Pickwick Independent Press, located in Space Studios on Congress Street in Portland. Photo by Kerri Cordiero

This was gearing up to be a busy spring for Pilar Nadal. The director of Pickwick Independent Press, a fine-art community print shop located in Space Studios in Portland, Nadal was managing a full roster of workshops while simultaneously teaching the printmaking majors’ studio seminar at Maine College of Art. She was also instrumental in the creation of a new exhibit at the Portland Public Library’s Lewis Gallery celebrating Pickwick’s 10th anniversary, featuring the work of current members and alumni. The exhibit opened on March 6; the library shut its doors one week later. Pickwick closed, too, as did MECA’s campus. Suddenly, Nadal had to figure out how to teach a studio-art course online and keep Portland’s printmaking collective afloat in the age of social distancing.

Pilar Nadal of Pickwick Independent Press Photo by Sandra Benson

Fortunately, the 43-year-old printmaker is adept at thinking outside the box. Nadal’s personal art projects include The Tired Press, a mobile print shop located on a bicycle, and “npilar,” a fake radio show that she and artist Anne Buckwalter record regularly for no one in particular and occasionally perform live that covers “everything from breakfast sandwiches to fine art and some things in-between.” Over the last few weeks, she’s been applying her imagination and ingenuity to adjusting plans and programs on the fly during these rapidly changing times.

Q: As a member-based print shop, how has Pickwick been affected by the shutdown?

A: We’re on hold. A lot of our members lost their jobs because they’re working in restaurants and coffee shops, doing jobs they can’t do any more. I don’t know if people will get those jobs back or if they’ll find new ones … it depends on how long this lasts. We only have 22 members right now, and that’s not enough. So I don’t know what the future holds.

Q: What recurring monthly expenses does the shop have, and how are they being met?

A: We have to pay rent and utilities. About 25% of members were able to pay their April fees, which is really lovely. And we have a yearly fundraiser, which is our calendar project, so things like that are helping. I’m also applying to all of the grants and loans. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make things float for the foreseeable future.

Q: How are you, personally, coping financially?

A: I’m lucky that I still have my one adjunct class at MECA. It’s meager, but it’s something, I’ve lost a lot of work. I canceled a lot of workshops, and lost commission work that was event-based. It’s tough right now.

Q: It must seem ironic to have just installed an exhibit at the library celebrating 10 years of Pickwick being open when everything was forced to close.

A: It’s so sad, and was so sudden. I was literally putting supplies for a kids’ workshop in my car and checking in with the library to make sure it was still happening. By the time I’d finished, they’d decided to shut down. The show wasn’t even open long enough for me to get a professional photographer in there. So we’ve been piecing together all of our weird phone photos and putting them up on our Instagram, just as a way to feature the work.

Q: Tell me a little about your MECA class, and how you shift a studio course to an online format.

A: The class is for junior and senior printmaking majors, and supports them through finding their own studio practice and making their thesis work. The students have gone through a definite period of mourning over losing their studio; half of them have lost the end of their senior year and their commencement and their thesis projects. Now we meet online and have conversations and do virtual studio visits. We’ve had to essentially start from scratch and tell everybody to find ways to make studios in their own homes.

Q: How do you instruct the students in printmaking without presses and the other usual tools at their disposal?

A: There are surprisingly a lot of ways to make prints at home, and the printmaking community is incredible and generous, so there’s a lot of content that people are uploading online. I just saw this beautiful video of somebody demonstrating a stenciling technique called pochoir with old makeup. It’s a lot about my trying to guide them about how to shift their content away from a luxurious studio with presses and space and tools and ink. Can we apply their ideas to different tools, apply the knowledge of printmaking to daily life? The students have been coming up with all sorts of ways to shift their practices, and it’s inspiring to see how they’re working.

Q: Can you give me some examples?

A: A lot of printmaking starts with drawing. So many students have gone back to an intensive drawing practice. Then I have one student who was working with themes of baking, and instead of making prints and paintings of cakes she’s now trying to make prints with the tools of baking, like making monoprints with frosting.

“Please Don’t Finish My Sentences 1-8,” 14×22” ink on cotton paper, letterpress printed and relief monoprinted. Photo by Joel Tsui

Q: As a printmaker, how has your visual-art practice been impacted by the shutdown?

A: Before this I was making large-scale letterpress and monotype prints, and I could still do that if I wanted to, because I’m the only one who has access to Pickwick right now. But I really haven’t been able to print much – I’m completely blocked. I’m taking on some contract work, which is exciting and is keeping me printing. But making my own work has been really hard; I’m essentially doodling.

Q: Are you still doing your fake radio show?

A: Yes, but it has shifted to semi-fake: my collaborator Anne Buckwalter and I have been recording pandemic episodes and uploading them to YouTube. The best description of what we do is something I overheard someone say years ago: “Oh, it’s just two girls talking.”

Q: What role do you think art can play as we deal with this crisis and adapt to whatever our new normal will be?

A: There’s not a lot of words to express what we’re going through right now. We all have a lot of sadness and fear and grief. Art can certainly help us work through that, and the active process of art-making can help. Art has also been a unifier, I think, in the sense that people have started creating art projects online that others can contribute to. There’s certainly lots of beautiful things happening right now, and there’s such a generosity of spirit, especially in the art community, which is wonderful to see.

As for the future, I think there’s so much creativity involved in figuring out how to make a business run, and how to get people to sign on to a certain thing and get information out. I think it’s the artists of the world who will figure out alternative ways of being, because that’s what we do.

Q: Do you think that a brick-and-mortar maker space like Pickwick will be able to survive the shutdown?

A: One of the challenges of running an art-space business is figuring out how to keep it afloat. Now it’s that much more in focus. A lot of our work is location based, and comes from people walking in our door. If that door is shut, it can’t happen. I’m slowly trying to figure out how to shift what we can offer to an online world.

I think that the likelihood that Pickwick will change long term is large, though I have no idea how. But I feel like no matter what, we will adapt. On my hopeful days, I can say that. Today’s a hopeful day.

Stacey Kors is a longtime arts writer and editor who lives on Peaks Island.

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