Featured image above from left to right: Beehive, Intaglio on Handmade Gampi, Paper, 12 x 18; Rachel Singel portrait by Rudy Salgado of River City Tintype; Chicken, Intaglio on Handmade Bittersweet and Esparto Paper, 12 x 18 inches, 2023
Printmaker Rachel Singel is on a mission far beyond making pretty images. The fine artist and professor at the University of Louisville uses her finely tuned printmaking process as commentary on the beauty of the natural world and sustainability. The etching effects of printmaking capture the intricacies and depth of the natural forms she recreates, while the organic materials she uses heighten her message.
“Beyond bringing attention to the immense complexity of the natural world, one of my primary goals as an artist is to raise environmental consciousness,” she penned to PRINT. “I print on handmade papers made from recycled materials such as old cotton shirts and linen sheets, as well as plant fibers, especially those of invasive plants. Conceptually, the union of process and subject embodies an important metaphor for my views. Fundamentally, my work is about discovering, then understanding, and finally expressing an attitude towards nature.”
I recently reached out to Singel with a few questions to learn more about her process and ethos as an artist. Her thoughtful responses are below! (Conversation edited slightly for clarity and brevity).
I remain in continuous awe of the depth and force of the natural world.Rachel Singel
How did you develop your unique printmaking style and methodology?
I was first drawn to printmaking because I am inspired by nature’s infinite complexity, and intaglio etchings on copper allow me to make the fine lines I need to illustrate its forms. My goal is to capture as much information from the surface as possible.
In my works, the lines radiate out from a central point. While beginning with a specific image of a vine, unfurling fern, fungi, etc., the work is overtaken by the idea of potentially limitless growth. I remain in continuous awe of the depth and force of the natural world. Ultimately, I hope to bring attention to our environment’s intricacy, beauty, and fragility.
What is your studio set up like? Where and how do you bring your prints to life?
I always appreciate the chance to travel to other studios for artist residencies, but for the most part, I currently make my prints at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, where I teach. I have a print shop equipped with vertical ferric chloride baths for etching my copper plates, glass tabletops and hotplates for inking and wiping them, and presses (including a 48″ x 96″ Takach press) for printing.
Before I make the prints, I make the paper using a Little Critter Hollander beater (made by Mark Lander) and molds made by my predecessor at the University of Louisville, John Whitesell.
Have you always been environmentally conscious? Where does your love of nature come from?
I grew up on a small farm outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. My mother, who is also an artist and teacher, took my siblings and me outside to sketch the landscape and natural objects. That is where my love of nature and art began.
From where do you source the materials you print on? Do you make the paper you print on yourself?
I now make all of the paper that I print on. While I first learned paper making at the University of Virginia, after taking paper making with Timothy Barrett at the University of Iowa, there was no going back!
After that, I had the opportunity to be a resident artist at Bernheim Forest and Arboretum, where I made paper from their invasive tree of heaven. That’s when I started primarily using invasive plants.
I have since made paper with other invasives such as yellow flag iris, Oriental bittersweet, Japanese honeysuckle, and johnsongrass, which I have collected from my family’s farms in Virginia, rural local areas here in Kentucky, and even around the city of Louisville.
Just recently, I even made paper with Japanese knotweed, which was harvested for me at Acadia National Park, where I was a resident artist this past summer. I have learned a lot about the possibilities of papermaking by working with each of these fibers!
Why is reflecting on environmentalism in your art important to you?
I am aware that as an artist, I am also a consumer. As a teacher, I feel an even greater responsibility to promote environmentally friendly practices because that’s the only way we can sustainability continue to make work.