Everything changed when Josh Krute saw a certain piece of driftwood in Colorado.
At the time, Krute was scrambling in his search of his senior thesis topic. He was in Blue Mesa Reservoir when he found it—the driftwood that gave him a thesis and a new direction for his art.
“I was using the metaphor that in life, people are influenced by their surroundings and their environment, just like a piece of driftwood,” Krute says. “But it still holds true to its grain or itself. So that’s what my thesis kind of became—about identity and about self.”
Krute, now twenty-five, discovered printmaking in college, where he originally emphasized in painting. On its own, printmaking is a labored process. But when it’s a piece of wood that’s being printed, the challenge becomes different entirely.
The first step is finding a piece of wood that looks like it would have an interesting texture. Next, depending on its type and shape, Krute may have to build a form around it to hold it in place. He then shellacs the wood to help prevent its pores from clogging—clogged pores mean less registration (definition) on the printed paper. After shellacking, Krute inks the wood with a roller and then hand presses the paper onto the inked wood with a wooden spoon, a process that takes a couple hours. Finally, if all goes well, he removes the paper and lets it hang-dry for two weeks before preserving it.
Sound complicated? It is. Even Krute, who began printing pieces of wood in 2010, still struggles with it. The paper may rip part of the way through the process or he may finish a print only to discover that the ink is too saturated in many spots, thus blurring and obstructing the markings. It’s stressful, but it doesn’t deter him from wanting to continue creating this kind of art.
For Mary Hood, an associate professor at Arizona State University specializing in printmaking and digital technologies, the allure of printmaking will never fade, just as it won’t for Krute.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” Hood says. “It’s an exciting field to kind of keep an eye on because the pulse of printmaking is always beating. So [printmakers] are always looking for new ways to challenge themselves and challenge the medium and new ways to integrate a host of aesthetics into the processes.”
Regardless of how the digital age is shaping the practice, printmaking has always been about moments in space and time. Before photography, printmaking was a way to capture an image, and Krute continues to go back to this idea in the prints he creates.
“I think one of the most important things in my work for this series is that they’re kind of a representation of a moment of the piece of wood’s life or existence,” Krute says. “Printmaking for me kind of acts like a photo in that it captures a moment specifically in its existence.”
Capturing a piece of wood in a specific moment means it might have the swooping marks of a chainsaw, the smooth stroke of a wood miser, or the harsh cuts of a chisel. But it also means seeing the wood’s grain patterns and growth rings, the life it lived before people came along. The relationship between the two is important for Krute and key to understanding his art. Sure, the prints show interesting textures, but for those who understand it, it is so much more.
“It’s hard to hear people say, ‘Oh, that’s just a piece of wood that you printed. Anyone can do that.’ They don’t quite get the steps it takes to create something like that,” Krute says. “When you’ve worked with something for a long time, you automatically establish a relationship with it and you kind of nurture it. You take your time with it and it turns out to be something nice and worthwhile.”
Krute’s prints, which are displayed at the Urban Lumbar Co. gallery in Eugene, Oregon, have clearly been nurtured. The craftsmanship is apparent in all of his work, even in the frames, which were laboriously designed by Krute and made by hand.
With the release of his first series, Krute already has ideas for his next installment. He wants to continue printing wood, but might experiment with color or adding some of his own carvings into the design. While he isn’t quite sure where he’s going, he’s certain art will remain an important part of his life.
“In this day and age, the craftsmanship of art and how people communicate is really fast paced,” Krute says. “For me, doing these prints by hand and pulling them by hand, it’s really about giving back to the old days. I just really find the value of doing things by hand.”
It started with a piece of driftwood in Colorado. Three years later, Krute has found his niche and doesn’t look like he’ll be leaving it anytime soon.