Learning by engagement

There’s a whole discussion in the art world about artists who are “self-taught” vs. “art school”.  I’ve been spending a lot of time learning from professional artists and printmakers this year, but I’m not enrolled in any fine arts degree, nor am I taking my own instruction. A better term may be “Learning by engagement.

I’ve taken a number of virtual classes with various amazing artists, and was accepted to a mentorship program with Lynn Peterfreund through Zea Mays Printmaking Center. Along with technical skills development, I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement wrapped around tough love, driving me to reflect on composition, craft, and why I decided to add that red stripe, or outlined that flower.

The instruction and critiques have been every bit as serious as formal art school: Kind and gentle, yet constructive and a bit soul-baring. I love the “likes”, but grow from the “have you considered“ insights that lead to tweaks that make all the difference.

My teachers and mentors have helped me improve my observation skills, and guided me in creating a series about mangroves. I also completed #the100dayproject on Instagram which forced me to make at least one work a day. The discipline of this daily regimen served as an “idea factory” that feeds my on-going work

Persistence – Monotype, 2021; Akua intaglio on Fabriano Unica; 9″x12″

Sketching a new direction

Kangaroo Paw sketch

The time has come to retire from my operations management career, and that means I can focus quality time on learning and making art. To that goal, I’ve been working with a wonderful mentor through Zea Mays Printmaking Center and taken a number of classes to expand my skills.

As awful as this virus has been, it’s actually opened up access to a treasure trove of learning opportunities. Although the arts community is hard-hit by the economic impact of coronavirus, a few artists and arts centers have taken advantage of video technologies to offer virtual classes. For someone with the supplies and equipment needed (like me), these classes have been an unexpected boon. Where I live is no longer a factor in working with world-class artists like Lynn Peterfreund, Meredith Broberg or Ron Pokrasso. We meet for a couple hours, then I can take what I learned — techniques, insights, critique — apply them to a few pieces, and then share the results the following session.

One lesson I’ve been learning is the importance of drawing. Up until now, I always hated to do it, and only kept a sketchbook to ideate compositions. But my mentors have been encouraging me to draw daily, to do a sketch from real-life, a photograph, then memory. To play with blind contour drawings, and different tools and media as a way of honing my observational skills. And as a result, I find myself “drawn to drawing”. Hey Mikey, I like it!

Selected drawings are shared here and on my Instagram feed.

And still the flowers bloom

And still the flowers bloom – 3D monoprint & collagraph, 2020; Akua intaglio on Arches 88; 20″x20″x20″

2020 has been the most difficult year most of us have lived. In just six months, we’ve relived experiences that had played out before, but never all at once: A rocket launch, protests over police brutality and racism, a presidential impeachment, a deep recession. These resulted from the corona virus pandemic, bringing out the worst and best of us, challenging us to discover how to “virtualize” friendship and family connections. 

Amidst all this, birds nest, insects pollinate, tides ebb and flow, and our Princess of the Night cactus bloomed. Nature carries on vigorously, gloriously, proving the world still has gifts of wonder for us if humanity will just pay attention. 

This year’s Morean Arts Center member show theme is 20×20, and it presented an opportunity for me to ponder the earth, our place in it, and the condition of hope. The 20×20 theme gave me the idea of building an icosahedron, a 20-face polyhedron. On the outside, a monoprint showcasing the earth that made us. On the inside, a collagraph depicting major events of the year (so far), humanity reckoning with itself. We are caught inside, looking out windows at all we can no longer engage with. (The windows also allow a view to the interior images.)

The piece is printed flat and double-sided on Arches 88 paper. I created two plates cut from a template consisting of 20 triangles: 10 side-by-side through the center, with 5 triangles along the top and 5 along the bottom. Once printed they were joined along the ends and top and bottom triangles.

Design and production involved two prototypes and tests of five different adhesives to find the one that would seam all those triangles (Loctite Stik ‘n Seal won the trial). My etching press is 30″x60″, and I had to split the image into two panels per side to fit the bed which created another seam in addition to the side, so I built each hemisphere separately and then joined them, using a lot of makeshift armatures to prop up each side.

