Making Art in Public Places
For a few years, I exhibited watercolors and printmaking for a month at a time at Descanso Gardens in La Canada, California. Plant aficionados, trail hikers, botanists, beekeepers, school bus field trips and runners frequent the camellia forest there. I liked working on watercolors and printmaking in the gallery, because the gardens are incredibly quiet (the word descanso translates to a place of rest), the grounds are beautiful and it gave me an opportunity to discuss art making process with visitors.
A Primer on Monotype
Many of the folks I met at the gardens had a pleasantly vague recollection of making a potato or linocut print in grade school, but their printmaking stopped there. That was my queue to evangelize printmaking in it’s varied forms: linocut, woodblock, drypoint, collagraph, and the painterly print – monotype, etc. Gallery visitors got excited to try something new in their art-making adventures, and those conversations helped define the tutorial nature of this blog (circa 2005). I took plates and sample prints to Descanso, described the process in person, and then shot process photos back in the studio to share on the blog as further encouragement to try printmaking at home.
A family of garden lovers came to Descanso to walk the lilac grove in early Spring. Their children LOVED the scent of the flowers, and we talked about the power of scent to bring back memories (I grew up in New England with plentiful lilac bushes), and the time-capsule nature of art, capturing moments forever. Two of the kids lounged on the wicker bench in the gallery while the grownups chatted. I asked their mom if I could snap a photo of her girls to use in the studio, and this monotype was the result of that moment, and that reference photo.
An Artist’s Charter
I’m convinced that most people who love art, and are curious about printmaking would enjoy the process to make a monotype. (Here’s a tutorial playlist on my youtube channel if you’d like to give it a go.) Art is, as mentioned above, one of the best ways to capture a moment – especially if its blinkably fleeting, or it’s components are things we walk past without noticing. Capturing the essence of a common scene with your art can elevate a simple arrangement of light and color into a noteworthy gaze-grabber. As artists, perhaps that’s part of our unwritten charter; to hone skills till we’re experts at translating commonplace to glorious, unremarkable to collectible and unnoticeable to stunning. What do you think? Should we all get to work on a series of paintings and printmaking based on the things we notice, and wish to share with the world?? The same simple things that others walk past, but made more luminous and lovely with art supplies in our hands? 🦉
Edgar Degas Monotypes
Speaking of printmaking and monotypes, the Museum of Modern Art mounted an exhibit of Edgar Degas monotypes in 2016. The exhibit was titled A Strange New Beauty and to celebrate the opening, the museum hosted several weeks of on-site monotype printmaking workshops (see photos and read about that here) for free on a first come-first served basis. Would you have swept into town to make monotypes at MOMA if you lived near NYC? I would have raced you to the entrance if I lived on the east coast! 🚴🏽♀️ This high-quality slide show gives an excellent feeling for the exhibit, and a wonderful sense of scale. Some of the monotypes I’ve seen online forever are much, much smaller than I imagined. You can also read transcripts of audio segments from the exhibit’s opening presentation by curator Jodi Hauptman here. And below, watch Jodi describe Degas’ working in monotype, with the process demonstrated simultaneously in a working print studio – Jungle Press Editions in Brooklyn, New York.
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One more thing about me, then no more. I have finished my sketch of the Giorgione; it took nearly three weeks. I’ve almost finished a copy of Verone’s angel from his sketch, and I’ve begun the Giorgione landscape (The Judgement of Solomon), in the same size; I might have to put figures in. I have done a few drawings. All in all, I have been less courageous than I expected to be. I refuse to give up before I have results, though. As I am at loose ends here, I might as well make the most of my time and study my craft. I could not undertake anything on my own. I have started down a hard path that requires great patience.
At one time, I had your encouragement; now that I no longer do, I am starting to despair a little, the way I used to in the past. I remember the conversation we had in Florence about the sorrows that are the lot of those involved in art. What you said was less exaggerated than I thought. There is indeed little compensation for those sorrows. They increase the older you get and the farther along you go, and the consolation once derived from youth’s few additional illusions and hopes is gone. However great one’s affection for one’s family and one’s passion for art, there is a void even they cannot fill.