Studio Update

"Dreaming Place" working title for this monotype in progress.
“Dreaming Place” working title for this monotype in progress.

 

I’ve been on the Organizing Committee for Month of Printmaking Colorado, a two months long festival of exhibitions, demonstrations, workshops and lectures about printmaking. It’s a Front Range-wide event that extends from Pueblo, Colorado to Casper, Wyoming. So needless to say, as it kicked off this week, it’s been eating my life.

I’ve really enjoyed it, though, and it’s great to see all my colleagues both long-time and unfamiliar, and to see the amazing amount of great printmaking being done in the Rocky Mountain High Plains. For more about it, and to watch a video interview about my own work from 2014’s MoPrint event, go to the web site. 

Amazingly, despite my MoPrint duties, I’ve been getting regular studio time this year so far. It’s never enough, naturally, and progress is somewhat slow, but I am trying new ideas, and some are almost ready to go to the photographer and framer. In the meantime, here is a snapshot from the studio to give you a taste of what I’m working on. I’ll have more soon.

Leave a comment if you like.

Falling Into Old Habits

Montage of monotype studies done, September 2015. I'm trying some new techniques, and exploring how they fit in with older techniques.
Montage of monotype studies done, September 2015. I’m trying some new techniques, and exploring how they fit in with older techniques.

I’m slowly ( once a week right now) getting going in the studio again as other commitments drop away. Hello, fall! I’m re-taking up watercolor, too, which has a similar subtractive composition to printmaking. In simpler terms, the whites- and thus the full range of values- disappears the more paint or ink you add. So planning, restraint and mindfulness are important.

This is a montage of some of the sketches and studies I’ve printed in the last three weeks. I didn’t put a lot of effort into clean, professional finish and composition, so it’s likely the last time these will see the light of day. But I’ll start putting some of ideas into finished works soon. I’m really excited to be making pictures again!

Reading list:

Ten Years in the Tub, Nick Hornby. Sub titled: “A Decade Spent Soaking in Great Books”. I made mention of The Polysllyabic Spree, a slim volume of Hornby’s somewhat irreverent Believer Magazine columns on reading. I didn’t know they’d later published a large volume encompassing 10 years, until I ran across it browsing in the library, so I snapped it up. Don’t know that I’ll write anything more about it, or when I’ll finish it now that I’ve stopped riding the train everyday with the end of my temp job at the bookstore. But- reading about reading, what’s not to like?

McSweeney’s #29: I’m nearly finished with #48, one of my favorite issues so far. So I grabbed this one for $6 at my favorite used bookstore. How I can tell it’s my favorite bookstore: they buy up old issues of McSweeney’s and sell them for $6. In my home, good short stories are now considered a staple, like sugar, coffee and bacon. Wine! Did I forget wine? Wine.

 

Everything’s a Work in Progress

What I have worked on this winter is a small series of work intended to develop organically from sketchbook ideas on up through experiments in different sized paper and eventually to a large, significant, and fully realized work. Especially as I transition to new methods of working such as stencilling, etc, I’ve tended to have smaller works that experiment in formal ways, but don’t have a refined narrative. Here is a small sketch for a project I’d intended to call Bed Dream with Poppies. Most of these are not very good photos, but most are studies or unfinished experiments.

"Bed Dream with Poppies", 7 1/2" x 10", a small monotype intended as a sketch for a larger project.
“Bed Dream with Poppies”, 7 1/2″ x 10″, a small monotype intended as a sketch for a larger project.

The best way to produce a relatively large set of meaningful work, Ive found is to explore variants of one idea of a few related ideas, and cherry pick the best ones as finished, exhibited work. I’m inviting you  to view the sketches and trial runs, the not neccessarily ready for prime-time pieces that would sometimes be offered to the public, sometimes not. Yes, I  do have large amounts of work that never see the light of day. Here is a larger variation on the theme, with poppies dispensed with and replaced by a sort of pod-like chine colle’ element and a somewhat organic dark field in the background. A somewhat distressed blackness creeps up behind the bed:

Untitled Monotype w/ Chine Colle'. 13x20".
Untitled Monotype w/ Chine Colle’. 13×20″.

I’m already seeing more content, symbolic narrative, and meaning in the work. I intended to leave landscape (a narrative of earth and time) and try more interiors ( as it implies, a narrative of internal life, or the soul). Jumping to a new subject can often jog the creative machinery, and I hope to see fresh approaches. Here’s another experiment that adds in more pod-like or thought-balloon-like shapes above the bed.

Untitled Monotype w/ Chine Colle', 13x20 "
Untitled Monotype w/ Chine Colle’, 13×20 “

Sometimes you have to execute a finished piece, and in this case, I had a deadline to meet for a show. So I tried a larger piece, with more color. I left the poppies out to further explore the pods, and instead placed some layered fauna where the darkness had been behind the headboard. I wanted something more abstract on the left, but added an Icarus-like figure to focus it. It still seems more like a study than a finished piece, and I’ll return to the studio this week after working a temp job to pay some bills. I’ll go back to the poppies, I’m sure, but I’ve also seen the Miro show at the DAM in the interim, I’m sure that will have its effect, too.

"Bed Dream 29", Monotype, 20x26".
“Bed Dream 29″, Monotype, 20×26”.

