Issue 005 — Print Story: Mt. Tam

Issue 005 — Print Story: Mt. Tam

Originally published on May 9, 2021

Print Story: Topo 005 — Mt. Tam

[photo of mt. tam – josh sortino]

Mount Tamalpais is a state park that's just north of San Francisco, nestled in the rolling fog of Marin County. It's one of those spots that feels truly magical, no matter the time of year or weather. And when you're standing on the peak or on any of the number of rolling foothills, it's hard to believe that you're only a half hour or so away from two of the biggest cities in California. If you're also in the Bay Area, then I'd bet you have a story to share about Mt. Tam too.

For me, Mt. Tam has been apart of several important moments in my time on the west coast. When I moved to the Bay, it was my first taste of just how close nature is to San Francisco. Friends and I would take trips for photos and picnics. A few months later, my coworkers created a GoFundMe, raised money to buy me a pair of EnChroma sunglasses, and took me to Mt. Tam to see my first sunset in color. You don't really forget where you saw color for the first time. And as I started to take cycling more seriously, Mt. Tam and its surrounding hills became my cycling mecca.

Needless to say, when I set out to create a large topographic print, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that Mt. Tam would be the location.

[photo of me on mt. tam] - josh sortino

As I alluded to in a Issue No. 004, my original plan for carving topo maps was for my own decorating purposes. I wanted to create a triptych of 12" x 18" topographic maps that all held personal sentimental value and was going to hang them as the centerpiece of my bedroom. Of course, there were rules: one needed mountains, one needed a coastline, and the last one needed to be a destination that I'd determine on an adventure while living on the west coast. There may come a day when I finish these, so I'll save the names of the spots for another issue.

I've also learned that carving topographic maps are hard. The skill to carve small, precise lines aside (which, I'm still improving on), there's a tremendous amount of patience involved. I had no idea when setting out on these projects that topographic maps would be my truest source of meditation.

[image of carving the block]

My process for each of these maps involves: hand tracing a large topographic map of a real location from USGS, printing that out and again tracing each line in order to transfer it on to a linoleum block, carving out each line with a small v shaped tool, and pulling prints by hand. At least at the moment, there are no printing presses or automatic transfer processes involved.

If that sounds tedious, it is. And if that sounds like a complaint, it's not. There's something incredibly soothing about setting aside problem solving and ideation in favor of just following a line for hours on end. If you've ever tried and struggled with meditation, I'd encourage you to instead try finding a craft that you may genuinely fall in love with. The results are surprisingly similar.

[image of mt. tam small]

But yes, it is a lot of work. And that's why there is a version of this print that you may be familiar with: Topo 001—Mt. Tam. It is, quite literally, the study of the larger version of Mt. Tam that has always been in the works.

I wish I could tell you how many hours this larger print took – but honestly, I lost track long ago. I just know that it has always been around and so finally finishing it feels... well, I just hope you enjoy the final print as much as I enjoyed making it.

[image of mt. tam large, in hands]

Shoutout to Joshua Sortino who took those two top photos, the second of which I'm featured in. We've been through a lot together – and he's the coworker who organized the alluded to GoFundMe that helped me see color for the first time.


Topo 005—Mt. Tam

It is refreshing to finally announce that this one is live. And entirely coincidental that Topo 005 lands in Issue No. 005. I'll just take that one as fated.

There are only 12 in the first edition, so get one before the first run is gone.

Playing in the studio


Staying in tune with long periods of calm carving, one of my go to "take a breath and relax" tracks is ODESZA's Kusanagi. And repeatedly listening to their albums brought me some time back to the 2020 project between ODESZA and Golden Features titled BRONSON.

The entire album sits somewhere between soothing electronic and dark dance. It's the exact album that I can play on repeat while printing all night or have blaring through headphones on a hard cycling climb.


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