Image of Vanessa Jo Bahr with her dog and her art in her printmaking studio

All About Natural Printmaking with Vanessa Jo Bahr

Meet Vanessa, a printmaker, artist, and educator in Ashland, OR! Her work aims to encourage viewers to think about their relationship with the environment around them and their past actions with nature. Vanessa is passionate about using her art as a form of activism and that includes incorporating natural materials like Earth & Mineral Pigments and Natural Acrylik Paints into recipes for printmaking!

Where did you grow up and did that environment affect your early introduction to art or your relationship with creativity?

I grew up on the outskirts of Chicago, with a forest preserve in our backyard. There were railroad tracks, a creek, and an old stone bridge. I spent nearly every day exploring the woods and accompanying meadow, wandering, foraging, catching catfish, making stick and leaf boats to float down the creek, and placing pennies on the tracks waiting for trains. It was my sanctuary.

Have you always felt connected to the natural materials around you or did that come later in life?

I always felt a connection to the natural world, but it wasn’t until grad school when my weird habits transformed into a conscious part of my art practice. I’ve always collected and scavenged for natural artifacts and recently I’ve begun to incorporate them into my work. Seeing it as a form of environmentalism and connection with local landscapes is a fairly new revelation that has elevated my intention to preserve the very wilderness I revere so much.

What materials do you like to use?

I try to incorporate as many found, natural materials into my practice as possible. I use scavenged bones, shells, sticks, feathers, nests, pinecones, etc. in sculptural assemblages that are held together with cordage twisted from milkweed fibers. I make handmade paper from local plants and discarded paper scraps that I then use to print my etchings and blocks on. Tanning, graining and stretching animal hides to use as a printing surface is also something I have been exploring. I love pressing flowers and have an extensive archive that I pull from to embellish my print work. I'm constantly trying to source my materials whenever possible, whether it's through making leather, paper, ink or repurposing old copper plates.

You have a lot of experience teaching in different art schools. What made you interested in teaching art or what do you enjoy about it?

I truly believe that we as artists have an obligation to teach others, especially when we’re involved in niche art forms that are being lost to time, like printmaking. Teaching is just as much an art as creating physical pieces of art is. It is challenging, fulfilling, and above all else, ensures that the art forms I hold so dearly continue to captivate others, long after I’m gone.

After receiving your MFA in printmaking and art administration you opened “Scavenger Studios” in Ashland, OR, a place that hosts a variety of classes on printmaking and incorporating the natural world. What inspired you to open Scavenger Studios?

Certain facets of printmaking tend to exist within a realm of secrecy and as closely guarded knowledge. Most people never get the chance to experience its beauty unless they can attend college in an upper academic setting. I want to make printmaking accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial status or educational background. Printmaking is a collaborative art form at its heart and it is meant to be shared, not only for privileged artists.

What inspired the name of your printmaking studio? Is there a story behind the name?

I’ve always been a collector searching for anomalies in my environment. Along with this desire to collect comes an urge to organize and document that experience through creation. This sort of archiving found artifacts connects me to my local ecology and reminds me to source materials from the land I exist on as opposed to purchasing products from faraway lands. Scavenging connects us to places and helps us form relationships with our plant and animal kin while guaranteeing their proliferation.

In what ways do you combine your art with environmental activism? How did you become inspired to use your art as a way to encourage others to reflect on their own relationship with the environment?

My imagery and materials both conspire to give my work meaning through an environmental lens. I view art-making as a form of activism in that it attempts to preserve the natural world through illustration and materiality. Using my artistic abilities to inspire viewers to reflect on their relationship with their environment is a solemn duty I feel obligated to pursue to help protect it.

You’ve created not one but three natural printmaking ink recipes - relief inkintaglio ink and screen printing ink! Which types of printmaking are your favorite?

Ooh, that is a tough question! I’m a little more partial to intaglio at the moment. There are so many different forms of etching and I’m a sucker for all the various stages of the process. It is extremely challenging, nuanced, and complex, and that really entices me.

How did you first hear about Natural Earth Paint and when did you start incorporating natural art supplies into your work?

Driving by the Natural Earth Paint location is how I found out about it! It wasn’t until I returned to Ashland after grad school that I looked into the company. It felt very synchronistic to return to Oregon with a newfound focus on sourcing natural art materials and to exist so close to an eco-friendly art supply company. Naturally, I reached out and began inquiring about printmaking inks and potential collaboration!

What are some personal benefits of using natural materials and pigments to create your work?

Incorporating natural materials gives meaning to my work that aligns with the message I’m trying to convey visually. Sourcing natural materials helps my work not only talk about rekindling our connection with our local ecologies but also by using the materials themselves.

Where can our audience find more of your work or info about upcoming classes?

My personal portfolio can be found at www.VanessaJo.Studio and Scavenger Studio’s website, where you can find upcoming class information, is I have an Etsy shop and am most active on Instagram @VanessaJoBahr.