Zea Mays Printmaking Flat File Project

A selection of my monoprint works are on exhibition and available for purchase through 2024 through the Zea Mays Printmaking Flat File Project.

Curated biannually, prints in the Flat File Project include etchings, monoprints, relief, photo etchings, lithographs, serigraphs, mixed media prints and artists’ books. Over 50 portfolios of prints by member artists are included.

Throughout the year, works from the Flat File Project are selected for exhibition in Zea Mays’ Sanford Gallery, on site at the Florence MA center. Two of my prints were chosen for “Magic of Monotype,” curated by Arch Macinnes and Edda Valburg, running through July 23, 2023.

Zea Mays Printmaking has been a vital source of inspiration, learning and community for me since I started my printmaking journey. I am extremely honored to participate in the Flat File Project.

Woodland wonders

Nature surrounds us. There it is, making the most of whatever soil and space it can eke out of human encroachment. Birds, plants, trees, wildlife, insects find a way. For instance, when the ditches alongside roadways fill with water, it’s common to see egret spotting insects and snails among the elegant stalks of arrowhead flowers and grasses.

Florida has managed to preserve some areas from development, though. Brooker Creek Preserve, spanning Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough Counties, is just such a treasured place, where arched branches of live oaks form a vast cathedral through which sunlight casts its sacred light over swamp, hammock, and flatwoods. I come to Brooker Creek Preserve to center and take notice. Every visit exposes a new discovery where even the most commonplace “weeds” reveal themselves as precious. 

It was during a guided walk with one of the Brooker Creek Preserve staff, Barb Hoffman, that I was particularly struck by how the silver-grey tillandsia glowed bright red when illuminated by sunlight. These spiky, curly plants cling to trees, rooted not in soil but air. And the trees are bedecked by blooms of red Christmas lichen (among other varieties).

In my ignorance, I thought these plants to be parasitic, but my guide explained that this is a myth. In fact, lichen are beneficial to fungi, serving them nutrients and a habitat. Lichen are sensitive to air pollutants and are used by climate scientists as a key indicator of air quality. These delicate epiphytes are so lucky to be able to hug trees and commune with the arboreal commonwealth. 

I am currently up to my inky fingers in celebration of these woodland gems. Three of my prints are on display and available for purchase at Brooker Creek Preserve from May 15 – August 13, 2023. Inquiries: info@friendsofbrookercreek.org

Left: “Rooted on air,” Relief, drypoint, monoprint, 2023; Akua intaglio on Rives BFK; 18″x18″

Above: “Airy conceptions,” Relief, drypoint, monoprint, 2023; Akua intaglio on Rives BFK; 18″x18″

Save the mangroves, save our coastlines

“Coastal Living” was inspired by Extraction: Art on the Edge of the Abyss (@extraction_art), a global art intervention which seeks to provoke societal change by addressing hazards, both global and local, that are the result of our misuse of the planet. It will be exhibited as part of “KARST Grounds: Quatro Sunistra” at Tempus Projects in Tampa when their new space opens.

Living in Florida, I’m surrounded by mangrove forests, and am drawn to their tangled web. They are shadowy yet uplifting, stolid yet floating, tree-dancers that build shorelines. They nurse marine life, protect our shore against major storms, and defend against climate change. But these defenders are under siege.

Coastal Living – drypoint, monoprint, 2021; Akua intaglio ink on recycled food containers and yard signs; 26.5” x 21.5”

“Coastal Living” is my visual prayer for mangrove preservation, realized as an altar with three predellas (narrative scenes at the base of an altar). Tranquil scenes of mangrove forest life are torn apart by urbanization. But the pictures of coastal development surfacing from these ruptures appear degraded, suggesting that the future of our own communities is in jeopardy. We sow seeds of our own destruction as we abuse the very defenses that protect our coastal communities. 

Global awareness, conservation and restoration are needed to preserve these venerated trees. My hope for these is shown in the center predella with a mangrove propagule, the birth of a new tree. 

To create this drypoint monoprint, I re-purposed printing plates and printed them onto used fast food containers. The frame is contrived from polypropylene signboards recycled from a golf fundraiser. There were definite challenges involved with repurposing these materials, providing me an object lesson in the difficulties of recycling.

Vital to the planet

At .01% of global landmass, mangrove forests are one of the most resilient, productive, and biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. Bridging ocean and land, these salt-tolerant trees support a diverse food web for marine- and wildlife. Their dense root systems form a natural infrastructure more efficient than man-made breakwaters at mitigating tropical storm surge damage to our coastal communities. And they are planet protectors: The mucky soil that accretes among their roots serves as a highly efficient carbon sink, sequestering 3 – 5 times more climate-warming carbon dioxide gas than tropical rainforests.

But mangrove forests are severely threatened by urbanization, conversion to agriculture and aquaculture, and accelerating sea level rise. From 1996 to 2016, the Global Mangrove Watch calculates global mangrove loss at nearly 11%, approximately 367 km a year.

Since 2016, deforestation has slowed to 4.3%, thanks to increased regulatory protection, environmental replanting and restoration programs as well as natural expansion in some areas, including the US (ironically due to climate change). But, these changes aren’t enough on their own to prevent further destruction: Widespread recognition of the value of mangroves to our coastal communities is needed to curb further development and industrialization.

See “The State of the World’s Mangroves 2021,” published by the Global Mangrove Alliance, for more information.

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″

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″

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!