Category Archives: Monotypes

Transforming an Idea

Or Being Transformed By It?

Ideas are far from static entities. I mentioned in another post that like the particles in Maxwell’s Demon, they will usually gain energy or significance only by colliding with other ideas, and thus are born of a process of synthesis or transformation anyway. But even an idea born whole -assuming that really exists- will benefit from different approaches to it. Transforming an idea puts you in the driver’s seat, even when you are not sure where you are going- especially when you are not sure. Taking ownership of an idea sometimes means taking it apart and putting it back together again. If you find you have parts left over, perhaps they didn’t belong there in the first place.

There are different strategies for transformation, and some are additive, and some are subtractive. It’s become a convention to speak of Picasso, for example, as a ‘creator/destroyer’ as Arrian Huffington once put it, and apart from the implications in an artist’s personal life, the famous time-lapse film of Picasso painting onto a clear panel, erasing whole areas and putting new elements in their place is an extreme (and possibly self-dramatized) example of the way process can be far from linear. A good book on Picasso’s  creative process that I’ve enjoyed recently is The Genesis of a Painting: Picasso’s Guernica, by Rudolf Arnheim.

It is a bit of a self-drama, for me, anyway. I’m sure other artists might agree. One gets one’s favorite studio soundtrack going- let’s see, Pixies, or Phillip Glass? A stimulant can be added; now, it’s usually coffee, though I admit that wine or beer was more common in the early days. There is a certain choreography that pertains: anything from organizing the studio, to a restless pacing back and forth from close-ups to long view, a sort of rhythmic dance might even break out.

And then the adding and subtracting. This has a real metaphoric weight- it’s not just a surface arrangement. Questions of positive and negative space, visual weight and color messaging impact the meaning of an idea, the way it blossoms from pure visual immanence to a more objective literal object. No artwork can escape this fluid dynamic. 

So what can be added? Especially in printmaking, which is subject to the technical limitations on effects and processes that can be changed after they are once applied, and a general bias toward simplified graphic forms? The short answer is: distance and movement. There are many ways to add depth to a print, which by nature and design, can sometimes be flat. These range from the traditional, such as perspective, to other more abstract strategies.

Visual and metaphoric distancing strategies affect our reactions to a picture emotionally and analytically. This often takes place in terms of creating eye movement, which is the physical manifestation of ‘interest’ in looking at an artwork. Something detailed, heavily textured or just very hard-edged often gets our most immediate attention because of how the eye works. Something fuzzier, and less distinct feels ‘farther away’, less of an immediate question or challenge. Distance is the essence of ‘depth’ in an artwork. It also creates musicality when we consider that distance=rate x time. Similar objects, varied in size, and placed at regular intervals, create a rhythm and depth that becomes harmonizing. We follow the ‘beat’, moving into the space and time of a picture.

Textures can add energy and attract the eye, things such as “noise”, a word I  use to refer to ‘accidental’ by-products of ink manipulation- debris, extruded strokes, distressed color forms, and scratched-in forms, such as in clouds or dark areas. Textures impart important cues into an artist’s attitudes toward the basic shapes in a composition, and are not to be ignored. Texture sounds like a decorative detail, but two shapes, treated in a soft, fuzzy, mystery suggesting way; or in a hard-edged, definite, foregrounding way, can say different things about meaning. Literally and figuratively,  texture provides definition.

Edges and contours work the same way. A hard edge will physically ‘foreground’ an element, owing to the way the eye works; and in combination with a darker color can also create a sort of silhouette, a neat trick of adding both proximity and mystery to an object, a very basic and challenging question to the viewer’s eye: Do I stay here, or move around this, into what has by implication become a distance. Thus movement is created.

Contours bring softer, more reticent shapes forward. Contours can be textured to add intrigue or expressive notes, or faded to add mystery and metaphoric movement. Contours can be found in shapes that already exist in the image, or imposed on top of textures or patterns beneath. They can be somewhat arbitrary or even contrary, or harmonious and integral.

Textures can be stylized (semi-abstract), or realistic and sort of gritty or tonal. In monoprints, texture can also include different printmaking techniques such as relief, dry point, and collograph, among others; each offering a new ‘window’ into a separate reality, upping the way meta narrative can be incorporated. Whatever one’s opinion of Andy Warhol, his genius was to prove finally, conclusively, that art can never be wholly a matter of physical gesture. Ideas are born, live, and die in the mind. While his art is obviously about much more than printmaking, the surrealist juxtapositions of process color and deliberate mis-registrations inject the ultimate distancing effect of all- irony.  Viewed in these lights, texture and color, especially in printmaking, is anything but decorative.

“Treehouse”, 2019, 21×15″, Monotype. In every monotype, there are things one might wish to change, or that one hadn’t changed.

Color’s transformative qualities are magnified in printmaking. Transparency can form newly surprising or intriguing colors, change mood overall or in parts of the picture, or unify disparate elements. Transparency is a measure of color’s willingness to engage with other elements in a print.

Bright, warm colors bring the underlying elements forward; dark, subdued colors can make the overlapped elements recede. In printmaking, where color schemes are often simplified, accents can attract the eye to important areas, add irony or balance, or a visual counterpoint. When complementary colors are used, they can demonstrate visually the adage that “opposites attract”.

