Liz Donadio’s Color Wheel Printing Offers Professional and Affordable Services to Artists
By Cara Ober
There are many reasons to make prints. For some artists, the process of intaglio or screen printing is integral to their concept, both as a unique way to make marks and to produce a variety of output. For other artists, once an image is created, they need additional copies–for a portfolio, for an exhibition, or for retail purposes. Whenever I hang an exhibit of my own work, there are always one or two really special pieces that sell right away. And then I miss them, even though I am happy for a sale. What if I had the option to create archival, limited edition prints of those pieces? To put this another way, what if I could afford to create those works as a high quality digital print?
This is an issue that local artist Liz Donadio has been working on for many years. After graduating from SUNY Purchase in 2006, Donadio worked as a technician at a fine art print shop in Providence, RI for several years. Although she loved the job, she eventually moved to Baltimore to earn an MFA at Towson University, where she also worked as manager of the digital print lab. After she graduated, she continued to work at Towson as an instructor and gradually began to believe that all sorts of Baltimore artists could benefit from access to digital printing. In 2013, she founded Color Wheel, a full service archival digital printing studio located in Area 405, and the business has been growing ever since.
“The way that I really like to work is when an artist comes to me and says they have an idea for a project,” Donadio explains with a smile. “Then we work together to figure out the best type of paper, best digital file to work from, and the best type of print.” Working through sample proofs that the artist can accept, reject, or critique, Donadio collaborates with artists until their image is exactly as they have envisioned. Donadio offers a growing range of paper types and transparencies, and is willing to scan images and ‘massage’ digital files to produce an optimal print.
“I love it when an artist brings me a new problem to solve,” she explains. “This often results in me ordering new kinds of papers to experiment with and then adding them into the range of what we can offer.” While visiting her workspace, I saw a glowing green transparency printed for Lisa Dillin’s recent exhibition, stick-able Photex prints for Zoe Friendman’s recent wallpaper installation at Current, and rice paper swatches for an upcoming exhibition for Lu Zhang. All are recent projects where Donadio needed to branch out into new materials to solve a particular problem. Color Wheel uses Ultra Chrome Ink, which is archival and able to produce super vivid colors as well as a wide range of subtle gradation.
In founding a business, Donadio has kept Color Wheel a sole proprietorship to make the finances as simple as possible. She saved up a few thousand dollars to purchase her Epson 9800 inkjet printer (“a major work horse”) and a scanner, and a friend recently donated a second printer into the mix. In the beginning she offered just two kinds of paper but has gradually expanded to close to a dozen, providing a much wider range of options and detailed descriptions at the Color Wheel website. She is able to print up to 44 inches wide by however long a work needs to be, citing 44 x 90 inches long as one of her biggest jobs so far.
Images by Lisa Dillin and Milana Braslavsky
Since Color Wheel’s inception, Donadio has sought to make her services accessible to area artists and has worked hard to keep her prices as low as possible. “As an artist myself, I understand what it means to work within a tight budget,” she explains. Since a majority of her clients are individual artists, Donadio has figured out an equitable pricing structure over time that keeps the projects affordable but also responsibly reinvests into the business and materials. In the past few months, Donadio has expanded to work about two full days a week in the printing lab and is able to pay herself for her time and expertise.
Although she continues to work other jobs including teaching photography and art history classes at Towson University, Donadio can see the business slowly growing into a busier and more sustainable practice. We discussed several local grants given to Baltimore artists as one reason her business continues to grow, where artists are able to afford to make high quality prints, for example Lu Zhang’s recent Ruby Grant to complete a project at the Peabody Library.
As the creative ecosystem in Baltimore continues to grow and artists make a conscious choice to patronize local businesses, Color Wheel serves as an example for many young artists who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Color Wheel shows what can be accomplished when an artist translates their skills into a business and the community rises to support them. At this point, Color Wheel still works primarily with Baltimore artists, but has recently attracted clients outside of Baltimore as well. Donadio says she is thrilled to work with artists across the country, one at a time, in making beautiful prints.
Detail of wallpaper by Zoe Friedman
Author Cara Ober is Founding Editor at BmoreArt.
Please note, Color Wheel is a proud advertising sponsor at BmoreArt.