Hunched over an angled surface in his home studio, local artist Chris “Noosh” Neuenschwander is hard at work. The rhythmic sound of metal scraping against wood is enough to lull me into a trance as I watch Neuenschwander’s hands transform a block of wood into a work of art. Slowly, an image emerges. On the day that I visited he was working on a series of cats. Next to him, a completed woodcut of a tabby cat smiles while looking up at a balloon, the letter M emblazoned on its forehead.
It is here, in the tranquility of a basement transformed into a multifaceted workspace, that Neuenschwander produces his works. His woodcut art almost exclusively depicts animals, although a pirate or Viking might occasionally appear. They are often humorous, sometimes interactive, and infused with a sense of playfulness. The creatures have exaggerated features, and some include references to pop culture. Hanging on the walls, select works are painted in bright, vibrant colors.
Neuenschwander is a woodcut artist. He transfers designs from his mind to a sketch and then later onto a piece of wood which he meticulously carves until a finished design emerges. In a corner is a shelf stacked high with rolled up t-shirts that climb all the way to the ceiling. A sewing machine, embroidery machine, and three presses are within arm’s reach. A towering shelf is laden with finished woodcut designs, an impressive tribute to his long career as a working artist.
His pursuit of woodcut art began when he was a student at Kennesaw State University. “I took a printmaking class and the technique really just worked with the way my brain works,” explained Neuenschwander. “My brain sees a lot of lines, it doesn’t really see changes in value, it sees lines and weird shapes and texture. The way the technique works is it becomes instantly graphic once you print it.”
You see, woodcut artwork is a subtractive technique. Or, rather, it’s additive, then subtractive, and then additive again. First Neuenschwander begins with an idea. For a long while he started by drawing on paper in a sketchbook, but eventually that gave way to creating digital sketches on his tablet.
Neuenschwander digitally refines the design, figures out how big he wants it to be, and uses a projector to aid in transferring the design into a hand-drawn rendering on wood. From there, he cuts the wood to fit the image dimensions using a jigsaw or a scroll saw and paints the edges before moving onto the tedious part: the hand carving.
While some of his pieces are tiny and others are huge, he says the average piece is around 14 inches tall and pieces that size typically take between three to five hours to carve by hand. After this process the designs are ready to be either painted as a finished wood art piece or used in a press to create prints on paper, shirts, and other materials.
“I use birch, that is my most popular question,” says Neuenschwander with a laugh. When he first began working in this medium, he primarily used fibreboard. While this was an easy medium for carving, he eventually decided he wanted to upgrade the materials for a better final product. And while there are plenty of nice woods that he enjoys, like maple, but they tend to be expensive and difficult to source. Birch is affordable and accessible, something that is important for a working artist like Neuenschwander.
“It’s very relaxing,” he says, referring to the hand cutting portion of his work. “I almost don’t even think when I’m carving anymore.” The repetitive motions, working within a predetermined design, and his deep understanding of technique forged by nearly 14 years of commitment to the craft all allow him to reach a sort of flow state.
He often watches TV, either Disney movies or TV shows, while he works. Neuenschwander’s wife is a librarian who works at an elementary school, so during the workday he keeps to himself in his studio, his daily companions are his cat and dog who periodically check in on him.
In the before times, Neuenschwander was a regular fixture at art festivals like the Indie Craft Market, Kibbee Gallery in Poncey-Highland before they closed in 2019, and a regular participant at ABV’s Drink and Doodle event for the past seven years.
When Neuenschwander was in high school he started working as a caricature artist at Sea World, later taking those skills to Six Flags and the Georgia Aquarium. In total, he worked in this role for more than a decade while he pursued his schooling and established himself as an independent artist. “Because I drew only people at my job, I got kind of tired of drawing people, and at that point I transitioned to things like animals.”
Today, Noosh Studios predominantly produces works for sale online through BigCartel, an independent online store designed to help artists and makers sell their works. He also takes commissions and has been branching out into additional mediums. He recently acquired an embroidery machine and has been experimenting with adding his imagery to hats, backpacks, fanny packs, and tote bags.
“My first job was making art, and from there it was clear this was the only thing I was ever going to do.”