Duplex printing proved challenging to register, too. The plates are a bit floppy, and were quite obstinate when flipping them on top of the paper to register on the second side. I can see why master printers have assistants!

Some of the steps are shown in the following photos.

Preparing matte board to inscribe
Printing two interior panels of “And still the flowers bloom”
View from the outside through the “windows” to the collagraph images on the inside
Interior collagraph print – pre-construction
Exterior print — pre-construction

Print Day in May 2020

I participated in Print Day in May, a global internet event for the first time this year. The pressure was on! Printmakers from around the world made prints. I spent most of the day working on my evolving pelican project.

First, I ran a few tests to make sure of the color combination and the effects. Once I was satisfied that it wouldn’t look like a dog’s breakfast, I pulled out the large plates and inked up my carborundum collagraph plate depicting mangrove islands. I also used inks of different viscosities to get the surface texture and ran them through the press. I embellished the final result with a couple hand carved stamps and a sigh of relief.

Pelicans in flight – relief monoprint, 2020; Akua intaglio on Rives BFK; 14″x20″

Here’s a second version of the print, called “Fuga pelecanes”. This is the one I’ll enter into Morean Art Center’s Pelican Pride show.

Fuga Pelicanes – Relief monoprint, 2020; Akua intaglio on Arnhem 1618; 14″x20″

Glide of Pelicans

I have been working on my entry to the Morean Arts Center “Pelican Proud” exhibition. Morean is located in St. Petersburg, FL, which this year dubbed the pelican the official city bird.

It’s due in April, but as the Morean and everything else is now closed for COVID-19, I have no idea if this exhibition will happen. But art stops for no one — and no virus. Even though the exhibition may never happen, pelicans deserve attention. Especially brown pelicans, which have had such a rough go of it in the Gulf.

For inspiration, I made a drawing from a photo I’d taken of two injured pelicans at Homosassa Wildlife Park.

Pelican Pair, drawing

I love the look in the eye of the one on the left. She (?) seems to be supporting the one on the right, who is blind. They both look like they’d like to take wing and glide away together. I thought to try linocut and monotype to express what they may be thinking.

Glide of Pelicans – VE linocut monoprint w. stencils, 2020; Akua intaglio on Hannemuhle Copperplate; 11″x15.5″

I will likely develop this idea further, maybe incorporating scenes of St. Petersburg FL. I’m also noodling an abstract interpretation. Stay tuned.

Monoprinting is torturous fun

Monoprinting is torturous fun. You paint in reverse, and inside out. And chine collé adds further complication. Trace monoprinting is the riskiest of all, either reducing hours of work to an irretrievable mess, or adding the mark that makes all the difference.

I absolutely love monoprinting!

By definition, a “monoprint” is one of a kind, but has repeatable elements, like etchings, relief plates (linocut, collagraph, stamps), or textures I scrounge from packing materials or nature. A “monotype” is something that is entirely original, with no repeatable elements. I do both, yet I particularly enjoy incorporating original carved or found textures in my work and seldom combine them the same way twice.

The image shown above is a close-up of “Improv with Gold“, a banner piece on Masa paper. Because it was created using stencils, relief plates and stamps, it’s technically a monoprint. I used brayers to apply the ink, and embellished with trace monoprinting for the asemic writing (a fancy word meaning words with no meaning).

It’s always a journey of surprise and discovery to see how these disconnected marks work together on a single piece of paper.

I am the Ibis

I am the Ibis – Monoprint, collagraph, 2019; Akua intaglio on Arnhem 1618; 21.25″x12.25″

A fitting first blog post is my first entry into a group show. The theme was “This is Me” and the show was the annual member show at Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, FL.
Pondering how to tackle such a dull subject, an “industry of ibis” gathered in dozens in my front yard, persistently picking and pecking. Ibis are the hardest working avian around; the busiest of birds.

This is my spirit animal, I thought. I am the Ibis. Goo goo g’joob.

The above image is the fourth of five monoprints made from a collagraph plate, stencils, found texture and asemic writing. The monoprint submitted to the show won honorable mention.

Spirit animal, indeed!