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An Interview with Jessi Hardesty

Updated: Oct 27, 2021

I’ll be honest, I never knew what those ouija board pieces that you put your hands on were called, but I started coming across these really beautiful decorative ones recently. Well it turns out that those things are called planchettes and the creator of the brilliant pieces I was seeing is Jessi Hardesty. Upon digging a little deeper, I found her magnificent body of wood carving work. Hardesty’s wood carving developed from beginnings in relief printing, finding a passion for the blocks that she was carving, and then turning those print blocks into works of art themselves. These things are so beautiful and the printmaking inspiration is far from lost in the work. Her carvings have a lot of noise(printmaking term) but it's always deliberate and it plays up the imagery, it plays up Hardesty’s very unique style. Speaking of style, another reason why I just love Hardesty’s work is that in this portfolio it is perpetually Halloween. All of your brightly colored, spooky needs are met year round with her work and it’s so fun. Hardesty lays in colors with a lot of pop and the contrast created between the color and her heavy blackwork really makes her work stand out. There’s so much depth in Hardesty’s work that even her simplest carving can suck you in and have you totally enthralled with her work and the process behind it.

Overall, Hardesty’s work is so exciting and interesting because it’s a different take on printing and carving. I think a lot of the time the printmaking world is stuck in the tradition that the plate is the plate and the print is the art, but the plate can be a beautiful work in itself. Hardesty’s carvings are so unique, colorful, bold, full of contrast, and they really just jump out at you. As I said earlier, she hasn’t forgotten her printing roots either and she still puts out quite a few awesome prints alongside her carving work. I got to chat with Hardesty and hear it all in this marvelous interview. She really gave a great look into her body of work, development of style, and how she ended up where she is. Enjoy!

1.I always start with background! So, what got you started in art? Any schooling? Big inspirations? What helped shape you into the artist that you are today?

My father has a background in ceramics, and he always encouraged my artistic side when I was small. I was the sort of kid that was always drawing and making objects. Early inspirations were animated films, comic books, music videos, book illustrations- the usual. By the time I was in high school, I had discovered heavy metal and goth music so my world expanded there. I have a BA in studio art with a concentration in printmaking from Salem State University and an MFA in print media from Cranbook Academy of Art. Classic woodcut masters and book illustrators like Kathe Kollwitz and Fritz Eichenberg are hugely inspiring as are the science fiction/horror/fantasy genres in film and art. I always tell my students that anything you encounter in life can be fuel for your art- things you collect, music you listen to, fashion, a conversation with a stranger at a bus stop… anything at all. There was no singular event that shaped me into who I am as an artist today; many events and interactions are to blame for that. I collect vintage Halloween blow molds, which probably isn’t surprising to anyone reading this, and I come from a family of collectors, so antique or vintage objects have always held weight for me. I had a wonderful mentor in college, Haig Demarjian, who really pushed me to put my best foot forward. I sat down with woodcut artist Tom Huck at a burger joint in Portland a few years back and we did the math on how many days were left in my life if I lived to 75 and had a pretty poignant conversation about how to best use them- I think about that conversation often.

2. Woodcarving isn't an overly common medium so what drew you towards working in this medium? How did you progress to the things you're doing now?

I discovered woodcut, and printmaking in general, in college. I suppose I had some kind of nebulous idea of what printmaking was before that but I never really dug in to it until I got to Salem. Once I wrapped my brain around working backwards and inverted, I got completely hooked and I have never looked back. I appreciate the rawness and finality of printmaking; there’s no erasing a carved mark. You have to be assertive and sure of your carving, and you have to embrace the unpredictability of the carving process. Each mark is unique and incapable of being recreated.

3. You've got a very, "everyday is Halloween," aesthetic in your work. Could you give a little more insight into what inspires your imagery? Further, how has your imagery or use of certain imagery developed with your work?

Halloween fascinated me as a child and I just never grew out of it. Halloween is the most magical of holidays; pagan roots with a decidedly American current form. A whole celebration surrounding the coming of winter and the thinning of the veil. Costumes to allow you to hide from the spirits… or be who you truly are. All of the imagery of Halloween evokes mystery, mischief, ancestry, and the occult. I started making spooky work in college, turned a bit away from it for a while in grad school, and then had one of those big Fuck It moments and dove headlong back in to it.

