A Brief Essay on How and Why to Make Monotypes

"Red Place", 2016, 20x13". It was built on a leafy yellow ghost image, with the green being a second layer, and the red being a final layer to highlight the negative/positive dichotomy of the chair. There is a sense, to me, that being "present" or truly in a "place" sometimes requires one to empty the mind.
“Red Place”, 2016, 20×13″. It was built on a leafy green ghost image, with the red being a final layer to highlight the negative/positive dichotomy of the chair. There is a sense, to me, that being “present” or truly in a “place” sometimes requires one to empty the mind.

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

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

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

It is the ghost in the machine.

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

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

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

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

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

Can I Take My Books to Heaven?

Comics go to the Art Gallery- with very Katzenjammer Kid-like results
Comics go to the Art Gallery- with very Katzenjammer Kid-like results

I’ve spent the last few weeks either working long hours at my temp job at DU, or on the couch reading under a blanket in the frigid, dark days. I got a lot of reading done, so I’m posting more mini-reviews today. Now it’s getting noticeably brighter, the job is done, and I’m getting back into a creative routine.

Free Workshops at Denver Public Library

I’m catching up on the blog and posting my next few free DPL workshops, including the first, this week at Ross-Barnum Branch, 3570 W. 1st Ave from 6-7:30 PM. These are open to the public, with children above 8 yo to adult probably getting the most benefit. They are drop-in style, so don’t worry if you are not there at the start, though that’s when I demo the process. The schedule confirmed so far is posted here.

8-Week full Workshop at the Art Students League

Still haven’t found a part time job, but will push on with the workshops and making larger work. My regular Spring 8-week workshop begins February 24, so don’t miss out. This is a far more comprehensive class, intended to walk you through not only basic technical processes, but the creative process as well. You can avoid dead ends and find fresh ideas through the use of multiple variations of “ghost” prints, second impressions of the remaining ink on a monotype plate- it’s like getting a free print and another shot at your original idea.  You can get a small preview and ask me questions at one of the free DPL sessions. Or register here.

On to the books:

You’ll notice quite a few comics in here. First, the DPL has really upped its game on carrying interesting, literary comics, so one can catch up on intriguing titles without busting one’s budget. Browse when you come to the monotype workshop! There’s been a lot of publishing activity in this category, and it’s hard to find cash for anything but my absolute must-haves. When I do buy, I find Kilgore’s Books on 13th Avenue to be my go-to stop (at the risk of ruining my ‘favorit fishin’ hole’, but they really do deserve credit for knowing and buying the best publishers and authors!) Some of my thoughts on comics history in general are here, and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of Richard McGuire’s Here, which looks to be another breakthrough for comics into the publishing mainstream. I’ll review it next month along with some other items which didn’t fit here.

New School by Dash Shaw

Few artists in any visual medium are pushing boundaries like Shaw. His raw brush work is often superimposed on acidic, free-range color fields, untethered to any specific imagery; or even photos of clouds, flowers, etc. This has the effect of creating unexpected emotional vistas in a story that hovers surreally between sci-fi thriller and teen sexual awakening drama. If this one just looks too odd for your taste, try the earlier BodyWorld.

Golazo!
by Andreas Campomar

This book, like “The Ball is Round”, seeks to explicate a cultural history of a people ( in this case, South Americans) through the story of their football. To a lover of both football and cultural histories, this story is meat and potatoes, and well told here. To casual footy fans, there may be a bit too much of the various tournament summaries, though the tale of tiny Uruguay’s supremacy in early World Cups and before that, in Olympics, which then served as football’s world championship, is essential.

Nor can these stylish triumphs be separated, Campomar argues convincingly, from Uruguay’s prosperous democracy of the time. Similarly, the advent of brutal military dictatorships in Latin America often went hand in hand with the continent’s dark turn toward cynical, negative “anti-football”.

Read it before the Centenario tournament ( celebrating the 100th year of South American championship), to be held in the US in 2016. At some point, the two Americas may merge, in a football sense; and this is yet another book to explain why football is really the only game that matters in the world.

