment at the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative. It was a complete artistic experience,” Jasper recalls excitedly.
“The program design was done thoughtfully and in collaboration with Driehaus Foundation, Chicago Printmakers Collaborative (CPC) and Terra Foundation for American Art. We really wanted to go beyond the technical skills of printmaking. We wanted the teens to have a deeper understanding of the medium’s history and a more personal appreciation of art and design,” Jeff Lassahn, YOUmedia’s resident printmaking mentor, explains.
Drawing inspiration from their adventures in the Library’s archives and beyond, YOUmedia participants selected a work they connected with and incorporated some of its elements into their piece. The result? A diverse exhibit that ranges from the classic and the sublime to the postmodern and whimsical, works of art that showcase teens’ originality while paying homage to artists who came before them. It is an extraordinary medley between the past and the present.
“I think I became a better artist overall because of the summer program. I learned that there is so much groundwork behind an art piece–the research, the preparation, and the patience!”, Triniti, 18, laughs.
“What’s the most fun part….?” I did not get to finish the question when the teens shouted in unison, “Roller Derby!” Then, they went on to recount the day enthusiastically. After weeks of careful planning, designing, and precise carving, our young printmakers made their way to CPC to create their group project. “We inked a 7’x3″ block, each one of us responsible for a section of the project, covered it with a flat board, and then away the steamroller went,” Jasper recalls. He, then directed me to a photo of the team cheering on as a giant steamroller pressed the layers.
We don’t know that we’ll ever get to do that again which made the experience doubly exciting,” Triniti chimes in.
Equally special is the collective effort of the group to create something so massive in size and scope. “It was challenging. It pushed us creatively on so many levels. It’s more than just being a good artist. It’s about learning to work together. We learned to collaborate while maintaining our individuality as artists,” Jasper shares.
Thriving Printmaking Culture Continues Year-round
Tashara and Jasmin gingerly etch on their easy cut blocks. Tela rolls a deep shade of purple on her pattern ever so delicately. “It’s our first time to try printmaking,” Tashara says. “But we’ve been going to YOUmedia since freshman year,” Tela jumps into the conversation.
The three young ladies consider themselves casual artists but participate in art workshops often. “I like learning something new. Before going to YOUmedia, art intimidated me. I felt I had to be some prodigy to do it. Thanks to Jeff, I’m not scared of painting or drawing or printmaking anymore! I enjoy just being able to finish my work,” Tashara says in candor. As she peels back the paper with her geometric design in crimson red, she gasps audibly and exclaims, “That is so cool! I made that.”
“Drop-in workshops like printmaking are available year round. Like all Library services, YOUmedia’s belief centers on accessibility. We welcome every teen to try−our equipment, workshops, the space. Trying leads to exploring, exploring leads to learning, and learning opens up opportunities,” Jeremy Dunn, Director of Teen Services, explains. Indeed, you see a couple of high school boys, picking up the silkscreen, tentatively at first and then, more comfortably, start creating their own designs. Two more girls join Tashara’s table, asking Jeff to explain the project, and eventually working on their own sketches.
Whether you’re an aspiring teen artist who wants to hone your craft, are interested in exploring media and technology, or you simply want a safe space to hang out after school, the doors of YOUmedia are always open. With 19 locations throughout CPL branch locations, you’re welcome here.
YOUmedia Teen Printmaking is part of Art Design Chicago, an exploration of Chicago’s art and design legacy, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art with presenting partner, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. You can also help teens explore their interests, pursue their passions, and discover higher education opportunities with a generous gift.