Positive/negative elements can foreground detail, or create visual reversals, which are energizing and add intrigue. As in famous optical illusions such as Necker Cubes, positive/negative elements in art can be both additive and subtractive, foregrounding and backgrounding, at the same time. A splash of textures or small shapes can lead from positive (dark) areas, in color on light areas and segue immediately into negative (light) shapes in a dark area. This is a cubist trick that leads the eye and breaks visual planes. Again, eye movement trumps surface illusion. 

As for the subtractive side of the creative process, As an idea becomes more developed it often becomes more complex. Other ideas and nuances accrete, leading to a signal to noise disjunct that can obscure a simple first idea. It can be liberating and freeing, in a creative sense, to simply take something out. Let the idea suggest itself, rather than spelling it out. If an idea isn’t strong enough to survive this at least you know that now.

And white space is well known, in printmaking’s cousin, advertising, to create places for the eye to enter a picture, or to rest briefly while considering a next move. Monotypes or prints without sufficient white space can sometimes feel heavy, or busy. With an often limited color palette, and no way to reclaim the resplendent whites once they’ve been printed over, this is not surprising. But balance in darks and lights doesn’t necessarily mean a 50/50 mix. A small, very bright white area of the original sheet showing through a mass of black ink can be very compelling.

When do the transformations end? It’s a question I get a lot in classes- when is it finished? Do I keep going and risk irreversible change, or stop and risk Superficiality and incompleteness? Transformations have consequences. Do I dare to eat a peach? is T.S. Eliot’s sublime, elegant and wholly understated version of this existential dilemma.

And it is very much existential. Change will happen anyway. Embracing change places you in the very engine room of the creative process. What to do there? I wish I had a simple answer for that in my own studio work. Be present. Open yourself to the movement and the music. 

My next workshop for adults with at least some printmaking experience is Mad Science Monoprint, beginning July 23. Register this week. The thoughts from this post will be on my mind then, and you are welcome to join the conversation.

Laughter In The Void: Ideas-Where Do They Come From?

Bramble_Monotype_2018

Into an emptiness comes a lone rider. Whether dark, intimidating nightscape, or  infinite and featureless white mist, the landscape of ideas exists just over the border from conscious intent, and many see it as just an obstacle to be gotten through to get to the final destination. But artists, like explorers, often linger. Sometimes, too much. Other times, not enough at all.

This shrouded interaction of actor/spirit/blue spark and fallow ground/environment/lightning field will determine what happens in one’s studio for the foreseeable future. But ideas answer to no one, and understanding what they are and where they come from is not only hard, it can be inimical to the process of actually having them. I sometimes suspect that my ideas are laughing at me.

Where DO ideas come from? Douglas Hostetler believes ideas stem from analogous thinking- something is like something else. If this is true, then there is a lot of mystery hidden in that adverb ‘like’. Rudolf Arnheim in The Genesis of a Painting, about the creation of Picasso’s Guernicanotes the difficulty in scrutinizing an “impulse issuing from beyond the realm of awareness.”

For me, there are often three components- A mental image, let’s go with a landscape, in the spirit of our opening metaphor; a word or phrase that can often start the metaphor rolling, literalizing it just enough to invite mental manipulation; and some supporting imagery or sketch material, often preexisting, but not necessarily.

In “Bramble, above, my first conscious awareness of the idea came from the phrase “in the bracken” in a Robyn Hitchcock song “I Don’t Remember Guildford”, a fairly surreal little ditty about blocking out painful memories- or so I suppose. In my mind the phrase merged with the idea of tangled wilderness, a place of power and danger I’d explored in the previous decade, in a series of pictures about ravines inspired by mountain hikes during and after a residency in Wyoming.

A verbal or visual component, once teased into more literal form, can be ‘flipped’ to add tension or surprise, as in a palindrome, or anagram type of treatment. Recall that printmaking is, in itself, an actual visual flipping of any idea. This becomes habit, a creative gymnastics that kicks in when cliche or a rote visual syntax threatens to starve or disorient the mysterious, laughing rider. Ideas, I believe, may start with analogy, but thrive on paradox. They are jokes that consciousness plays on itself.

In this case, I’d made acetate stencils of natural forms that I’ve used in past work. When I get sick of them, or feel they’ve been repeated too much, I simply take out the scissors and modify them or cut them into smaller fragments. During printing they can be literally flipped, too, revealing crystalline formations of residual ink formed by the pressure in printmaking. This mimics the mental activity of paradox; it provides the “disruption” or syntactic flipping, though there are of course many other ways of doing this. The cutting and decaying of image also physically mimics the natural breakdown processes that happen in a ravine or wilderness.

Ideas are “functions that prefer the shadow to the light,” Paul Valery said.

Ideas come in colors, though ill defined. When the blue spark hits, a simple color scheme (such as black and white) and a limber, intuitive hand can help clarify ideas, without scaring them away. Enter the sketchbook.

In the Jungian, pre-concious soup, elements collide, creating more energy. Though as Arnheim points out, these are not in themselves significant, or even ideas. An interpretive, conscious creative mind must bring them into the light. The sketchbook, with its fluid watercolor wash, or open-ended pencil lines, is the stage where this drama plays out. Write your phrases, working titles or half baked poetry in the margins. There’s no sense entering this wilderness without a verbal lifeline. Date your entries, yes, if only so you can later marvel how long you’ve wandered the void. It takes years, sometimes.

No matter what baggage you’ve brought into the void, it is only your senses that can get you back out.

Loosen the reins and follow your pencil. Paths coalesce, contours emerge. One is receptive at this point. Most of us are not geniuses; it’s good to listen to the words, feel the contours. Ideas favor the receptive mind. It’s okay to laugh back.

