George Walker is a Toronto based artist active in the fields of Printmaking and Book Arts. He graduated with Honours from the Ontario College of Art in 1983, and later from Brock University with a BEd. He has taught Book Arts at the Ontario College of Art and Design since 1990. He started Columbus Street Press in 1985 with his wife, Michelle and in 2000 they renamed it Biting Dog Press. George's award-winning illustrations are alive with their own frenetic energy and reflect his wide visual scholarship and adept technical innovation. (To read a more detailed biography, visit George Walker's website at: http://www3.sympatico.ca/george.walker/)
Q Did you receive any formal training? if so, where from? How relevant is this in your process now? (is your drawing style a result of intuitive development or formal training?)
A Yes I was trained. My education was a scattered affair. My early training was at a vocational school and then the Dundas Valley School of Art and later I went on to study at the Ontario College of Art in 1979. From there I went to Brock University and then York University and now I’m in graduate school at Ryerson University. I am a believer in life long learning and I suspect that I will never know as much as I would like to. My drawing style is evolving as I learn. A simple line means so much more to me now compared to how I felt about it 30 years ago.
Q How did you get involved in book arts? what resources were available to you when you started?
A I blame William Poole for introducing me to the art of the book. Bill (as he was known to his friends and students) was teaching courses in printmaking at OCA when I met him. He wanted to make books and so he grab a few students and took us to the Fisher Rare book library to sing up for a course in bookbinding. He then took us to Massey College to meet Robertson Davies. Davies gave us a manuscript to print and we were off to make the paper, hand set the type and create a book from the pulp up! We didn’t have a lot of resources in the printmaking studios at the college but we were very determined. There were only five of us in the class so the opportunities to learn were better.
Q What is most satisfying about the art making proccess for you? what are some of your favourite projects?
A I love process! The constructing and planning of a project I find very rewarding. That said I also value spontaneity for its ability to surprise and its inherent humanity. I really enjoyed working on the limited edition books I did with author Neil Gaiman. Gaiman writes with wit and clarity and has a talent for twisting a story. I created a series of wood engravings to illustrate the stories ‘Snow Glass Apples’ and ‘Murder Mysteries’ these were then hand printed on washi paper and then sewn into the book. I also did a braodside of the Neil Gaiman poem ‘A Writers Prayer’.
Q Could you talk a bit about your proccess? for example, do you do preliminary sketching before starting on a print?
A I sometimes do a sketch before I get to the block but usually I just draw directly onto the wood block. I like to research my imagery by looking at references in my sketch book or taking photos of interesting subjects. My process is explored in detail in my book, “The Woodcut Artist’s Handbook” (Firefly Books 2005).
Q How has printmaking affected your drawing style? To what degree do the tools guide you?
A I draw for the printing process. Printmaking is in my mind the essential modern to post-modern expression. printmaking is about abundance and limitation and fragmentary influences from the past and present. It is post modern in that its meaning is in found not just in the imagery but in its method of production too. Tools inform style and technique. The choice of one tool over another tells the marked line how it will express itself.
Q Continuing on proccess, in what form do the first whispers of an idea come to you? Do you get the sudden flashes of inspiration, or are you simply plugging away and lo and behold, things start to come together at some point? How are you relating to creativity?
A I question myself. That is how I build my concepts. For me inspiration is the sum of a visual problem. I fold my ideas into questions of form, balance, content and direction hoping that a resolution will appear. Sometimes it comes quickly and other times I struggle.
Q Do you think primarily in lines or fields?
A I reflect on both line and field but I also am concerned with tone and rhythm. A tool (engraving) may stutter over the field or it may glide or a incised line may flutter or wave into a taper. A line informs a field as much as the plane of a field gives landscape to a line.
Q What role does improvisation play in your proccess?
A I only improvise. I have nothing else.
Q If you had to place yourself in a lineage, who would you list as major inspirations in your work? what other artists past or present are you keeping company with?
A I think Frans Masereel is my obvious influence followed by Lynd Ward. This said I am always struck by the passion in the abstraction of a Rothko or the form in a Lauren Harris. Although I am entertained by Damien Hirst I could never distance myself from the making of the work as much as his creations seem to be. I need to engage my images on my terms. I need an intimate relationship with the process of making.
Q What aspects of your proccess do you find most challenging?
A Getting started! After that nothing stops me.
Q Has there been a shift over the years in how much time you spend on subject matter vs. how much time you spend with technical concerns?
A Yes I spend more time with the subject matter now. I still like to learn new techniques and incorporate them into my work though.
Q can you draw a straight line? (I ask this of everyone, surprisingly, most of us can't)
A Depends on the pen I’m using! At one time I was close to perfection with a ruling pen. The concept of a straight line is a funny problem. The truth is that a straight line is a construct of our environment. If you draw a straight line long enough it will eventually curve. Nature has a way of confounding our desire to arrange things in straight lines and boxes. Drawing is not so much about straight and freeform markings as it is about the paths the lines create.
Thank you, George.
For more on George Walker visit his website at: