Salt Market: A Journeywoman’s Travels

Two weekends back, Nick and I went to the Salt Market to check out the crafted goods for sale and to support local artisans. I thought it would be more of a window shopping sort of trip, but we ended up with a nice haul


(not pictured: a fox leather pouch I took back to the artisan because the riveted eye was not lined up on either side of the leather – which started pushing up the leather around it. She fixed the eye though and mailed it to me a few days later: awesome. Her shop is at Lilipad Creations.)

Aside from the fox pouch and the wood ring from The Knotty Owl, everything we purchased was hand screen printed. Stock of screen printed goods:

Nick’s octopus shirt from Blackbird and Peacock

My bat shirt from Silk Oak

The Salt City print from [re]Think Syracuse

The sea creature print and plush from Isaac Bidwell

My handbound book with screen printed cover from Amaranth Press & Bindery

And other things I wish I purchased, particularly from The Black Arts Studio, was screen printed. It’s not just that these goods are wonderful, because they are, but I found an appreciation for the skill and knowledge demonstrated in the goods. I felt like I was roaming form master craftsperson to master craftsperson to study their techniques for my own printing. The space for the market, bazaar like, was small and full of people, so I didn’t get to linger as long as I would have liked to. I wanted to ask each of the printers (and there were more than are represented here) what materials they use to print, what their workspace is set up like, the techniques the use to achieve their quality prints, what their process looked (and felt) like. But I didn’t. Maybe they would have been open to talking, or maybe they would have been protective of their mysteries. I left feeling like my prints were of the caliber of gifts you give to your mom because she’s obligated to love them: thoughtful, and representative of love and care, but craft in a connotation of children’s arts and crafts as hobby. I realized though, that these prints weren’t made from the drawing fluid method I have been trying (and failing) with, but the photo emulsion method. The photo emulsion method essentially burns an image (from a photograph or something that can be designed in programs) on to the screen to print, which allows for fine detail.

Photo emulsion, as compared to the hand drawing fluid method I’m using, is like printing an image of Frankenstein’s monster from a vintage movie poster versus me hand sketching my rendition of the monster – they’re not quite comparable. While I might improve my techniques for making prints using the drawing fluid method, I am still limited to my ability to draw – a separate craft. I thought it odd that I hadn’t thought about this before in my printing: I am the designer and the craftswoman.

The Body of the Artisan

Pamela H Smith’s The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution is a dense and interesting history of the influence of art and craft on the formation of science, or “new philosophy” in the early seventeenth century, that I can’t begin to unpack just yet. But I am interested in questions that are surfacing about natural knowledge, the focus of the scientific revolution, on the basis of observation and depiction. I’m not sure how (or if) questions of seeing help me get footing in the text, but I couldn’t get the work of Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida and James Elkins in The Object Stares Back out of the back of my mind. I can make a loose connection their work to create a language/way to talk about images and art beyond aesthetic qualities to the work of theorizing from drawings/paintings – a way of communicating knowledge orally (or in alpha. text). But the connection I find more interesting what knowledge is and isn’t able to move from nature, or from embodied practice, as a representation (a re-presentation). I feel like in posing this thought it seems like I’m trying to get a some philosophical real world beyond, but it’s really a matter of curiosity in how this knowledge (embodied or tacit) traveled because of graphic depiction (and what couldn’t). And in terms of engaging with nature, sight (reasonably so) is the sense that is appealed to/through; while it highlighted to the eyes, I wonder what was left unseen.

“Well, what is it like?” (In the Laboratory with Agassiz): It reminds me of a short account I read in a tech comm class before, In the Laboratory with Agassiz on Learning to See. A student enters Agassiz’s lab wanting to learn zoology , to which Agassiz responds with leaving the student alone with a fish to analyze. He asks the student what he sees in the fish but is dissatisfied with the student’s observations of the fish’s appearance. After days of looking at the fish, the student describes it as “symmetrical sides with paired organs” which pleases Agassiz as a connection between facts and general law – not just observations in isolation as facts. While this is distributed throughout Smith, I thought these related:

“The pursuit of natural knowledge became active and began to involve the body; that is, one had to observe, record, and engage bodily with nature” (18).


“Images came to be known as witnesses to facts. Images that increasingly invoked claims of factuality reinforced the techniques of observation and eyewitness as modes of inquiring knowledge” (150).

as disciplined observation and engagement to construct knowledge in objects and physical, observable phenomena. This enaction is what made scientific inquiry and the construction of knowledge possible. Making allowed people to make themselves, or the material of their culture; “Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. Seeing is metamorphosis, not mechanism” (James Elkins The Object Stares Back). These depictions seem of a small scale though, or perhaps singular – how did this knowledge circulate? (particularly when its origins were in craft and art that was embodied knowledge unto singular persons that moved through apprenticeship). What is the relationship between the body of the artisan and the body of scientific knowledge?

Craft Guilds

“Circulation of Skilled Labor in Late Medieval and Early Modern Central Europe” Reinhold Reith

Reading Reith’s framing of the history of tramping (period of traveling journeymen of a craft undergo), guild structure, a sort of mapping of region and craft, and the circulation of tacit knowledge and technology left me feeling surprised that really, up until now, I was thinking of craftsmanship as locally fixed. We’ve read a little bit about the tensions between man and machine locally – that is within a craft or a craftsman with a craftsman body, and I suppose I wasn’t thinking beyond this local node, or between local nodes globally. It seems silly to recognize that certainly knowledge, even tacit knowledge, has influence from beyond the local in terms of technique, technology, and materials. Reith’s summarizes his historical gloss as follows:

  • guilds were omnipresent
  • it was difficult to prevent skilled labor from moving around (beyond local)
  • the impossibility of stopping skilled workers from moving had consequences for the diffusion of technology – skills and knowledge (interested in his definition of technology)

I’m particularly interested in the diffusion of technology. Reith explains

“highly mobile journeymen were a significant force of technological diffusion…[Whereas] forced migration [of masters] helped transfer technology across linguistic and national, although probably not religious boundaries, journeymen’s travels were mostly restricted to areas that were institutionally and culturally more homogeneous, and were thus instrumental in shaping technological pools. By contrast… ‘unfree’ highly regulated markets, and in particular the labor markets of the crafts, blocked the spread of innovations through journeyman tramping: no master was willing to disclose workshop secrets and innovations were unwelcome” (131)

Reith works to make this look at circulation more nuanced though, seeming to focus on illuminating that “forced” was actually more voluntary; journeymen traveled with the objective of gaining technical experience with the intention of returning (131). He explains, with examples in different crafts, that “The recruitment and enticement of desirable specialists occurred across territorial and linguistic barriers in every sector” (133); journeymen traveled to cooperate with large numbers of masters (men and women), other journeymen and apprentices; learned about regional differences in work organisation; and came to recognise different practices, raw materials, and products in their journey. Reith notes that there was potential for failure in this traveling, or migration due to technical, economic, social, cultural, and religious reasons (even to the extent that some journeymen could not return). Reith describes the diffusion of technology in these journeymen’s travels as taking the form of radiation, acquisition through imitation (“imperceptible”) and by migration (“spectacular”) sometimes coercion (132). Reith describes that patterns of mobility varied from trade to trade, but late medieval and early modern skilled workers were highly mobile (141) with the emphasis on acquiring technology to improve craft. But, some crafts were closed to diffusion; not permitting migration of journeymen in or out of a guild resulted from attempting to protect the primacy in a craft; however, in working to conceal what is being made from outside craftsmen, the making cannot be influenced by outside craftsmen  – no new techniques.

I’m interested in the diffusion of technology in terms of technique in the circulation of journeymen and its relationship to tools and its relationship with technological advancement and machinery. I also found myself wanting visualizations of “primary” or “origin” crafts and their form/technique/materials over time/space as influenced by diffusion – a leather glove had a certain type of stitching in France until a journeymen observed and developed the technique of stitching used in Switzerland for X reason – what does the glove look like then? A blend? Something different in the combination of elements? I’d be curious to see this diffusion (and traces to place/people/technique would be really neat).