V for Vendetta
by Alan Moore, David Lloyd

Hacker collective Anonymous’ appropriation of the Guy Fawkes imagery, plus Alan Moore’s complex legacy as comics’ greatest auteur, made this early 80’s graphic novel essential reading for me. I had waited far too long to pick it up, and wondered how coherently it dovetailed with Anonymous’ libertarian/anarchist representation, and how well it fit in with Moore’s own very original, often metafictional ouevre. It does not disappoint, in the same way that “Watchmen”, “From Hell” and “Promethea” do not disappoint: they are all brilliant, though eccentric, examinations of the relationship of man/woman to the State.

The difference in this early effort is in the pacing. It was mostly completed in Britain before Moore arrived on these shores to begin his ground breaking Swamp Thing run at DC, and prior to “Watchmen”, where a fascination with metafictional storytelling (i.e, “Superheroes as government-regulated vigilantes”, “Super heroine as goddess of storytelling”, etc) set in. This sometimes has lead to overwrought, didactic story lines, and over-designed illustration. Here, though, the story is direct and driving, with David Lloyd’s stark, stripped down panels, awash in blacks and crepuscular violets giving the whole thing a noir-ish Golden Age Batman sort of air. Moore’s crank-ish comic book libertarianism is here too, but tidily contained in a near-future fascist England, though an Orwellian computer system has jumped the pages and can definitely be seen as an inspiration for real world Anonymous.

Convoluted politics aside, it’s a great read.

Why Read Moby-Dick?
by Nathaniel Philbrick

A nice little book of short ruminations on various aspects of Moby-Dick. There are nuggets about Melville’s career, including a running discussion of his friendship with Hawthorne. Themes of the book are raised, and though not an exhaustive examination in the manner of a critical essay, they are thought provoking enough, and free of the academic/critical jargon that sometimes clots discussion of literary landmarks such as this. It’s hard to resist a book like this.

White Cube by Brecht Vandenbroucke

I had completely missed this early 2014 release and was glad I spied it on the coldest night of the year when no one (wisely) attended a workshop I was hosting at Ross-Barnum Library. These faux-primitive 1- and 2-page cartoons concern two guys coming to terms with, or sometimes cleverly modifying, even hilariously destroying, the modern art they encounter at the White Cube, a typical modernist gallery. Very witty, even conceptual gags about the art, but also about social media. The pair are seen running from the security guard after painting a Facebook-style thumb’s up ‘Like’ sign on a critically-approved White Cube acquisition.

The General and the Jaguar: Pershing’s Hunt for Pancho Villa: A True Story of Revolution & Revenge
by Eileen Welsome

A book that gets to the heart of the long-running enmity between Mexico and the USA. It is all here- the violence and savagery that seems to plague the Mexican people, and the prejudice and high-handedness of Americans and their government. The story is grippingly told. Pancho Villa’s campaign against Mexico’s military government found favor in US circles until pre WWI exigencies compelled Woodrow Wilson to recognize Carranza, the dictator. Betrayed, Villa vowed to take his forces against US citizens. The result was a brutal attack on Columbus, NM, and a punitive expedition into Mexico led by John Pershing, later to lead US forces in WWI Europe.

Conceived as a face-saving gesture by Wilson, but as a prelude to US expansion into Northern Mexico by Pershing and the Manifest Destiny adherents, the invasion into Chihuahua quickly turned into a misadventure. Porfirio Diaz, whom the revolution supplanted as Mexico’s leader, once said “Poor Mexico- so far from God, so close to the USA.” Pancho Villa seemed to embody this tragic irony, though it was not Pershing or the US that finally defeated him.

 

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 

 

Ghosts and Daydreams

Monotype, 15x21", including ghost images and Mylar "applique" elements
Forrester’s Daydream, Monotype, 15×21″, including ghost images and Mylar “applique” elements

This isn’t a particularly good photo- and that’s kind of why I posted it. Because it’s also not a particularly good print. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited by some of the things going on here, but the whole spirit of my studio work this Fall is to try different experiments, so I never really considered this a ‘finished” idea.

On the plus side, it’s got some new imagery and taps into some fairly successful metaphorical landscape work I’ve done in the past, along with some jazzy color. On the downside, a lot of the new imagery is just sort of strewn haphazardly about without any room to breathe and develop, and the color and composition don’t break any new ground for me. The values in the floating chair image are pretty clunky, too.

