by Jane R. Snyder
In 6th century BC, Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu counseled, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
One artist who truly appreciates that philosophy is Mike Martino, a printmaker and the founder of Blue Fig Editions, a Brentwood studio where he and his students produce original silk screens, etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, monotypes, and collographs. In the well-organized labyrinth he personally designed and built, Mike talked amidst printing presses, drying racks, rollers, inks, chisels, brushes, and myriad tools employed to turn creative passion into fine art prints.
“I’m driven by process, organization, and regimen—very step one, two, and three—about my work, my life, and my studio. I have a real foundation in art and art history, but I’m a traditionalist; I hold true to copper plates, litho stones, and wooden blocks. Part of my goal is to teach people about traditional printmaking.” Since earning a BFA at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and his MFA at Louisiana State, the artist’s personal journey has led him to awards, gallery representation, one-man and group shows, as well as devoted collectors.
Photographs can’t truly capture the thrill of standing in front of his work—or, better yet, holding a print between your hands—to experience how alive they are. “I consider the paper as important a part of the work as the ink. I take into strong consideration the size, texture, feel, and look of the paper, as the borders and negative spaces play an important role. The relationship you have with a piece of paper is unlike anything you have with sculpture or painting. A print is always just a foot and a half away, or closer. It’s a very intimate relationship.”
“Photographs can’t truly capture the thrill of standing in front of his work—or, better yet, holding a print between your hands—to experience how alive they are.”
Whether his images represent foliage, landscapes, or seascapes, there is a being-there-ness about them—you can almost hear trees sway, smell lavender perfuming a breeze, or feel ocean waves splashing against a rocky shoreline. Blue Fig prints range from postage-stamp to poster-size formats, but all are based on energetic pencil drawings that Mike transforms from his sketchbook pages to metal plates, litho stones, or woodblocks. He will often combine printmaking techniques into a single print with obvious delight.
“I work out of sketchbooks I fill with silly ideas, or maybe actual drawings, or just the rhythm of things. I often leave my sketches for months or more and then revisit them as fermented memories of the ‘good stuff’ resurface through my memories of the time or occasion.”
He never uses any ink straight from its original container, but deliberately hand mixes each hue to create a distinctive palette. A self-avowed perfectionist, this artist is dedicated to getting just the right tones for every composition.
“Even my blacks are warmed by mixing in some purple, blue, or red, even if just a tablespoon,” he explained. “I’ll tint up whites with pink to turn them dusty, but next to all my other colors, black and white always pop off the page.”
Realistic about the demands of selling his art, Mike wisely named his business Blue Fig not only because it included a color, but was also memorable, hard to misspell, and easy to search for online.
“I have a couple of different chop marks that I put on my work to say it’s from Blue Fig Editions. You may make art two days a week, but you have to market yourself, or network, three days a week!”
This expressive artist loves to share his knowledge with students both one on one and in small classes. To give back to Nashville’s community, Mike also creates limited-edition prints used by local non-profits to raise funds.
To stop in for a private studio tour, sign up for a printmaking class, or to purchase prints, contact Mike through his website: www.bluefigeditions.com.