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Justine Ditto

Interviewed by Rae Canigiani

Justine Ditto is a Pennsylvania-based printmaker and mixed media artist located in the Lancaster area. Justine has been printmaking since highschool, and since receiving a BFA in Printmaking from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, has furthered her printmaking education through training in lithography at the Tamarind Institute of Arizona and participating in residencies such as the Emerging Artists in Residence program at Millersville University. She currently works for Durham Press and collaborates with the Brodsky Center at PAFA as a master printer.

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A mixed-media tapestry constructed from Mylar, screen prints, and vinyl on acetate.

Justine Ditto working on a stone lithograph at the Tamarind Institute.

Hey it's been a little while, how's it going?

 

Pretty good, I've been pretty busy. I got married in the fall and have been still kind of settling in since then, but overall, pretty well. Thanks for reaching out about the interview! How do you want to start?

 

Well first things first, why don't you generally introduce yourself and what it is that you do for those who may not be familiar?

 

For sure, my name is Justine Ditto, and I am a printmaker and multimedia artist currently based in PA. I like a variety of different making methods and I've been recently working with oil painting due to its accessibility.

What is it that you're making work about?

 

Coming out of PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) my images were influenced by cell structures, wavy patterns, and things like topographic contours. I was really interested in ancient and modern architecture too, and I like to use a variety of materials of the variety of wire, fabric, paper, oil, painting, and printmaking in order to create layers in installation-based work. My work can be somewhat ephemeral in appearance and can be quite technical. I've always been a mixed media worker, but I have a soft spot for lithography and etching. I used to be more inclined towards screen printing, but I'm a little burned out on that these days.  At PAFA I used to feel a really strong pressure to make figural work because many of the other students and artists I was familiar with were finding a lot of success with that, but as time has gone on I’ve found more and more comfort in working abstractly and less representationally.

 

It’s funny how your environment can shape your work so much, and can lead to so much pressure. Maybe funny isn’t the word I want to use, perhaps “interesting” instead. PAFA and Edinboro both seem to have a bit of a figurative vibe about them, at least in print and painting.

 

Definitely, but at the same time, when I was an EAR (Emerging Artist in Residence) at Millersville, anything was fair game. It was refreshing. Despite my earlier decision to ignore the pressures of figurative work, it was rehabilitating to find the open mindedness to abstraction at Millersville.

How did you first find a love for printmaking?

 

So I actually have quite a bit of history with printmaking. I got to discover it a little bit earlier in my years than many, when I was in high school. I went to Kinder High School for Performing and Visual Arts and I got to try out a bunch of different mediums which included, surprisingly, printmaking, but that's where I also got my start in things like painting, ceramics, installation work, and other mediums. Getting to try a little bit of everything definitely cemented in me that I was most drawn to printmaking, and after starting at PAFA and finishing my exploratory studies I felt even stronger.

 

Wow, that’s definitely pretty lucky that you got a start in print so early. If you can remember, was there something that first drew you to printmaking?

 

It was probably because it’s like painting, but with absolute, total control, and a fully fleshed out idea of the end result from the beginning. I’m a bit of a planner, so print and installations were right up my alley, and those early college years I found myself needing some control in my life during. Printmaking also seems to be positively inclined towards abstraction, where the limitations coming from working in layers with a set, usually small color palette just gelled nicely with my interests.

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A large-format stone lithograph Justine completed in 2019.

You got your BFA in printmaking at PAFA, but you also got to spend some time studying at Tamarind, right?

 

Yeah. I got to spend a year post-grad learning and working at The Tamarind Institute, and it helped me to really hone my technical skills. I feel very lucky that I was able to have such an opportunity to meet and learn from as many incredibly skilled people as I did when I was at the Tamarind, and I would go back in a heartbeat if I could. As much as learning there could be somewhat dry, because a lot of what we did were exercises to hone our skills,  it did open the door to working more collaboratively with others through creating artist editions and master printing, which is something I found a lot of joy in and still do today at PAFA and Durham Press.

 

I want to come back to your current endeavors at Durham Press and with Master Printing, but before we get to that, and I may be a little bit biased as a Millersville Grad myself, but could you talk a little bit about your time as an Emerging Artist in Residence at Millersville University? 

 

Similar to my love for Tamarind, I also loved my time as an Emerging Artist at Millersville. I really love going to a place where the environment is all about art making and there's opportunities for critique, growth, and learning skills that you haven’t encountered before. Having access to the laser cutter with help from you and Mike [Benevenia] was a great avenue for efficiency in some of my more time consuming work, and Brant [Schuller] was just an absolute well of knowledge. During my time there I finally got to bump up the physical scale of what I was working with, into a larger installation sense, and the 24/7 studio access really couldn't be beat. I think I wanted to work using more mediums, but that seems kind of silly to say now because I was already working in plenty. 

 

You mentioned earlier that you used to be a bit more into screen printing than you are now, and that you're a little bit burnt out about it, is there a story there?  As a screen printer myself, I'm curious. 

 

Well, I'll spare you the details and instead give you a little bit of advice. Be careful about the types of jobs you get, especially ones where you're working in an industry you're familiar with. Management may be so inclined to overwork you or saddle you with more work than is fair for one person to complete, and on top of that, when you spend nine hours a day or more working in a specific medium, you might be a little too worn out of it by the time you get home to want to make your own work using it. I had a job in screen printing for two long years, you might be inclined to look for a similar kind of job as a screen-lover, and I’m sure there are places that would be FAR nicer to work than where I was, but know your worth. Don’t let them push you around, get out of there the moment you notice it draining your drive to make your own prints. 

 

I can for-sure see how taking a day-job in your medium-of-choice could be detrimental, I’ll keep that in mind. Is it worse than your usual run-of-the-mill, emerging artist type of work though?