Receptivity comes in different forms. When working in black and white, a schematic, a transparent ideograph is the thing I see. When shadows are added, movement of light is implied, which is a simple narrative. Then colors are added. Colors are in themselves receptive, and speak to other colors. On an existential level, colors are just as baffling as ideas, and may also be having fun at our expense. If you set yourself a balanced, simple palette, it’s quite possible that a given color will find drama in its tonal neighbors and vice-versa. Complementary colors are all about paradox. And black and white are dynamic, so a single added color can tease out a lot of nuance.

The color chosen above, a sort of dark sea-green, refers to nature, but also somewhat to the watery depths of subconscious. This is actually the ‘sketch’- the first appearance of this idea, direct to the printing plate. There is no ‘preliminary’ sketch, although I explored the idea further in my little note book later. The etching I did to learn the non-toxic polymer process in a workshop last month, which I posted here, is also a later sketch. The image is  compelling to me, but far from a ‘finished’  idea. I like working this way, with smaller versions ( here, 11×15″) leading up to larger, more refined work.

IMG_3547

Above is a further image relating to this idea. I found a crude, simplified clarinet shape that was stick-like, so I added it to “Bramble”. It makes no sense, but I enjoyed the joke.

In information theory, there exists the phenomenon of signal to noise. Ideally, when the noise is filtered out, meaning coalesces. I had a conversation with a friend, Noah about how writers write. His observation: writers for larger audiences- his example, screenwriters- always seem to have more definitive ideas about their process than writers for smaller audiences (eg: poets). We decided that poets often don’t even know what they are writing as they write it. It brought up the question of creative process. This resonated, and brought me the sudden flash that “Bramble”, heretofore a compelling but simplistic dreamscape, might be considered a metaphor for the creative process itself. If you were expecting me to talk about a light bulb moment in my discussion of ideas- there it is, though, of course, it came relatively late in the game. If all this sounds a bit self-reflexive, I can’t argue, but viewers bring their own stories to works they see as well. I’ve seen it happen, at street fair shows, and I don’t begrudge their creative input. The conversation, both before and after execution, informs the idea.

The Pixies once wrote a song called “Space”, about the conga player they hired to make that same song seem more ‘spacious’. “d=r times t” they sang, the first time I’d ever understood that synesthetic concept in relation to creativity. Thus, an idea is never really finished.

The creative mind is a creature of habit, too. A raw idea in its soupy jumble is often affixed to an image matrix the artist has used before, in order to establish order. It’s worked for him before, it can work again. I chose the landscape metaphor very deliberately. It’s been a powerful and generative notion in my mind since that month long residency in the mountains of Wyoming in the Oughts, and indeed, since I came west as a teen. Paradox and reversal, palindromic thinking can un-moor us from pre-conceptions and add freshness and surprise to an idea, like a punchline to a joke, or logic leap in speech, or dissonance in music. The surrealists used this sort of thing often, and a small bit of disorientation in a visual conception can paradoxically, add to a sense of presence or heightened reality in a picture, as the senses are awakened, and curiousity engaged. Max Ernst made a career of these disorienting juxtapositions.

Ideas are messy. I think that they are less like lightbulbs and more like radio static.

I often don’t know what an idea is until well after I’ve had it, because I’m unable to separate the signal from the noise. The subtle calculation of what belongs in a given composition and what does not often involves a complex interplay between “story” and image. Something as simple as an unrelated conversation can provide the story that focuses the image. Separating the signal from the noise often involves keeping these syntactic “negotiations” open for a while. It’s not a hierarchy, but an interplay. The street fair interactions with viewers sometimes add to meaning in a specific work as well.
Ideas have their own logic and rhythm which can be quite circular or even hermetic, and which lends them power. In a formless void, they very much march to the beat of a different drummer- their own.

Somewhere between “paradox stated” -the joke or pun, and “paradox resolved”-the scientific discovery, Arthur Koestler says, lies creative fusion. “The ‘ah’ of aesthetic insight” is placed in the middle between “the aha! of scientific discovery” and “the Haha of …the punch line.” puns James Geary, in an article adapted from his book Wit’s End: What Wit Is, How It Works, And Why We Need It.

Analogy, metaphor, puns. Palindromes, anagrams and literal non-sense. The wit of the scientist, inventor, or improviser seems to be no different from that of the artist, the sage, or the jester. I’m not sure I know where ideas come from, but there seems to be much laughter tumbling in the void.

New Territory

Bramble _TP 3 _18
Above is a photopolymer etching I did as a test proof during a workshop by Henrik Boegh, a Danish Master Printer well know for developing non-toxic methods in printmaking. I applied marker pen, ink wash and scratches to a hardened polymer surface, then wiped and printed like a regular etching plate. 

I took, at the invitation of the school, a couple of workshops taught by Henrik Boegh, a Danish Master Printer in non-toxic intaglio. Intaglio is a traditional word for etching- it means, roughly, ‘cutting into’. It’s a different medium than monotype, a very simple process of making an ink picture on a smooth plane and then transferring it to paper. For one thing it’s repeatable, as indicated by larger edition numbers, such as 1,2 or 3/10, etc. (Monotypes, unique one-of-a-kind prints, often are designated 1/1).

There were two 3-day workshops on different aspects of etching. Photo-polymer etching was the first. One uses a light source (including the sun) to expose an image onto a polymer film, then hardens it, and prints it like a traditional etching plate (that is to say: put ink on, wipe off the excess until only the etched lines have ink, and run through a hand press.) I’ve done this often with prepared plates, such as Solar Plates, invented by Dan Welden. Here one actually prepares the plate.

