Designer and printmaker Alicia Burnett, a recent MFA graduate, established Wolf Jaw Press as a way to explore the intersections between her love for the screen printing process and her fascination with the world of animals. According to Alicia, she was “drawn to the rich, flat colors and intricate shapes that the screen printing process affords,” and established her home studio in Schenectady, NY soon after finishing school to produce “limited edition, fine art silkscreen prints that celebrate the beauty of nature.”
Color and shape techniques suggest vitality in the two-dimensional representations of the lively creatures she depicts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Alicia would relish the opportunity to live life from the point of view of one of her subjects. “Imagine leaping through the ocean waves as an orca, or galloping across the Great Plains of North America as a wild Mustang!” she ponders. Alicia also takes inspiration from those who came before, most significantly 19th-century naturalistic sculptors and painters. Visiting their work “always makes me want to run back to my studio and start a flurry of new projects,” she reveals.
Maintaining motivation can be a job in and of itself, and Alicia advises other young creatives to cultivate their work ethic in addition to their natural-born abilities, and pays forward Julia Rothman’s teaching that “tenacity will give you the strength to search for opportunities and push past setbacks. Believing in yourself and being persistent will get you much further than raw talent alone.” —Annie
Photography by Alicia Burnett
What’s in your toolbox?
I have two toolboxes. One toolbox is dedicated to sketching and planning prints, and the other toolbox is dedicated to storing my printmaking supplies.
In my first toolbox I have my Moleskine sketchbook, pencils, watercolor paints, Micron pens, paintbrushes, Tombow brush pens, colored pencils, X-Acto knives, Sharpie oil-based paint markers, and various paint and fabric swatches that I have collected over time.
My second toolbox is actually a whole room that has been converted into a storage space for the larger and more unwieldy supplies involved in the screen printing process. In this room I have a roll of Ulano universal tack rubylith and sheets of 19×24 inch Dura-Lar for creating photopositives. I have my paper that I like to print on, Stonehenge 20×30 inch 90lb cotton rag. I find that Stonehenge is the best paper for what I do, it’s a thick, acid-free 100% cotton paper that has a beautiful texture and it stands up to the moisture in my inks very well. I also have my Victory Factory 230 mesh screens, scoop coaters, squeegees, registration tabs and pins, mixing spatulas, QX-1 photo emulsion, stencil remover paste, a few rolls of block-out screen tape, and a small mountain of Jacquard screen print inks.
Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel ____________.”
When I am in my studio I feel energized and happy!
What’s on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?
Right now, I am obsessed with the books The American West in Bronze written by Thayer Tolles and Thomas Brent Smith, as well as George Stubbs: Science Into Art edited by Herbert Rott. Both books feature stunning animal portraiture.
How do you keep yourself organized?
Lists, lists, lists! I’ve learned that running a small business is a lot of work and it can get pretty complicated with all the different responsibilities. I have found that making lists and keeping those lists in sight really helps me stay on top of all my tasks. I have a list for just about everything — lists about what supplies I’m running low on, which prints I am going to work on next, the daily tasks that I want to accomplish by the end of the day. Also, keeping up-to-date calendars both digitally and in my physical planner helps me stay organized and keep track of my long-term responsibilities. I need to write everything down where I can see it, or else I’ll forget about it!
If you could have one superhero (or magical) power, what would it be and why?
I would want to have shape-shifting abilities. I am absolutely enamored of the beauty, power, grace, and strength I see in the animal kingdom and I would love to be able to experience the world from an animal’s point of view. Imagine leaping through the ocean waves as an orca, or galloping across the Great Plains of North America as a wild Mustang! How amazing would that be?
What is the best advice you have ever received, and what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young artist, maker, or designer?
When I was a senior at RISD I took a contemporary illustration class taught by Chris Buzelli. For one class, as a special treat, he invited Julia Rothman to host a workshop and give a short lecture about her work and her journey as an illustrator thus far. It was such a privilege to hear Julia speak in person; I was basically starstruck the whole afternoon! Julia gave a lot of great advice, but there was one point she made that really stuck with me. In short, she told us that raw talent isn’t the most important factor that determines whether or not an artist is commercially successful.
As one might guess correctly, there are many factors that go into determining an artist’s success. Yes, talent is one of those factors, but as Julia explained, raw talent will only get a person so far in their career. Dedication, perseverance, and a good old fashioned work ethic are all traits that young artists should focus on cultivating. Talent will develop as a result of the hard work you put into your craft, and tenacity will give you the strength to search for opportunities and push past setbacks. Believing in yourself and being persistent will get you much further than raw talent alone. Don’t give up and don’t get discouraged, just keep at it!
How do you combat creative blocks?
I try to keep my space as inspiring and nurturing as possible in order to combat feelings of creative fatigue. I like to surround myself with comforting and inspirational sights, smells, and sounds to keep the creative part of myself happy. I have lots of books, ephemeral objects, art, candles, and plants in my studio. I find that these things help fill my studio with a subtle positive and creative energy. Whenever I need a break I can go water my plants, light a candle, or sit down with a book or magazine for a bit until I feel recharged and ready to dive back into work.
Where do you like to look or shop for inspiration?
My biggest source of inspiration is the natural world! My favorite way to gather inspiration is to go for a hike in the mountains, or spend a day visiting the animals at one of the many farms close to my home. I also find a lot of inspiration by studying the sculptures and paintings of the great artists that came before me. Going to museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art and looking at the work created by some of my favorite artists like Antoine-Louis Barye, Rosa Bonheur, and George Stubbs always makes me want to run back to my studio and start a flurry of new projects.
If you could peek inside the studio or toolbox of any artist, maker, designer, or craftsperson, whose would it be and why?
I would love to get a peek into Victo Ngai’s studio. Her illustrations are so beautiful and complex, and I love the textural quality in her work! Learning more about her process would be a real treat; she seamlessly blends together traditional and digital mediums in a way that seems effortless. I’m totally unfamiliar with that type of workflow, so it would be interesting to learn more about it firsthand.
What’s on your inspirational playlist at the moment?
I listen to a lot of soundtracks as well as instrumental music. I find that while I am working, anything with lyrics is incredibly distracting. Lately, I have been listening to a lot of John Fahey. He is absolutely masterful with the guitar. For me, his music invokes feelings of movement, space, and landscapes and I definitely feel inspired and focused when I am listening to one of his albums.