Eugene Weekly : Visual Art : 10.11.07

Flying Solo, With Companions
Printer Sandy Tilcock celebrates her new studio

On a hot summer day, the green garden at the rear of Sandy Tilcock’s house beckons. Her dogs, 10- and 4-year-old lab mixes and a mixed-breed puppy, tumble around inside the house and into the landscaped space.

Under the shade trees, the new studio behind the house stays blessedly cool as Tilcock bends over her flatbed cylinder printing press from 1940 to daub silver paint on the block. She’s working on a print run for Multnomah County Library’s exhibition in honor of the 35th anniversary of Copper Canyon Press. Tilcock pulls prints with different colors and different combinations of paper; in each one, the sun-like graphic (adapted from an old typographic ornament) suggests, subtly, the opening pages of a book.

Tilcock has been mixing colors on the computer and on the press. She doesn’t want the graphic to overwhelm the text of the W.S. Merwin poem; she doesn’t want the text to overwhelm the graphic, either. “Sometimes it’s a crapshoot,” she says; “sometimes I don’t even know what will work.” In the middle of the night, she thought of adding silver for one small element. As each print dries, she carries it over to the sunlight streaming in through the French doors of the studio because “it changes quality in the light.”

The silver ink sparkles gently beside the rust, grey and black of the other tints. When the perfect print comes off the press, Tilcock will carefully package it and overnight it to Hawai’i for Merwin’s signature. Then it’s off to Portland for the show.

Tilcock runs lone goose press, and she specializes in this kind of one-of-a-kind broadside design, making fine literary prints in limited editions. She contacts authors whose work she likes — often environmental writers like Barry Lopez or Terry Tempest Williams — and artists whose designs, sketches and calligraphy she appreciates, and then she combines it all into subtly stunning works of art. Though she also creates both standard and unique archival-quality boxes for other artists and for institutions like the UO’s Knight Library, Tilcock obviously loves most this combining of literature, art and design into gorgeously balanced prints.

The light-filled backyard studio marks a sea change for Tilcock. For many years, she and her press lived at the studios at 2nd and Blair, where other artists share space, inspiration and energy. And for more than seven years, Tilcock ran the UO’s Knight Library Press. “We did some great work,” she says, but budget cuts at the UO and the library forced the press to close. Tilcock says, “I lived the ‘normal life’ — I had benefits and health care, and they gave me opportunities to do amazing work. It was great.” But having her own quiet space might be worth the financial strain of the new studio.

If she had pursued her original career — she grew up in southern Idaho and began graduate school in mathematics at OSU — Tilcock might have retired after an exceedingly normal life, not to mention without back damage from the press.

Instead, she headed to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for an MFA from the first program in the country in book arts. Book arts had just been invented as a degree; Tilcock graduated in the second ever MFA class. Then she returned to Eugene and founded lone goose, whose name comes from the first book piece she worked on in school — an excerpt of Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. And she’s been generating finely crafted broadsides and books ever since.

Tilcock has ruined countless shirts and sustained serious injuries from her work. “These presses beat you up,” she says, “and sometimes I think, ‘Why do you do it?'” She produces the occasional digital broadside now to go along with her bookbinding, boxmaking and print runs. But “I like the physicality of my work,” she explains. And she’s gotten support from the many writers and artists who love her work. Taking a break from the Merwin poem, she looks around the studio and smiles. “Lots of people have believed in me and supported me. If I give myself the opportunity to make it work, it will work.”

Tilcock holds an open house and celebration of the studio for the release of a new broadside, “Dependence Day,” a poem by John Daniel. The poet and visual artist Margot Voorheis Thompson join in the festivities from 2 to 4 pm Sunday, Oct. 14, at 2580 Augusta St. Call 465-9079 for more details.