If you happen to walk downtown Hespeler, make sure to look up at the light-post banners. You’ll see black and white pop-art cat named Lucy – a delightful piece created by Cambridge printmaker, Donna Stewart.
Cats, sock monkeys and Converse sneakers are just a few of the objects that inspire Donna’s creativity. “For a while, my work was pretty serious but I feel like I’m in a more playful, colourful phase right now,” says Donna. And the village of Hespeler (in Cambridge) must agree as Donna’s work is proudly decorating the city streets, heralding it a creative and dynamic place to be.
She practices intaglio etching, which has a long history of requiring hazardous chemicals to produce impressive results. However, Donna experiments with different non-toxic printmaking methods to make it a safer yet equally effective process. “I’m using acrylic media these days with lots of trial and error to find the right mix, but I haven’t found a magic bullet yet,” says Donna. But the experimentation is part of the fun.
This complex, process-oriented art form is a perfect fit for Donna who spent her professional career channeling her creativity into solving technical problems and designing computer systems. Now that Donna is retired, she can explore her creativity in more personal ways, choosing to capture what she thinks or feels about a subject, versus preserving exactly what she sees. “My creativity is more ‘carefully considered’ than spontaneous,” she says. “Precision counts when you’re etching a line into a metal plate because once you’ve made it, it’s hard to take it back.”
Like many art forms, print making is often a solitary process. She says, “I like to design and then craft a new plate on my own, because I’m doing a lot of thinking; the whole process can take several weeks.” However, when she prints, she’s typically surrounded by fellow printmakers.
Presses are very expensive and there are only certain times when members of the Riverside Print Group, a collective of printmaking enthusiasts, have access to the Riverside Studio each month. “When someone is taking the first pull off a new plate, everyone else in the studio will stop what they’re doing and gather around the press to share in the moment,” she says. “I think only another printmaker can truly appreciate everything that’s at stake, all the effort that’s led to that point, so we’re there to support one another in our successes; also in the inevitable learning experiences.”
Beyond her own artistic work, Donna is the vice-chair of Hespeler’s award-winning A Day & A Night Art Meets Music Festival, which was the winner of the 2013 Arts Awards Waterloo Region – New Festival or Event Award. At her design, the Riverside Print Group collaborated to produce the BIG Print Community Quilt as part of last year’s festival.
“We printed a 20”x 5” quilt with a road roller in Hespeler during the 2013 A Day & A Night Art Meets Music Festival,” says Donna. “It contained the designs of 240 Cambridge residents, collected at four different community events with the assistance of Cambridge Libraries & Galleries, all to help the community celebrate the 40 anniversary of the City of Cambridge.” It was big and cool, and as a result, Donna received the Festival/Event Volunteer Award from the Arts Awards Waterloo Region this spring for her work on this project. (Kudos!)
You can see Donna’s work (and that of the other Riverside Print Group members) this October at the Carnegie Gallery in Dundas and at Kitchener’s Homer Watson House and Gallery during November and December.
And of course, make sure to attend the fourth-annual A Day & A Night Art Meets Music Festival on Saturday, August 23 to get your fill of art, music, culture and community. And you can check out this year’s big community art project: The Big Weave.
P.S. Donna’s favourite topic of conversation: books