After reading, I was browsing the web for guilds and came across an exhibit on display at The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History: “Mud Masons of Mali”. The exhibit is described on its page as “featuring photographs, original films, objects and tools, tell[ing] the stories of one of Africa’s most celebrated ancient architectural traditions, and it highlights the different challenges masons face today to hold on to their craft in the 21st century”. I thought that this might function as an example of diffusion. There are two short videos about the mason work from the perspectives of the masons, particularly their craftsmanship and their work on the Djenne Mosque – The Great Mosque. Each year, the community gathers for the application of a new layer of mud over the mosque. This is following the traditional technique and tools (much work depicted is done by the hand – hand as tool) of the Boso, described on the Smithsonian site as “a centuries-old craft guild that fosters and oversees the art of mud construction. Techniques and traditions are handed down between generations of masons as young laborers strive to become apprentices and, eventually, after years of perfecting their art, master masons.” The videos show the training and skills needed to build and maintain mud architecture, but illuminate the “contemporary political and environmental challenges mud masons encounter as they struggle to preserve their historic city in the face of modernization”. The Master Mason explains that the masons are striving to maintain traditional building styles while meeting the demand for bigger buildings with more conveniences – indoor plumbing, and painted and tiled portions to reduce upkeep of the mud (the process requires the entire community in part). I wonder where diffusion plays a role here in the desire for “contemporary” (to put it loosely) buildings. But a more striking example is told from the Master Mason in response to the restoration work done by UNESCO workers on the Mosque. In 1988 The Mosque was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site – as a representation of one of the most impressive mudbrick buildings in the world (constructed in 1907). Internally, as described by the Master Mason, there were many hidden cracks that needed to be mended. But the work of the UNESCO workers, he describes as “European” – what does diffusion mean here? Although the materials (not certain of the tools) were the same as the Boso have used, the technique is different. As shown in the video, The Mosque goes from having more rounded shape as a result of applied and shaping mud by the palm, to having more rigid edges (a different technique and aesthetic – the building has changed). I wonder about the exchange of knowledge and technology between the UNESCO journeymen and the Guild of the Boso.

hand(s) tool

In making this last print, I became aware at how much I used my hands to print:

  • to draw the design with pencil
  • to stir and apply the drawing fluid with paintbrushes of different sizes
  • to touch the fluid to ensure it dried
  • to stir and apply screen filler with a paintbrush
  • to ensure the screen filler is dry to the touch
  • to gauge the temperature of water, cool, to rinse out drawing fluid and to use the fingers as a brush to help remove the drawing fluid
  • to dry the screen while making sure the screen filler is still set
  • to measure and cut papers to print on
  • to mix and apply ink
  • to draw ink over the screen with the squeegee, ensuring thickness is even
  • to hold the paper under the screen in place during the printing
  • to lift the screen steadily while holding the paper in place to prevent smudging
  • to open seals
  • to wipe drips
  • to clean – to apply screen cleaner with a wide paintbrush on both the front and back of the screen; to run hot water while scrubbing to remove screen filler (hot enough to break down the filler, without burning my skin)

Taking inventory allows me to gain perspective on what the process requires of me. Within each of those steps of the printing process is a calculation angle, pressure, a range of motion. And beyond my hands, how I position my arms, how I hold my elbows, how I bend over my kitchen table to print and over my bathtub to clean the screen. Pulling, pushing, scrubbing, sketching – each a small process unto itself. The movement, the actions of the process are wonder(ful) to me as someone who is learning to screen print through the process of screen printing – the cultivation of technique through embodied learning. I still make mistakes, I still lack precision, but I am printing in so far as I am making products.

Technique has a bad name; it can seem soulless. That’s not how people whose hands become highly trained view technique” (Sennett 149). Technique is intimately linked to expression. Richard Sennett’s chapter on “The Hand” is something I returned to as I felt a stasis in my printing – no visible development from the second to the third print. I questioned what, in the drawing fluid technique, didn’t produce a more skilled print. And while it is difficult to isolate a singular aspect of the process (too much ink, paper that isn’t porous enough to hold the print well), I can think about what I did or did not do. This is learning from the technique of printing – the looking at process and product as isolated and in unison to determine what seems to be “off”. A techniquing of technique.

