The Spirit of The Wolf
Even though Alicia Burnett fell in love with printmaking while she was an undergraduate illustration student at the Rhode Island School of Design, it wasn't until after earning a degree, traveling, months of research (and many hours of sawing, glueing, and hammering in combination with some crash-course style electrical engineering), that a screen printing studio slowly materialized in the basement of her parent's house. Wolf Jaw Press was born.
What ignited the spark in you to start your business and put your own creative stamp on screen printing?
I have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in art and design, so I’ve had a good foundation to springboard a creative business off of for a number of years, but it wasn’t until I received some persistent encouragement from one of my mentors while I struggled to find full time work post-graduation that I officially established Wolf Jaw Press. I always thought that I wanted a traditional 9-5 career as a designer, and after I graduated with my MFA in graphic design I spent several soul crushing months trying to find full-time employment. The perceived stability of cooperate life and my deeply rooted fears of becoming the archetypal “starving artist” was enough for me for me avoid any self examination and questioning about what I really wanted out of my career and pursue a path that was expected and conservative.
After sending out countless resumes and enduring stressful high-stakes interviews, it was suggested to me that should just go ahead and employ myself. I even had a potential business right in front of me – selling screen prints. I picked up screen printing during my time as an undergraduate student, absolutely fell in love with the process, and continued to be obsessed with printmaking after even after graduating and moving on to a masters program. While searching for gainful employment after finishing my masters program, I spent every free second I had either making prints or thinking about making prints. Why not turn this obvious obsession and passion into a business?
I immediately loved the idea of being self-employed and making a living selling my art. Who doesn’t want to get paid for doing what they love? Being a full-fledged artist was something I had wistfully fantasized about for a long time, but fear had paralyzed me from taking any tangible action to turn this fantasy into a reality. The crucial spark that finally set things into motion for me was the encouragement I received from a mentor. Having a person validate my fantasies and believe in me during a time when I didn’t believe in myself enabled me to start chipping away at my fears and eventually gain the confidence to officially establish my studio, Wolf Jaw Press.
How did the idea for Wolfjaw Press come about?
I feel like my business is a mash up of my two biggest passions - my love for nature and my love for making art. With that being said, I never had to do much brainstorming about what my business was going to be. I’ve had a life long obsession with the animal world, and this obsession was expressed in my art from an early age. I think my Mom still has some of my drawings of tigers, eagles, and various other animals that I drew in elementary school.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
I have had some major flops at a couple of the art festivals and art/craft shows I attended in 2016. I actually lost money by attending most of these events. Do your research about shows and venues before sinking money into travel expenses, hotel rooms, and entry fees! Getting my work out into the world and in front of the right people seems like my biggest challenge right now. Of course my work is online, but displaying my work in physical spaces is really important to me. Ideally I would love to show my work in galleries all over the country, but breaking into the gallery world is a slow process so in 2016 I experimented with supplementing showing working in galleries with showing work at art and craft shows. My experiment was a total failure for the most part! A lot of the shows I attended were really folksy and showcased inexpensive crafts and goods. It was just totally not the right venue for selling fine art prints. I’ve learned my lesson and this year I’m focusing on online sales and getting my work into fine art galleries.
How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
I usually never give up on an idea for a print. I’m always working on several prints at once, so if I’m feeling stuck of frustrated with a sketch or an idea, I just put it on the backburner for later and move on to a different print. Later, after I’ve had a little distance from whatever was frustrating me, I’ll come back to the project feeling refreshed and reinvigorated. I find that taking a break from one project and moving on to another gives me the time and space to develop ideas and solutions.
Describe/outline your typical day?
One thing I love about working for myself and running Wolf Jaw Press is that there is no such thing as a “typical day”. I’m doing different things all the time! I could spend a day sketching or printing, or styling and photographing my work, or I could be taking a road trip down to New York City to drop of work at a gallery.
What motivates you?
I want to prove to myself that I can make a living doing what I love, and live a life that is autonomous, authentic, inspired, creative, and joyful.
How do you generate new ideas? What inspires you?
I find myself perpetually enthralled by the beauty, grace, and power that can be found in the animal kingdom. My motivation to render portraits of animals seems to come from a deep and primal part of my psyche that is nearly impossible to access or explain with words. If I had to take a stab at explaining myself, I think my inspiration arises from projecting my own emotions onto the animals I feel compelled to render. I empathize with the resilience and loneliness of a sole bison trudging through the deep snow of an unforgiving winter; I can feel the intense singularity of purpose of a wolf chasing down her prey.
What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
My greatest fear is that Wolf Jaw Press won’t be a successful business. I’m terrified that no matter how hard I work, I just won’t ever be a successful artist. I’m terrified of settling for an uninspiring job that I don’t really care about out of financial necessity, and executing other people’s ideas while the creative flame in me slowly dies.
As a naturally anxious person, I sometimes have trouble with not letting my fears control and dictate my life. I try my hardest to push my fears to the side and solider on. The best remedy I have right now is working hard and hustling everyday. Everyday I try to accomplish at least one task that benefits my business. That way, instead of worrying and being fearful I can say to myself, “I accomplished something today. I am taking concrete, tangible steps to accomplish my goal of being a self-employed artist. Rome wasn’t built in a day; I just need to keep consistently working hard, and I am. Building a businesses is a marathon, not a sprint.”
How do you define success?
At this point in my career, I define success as being able to pay all my bills with the money I’ve earned from selling my art. I’m not quite there yet, but I’ve made a ton of process this past year towards my goal of being fully self-employed and that’s something that is really encouraging. I don’t think there is any shame in working a part-time job to help make ends meet while striving to become self-employed or establishing a business. I don’t know of anyone who jumped straight into being self-employed. There is always a challenging transition period.
If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?
One of the many talented and inspiring individuals I’d like to meet from history is Rosa Bonheur. Rosa Bonheur was a 19th century French artist whose work centered on the realistic portrayal of animals. First and foremost, her paintings are incredible, but what is also so impressive about Rosa Bonheur was the sexism and societal hurdles she had to overcome during her lifetime. Rosa Bonheur was basically a total badass, rebel, and early feminist. She had a defiant and fiery personality, dressed as a man, cut her hair short, smoked cigars, and was a lesbian who had committed relationships with women. She also never attended formal art classes because women weren’t permitted to attend traditional art academies. Despite all these factors Rosa Bonheur reached a level of success that was pretty much unheard of for a woman for a women living in the 19th century.
What’s on your studio playlist?
I, like every one else on the planet, have been obsessed with Beyoncé’s album, Lemonade.
Best advice you’ve ever been given, and the best advice you can give our readers?
I was able to attend a workshop and lecture hosted by Julia Rothman when I was an undergraduate student, and Julia gave a lot of great advice that day, but there was one point she made that really stuck with me. In short, she told us that raw talent isn’t the most important factor that determines whether or not an artist is commercially successful.
As one might guess correctly, there are many factors that go into determining an artist’s success. Yes, talent is one of those factors, but as Julia explained, raw talent will only get a person so far in their career. Dedication, perseverance, and a good old fashioned work ethic are all traits that young artists should focus on cultivating. Talent will develop as a result of the hard work you put into your craft, and tenacity will give you the strength to search for opportunities and push past setbacks. Believing in yourself and being persistent will get you much further than raw talent alone. Don’t give up and don’t get discouraged, just keep at it!
Where can we find you on the weekends?
Honestly? You can find me working in my studio on the weekend. I rarely take a full day off from work. I’m pretty boring, haha.
To learn more about Alicia and her work with Wolfjaw Press, visit her website here.