Valerie Syposz is a printmaker originally hailing from Ottawa, Canada. Her interest in printmaking was sparked during her high school years, where she acquired foundational knowledge in etching and linocut techniques. During her pursuit of a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Concordia University in Montreal, Valerie deepened her passion for printmaking by immersing herself in a diverse range of print media. In 2010, she embarked on a new chapter in her artistic journey by moving to Japan to pursue a Master of Fine Arts program at Tokyo University of the Arts, with a particular focus on ball-grained plate lithography. Throughout her life, Valerie has resided and created art in various countries including Canada, Japan, Korea, and Germany, each offering unique materials and techniques that have enriched her artistic practice.
In the past decade since completing her education, Valerie has continued to dedicate herself to printmaking, primarily utilizing hand-printed techniques such as wood engraving, woodcut, and kitchen lithography. Currently, she skillfully balances the roles of a parent to two young children and a practicing artist, demonstrating her unwavering commitment to both her family and her creative endeavors.
Artrepreneur: What emotions or messages do you try to convey through your artwork, and how do you achieve that?
Valerie Syposz: I have always been inspired by direct observation and experience of my physical surroundings. Traveling for exhibitions or artist-in-residence programs and moving often, my surroundings spanned multiple countries. Over the past decade through these relocations, my images slowly transformed from portrayals of objective reality into more subjective depictions. My images remain figurative, but the focus changed from reflections of the external world to impressions of the inner world of those portrayed.
My current subject matter is centered around introspection, often dealing with internal questions of existence. Starting from life drawing sketches, I let each image develop intuitively, first by drawing and redrawing, and then throughout the carving and printing process. Ultimately, I aim to create a series of bizarre portraits that reflect on perception of self. The emotions I feel from the images may be different than what others experience and that’s completely okay. Everyone sees the world differently, so I’m not intending to convey one specific message. I’d rather let people have their own unique connection to my work.
ATP: What is your favorite technique or medium to work with, and why does it resonate with you?
VS: I currently work with relief print (woodcut, linocut and wood engraving) and kitchen lithography- techniques that allow me to print at home, by hand, without the need for a specialized printmaking studio. I love the effects that can be achieved through each of these processes. Wood engravings are special in how they are miniature yet filled with rich detail, enabling an intimate encounter between viewer and image. Beautiful ethereal effects can be achieved by layering colours and printing with subtle gradients using woodcut or linocut. Kitchen lithography offers a more direct mark-making approach which has rekindled my love for drawing.
What attracts me to printmaking is the unique aesthetics of each print technique as well as the importance on both the creative and technical aspects. I love the entire process of printmaking—planning, preparing plates, printing, problem-solving; the craftsmanship involved. I think there is something very satisfying about indirect art techniques, where the plates and blocks you spend hours, days, even weeks carving, drawing, or etching, are not the finished product. All the steps needed to get to the final artwork make it even more rewarding.
ATP: How do you push the boundaries of your own artistic abilities and explore new techniques or styles?
VS: I have been extremely lucky to have lived in multiple countries as well as participate in international artist in residence programs. Each of these has proven to be an incredible learning experience, a chance to watch other artists at work and pick up new tricks and techniques. It can be eye-opening to see how materials are used differently around the world and also to discover new materials I never thought of trying out.
When I first learnt the basics of printmaking in Canada, all of my prints were on cotton rag paper. Then, when I moved to Japan and encountered washi, it wasn’t just about printing the same images on a new paper, it was also about making new kinds of prints that fit with the washi. Similarly, when moving to Korea, I encountered yet a new set of papers and printing tools to work with.
For me, trying new techniques feels a lot like play and I get joy from doing print experiments even without creating a “successful piece of art”. Bit by bit, I’ve learnt how to combine the new techniques and materials with previous processes to create something I’m really happy with.
ATP: How do you establish a connection between your artwork and the viewer?
VS: When creating images, I try to draw from experiences or feelings that are not totally unique to myself, something other people can relate to. As well, I often leave things ambiguous, allowing space for viewers to add their own reading or meaning to the work. Art is subjective and everyone has their own tastes. I’m not as concerned with trying to create art that everyone can connect to, as with trying to find the right audience for my work. The more people that see my prints, the more likelihood that one of those viewers will have a meaningful connection. Therefore, disseminating my prints widely, whether through exhibitions, publications or online platforms is important in establishing those connections.
ATP: How do you know when a print is complete? Do you ever experience the feeling of unfinished work?
VS: I often question whether something I’m working on is finished, and I’ve found the best solution is to walk away and come back later. Whether it be the next day or weeks after, taking a break allows me to see the work with fresh eyes. Seeing something anew usually makes it clear that either yes, it is finished, or no, it definitely needs another layer. I feel like you can tell when prints are rushed and having time to think things over leads to far greater success. Because of this, I’m usually working on multiple projects at the same time so I can switch between them when needed. Of course, deadlines can complicate things. I try to pick an artwork style and medium I believe can be accomplished with the amount of time given, i.e. I don’t attempt to create something with a completely new technique when I’m short of time.
To view more of Valerie’s work please visit her Artrepreneur profile.