The second was the more traditional, centuries-old process of etching lines and tones into a metal plate. Here a whole range of non-toxic, or perhaps more accurately, relatively less toxic, materials were used instead of the highly toxic acids and oil-based grounds that we learned about in school. These are acrylic grounds of various types, some specialized, others using common materials (such as Johnson Floor Wax!)

The whole idea of the League offering this workshop to me and a couple of other instructors is that we would eventually teach it, expanding the school’s offerings into safer processes. So in October, we three will be meeting to process the large amount of new techniques and get on the same page before new classes and workshops start in Spring. Eventually, though traditional methods will continue to be taught at the school, toxic etching materials will be replaced.

Here is an image I made of one process during the workshop. More rough sketch than finished art, this test proof was made to see how well I’d used various ink drawing, washes and scratchings on a photo plate. But it relates to some themes I’ve been exploring about (mental) brambles and undeveloped wilderness, so I may try to clean it up as a finished piece soon, while working on my technique. I’ll post more as I go along.

Mo’ Activity

My haul of delicious prints from Saturday’s #MoPrint2018 Open Portfolio event at Redline Gallery. Clockwise from top left, prints by Jeff Russell (etching w/ Chine Colle’) Greg Santos (silkscreen), Michael Keyes, Michael Keyes (both woodcuts), Sasha Thackeray (aquatint etching), Holly White (linocut), Javier Flores (woodcut reduction), and Sasha Thackeray(etching w/ Chine Colle’).

My interview with Westword’s Susan Froyd is up on the site today. It’s in association with Month of Printmaking Colorado, along with several other printmakers: Jennifer Ghormley, Taiko Chandler, Sue Oehme. It’s a privilege to be included in this series, and it’s a joy to be involved in the burgeoning Denver printmaking community, which for reasons mentioned below, is very supportive and friendly. This includes Westword itself, really. Mo’Print has an all volunteer organizing committee; we try hard to market and publicize professionally, but over the last five years, Susan Froyd, Michael Paglia, and Patty Calhoun have never failed to give it the attention I feel it deserves. This has really helped prevent it from slipping through the cracks during its early stages. I try to return the favor to the community in the interview, and in other ways, as printmaking really enriches my life.

It’s been a busy month owing to #MoPrint2018, and I’m pretty happy with most of the shows and events I’ve been involved with. I had a blast Saturday at the Open Portfolio event at Redline, selling and trading prints in a relaxed setting.

I have two more events upcoming, one of which is the Studio + Print Tour, which I’ll do at the Art Students League Print Room from 10-4 with two or three other artists from the League. Mami Yamamoto and Taiko Chandler will be there too. We’ll probably have snacks and prints there, but later that evening, there will be the Ink Mixer at Ink Lounge, where you can get beer and snacks and see their silk screen set-up and mix with artists and printmakers.

The diversity is incredible. When I joined the 12-15 member Month of Printmaking Colorado organizing committee in early 2013, I think we felt that we knew, or knew of- all the major players in Colorado printmaking. Wrong. Silkscreeners, lithography artists, bookmakers, letterpress artists and more came out of the wood work. Not students or dabblers, mind, though there are plenty of those as well, but career printmakers, small business people, educators. Accomplished creatives, in other words.

One of the few perks of being an artist is the ability to trade for an art collection. For me, lately that has meant prints. Here’s a photo of my haul from Saturday. It’s worth noting that several of these are from artists I had just met that day. I think because printmaking is regarded traditionally as a fairly humble corner of the art market, and because we often need to congregate in groups to utilize public presses, that printmaking has a social component that some media don’t have. One of these community presses, Mark Lunning’s Open Press is moving out of town owing to the real estate inflation. I’ll miss Mark and Open Press, and I’ll write a post about them soon.

Month of Printmaking 2018 and Other Doings

“Conceptual Studio”, Monotype. Actually an impression of a very real studio where I worked during a residency in Sheridan, WY. It is up for auction to benefit the Art Students League of Colorado during their “Art and Soul” gala, February 10.

I’m Preparing art for a number of different shows and events this Spring. Most are related to the MoPrint (Month of Printmaking) festival of events and I’m organizing one event myself. It makes for a busy schedule.

“Master Printer and Print Educators of Colorado”, McNichols Building 3rd Floor, January 13-April 8 : This one has already opened, though viewing hours are limited, and the venue is often closed for private parties. The best way to see it may be the MoPrint Kick Off event on February 23 at 6-9 PM. I will be there. I have 3 pieces in the show ( I fall into the second category in the title), but I did not have any large work ready for the show.

“Hand Pulled: Mark Lunning’s Open Press”, PACE Center, Parker, Co, March 2-April 30: This is a show honoring the Open Press artists. The printmaking facility on Bayaud Ave run by Master Printer Mark Lunning is soon to close and move to Sterling, Colorado owing to the rapidly dwindling affordable space for arts orgs during the recent development boom. I haven’t worked there in a couple of years, since I now do most of my work at the Arts Students League, so this show will feature 3-5 large pieces from my past work there. It will be a mini retrospective of sorts. Opens March 2, 5:30-8 PM

Open Portfolio, Redline Gallery, March 17, 2-5 PM: This will probably be the most affordable show I’ve done in a long time. It was a fun show during the last MoPrint (2016) so I’ve decided to join it this year. Every artist has more art than they can sell, and this will be for printmakers, a chance to clean out the flat files at bargain prices, and that’s just what I’m doing. You’ll also see a lot of young artists trying to launch a name for themselves, I’m sure. Starting a print collection, and on a budget?

