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.

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”.

Act Naturally

After a long period exploring the symbolic and metaphorical possibilities of landscape, I'm returning to interiors , which have their own rich reference points. Sometimes, I like to do both! "Natural History", Monotype, 15x21", 2014
After a long period exploring the symbolic and metaphorical possibilities of landscape, I’m returning to interiors , which have their own rich reference points. Sometimes, I like to do both! “Natural History”, Monotype, 15×21″, 2014

“Well I hope you’ll come

and see me in the movies

Then I’ll know that you can plainly see

The biggest fool that ever hit the bigtime

And all I gotta do is- act naturally

 

I auditioned for a spot on community television as host of a proposed show on the Denver art scene. I felt I had as good a chance as anyone; I’d done quite a bit of community TV in the 80’s as improv/sketch comedian, and some hosting too.

I won’t know the result for a while, but the teleprompter, something new in my experience, unnerved me, so I never really got comfortable. The Teleprompter combines reading with public speaking, two very different activities. Improv Comedy- spontaneous public performance- isn’t a very good background for that. My teaching style is also somewhat extemporaneous. I think this type of program is a good thing for Colorado’s burgeoning art scene, though. And I like putting myself in unfamiliar situations at times- it provides real perspective as to possibilities for personal growth.

I’m taking a monoprint class from Master Printer Mark Lunning at the Art Students League until my own workshop gets going on February 24. It’s true I’ve heard a lot of the material before, as Mark tends to share interesting ideas anytime one works at Open Press, which I’ve done for years. But it’s nice to review and sharpen technique, and he always attracts an interesting bunch of artists, which is stimulating both creatively and socially.

For my own ongoing projects, I’m concentrating on taking a more in-depth approach to developing larger work. I’ve finally accrued a fairly large inventory of small-to-medium work, which does sell well, and pays monthly expenses. But to really “finish” an idea, I feel larger work is required, and my stock of larger works for shows, art consultants, competitions has diminished, so I’m concentrating more on studio work, and less on smaller work for smaller shows this Spring.

I’ll try to return to this project in future posts, and post a series of developmental sketches and preliminary works, leading up to a final work. I’ve already begun, and will have some small studies to post soon. The subject matter concerns an interior with poppies and thistles.

Welcome to JoeHigginsMonotypes.com

Welcome to JoeHigginsMonotypes.com. It’s taken a while longer to get up and running than I anticipated. This is partly due to a wicked busy schedule, and partly due to just not being savvy enough to navigate WordPress’ rather clunky, but undeniably cost-effective software.

As you see, the site is a rather skeletal affair right now. But I’ll add more each week, including a “Contact me” form, some downloadable publicity materials, many  more pictures, and eventually, a way to actually buy them.

The main obstacle to going live has been importing my Blogger blog “Squishtoid” into this site. It actually turned out to be easier than say,  changing font sizes, a frustrating fact that has to do with the fact that WordPress software is free and open source. “Free” means no money for the fancy, drag and drop, WYSIWYG software that one can buy from Adobe, etc. “Open Source” means anyone can create  related software. The software widget for importing another blog turned out to be easy to use. The software for easily changing the look and feel of one’s site, not so much.

But eventually, even the most tech-challenged artist can learn the basics, and the pickiest of design geeks can learn… to accept the glitches and things that one cannot change. I will go more into detail on the process for those who may want to venture into it  when I’m closer to a finished product, with a bit more perspective. Suffice it to say, if I can do it, anyone can. And in less than 4 months, probably.

May is a very busy month for me, so how many more wings I’ll be adding on to my humble home (page) right now I can’t say. But I will definitely try to keep you up to date on shows, workshops and studio doings here. And the blog is searchable, so many images and rambling thoughts are available there. In June and July, I’ll get back to site construction.

"Still Life in Perspective", Monotype, 2013, 15x21". This is my most recent monotype, it's not even dry yet. I've spent the last three years telling workshop students to put away their paint brushes, then suddenly got the urge to use a paint brush. I'll hear about this.
“Still Life in Perspective”, Monotype, 2013, 15×21″. This is my most recent monotype, it’s not even dry yet. I’ve spent the last three years telling workshop students to put away their paint brushes, then suddenly got the urge to use a paint brush. I’ll hear about this.

 

 

 

Doesn’t Follow



I have to say, I crack myself up a little when I do this stuff, and am not totally convinced that anyone else really gets the joke. This is a ghost of a fairly experimental picture that I called “Incomplete Still Life”, which contained the distressed table and distorted perspective of a floor, or maybe even a DiChirico-like plain. Weird enough.


Then, on a second drop I added a black squall in the upper left, possibly as a result of too much LSD in the younger day. I think it’s pretty clear this pic has no real coherence, unless you count the synaptic mysteries of a visual non sequitur. Which I do, so of course this is one of my favorite pieces.

It’s pretty rare that one of my favorites actually sells; this one did last year about this time. So I guess someone got the joke. Actually it was a couple that very often get my jokes, they have a large collection of my work.

I have a show scheduled in August, so I’ll need to get to work on some larger stuff after the holidays. I’ll be looking for something visually arbitrary and disconnected, yet vivid and very present tense. That’s the best I can explain a print like this.

The Cruelest Month?

I remember being bored at times back in January/February, when it too cold to go out, and I would prowl through the shelves looking for something new to read, or re-read. Now, in wet, gray April/May, with the workshop, and the show at Open Press (opening tonight!), boredom is not a problem. It’s been a bit frantic. Tonight, starting at 6 pm,  it starts getting fun again. Crocus-pocus !

People who find yakking about art entertaining should try yakking about their own art. People are not afraid to be blunt, as in: “What were you thinking?” In many cases, I WASN’T THINKING AT ALL, which to me, is part of the point of art. In this picture, “Interior with Absence”, above, with its minimal structure and distressed imagery, I intended to evoke the fleeting feel of time past. Once highly anticipated events that are now dim in the memory. Do those people with the funny haircuts and our social security numbers even exist? And what of those who are gone? What creates their strange hold on the emotions?

Which brings us back to boredom, itself a form of absence-in-waiting. With two upcoming First Fridays and a Saturday demo, as well as the workshop and ASLD Summer Art Market, boredom isn’t likely to have much of a hold on me. 


More From Monday

Interior, 1/1, 15×21″

This is also from last Monday. Kind of a test run. It has pencil lines, because I love drawing and have wanted to include it in monotypes for a while. The different colored torn papery-looking elements are chine colle, loosely translated, that means “different colored torn papery process”. They are wheat-pasted on to the print by the pressure of the press (5,000 psi, as advertised in our mast head).
It’s not a particularly exciting image, but it certainly has me thinking about possibilities for other images.