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 

 

Healthy Future

I’m mailing a small check to Kaiser today. It’s a two-block walk to the mailbox; weather, H75/L43, P/C, no chance of showers. A slight bit of exercise, but essentially, it’s a very bland-seeming denouement to a tale that started, for me, about 5 years ago.

I’m updating it now, in the interest of writing a resolution to the tale and preparing for the next steps.

The health care reform drama kicked into high gear in my life when I left my prototypically “soul-crushing” day job in one of those conservative mega corporations for a gig as an artist. For seed money, I had a small pension, which held no hope of covering both my basic expenses and the rather exorbitant COBRA premiums I was being offered. Medical insurance instantly became a major obstacle to success and security.

I write about this issue and how it applies to small-time artists and America as a whole, in a very early post on this Squishtoid Blog, here. No, I never did write that manifesto. But when one has health, and common sense in government, who needs monkeys?

As I mail my first premium check, I’m “signed up” for Obamacare, though not yet, as its bitter, still spitting enemies like to somewhat desperately point out, “enrolled”. However, as The New Yorker cover artist Barry Blitt points out in gleeful, puckish pen strokes, the Affordable Care Act battle is now over, though the Tea Bag haven’t realized it yet.

As for me, the victory comes a bit late. I am now actively looking for another day job. There’ve been ups and downs in my struggle to make free-lancing work, but the financial part, born in Bush’s recession and maturing in a down-sized America, has sloped steadily down.

Let’s compare the aspirations with the reality:

I did start this blog and later a website (though I’ve not had time to grow them), established a social media presence, attracted a steady following for workshops, was in a lot of shows, grew my artwork in both vision and inventory, and most important, had fun and felt healthier.

On the downside, I did not sell enough major work (Denver does buy art, but prefers it small, mostly) to grow the business or create financial stability, and racked up a fair-sized amount of debt.

My upside remains positive, but my downside is beginning to send me warning notices. Hmmm, need cash flow.

This is where ACA comes in and why it is, by all accounts, useful, necessary, and working.

Obamacare was easy to get and far cheaper than I expected. There were glitches, yes (The biggest: a strangely designed search engine that did not, at first give me all the choices at my disposal). But computer glitches are very fixable, and were never going to determine the success or failure of America’s first-ever attempt at a comprehensive health care program. In fact the major obstacle now preventing coverage is not software, but Tea Bagger political spite: millions are going without health care in GOP-controlled Red States, locked out of medicare expansion simply because the Tea Bag wants them to blame Obama ( who SHOULD they blame? The Supreme Court).

But, as I predicted in my previous post, health care reform has made my situation, and that of millions of other independent, enterprising Americans a whole lot better.

It’s flipped the part-time job situation on its head.

I don’t really need a “career”,  as the Walmart shills like to call their shit jobs. I just need some steady cash flow to get out of debt and finance  my real business which is creating art. I can now look for a job that offers more flexibility (read: studio time). Even if I do wind up back inside the corporate machine (believe me, I’m trying to avoid that!) I don’t need to grovel through ignominious “huddles”; or worry that if I can’t make my drudge schedule fit my show schedule, I risk my health coverage. I simply make some credit card payments, then walk out and leave the work to those whom the jobs were originally designed for: 16 year old kids. No, I won’t feel a bit guilty. If big corporate want a more loyal work force, they can start offering better jobs.

Thanks, Obama!

The effect is starting to be noticed in articles, commentary and statistically. The GOP propaganda machine calls this “destroying jobs” but as usual, their definition of “job” is looser than the lips in the Rape Caucus’ Caucus room.  And for most of us, anything that shifts the balance of power in the economy even slightly away from the entrenched, paneled boardrooms and toward the ever-creative, ever-industrious Main Street is a huge victory for American independence and possibility.

Studio Doings

Joe Higgins Monotypes "Superheroine With Burning Boat" Stage 1
Joe Higgins Monotypes “Superheroine With Burning Boat” Stage 1

I’ve been layering Mylar stencils for transparencies, spatial density and complex colors. I hope for rich interactions of negative and positive space, with new visual textures. But a real danger can be overworked, cramped images. Planning becomes an issue.

Good, rich color often involves planning, with transparency and color designs interacting in fresh ways when planning works but becoming muddy or overbearing when it doesn’t. Spontaneity for me, is in the soul of a monotype. Hit it just right, and you get a richness combined with graphic power that people understand as its own unique medium. Overwork it in trying to correct for texture, registration or tonality, and you only make them wonder why you didn’t use paints or colored pencils, anything more controllable.

This image highlights that delicate ballancing act. The first image above, “Superheroine with Burning Boat “ had real potential after one drop, but was fragmentary and lacked real depth. That, along with a tighter, more integrated (meaning less random) blue/orange tonality.

The second, below, I tried to add a unifying, transparent dark blue over the oranges in the waves but succeeded only in confusing the issue with a heavy blue /black. The trees of the ship are better but still lack any real depth or unity. It still has potential, but needs another layer, though it is dangerously close to being overworked. I’ll keep you posted on this one.

However, this is a time for experimentation for me and the overall idea seems good. Perhaps a more open, less claustrophobic composition, and a lighter touch on the colors might be a good thing. Thoughts?

I have another series of “stage” progressions I’ll post later in the week or next week. It’s one that seems to be coming together more successfully.

Joe Higgins Monotypes "Superheroine With Burning Boat" Stage 2
Joe Higgins Monotypes “Superheroine With Burning Boat” Stage 2