Studio Visit with Bruce Paulson


Bruce Paulson is a rad human. Several of our co-workers suggested we profile him for his all around amazingness, and it just so happens his new show LEVIATHAN is up now at Division. He works in Production, went to PNCA and graduated with a BFA focusing on printmaking, and is one of the most positive, spiritual and talented people around. He was kind enough to open up his garage studio for a letterpress printing tutorial and to answer some questions about LEVIATHAN, a process-driven show consisting of mixed media panels, using latex paint, clear acrylic gel medium, carborundum and etching ink.

The panels are based on a series of recurring dreams, of which he says, “I was an observer of large beasts and whales from the depths as they surfaced to take their final breath before retreating into the abyss. They were heading back to where they came from. It was time for them to be reborn … Finding freedom in their transition and being born anew into the darkness.”

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Tell me about more about your current show. Any particular inspirations/questions/concerns driving your current work?

The concept for this current show came to me in a series of dreams. Once I have a concept I always love to try new ways of creating and translating the vision. It’s just a natural progression for me and keeps me interested. I have been drawing a lot recently and needed a break from that so I decided to approach my work in a more open, physical, process-driven way. The outcome of each piece was not my concern. I was more interested in the way the materials reacted with each other and the way compositions would naturally form.

Your letterpress studio is amazing! How did you get started printing?

I never did any letterpress printing until I bought my press. I taught myself how to use it by reading a ton and getting my hands into it. Trial and error. It’s been over three years since I bought my press and I am staying busy–very busy considering that I work at least 40 hours at Stumptown.

What is it about letterpress that you are drawn to?

I love letterpress for its tactile qualities and its ability to produce multiples. Initially I was looking for a small press that I could place on a workbench, but they are so sought after and the prices are inflated due to lots of hobby printers. I use an Old Style C&P 8×12 platen press. Its treadle powered and uses no electricity. It’s the only way I want to print. I’m not at all interested in automation. It’s sort of like riding a bike. There is a ton of feedback that I feel as my leg pumps the treadle and impressions are made and when I get to grab the wheel, letting it slide under my fingertips.

What are some projects you’ve done in the past? What are you working on now?

I have had the pleasure of working with some rad designers and friends across the country and abroad. I know those projects are going to print well and look beautiful since my clients are aware of the limitations and know what’s achievable in letterpress printing. I have been fortunate enough to recently start working on a project for the PORTLAND APOTHECARY. I am releasing a series of constellation prints with each of their seasonal drops. The first was the summer set and I am currently getting ready for the fall. I will be doing this for the whole year so people will have the ability to collect all 12. VERY limited!!! This stuff excites me. Make sure and check them out. They rule!

What music, if any, do you listen to while working?

Most of the time I put my iPod on shuffle, so one minute I am listening to Gucci Mane and the next I am listening to Carcass. It’s really all over the place.

What are you really liking right now?

I am currently listening to David Axelrod, Frank Ocean, Omar Souleyman, Burzum, Flying Lotus, Crass, Alice Coltrane, OM. I am reading Thich Nhat Hanh, Alan Watts, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Terence McKenna.

I’ve been hiking a bunch, staring into the woods, mountains, rivers, and sky. I am also way into yoga and running. Those activities are a huge part of my spiritual practice and life.

What are some of your influences? 

I am influenced by nature and the deep emotional responses that it has on me. My apartment is filled with pine cones, bones, rocks, flowers, bells and antique relics. I also spend lots of time looking inside. Finding quiet within is a huge part of my life. I feel that my life is heavily inspired by working with visionary plant medicines which have thousands of years of traditional use. These sacred plants helped me reduce the ego and allow deep insights into the interdependence of the universe and everything that resides in it. I had a deep spiritual awakening a few years back, my world was turned upside down. It was like I spent the first 33 years of my life asleep. I could clearly see that I had fallen into silly ideologies and cultural traps that never served me. This included the use of alcohol which I gave up 5 years ago since it never really increased my quality of life. Anyway, I continue to have my mind blown by those around me. We are surrounded by so many amazing opportunities to grow and I now move toward the more difficult situations in my life, intuitively knowing that those experiences deliver profound transformations. Remember that if you think you are free then no escape is possible.