In 1980, Harvey Mireles was a high school dropout headed toward a 20-year career in the Air Force. Raised by a single mother on San Antonio’s West Side, Mireles grew up in public housing, attending school in the Edgewood Independent School District.
Now, almost 40 years later, Mireles is giving back to the community in which he grew up. In 2016, he founded La Printería, a nonprofit printmaking studio focused on providing opportunities for artists on San Antonio’s West Side. In collaboration with the Westside Development Corporation and Alamo Colleges, Mireles and his daughter Ashley work together as part of their mission to train underprivileged youth in printmaking techniques.
“I grew up in Edgewood, I dropped out of Edgewood, and now I’m primarily training Edgewood kids,” Mireles said.
From the ink to the screens, the cost of printmaking can make the medium inaccessible to many, especially low-income students. Mireles aimed to change that by creating the 100 Young Printmakers Program, funded by a $100,000 grant from Impact San Antonio, a women’s collective that awards grants to local nonprofits. The funding will allow Mireles to train up to 100 teenage printmakers over the course of a year through five-week programs that help them develop their skills.
“These are some of the most disadvantaged kids in the city,” Mireles said. “I remember what that was like, and I want to make sure that this is free for them. We’re teaching them a skill that they can use to market themselves and get by.”
While there are multiple printmaking methods, La Printería teaches its students screen-printing. This involves creating a stencil on a silk screen and using a squeegee to spread ink across the screen, printing the image onto anything from paper to a T-shirt. Screen-printing progresses in complexity from single-color prints to multicolored prints; more colors means more stencils, requiring artists to line up the screens perfectly for the layers of color to align.
At the Alamo Colleges’ Westside Education and Training Center, Mireles and his daughter turned an old gym into their workshop. The former showers are now a dedicated screen-cleaning station, and the gym floor leaves ample room for drying prints, designing T-shirts, or for multiple artists to work.
It’s a makeshift but workable art studio, and as Mireles walks around the room, he gives pointers, guiding his students through the process but allowing them to do the work themselves. He wants them to be independent, to take ownership of their new skills.
“The best part is watching their expressions change the first time they make a print,” Mireles said. “The first time everything lines up right and it comes out, their faces just change. It makes them wonder what else they can do.”
On a recent day, two students were working on self-portraits. Based on photos taken of them in class, both works incorporate the comic book-style influences of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.
When one student struggled to get his print to line up, Mireles came by to offer help. He asked a few questions, giving his former students-turned-apprentices the chance to solve the problem. A few minutes later, the print was perfect and ready to be placed on the drying rack.
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Mireles has two apprentices in his workshops, both former students who returned to help out while continuing to refine their own skills. One apprentice, 18-year-old Olivia Valenzuela, first trained with Mireles last year.
“I didn’t really think I would like it that much, but I fell in love with it the first day,” Valenzuela said. “I went to college during the year, but I came back this summer because I just missed it.”
The art background of Ashley Mireles, co-director of La Printería, is more extensive than that of her father. As a working artist and printmaker, she knows firsthand how learning a new creative skill can positively impact other aspects of someone’s life. And whether the students in the program become artists or not, that lesson is something father and daughter want to ensure their students absorb.
“Every week they’re learning a new technique that might help them with some other part of their lives, from building confidence to working as a team,” Ashley said. “Printmaking can be complicated and frustrating, but it shows you that anything you want to accomplish takes patience and time to get there.”
In addition to training printmakers, Harvey also has plans to showcase his students’ work.
“By the end of this program, I would have no problem saying these kids will be on the same level as bachelor of fine arts students,” he said. “We’re inspiring these kids to pursue creative careers and make a living that they might not have known they could before. That’s what this is all about.”