Art and Soul, Art Students League, February 10: This is the major fundraiser for the League, a big party with food and art auctions to benefit the school, and I always donate a piece. Tickets here.

artma, February 8: A fairly glitzy event that benefits The Morgan Adams Foundation.org. This year it will be in the Evans School at 11th and Acoma, an opportunity in itself to see this historic building.

I’ll mention here that many of us artists are approached by charity auctions on a regular basis. Any auction is risky to begin with, as it can be damaging to your ‘market value’, especially if poorly organized and callous about their donating artists’ career needs, as many appallingly are.

This is not one of those, however. artma is the creme de la creme of charity auctions, with artists on the board of the event, professional treatment for donating artists, and an overall spirit of gratitude for artists’ generosity. I’ve been donating for several years because of this.

Meininger Art Supply, Broadway, March 3, 11-1 PM: I’ll be doing a monotype demo here. It’s a fun place to do one, and well equipped for the large groups they usually get. It’s about an hour, but you get a coupon at the end. Come early for a good seat, though they have mirrors and PA, so it works in the cheap seats, too.

Monotype-aThon, Art Students League, March 3, 9-5 PM: Same day! I’ll rush over there to join eight other artists doing 2-3 hour shifts, with the public invited to watch and kibbitz. There will be prints donated for sale to benefit the League and MoPrint, light snacks and lots of different approaches to monotype making.

A Moxie U class at the Art Students League, March 15, provides a more ‘hands-on’ intro to monotypes, with materials provided and all the ink mixing and prep done for you. It’s less than $35, so it’s a great way to celebrate Moprint 2018!

I’ll have a complete list of all Spring workshops soon.

I’ll look for some of you at these events. Feel free to come say hello and chat.

Westering

Gun ownership is inevitably in the news again. For most who defend its increase in the wake of the carnage it creates, it is a power fantasy. In a country where the long term trend is downward in crime, and where terrorism hasn’t gotten the foothold it has in Europe and other places, the actual need for firearms is quite low, and the fetish of gun ownership is mostly about a male cowboy/crime fiction fantasy scenario where problems (including psychotic rage) are easily solved with the correct ordnance.

The proven fact that the opposite is the actual result of unlimited ownership of weaponry- the society becomes less secure, more regimented, less just- hasn’t intruded in any meaningful way into the NRA-sponsored fantasy. Where did it come from?

“Westering”, 2009, Monotype, 32×44″

Westering: When I got the invitation to show with other ASL instructors at the state capitol, I thought immediately of this piece, which is older, but has been seen only in a couple of small shows. It is ostensibly a landscape, one of many, I’m sure, that have hung under Colorado’s golden dome, but its theme is much more complex, as it alludes to the American push westward. Though the print hasn’t been a centerpiece in my exhibition history, I’d like to explicate the thinking behind it which holds a very central place in my landscape years, roughly 1999-2009.

The association in the American spirit/mind of heading west with individual freedom and opportunity dates back to the Puritans. It is now expressed in xenophobic ultra right wing politics of survivalists and gun fetishists, but other subcultures, such as environmentalists have also  drawn inspiration from the American move westward. Artists such as Moran, Twain and Bierstadt have made both poetry and cash from selling this vision back to the populace. And the Arcadian/Rousseau myth of humans at peace in nature’s solitude relates in a complex way with the gun totin’ loner.These Right and Left fantasies are inextricably linked. I myself left my decaying Great Lakes region rust belt childhood home to escape the decay and drug fueled lassitude there as a teen, and spent time in transcendently beautiful and stubbornly racist Wyoming,

I’m quite vocal about my politics elsewhere, but in my artwork, this is about as political as it often gets. One of the last elements added to the print was the small enclosure next to the windowless structure, symbolizing isolation, aggressive aquisitiveness and the closed mind of the typical “home on the range”, now a fortified compound in many minds. This bunker mentality has had a big effect on American politics of late, and certainly is intrinsic to the gun fantasy.

This isn’t a criticism of rural living per se, or even gun ownership. We could all use a little dialogue with our neighbors, and our poisonous politics proves how the urge to ‘head west’, rather than learn to live with each other, is one of the country’s greatest threats. It derives from the Puritan notion of the individual’s right to ‘treat with God’ in his own way. It reaches horrifying apotheosis in the ‘lone wolf’- style shooting spree, one against the hordes.

In an age where ‘compromise’ is a dirty word (sometimes on both sides of the aisle), an understanding of this complex psychological, and very American impulse can get lost. I was always very satisfied with what I was able to say in this picture, and now through December, I’ll have my ‘say’ in the halls of government. If only the majority wishing for an end to carnage had theirs.

This image relates to memory and the way we move through it.
“Man With Torch”, Monotype, 30×42″, 2004.

Carrying a Torch: While I’m glorying in the exhibition, I’ll mention that I’ve had work hanging in both the state and nation’s capitol complexes. This print, entitled “Man with Torch” hung in Senator Bennet’s office in DC for a year as part of a juried program to showcase Colorado’s artists. Many also consider this one pretty political, and while I don’t argue with the obvious ecological interpretation, it was actually concieved of as a commentary upon memory and our human urge to destroy and remake the past constantly, in the process endangering our future relations. I quickly realized how apropos it was to the environment, but that’s not how my mind was working as I made it, as a reaction to an earlier smaller piece, “Woman With Torch”, which really isn’t political or even existential commentary at all, but as often happens with early, smaller pieces of mine, made simply as a compelling image. But a picture’s allusive qualities often creates great appeal for the viewer, I’ve learned, through many conversations in my booth at the Summer Art Market.

