How and Why to Do Black and White in Monotypes

October 24, 2016

“Say, it’s only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea”

-A Paper Moon, Billy Rose/ E.Y.Harburg/Harold Arlen

This image relates to memory and the way we move through it.

“Man With Torch”, Monotype, 30×42″, 2004. In this large monotype, black and white each define both positive and negative elements. White forms the infinite misty negative space behind the smoke and the water, for example, but also defines highlights on the water, and billows in the smoke. Charred trees foregrounded in black are silhouetted against distant grays and brown blacks. Similar values used in multiple compositional structures can make for dynamic graphics.

Color is an integral component of all art. We regularly talk of “color” when describing sounds in music, for example.

But in talking color in art, we often forget the two colors that are not considered colors at all: black and white. Managing black and white in ink on paper composition is at the very core of composing good prints.

For one thing, there is the subtractive nature of light in printmaking. As with any sort of color involving pigment, the addition of the pigment subtracts various wavelengths of light from those being reflected back to the eye. Unlike additive color such as projected light, where addition of more color eventually results in bright white, in subtractive color, you tend toward black. And in the thin applications of ink under pressure inherent in printmaking, it’s not possible to completely cover most inks. The most white space, and thus light, you will ever see in a print is in the blank piece of paper you tear before printing anything. Everything thing you do from then on only reduces the amount of light in your composition.

It’s also true to a certain extent, of watercolor, though many water colorists can cover with Chinese white ink, or gouache in their paintings to bring back the white areas. There is a very nice show of  Charles Burchfield pictures at the Denver Art Museum now where you can find wonderful examples of that. Print makers can certainly add opaque water media such as acrylic paint or even pastel to a print, making it a hand colored print, but in its essence as something run through a press and thus presented as something graphic and in some way repeatable (monotypes are not strictly repeatable, though a ghost can be made, which has very unique advantages in itself, explained here). So white is a valuable visual resource in the print room. And in managing the sorts of positive/negative relationships that bold graphics and dynamic compositions often depend on, it is indispensable.

Its material opposite and spiritual twin is black. While both can evoke a void or an infinity, and each bring definition to shape, as in chiaroscuro, only black can be physically applied in a pure state in printing. And it cannot be taken away. White is just the opposite, and thus becomes almost sculptural. It is fun to work with white inks, but even “opaque” white does not cover nearly as well as black. The best example of this is in scratchboard-style composing such as seen in the monotypes of Castiglione, their inventor, who recently had a show at the DAM.

It thus becomes very important in monotype printmaking to be “present”. One must have a good sense of where the light in a given composition is “coming from” and where it is going. Transitions from white to black and from positive to negative space create compositional movement and intrigue. This is true in any medium, of course, but in print media it cannot be corrected, and must be planned for. A monotype can be layered with great subtlety, tones shifting almost miraculously into hues as complex as many oil paintings, but the white slips away with each run as relentlessly as melting snow. It’s true whether the composition is abstract or realistic, hard-edged or gestural, baroque or minimal.

So having a sense of balance and proportion is vital, even if balance is accomplished with one shining burst of light in the darkness. In the most poetic sense, the two need each other, as the Bible, and artists from Rembrandt to Escher to Motherwell remind us. Because that bit of light may be where your viewer’s eyes enter your picture.  And the finest pin prick may be where they move after that, and how they are led through your composition, searching and constellating as with stars on a dark night. Eyes bring light to the synapses, and their movement is analogous to interest and engagement in the viewer. Grays and blacks can be compelling and dynamic, and a dark composition can create real mystery but there is a danger of busy-ness or a visual claustrophobia when there is too much of a grayness in a print, and if there is real depth or motion in your monotype, a bright graphic electricity, the chances are that the white is shining through somewhere like a big paper moon.

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The World Is a Funny (Book) Place

October 17, 2016

I read some big, brainy, brick shaped books this summer. A respite was inevitable, and when my eyes want a rest, I very often pick up some comics.

Comics, A Global History 1968 to the Present, Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner: The 50’s suppression of comics in America had echoes in Europe and Japan, but they weren’t as long lasting, and thus innovation came sooner there. This is one of the valuable areas of context offered in Comics, which despite its limitations, is the most comprehensive survey of the creative maturing of the medium around the world I’ve seen. I was searching for a history of Euro comics from WW II onward. This isn’t it, but it’s a very readable account of the modern era of comics in their three largest markets.

Any art form requires context for informed interpretation. Comics, a form that has been subject in this country to an infantilizing censorship and commercialized lassitude since the witch hunts of the post war era, have lacked any sort of critical context for decades. This is finally changing, and important scholarship is proliferating, often at a pace that stretches the budget of an amateur scholar.

I thus passed this book up in the store both for cost, and for its scope, which cuts off the crucial 50’s Mad Magazine/EC era, roots of the seminal undergrounds. Mazur and Danner choose to start in 1968, a year rich in a larger cultural sense, but an odd place to start here in that it was the industry’s self-censorship push of ’54 (the infamous Comics Code Authority seal on the comics of my youth) that really led to the Underground comics movement of the 60’s, and ultimately, the innovation of the 70s and especially the 80’s. By putting EC out of business, the Code created an artistic void into which the young fans who missed those raucous comics (such as R. Crumb) ventured when they started Zap Comix, et al.

