Meta-Practice

Here’s to Doing Things the Wong Way

There’s a printmaking technique named after me.

It’s called, “The Wong Way.” The pun is intentional.

In undergrad, I was an eager student of woodcut printmaking, but not of color registration. Ken Rignall demonstrated a system involving metal buttons at the California College of the Arts, but he warned against leaving the buttons in the press. That would destroy expensive blankets and thus incur the wrath of fellow printmakers. To this day, I’ve never left the buttons in the press, because I’ve been too afraid to use them.

Either due to early twenties overconfidence or mechanic’s daughter ingenuity, I thought, if all you’re trying to do is line the block up with the paper consistently, why can’t you just jam them both into a corner? I made a 90º angle out of wood and tried it out on a block with a margin carved out. If your block or paper is less than square, you pick an edge to line them up with, and, Presto!

It wasn’t the most precise, but it was the most idiot-proof. (If there is an essence to the Wong Way, that might be it.)

Ken caught wind of this method and admired it. He coined the name and taught the technique in subsequent semesters. The pun in the name suggests that this is not how you should do it, but this is how you can do it.

I finally bought some sewing reference books—six years after buying my sewing machine, and experimenting with many combinations of needles, threads, and fabrics, not to mention patterns of my own devising. I’d been rambling between states of unconscious and conscious incompetence—sometimes completely unaware of incorrect thread tension, sometimes painfully aware that the bias in the fabric was exacting a toll for my poor cutting.

The reference books point out the sheer volume of fundamentals I’ve skipped over.

You might be thinking that I’m kicking myself for putting the wagon before the horse, but actually, I’m grateful and elated to learn these fundamentals now. I know WHY I need to acquire this knowledge, and am able to ground it in prior experience. I appreciate it so much more.

My Dad taught me to problem solve fearlessly. He’d take broken things—from toys to toaster ovens—down to his garage tool bench, rattle around in his toolboxes, crack the thing open, and have a look-see. Sometimes he repaired it, sometimes he didn’t, but he always gave it a try. Dad went to automotive school, but he learned a lot by doing. No one taught him how to re-roof our house or make a kid’s play structure from an old barrel and a car rotor. He just figured it out. He showed me that I too could figure things out, and that there’s no reason to shy away from trying.

Here’s to jumping in with both feet. To the confident leap into the unknown, that the things around us are not too complicated, that fear can be rather useless, and that curiosity is intertwined with survival.

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