There’s always more than the surface intention to the story of a work’s creation of course, but I try to honestly convey what I was thinking at the time, for what it’s worth. The viewer often gives me a -valuable- different story. John Lennon always maintained that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was inspired by the innocent words of his five year old son, but most of us who lived through its  popularity always considered it a song about hallucinogens. It’s disingenuous to believe Lennon was unaware of this, and art creates a meaning of its own. The artist is often not in control of this process.

Please comment with your own take if you have seen “Westering”.

Monotype Workshops for Fall

Christina recently took my Monotype Starter workshop. She explored transparency with secondary color, a simple arrangement of leaf forms in a slightly asymmetrical composition, and arrived at a very elegant result. She was inspired by a print by Mami Yamamoto (R), another former student, who has had quite a bit of success since.

I’ve tried to explore composition in my workshops. I’ve talked about the importance of color in prints, but it can actually be ignored, at least at first, as black and white prints are not unusual, and to some quite distinctive and attractive. But basic composition skills are hard to do without. I’m reading a book by Molly Bang called Picture This. It’s been around awhile, though this is the first I’ve encountered it. The 25th Anniversary edition’s cover blurb calls it “The Strunk and White of visual literacy.”

Never mind that Strunk and White has been often challenged as too rigid for some writers. I’m enjoying Picture This, which in some ways mirrors things I’ve emphasized in classes, and which in others mirrors only its author’s favored methods. I’m sure I’ll add parts of it to my own discussions. Her simple cut-paper illustrations seem tailor made for graphics, where much is accomplished with little in the way of detail. Her emphasis is on the emotional content of a composition, which I think beginners are often unaware of.

I’ve finalized all the fall workshops and it’s a busy autumn. I start with Monotype Portfolio, my newly renamed intermediate class, on September 11, and go to Schlessman Family Library for my first DPL drop-in workshop two days later. The session continues through mid-December.

I’ve got two Monotype Starter ( my intro class) sessions, a day version starting October 17, and a night session of the same material beginning Thursday, November 9. My all-day Saturday session, now named Mountain Dewishly, Monotype Blast, is November 11.

All are built around conversation and creative growth. All have spaces left, but some are filling fast. You can go online to register here.

Art Students League Workshops:

Monotype Portfolio: Intended for those who’ve had a previous printmaking class, or perhaps some art school experience, and who need to work out a series or new idea, or just a print room refresher. Next one starts Sept 11 and is filling rather quickly.

Monotype Starter: Intended as a step-by-step tutorial on the basics of printing and print room protocol. You will be certified to use the room independently upon completion. Two sessions, a Tuesday morning, 9-12:30, beginning October 9; and a Thursday evening, 6-9:30 that runs for 4 weeks bookended around Thanksgiving and is filling quite quickly), beginning November 9. It ends in time for the busy holidays.

My Monotype Blast workshop, November 11, 9-4 PM,  comes just in time for Denver Arts Week, as well as holiday giving: it’s possible for some to get 6-8 small prints done for use as creative stocking stuffers.

I also have a very affordable three-hour Moxie U sampler on November 2 that’ll help you decide if the whole squishin’-ink-onto-paper-with-a-press-thing is right for you; it’s light on technical procedures as I do most of that ahead, so you can just make monotypes. Register by Election Day.

Denver Public Library Workshops

Library workshops are drop-in style, kept very simple because I get a lot of kids-I encourage family participation, as the kids really do well when Mom or Dad is there. Again, this is a good sampler event, especially if you are curious about water-based inks, which we use. They are free and open to the public, so c’mon down and say hello.

 

A full schedule of the Fall dates is here, on my workshop page. They’ll continue in Winter/Spring 2018. I’ll post more info on these and other events, such as demos and talks, as soon as they get scheduled. Feel free to email, or comment here, if you have questions about any of them.

 

 

 

Walk Right In?

Textures and graphic effects are a way of bringing energy to a print composition. A highly detailed texture will attract the eye and demand attention, a subtle one will invite mental rest and contemplation. A heavier, darker texture or a very transparent one will tend to create depth by playing off what’s behind or underneath it. In this three staged monotype, I had some fairly unique coloring and a balanced, if plain image, and I put it aside with a vague feeling of disappointment as it really didn’t have a lot of intrigue. Intrigue can be defined in prints, probably in all art, as something, a bit of mystery or surprise that might keep the eye exploring the picture, possibly to extract meaning ( or determine if meaning is indeed there), or to solve the puzzle of its composition, or simply to bring the visual exploration to a fairly logical stopping point.

In this case, I didn’t want to give up on the print because I liked the sense of calm, or is it desolation? which I think comes from the pink light and the fairly empty expanse on the left side. So I wanted to heighten that distance and light, without cluttering the picture.

I did this print last year, and while I loved the strange colors and stylized interplay between positive and negative elements, it seemed too sparse to call finished.

The picture was also a bit sparse though, lacked a real focal point and featured mostly hard edges. I wanted to add a bit of visual richness and narrative movement while maintaining the graphic simplicity.

