Coco Berkman

Ballast & Rampart
Maxwell Library
September - January, 2023
Shelby Meyerhoff

I was visiting a friend a few months ago and she was showing me her garden. She pointed out a path she had laid using “Sea Bricks”, bricks that had been smoothed down over decades by the sea into oval smooth shapes. She explained that there is a lot of sea brick on the ocean floor because for centuries, ships used bricks as ballast.

Immediately I resonated with the word; Ballast. I understand ballast. A material used to weigh down a ship, to balance it, to ground it. My printmaking practice is my “Ballast”. My art-making practice balances and grounds me.

When I’m working on a piece It takes me months of focused concentration to complete an edition of an image. The first step for me is making a drawing that I feel strongly about. This has come to feel like a magic trick I perform. Every time I begin the process of making a drawing, I forget how to do the trick. Then I remember… . something needs to pull me in. It needs to feel special, new and fun. Where do exciting images come from?

Sometimes I’ll find my material in a short story or a piece of music, a photograph, or something that someone said. The drawing can be inspired by a strong emotion inside of me that needs to be physically extracted from my body. Drawn out. Not with leeches but with a sharpened Blackwing pencil and an entire sketch pad of paper.

Once a drawn image feels right, the actual printmaking process begins. Reductive printmaking is a time consuming, messy process. There are many decisions that need to be made and sometimes these irreversible decisions feel like jumping off a cliff.

I transfer my drawing onto a piece of linoleum and begin the most relaxing part…carving the image with Japanese carving tools. Some people might find carving treacherous and at times tedious, but I love it.

My editions are small ,16-24 prints, and I need at least a 12 hour window of time to print each color onto the edition. The prints need to dry for at least a week before I print the next color on top.

It’s very exciting when an edition is completed. I’ve spent months being connected to the image and making decisions about it. Until a print is completed, I really don’t know if I’ll like the finished result.

Rampart; A protective wall . A defensive wall. My completed editions are my ramparts. My work gives me a sense of having a purposeful life. It gives me something to care for and nurture.

In my earlier life I ran a small business out of my home, making draperies and slipcovers for clients’ homes. I remember pulling all-nighters in order to get a job done on time. I dreamed of a day where I would put in those long hours of concentration, creating something that had meaning to me and I knew that “something” was making art.

I often chuckle that making art keeps me out of trouble but I know that it’s not a joke. Making my work and then curating my work is the most serious thing I do in this life.