Mazur and Danner, limited by page count, did find a rich time to start, but nowhere else in the book is cultural ferment linked to pop culture innovation, so it seems arbitrary, and a missed opportunity. The reactionary Reaganauts and the dystopian Dark Knight Returns or Otomo’s Akira? Grinding, punitive Thatcherism, and Judge Dredd, or Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta? Not explored. To be fair, the book runs to 300 pages already, and it’s my only major complaint. The book, which I finally got from DPL, certainly does provide a creative context, if not a cultural one.

Instead, I was impressed by its integrative vision of comics as international art form. Within its narrowed time frame, it examines both Euro and American mainstream comics against underground/alternative upstarts, and provides a nice survey of alt- and mainstream manga, not to mention the frequent cross pollinations, such as Akira’s influence on Dark Knight or the “British Invasion” of creators that led to DC’s Sandman and Watchmen.

This survey attempts to link these culturally disparate but creatively interlinked threads in the development of a more literate and adult oriented comics media. Its authors appear to be knowledgeable about this complex period in comics history, where the rebellious spirit of early 20th century comics found rebirth in reaction to the post war censorship movements.

They note that there was in the late 60’s and early 70’s a movement to different marketing dynamics. The Franco-Belgian comics went to an album format (as American comics are doing today) while American comics began to be sold in the direct market, opening opportunity for creative experimentation. By then, Manga and Euro comics were already appealing to a more mature reader, often in the form of Science Fiction and other genre. This movement came to our shores in the form of Heavy Metal magazine, which despite its T & A editorial bias, published many interesting comics auteurs, as they point out.

At around that time, I  discovered Herge’s Tintin. This was a real revelation when I first encountered it in the college bookstore. His ligne clair (clear line) style defined Euro comics as a whole new simplified graphic style different from over-rendered American superhero comics, a real breath of air. The authors clarify the roots of different European styles of the time, tracing clear line to Brussels, and another looser style, epitomized by Goscinny’s Asterix, to Charleroi.  By the early 80’s Fantagraphics and Raw Magazine had begun publishing Jacques Tardi, Jooste Swarte and other European artists, who’d re-appropriated clear line with an ironic, post modern twist.

I was immediately hooked. Naturally, these early discoveries were on my mind as I read Comics, so I returned to two Euro comics pioneers.

Tintin has been recently repackaged in a smaller format, and I don’t recommend them. The whole appeal of clear line is its simple, open lines, allowing the art and story more space and air. Reducing the size of the panels defeats this. Herge is very funny and engaging in his details. The older format is often found on eBay or in used bookstores at great prices, and allows Herge’s dynamism and visual pacing to shine. The early stories, such as King Ottakar’s Sceptre, echo romantic genre fiction, such as the Prisoner of Zenda, but with interesting political overtones in the approach of WWII.

I found Adele Blanc Sec, by Jacques Tardi, in a favorite used bookstore. Tardi was a pioneer of more adult-oriented genre comics in France in the mid 70’s, mostly in the realm of the murder mystery, but also in a history of a soldier’s (his father) experience in the WW I trenches. In Adele, plots pile complication upon complication in lieu of a cohesive narrative about a mysterious prehistoric bird terrorizing Paris, but his cartooning, hovering stylistically between Herge’s clear line style and George Pichard’s texturally voluptuous landscapes, is atmospheric and evocative of the Edwardian era he seeks to evoke.

Empire of a Thousand Suns, Mezieres: 70’s Euro sci fi in a stylish “Charleroi School” art but fairly unsophisticated plot. Had hoped for something like Barbarella, a sexy pioneering sci fi fantasy, but got a pedestrian space mystery instead. The parallels between it and the slightly later first Star Wars movie are quite striking, though.

It was also in the early 80’s that I had my first taste of Manga. This came in Raw, too, which published 70’s Garo magazine alumni such as Yoshiharu Tsuge. They also introduced such important Punk/DIY (“Do It Yourself”, a movement of self-publishing and music recording) creators as Gary Panter and Mark Beyer. More recently quite a bit of pioneering  alt-Mangaka such as Tezuka and Hayashi have become available, and Mazur and Danner have done a good job of tracking their impact in the Japanese market and elsewhere.  If you become curious about these European and Japanese creators, then any of the better anthologies, such as Kramer’s Ergot or  Mome (Fantagraphics); Drawn and Quarterly Showcase, or the massive Drawn and Quarterly 25th Anniversary collection ( D&Q); or back issues of Raw can provide good samples. Comics: A Global History unfortunately chose to present examples in the original languages (easier to get rights, I’m assuming), but the anthologies’ translations are pretty easily and cheaply available online or at a good used bookstore.

Comics continues into the 21st Century, with brief examinations of web comics; the “Fort Thunder” collective, working in what Mazur and Danner call a “Cute Brut” style of edgy, primitivist graphics merged with Disney-style anthropomorphism; and the autobiographical movement.  It is a real renaissance in comics right now, and the book will quickly become dated. I really hope they revise it then.  In terms of defining creative trends in the three main comics-loving regions, USA, Europe, and Japan, Comics makes for absorbing and necessary reading, and I did find myself referring back to it as I re-discovered old works.

Adult Contemporary by Bendik Kaltenborn: This Norwegian cartoonist is very much in the vein of Brecht Evans (The Making Of, below) and Brecht Vandenbroucke (White Cube); that is, very edgy satire with urban themes in a cartoon brut style of hyperactive color and unrefined line work. They really grew on me as I settled into their neurotically absurd humor.

The Making Of, Brecht Evens: Gorgeous and dense watercolors and absorbing layout in this tale of artistic ego turned loose in the hinterlands of creativity.

