Robynn Smith, a Santa Cruz, CA artist and founder of Print Day in May, completed her residency in the last two weeks of January 2020. “I got the last normal time in the studio, ever, ever!” Robynn exclaimed as she reflected about her time at Zea Mays.
Smith was working on a multi plate etching with images she had taken in Iceland. Smith cut a copper and solar plate before her arrival, she then arranged them to create an irregular shaped image. These two plates were her focus while she was at Zea Mays. Unsure of how she was going to register her plates but upon arrival Liz Chalfin showed Smith a new method of registration. Smith worked her plates overlapping them and printing repeatedly. She said “it was actually quite complicated given the nature of the plates…all kinds of things had to be adjusted”,especially because the Solar plate held ink differently than the copper plates. Smith was also working on three other Solar plates during her stay. Her work is predominantly varied print editions and this time was no different. She also used pastel transfer techniques to create a bunch of prints off the Solar plates. Smith used these prints as demos for her pastel transfer workshop that she taught while she was at Zea Mays.
Smith continued working on the Solar plates when she returned home. She said working on one set of images always paves the way for the next set of images. She has incorporated some of the techniques she learned while she was at Zea Mays into her current practice, like the new registration system and tips on inking and wiping plates. Having taught for 30 years and living with her partner, Smith said she is always around people. Residencies are a time where she gets to be alone. Her time at Zea Mays was a quiet time for the studio, “I was on my own a lot and I love that reconnection that happens for me when I get that way… I’m always surprised by how much I can get done”. Smith said she was getting up at the crack of dawn and not getting enough sleep because she was working so much. She spoke about the importance of keeping the momentum going and keeping that time for yourself when you get home from a residency. “I think I will always have a deep relationship with this particular residency because it was the last time for any of us. We just watched our world fall apart and had to figure out how to keep things going”.
Smith has been teaching out of her own studio since she retired from college teaching two years ago. She also teaches workshops when she travels. Being connected to Zea Mays at the start of the pandemic and watching how swiftly the studio transitioned to remote workshops gave Smith the courage to teach remotely herself, she said. She was very impressed with how professional, and accessible the workshops were and how beautifully Liz and Shel made that transition with such humor. Smith’s work during the pandemic has taken different shapes. When she first got home she went back to working on three big mix media paintings she had started before she left. She then kept working on the Solar plates she was doing at Zea Mays. March was scheduled to be so busy for Smith that she said she was afraid of it but then everything got canceled and she said she didn’t have to be scared in that way anymore now she was just afraid. It took her awhile to start doing anything again but then she started just carving linoleum. It was mindless and she could do it while watching tv and other things. She then took a collage workshop remotely through Zea Mays. She spent a lot of time cutting up, collaging, and printing her linoleum blocks.
Then it was May so she devoted her time to working on Print Day in May. After that was over she was ready to go back to painting. From February to May she worked on printing projects that she said were easy to compartmentalize. Her paintings on the other hand were wholly a different story, she said they require a lot of concentration. She just finished those a couple of weeks ago. Smith spoke about how everyone she knew was really struggling to make work at the start of the pandemic and then all at the same time everyone settled into the new normal and started creating again.
Smith ended by saying “What an amazing resource Zea Mays has been to me and so many printmakers, any way we can support the studio is critical because they continue to support us all the time with just how amazing they are. We just have to hold on, I can’t wait until we can get over this particular horror. I look forward to being able to go back when we can make that happen. It was an amazing experience to have as my last before times”.