A Printmaker Who Creates Lasting Impressions
When Andrew Downey was attending Valencia College in the early 1990s, he didn’t know what to do with himself. “I thought I’d be an architect, but I barely passed college algebra,” he recalls. After his dad passed away, the college freshman started questioning his own life. What did he want to do? What did he want to be? Nothing seemed to spark Downey’s interest enough to pursue a career.
“Then I took a drawing class and realized this was it,” he grins. “I couldn’t believe I was getting college credit. That was sort of my awakening.”
Downey followed his artistic awakening to an Associate in Arts degree from Valencia, a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Central Florida, a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Florida and right into a studio on Valencia’s East Campus—where he has taught drawing and the ancient art of printmaking since 2001.
Having a studio concentration in printmaking from UF, it’s an art form Downey enjoys because it’s kind of a mystery, he explains. Unlike drawing, which offers immediate gratification, printmaking is a process, similar to ceramics. “You don’t know what that pot or mug will look like until it comes out of the kiln,” he tells students.
Printmaking originated in China after the invention of paper, according to the Washington Printmakers Gallery in D.C. The Chinese developed woodcuts, the oldest method of printmaking, in the ninth century. In its simplest terms, printmaking involves an artist creating an original work by transferring an inked image from wood, metal, stone or screen—such as silk—onto a sheet of paper, or sometimes another material, by means of a press.
Printmaking encompasses numerous techniques, including relief, intaglio, woodcut, lithography and monotype. Downey prefers intaglio because it allows for experimentation. “There are so many things you can do,” he says. “Some you can control and some you can’t—and that’s what I like about it.”
Each semester he teaches three variants of intaglio: collagraph, drypoint and etching. Every print begins with a drawing; then the real work commences. The drawing must be inked, wiped and pressed between two rollers to emboss the image onto paper before the end result is visible.
For a collagraph, students create a collage of materials glued onto a cardboard “plate.” In drypoint, which Downey describes as a process that hasn’t changed in half a millennium, students use a steel-pointed pen to draw an image on a zinc plate. He adds, “I have them work, just like Rembrandt, on a self-portrait.”
Etching requires students to cover their zinc plates with a protectant, create a new or modified image on the plates, and then dip the plates in acid to etch the image. He explains that the length of time that you leave the plate in the acid determines how deeply the self-portraits get etched.
The final steps start with rubbing the printing ink into the crevices on the plate that were formed by the artist’s drawing. Excess ink is wiped away, and the plate is placed on the bed of the press, overlaid by a sheet of moist printing paper. A blanket is placed over the plate and the paper so that pressure is applied equally as the image is printed.
Downey loves printmaking and typically uses his own work to illustrate different techniques. His favorite part of teaching is demonstration. “There’s a benefit to students seeing my process,” he expresses. “I enjoy introducing them to a different way of thinking and learning.”
There are so many things you can do. Some you can control and some you can’t—and that’s what I like about printmaking.”
Tyler Jacob, a student of Downey’s, says, “He’s very passionate about what he does and goes into a lot of detail when showing us new printing methods.” Jacob, who’s majoring in computer science at UCF, talks about how he collects prints and took the class to better understand the work that goes into each print.
During class, Downey roams around the studio, pausing to answer questions or to just sit down and chat as the students work. His cheerful personality and enthusiasm for his subject are contagious. “He likes to have conversations with students,” says Rea Khan, an art major who has taken a couple of Downey’s classes. “He’s helpful and always in a good mood.”
His reverence for the elaborate printmaking process underpins Downey’s main goal for students: appreciation. Students who previously might have walked by a print in a museum are likely to stop and admire it, he explains.
“Now they know how it’s done and can appreciate it on that level.”