The Art of Touch

or, how silkscreening changed my creative life

I was always a creative kid growing up. The first time my mother realized this was when I started dancing with my fingers on every piano-looking surface I could find. She soon signed me up for music school. I was five. At that young age I was learning music theory, playing a real piano and singing in the school coir.

Looking back, those early years in my development really shaped many aspects of my life. I went through several experiences throughout my teenage years and 20’s, including playing other instruments, being a tattoo artist, dance teacher, graphics designer, and DJ – all of them making part of the whole I’ve become.

In 2010, at the age of 28, while already working as a web designer for a few years, I finally decided to go to an arts school. I had no big expectations about it, but I knew I wanted to learn the basis of my craft and some art foundations.

The first 3 semesters were completely online. Even though I had some foundation art classes, I never really connected to them fully; I kept seeing them only as a new skill I could apply to my work, not as a legitimate art form in itself.

In 2012 I finally moved to San Francisco to attend on campus classes, and the first class I had was Silkscreening; an intense 6 hour class, with an extensive and expensive list of materials to buy.

First time I came into that studio I had no idea what to expect. I barely knew what silkscreening was and had no idea how that would affect my web design skills.

Merri, the teacher, presented herself in a very professional way. She came off as almost too detached, with no emotion. I felt instantly nervous as we jumped right in, into learning the details of this craft. It was an intense first day. By the end of it I was already exhausted, not knowing that the best – or worst – was yet to come.

As the classes progressed, one of the first things that really bothered me was that she insisted on us not using the computer – my comfort zone – to develop our creative process. What was I supposed to do then? All my designs were digital. My hand skills were poor. My OCD-like attention to perfection was doomed!

I rebelled, and developed my designs in my faithful computer, in the safe haven of pixels and vectors. But my plan backfired; we had to inevitably use our hands for most of it anyway, even if the concepts were created on the laptop. Damn.

Every week that passed, Merri became increasingly warmer with us. I soon perceived that the detachment of the first day was merely a facade to impose respect. She nurtured us and our creative process and encouraged us to find our artistic voice. Most of all, she pushed us over our limits.

Every single week I was forced to go beyond my comfort zone. It was as painful inside as it was outside; my body ached from the physicality of it. The leaning forward with the rubber squeegee to push the ink through the tight mesh of silk. My back hurt from all the pushing. My feet were swollen from standing 10-hours straight working on my projects. It felt as if a woman giving birth to a child. This was my child – my creation – and it came from an emotional place out of sweat and tears. By the end of the first major assignment I finally had my big realization; these were not simple designs, they were living pieces of art. I was an artist.

With every project, Merri would push me a bit further. She wrote, like a caring mother, “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” on the margins of my evaluation sheets.

My obsessive compulsion towards perfectionism was shattered by the inevitable forces of physics. I learned to accept it and let the imperfections become part of it. Even with all the constraints of the technique and medium, I felt this incredible freedom and joy. I felt reborn.

I can call myself an artist now. I own it.

This essay was written as an “Artist’s Object” essay for my English Composition for the Artist class at the Academy of Art University.

4 thoughts on “The Art of Touch

  1. You Own it! Not that i despise computers, I do believe that Art comes in many forms.You give yourself to it nonetheless. But When you touch it; When what you do gives you scars, It’s somewhat different for the Artist himself… I think you wrote a very intimate text precisely about all those feelings, with which, by the way, i relate very much in my daily routine.

    Being an Artist is not that easy as some people may say sometimes… We do suffer inside out. We Struggle with technical difficulties, with the substance of the work, with critics, etc… There’s always some challenge to overcome, if we push ourselves harder and harder.

    I Loved it Hugo!

  2. I sense your mother might have had that creative fire to have instinctively fed her observations. As a former educator, I can’t help but wonder what might have become of you had she not given you the opportunity to explore your “dancing fingers”. Your childhood experience is directly linked to your now owning your art… getting in there, getting messy and feeling your designs…fantastic. I’m looking forward to reading more from you. This was very touching:)

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