Artist as Entrepreneur: Ann Aspinwall
When Ann Aspinwall posted her newest print, Alba, I nearly fell over. I wasn't prepared for how the sense of scale, intricacy, and simmering color would translate so strongly on my small computer screen.
Ann and I first met at SNAP: International Printmaking Symposium in Rheine, Germany. The symposium organized by her husband Knut Willich was an auspicious one for me. After presenting a demonstration on experimental laser cutting techniques I had a chance conversation with another presenter who planted the seed of starting a laser cutting business. In sharing their own experiences as artists and small business owners, Ann and Knut's early encouragement gave me the confidence to launch FreeFall Laser.
Enjoy this interview with Ann and learn how she maintains her studio practice while running a business.
Tell us about your business
Aspinwall Editions is a fine art print publisher, dealer, and studio in New York City. I started it in 2012 with Knut Willich, my husband. We specialize in silkscreen, intaglio, and relief techniques. We invite artists to work with us to create print editions; we take work on consignment from artists who make their own prints; and we do contract printing for artists or galleries who chose to publish the projects themselves. We sell prints at art fairs, through our own website and other online platforms, and through scheduled visits to museum print collections.
Describe your work as an artist
For the past four years I have focused on building compositions out of lines and a few select colors to suggest luminous expanses of water, landscape, and sky in certain light and atmospheric conditions. The lines are all hand-drawn from my imagination, and I am fascinated by how the tremors and meanders of each individual line manage to convey topographical features of an invented terrain. I achieve optical effects of highlights, shadows, and depth through variations of line density and meticulous choice of colors.
What are the biggest obstacles you face in maintaining a studio practice?
Lack of time is certainly the biggest obstacle. I struggle to carve out sufficient time for my own work, so I can concentrate and focus to the extent I need to, and have the space and time to think, conceive, plan, experiment and execute projects without having to start and stop all the time. When we started the business I naively thought that I would have more time for my work than I did when I had a full-time job. I was wrong! For the first few years I had even less time. But I have gradually learned how to manage my time better, though it feels like a constant battle. The advantage of having your own business is the flexibility in how you manage you own time. When I had a job, I could only work in my studio in the evenings and on weekends. Now I can claim full consecutive days, which makes a huge difference.
What strategies do you use to preserve your studio time?
I have learned that it is essential for me to allocate specific days for my work only. It varies from week to week and month to month. If we’re working with an artist, then that is my sole focus, and I put my work away for the duration of that collaboration. Art fairs take weeks of preparation (since we’re still just a two-person operation, and we also build our own frames) and at least a week of follow-up, so I have to allot several weeks, or even nearly a month, away from my own work for each fair.
I’ve learned to be very disciplined about identifying specific days of the week when I’m only working on my own art, which often means literally blocking those days out on my calendar, and not making appointments or scheduling anything else on those days. I take lunch and snacks to the studio, and hunker down for eight to ten uninterrupted hours. Obviously I can’t completely ignore emails from artists and clients, but I try to do that work first thing in the morning and in the evening. We no longer have internet in our studio, so while I’m able to check messages on my phone, I do the bulk of my emailing and other computer work at home. The studio is a place for making things and thinking about them. It takes a lot of discipline to shut the rest out (including the cacophony of New York) for the day, but I’m getting better at it.
Even when I’m not getting time in the studio I’m still thinking about current or future projects (except when we’re working with an artist). When we travel to fairs, visit exhibitions, and whatnot, I am constantly thinking and planning and developing ideas. It’s important to write them down. Then when I do finally get back into the studio, I already have a notion of how I want to start. One of the hardest things is starting and stopping, and then starting again, so it helps to have a to-do list to ease myself back into creating. Studio time is precious, so I try to make the most of it. But so is time spent staring at a blank wall in the studio. It always takes days to get going again after a long interval, and I’ve learned to be patient.
Is there a new or upcoming project you can share with us?
We recently spent two days in our studio working on test plates for a new print project with the Detroit-based artist Susan Goethel Campbell. For the past few years she has been working (in her own studio) on a series of prints that focuses on nocturnal bird’s eye views of cities and atmospheric phenomena, which she creates by printing black and gray tones from a birch matrix and hand-punching a network of perforations in the paper. It is a very elegant and effective use of the wood grain and the three-dimensionality of the paper. We have exhibited and sold a number of her prints on consignment over the past year, and we are eager to work with her on a series of prints that continue this subject of nocturnal aerial views, but in a medium that will offer considerably different results such as deep velvety blacks, a wider range of tones and textures, glowing highlights, and the introduction of color. For that reason we have been exploring collagraph with her, and just in the two days we worked together she very quickly understood the potential of the medium and was particularly fearless and innovative in her experimental use of the materials. Collagraph is a technique that I have worked with for many years, but I learned a lot from Susan during her visit. Between us, Knut and I probably have about five decades of experience in printmaking, and it is always a delight to work with an artist who is so willing to take risks and push us to try new things, and achieves fantastic results in the process. That is the nature of a fruitful collaboration, and I think we are off to a great start in this project with Susan.