Category Archives: Landscape

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.

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”.

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.

A Good Used Bookstore, For the Love of God

Size does matter. Mine is a bit small by most people’s standards I’m sure, but honestly, I’d rather it be a bit small than too large. Because really, it’s what you do with it. And mine does a lot. I don’t often brag about it because I don’t want to attract a crowd, but it’s time people knew.

I left the house a bit later than I intended on a radiant fall Sunday- cerulean blue sky with mare’s tails stretching above the skyscrapers, rattling papery gold leaves helicoptering languidly down, a slight breeze eliciting chatter and whisperings from the already fallen ones. After getting off the bus, I tunneled the remaining four blocks through dappled sun and golden, leafy arcades. I was in no hurry.

Kilgore’s is a cramped little storefront among all the various Wax Trax storefronts on that cramped part of 13th near Washington in Capitol Hill. Inside, there is barely enough room for two to pass in its aisles, and there are only three aisles, connected by a passageway in the back, and a bit of an open area where the counter is in the front. If there’s been an influx of books, there are un-processed piles and you must stifle your rush to the stacks and pause to let another get by. There’s no sense hurrying anyway. There is plenty for all.

A tiny used bookstore like Kilgore’s must balance the discrete buying of books to avoid an unwieldy, energy sapping selection, with the need for an almost curatorial concision and intellectual focus in order to stock a good selection of the type of books a certain kind of buyer will come back to week after week, not just in golden autumn but in slushy, leaden winter. The reason I keep coming back here is because I know that with a few extra bucks in my pocket and an hour to kill, I will be able to circle the sections that interest me, without getting bogged down in some one else’s offloaded dreck, and find something interesting and unique for a reasonable price. A good used book store must give the impression of a selection of books and journals only reluctantly parted with by their previous owners, and Kilgore’s does this better than any of the larger stores I’ve haunted.

I almost always find something I can’t bear to pass over, and which gets immediately read. Today: The Ganzfeld #2, a 2002 anthology of graphics, comics, design and articles on same, a little used and banged up but certainly quite solid, for under $10. I’d scooped up the #4 edition of this strange yet compelling magazine when it was published back in 2005. I’m a lover of odd and intermittent magazines, especially the type marrying cutting edge comics with good layout and interesting articles, so this find really made for a good visit, but that’s the point: you want a book store that buys enough weird, ephemeral books and magazines to make the trip worth your while more often than not. Kilgore’s also offers a good selection in good condition of (their specialty,) used and new graphic novels and comics that shade toward the alternative press side of things, a small section of literary criticism and essays, including comics criticism, art books, and some of the good fiction anthologies. Their large fiction section is restrained yet timeless (or soon to be), though they also offer quite a bit of genre.

Mostly what they offer is informed good taste. Someone there knew enough to buy this obscure well thought-out magazine from someone, who knew it would both find a good home and bring a couple of bucks (for more books!)

In the Ganzfeld, I’m reading an article relating early English novelist Henry Fielding (Tom Jones) with modernist Science Fiction (!) such as J.G. Ballard. This relationship between the early imperial picaresque and the post-imperial dystopian is something I didn’t know existed or that I’d need to read about until I walked into Kilgore’s on a fine fall day. I’m not sure the article successfully proves the connection, though in mentioning Pynchon, Vonnegut, Huxley and Attwood and others as “serious” fiction inspired both by Sci-Fi’s spirit of dystopian possibility and Fielding’s subversive satire, it certainly comes close.

The issue also features sketchbook pages from Chris Ware and a wildly abstract take on Popeye and Olive Oyl by Here auteur Richard McGuire, the only other work I’ve found by him outside The New Yorker and Raw Magazine. At Kilgore’s, I’ve also recently picked up albums of comics by Seth, Dash Shaw and Mike Allred, an old issue of McSweeney’s, and several old copies of The Comics Journal.

I’m betting they have a copy of Tom Jones with my name on it, or at least, Henry Fielding’s.

Reading List:

Bound and Gagged, Laura Kipnis: an examination of the issues surrounding pornography, organized around a central question: does it benefit us to censor people’s fantasies?

Heads or Tails, Lilli Carre: Lyrically surreal narratives in shifting, allusive tonalities that are filled with the sort of subliminal psychological non sequiturs that feel both dreamlike and gut-punchingly real. A guy’s roof leaks, he drives to another town, meets a woman , gets stuck on a Ferris wheel with her and has sexual fantasies of her, but when they go to his room, they don’t quite have sex. A woman meets, and is subsequently replaced by, her own double. I found it in the shelves at a library where I was giving a workshop. I’ll undoubtedly search for my own copy the next time at Kilgore’s.

Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano: I’m reading it slowly, since its compact passages make excellent reading on the bus or train. I thumbed through it last year during my habitual World Cup Soccer book-buying binge, but read Golazo! instead, because I felt that that more traditional social history would provide background to the many short poetic, almost fabulistic vignettes that Galeano weaves together in his book.

The book is surprisingly cynical about the beautiful game, which is refreshing in a way, since the figures in the game, and the game itself can be brutally cynical. See: Blatter, Platini, et al. The game is universal enough to touch all of the deepest dreams and failings of people across the globe, and it needs no propagandist. The haters and throwball fantasy zombies can never know how much of soccer’s humanity and populist aspiration can be found in just one quote from a man who calls himself

“… a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: A pretty move, for the love of God.”

"Valley 149" is a view from the small mountain above the Jentel Ranch where I spent a month long residency in November-December 2004. The view is looking across the valley past the railway flat car bridge over the little creek that ran just outside my studio ( just out of view to the right). Most of my Wyoming landscapes of the time contain the relevant route number in the title, and I could easily spend another year eyeballing through the other numbers.
“Valley 149” is a view from the small mountain above the Jentel Ranch where I spent a month long residency in November-December 2004. The view is looking across the valley past the railway flat car bridge over the little creek that ran just outside my studio ( just out of view beneath the ridge to the right). Most of my Wyoming landscapes of the time contain the relevant route number in the title, and I could easily spend another year eyeballing through the other numbers. This one is one of three now in the collection at the new COBank location in the Tech Center.

 

 

Hue and Cry

This monotype of the snow fences on  Wyoming Route 287 near the Colorado border is headed for a new home in the new COBank office- my first public collection. I loved the color when I made it, though I often wish I'd opted for a quieter sky. My excuse was that the sky is rarely quiet there, but it can be hard to compete with Mother Nature's gory, especially in Wyoming.
This monotype of the snow fences on Wyoming Route 287 near the Colorado border is headed for a home in the new COBank office- my first public collection. I loved the color when I made it, though I often wish I’d opted for a quieter sky. My excuse is that the sky is rarely quiet there- wind-torn clouds, high plains squalls and a spooky propensity for drastic climatic mood shifts as you cross into the northernmost square state are the rule on that trip, which I’ve made many times. But it can be hard to capture Mother Nature’s spacious  glory, especially in Wyoming. The photographer at the time also never got a handle on the colors, the original file is garish and I had to fiddle to get it back to a better match with the original piece. 

It’s a rainy day here, though it can’t really be called dreary. After a fairly spectacular Indian Summer, the trees are in full color, and the grass is still green. The colors tend to play off the silvery sky in surprising ways.

I’ve settled into a fall routine centered around my workshop. I’ve tried something different this year, splitting the eight week workshop into two segments, the first tailored to the needs of beginners- basic printroom procedures, paper  tearing, ink mixing, etc. The second I wanted to create a project-oriented studio atmosphere for those who’ve learned the basics, and want to professionalize in some way- building a portfolio, executing a thematic series, entering shows, etc.

I’m very pleased with the mix of artists in the new workshop. They seem exactly the sort of artists I was hoping would join. On the first day, started with color.

I find myself helping people with color. Color is complex and very technical, which is not what people sometimes want from their art classes. They want to open up the tube and have the perfect color come out, as in a computer paint program. But mixing color in a studio is still probably the best way to understand color. And that understanding is necessary to achieve unique, engaging color schemes. So to get people mixing, I need a fairly brief and basic intro that still allows people to get pretty immediate results.

To do this I’ve now settled on a rather drastic condensation of my dimly recalled college design course, and a real time demo that involves mixing colors then printing a monotype using that very limited color palette. I’m not at all sure I qualify as an expert, but I seem to have at least thought about these things more than most beginning or returning artists. I’ve gotten better at it- to the extent that it feels fairly concise and logical when I outline it, and people don’t sit there scratching their heads, and are often able to get some fairly balanced color compositions pretty soon after I present it. The whole thing takes about an hour to explain and demonstrate, and pretty much sums up my teaching “style” or “philosophy” which is to fairly briefly touch on art’s more complex problems (composition, color, value, expressive mark-making, etc) then get out of the way and let the artists wrestle with it on their own (with some more kibbitzing on my part). These more technical, or “plastic” concerns do often provide opportunities to discuss art’s meanings: an image of similar-sized objects in a row may suggest a rhythm, whether uniform and machine-like or staccato and musical, whereas diagonals suggest movement; A palette of cool colors can seem emotionally distant or ambivalent while a mix of warm and cool has a tendency to dance in the eye.

