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News . Feature Stories . Pressing on with her art


April 11, 2017

Pressing on with her art

CIA adjunct Craun's artist prints fill gallery collections

Jen Craun in front of "Hive," her American Greetings commission. Photo by Robert Muller/CIA.

By Karen Sandstrom

A greeting card passes through a lot of hands before it shows up in the retail racks, and artist Jen Craun focused on that for her new mural at the American Greetings headquarters.

The piece, rising 9 feet high and about 30 feet long, is called “Hive.” In December, it was installed in the Tech West building at company headquarters in Westlake, Ohio.

“It’s an attempt to help articulate the multi-faceted nature of seeing something go from start to finish, specifically at American Greetings,” said Craun, a Cleveland artist who specializes in printmaking and has taught a course called the Artist Book at CIA for nine years. “The person who has the idea may not be the person who draws it, and definitely is not the person who tests it.”

Artists, writers, marketing managers and sales people pool their talent to make every card. In “Hive,” Craun tells that story through visual language that evokes collective intelligence of bees as well as carbon structure and hexagons. And just like the process of making a card, “Hive” was a multi-step process.

The work consists of 95 panels of card stock that are pressed with greeting card art representing most of the AG brands. Craun used both backs and fronts of the cards, screen printing her own drawings on top. A wallpaper hanger installed the work in the space, and then Craun applied gold leaf and black foil dots to finish the work.

“I was really interested in what it takes to collaborate on a big creative endeavor,” Craun said.

Kathy McConaughy, former Chief Creative Officer at American Greetings, said the company buys a lot of local artwork for its headquarters, and purchased a series of Craun’s prints after seeing it at Zygote Press.

“The building has several installations as well, and I thought Jen’s approach and medium would work well for an idea we’d been wanting to execute — printing on press sheets from greeting cards,” McConaughy said. “Jen did a proposal, and she was great to work with — responsive, reliable, organized, conceptual— so we went forward. We love it! It turned out even better than I could’ve imagined.”

A number of themes fuel Craun’s interest, including mining, gems, metals, migration and travel. They make their way through bodies of work and a variety of print processes, from small etchings to large wood intaglios.

Like many who fall in love with printmaking, Craun feels drawn to the choices the medium affords: multiple kinds of processes, varieties of steps in each process, ways to change the look of an image by changing up ink.

“There were a lot of options in my undergrad degree for how I could focus my art making,” said Craun, who earned her undergraduate degree in art education at Kent State University. “I took a Print I class as a sophomore and I was completely hooked. I love to draw, I love to have a lot of things going at one time that I can juggle. It was the language that allowed me to do that, where I could draw and experiment in a very small way on the plate. And I didn’t have to make a color commitment. It gave me the freedom to play at the press.

“There are enough tasks that I always have something to do,” she said. “If I’m not in a creative moment, there’s enough other work for me to do. OK, sand something, then. OK, cut down paper. Do these other, lower-order tasks.

“And it tests the limits of my body. Some of the marks I make on my wood intaglios take the entire range of my arm to sand a stroke into the wood. And the same with the large screens that I did for American Greetings — each of those panels was 20 by 26 inches, so it takes my whole body to screen-print them. That’s as big as I can do by myself. It’s exhilarating to see this one-to-one reference of the art to my body.”

These are the kinds of lessons she imparts to students, as well. In her Artist Book class, Craun moves students from a wide variety of majors through basic bookmaking forms that they can apply to projects of their choosing.

“I love the ecumenical nature of the course and I love being in the Printmaking department,” she said. “I like that it can partner with other projects that maybe you haven’t finished. What do you want to say that’s bigger than what you’re doing right now? What do you want to say that needs more pages?”

One of the bits of wisdom Craun imparts on students concerns planning versus doing. The artist may start with an idea, but it’s likely to change or develop in unexpected ways when she gets her hands on the materials.

“I think that was what I first fell in love with print through. You have to find out how hard or soft the metal is. You have to feel the pressure on the press. You have to mix a ton of colors to just figure out basic information,” she said.

In her own work, she often finds she’s drawn to a particular material because it’s shiny, or it’s soft. “There’s something physical that’s causing me to respond to it,” she said. “So I’ll buy a whole stack of paper from the Morgan Conservatory because it’s painfully beautiful how damaged it is. I like to have hope for things.”

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CIA alumna Josette Galiano’s passion lies in exploring behavior and designing immersive experiences. Fittingly, she’s a consumer insights analyst at @NottinghamSpirk​ and a designer at Florette by Josette​.

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