I’ve got a lot going on this fall, after a quiet summer. I hope to see you for one of these events.
Workshops: I’ve still got a couple coming up this fall. The next session of Monotypes For Advanced Beginners begins October 25 and runs until just before Thanksgiving. 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 studio-oriented. There are still spots open, if you’d like to squeeze in some creative “me” time, or get a start on some hand-made holiday gifts. I also have one more Moxie U Monotypes sampler, on October 13. There are still spots open for that, too. Online registration is here.
I’ve added an evening session of my Monotypes for Beginners workshop
The biggest news is in the upcoming spring schedule, where I’ll be getting off to an earlier start, and 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
One of my favorite places for a demo
I have a free Demo and Dialogue at Meininger Artist Materials on November 5 at 2 -4 PM. This is a Denver Arts Week event, and a great way to preview what you might expect in a workshop, or get a peek into my process. Their set-up is viewer friendly, and the crowd is usually quite lively and full of questions and comments, so it’s one of my favorite places for a demo. You also get a 20% Off coupon for supplies!
I have two upcoming holiday shows: at Open Press, a Denver Arts Week event, opening Friday, November 11, 6-9 PM, with a First Friday event on December 2, 6-9 PM. Mark Lunning’s Open Press is a center for Denver printmaking for 30 years, so the show will feature some of the area’s best print work. I should be there both at the opening and First Friday, if you want to chat and say hello. It runs through December, with gallery hours 12-5 every Saturday, or by appointment at 303.778.1115.
There is also a holiday show at G44 Gallery, in Colorado Springs, beginning November 18. You can buy selected works online through their website, and here on JoeHigginsMonotypes.com. Appointments to see work are available. Email or call 720.855.7340.
I hope all of you have a wonderful autumn, and a great Holiday/Solstice season!
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.
It’s hard to pick up the thread in the studio after an absence. I’ve been making regular time there since January, but Fall and Summer were mostly a loss as I worked to pay off debt. Glad to be making progress on that, but producing work is the only way to increase sales, which pay debts, too.
I started with some chairs because they are simple enough visually to try new things, yet loaded with enough emotional connotation to make them interesting. I call them my “Place” series as I seek to establish my own place in the studio, and in the wider art world around it. I sometimes use chopped up mylar stencils from older work to create patterns and textures in newer work. It feels regenerative, and doesn’t stink as much as a mulch pile.
My next show will be the Art Students League Summer Art Market, June 11-12, some of these pictures will be available there.
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.
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.
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.
I’m betting they have a copy of Tom Jones with my name on it, or at least, Henry Fielding’s.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
A quick note to call your attention to two additional free Denver Public Library Monotype Workshops that have been confirmed: The first is at Hadley Branch, 1890 S. Grove, at 5 PM this Monday, April 20.
The second is at Hampden, 9755 E. Girard Ave. from 6-7:30. It’s on Tuesday, May 5.
The workshops are open to the public, both kids and adults, and all materials are provided, though bringing an old shirt or an apron is optional. We get a lot of kids, and I love the idea of helping a busy mom or dad sneak off for some time among the stacks after they drop off the kids, but it can be pretty rewarding for everyone when they work on art together, so I encourage that. Sometimes the adults are actually at another table in the very same room, participating in other DPL programs, such as on English as a Second Language, or immigration issues, which gives a glimpse into what an important institution the Library is today.
I also like to see adults without kids drop by. Thats rarer, but a diversity of ages and ethnicities at the table makes for a memorable time for me, at least. I keep the process very simple, due to time constraint, but if you have considered paying for an Art Students League class to jumpstart your muse, then this might be a way to sample the basics first. I should point out that it’s not all about me! There are actually 9-10 other ASLD instructors out and about at different DPL branches each month, so check that out. It’s a partnership between the DPL and ASLD under the Library’s “Plaza” program. Schedules are available at the participating libraries.
I’m updating my “Workshops” page with this info, and with the summer sessions I have on offer at the League in the just-released Summer Catalog. Bookmark and join us sometime. It makes for great, relaxing conversation and new friends.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.