“As I learned printmaking, it was like a language I understood. How to make prints just felt very intuitive”
Some people are simply born to create. This is certainly the case for Aaliyah Crawford, the general coordinator of the Fine Arts Student Alliance (FASA) and co-editor in chief of Yiara Magazine. Since the age of five, Crawford has been creating art. She later went on to study printmaking at John Abbott College, where her interest in the medium flourished. She is now in her final year at Concordia where she is majoring in Studio Arts. Crawford spoke with The Concordian about her passion for printmaking, her creative process, and more.
TC: What appeals to you most about printmaking?
AC: I learned printmaking at John Abbott. At first I didn’t think I would like it. I was kind of confused by the whole thing. I was like, ‘why would you want to do something that a machine can do?’ As I learned printmaking, it was like a language I understood. How to make prints just felt very intuitive and I was really comfortable with the medium. It’s really fascinating, it’s very labour intensive.
But as I’ve been doing print now for nine years, I don’t feel the same way about it anymore. Now I’m really into monoprinting and book arts. I’ve been really enjoying that and finding different ways of using a medium that I think can be really rigid in a more flexible kind of way.
TC: What themes do you like to explore in your work?
AC: It’s a lot about me, it’s kind of like a diary or like a dream journal. I kind of meditate on my own experiences. For me, when I’m working, I don’t often know what I’m making while it’s happening. And then when it’s finished, I almost look back and learn secrets about myself that even I didn’t know. It’s really fun, but also kind of terrifying.
TC: Can you briefly walk me through your artistic process? How do you bring an idea to life?
AC: Lately I’ve been making a lot of books, so when I’m doing a book project I tend to be writing all the time. I keep little notes on my phone or computer, and eventually I’ll start to notice a theme. If I keep writing about the same thing or certain key words keep coming back up, something’s happening. Usually it starts with a title. I tend to know the title of all my book pieces before I make them.
So I’ll start to think about what I’m noticing in the work. I have a little studio space [at home], and I’ll take everything out. I work with a lot of different mediums, so I’ll take some stuff out and I’ll block off like five hours to make something. I’ll do that about five times and then I’ll go through everything I made and sort of notice a theme. Then I try to tease it out. I’ll work on the same pieces again, I’ll do a lot of layering, and revisit a lot of old things I made. There’s usually a lot of writing in my work, so I’ll edit what I wrote. Then I have to make it into a book, so I have to do the layout. When I make the book I either get it printed somewhere or I do it myself, and then bind the book.
TC: You mentioned that your work often centres on you, and that it’s almost like a diary. I was wondering if there are any particular pieces you’ve created that capture your experience as a Black artist? What have these pieces taught you about yourself?
AC: With my work being so autobiographical, it inevitably captures some of the essence of my experiences as a Black person. Some of my work has brought up memories from my childhood where I experienced racism before I really understood what it was. I think it left me with a feeling of being other, growing up in a predominantly white community. It’s been interesting revisiting those memories as an adult through my work and reshaping the narrative that I had internalized about myself.
TC: How has your work evolved over time?
AC: It’s becoming more honest and less fixated on perfection. I think when I first started making art I spent a lot of time making things that I thought other people wanted me to make. I think I was just trying to figure out, in terms of getting a degree and pursuing it as a career, how I could make art that’s marketable. Now I don’t think about anything (laughs). It’s so much more fun that way. I feel like when I started studying it in CEGEP, it kind of sucked the joy out of it, because everything I made was part of my art practice and part of some overarching creative narrative of my life. I longed for when I was a kid and I would make art for hours and hours on end, and I never really thought about what I was making or what it meant, if people would like it, if I could make money off of it, or if it was important. That’s why I wanted to be an artist, because I love that process.
Visuals courtesy Gab Castelo and Aaliyah Crawford