Transitional objects”, material things that themselves change, what can engage curiosity: an uncertain or unstable experience…In developing technique, we resolve transitional objects into definitions, and we make decisions based on such definitions” (158-59). The materials, despite being the “same” as far as the state that they are in, still have great variance. Thickness, how long something dries, proportion of mixing materials – these keep the process of printing from being “same”. They are always unstable, and have potential for variance, which keeps technique in making in developing – in the process of.

Technique develops, then, by a dialectic between the correct way to do something and the willingness to experiment through error” (160). Despite variance, experience and growing knowledge of properties and actions permit technique. Though I have watched videos and read text directions on the web, I have not learned the “correct” way of printing from a printer in terms of apprenticeship. It is the combination of these web instructions with the material conditions and my (in)capability that foster technique.

We have become the thing on which we are working” (174). This seems odd to me that I don’t think of myself in terms of being a screenprinter, an identity as a craftswoman, but in terms of my screenprints – what I am making as process and product. My movements, my work, are situated in my body by what I am doing. I think about what is possible and limitations in my prints in the making of them; what results, what yields is because of a physical working.

John Ruskin

Nature of the Gothic and The Two Paths: Modern Manufacture and Design

Reading Ruskin, if I mapped my reactions, would look like a sine graph, or maybe a seismograph during tectonic disturbances. At times, I found myself understanding what he was working on – creating a way to talk about art by emphasizing design. Situated in time, Ruskin is witnessing the industrialization of Britain, or the loss of nature: a void of art, and the dissipation of periods of “art” as over the top ornate decoration that did not fit purpose or place. Here I pause to wonder if art, as Ruskin is using it, is equal to craft in techne. I think yes/no.

Yes: he is working to give a language to talking about design – being able to know it and understand it in terms of place (where the art is located/situated), material (what can be done with a material to fit the form – but here he seems to focus mostly on human form, which leads me to start to say no, he’s venturing into aesthetic values that shift out of the realm of use…), and office (understanding the position of what one is creating – which I’m equating to balance: some parts of design must be humble so others are prominent).

No: he is romantic of nature and describes art as a condition and creation of the natural (which leads me to say yes because however utopic, he is working toward creating things as living and functioning art in homes, which leads me to think of use and value – made to fit people, as well as a pause in what seemed to be progression toward machination of objects, i.e. not craft)

(Maybe my reading depiction would be a mobius strip…) I try to situate in time why Ruskin’s use of conventional (as opposed to natural) might be negative as equivalent to our standardized. And how his focus on the human figure might be a way of talking about objects that are mindful of the human figure in their design in terms of form and material. But what seems lacking is the workman/craftsman as maker of these objects and the objects he seems to dwell on (painting and sculpture) don’t seem relative to human use or interaction – they seem removed. And then, in mobius fashion, I turn on myself again to say that architecture, in design and decoration, as far as what humans are inhabiting in terms of space/place seems significant to what objects were designed and made in terms of giving rise to them or thwarting them. This makes me think of one of Pye’s critiques of Ruskin:

While Pye acknowledges that life in Ruskin’s time depended on highly regulated workmanship for its continuance with industrialization, he tried to position himself outside of industry, something that wasn’t explicitly addressed in his work, but that had an effect on the position of the worksman within/in relation to industry. Pye summarizes Ruskin’s design/art/workmanship principles as follows (118-19):

1. Men can only take pleasure in their work if they are allowed to invent, to design as well as make (and to do so from nature)

2. Worksmen, by no fault of their own, are untaught and unsophisticated

3. Therefore, their designs will be rough and imperfect

In Pye’s critique, Ruskin isn’t thinking about design from the worksman/craftsman, but as removed prejudices of industrialization not rooted in making. Without this relation to making, and makers, Ruskin seems to be talk about aesthetics in the same hollow way craft can be talked about in contemporary times as nostalgia for the simpler past. Ruskin describes art, this time directed to the workman (or at least gestured), as:

“Beautiful art can only be produced by people who have beautiful things about them, and leisure to look at them; and unless you provide some elements of beauty for your workmen to be surrounded by, you will find that no elements of beauty can be invented by them.”

