I’m lying in bed, scrolling through the photos in my phone, remembering all the places I visited prior to the lockdown and I can’t help but think about how travel and exploration seem so far fetched and trivial right now. It also seems very wrong to get all hung up on the trips we have missed, are missing and will simply have to miss in the light of the terrible catastrophe the entire world is dealing with. But to be honest, I cannot stop thinking about how and when we can go out and explore again. I believe a huge part of why we love to travel is because we get to encounter all kinds of people from different places and different cultures. Wouldn’t you agree? Every trip is made unique by the conversations and new experiences we have with the people we come across with. So I guess, along with exploring places, I also yearn to meet people and be able to have those new experiences with them in the flesh. We are all created for connection and engagement after all.
With that in mind, I’m taking this moment to remember and share about one of my most treasured travel experiences as of late — the time I spent at The Bees Knees Press in Singapore last month. There I had the pleasure of spending a good five hours learning and talking about the creative life with Chev Yu, the owner.
I discovered The Bees Knees Press online when I was searching for workshops I could join during my visit to Singapore. It is a printmaking studio that offers workshops on various printmaking methods as well as an open studio where artists can work and make use of their equipment. The photos of their beautiful studio caught my attention. I emailed a few weeks prior to the trip and tried to book a workshop within the limited time I had staying there. Chev responded and arranged a private class for me which I thought was really thoughtful and considerate.
The area where the studio is was easy to get to since it is a popular spot in Tiong Bahru. However, finding the studio unit was a little tricky because it’s not directly accessible from the main street. Chev made sure to give very specific directions though, so I did find my way easily enough.
The Bees Knees Press is just as beautiful and interesting in actual as it is in the photos online. I was so thrilled! The room is bathed in bright natural light as is necessary for the work done there. There are big tables to accomodate big work, as well as all the tools, paper, equipment, books and paraphernalia for printmaking. It was glorious!
Chev was there of course and she welcomed me so cheerfully that I almost instantly felt right at home. She walked me through the different areas and stations in the studio and talked about the types of projects they do. She showed me samples of her work as well as the ones that were made by students and visiting artists.
I chose to learn drypoint Intaglio. Chev said Intaglio is an Italian printing technique developed many hundreds of years ago to create photographic images for books and albums, then later on, for banknotes. This technique involves etching on a metal plate like copper. But for our beginners session, Chev gave me an octar board to work on.
I won’t be sharing all the details of the process since it’s best to learn about all that in the workshop. I will say, though, that it’s a lot of work, more work than I had expected and am used to. The etching I worked on was of a wildflower patch. There were daffodils, sunflowers and lavenders all standing happily erect, as if to face and honor the sun. It took me around an hour to etch it, making sure I was getting the right depth. Then it took another hour or so to properly apply the ink and wipe off all the excess in order to create a clear impression.
Chev was correct when she said that it’s the reverse of lino printing or rubberstamping, two methods I’ve had experience with. And it does involve greater physical effort too. But Chev ever so kindly walked me through every step, giving me helpful tips along the way, as well as letting me take a breather every so often.
During one of those breaks, she let me try her homemade kombucha with some butter biscuits and told me stories about art school and how she put her studio together. She so generously told me about stores in Singapore where I can buy the best materials as well as the most affordable ones. In return, I told her about my kids, the workshops I hold back home and my go-to carving blocks (something I only get to share with stamp carvers haha).
I enjoyed my chats with Chev just as much as the printmaking itself if not more so (it really was a lot of work 😜). It’s rare for me to find someone as curious and enthused by printmaking as I am. And I was a little surprised to find her so happy when I finally produced a decent print. She was just so encouraging that it made me want to be as warm, engaged and invested as her when teaching. I surely would like my students to feel as pleased as I did taking Chev’s class.
Honestly though, I don’t think i’ll be pursuing Intaglio printing any more than I have but I’m still so glad I had pushed through with it. My experience at The Bees Knees Press was so amazing and affirming that I would definitely go visit again, perhaps to work on other techniques. For now, while that day is not in my foreseeable future, I’m savoring these memories shaped by such a sweet encounter with a fellow creative and admire my newbie Intaglio print which I am quite proud of.
Thanks again, Chev, for generously sharing your precious time, knowledge and resources. Til we meet again!