With a beginning in pen drawing and painting, William Demaria ’20 found his niche in engraving and printmaking at Cornell University. Demaria’s pen drawing began in his high school math courses. It didn’t take long before he enrolled in an art academy and began to paint in all of his free time—in addition to attending high school. In his freshman year at Cornell, Demaria took an introductory printmaking course. Little did he know about how defining this experience would be.
“I kind of forgot, through the process of studying painting classically, how important the pen was to me as an artist,” says Demaria. “When I came to college and took introductory printmaking, I was doing engraving and just felt like it was a part of me. I found myself constantly coming back to it. It was just something I really liked and enjoyed.”
Engraving, a Passionate Pursuit
Engraving is one of the first printmaking techniques. To engrave, the artist uses a burin to carve an image into a copper plate. To print the design, the artist covers plate with ink and then pushes the ink into all of the engraved lines to ensure that the plate prints properly. The artist removes the ink that isn’t in the lines and runs the plate through a press with a piece of paper on top of it. The press subjects the plate to 200 to 300 pounds of pressure, which presses the paper into the lines. The paper is then pinned to a wall to dry. The whole printing process takes about an hour, but the engraving can take hundreds of hours, depending on how large and intricate the design is.
“So I guess I accidentally started doing research. At first, I was just having fun reading about a printmaking process I enjoyed and then trying out these things I had read about in the studio.”
Demaria started going to the library in his spare time to find books on the philosophy behind engraving, as well as how to engrave. When he talked to his faculty advisor, Elisabeth Meyer, Art, about what he was doing, she responded, “Oh, so you’re doing research?” Up until this point, Demaria hadn’t even realized that this could be considered research, in the most classical sense.
“So I guess I accidentally started doing research. At first, I was just having fun reading about a printmaking process I enjoyed and then trying out these things I had read about in the studio,” Demaria says. “Thanks to the opportunities and resources that the Rawlings Fellowship [Cornell’s Hunter R. Rawlings III Cornell Presidential Research Scholars] provide, this project of mine has expanded in scope beyond anything I could have previously imagined. It has allowed me to have opportunities such as the one at the Rhode Island School of Design.”
Learning from a Master Artist
In the summer of 2018, Demaria did an informal residency with Andrew Raftery, a distinguished artist who is considered the closest contemporary equivalent to the historical master engraver. It was an eye-opening experience to the world of engraving and printmaking for Demaria. Although Demaria had heard or read much about the art, it was good to have someone who could tell him from firsthand experience what works and what doesn’t.
“Engraving is and historically always has been a difficult medium to talk about and teach, as ultimately the medium is driven by the tactile connection the engraver has to their image and their copper plate,” says Demaria. “Many treatises have been written on how to sharpen a burin, how to create a burr, and how to polish it away, leaving only the line. It would be wrong to understate the importance of all these points. Yet ultimately you can know all of this and still struggle endlessly with engraving. This is due to the medium’s overwhelming importance to develop the engravers capacity to hold a very abstract dialogue with their plate through the tactile connection of the medium.”
Currently, Demaria is working on an engraving depicting a scene very close to his hometown in Long Island, New York. Having previously made landscapes that he never thought of as specific, he is interested in seeing how the way he thinks about places and the way he articulates them changes when he is expressing a place that is specific not only to him but also to somebody who is from the same town.
Why Art at Cornell?
Demaria could have gone to an art school, but he chose Cornell for its diversity. If not for Cornell, he probably would have gone on the painting track and would not have experienced printmaking. The major reason, however, that Demaria chose Cornell is because the Cornell ambience is very conducive to placing the artmaking process within the context of other things going on.
“At Cornell, there are just so many people doing so many different things. Being able to make artwork within that context and also having the capacity to engage with people is something I see as very valuable,” Demaria says.
Cornell has facilitated the intertwining of Demaria’s interests in both art and history. Demaria loves history for the stories. He is continuously searching for a hypothetical time period where history is boring, but he is yet to find it. “I definitely think a lot about history when I am producing my art,” says Demaria. “The way I was originally trained was that there are traditions in art and the duty of the artist is to embody that tradition and try to bring it forward and share it with everyone else.”
After graduation, Demaria says that engraving and printmaking will always be part of his life, whether he goes into academia or decides to work as an artist for a printshop. “I really admire people who get to do what they love everyday and unwaveringly pursue their most favorite thing in the world to do,” says Demaria. And this is exactly the kind of person that Demaria plans to be for the rest of his life.