City of Glass, Paul Auster: adapted by Paul Kurasic and David Mazzuchelli. A Noirish thriller of identity and social interaction by Karasic, who once worked on Raw Magazine, and Mazzuchelli of Asterios Polyp and Batman Year One where he brought back a purer cartooning style to the over-rendered medium of superheroes. Mazzucheli’s stylizations sometimes carry real elemental power, as in Batman; and sometimes seem overly self conscious or precious. But it’s a compelling story.

Tales to Designed to Thrizzle, Michael Kupperman: bizarre non sequiturs and 50’s style ad graphics collide in this often funny satire of capitalist messaging. Best in small doses, possibly.

Drawn Together, Aline and R.Crumb: Another worthy anthology in the 80’s was Weirdo, where these unexpectedly affecting collaborations between R. Crumb and his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb appeared before being collected in this 2012 edition. Aline influenced him to try autobiographical comics, which she helped popularize, and he alertly recognized the more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts harmony of her scratchy primitivism with his iconic retro-E.C.Segar Zap Comix style. It is a visual analogy of what makes a relationship work; neuroses, kinks, self-absorption and all. The whole becomes a funny and romantic page turner and ultimately tells the fascinating tale of 35 years of their unconventional marriage. And, by extension, of the maturing and broadening of the conventions of an always vital medium.

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Fall News

October 10, 2016

_dsc8170-fwdcopyFall Doings:

I’ve got a lot going on this fall, after a quiet summer. I hope to see you for one of these events.

Workshops:  I’ve still got a couple coming up this fall. The next session of  Monotypes For Advanced Beginners begins October 25 and runs until just before Thanksgiving. This is a follow-up class to my Monotypes For Beginners workshop and is intended for people with at least some printmaking experience. It covers some more advanced techniques, such as larger work and Chine Colle, and is a bit more studio-oriented. There are still spots open, if you’d like to squeeze in some creative “me” time, or get a start on some hand-made holiday gifts. I also have one more Moxie U Monotypes sampler, on October 13. There are still spots open for that, too. Online registration is here.

 I’ve added an evening session of my Monotypes for Beginners workshop

The biggest news is in the upcoming spring schedule, where I’ll be getting off to an earlier start, and running a bit later, as I’ve added an evening session of My Monotypes For Beginners workshop. I’ll have a Session B of Monotypes For Beginners, beginning  April  4 on Tuesday evenings and it will run for 5 weeks, making it very affordable. It filled up very quickly the last two times I’ve given it, and I’ve also had quite a bit of feedback that more evening sessions would be welcome. This affects younger people who have to work, and teachers looking for development credit, which is available at the League. In all, there are more of my workshops of various sizes and times available this spring.  I’ll post a complete list at, or you can search and register online at

One of my favorite places for a demo


I have a free Demo and Dialogue at Meininger Artist Materials on  November 5 at 2 -4 PM. This is a Denver Arts Week event, and a great way to preview what you might expect in a workshop, or get a peek into my process.  Their set-up is viewer friendly, and the crowd is usually quite lively and full of questions and comments, so it’s one of my favorite places for a demo. You also get a 20% Off coupon for supplies!

I have two upcoming holiday shows: at Open Press, a Denver Arts Week event, opening Friday,  November 11, 6-9 PM, with a  First Friday event on December 2, 6-9 PM. Mark Lunning’s Open Press is a center for Denver printmaking for 30 years, so the show will feature some of the area’s best print work. I should be there both at the opening and First Friday, if you want to chat and say hello.  It runs through December, with gallery hours 12-5 every Saturday, or by appointment at 303.778.1115.

There is also a holiday show at G44 Gallery, in Colorado Springs, beginning  November 18.  You can buy selected works online through their website, and here on Appointments to see work are available. Email or call 720.855.7340.

I hope all of you have a wonderful autumn, and a great Holiday/Solstice season!

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Book Porn

October 05, 2016


A computer crash and a temp job in a shorthanded college bookstore really cramped my writing though I do have plenty of raw first drafts, typed shakily into my phone or tablet on public transit. So I’m posting some summer reading commentary now as I try to catch up: 

I finished The Novel, A Biography. It’s an eleven hundred page survey of novels and their authors, written by Michael Schmidt.  I’d intended to cherry-pick it, for authors I love, or am curious about. But its many and various cross referencings made it hard to put down. And its subject matter is undeniably as significant as any art history, about which many back-breaking tomes have been published.

The novel exists as both high and low culture, though it must certainly qualify as the world’s first pop culture medium, having come into being roughly at the same time as the printing press. It’s inherently ironizing, which is undoubtedly why it very quickly outgrew its early tendency to masquerade as “true” memoir, and became wildly popular with Cervantes and then Fielding’s introduction of contemporary satire. It goes without saying that most of the novels discussed in the book I haven’t read, though in choosing examples here, most I have.

I’m especially callow in regard to books written before the height of the American Romantic era, around 1850, which is why I picked up the book in the first place. I’d tiptoed around English Victorian novels like literary quick sand and somehow avoided finishing anything by Dickens in high school, actually bragging of not having flunked the class.

In university it was easy enough to concentrate on modernist writing. Summers then and non-term months were for pop culture heroes, genre and post-modernists. Yes, I probably read every Vonnegut novel before 1985. I wasn’t completely ignorant of the novel’s roots, though. I had a vague familiarity with and attraction to the picaresque and the Gothic, having read enough of my parents’ collection and literary criticism to make ad hoc connections between Cervantes, Melville and Pynchon.

