Printmaker Nan Onkka makes images inspired by scenes on the North Shore. She starts with a wood block, and step by step, removes material from the block in order to add more color to the images she prints. It’s a time consuming process, and she says it’s a lot of backward planning, but a process where you can’t step backward to change something. That challenge and risk is what draws her to the process.
NO: I am a printmaking artist who specializes in reductive woodblock printmaking. This form of printmaking involves hand carving an image into a woodblock and then printing it onto paper one layer of color at a time. I add multiple colors to the image by carving away more of the woodblock and printing the next layer of color on top.
Most of my work is inspired by my natural surroundings. I joke that the biggest problem living in Grand Marais is that I am endlessly inspired! Everytime I step outside I seem to find something I want to capture. This is not a new problem for me; I have been lucky to live in many beautiful landscapes, including the fields of Wisconsin, the foothills of the Himalayas, and now on the north shore.
I grew up in a very artistic family and was lucky to be exposed to many art forms at a very early age. I was first introduced to printmaking as a child and continued to experiment with it throughout high school and college. After studying art at St. Olaf College, I taught high school art for 10 years. I love most forms of art, but always found myself incorporating printmaking into the curriculum. It wasn’t until I took a graduate course at Boston University that I was encouraged to start selling my work, which was four years ago.
I find reductive woodblock incredibly challenging, but that’s what draws me to it! I think the most challenging part is having an image in your head that you then have to deconstruct and simplify into layers of color. There is a lot of backwards and reverse thinking required throughout the process. Furthermore, working reductively means that there is no going backwards. I can’t uncarve the wood. I can’t change the color, value, or transparency of a layer once I’ve printed it. There is a lot of risk involved in this process, which is both scary and rewarding! I am more naturally inclined to be a painter, but enjoy the challenge that this form of printmaking presents.
During this pandemic, my focus is primarily on selling online. If you visit my website (nanonkka.com) you will find the link to my Etsy shop, where I ship limited edition woodblock prints and greeting cards nationally and internationally. If you’d like to hear about my process and events, I regularly post on Instagram (@onkka.prints). Recently, I was featured on Twin Cities Design Scene’s podcast, which you can check out if you’d like to hear more about my story and process.
I also am an educator. I currently offer online printmaking classes via my website and will resume teaching in-person classes at Grand Marais Art Colony when it is safer to do so. If you’d like to know about these opportunities, you can follow along on instagram (@onkka.prints) or sign up for my newsletter on my website (www.nanonkka.com).
While many of my events and shows have been cancelled, I am scheduled for a solo show at Johnson Heritage Post in April 2021. I hope to resume more in-person shows and events when it is safe to do so.
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