Making Monotypes from Family Photos

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Making Monotype from Family Photos

Have you made monotypes from family photos yet? The reference photo for the monotype above was snapped in the mid 1970’s, in my dad’s childhood home in rural Connecticut.

My grandparents bought and renovated the house in 1944, after it had lived a full life as Old Meadowbrook Farm – a Country Inn and gladiola farm since the late 1800’s.

If you’re unfamiliar with monotype printmaking, there are many posts on this blog featuring monotypes in process (click here to see a few posts).

You can also watch monotypes being made on my youtube channel.

Gather your supplies and lets make something, shall we?

Building a light field monotype

This monotype, in its beginnings on my studio desk, with my reference photo on the right. The image was drawn in water-soluble crayon on a sheet or prepared plexiglass, and printmaking inks were painted in layers on the plexiglass.

Your Family Photos are Already Familiar

When was the last time you flipped through your family photos – vintage photos from before your time included – to look for painting and printmaking fodder? All those faces with their familiar bone structure passed on to your generation are familiar to you.

So are the rooms and furniture and fireplaces and nicknacks on the shelves. When you make art from things you already know well, you’re not getting acquainted and trying to render the shapes at the same time. You already know those shapes.

One of the fireplace openings in my grandparent’s dining room, with beer steins, carvings, art and family photos.

Beloved Rooms to Make into Monotypes

A massive stone fireplace in the center of the house featured grouper-mouth openings in five rooms, upstairs and downstairs.  Potted geraniums – normally squinting in the sun by the pool – were pulled into the sunporch to hide from New England snow. I used to water the plants in the winter while my grandparents stayed in Florida. The smell of geraniums still takes me back to this sunporch.

My paternal grandparents, circa 1928

Harvest the Good Stuff

Like a lot of people, there are chapters of my childhood that are best forgotten, but my grandparent’s house at Old Meadowbrook was a respite.  The circular driveway rotated with gathered friends & family, pulling chairs up to hearty, Italian meals, while being entertained by visiting cousins, dogs, birds and rival siblings.

We watched over my grandfather’s shoulder while he whittled figures from wood, or assembled mechanical contraptions on the kitchen table from his machine shop next door.

Back yard fire-pit gatherings with beer & cigars at my grandparent’s house in the 1950’s

Memory Aerobics

light field monotype printmaking
After a trip through the press, pulling the monotype from the plate with the ink transferred to the paper.

Memory Lane in the Art Studio

The mind swells with wonderful memories while painting from family photos. The time to reflect is heart-felt and the recollections are solid enough to lean your whole weight against, even in vaguely recalled sensations. If the photos were taken before your time, there’s enough genetic recognition in the facial structure, carriage and environs to provide your inspiration Go-button with familiar, pre-studied painting subjects.  Each photo holds clues about your family’s beginnings & their youth, and the leap frog nature of family resemblance is always entertaining.

Need to change the way you think about naming your artwork? (The course is live! Check out the particulars here, and watch the intro video. )

Lighten Your Grip on Art Supplies

The added benefit in the art-making is this; there is just enough of the creative mind occupied with remembrance & family history to free the poor hand from straining with decisions related to painting things in or out, and mixing color & values.  Pre-occupied mark-making is less stressed & more fluid. You can blend two lovely activities in your studio: making art and harvesting good memories from old family photos. It makes me appreciate the sweet life I live now – with my artist’s-brain, working-hands and a fully-awake heart.

Do you use family photos in your artwork?

Thanks for visiting today and I’ll see you in the next post!


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Winter Geraniums 18 x 24 monotype with pastel (sold)

Art Quote

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.

Henry David Thoreau

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25 thoughts on “Making Monotypes from Family Photos”

  1. Stunning print, the light and colors of the subjects are so beautiful, I can’t help but smile and feel a sense of family, friends, good conversations.

    1. Thank you, Maywyn, I’m glad you can imagine family and conversations in that room. That’s exactly what I thought about while creating it. You must like the same kind of quiet spaces as me. 🙂

  2. A wonderful story as usual, and a wonderful Mono type as well! Yes, I myself have also painted a few memories from old photographs. Painting family memories is truly a joyous thing to do.

    1. Hi Bonnie, I’m not surprised that you’ve painted from family photos, because pets are in that category too, right? 🙂 And it really is full of joy. Thanks for the compliment.

  3. Dana Richards

    Your technique resulted in a piece that evokes the history & times of your beloved subject. Beautifully rendered.

    1. Hi Mary, Thanks for the visit, and the encouragement. And we can all thank HDT for taking the time to document his wise words. Here’s to Life; Meeting it and Living it!

  4. Hope you will consider writing an illustrated memoir – you are an excellent artist and author, and I’m sure you have many more rich recollections and ruminations to share.

    1. Hi Kathleen, Thanks for that generous compliment. I have no plans for a memoir, but I’ll take your encouragement, gladly, and apply it to writing here. I’m emboldened to know my ramblings aren’t altogether featureless & too tiresome to read. 🙂

  5. Marilyn Thuss

    Love this painting! Love the idea…..I have plenty of old photos…..I shall dig in and expand my art making. Thanks for the inspiration.

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