In the sunlit Printmaking Studio located on the first floor of the Honolulu Museum of Art School and shared with the Honolulu Printmakers, printmaker Laura Smith steps down from a step stool in front of a row of presses. She’s wearing blue glasses that match her blue polka dotted shirt, and from one look at her, you can tell she knows her way around striking patterns and colors. (Her color palette also aligns with the fact that her work is so often inspired by swimming pools, but that might just be a coincidence.)
Smith has been a part of the Hawai’i printmaking community for over 20 years. In the 1980s with fellow printmaker Marcia Morse, she helped found the Honolulu Printmaking Workshop, which later merged into the Honolulu Printmakers. However, she’s been printmaking long before that all happened—although she’ll just describe it as “a really long time.” She was first introduced to printmaking while an art history major at Wilson College in Pennsylvania, and continued practicing the art-form when teaching at a foreign school in Korea. She ultimately ended up in Hawai’i, where she earned her MFA in printmaking from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. She would go onto becoming an award-winning artist, the former executive director at the Honolulu Printmakers, a current board member of said organization, and of course, a beloved Art School instructor.
For the past decade, Smith has been teaching a color woodcut class over at the Printmaking Studio. There, she guides students on how to etch a piece of plywood into a bold print, and then how to make that print come to life with a press. This summer, her guidance occurs on Monday nights.
In the spirit of the start of the Art School’s summer session, we sat down with Smith to hear a little more about her experience teaching at the Art School and the artists who influence her award-winning work.
Why do you like teaching at the Art School?
You never know who the students are until they show up that night. [This summer session] I only knew one person—no, I did know two people that were taking the class. Everybody else, I had never seen before. Most of them, the last time they did printmaking was in 5th grade, so they’re all so eager and excited and they don’t know anything about it. I think that it’s a lot of fun when you get to introduce something to these people who are sort of interested but they don’t know exactly why they’re interested. Maybe Monday night they wanted to take an art class…[and my class] was convenient, so they just signed up for that—but they all get to make something.
What are some of your favorite moments with your students?
When you use these presses, you have a piece of wood, and down on the press bed, you have a piece of paper on it, and you take the paper up. For people who haven’t done printmaking a lot—I’m not quite sure what they thought was going to happen—but they’re like, “Oh! It’s a print! There’s something there!” It’s also really fun. Towards the end of the class, everybody expects it to be wonderful.
What do you like about the art of printmaking?
I like that you can make more than one, and you can make a lot of different versions with the same plate. You can just endlessly keep printing it, you can always keep revising it. Oh, and colors. Especially with woodcut, it’s pretty easy to do a lot of different colors, and I like color a lot.
Who is an artist that influences you?
I do like those Japanese woodblocks, like that guy [Tōshūsai] Sharaku, who did those theatrical portraits. Those are pretty neat. I also like to look at [Edgar] Degas, with the compositions that he uses.
It’s not too late to sign up for summer semester classes! Summer 2018 registration for the Art School is currently open.