Laura Baisden, Linocut & Letterpress Artist – Maker Profile
One reason we love makers – they love to share the love. When we announced our #12DaysofMakers contest, artist Betty Turbo nominated Laura Baisden – “Such charming and clever illustrations and, honestly, extra credit for always posting videos of dancing in the studio!” Dancing in the studio?? We know somethin’ about bootyclappin’ work parties.
Once we saw Laura’s work, we fell in love even more. Under the name Camp Nevernice, Laura creates limited-edition linocut and letterpress prints – two labor-intensive, totally hands-on processes. The level of detail and expertise shown in her work was impressive… and then there was the content.
Unusual band mates, woodland creatures canoeing, an obvious case of wanderlust… like missing stills from Moonrise Kingdom. We had to know more about Laura and her process… which obviously meant we’d found our #12DaysofMakers winner!
We chatted with Laura about her shop, her process, and what life is like in Knoxville, where Camp Nevernice is based.
RAH – We love the name Camp Nevernice! Where did that come from?
My family bought some land about ten miles from our house when I was a kid, and they simply called it “camp.” To begin with, it had three rustic cabins, an outhouse and a little path to the river. As a teenager, I had moments I hated going to a place with no running water where it felt like you were somehow always raking leaves. However, over the course of my life, my dad built a legendary rope swing high up in a tree, constructed a swimming hole by strategically shifting the river rocks around, and plotted out volleyball courts in the woods by stringing up a net between two trees and clearing some saplings. He and my mom worked so hard, but their work at camp was their retreat – for themselves – and it created a memorable space for us kids. It wasn’t perfect, but it was fun and imaginative and it is a source of pride for our whole extended family. We still have reunions at camp, and my generation of cousins will always treasure the summers we spent there in spite of the spiders, snakes and dirt!
On a larger scale, the name reminds me to bloom where I’m planted – to take advantage of the opportunities and resources I’ve been given and leave my mark! It doesn’t have to be nice, per se – it just has to BE! So many times, I struggle thinking I’m doing the wrong thing or I need to be somewhere else doing something else – when I could just be making an adventure out of what I have in front of me! As a child, I remember the raw potential of a large box and a serrated knife! I just need to remember that, everyday – there is ALWAYS potential.
RAH – You’re big on sharing the process behind your work. What has surprised people most about it?
I hear “Is this a drawing?” a lot…I think most people don’t realize each color is a different carved surface. It starts with a drawing, but then the drawing takes on a life of its own when you have to take it through the carving process. That’s what gives the linework so much character – printmaking is magic.
RAH – Your prints all have a certain whimsy about them. What artists (or others!) would you say inspire your style?
First, it was Dr. Seuss, Beatrix Potter and Shel Silverstein. I loved my books as a kid!! Anything with an illustration! I was always drawing. There was also a certain era of Disney movies that will still make my heart skip a beat: Robin Hood (with the foxes) and Jungle Book especially. The story is very important. I like having a story happening in my images, even if I’m not sure exactly how it goes – I just like that someone could make one up just by looking at it.
Bryce McCloud (at Isle of Printing) taught me how to carve when I interned for him. He was the first person to help me see that art could be fun, and it didn’t need to be heavy to be relevant. So many times there’s a divide between fine art and illustration or art for hire that’s difficult to jump. In college (Cleveland Institute of Art), I was intimidated by fine art and contemporary art, and felt like I couldn’t quite find my voice. Working with letterpress and linocut with Bryce finally felt right, like I inherently understood the root words of the language. In school, I had a hard time starting with “why” when I had to talk about my art – which is very important in an art school! I had no trouble talking about the “how” of what I made, and printmaking asks you “how” first. Once I got that ball rolling, the “why” flowed easier, and I felt closer to having a home in the art world.
Wayne White is another guy who validates my feelings about what I make and why I make it. He made the sets for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, among other things, he paints…and speaking of cardboard boxes, he makes gigantic puppets out of cardboard! He has a show in Chattanooga that I’m really excited to see. It’s just so awesome to see art that has a sense of humor, but still respected. I love classical and modern art, too, and I studied it in school…but it’s so nice to be told, “It’s okay to enjoy yourself and be silly – it doesn’t detract from being good at what you do.”
It comes back to Camp Nevernice – you just start working where it makes sense to work, follow your nose and you’ll end up doing something you like doing! Go through open doors! Participate! Before you know it, you might end up in a letterpress shop, carving a picture of an animal rock band!
Thanks to Laura for answer our Maker Profile questions – and a huge CONGRATS on winning our contest, receiving $500 and a Yearly STMT Subscription to support her work.
1 - First, the basics: pencil or pen, ruled sheets or grid?
You know those twisty top, yellow Paper Mate mechanical pencils? Those. Then tracing paper. Lots of clear tape. Then…fine-tipped Sharpies.
2 - What’s your favorite Southern food to grub on? Drink to sip?
Sides. Green beans, collard greens, mac ‘n’ cheese, brussel sprouts, Swiss chard…you name it! I’ve always loved the sides as much as the main course. (And I don’t mind if there’s a good bit of butter, cream or bacon involved…although I just learned I have high cholesterol…so I may have to start caring.) Drink to sip?…a crisp, clean Old Fashioned. Or an iced latte. What time of day is it?
3 - Describe the Knoxville art scene in 3 (ok, 4) words.
Close knit. Side-hustle.
4 - What’s the one thing everyone should experience in Knoxville?
Freedom Thighs. My favorite 4th of July tradition.
5 - You have a jet fueled up and ready for your own personal World Tour. Where you headed?
Any and all of the mountains, rivers and lakes (shout out, TLC). Then any places overseas where I have good friends living that I can’t afford to go visit right now… so England, New Zealand, Italy… California… New York… to name a few.
6 - You discovered letterpress at a pretty young age. What drew you to the medium? What makes you love it today?
It’s like I was saying earlier, I like having a “how”- it helps me with the “why.” For example, I loved learning the process of printmaking in college – how to translate line-art, or playing with transparent ink to get third or fourth colors through the layering process… the magic! I feel like I am always gleefully surprised with the end product. The carefully rendered and plotted-out drawing goes on a journey, and disappears for a while while your mind shuts off and you begin the meditative process of carving. Because nothing is digital with my art, there isn’t a way to preview the finished outcome – the process leaves a lot for the imagination and some wiggle room to improvise with color or layers along the way. I often feel like I’m in control of the situation, but only as much as a sailor is in charge of the waves – to arrive at your intended destination, sometimes it requires changing course a bit along the way. I enjoy that mystery!
With letterpress specifically, the machinery gives me some welcome physical limitations – for example, I can only print a sheet of paper or a block as large as the press itself. On the other hand, the press enables me to hand-crank larger consistent editions of quality artwork, as well as print custom commercial posters for bands, wedding invitations or other paper goods. It means I get to hand-make artwork, AND make a living! WHICH IS TOTALLY A WIN-WIN.
I can’t believe all the awesome places I’ve gotten to work over the years and all the incredible teachers I’ve had along the way. Right now, when I make posters for bands or make anything that has words, I’m using the wood type that belongs to Julie Belcher of Pioneer House (formerly Yee-Haw Industries), and it’s a beautiful collection! Before that, I was printing at Hatch Show Print – which is the oldest continuously operating letterpress shop in the country! Both of these situations felt like moments where I was in the right place at the right time, and I’ll always be amazed. You just can’t ever guess what life has in store.
Camp Nevernice photo taken by Danielle Kirk