4. Your work obviously requires some very delicate woodworking, so what is your process like? How does a piece begin? Is your work rigorously planned out or do you allow things to organically happen?

I sketch out designs on paper first. Very loose sketches in pencil and then sharpie when they’re more fleshed out. I transfer those drawings out on to wood (usually birch or MDF) and then sharpie them out there. I saw out the shapes and then stain the blocks red as a visual aid for carving. At that point, much of the final look is decided by carving- the sketches are sketches and the actual art happens during the carving process. I use Japanese steel gouges and a Dremel tool to carve- whatever tool I feel is best for the job at hand. I am particularly reliant on the 4.5mm v gouge. The carving stage is the most organic.

5. Planchettes are a huge part of your body of work, what initially drew you towards the creation of these objects? How has your use or making of them changed? Do you think they'll always be a staple in your body of work?

Ouija boards and planchettes have been a long time interest of mine; we had an antique wooden one in the house growing up. Living in Baltimore, I discovered the strong connection between my city and talking boards and spiritualism, so the planchettes in my work are a nod to both my interest in spiritualism and to my current city, Baltimore. There is actually a Ouija board gravestone in Baltimore (it belongs to Elijah Bond, who patented the Ouija board) and my planchettes are the perfect size to use on Elijah’s stone. That’s a super inside reference you’re now in on, I suppose. Communication and the macabre, hallmarks of my studio practice, join so harmoniously in the planchette that I doubt that it will ever leave my work.

6. You've got very cleanly applied and solid colors, how do you go about laying color into your carvings? How do you select which colors go into which piece?

After the carving is done, I paint the whole block. The colors are intuitive. I have a very graphic sensibility to my colors; probably because I was trained as a printmaker and not a painter.

7. How does your process differ when you're working on your more intricate cuts? Are you limited at all by your materials or do you just go for it?

I use different tools for different marks. Small v gouges are employed for detail work, but scoops, larger v gouges, and the dremel suit big open areas. I select woods that exist in the Goldilocks zone- not too hard, not too prone to chipping, but not so soft that they don’t have longevity.

8. Your wood carving is clearly reminiscent of wood cut prints and there are sprinklings of print work in your feeds. Is print something you've worked with at length? Is it something you plan on working in more or moving away from?

Printmaking used to be all I did… I have two degrees in it! I started getting really attached to my printing blocks at some point, and then people started buying or commissioning the blocks more than the prints, so I was doing a lot of large-scale commissioned realism pieces for a time. I got burnt out on working realistically after a while and started making spooky work for myself again. The first experimental batch of colored carvings I made went over really well, and I enjoyed making them, so I’ve been moving forward down that route. I do still print regularly, usually on fabric for patches or with my students (I’m a professor). Once or twice a year I’ll pull a formal edition of reduction prints, but the carvings themselves have moved to the forefront of my practice.

9. Going off of that, the most notable printmaking reference in your woodcarving is the imperfections that are commonly left in prints. Is this something that you strive for in your woodworking?

Ah, yes, the noise. Noise is my favorite aspect of wood carving and relief printing. I amplify it on purpose.

10. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows/events coming up? Anything you'd like to share and anywhere people can find you, fire away!

I just finished my 2019 show run with Oddities Flea Market in Brooklyn, which is always a good time. There are a few galleries I have work in fairly often- Verum Ultimum in Portland, OR, The Convent in Philadelphia, PA and Gristle Art Gallery in Brooklyn, NY. Should be back up in Salem/Boston in April for the tattoo convention and Daughters of Darkness festival, which is an amazing all woman maker event organized by Die With Your Boots On. I post about events I do on my Instagram, so follow that for updates.

My work is always online and I am most active on Instagram (@jessihardesty). My Etsy is

Brick and mortar shops that have select pieces of my work: The Black Veil (Salem, MA), Witch City Wicks (Salem, MA), Die With Your Boots On (Salem, MA), The Glass Coffin (Austin, TX), Deadlocks (Portsmouth, NH), The Weeping Glass (Pittsburgh, PA), and Divination Tattoo (Asheville, NC).


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