On the bright afternoon of January 13, a considerable crowd gathered in dk Gallery for a special occasion. Steve Dininno, an award winning painter and printmaker represented by the gallery, would be giving a live demonstration of his drypoint process. He is known for his captivating work depicting city life, particularly in New York City where he grew up. Steve has led a very colorful life thus far, having been an illustrator for 35 years and studied under other influential artists and printmakers. Even though he now works in his other passion, which is real estate, it is apparent that he still has “it”– as folks took their seats, they marveled at a few of Steve’s works being passed around with many not understanding how he achieved his aesthetic. Donning an apron and taking his stance behind a small table in front of the room, Steve began to dive into the tedious, yet gratifying, process that is drypoint printmaking.
The energy in the room was that of unbridled curiosity, and yet, it was extremely unpretentious. Steve had a way with the audience where he spoke as if they were all old friends of his and were catching up over a cup of coffee. With questions from the audience being allowed to flow freely, it felt more like a group discussion than a lecture. He touched on what exactly dry pointing entails, which is drawing a design on a plate with a sharp object, going over the design with ink, and then making it into a print. While it sounds simple enough, there is so much more that goes into this interesting medium. He explained how he likes to work with copper and plastic plates, with the latter allowing him more freedom due to its forgiving nature. As for the sharp mark-making objects, he leans toward using needles for his work and adjusts the pressure he puts on the plate to determine the type of mark he intends to make. “It’s like a farmer plowing a ditch,” he explained. “The dirt comes up on the sides in the same way the metal from the plate goes up on the sides– this will be what holds your ink.” After this edifying introduction to drypoint printmaking, the time that the audience was waiting for arrived. Steve pulled out his plates and sketchbook.
The particular plates that Steve had brought for his demonstration were plastic. Upon preparing his supplies, he invited the audience to stand so they could see his process, which was followed by everyone rearranging themselves to get a proper view. He opened his sketchbook and flipped to a page that contained detailed scribbles of skyscrapers and streetlights. “I prefer to reference my sketchbook instead of real life,” Dininno muttered while straightening his plate. “It separates it from perfection because it simply gives me a guideline with freedom to reinterpret it and add my own details.” With the plate laid on the table and the needle between his fingers, he began scraping away at the material, which was followed by a few folks cringing– the sound was not too dissimilar to nails on a chalkboard. Steve chuckled lightly at their discomfort and quipped about his reality of doing this all day. A man in the audience was stunned at how fast the marks were made with the needle, to which Steve replied that he preferred for his work to have a less polished look about them. A notable inspiration for him is the Dutch artist Rembrandt who also valued imperfections in his printmaking, which for Dininno, set him apart from contemporaries. “He beat them like a rented mule to get them how he wanted,” Dininno explained. “The newer ones I’ve seen are very pretty, almost perfect…what’s great about Rembrandt is the imperfections.”
Once he had made a number of marks and lines to his liking, Steve then pulled out a piece of balled up fabric that had been stained with ink. On a paper plate, he placed a dollop of black ink and began to run his makeshift sponge through the sable matter. He ran the fabric over the fresh lines he had made, letting the ink fill the tiny spaces; one moment he would lightly dab, another he would use more elongated motions. “What’s funny is there are like five different types of blacks,” Steve mused as he continued to cover the plate in ink. “Some are warm, some are cool– if I am making a night scene, I like to use blues as well to give it mood.” After the plate was coated in black and his hands were considerably stained, he then took a clean sponge and began cleaning up areas intended to have no color. This would be the most tedious part, as there was a balance between clearing an area and not drawing the ink out of the lines. Interestingly enough, Steve brought up how artists will sometimes hire print masters solely to complete this technical task; if something goes wrong, it could ruin the whole image.
Throughout his talk, Steve mentioned his teacher, the late artist Robert Angeloch, who taught him everything he knew about drypoint printmaking. Upon pulling his first print, Steve recalled Angeloch sniggering and stating, “It’s fun right?” That is when he realized that despite the tediousness in the process and nerves about the finished product, there was a thrill in not knowing how his piece would turn out until it was already completed. “Drypoint printmaking is like when I first played golf,” Steve said. “I didn't enjoy it until I got to the 18th hole– it’s like gamblers fever, where you don’t know what you’re gonna get until the end.” The anticipation is what Steve believes is the treasure of this medium, and this sentiment can be true with any art medium. There is only so much planning an artist can do, but when it comes down to it, perhaps the best art is made by simply letting oneself go. As a teacher of Dininno’s once said, “Making art is like digging a ditch– you don't worry about whether the pile of dirt is smooth or not, it's just about getting to where you need to go.”
Written by Molly Brown
Video by Harrison Meyer