Print, photography – printmakers can do it all

Published 6:05 pm Friday, July 2, 2010

“My work is highly experimental,” printmaker Ellen Ridenour says.


Ellen Ridenour and I met back in 2000 when we were both art students at Indiana University in South Bend. Ridenour was living in Elkhart with her husband. Her kids were all raised and she was working on a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography. I was pursuing a bachelor of fine arts degree in printmaking.
I thought she was producing work at an astonishing rate. Back then when I asked her how she saw herself as an artist, she told me that she was a “photographer who did printmaking.”
Today, when I asked her again, she told me there has been a dramatic shift in how she sees herself. Ridenour now believes she is a “printmaker who uses photography” as an element in her work. This was surprising, but what I had always hoped for. She has come over to the dark side! The printmakers at IU used to say that painters can paint, photographers can take photos, but printmakers can do everything!
Born in New Jersey, right outside of New York City, Ridenour moved to Elkhart with her parents and three siblings when she was about 10 and attended Elkhart schools. Her grandparents had moved to Elkhart first, and her mother wanted to follow them.
Ridenour married her husband Ray in 1960 and years later started an herb and dry flower farm on their property in Elkhart. In 1983, with children raised, they moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, to open an herb and dry flower gift shop, where she produced wreaths and potpourri. Ridenour opened another store at the same time in Virginia Beach. She eventually closed the herb shops and opened a clothing store when they lost the charming colonial building they were renting—but clothing was just not Ridenour’s passion. They sold everything in 1992 and moved to Oregon to take a year off. Ridenour started college there, majoring in psychology.
When they returned to Elkhart, Ridenour had to wait a year to be considered an Indiana resident at IUSB, so she took only one class — taught by Michigan potter John Hook.
Ridenour was hooked on art! She initially wanted a degree in ceramics, but IU only offered a degree in sculpture.
While taking a photography class, Ridenour decided that a degree in photography was what she really wanted. Studying under Andrea Greitzer and Susan Moore, Ridenour has already completed the photography program. One of the requirements was Introduction to Printmaking.
Ridenour found that she loved the photographic images that she took with her cameras, but she was not satisfied with the final product. Ridenour decided she was much happier with the final work if the photographic image was manipulated somehow using a printmaking process.
I remember seeing her make four-color process serigraphs — or silkscreen prints — with images she had taken of models she posed. Ridenour would push one color — just the cyan of the CMYK, for example, by misaligning the cyan silk screen so that when printed, it would show more of the cyan than the magenta, yellow or black. It made the prints pop — in a pop art way — but her posed images were old-fashioned, like women sitting under hair dryers in a hair salon.
Ridenour has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and says that she would do things differently from other people, sometimes because she forgot the way she was told to do it — and sometimes because she wanted to see what would happen if she did it differently.