Rick Griffith: The Art and Craft of the Second-Guess

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The Denver-based Rick Griffith is PRINT’s first Artist-in-Residence. Check back every Wednesday throughout the next month, as we spotlight various projects by the graphic designer and master letterpress printer. And to read or listen to the first installment of his new PRINT column, “Processing (,.,.,.,.,.,.,),” click here.

So many of us find creative paralysis in second-guessing ourselves. But perpetual second-guesser Rick Griffith has made an artform of it—quite literally.

“Anxiety seems like a natural human state,” Griffith says. “Anyone that says that they don't suffer from it, I’m suspicious of.”

As for whether it’s a positive or negative thing—Griffith says that if we’re embracing our full human-ness, why judge it as a negative? “The challenge of anxiety is really one of it works if you help it work.”

And he says he’s still a student in just that.

To that end, once Griffith was at a type conference in Belgium, and was having a late dinner with Bill and Jim Moran of the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. As the trio ate, Bill told Griffith it would be a great thing if he found his voice in letterpress printing.

“I took it as a challenge, and I also took it as permission, which is part of what taps into anxiety, right? I took it as permission to go ahead and do something radical in the space of letterpress printing—and the radical thing was [to not] just print my words, which is what I’ve been doing for a while, but also annotate myself.”

In other words, through his constant self-examination and second-guessing, he had found a new form of creative expression.

As for how his annotated prints take shape: He starts with the “perfect sentence,” and disassembles it from there. In the creative oscillation that so many of us know so well, he sways from euphoria to loathing—and the brilliant thing is that ultimately, as viewers, we see the process in real time. He layers ideas atop ideas on press, and constantly revises over the course of, say, a week, in a totally improvisational way, not unlike jazz in lead.

“The annotated prints go a long way to expressing the messiness of thinking as it translates to writing, as it translates to printing, as it translates to being,” he says.

And they resonate with force, visually approximating the creative process in all of its highs and lows, on a single page.

As for that moment when he pulls the final print—“I’m really, really relieved when it’s over,” he says. “I’m super relieved when I’m done.”

A few of the annotated prints follow below. For more, head to Matter.