The Messy Side of Money

The printing press. That old clunky machine invented by Johannes Gutenberg so many years ago, is what most people associate with printmaking. That, or money.

“Money is a form of lithography and that’s a form of printmaking,” says Lansing-based artist Kimberly Lavon, 28. “That, and t-shirts, are about all most people know about printmaking.”

Lavon is a printmaker who is using an old form of fine art that’s slowly dying in Michigan, to create a new and artistic business model that melds the unique hands-on element of fine art with the profit-making side of graphic design.

"I want to be a contemporary, modern thinker that changes the entire art community — like Picasso, Kahlo or Warhol," she says.

Lavon’s been on her own as an artist and business owner for less than a year, but her model is working. She’s making money, looking for a new space for her business, 8/2 Creative, and talking with galleries as far away as Denmark.

The Original Idea

Lavon grew up in Mason, which was too quiet for her — hence her immediate flight to artist-infused Miami.

“After being surrounded by a bunch of people who were absolutely amazing at what they did, I wanted to find my own niche in the art world, and I found printmaking at Kendall College of Art and Design,” she says about her return to Michigan.

Printmaking is a form of fine art that uses all different mediums — fabric, parchment, paper, ink — to create images. Printmaking involves many steps; one small piece of work can take Lavon up to a month to produce. It can also involve more than 30 materials.

The images vary greatly and are difficult to explain, but the when I interviewed Lavon, she made me a monotype from a plate she had already created, and the finished product looked like a cool, very detailed stamp. Before she created the monotype, she created the plate, a detailed process she did well before the interview.

“Printmaking is all about process, so you have do all of  'A' before you do 'B.' And if you don’t do 'A', you can’t even do 'C' or 'D',” she says.

Though one of printmaking's most attractive qualities is uniqueness (no one print is the same), in a fast-paced world, a slow-paced process can be an Achilles heel. When a business owner wants a logo, he or she wants it immediately, and a graphic artist can provide an image much more quickly than a printmaker.

“Having a printmaking background led me to graphic design because of the need to produce money to support my fine art,” Lavon says. “I found they both tied naturally together, but no one had thought about putting them together.”

That’s when Lavon saw the light bulb illuminating the niche she’d been looking for.

“From there, I designed and created a whole new path to meld the two and make fine art from graphic design in printmaking, and vice versa — making design with fine art elements.”

The working combination that’s landed Lavon clients such as MSU’s Chicano/Latino Studies program, MessageMakers, Bear’s Custom Golf Clubs and local bands like The Goddamn Gallows, which takes Lavon’s original designs of printmaking, which clearly have a different look than graphic art, and transfers them to digitally images that can be used by graphic artists to mass produce the design.

“The difference is that most graphic designers and fine artists view printmaking as a very traditional, dirty, hands-on thing, whereas graphic design involves a computer and a client,” she says. “With fine art, you’re expressing your emotions and feelings.”

Lavon says this idea of compromise between printmaking and graphic design has seen success in the vintner industry where graphically reproduced, printmaking-designed logos have ended up as wine bottle labels.

Academic Shakeup

Before melding graphic art and printmaking, Lavon shook up the Kendall printmaking program, using her enthusiasm for the medium to give a little electroshock therapy to a nearly dead program.

“The program grew exponentially,” she says. “Now they have a whole floor at Kendall for printmaking.”

Lavon was then nominated for the Windgate Fellowship, which is a $15,000 fellowship awarded to 10 fine artists, for an artistic thesis based on her life.

“I didn’t win, but I was only one of two at Kendall that was nominated,” she says.

Lavon graduated form Kendall College of Art and Design in December 2008. Not wishing to be a starving artist, she worked part-time as a Capital region engraver while getting her business off the ground. She moved 8/2 Creative business to the Haze Gallery studio in Old Town, but is now looking for a new space.

“I didn’t want to be one of those people — especially spending all the time and money on it (degree) — to be a number or statistic and say, ‘Now you get to work in a cubicle,’” Lavon says. “That’s not what I wanted to do at all. I thought that would be suicide.”

Lavon is drawn to other areas of the country where printmaking is doing well, such as Wisconsin and California, but she’s also interested in adding Lansing to that list.

What she’d like to see is more creative work-to-live spaces for artists, incubators where artists could live above a studio and show their work at least once a month in a downstairs studio. She also says the business community needs to help artists understand the businesses behind art as a profession.

“We need them to say, ‘This is what you didn’t get in art school, but this is what you need to do to start a business,’” she says. “That would be incredible.”

Lavon continues to show and sell her work nationally. Her gallery tours are booked through December 2009.

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Ivy Hughes is the managing editor of Capital Gains and can be reached here

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Kim Lavon in her Old Town printmaking studio

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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