After a quick burn on Galbraith or hike up in the North Cascades, Sarah Finger is likely to be the one across the bar from you slinging your après trail beer. But she also has a strong connection to that magnificent landscape you can’t stop staring at on the can of IPA you’re slugging down. She’s the artist who created it.
Finger is the one-woman artist of Skyline Printworks, as well as the mind behind the artwork adorning the cans of five, soon to be six, different flavors of Kulshan Brewing beers, all part of a recent rebranding. The scenes depict the jagged mountainscapes of the Cascades, the sinuous rivers of the lowlands and the sandstone hideaways of the coast, and all are done in the impressively labor-intensive style of block printing.
“There are people out there who would never want to buy a piece of art for their walls, but they have a six-pack of Bastard Kat in their fridge,” Finger says. “It’s art appealing to a wider audience.”
Finger was raised on the sediments and colors and textures of the Nooksack River Valley. Her family owns an organic farm along the curves of the river, and her upbringing was a simple one. Homeschooled with no television in her childhood home, Finger and her siblings would light out for the river or romp about in the woods after their lessons were done.
“When you spend a lot of time in beautiful places, it’s impossible not to be inspired by them,” Finger says. “For me, that inspiration comes in the form of capturing that feeling when you don’t have words.”
Those childhood outings cemented her deep love for this place, and serve as an inspiring well to draw from when she is working on a new block print. The unique printing style is one she learned while attending Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. When Finger tells folks that she’s a printmaker, they often look at her with the same look you might imagine giving someone who tells you they are a blacksmith.
“I tell them it’s like a big, detailed stamp, and then generally people understand it a bit more.”
Block printing goes a little like this: The process begins with a sketch, which needs to be reversed on carbon paper for the ‘flip’ of the printmaking to work. This is transferred onto a block of linoleum or wood, and then meticulously carved for hours on end.
On the day that I spoke with Finger a slab of linoleum destined to become a print is laid out on her glass-top workbench, where she anticipated spending upwards of 40 to 50 hours working on relief carving the image. Exceedingly sharp tools called gouges are scattered about, along with little pots of oil-based inks and metal scrapers.
“There’s a delayed gratification,” Finger says. “With a painting you know what it looks like as you’re working on it, whereas with print making, you have a sense if it’s going well, but you really don’t know until you ink it up and pull the first print.”
Finger gives me a demonstration, rolling a heavy brayer roller across a pool of black ink and onto a block that she’s already carved. Winding the huge arm of an etching press that is easily the largest piece of furniture in her Bellingham apartment, the block and paper are brought together. What emerges is a perfect scene from atop Winchester mountain, looking out past the lookout and over Goat Mountain toward the serrated blade of Mt. Shuksan.
It’s inherently a medium of multiples, Finger tells me about block printing, and that’s a big part of the reason that she likes it. When 50 or more hours are invested into carving a really detailed design, the process yields multiple pieces of art, depending on how many times she inks up the block.
And like the proverbial snowflakes that fall on her beloved mountain peaks, no two are exactly the same.
Nick Belcaster is an adventure journalist who cut his teeth for the big three—hiking, climbing and splitboarding—on the jagged wave of rock that is the North Cascades. Residing in Bellingham, WA, he contributes to local and national publications and tries to stay out of trouble in the mountains.