Halifax graphic designer showcases ability through traditional printmaking

Click to play video 'Artist shines spotlight on invisible accessibility barriers' Artist shines spotlight on invisible accessibility barriers
WATCH: As part of national accessibility week a spotlight is being put on inclusivity at work. According to advocates, that means tackling the invisible barriers people may face while trying to find employment. Elizabeth McSheffrey has the story of one artist who overcame those challenges, and now shares his gifts with others – May 30, 2019

The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design’s (NSCAD) print shop in downtown Halifax is full of old-fashioned print and book-binding materials.

But where others see relics of the pre-digital era, graphic designer Geoff Cwiklewich sees tradition and craft that merits preservation.

“I see a way to create, especially in our computer age,” he said in an interview, “a way to create with our hands still and get more of a visceral experience than what I experience when I’m designing on a screen.”

Cwiklewich, who specializes in letterpress and block printing, first encountered the craft when he moved from Alberta to Halifax five years ago. As someone who describes himself as “introverted and shy,” he said he struggled to find work in graphic design, a field that relies on networking.

“That’s quite a hard thing for me to do,” he said from the Dawson Print Shop, where he meets other members of the Halifax Letterpress Gang once a week.

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“I don’t do well with crowds and I’m more of an observer than participator in groups.”

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He enrolled in courses at NSCAD, where he learned traditional printing, and sought support from the reachAbility Association, which helps youth and adults facing barriers to inclusion at work and in the community.

Program co-ordinator Mara Toombs helped him find graphic design work, and shortly afterward, asked Cwiklewich to share his gifts in traditional printing as part of National AccessAbility Week.

The Canada-wide event promotes accessibility and inclusion in the office and community, celebrates the contributions of Canadians with disabilities, and recognizes the efforts of folks who are working to remove barriers to inclusion in all aspects of society.

But not all barriers are visible, explained Toombs, like the one Cwiklewich faces daily: being shy.

“What I see a lot is that the modern economy has a lot of barriers that people take for granted as not being a problem,” she said. “So for me, I think to recognize those subtle ways in which people are kept out of the workforce and support them can make a huge difference.

“Disability is one part of it, but there are other barriers that are keeping people out of work that it doesn’t take very much for us to accommodate, actually.”

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On Saturday, Cwiklewich will teach a printmaking workshop called “Art as a Healing Tool,” offered free of charge as part of National AccessAbility Week at the Halifax Central Library.

He said printmaking has helped him learn to express himself, and highlight his abilities, not his challenges.

“For me personally, it gives me a space to put my emotions on the page,” he explained. “I’m not the best person with expressing my emotions verbally so I draw them out, I write them down, and it gives me a space to express them and deal with them.”

He hopes others will find similar comfort in printmaking, and find the courage to seek support in overcoming their challenges.