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Em Whipple: Layering, Process, and Craft.

For student artist Em Whipple, any piece of work is more than its final product. For Whipple, layers of hard work, material, thought, and process all go into each part of creating a piece of artwork, let alone a series. The developing printmaker has now received awards and high praise for their most recent series; their exploration process and meaning of their work was intended to focus on specific details and how those contribute to complex social commentary.

One of Em’s art pieces was accepted to be placed on display at The 45th Annual Student Juried Show, at the University of Wyoming Art Museum. The work is a lithograph.


Lithographs are a product of a long and demanding process. 

Printing starts with a lithographic limestone or a metal plate that has been given a rough surface. After the stone is grained, a depiction is drawn on the slab with a greasy substance. It is then coated with several chemicals that are used to initiate oil and water separation, resulting in the drawing to repel water while it accepts ink. 

First signs of a distinguishable marked image appear as the plate is repeatedly given pressure back and forth with a printing brayer that is covered in ink. Each push and pull places a blanket of ink onto the slab to produce a more definite image. 

Before a successful print, areas covered in grease must first be filled with the colored fluid before it can be transferred. Repeatedly compressing stone and paper together via a litho press forces the ink into the plate. 

Detailed prints are produced after the stone is pressed with four to six layers of ink.

Variation of Identity No.1,”  Em Whipple’s lithograph monotype currently on display at the University of Wyoming Art Museum as a part of the 45th Annual Juried University of Wyoming Student Exhibition, uses imagery of a Greco-Roman sculpture broken by a variety of colorful shapes. 

The piece was composed in the Fall of 2019, alongside six other bodies of work Whipple rendered over the course of several assignments in their printmaking class. Titled “Exploration of Identity,” the series uses the same lithograph plate across all the pieces despite any variations. 

Mark Ritchie, a faculty member in the Department of Visual Arts, spoke about Whipple’s ability to break down their overall compositions into parts as they create. 

“Em likes to think about how things will happen in layers,” Ritchie noted. In speaking about their success as an undergraduate student,

“To have somebody early on in printmaking say “I love registration,” is like a math major saying how much they enjoy proofs.”

According to Ritchie, registration, the process of aligning and overlaying various colors within a print, is regarded as challenging and laborious. 

Some of the compositions within Whipple’s series include six different color shapes. Subsequently, six separate plates were worked on in order to achieve the layered nature of each piece. Whipple noted they spent roughly three and a half hours per print.

See Em’s lithograph printing process here:


Beyond process, content refers to an artwork’s meaning and what it communicates. At the most basic level, Ritchie believes art pieces are not art without content.

The role of the content and meaning depends on the work, explained Professor Ritchie. He explained the process of creating work as a dance between the content behind the work and the actual act of using materials; One leads while the other follows. 

This ‘dance,’ in regards to the work within Whipple’s series, is eminently led by content. 

Whipple described their series of work as an exploration into two primary constructs of identity: “The inherited sense, or understanding, of identity from the Greco-Roman societies,” and

“breaking those stereotypes to create and express a complex intersectional identity that we all possess.”

Concepts concerning identity inspire Whipple’s work visually and serve as a channel to connect them as an artist to their process. 

Mark Ritchie notes, great art pieces are often developed in bodies of work created by artists establishing a link between them and their art. Ritchie described the pairing of form and content within Whipple’s succession of work as, “beautiful.” 

Whipple explained how their work selected for The Student Juried Exhibition, portrayed the passed down understandings of identity as the Greco-Roman sculpture bust. The imagery of the bust also represented the dismantling of stereotypes according to them.

Whipple also explained that the abstract color shapes placed within the bust’s missing areas represent the undetermined components of identity in an individual’s life.

Along with their historic influence, the concepts developed within, “Experimentations of Identity” were derived from a rich source of information and creation: Whipple’s own experiences. 

Their personal narrative, which touches on marginalization and othering, speaks to their own experiences of being non-binary.

The meaning behind Whipple’s work expands beyond their recent series, and motivates them as an artist and thinker overall. Em recently was awarded a travel grant to expand their knowledge of ancient Greco-Roman imagery and process.

Mark noted that this success is credited, in some part, by Whipple’s impressive work ethic and depth of thought not only in the content of their work, but by their dedication to learn and perfect the materials and process of creating. 

“If there are more students like Em on campus, i would love to work with them,” Mark said.

Follow Em’s instagram dedicated to their art here.


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