Voodoo and Prayer
June 30th, 2017
Watching Nikolas Wise, 28, assist Sandy Tilcock, 67, in the lone goose press studio, you’d think they’ve been working together for decades instead of six years.
“We click,” Sandy says. “Nik works hard. He is very into the process as well as the result, and we have fun at the same time.”
“And he doesn’t fuck up too many prints,” Nik replies with a wisp of a smile while wiping a demanding plate in a fluid figure eight motion. Technique supplemented by voodoo and prayer.
I’m the lucky author of their third photopolymer photogravure project. Pub date for Opening the Mouth of the Dead, a story in poems by lone goose press, is Sept. 7, 2017 in two editions: paperback and limited-edition letterpress with artwork by Margot Voorhies Thompson.
“It’s looking good sweetie,” Sandy says pointing to a corner, too light in a previous pull. “We’re getting the feel for this that we want. I really love the way it fades out.”
Nik agrees as he leans over to study an abstracted eye print. “I basically don’t touch the corner after the first wipe.”
They choreograph two plates at a time. Nik wipes one while Sandy cranks the press on the other. Their focus is sharp, their banter playful. And so it goes, except for morning and afternoon breaks and lunch. Those breaks on the patio outside the studio are as integral to the process as the work within, Sandy says.
They met in 2011 when Nik called Sandy in his senior year in fine art printmaking at the University of Oregon with a technical question about making wood type from scratch. And he jumped at the chance Sandy offered to ink the plates for All of Him, a four-year, limited-edition collaboration with poets Michael and Matthew Dickman and artist Keith Achepohl.
Nik lives in Portland where he designs and produces specialized web applications and owns Department Press, a publishing house and design studio. Department offers both traditional techniques and creative and affordable approaches to artists. Recently he’s pleased with a re-purposed Japanese copier. “Good results; capital and time greatly lowered,” he says. “$200 bucks and ready in a week.”
Nik describes a seminal Sandy moment when he noticed the precise kern (space) between a v and period in her 10-point lead type.
“I leaned in to admire it and realized Sandy had cut and filed to get a small tight kern,” Nik says. “A 10-point period is fly-shit small.”
“What you do is frankly insane,” he says as Sandy leans over to admire Nik’s attention to tonality.
“Maybe that should be on my tombstone,” she replies, shifting the conversation to mortality. Which quickly swerves to ink and how to choose between many blacks, including one made of roasted bones.
“Grind me up to bone black and put me on a plate,” Nik says.
Nik is 40 years younger than Sandy, mindful of extending her legacy. “I’ve learned lots and lots and lots about the level of professionalism it takes to run your own studio,” he says. “My primary goal is to take what I can from Sandy’s practice and keep it active.”
Sandy has goals too: “To help him in his endeavor when I scale back, identifying the items that will be most helpful to him.”
They are pleased with the progress of the first day on Opening the Mouth of the Day. The stack of keepers is tall, the number of rejects small. Nik has cleaned the bone black off the plates and his hands and is doing some tai chi to relax his arms.
Nine hours, 70 pulls. Seven to nine more days likely needed. This before the poems are printed and the binding begins.
“You show up and do the work and do the best you can,” Nik says during an end-of-the-day beer with Sandy and me. “And then you are done.”
On cue, Rosie, Sam and Cali, surround Nik with sticks and toys. Lone goose’s canine assistants are certain that Nik drives from Portland to play with them, not Sandy.