 

If you’re alluding to customer service or grunt work, I’ve been there too. I worked in catering in college, talk about draining. Was it worse? I don’t remember. It certainly paid the bills for me for a time, I'll say that much, but I'm much happier now. Finding a balance is the way probably, or find an art job that isn’t exactly your medium perhaps. Not that that’s what I’m doing, maybe I’m not the one to give advice on this.

That’s not true! I still think there’s some valuable advice in there, and at the end of the day it varies person to person and job to job, and you’ve also gotten a ton of experience in print-related jobs under your belt. I guess this can be our loop back to Durham press and master printing though, can you talk about a little bit of what you're up to now? 

 

Yeah, I'm really happy that my training at The Tamarind and some of the work I did at PAFA when I was still an undergrad with teaching and working with students and working collaboratively is kind coming to fruition now, as I'm able to edition work for other artists and work at a press where I assist a master printer. They certainly say printmaking is a perfectionist’s work, and never has it been more true than when you're working on something and collaborating with or working on behalf of someone else. There is never wiggle room, or a “just well enough,” but at the end of the day you can walk away saying that the work is as best as it absolutely, feasibly could be, and despite maybe being an exhausting endeavor, it is absolutely a fulfilling one. That, and you'll get good. There isn't any other option. 

 

How do you manage that kind of pressure? Perfection is a rough standard.

 

I’m making it seem much worse than it is. If you are clean, paying good attention, and following the right steps, then there isn’t usually any reason to panic. I love working with people, so maybe the environment makes it all worth it. Sure there’s stress, I doubt you’ll find work without it, but luckily I can paint and print and do other things in my free time to let off steam.

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Ditto with Kukuli Velarde alongside their collaborative print.

Are there any specific collaborations or editions you've gotten to work on that stand out to you, or maybe were more fun to work on?

 

I've always enjoyed any collaborations in which I get to try something new, although doing so when the stakes are so high can be kind of nerve-racking, but I'm a little bit of a sponge, so I tend to get a little antsy if I'm not trying something new after so long. Don't get me wrong, I adore repetitive tasks, maybe that's also why I'm so into print, but it's wonderful that there are so many different ways of doing things and so many fresh ideas to express within the overarching medium of printmaking. Printmaking is roughly 15 different mediums wearing a trench coat. 

I love that way of putting it, I’ve also always felt like printmaking is a bunch of things masquerading as one unified medium. 

 

Absolutely, but anyways, normally I'd be inclined to cite a lithographic print, because that's my comfort zone, but right now I'm really enjoying getting to work on a print for Kukuli Velarde, and maybe I will always just cite the most recent one I'm working on, and this one is ripe with challenges for me to work through, but it's been a fun puzzle and she has been absolutely lovely to work with. The mixed media nature of the print really speaks to me too. About a year ago, I had another really enjoyable collaboration with Nell Irvin Painter at the Brodsky Center at PAFA, which ended up being a suite of etching and screen printed combos. Every time I get to collaborate on a print, I'm always left with new ideas that I could incorporate into my own body of work.

 

You’ve kind of hinted towards this in your other answers, but if you had to, how would you define artistic success for yourself?

 

So we’ve hit the existential part, have we? I think I’ve been pretty successful, I’m pleased with my artistic career so far, give or take a job or two. I’d like to pursue a master’s before I get too content, but that’s for another time. Hmm...for me, maybe success is something along the lines of always having opportunities to learn. Learning is a privilege, having the time, money, energy, and drive to do so, especially after graduation can be a huge roadblock, but I’ve always felt the most successful when I can get all of those things to happen at once. Feels achievable, I’m not one for lofty unrealistic goals, can’t go and depress myself from the get go.

 

I like that definition a lot, and you aren’t kidding about the struggles of getting time, money and everything else to align all at once. For one more existential question before I let you go, if that’s alright, is there any advice you’d give to emerging artists?

 

Maybe I already said this, but know your worth. Underselling forces others to undersell, overworking forces others to overwork too. We set the standards for those around us, so be sure to set kind ones. I’m pretty early in my career, so I don't think I have too much advice because I’m still working it out in a lot of ways, but I’ve had to learn that stuff the hard way. Oh, also, if you do freelance work, for the love of God have a contract. Hopefully you haven’t learned this the hard way yet, and absolutely never work for free or for exposure. For some less art-related advice, pay attention to the company you keep. You become like them by proxy, if you hang out with kind, hard workers that take good care of themselves, it becomes that much easier to become one too. Bonus points if they’re also printmakers, I find that the print community is very united and caring in a way that may go beyond some other mediums. I think I’ll leave it at that.

 

That’s some solid advice, sadly I’ve been burned in contractless work before, so you don’t have to warn me twice about that one at least. And thank you for letting me interview you, it’s been great hearing your perspective.

 

Of course! Thank you for having me!

To see more of Justine's work, check out her instagram

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About the Author

Rae Canigiani is a Pennsylvania-based printmaker who earned their Bachelor of Fine Arts in Printmaking with Minors in Organic Chemistry and Art History, from Millersville University in Millersville, Pennsylvania. They found a love for screen printing and incorporated it into storytelling mediums like graphic novels and games for their abilities to reach a broader audience. Rae’s interests in digital integrations of printmaking and the study of mushrooms influence their making process and content, which explores their relationship with and discovery of personal identity. Rae is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in Printmaking with a Minor in Drawing at Edinboro University in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, where they were awarded a graduate assistantship. Their work has been included in publications such as Chimera XIX and The Hand Magazine, and they have received grants including the Niemeyer-Hodkin Grant and Ann Tunis Sumney Printmaking Endowment for their thesis research.

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