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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Visual

Kentuckians in Visual Arts

Printmaker Derrick Riley
Lexington, Kentucky


Who Derrick Riley began drawing at a very early age and was attracted to art classes in grade school and high school. He followed this interest to the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale, where he received his BFA in drawing. Having attended a printmaking class as an undergraduate, Riley decided to combine his interest and skills in drawing with the techniques of woodblock printing. That led him to pursue and receive an MFA in printmaking at the University of Kentucky. In addition to pursuing his work as a printmaker, which has brought him success in juried exhibitions of new artists around the country, Riley helps manage UK’s Tuska Gallery, which exhibits the work of faculty members and graduate students at the university, including final MFA shows. He also teaches classes for UK’s art department.


Riley is featured in the video segment “Printmaking: Derrick Riley” on the Spectrum of Art DVD (Part 3: 2d Media/Processes) in the Visual Arts Toolkit. You can also see samples of his work at his web site, dRock Press.

What Riley “I work primarily with woodcuts. I take an original idea from a drawing and make a sketch on a block. Then I refine the drawing and composition, carve out the piece, and produce a series of prints. I enter a lot of my work into juried shows throughout the country, especially group shows. The inspiration for my work comes from observations and reflections concerning societal flaws, as well as a general frustration I often encounter with current modes of corrupt communication, duplication and repetition of experiences, and competition.”

When “As a grad student, I usually spent about 10 to 12 hours in studio a day. Now that I’m working, I try to spend about five hours a day developing new pieces and about 10 to 12 per weekend.”

How Riley “Especially on larger projects, there is a great deal of physical exhaustion, endlessly carving into wood with a small chisel. Sore hands and battle scars. Combined with trying to make it as an artist, this can sometimes be the most frustrating part of my work.”

Why “I enjoy the constant task of trying to improve on each piece and being constantly willing to move forward. The most rewarding moments come when a piece turns out a success after a lot of hard work. Also, it’s crazy to recognize your work or see your name attached to a piece hanging in a gallery.”

Getting There “You have to be willing to spend as much time as possible developing your process and technique. It’s like a marriage—the more time you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. You always have to renew your focus. Take time to get your work out to galleries and promote yourself in general. Research as much as possible about artists in your field and learn about how they work and solve problems. It’s also really good to find people in your field that you can work with or learn from directly. Look at colleges that offer focused courses in your specific field of interest. But most importantly, submerge yourself in your inspiration—inspiration can come from anywhere.”

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951