It is eye movement in the viewer, I always maintain, that is analogous to visual interest and emotional engagement. There are no rules for which colors to use to achieve this, as color is almost always understood in the context of other colors, but there are very definitely rules for how to get rich and vibrant colors and balanced color schemes. Good memorable color, to me, is like rare, great beauty- it’s almost always at least slightly transgressive. Sophia Lauren had a rather prominent nose. Peter O’Toole had noticeably thick lips. And Picasso’s early “Blue Period”, sometimes ascribed to a lack of funds for any other pigments, actually continued well into his career, in the form of the cooled down tones of the breakthrough cubist years and the sun bleached palette and cerulean beach scenes of his “classicist” period.

Color gets taken for granted, but compare September’s golden afternoons with a grey October day and see how it rules our moods, our sense of time, memory and well being, and the whole of our relationship with light and dark, the primal psychological spectrum that lurks beneath our dreams and rational thought.

Ice Cold Ice

I wanted to try a homage to the Japanese Edo period printmakers with their airy minimal landscapes. I got inspired one cold day, by this scene outside my window., though I took out 26th Ave, some tennis courts , light poles and several trees.
I wanted to try a homage to the Japanese Edo period printmakers with their airy minimal landscapes. I got inspired one cold day by this scene outside my window, though I took out 26th Ave, some tennis courts, light poles and several trees.

I took the week off from printing when a frigid cold front came through. Not the workshops, though, my timing is great as I’m due at Athmar Branch for what will be a record cold night. Not expecting a big crowd for that, but the show must go on!

I’ve posted a last free Denver Public Library workshop for Ford-Warren branch on Dec. 4, though. It should at least be warmer by then, shouldn’t it?

The title is from one of my favorite Husker Du songs “Ice Cold Ice.”

We sit and pray together that they might change the weather
My love for you will never die, if I sound distant that’s because
Shouldn’t see me cry in ice cold ice
Shouldn’t see me cry in ice cold ice

Read more: Husker Du – Ice Cold Ice Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Which in turn, always makes me think of  the scene in that Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs takes the Penguin home to Antarctica, tries to leave him there, and the Penguin begins to cry… ice cubes. A strange thought progression, yes. I think my synapses may be frozen.

It Kinda Ties the Room Together

Still haven’t found a job, though I’ve been pretty picky, avoiding the sorts of corporate blowhards who advertise their minimum-wage-no-benefits-McJobs as “careers”. I’m holding out hope for something that is compatible with a private, creative life. Time’s running out, as the money crunch typically hits around Thanksgiving. I may have to widen the search and compromise on something temporary.

In the meantime, the weather is wonderful and I’m spending time on a lot of pet art, writing and reading projects, so it is not the worst time to be unscheduled and broke.

Here’s an end-of-day ghost image/ “palette cleaner” from last Fall that I’ve been experimenting on all year. I take leftover “ghost” imagery ( such as inked mylar shapes) from another large piece, arrange it a plate, and print on a new piece of paper.

First, it’s a quick way to clean up. And second, it often provides a nice intriguing first layer for a future print. In this case, it was so fragmented and unfocussed that many new layers of color were required to “tie” it all together, like The Dude’s rug! It is still somewhat fragmented, but the experiments were fun and productive, and I enjoy it more now.

"Untitled" Monotype, 30x22" 2014
“Untitled” Monotype, 30×22″ 2014 

 

Under the Big Sky


Above, a nice landscape by Ron Zito, from my monotype workshop Tuesdays at the Art Students League. Ron hasn’t done a whole lot of monotypes, but is an accomplished painter, and he understood immediately that gesture and atmospherics will get you a lot more when working with ink on paper, than detail. I wish I could show you the subtle texture he got in the sky better than this snapshot, I think it makes the print. We had some other nice landscapes, and I’ll post again soon, but several artists chose to work in abstract, and I’ve got a small portfolio of those here.

One Last Gray Day


I ‘ve done a larger, vertical version of the Ridgetop theme. While the photo isn’t that good, I’m going to move on to some other ideas, so I decided to wrap up the gray-on-gray/negative space thread for now. The best of these can be found here, in a portfolio with commentary. Be sure to click ” Become a Fan”, too. I’ll post newer work soon.

BTW, in case you out-of-towners are wondering, yes, it HAS been an unusually gray winter here.