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In the Studio with Floss Editions

Meg Fransee is in the business of narrative. If you know her, it’s probably because of her work as an artist with Floss Editions, the risograph printing and publishing house that she runs with her partner Aaron Gonzalez. But that’s not her only narrative-based pursuit; she’s also a full-time social worker with the Oakland Unified School District, which she’s been involved with since her move from Wisconsin to the San Francisco Bay Area. With her students, she practices narrative therapy — where each person is given the tools to rewrite their own stories as part of the healing process.

Fransee’s work is characterized by bright, vivid colors that shout from the page and bold illustrations, mostly taken from personal experience and a strictly intuitive process.The risograph printing process is similar to screenprinting; first, the original print is scanned and a wax master is created, then, printed copies are produced, one color at a time.

Fransee works out of her home and, more often than not, the feeling of the paper is what dictates the direction of her work (quite literally: “I need to feel what the stack of paper feels like in my hands and until that moment I don’t have a vision of the complete project.”). It’s this openness to chance that gives her work such a spirit of spontaneity — each book or print feels uniquely special. 

We visited the artist in her Oakland based studio to learn more about Fransee’s body of work and what’s next for Floss Editions; hear from the artist herself below. 

On being an artist and a social worker:

I feel like I’m always discovering ways that they’re connected. I think part of it is just purely practical: my attention is divided at its core. I have a really hard time committing to art, as someone who didn’t go to art school, and for a really long time to even call myself an artist felt weird. 

But the two do inform one another and I’m always thinking of them in tandem. A lot of social work is all about working with a person in their context, right? In the context of systemic oppression or in the context of immigration or in the context of mental health or incarceration, it’s always kind of like, how do you contextualize a mental health problem within a system?

Art and community are so connected to that too, you know, and so much of my work with the students and families is about the narrative of their lives and helping them. I use this practice called narrative therapy which allows people to tell and retell their stories as part of the healing process. And narrative is also an important component of my work. A lot of it is repeating symbols or repeating these kind of loosely constructed narratives of stories by piecing together the same symbols over and over again, recognizing where I’m at it. So I think about the two in connection a lot.

On making art that reflects her personal life:

I think in my practice it’s often about my own life. It might be collective narrative in some instances, but it’s more about places or moments that have meaning to me, even if it’s represented in a simplified, graphic way. I’m thinking about how I can use symbols and colors to create a dictionary of ideas that you can read and piece together. 

And I love working with other artists for Floss Editions — the press me and my partner run together. To be able to witness their process of putting ideas together is so thrilling to me. It’s really exciting to see because it’s such a process-oriented medium. You have to ask, how are these different moments illustrated throughout printed material, you know, is it a stapled book or a balance point, and then how do they come together and create this one full idea?

On her very intuitive process: 

I am a painfully and irresponsibly intuitive person. It’s just like sheer chance. But it’s funny because my partner is way more of a planner and really creates a vision for his work. I’m really just like, I need to feel what the stack of paper feels like in my hands and until that moment I don’t have a vision of the complete project. Obviously there’s advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, but I think working intuitively gives you more possibilities — and you’re not going to be disappointed that the final product wasn’t identical to all the preliminary sketches you did, because you don’t have any! 

On problem solving:

Someone once told me, you paint yourself into a corner and then you have to paint yourself out. I think bookmaking is similar; you start this thing and it creates all these problems and then out of the process of problem-solving comes the final product. I guess that’s also related to the social work practice in that way — fostering resilience and being able to persevere and dig into our internal resources to kind of push through. But very different, of course, in the context of a social issue.

On quantifying her output:

It really varies. I feel like we always have a deadline that we’re racing against and so it’s kind of hard to keep up. I think that if I didn’t have a job, it would be really nice to see how my work might change if I had nine to five available to experiment. But experimentation is kind of the first thing you lose when you’re always racing against the clock.

On what to do when you’re feeling creatively depleted:

I don’t know that I have a great answer because I am actually feeling that so much right now. I was just asked to do this mural and I’m struggling to come up with something for it. But one thing is that it’s good to think about your other work that already exists, in different mediums and different printed forms and things like. I can always look back at what pages in a book have looked like and the different ways I interpreted that format and seeing how I can connect a book to a wall or how can I connect a wall to a painting and trying to find threads there to sort of inspire myself or draw upon my previous work. But I think a lot of it is just also creating quiet space for yourself, which I’m really bad at — for me, the most quiet space I create is when I’m watching reality TV! 

On her favorite project (if she had to choose): 

One thing I did it about a year ago is a book I made called Soft Balance. Because I don’t have a printing press, I’m working from my home and had the print them by hand, like with a spoon to rub things off. And then I handbound it and made an edition of 20, and then also made a Riso version. It’s not that I’m necessarily so moved by the project as a standalone object — but it was such an unrealistic and labor-intensive thing to do — working at home and using a spoon to rub things onto the paper and to hand carve everything. And then to hand-bind it when I probably could have been more creative and gotten access to resources in the community to make it a little easier. But it was so literally painful for me. Like, you know, back pain and joint pain because it was so physical. I was talking to friends recently about this — that there’s something about bookmaking that makes you do some weird things like that. It became so physical, it was like pushing myself to some weird level. Obviously people who run marathons push themselves to the limit, but the way I chose to do it just made me really proud of the final product.

We do a lot of art book fairs and zine fairs, and people often don’t necessarily see that project or connect to it, but when printmakers or bookmakers see it and understand the process, it always leads to this really great, strange conversation about how it was made. 

I return to the book a lot to look at imagery that I was making at that time because it was just such an intense process. I’m looking at it now on my shelf. I have really specific memories attached to the process of making it. I think, you know, it’s like memories get encoded in our minds when emotions are linked and that was such an intense process, so I really remember that period of making it in a strange way.

Images Courtesy of James Rice

Stay tuned to Milk for more studio visits. 

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