But placing those things in the context of the novel’s development from Cervantes to Fielding; from Richardson to Austen to James, requires a road map and that is what Schmidt ambitiously attempts to provide- a bird’s-eye view.

Schmidt generates critical dialogue through the device of writers writing about writers. It’s a shifting perspective to be sure. He has his favorites (Woolf, Ford Madox Ford, Vidal), but often includes contradictory critiques, and thus one is left to compose one’s own critical map through a sort of triangulation. Nor does he hew to strict chronology, especially after 1900. This leads to pairings that are useful (Richardson with Austen), brave (Bruce Chatwin with Daniel Defoe), unimaginative or even stereotypical (a gaggle of early gay novelists followed by a murder of Jim Crow-era black writers) and plain bizarre (fellow paranoids, but political opposites Ayn Rand and Pynchon). A passage on John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress) alludes to Kurt Vonnegut (Billy Pilgrim, get it?). And if “Biography” can be defined in one sense as “mistakes made, lessons learned”, then what are we to make of the fact that the last chapter of the novel’s “Biography” features Saul Bellow, Phillip Roth and Martin Amis?

The point being that seeking the definitive would be a fool’s errand in such an expansive undertaking and Schmidt mostly avoids it.

 Schmidt does not attempt to rank or qualify writers, though he does give oblique commentary and his likes and dislikes are often easy to suss. Likes include picaresque adventures (Cervantes, Fielding) Late Romanticism (Melville) and early modernism (Woolf). Dislikes include Richardsonian romance, the Gothic (Scott), late Modernism (late Joyce) and most Post Modernism (watch out, Thomas Pynchon). Perhaps unsurprisingly, de Sade is not mentioned despite his fairly obvious, though often unacknowledged thematic affinities with Dostoyevsky and others (including Rand). Yet contemporary mainstream writers who’ve had best-selling decades ( Jane Smiley, John Irving) also don’t merit a walk-on.

Schmidt does include a chapter on genre where he discusses Raymond Chandler and Walter Moseley as artists before giving a wave of the hand to the putative heirs of Austen and the Brontes such as Barbara Cartland, who has sold hundreds of millions of books if not over a billion. This gives one an idea, when seen with the advent of mass market and trade PB market in the 50s, of just how massive and diverse the reading public has become. He imposes a cutoff, sensibly set at Y2K. It seems far less sensible after reading this, to subscribe to the conventional wisdom that the book is dying. After the apocalypse, who will survive along with the cockroaches? Jane Austen in various paperback versions, my adventures in bookstores both new and used indicate.

Having a road map is important, I think. I’d like to read Fielding’s Tom Jones, influenced by Cervantes and very influential in its own language. I can probably live- and die- without Richardson, but my sense -or sensibility (?!) is that Austen, inventor of what Schmidt characterizes as a “free indirect” interiority is of far more importance than the commonplace rubric “inventor of the romance genre” that’s often assigned her. I will probably continue to avoid Dickens. I feel I should try to get all the way through a Bronte sister, perhaps Charlotte this time. I can no longer avoid James, I fear, though that brings me to Woolf’s doorstep, a safe haven.  As the “too many books, too little time” shopping bag franchisees remind us, life is short- but novels are long. When the hell will I re-read Ulysses?  And can I get back the hours I spent with the overwrought moral and psychological convolutions of Iris Murdoch?

add to these the regretfully unread (Barthelme, Gaddis, and I did happen to read an old Granta excerpt of a then-prospective Martin Amis novel that Schmidt praises as a modern classic, and I’m very curious about it), the under-read ( Bellow, Roth and always, Woolf), and the untried (Hardy? Conrad?).

So Schmidt’s unwieldy bucket list gets two thumbs up here.  It’s the kind of book one would keep in a home with limited space because one would refer to it often, as each bucket list entry gets crossed off. If it is eccentric in its realization, then so are many readers.

My own bucket list started with Don Quixote, by Cervantes. Digging down to the very roots of the novel, I found an agreeable translation/annotation by Tom Lathrop. Ignoring the clunky framing conceit of a “true history” so characteristic of the era, I dove in. The tale is most ‘modern’ and vibrant when the indefatigably deluded would-be knight-“errant” argues strategy with his faithfully self-interested squire, but I guess we all knew that. The story is culturally imprinted, whether from childhood excerpts or Broadway lyrics, and the copious broken ribs and loosened teeth that incited Europe’s first ever viral laff-riot now seem tiresome and gauche, but the interplay between the Woebegone Knight and Sancho is still pure gold. Cervantes popularized the novel, it is often said. Less often he gets credited with the first buddy movie.

I had to stop near the end of Part I (1605) and skip Part II (1615, partially a Cervantes reaction to pirating) to move on to my temp job. It’s in a college bookstore; life plays some cruel jokes.

The Art of the Personal Essay, Phillip Lopate, Ed: Another bruising, categorizing war-horse that I found on the shelf next to Novel and couldn’t resist lugging home. Some of the major players from Novel are here also; notably Virginia Woolf. Again, there are the early pioneers – Seneca, Addison and Steele, Hazlitt taxing syntactically, but they lead eventually to 20th Century riches. Joan Didion, Max Beerbohm, Walter Benjamin and George Orwell, the list goes on in easily digested five to ten page bites. The editorial work is exemplary, with underlying themes emerging, then carrying from ancient Rome to Edwardian London. These are indexed for ease of comparison, and cherry-picking. My favorite, “Walking”, led to an exquisite, sublimely transporting gem by Woolf, “Street Haunting”, in which the artifice of needing a pencil leads to an impressionist’s fantasia reminiscent of the ‘House’ chapter in “To the Lighthouse”, along with the emotional coda of a domestic squabble and make-up. The kind of piece that in a small way, leaves you a different person coming out than going in.