I can see this moving toward the arts and crafts lifestyle movement, or a return to nature or the countryside away from city factories, convention, and mechanization, but what does this mean to making? What does this mean to the craftsman/worksman? The form and function and decoration of objects? Who got to make art as craft and by what means? (art seems positioned as hobby in Ruskin) Was the arts and crafts movement of the time always positioned as such a binary? (again, I think of the time: industrialization in the process of becoming industrialized.) Also, why Gothic architecture?

Rhetorics of Craft: Final Project Proposal Scraps

For my final project in the course, I would like to explore the relationship between human and machine through Latour’s concept of hybrids (which I have yet to do much reading on, so this is rather cursory understanding: the seamless being between nature and culture) to consider the connection between techne and technology. This seems a rather large undertaking, though, but I have yet to decide on a material or process artifact. But I think I want it to be a digital.

EDITION: I started thinking about tools in terms of programs, like Photoshop as the focus for this project. But I then realized what I wanted to look at is information architecture  (craftsmanship) on the web. I initially thought about GUIs, but I a now thinking in terms of tools, or add-ons, to the web browser as a way of crafting information we encounter on the web. Maybe through the metaphor of carpentry, thinking back to Ian Bogost’s carpentry in Alien Phenomenology.

Rhetorics of Craft: Midterm Project Proposal

For my midterm project, I would like to make a small book. The idea is that it would be a mashup of a zine, a DIY guide, an account of the process of making and breaking (with asides, witticisms, and maxims), and research that brings together theory with praxis in concepts of craft and materiality. The idea of making a book appeals to me because it is something that I am making that will account for making (a made thing on making?). While it won’t necessary be beautifully bound (a new craft endeavor), I would like to print my own cover, incorporate photos of the process and products, as well as prints that showcase the process of screen printing that make it visible (not pictures of it, but prints in the book) and tactile to communicate through the materials of printing. This will also be an exploration in what it means to make texts, with considerations for application in scholarship and pedagogical potential, and questions of material affordances and limitations.

The Nature and Art of Workmanship

from Barnes and Noble dot com

from Barnes and Noble dot com

This week, we begin David Pye’s The Nature and Art of Workmanship. As we move forward, I am curious to see how this work relates to what we have been discussing about craftsmanship. To me, the move from the root of craft to work is intriguing, and I wonder about the implications of such a focus in term and what this might mean for the process of making and the product made. To provide a really broad gloss, Pye seems to be working to distinguish the difference between design and workmanship, differentiates workmanship of risk vs. certainty on the basis of whether or not “the result is predetermined and unalterable once production begins” (22), the concept of handwork and its meaningless distinction from machine work, and the contrasting qualities of workmanship – precision and approximation, regulation and freedom. This is rather reductionist, as Pye is careful, slow, and deliberate in his prose.

Traces/Scraps of Work

“Design is what, for practical purpose, can be conveyed in words and by drawing; workmanship is what, for practical purposes, can not. In practice the designer hopes the workmanship will be good, but the workman decides whether it shall be good or not” (17).

This was of interest to me because I saw a connection to our conversations in reading Richard Sennett’s work and dwelling in the embodied and tacit knowledge of the craftsman, or now, worksman (I’m really curious as to this shift in terminology and what it meant for identity and making). In this section, “Design Proposes, Workmanship Disposes”, Pye focuses on materials and the dependency of the design on the worksman in what the worksman can make from materials; as Pye describes it, “Material in the raw is nothing much” (18). This seems to continue our focus on a product that is good in quality and in function. The title of this section though has me wondering about material concerns – proposes vs. disposes – and the relationship between designing and making; here, they seem distinct from one another, in two different bodies and processes.

“If I must ascribe a meaning to the word craftsmanship, I shall say as a first approximation that it means simply workmanship using any kind of technique or apparatus, in which the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on the judgment, dexterity, and care which the maker exercises as he works” (20).

