Every First Friday, Santa Cruz print shop and artist workspace Little Giant Collective hosts an exhibit featuring one or more of its members. Nov. 1 marked the opening of “Mar y Tierra,” spotlighting the works of two members of the collective.

Enrique López and Lucas Elmer, both artists in the reduction printmaking medium, stand side by side in front of their work at the Little Giant Collective opening reception on Nov. 1. Photo by Josephine Joliff

Enrique López

Enrique López sets out his materials in the print studio. His paper, brayer and ink sit on the workspace before him. He takes a deep breath, preparing himself for the task at hand, then begins. In the next several hours, López will churn out 40 unique prints in the first step of a weeklong process that includes carving, inking and printing.

López grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2009 and has been making art in the area ever since. Before transferring to UCSC, López focused on ceramics, but an introductory print class in the art department introduced him to the world of printmaking, establishing the age old practice as his primary medium.

“I really just fell into printmaking. This is where I wanted to be, and this is what I wanted to focus on,” López said. “There was no turning back from there.”

Composites define López’s work, both in his recent show as well as in his typical approach to making art. Taking something from here, plucking something from there, López draws inspiration from the world around him and stores it until he can flesh it out later in a piece of art.

The pieces López chose to display for “Mar y Tierra” depict landscapes ranging from evergreen trees to a sunset at sea, all in a style reminiscent of retro postcards. They don’t represent specific places, López said, but are instead composites of several features often found in these settings.

Though it may not be the same redwood forest you got lost in with your friends two summers ago or the desert you drove through on a family road trip, López’s pieces call to mind these places from our memories using iconic imagery and ubiquitous elements.

Alongside his prints, López also chose to display the woodblocks used to make them. He sees this as a way to incite curiosity in visitors, leading to questions about the process and, eventually, education.

“There is a huge, huge process that goes into it that people don’t necessarily know or understand and, half the time, don’t even think about,” López said. “The main thing is having people start thinking and seeing it slightly different to understand that there’s more to it.”

Folks gathered at the Little Giant Collective on First Friday Nov. 1 from 6-8 p.m. for the opening reception of a split show displaying both Lucas Elmer and Enrique Lopez’s work. Photo by Josephine Joliff

Lucas Elmer

It’s the middle of summer and sockeye salmon fishing season is reaching its peak. On a modestly sized vessel off the coast of Bristol Bay, Alaska, Lucas Elmer takes part in this bountiful harvest, reeling in inspiration for his next set of prints.

Elmer, the second half of Little Giant Collective’s “Mar y Tierra” exhibit, graduated from UCSC in 2011. Like López, he began pursuing printmaking while studying at the university, quickly taking to the tactile quality of the medium and others like it.

“I utilize old-world techniques to honor the once abundance of craftsmanship where there is now an excess of disposable goods,” Elmer said in his artist’s statement. “Working in traditional media such as Bronze, Lithography, and Woodcuts allows me to create multiple originals as opposed to synthetic recreations.”

Nautical undercurrents work their way through Elmer’s artwork, attesting to his close relationship with the sea. Elmer has spent much of his life on or near the water, partaking in aquatic escapades like surfing, fishing and sailing.

Between oceanic outings, Elmer is still able to find time for demanding print projects. With clean designs and impeccable lines, finished pieces are easy to absorb and admire. What casual observers sometimes fail to consider is the true amount of effort that printmakers put into their work. 

“It’s extensive. I would say each layer is 10 to 15 hours of labor. So on a three layer print, I have 40 to 60 hours,” Elmer said. 

Because of his fondness of the sea, Elmer believes his pieces mostly resonate with maritime enthusiasts. His work also references historic fishing imagery, tapping into feelings of nostalgia well known in the Monterey Bay and Cannery Row.

“I have a keen eye for the beauty of industry and how it appears and is perceived [as] juxtaposed with nature,” Elmer said. “So specifically, industry and nature is something I’m most intrigued by.” 

Little Giant Collective will hold its next First Friday show on Dec. 6 and will feature the work of all the collective’s members.