It’s been a Woolf summer. I found, and dallied with, before I put away for Fall reading, a collection of critical essays on each of her books. I also inhaled Orlando, before savoring each crystalline Woolf-ian blurb on each Victorian and pre-modern writer in Schmidt. All the while repeatedly reminding myself that it’s now been decades since I read To the Lighthouse and A Room of One’s Own. Add them to the list.

Masterpiece Comics, R.Sikoryak: Sikoryak, a Raw Magazine vet from the 80’s, has been writing and illustrating these sly little mash-ups of high- and low culture and publishing them, very much under the radar, in anthologies all along. They’re collected here, and they’re funny because they get to the heart of the artificial divide between high and pop culture. In the process, we get a good laugh and confront the question of how and why we tell ourselves tales.

Here again, context is essential. Most can appreciate the hilarious sight gag of Dagwood in “Blonde Eve”, a biblical Garden of Eden retelling in the iconic “Blondie” style, carting arm loads of apples, waiter style, as he prepares to snack on the tree of knowledge. But a real shock of recognition comes to fans of Golden Age comics in seeing Raskolnikov, with his exaggerated sense of moral agency, compared with Batman’s vigilantism in Jerry Robinson’s dark Gotham City alleys.

 “Lil Pearl”, a Scarlet Letter retelling, gains far more satirical punch if one is familiar with Dell Comics’ Little Lulu, arguably one of the most widely read feminist voices of the benighted 50’s, who was continually and subtly turning the tables on, and claiming moral high ground from, the boys. And “Crypt of the Brontes”, a Wuthering Heights pastiche, becomes creepily compelling as a spot-on take of EC horror comics, complete with the narrating housekeeper in the iconic EC framing role as Crypt Keeper.

Sikoryak has retold Shakespeare, deSade, Camus and Dante ( as Bazooka Joe!) He apparently did not make a fetish of avoiding classic literature, as I did. Might Emily Bronte be rolling over in her grave at the thought of her masterpiece re-cast as  pre-code horror pulp? Possibly.

But she might also be tempted to grab Raskolnikov’s ax at the sight of one billion Barbara Cartland novels.

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A Brief Essay on How and Why to Make Monotypes

July 22, 2016

"Red Place", 2016, 20x13". It was built on a leafy yellow ghost image, with the green being a second layer, and the red being a final layer to highlight the negative/positive dichotomy of the chair. There is a sense, to me, that being "present" or truly in a "place" sometimes requires one to empty the mind.

“Red Place”, 2016, 20×13″. It was built on a leafy green ghost image, with the red being a final layer to highlight the negative/positive dichotomy of the chair. There is a sense, to me, that being “present” or truly in a “place” sometimes requires one to empty the mind.

Monotypes, though simple, are very process-oriented and often defeat results-oriented art making. Change is built in to the creative process, and often, until change is addressed, satisfying prints don’t happen.

We’ve let the word “print” become degraded and we often reflexively see them as a way of producing imitation paintings. The medium especially in recent decades, has outgrown the limitations of making additive paintings in ink, which date mainly to Ab-Ex days, and are a valid pursuit, but hardly cover all that monotype has to offer as a medium. The essence of printmaking is in subtraction and replication. The only form of (near) replication available to a monotype artist is the ghost impression.

The ghost occupies a role in printmaking that is unique to all of artistic expression. It is a post mortem on your original idea, retroactively half-baked, almost, but never quite, a mockery. It points the way to subtractive composition, and the clarity that comes of removing distraction. It contains info, attitude and atmospherics that the artist did not actively put there. It is a by product of a mechanization of the creative process.

It is the ghost in the machine.

A ghost, in printmaking, is a second, generally fainter impression using ink left over on a plate from which the intended first impression has been made. Degas would use these as a matrix for pastel drawings. But it can be layered over, partially or wholly, with variant imagery too, and in pulling ghosts from these variations, monotype’s potential for exploring a single idea quickly becomes exponential, dwarfing the usual, binary, pass/fail equation of the initial image to suggest multiple new ideas and implications. It is rich with suggestion in a creative sense, and its suggestions can easily be seen as subtexts, alternate iterations. or even pre-conscious speculations on the original image/idea.

Thus it takes on a (creative) life of its own, and enters an active conversation with the artist’s own inner monologues, turning it into a rich dialogue. And it often turns out that the ghost side of the conversation may know the artist’s mind better than the artist himself does. It certainly provides an opportunity to continue the conversation, and on a practical level, offers an escape route should the original print fail. It can provide vital feedback. Our ideas can be unworkable, half-baked, or even “not good ideas.” Creative block can ensue.

In case of creative block the ghost can provide a way forward. to “distract” is to perplex and bewilder, in an archaic sense. Its roots are in Latin “to draw apart.” It is a fragmentation of, rather than an imposition on, the creative impulse and in exploring ghost variants we can move physically toward the obstacle and engage its many implications, rather than meekly “going back to the drawing board”.

Monotypes do not eliminate the need for vision and planning. If anything, they quickly expose a lack of it. Vision is not retrospective, one does not “fix” a vision (whether in the sense of “holding” or “repairing”), and if one tries it quickly becomes overworked and imprecise. “Precision” means “exact and accurate” but its roots are in the Latin “to cut off”. The implication is that the longer an idea is worked and re-worked, the less sharp and exact it becomes.

