Ward Schumaker

How did you discover the handmade printing world and why did you choose it as your art of expression.

I’d used words in my paintings since the 1960s, and one of the best ways to reproduce the words was to hand-cut stencils.

When the computer came along, it gave me a chance to do them more simply and quickly, through using Photoshop to set the words, then cut them by hand using translucent stencil paper. By using various densities of paint, I was able to make the words more or less legible, as the image warranted.

Then recently, Ky Anderson asked me to do a series of small works for her Dusk Editions in Brooklyn. This time, rather than use words, I punched holes (polka-dots) into the stencil papers, and painted through them with messy, viscous acrylic paint. I enjoyed the blob-like effect it gave me—and because I was using stencils, I could create a series of ten which looked very much alike. They sold out quickly, making me want to try something more.

I decided to try something bigger: an edition of ten small books, forty pages each. I’d been making hand-painted books for many years but because they are one-of-a-kind, they are very expensive—making them unaffordable for most people. But by producing an edition of ten, I could market them at a lower price. I did the first one, G. Lekeu, and I enjoyed it so much I created four more titles: Owl Soup, Golem Likes a Pretty Face,  Libretto, and Coffin Laughter.

Ward Schumaker


What are you working on your studio right now?

I’m currently working on another piece for Dusk Editions. Ky Anderson embossed pieces of paper with a spiral and sent them to about ten or fifteen artists. each artist will paint on them separately; then Ky will hang them in a show at Molly Krum Gallery in New York in July, as well as Look&Listen in France in June. I’ve been trying out a number of things, again using hand-cut stencils and bubbly, mucous-like paint.

I’nm also working on a series of large (2 meters high) wood sculptures which I am hand-painting—perhaps staining would be the better word. The sculptures are based on sacrificial devices my wife and I saw in Mali, when we visited the Dogon tribe about eight years ago. I very much admire the architecture of the Dogon.


Can you describe your working routine, how is your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?

Both my wife and I are artist; she works on the second floor, I work on the first. I like working at home because it allows me to wake in the middle of the night with an idea and go into the next room and get to work. In 2012 when we lived in New York, we could not find a space to live in and work in, so I had a studio a couple miles away and I couldn’t work as immediately, so we moved back to San Francisco where we had a house-and-studio combination that makes working a fluid affair. I work every day except Sunday, from morning to night, with a break for meals, for meditation, and an hour’s walk.

Ward Schumaker


Tell me about your process, where or how things begin, how they evolve and with which material you work.

Often I do many pieces with one subject in mind, say my favorite composers, or places I’d like to visit in this world. The I simply cut paper and start to work. The process of working tells me what to do, I never know what I’m doing until I’m in the middle of it. I want to work until I arrive at the place where something talks to me from I don’t know where—a voice that instructs me: use this color, add these words, now stop.

Most often I use methelcellulose (a synthetic version of rice or wheat paste) into which I add colorant (usually acrylic paint). It’s my favorite medium because wet it looks different from dry. So I never know quite the way it’s going to turn out and therefore I have little control. I don’t want to have too much control. And I am not the person who’d works meticulously and flawlessly; my life and my work are a jumble, a mess.


What are you having the most trouble resolving in your process?

My biggest problem is working long hours until that voice arrives, the one that ells me what to do. Because I certainly don’t know what to do on my own.

Ward Schumaker


Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?

I like to make books, hand-painted books; and the pages of the books became the source for my paintings; and my paintings became the source for my sculptures. It’s all like a train: one car attached to another. That being said, every once-in-awhile I arrive in a place that says stop. Enough. Take a rest. And at those times I work on collages, always 6” x 10”, cardboard, often employing sketches I’ve made previously for my illustration work (a separate affair). The collages are my vacation, a real joy, and give me respite.


Tell me about your influence in the handmade printing range or in other ranges (music, cinema, etc.)

Music has always been a big inspiration for me: Janacek, Kurt Weill, Bach, Prokofiev, Stockhausen, Shostakovich, Beethoven. Popular music, rock rap hiphop, not so much.

Ward Schumaker

Ward Schumaker