First I added in some more visual elements in the foreground which enhanced the designerly, modernist look of the first layer, and although these are also hard-edged shapes (created with mylar overlays), I think the addition of more complexity in the foreground makes the emptiness in the background more pronounced.

I added some foreground darks to create a focal point in opposition to the rather empty background.

Then I thickened the glade at the right avoiding too much clutter, by adding some trace monotype lines.

I rediscoverd trace monotype, a favorite from Paul Klee’s early work in my art history class days, and decided to experiment with it to see if it might add to these pictures I’d never finished. It has a fairly spontaneous and softer-edged feel to it as opposed to the hard edge of the mylar stencilling, which might, given the subject ( strangely lit glade) add some visual balance. The softer-edged elements were placed in front of the earlier graphic elements, not usually how you do it, but as in photography, the depth of field is being manipulated to sharpen and highlight middle ground elements, an example of what I mean by visual intrigue. When you highlight or sharpen the middle ground, you are, in effect, asking the viewer to “enter” past the foreground elements. Like pushing to the front of the crowd for a street busker, say, it asks for a bit of commitment.

It added a bit of “dirty” look to the print, which adds an edgy but also timeless feel to the modernist hard edges. Blacks ( not too heavy) always add depth by bringing out color and balancing tones, which here were sitting mostly in the middle-light to middle-dark range except the ghostly whites. I used the trace mainly for spindly forest brush (plant) images and ground debris which adds a bit of suggested perspective and realistic “bottom” to the pic, but also a kind of synaesthesia in that one can imagine the crackling of twigs, which draws one in to the place depicted. It’s also somewhat calligraphic and hints at a story in the scene. The second layer of leafy designs in mylar  plays off the twigs to create a sort of diversity of textures and heightens the original play of positive negative space in the pic. I like that the imagery is denser, but the two image sets are now in a bit of visual tension with each other in a sort of necker cube shift of dark and light. Is the white log stencil some sort of border treatment, or is it a log that has shifted to another dimension. A ghost log? I always enjoy signal-to-noise problems, and this one suggests information degradation or decay, since it exists at the edge of the picture plane, where an image might be expected to fade anyway.

Whether this all works is of course for the viewer to decide, but as the “first” viewer, it made me happier.  This was a print which seemingly had no chance of ever being seen by the public, until I decided that other textures might make it just intriguing enough to show ( Yes, I have to see intrigue, or at least stylistic interplay in something before I can bring myself to show it). It seemed to lack any sort of visual grace or interior dialog beyond the pink and brown coloring, which I always loved, and which probably kept it near the top of the stack of unfinished items, rather than buried in a flat file. It seems to have a fair amount of depth and “placeness” in it now. It’s a place I would like to go to and walk around in, so I went there.

You can see it and judge for yourself at the Art Students League Summer Art Market, June 10-11, Booth #96, where I’ll be showing it along with work by my booth mate, Taiko Chandler.

The finished piece has quite a bit more texture, including rub marks from the trace monotype.

Color in Monotypes

Most printmakers use a somewhat limited color palette. Editions of hand-pulled prints often require a separate plate for each color- which can lead to a fair amount of time and expense. This has lead to a tradition of very strategic and inventive color use in printing, and its growth as an advertising medium since the Industrial Revolution has reinforced this. Advertising’s need for bold, simple visual form and messaging dovetails with this, too, and it’s no accident that printmaking is very often- not always- on the leading edge of modernist visual style.

Monotype prints- not technically printmaking, we are reminded by an educational poster in the Art Students League Denver print room, since there is no repeatable matrix from which to make identical prints- is not technically bound by the problem of multiple plates, but there are other reasons why the impetus towards simple color schemes pertains. The tradition of bold, clean-edged design is only one of them.

Artists encounter special challenges in using color inks, which are formulated to withstand the roller of a press, bond with different kinds of paper, and create vibrant results when dry whether applied with brayer or brush. Different ink formulations are used with screen printing, wiping etching plates or rolling onto litho plates and wood blocks (though most of these are fine for monotypes). And while oils, for example, are fairly consistent in texture (subject to modification) and are usually intended to be applied with brush or knife to canvas, inks tend to vary a lot in stiffness and viscosity, transparency and covering power. This makes predicting how they will interact with the more and less delicate types of paper used a learning process.

In monotype, ink can be mixed right on the plate, but delicate final effects can be hard predict after a ride through the 5K psi pressure a typical press generates. Textures, brush strokes and glazing are wiped out, so planning often becomes essential, even when trying for expressionistic or “spontaneous” effects. But these strategies work well with graphic, hard-edged modernist imagery too.

Layering is a good strategy for putting down a spontaneous effect in one color that will retain its integrity when another color is laid down next. Transparency in inks or modifying mediums allow different textures and hues to shine through while creating new tonalities and blends. A good understating of positive and negative space and how the (often) white paper will interact with these allows for light to shine from within, like glazing in oil, or watercolor. And printmakers will often pick a limited selection of colors and make a given color perform multiple roles, as in “process” color (CMYK).

A fairly simple image that actually stretches every rule of color usage in composition to create a compelling, dramatic visual message.

The example I’ve included here, which I’ve often used in classes, uses not a “somewhat” limited palette, but an extremely limited one. Its visual elements also are simple and separate themselves very straightforwardly into five elements; two in the foreground, two in the middle ground and a background. It’s in the colors assigned to these elements that we get a sense of creative transgression, and a feel for why the image is so arresting to the eye.