Time is of the essence in monotypes, not in the sense of hurry, but in the sense of being present and alert. And being present, we are realizing in this very distracted life, is the ultimate creative act.

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Lazy Daze

July 14, 2016

We’ve had a large hatching of dragonflies- possibly brought on by a sudden spell of cool wet weather. Squadrons of them, swarming the neighborhood. It seems like a nice omen for a summer that’s already been pretty enjoyable. I am teaching, and watching a lot of football. I pulled for the USA, then I pulled for Ireland, but I’ll pull for Azerbaijan if there’s good beer and someone who knows the difference between an in-swinger and an out-swinger. Subject for a long-postponed future post.

All the rest of the time, I’m reading. There’s been a large hatching of books, too. I had an art show last month; I like to stock up when I have cash. If it sounds like a vacation, that’s what it is. I head back to a temp job next week, and life is short. I’m reading prose; fiction, and non-,  but I’ll save that for another post to cut down on length. Here’s what I’m reading in comics:


Spaniel Rage: Vanessa Davis. These are sketch diary entries, in an engagingly loose pencil and ink style, of a twenty-something’s adventures in the NYC Millennials culture. Autobiographical comics have come a long way since the 80’s, and Davis’s uninhibited line work and eye for quirky human detail and absurdity is along with others such as Gabrielle Bell, a great example why.

Black Eye Magazine #1: Ryan Standfest, editor. There isn’t enough of this type of journal. It highlights edgier examples of new comics output, and offers critical examinations of some of the ignored creators of the censored 50’s and 60’s.  This issue has a good eye for comics outliers: Michael O’Donoghue’s Phoebe Zeitgeist, Al Feldman Panic comics, and the objectivist solo work of Spiderman creator and lone wolf Steve Ditko are all discussed. I found this 2011 number at a used bookstore, but I’ve located a second issue on the net ( Rotland along with an impressive selection of mini comics they’ve commissioned from artists like R. Sikoryak, of which, more below.

Comic Art #8, Todd Hignite, Editor: This well produced, but dearly departed journal featured critical essays and historical research on many comics and creators, from the medium’s origins to the present. This one has an interesting speculation on the origin of the word balloon, only somewhat marred by a tendency toward academic jargon; a long feature on the comics and graphics of Richard McGuire (Here); a look at the influence of Arizona’s Coconino County on  20’s newspaper cartoonists; and a critique of early Marvel Comics auteur Jim Starlin’s trippy, cosmic Warlock, from the 70’s. Back issues can be found on the web, and they’re all worth reading.

Sir Alfred #3, Tim Hensley: I’ll admit to my ignorance- I haven’t more than the barest knowledge of Alfred Hitchcock’s life, though I’ve seen many of his films. The intrigue here, for me, is in Hensley’s well crafted melding of “apocryphal anecdotes” from Hitchcockian lore with a dead on parody of the 50’s Dell children’s comics of once-anonymous now belatedly-recognized-comics-genius John Stanley.

Stanley, who might accurately be called the 50’s most popular feminist writer, wrote and sometimes drew Little Lulu comics. In these, Tubby and his gang, goaded on by an inflated sense of self esteem, often scheme to deprive Lulu Moppet of her allowance or a treat, or to con her into completing an odious task, all without surrendering the supreme entitlement of membership in their “No Girls Allowed” clubhouse. Almost invariably, Lulu, whether through her wits, or the impervious grace of the just, turns the tables on the boys. Stanley’s brave flipping of the insistent 50’s trope of the dumb, emotionally unstable, quiescently domesticated woman serves him well, as these comics will crack you up. Stanley later brought his eye to the burgeoning genre of 60’s teen humor, which Hensley also sends up in a previous effort, Wally Gropius.

In Sir Alfred, Tubby plays the role of eccentric legend Hitchcock, and the sense of entitled aplomb, along with a “well rounded” graphic profile in each makes it a genius bit of casting. Hitchcock was apparently known for poor treatment of women. The comic itself is a clever melange of gossipy vignettes and absurdly reductive movie plot summaries all paced and designed in the classic Dell “One-Pager” format.

This is really a bit overpriced. It’s packaged ($25) as an author-signed, limited edition oversized comic with a Giclee of an interior panel and a letterpress beer coaster (?). But Hensley is a rising star in comics and I was no more likely to pass up his latest satirical project than skip over a well crafted Little Lulu homage, which are more common than one might expect. R. Sikoryak, I think, launched this mini-genre in the 80’s with a pastiche of LL and The Scarlet Letter. These sorts of things are an example of a type of satire unique to comics, which ultimately trace back to the antic transgressions of EC’s Mad (Comics, not Magazine) and Panic. These were censored out of existence in 1955, but lived on in spirit in the 60’s undergrounds and 80’s Raw magazine.  Hensley, Sikoryak, and others are keeping up the tradition.

Spanish cartoonist Max channels The Andalusian Dog along with Charlie Brown and Jimmy Corrigan

Spanish cartoonist Max channels The Andalusian Dog along with Charlie Brown and Jimmy Corrigan

Bardin, the SuperRealist, Max: Spanish cartoonist Max gives us Bardin, a Charlie Brown-like Ligne clair (“clean line” cartooning, popularized by Herge in Tintin) euro-bohemian, who when not cadging cognac from friends in Madrid cafes, is admitted into iconically Dali-esque southern Spanish surrealist landscapes. Max has fun exploring Surrealist tropes, including the infamous “A cloud across the moon…” scene from Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou, and adds his own in a wide-ranging pastiche that includes Mickey Mouse. I’d passed this up when Max published it shortly after The Extended Dream of Mr D. I was still working full time and didn’t feel I had time to experiment with a lot of new reading, especially with such a bizarre approach, but it turns out to be delightful- witty and hilarious. I read parts twice and will return to it soon, I’m sure.

