Julie Niskanen was the 2008 National Small Works winner, and now one of our distant members, as she lives in North Carolina. Now that her semester is ending and she can take a little breather, we caught up with her to ask her a few questions:
WPG: You work with natural forms that you feel are often disregarded. How do you gather your material–on specific walks, just out in the yard, online? Is there anything specific that you look for when picking a new egg, flower, or seedpod?
Niskanen: I find inspiration for my work at different times. Sometimes I will plan a trip to a park, garden, nature center, etc. and look for ideas. Other times I find things by chance, which is often the best time. As I am out, I am very aware or my surroundings. One evening after I left my studio in downtown Raleigh I found a bird nest on the street. It must have fallen from a small city tree, but it was quite a strange and random find. My latest mezzotint is an image of this nest. Even when I am out walking my dog I come upon pods, leaves, and even a perfectly intact butterfly (dead, but beautiful) that I will use in an upcoming print. In general, I look for the gifts from nature everywhere I go.
WPG: You teach printmaking at the college level and also at workshops. Does teaching effect your printmaking, either your habits or your subject matter?
Niskanen: Teaching printmaking is great fun and I love it! I work with my students on many techniques, including mezzotint. Teaching doesn’t seem to affect my subject matter much, but I’m sure that it helps me to perfect my techniques even more. I am very clean and thorough when working in my studio, and I try to be even more so when teaching and giving demos to help my students create good studio habits.
WPG: We’ve heard that your creativity extends to the kitchen, and that you are quite the vegan cook. As someone with vegan family members, I can attest to there being some amazing vegan recipes out there, but many non-vegans may have their doubts. Can you tell us some vegan dishes we should not pass up if we get the chance to try them?
Niskanen: Hmmm that is a tough one! There are so many vegan dishes that I would say not to pass up. I must say that my vegan carrot cake and vegan cheesecakes rock! Cooking has always been a passion of mine, and I see it as another form of art. Some of my favorite meals to cook are: vegan lasagna, rainbow chard navy bean burgers, quinoa with curried veggies and tofu, and vegan Philly cheesesteak. Vegan dishes are great because they have all if not more of the protein and fiber of meat and much less fat (and of course, no animal products).
You can see Julie’s work in the bins and flat files at WPG and in select member exhibitions. Stop by to see her beautiful mezzotints in person!