I find this interesting because I question if Pye’s explanation of a craftsman as a worksman + technique or apparatus works in the opposite – is a craftsman a worksman? Does his vision differ from Sennett? Does Sennett’s craftsman embody design as seen as somewhat removed from Pye’s worksman?  I also feel more of an emphasis on tools or apparatus emerging in Pye…What significance might these have on workmanship?

“To distinguish between the different ways of carrying out an operation by classifying them as hand or machine work is, as we shall see, all but meaningless” (25).

In the section “Is Anything Done by Hand?”, Pye works to dissolve the distinction between handwork and work done with tools. He states that “very few things can properly be said to have been made by hand” (29) and that “Handi-craft and Hand-made are historical terms, not technical ones” (26). I continue to be fascinated by the role of machines in making and the tensions that exist between human and thing. After reading Pye, and Sennett as well, the relationship between human and machine is complex, and I’m starting to subdivide machine to explore this relationship.

Work Potential

What I was drawn to in reading is not only Pye’s discussion of techn- and machines/machinery, but how he is defining these concepts and their relationship to making. A goal for reading this text, for me, is to take inventory of all the tech- root words and their iterations through tools, production, and workmanship. This is sort of an obsessive side interest in the use of techn- as techne, technique, technology, technic, and so on and the relationship to the conception of materials and making.

Screen Printing: Screen Status

After my last failed print with drawing fluid, I was hesitant to print again. With a meager budget, I was worried I destroyed my screen. To reiterate (condensed version): the screen filler in my last design would not wash out of my screen. I did not have any Speedball screen cleaner, and was trying to use household cleaners I did have that I read about on discussion boards – Greased Lightning, Mr. Clean, and dishwasher detergent. None of these cleaners seemed to have any impact, so returning to the boards, I read about some printers suggestion to use a power washer. Not owning a power washer in my city apartment (I don’t even have a hose), I took my screen to the touchless car wash late on a Sunday night (part of the reason I couldn’t purchase Speedball cleaner – the art store nor the craft store were open). Too many quarters later, my screen still wasn’t clean. While the power washer took off some of the screen filler, much remained. I had to wait a few days before I had money to purchase more Speedball cleaner; meanwhile the screen sat with the filler still in the mesh. Cleaning with the Speedball cleaner helped, but a ghost of the print remained. Since then I have been trying to find an answer for why the filler wouldn’t come out because I am following the written instructions. I suspect however that being able to talk to someone who has screen printed might provide me with what Richard Sennett calls “expressive instructions” – the tacit, embodied knowledge that language has a difficult time representing. I wonder, without a source of expressive instruction if:

  • Perhaps I have the wrong type of bristles in my brush (too hard? too soft?)
  • The temperature or pressure or amount of water I use to wash my screen isn’t the most effective
  • The pressure that I apply to scrub the screen isn’t right
  • The amount of time I let the screen cleaner sit isn’t long enough
  • The amount of time the screen filler stays on the screen is too long
  • The amount of cleaner I use is enough
  • The amount of screen filler I use is too much

And so on.

Where can I turn for expressive instruction? I’ve thought about approaching a faculty member from the studio arts program, but I don’t know what’s stopping me (those disciplinary boundaries?). This is probably a path that I should brave and venture. At a recent community event, I learned of a non-profit organization opening up called SALT Makerspace, a studio(s) space to share tools, collaborate, and learn from a community of craft. They’re just opening, but I have seen the skeleton of a screen printing workshop they’ll offer. But the workshops and using the space cost money per month that I don’t have. What I do feel like I have access to, even though I can’t direct my interaction with it specifically to me, is the web. I’ve read forums, watched YouTube videos, and looked at accounts of people’s processes. Either cleaning the screens isn’t addressed, it’s addressed with the instructions that come on the Speedball cleaner bottle, or it does show the process but it is for light emulsion printing, which I’m not doing. It doesn’t seem like I should be having problems, but I am. Moreso, I believe I have trashed the mesh of my screen. While I don’t know the effect that it will have on my prints, the mesh is stretched and warped in places. My next print will be simple until I am confident enough that future prints will not be too impacted by the screen distortion.