I’m halfway through Kramer’s Ergot #9, my favorite comics anthology, and picked up Emma Rios’ (Pretty Deadly) just-released I.D. I’ll comment on those later. I’ve also started a commentary on the hows and whys of monotypes which collects thoughts I’ve often shared with my classes.



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Summertime Update

June 23, 2016

Sincere thanks, as always, to the folks who came by during the Art Students League Summer Art Market a couple of weekends ago. It’s always a fun show, and this was another successful one. It’s also a lot of work and often comes during the year’s first full-on heat wave, as did this year’s, so I rewarded myself with a week’s vacation on the back porch with a stack of new reading material. So I haven’t posted, but expect a book post soon; it’s already being written.

I also hied myself down to the DAM for a first peek at the “Women in Abstract Expressionism” show that is attracting a significant amount of national attention. I wanted to get in while the conversation is still just beginning, and I’m joining it soon with a post of first impressions which may be posted here as quickly as a day or two, as I’m in the final edits with that.

My Summer workshops have started again. Most are sold out, but one, “Monotypes for Advanced Beginners“, starting in July, still has space left at last check. It’s intended for people with recent printmaking experience, so contact me if you are in doubt.  If you missed out on one of the others, the Fall schedule for those will be confirmed, and posted here in not too long.

I’ve tentatively added a free Meininger’s Demo and Dialogue to the schedule for November’s Denver Arts Week. I’ll post on the Workshops page when I confirm date and time. I don’t have a lot of free stuff going on this year, but the Meininger demos are real fun, with a great space and usually a good crowd, so I thought you should know.

I hope you are having a great beginning of Summer!



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Ab Expression: First Impressions

"Epic", Judith Godwin (Detail)

“Epic”, Judith Godwin (Detail)

I took a preliminary stroll through “Women of Abstract Expressionism”, the new and ground-breaking show of “under reported and undervalued” artists from the NYC and SF art scenes of the 40’s-60’s.I wanted to leave all pronounciness at the door, and let the show simply wash over me.

After an initial wide-eyed cruise through the show to take in the lay of the land, the groupings of multiple and various works by each artist, the rich colors, broad or frenzied strokes and gooped-on paint so characteristic of Ab Ex, I began to entertain myself with more ancillary aspects of the show, as outlined in the title cards.

There are 12 artists in the show, most of them now dead. I will not speculate on the role the omnipresent cigarettes dangling from their lips in contemporary photos may have played in this.

Frankenthaler, Krasner, Mitchell and DeKooning have, honestly, long been heavyweights, at least among the cognoscenti. Undervalued, perhaps (out of my league), but certainly not as under reported as several others that I, at least, have never heard of. This provides its own sort of pleasure, as the “bucket list” aspect of the viewing, the anticipated “wow” of seeing the male superstars of Ab Ex is washed away, and a freshness of first impressions takes its place.

A Joy DeFeo in blacks, grays and distressed whites is now on my bucket list for destination viewing in future visits. Mary Abbott shows a diversity of ideas; Pearl Fine’s use of non-traditional materials in painting anticipates Anselm Kiefer’s.

The design of the show, with its generous samplings of each artist, gives perspective. The artists’ own words and work defeats any lingering temptation to typecast along gender lines. For example, it’s hard to miss a large signature Krasner piece at the entrance in defiantly “pretty” pinks; and another later in the show which is awash in a lucsious magenta paired with a spring green. Yet a superficial impulse to judge these in terms of “feminine” qualities is quickly defeated by two nearby stunners executed in a potent, slashing brown/black, their insomniac beiges,drips and spatters palpably all her own, despite the famous “action” of her husband’s multi-million dollar canvasses. Krasner must have known by then that she was fated to become recognized primarily as Jackson Pollack’s wife. In this grouping, we can detect irony, resistance, anxiety and disappointment. And the ever present cigarettes in the photos perhaps speak to a jaded resignation, as they were wont to do in movies of the period.

Similarly, Elaine DeKooning shows an explosively chromatic “Bullfight”, which must certainly be related in many minds to her husband Willem’s work. But across the way are two portraits (of Willem) that in their measured flowing gesture and dark contemplative atmospherics of tone and color, must also qualify as two of the most unique in the show.

The exception that perhaps proves the rule is found in the opening vistas of the show, in the work of Helen Frankenthaler, whose soft pastel colors and abstract, misty riverine washes suggest flowery effusions and vulva-like redoubts in direct lineage to the delicate, so-designated cunts and petals of Georgia O’Keefe. But as the show notes steadfastly maintain, they primarily attest to her innovative and influential discovery of a staining process which spawned an entire movement, color field painting. So the scholarship behind the show is strong, and revelatory, and clearly not afraid to address the inevitable gender issues head-on and straightforwardly.

Nor is Krasner the only artist to allude, if only subconsciously, to the gender gap and its connotations. In a time when Freudian interpretation was still very influential, Judith Godwin, in “Epic”, situates a vaguely erectile swath of black and purple in a field of warming whites. Positive and negative space, good and evil, figure and ground, hidden grotto or towering monument, they are in a state of eternal flux in this show stopping canvas. And so might have Godwin’s ambivalence about her station in the art world expressed itself as well. But for the most part, the women of Ab Ex did their jobs for years despite the iniquities of the art market.