I also- and this happens more than I care to admit- walked into the studio with the intention of trying some interiors for a change, but fell back into landscape mode, with the exception of the floor-boardy black lines and the chair. I expect elements of this print to reappear, but it’s more of a distracted Autumn daydream at this point. Not all experiments turn out brilliantly; that’s why they are experiments.

 

 

 

Team of Rivals

I’m posting this pic of a collaboration I did with ceramic artist Donna Schnitzer for a show at Republic Plaza called Interplay. It was designed to hightlight the professional artist/ mentor-to- student relationships the Art Students League of Denver wants to encourage.

In this case, Donna is a long time, very experienced professional ceramic artist herself who just happened to want to branch out into printmaking and so my role originally was to suggest techniques that might facilitate her natural creative vision. Then when we went to collaborate, we adopted a call/response sort of procedure where one would start a print, then pass it off to the other after chatting about ways to approach it, and so on. There were several false starts, but ultimately we came up with 6-7 pieces we both liked, and 2 were chosen by curator Andra Archer for the show, one of which sold immediately. Some of the ideas we tried will be seen in future works of mine.

The show is up and open to the public in the Republic Plaza lobby through Nov. 20. Let me know if you’d like me to meet you there.  Apologies for the picture quality, but we were on a very tight schedule and never had a chance to get it shot nicely. It’s printed in 4-5 layers on tan 22×30″ Rives paper. I’ve forgotten the title, and will update the post when I get it. Many thanks to my delightfully feisty collaborative partner Donna for a very productive and thought provoking summer project!

2014-08-19 21.52.52

 

Mellow Yellow

Color reappeared in my new work in a large way. I had put increased attention on color in my summer evening monotype class, because I realized that most people at that level of experience anyway, can use a little background in color theory. Most artists at that level don’t have an intellectual program for color. They tend to pick up a bright looking tube, and go for it. But color is complex, and especially when brushed on to a plexi plate, can turn to a muddy mess so easily.

My Summer workshop was a rockstar class. In my 4 years of doing this, I hadn’t seen one so ambitious and engaged. I decided a nice little talk about  color theory was in order, and they responded well. Here’s what I told them:

The three primary colors, Yellow Red and Blue, when mixed, equal secondary colors Orange, Green and Violet, of varying brightness and warmth depending on what ratio of a certain color is used. Red and Yellow make Orange, for example. Red and Blue make Violet.

Each Secondary color when paired with the remaining, complementary Primary not its parent, yields a neutral tone, depending on ratios used. A little Orange mixed with Blue equals a bluish Gray; a little Blue mixed with Orange equals a rich orangey Brown. These are the Complements. Along with the Primaries, they are key to any of the thousands or even millions of  hues available from just the 8-color tin paint set you used to get at Christmas. You may have, like I did, experienced unneccesary jealousy in that each color in the giant sets your well off school friends got could be quickly concocted with your own set.

My new class has started Tuesday. A very experienced class; many of them have returned after taking the class in the past. I hope that means they liked the things I talked about, and I hope it means they’d like to try new things, because I’ve added some.

I’m also leading discussions about the work we produce. This sounds intimidating, but most artists tend to concentrate on their perceived failures in a given work, while most other people tend to notice things that are working well in that same work. So it’s of great value to discuss the work. I’m also giving “ghost” prints” ( second impressions from the ink remaining on the plate after the first run through the press) new emphasis. They can provide a way forward when artists get stuck, and torpedo our natural tendency to be results-oriented.

Everyone, even the instructor, can benefit from pushing through the first iteration of an idea and letting the “ghosts in the machine” take over for a bit.

From my latest gallery show at Zip 37. I had been taken with Emily Dickinson's several poems on the subject, but also saw a contemporary commentary in the reversal of roles: it's the man who wears the Hijab in this scenario.
From my latest gallery show at Zip 37. I had been taken with Emily Dickinson’s several poems on the subject, but also saw a contemporary commentary in the reversal of roles: it’s the man who wears the Hijab in this scenario. The sudden color burst was as much a surprise to me as to anyone. They are mostly secondary colors, as even the bright Yellow has a touch of Green, and most of the darks are actually a dark Violet.