The first foreground element is the press, done in near silhouette, which provides a deep black field to highlight the second  element, the printer’s address. Clever way to deliver crucial advertising info, yes, but for this discussion the important fact is that we are used to seeing black as a background, as in the prints of Rembrandt, or Castiglione (monotype’s inventor), who use it to convey transcendent mystery, or to highlight bright foregrounds. Here it’s used as a visual tease of sorts, with the darkened foreground obstacle challenging us to peek at what’s going on behind.

The middle ground also has two elements- The printer, done in a simplified chiaroscuro to impart the drama of what he’s doing, ala Rembrandt; and the print he’s inspecting.  This is the most important info in the poster, the printer’s solitary quest for perfection, his attention to detail; and it is substantively done all in white, or to be precise, no color at all, since it is the white of the paper that is generally used by printmakers to get the brightest highlights. There is black, of course, to outline the intensity of the expression on his face, and to set his business-like suit off from the background. We are given to understand, both literally and figuratively, that this print shop owner stands out.

The background is the background, naturally. They often suggest distance, a void, an infinity; restful to the wandering eye, open to contemplation on what has been seen in the fore- and middle ground, but not often a hot, in-your-face foreground-type color like red. It is so insistent that it pushes the middle ground out toward us, adding to the intensity of the message.

Almost every color decision is the opposite of how our instincts tell us color should behave in a realistic image. The foreground is an obstacle to entry into the picture. The most important information is done in no color at all. White is the color most often used to denote negative space, but here used to denote the most positive elements in the composition, printer, press and print.The background is a hot, insistent, almost bludgeoning primary. But these visual transgressions grab us and lock us in instantly to a simple, powerful message (presumably, about printmaking’s power to deliver simple, powerful messages).

Again, bold, graphic, advertising is not necessarily fine art printmaking, which often needs to convey complex messages. But the two have developed hand in hand since the dawn of the printing press, and there is much to learn from it. Thoughtful, unique color use can really make your monotypes stand out.

My next workshop is Monotypes for Advanced Beginners, a studio class for people with some past printmaking experience who want a dialogue about developing their ideas in unique ways. Register by February 21 here:https://asld.modvantage.com/Instructor/Bio/1053/joe-higgins

Source of the picture is The Poster in History, Max Gallo, NAL, 1975. I’ve left the photo credit on the scan, at the top. I could find no further info on the artist, Ming.

 

 

Winter-Spring Update on Workshops and Shows

Winter-Spring Doings:

I hope all of you had a wonderful autumn, and a great Holiday/Solstice season! I’ve got a lot going on this winter/spring, and I’ll be getting off to an earlier start in 2017.  I hope to see you for one of these events.

Workshops:  The next session of  Monotypes For Beginners begins January 17 and runs until February 7. There are still spots open, if you’d like to or get a start on some creative “me” time in 2017. The full workshop runs on Tuesday mornings and gives you every basic step needed to certify you to work independently in the Print Room.  I also have one Moxie U Monotypes sampler, on February 21. This is a three-hour, hands-on intro type class. I do most of the technical stuff, and you just make monotypes. And it’s less than $30! There are still spots open for that, too. Online registration is here.

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Monotypes For Advanced Beginners comes right after that, Feb. 21- March 7. 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 portfolio-,  or studio-oriented. Take it as a part II continuation of Monotypes For Beginners, or take it independently if you’ve already had that course, or other printmaking experience, and can demonstrate knowledge of the press.

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

The biggest news is the spring schedule  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 JoeHigginsMonotypes.com, or you can search and register online at ASLD.org.

There is also a holiday show wrapping up in Colorado Springs at G44 Gallery. I’ve recently refreshed there with about 10 new pieces, so go say hi to Gundi!  You can buy selected works online through their website, and on JoeHigginsMonotypes.com.

Appointments to see work are always available. Email or call 720.855.7340. This is a productive time of year for me, so if you just can’t wait till Summer Art Market to see new work, contact me.

I will have a brand-new debut piece in the Art and Soul Gala marking the 30th Anniversary year of the Art Students League. Sale of this piece will partially benefit the League, which I believe in, and enjoy teaching at. If you have a question about any workshop or show, feel free to contact me.

Finally, people already active in the print room  have an opportunity to help the League! I’ll let Libby Garon, our Marketing and Development Coordinator, and a printmaker herself, explain:

“After a very creative conversation with Mr. Joe Higgins & Shari Ross, we all came up with the idea of having programs at ART&SOUL [Benefit] with original artwork from the printmaking department on the front.

Prints that have not passed your quality inspection can be torn down to 4”x6” to create unique pieces and placed in photo corners of each program, creating a unique framable piece for each guest (or each pair) to take home that night as a party favor.

If each printmaker was able to donate 12-15  4”x6” pieces we would need about 20 printers, approximately.

The goal is to have a total of 250 and we will have volunteers place each piece in the photo corners.

I am suggesting that we all get together Thursday, January 5 from 4:30-9:00. There will be snacks and wine as well.

Please note: you don’t have to attend the tear down party to participate. You can tear them on your own time, but please do let me know how many you can submit, and  drop them off by January 20.”

To me, this sounds like a fun way to not only support the League, but to meet other artists, compare notes, and creatively re-assess work you’ve already done. As I often say in my workshops, a good print is sometimes not a function of what you put in, but what you take out. I’ll be there, so I hope to see you!

 

A very happy and peaceful New Year to all. We’ve had a rough 2016, but I still believe in the power of art and will be looking forward to meeting new friends in ’17!