One interesting title card revelation: the testimonial evidence that San Francisco, as an American art scene outlier, was not afflicted with the sexist repressions of the well-monied NY city scene. This is a perspective especially appropriate to a place like Denver, where almost every artist, male or female, is “undervalued and under reported.” It speaks to the balance and thoughtfulness of the show’s curation, by DAM’s Dr. Gwen Chanzit.

Several of the works, by the way, are now in the collection of the DAM itself. This show is not a hasty band wagon leaping-on, a middle American museum calling desperately for attention. The museum clearly intended to find a niche for itself in this area for a while now and will continue to make this type of inquiry in the future. A previously installed, but related exhibition on the level below provides context for this show in a brief but well balanced look at Ab Ex as a whole. You shouldn’t miss it, because it supplies sketches and smaller works by some of the artists in the feature show.

There is much to be said for solitary and spontaneous wanderings through a show like this. It allows one to “listen” to what the show has to say. This show, though it attempts to set the historical record straight, also gives ear to these artists, as artists. I suspect that this show will become one of the more significant conversation starters in Denver- and the nation’s- cultural history.

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Workshop Update

May 18, 2016

I’m enjoying the Spring weather. Yes- even the rain ( see my latest reading list, below). I’m preparing for the Art Students League Summer Art Market, June 11-12, where I’ll be in Booth#98 with fellow monotype artist Taiko Chandler.

In the past, people have stopped by the booth to meet me and ask about Summer workshops I’m offering at the League. Then they go into the office and register right then. I’m not sure that will work this year as the workshops are filling up unusually quickly, and one is already sold out. So if you’d like to know more about the workshops, click here, or send me an email and I’ll try to answer your questions. Then register online to be sure you get the spot you want. If a workshop is full, you can put your name on a waiting list, as there are often cancellations. I’ll offer a new round of workshops in the Fall, too.

Reading List

Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell: Is she the queen of the history geeks? Sarah Vowell, of NPR’s This American Life, travels to obscure historical sites, such as the New Jersey beach town where James A. Garfield died after being shot by a deranged office-seeker, to get at the weltanschauung of American political violence. I liked Wordy Shipmates better, for its insightful scope, encompassing the Puritans, English history and the roots of American political thought. Assassination’s a neccessarily uneven tale, in that Lincoln’s death is (still) heartbreaking and consequential; whereas Garfield’s is (by now) stupid and tragically trivial. But it’s a wonderful, funny and amazing read nonetheless, with Robert Todd Lincoln’s bizarre appearances in each of the three stories a reminder of how even the most seemingly inconsequential historical events can be connected in powerful ways.  The last section, on McKinley’s shooting, dovetails nicely with another book I’ve recently read:

Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin: I’ve long-postponed a look into this very intriguing era of unfettered corporate greed, political corruption and progressivism, which speaks not only to the very beginnings of the “American Century”, but to our own era as well. I was not dissappointed. Goodwin links the tales of Teddy Roosevelt, Robert Taft and the Muckrakers of McClure’s magazine in painting a portrait of an era in great flux. The progressive era accomplished much in the way of redeeming the promise of American democracy, then dissipated as conflict over how best to reform fractured the party and opened the door to the inevitable conservative backlash. If this sounds familiar, as it does to me, then it’s a must-read. As they say, one must know it or repeat it.

Murder Me Dead, David Lapham: James M.Cain-like in its violence and bleak picture of doomed romance. Incisive yet lush black and white ink work, in dark puddles or crazed slashes or just haunting and unforgettable, like mascara on a beautiful schemer’s eyes. Lapham has always provided these wholly derivative yet compelling noir tales, because he understands that noir is about the ambience of violence in the harsh light of the extremes of the human soul.

The Best Comics of the Decade, Volumes 1, 2: It’s easy to forget that before the black and white, direct market explosion of the early- to mid 80’s ( where David Lapham, above, first appeared, that truly interesting comics were very hard to find. Many of the artists here pioneered the independent, literary album- or graphic novel-style comics now filling up bookstore shelves ( and providing one of their fastest growing categories). Could easily have been bigger, as inferior stories are included by seminal creators ( Hernandez Brothers, Bill Griffith, Jerry Moriarty), probably to make more artists fit, and others such as Alan Moore, are not represented by their best work because it was done for larger corporate publishers. But a nice return to the days when comics were still struggling to find a place in pop culture, and the corner comic store was where you went to see them grow and succeed.

"Dream Bed", Monotype, 15x11", 2015

“Dream Bed”, Monotype, 15×11″, 2015

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Studio Update

April 28, 2016


It’s hard to pick up the thread in the studio after an absence. I’ve been making regular time there since January, but Fall and Summer were mostly a loss as I worked to pay off debt. Glad to be making progress on that, but producing work is the only way to increase sales, which pay debts, too.

I started with some chairs because they are simple enough visually to try new things, yet loaded with enough emotional connotation to make them interesting. I call them my “Place” series as I seek to establish my own place in the studio, and in the wider art world around it. I sometimes use chopped up mylar stencils from older work to create patterns and textures in newer work. It feels regenerative, and doesn’t stink as much as a mulch pile.

My next show will be the Art Students League Summer Art Market, June 11-12, some of these pictures will be available there.

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