Kim Cunningham is a printmaker, illustrator and sculptor who lives in Hancock, New Hampshire, with her husband, Scott, in a house they built themselves. Since moving to Southwestern New Hampshire in 1979, Kim worked primarily as a graphic artist and illustrator for companies such as Brookstone, Eastern Mountain Sports and Cobblestone Magazine. She has exhibited throughout New England and her work appears frequently in the Monadnock Region on calendars, posters and logos. Her new book of prints, Block, Paper, Chisels: Prints from New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region, is now available. Previous books containing her art include: The American Walk Book by Jean Craighead George (Dutton), Rubber Stamp Carving by Luann Udell (Lark) and Absolutely Wild by Dennis Webster (Godine).
Q: Did you learn anything while putting together Block, Paper, Chisels: Prints from New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region that surprised you?
A: While working on this project I spent time looking back at my childhood and school days to get a sense of why I am attracted to prints, and to nature as my subject matter. I delved into my college portfolio, and was struck by how much my artistic vision and techniques have meshed across the decades. It was fascinating to pair etchings from 1975 with block prints from 2020!
Q: How does the physical space where you create art influence your work? What did setting contribute to specific pieces in Block, Paper, Chisels?
A: I am tremendously influenced by where I create art, both regarding my own studio and property and also the beautiful area I live in.
My husband, Scott, and I built our own house and we each have a studio building. Before I had a studio I worked in a bedroom upstairs, mostly doing illustration work. Having a dedicated space outside the house opened up incredible possibilities for working bigger—and messier! I also find it easier to concentrate and be productive when I’m alone in my studio. I feel especially lucky to have this refuge while we’re all coping with the current pandemic.
The Monadnock area of NH never ceases to be an inspiration. Every image in Block, Paper, Chisels is directly influenced by the landscape and animals around me.
Q: What is the most difficult part of the block printing technique?
A: I think there are not one but two major difficulties associated with the block printing process. First, designing something that is going to be reversed when printed. This is especially challenging when doing a landscape that needs to read correctly, and involves being able to “think backwards.” Second, when carving a block there is very little room for error or a change of mind. That’s why it is important to take time with the original sketch and to be happy with it.
Q: Some of your artwork in Block, Paper, Chisels is accompanied by haiku. Do you usually incorporate poetry into your art? Are there other kinds of poetry you enjoy writing?
A: I really enjoy the challenge of writing haiku. I even self-published a book in 2012 entitled Police Log from the Puckerbrush, in which I translated many years of police logs from the local paper into the 5-7-5 syllable form. Distilling a story into such a few words is usually harder for me than doing the artwork. I have experimented with other types of short poems—but not for public consumption!
Q: What is your favorite medium to use?
A: I have experimented with many, many mediums over the years: paper making, book binding, watercolor and oil painting, etc. The ones that I have seriously pursued are ceramics, found object assemblage, and of course printmaking. Printmaking is really the foundation from which I have launched into other endeavors, and to which I always return. I am so happy making art in any medium that I have realized it is the process of working with my hands and from my heart that sustains me, whatever the finished product.
Q: Your art has been included in other books before. How did the process of curating artwork for your own book, Block, Paper, Chisels, differ?
A: What a joy and learning experience it has been to create this book! I started with the prints that were included in the three calendars I have previously done with Bauhan Publishing: Monadnock, Wild Things and Owls. To these I added more explanation about my process and also haiku for both Monadnock and Wild Things. Then I felt that it would be good to provide an introduction to who I am and why I have chosen the printmaking medium. I tried to keep the text brief and let the images speak, which was a surprisingly hard task. The last section I worked on was Trees. As I looked over my prints I realized that many of them featured trees as the main subject or an important part of the image. I printed some older blocks in new ways and also did totally fresh work.
Making this book was a very organic process of adding something here and editing something there. I would say it wasn’t as linear as having a more defined narrative to illustrate. The autobiographical nature of it led me to really look at the trajectory of my life and work. So it was not only a design challenge but also a journey of self-discovery.
Q: Which artists inspire you and your work?
A: I’m inspired by a really wide range of artists in so many media: textiles, ceramics, recycled materials—you name it! One of my favorite artists is El Anatsui, a Nigerian sculptor who creates absolute magic with discarded liquor bottle caps. I am constantly looking at Indigenous artworks and particularly love Inuit and Australian Aboriginal creations.
In the world of prints, I go back again and again to the work of some really great woodcut artists from the recent past. Leonard Baskin, Antonio Frasconi, Gustave Baumann and Naoko Matsubara leap to mind. Sabra Field and Mary Azarian are two contemporary New England artists who have had a huge influence on me both as brilliant printmakers and strong women.