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How I Do It: My Art-Making Process

monoprint painting of a golden angel

Subterranean Angel, mixed media on Rives BFK, 15.5 x 15 inches

10 SEPTEMBER, 2023

“Creativity is magic. Don’t examine it too closely.”   ~ Edward Albee

“With practice the craft will come almost of itself, in spite of you and all the more easily if you think of something besides technique.”  ~ Paul Gauguin

My Art-Making Process

I get a lot of questions about my process, which is perfectly understandable (though my process may not be). The label, "monotype with mixed media" does little to enlighten most viewers.  It's not exactly painting, or drawing, or any art-making process that's immediately familiar or recognizable. And while some people may know what printmaking is, it's only a part of the total process. To add yet another layer of complexity, some of the pieces also incorporate collage elements.

Another thing I get asked about is teaching classes. Interested people ask if I teach, and various organizations and venues ask if I will teach, or demonstrate my techniques. I'm afraid that some may think I'm being secretive, but that's actually not the case. I just haven't been able to figure how to do it, because my process incorporates all of the media listed above, and extends over a considerable period of time.

So, despite Edward Albee's advice, for those of you who are curious, I'll try to briefly take you through the art-making process I use for these pieces.

How it Developed

The best place to start, I guess, is at the beginning, which actually happened as I was finishing my BFA. The majority of my work in college consisted of a mix of watercolor or acrylic inks and various drawing media. Soft pastels, oil pastels, and colored pencils, layered on top of the paint, were favorites.

One of my final studio class requirements was to take an introductory printmaking class. All of these techniques were new to me, since my only previous exposure had been making a couple of linocuts in high school. I enjoyed them all, and gained a lot of new respect for etching, linocuts, and woodcuts. But I fell completely in love with monotypes.

my KB printmaking press in studio

Above, my trusty KB press;

below, my plexiglass "plates" with plants and ink.

monoprint plates with ink and plants in studio


"Monotypes (often called monoprints) differ from other types of printmaking in one important way: no permanent plate is made, so only one impression can be printed. Hence, the term “mono”, which means one.

The process is pretty straightforward. Ink is applied to a smooth surface (I use plexiglass), and wiped or manipulated to form an image. A sheet of paper is laid on the plate, and the image is then transferred to the paper by using a (hand-operated) etching press."                             

(From a previous post, where you can learn more about printmaking and monotypes, here.)

A Progression of Technique

abstract angel monoprint with leaves

The two pieces shown here, Star Being II (left), and Tree of Life (below), are pretty much as they appeared when the paper was pulled off the plate.  Some the colors on Tree of Life were touched up slightly with Caran d'Ache crayons, but that's about it.

tree of life leaf monoprint

Then, as time went on, I began to experiment with using colored pencil and other media

to add more details. I also liked the depth these additional layers of color gave the pieces. Angel of the Storm II (below) is an example of this. The details of both faces, as well as the ammonite, were defined using water-soluable pastels and pencils.

monoprint of angel emerging from stormy sea with lightning

“You can’t learn techniques and then try to become a painter. Techniques are a result.”  ~ Jackson Pollock

When I make monotypes, I usually do huge marathon sessions, producing a large number of prints for future use. I will print for about seven or eight hours a day, two or even three days in a row. Each sheet of paper goes through the press an average of three to six times, building up layers of translucent ink.

There are two reasons for this, I suppose. My studio is small, and many things have to be moved about in order to access the press, clear adequate tabletop space, and find places for the prints to dry. So, it makes sense not to have to do this too often. The other reason is that once I start, I have a hard time stopping!

I also began cutting out parts of monoprints and collaging them onto other pieces, similar to the technique I used to create my Transformation series. Confession: I am not a purist! Mixed media is just that, so whatever I could do to get the images I wanted was fair game. I did a lot of experimenting to figure out what would work.

mixed media art piece of sad mermaid on beach

Mermaid's Lament (above) is a recently re-worked piece that incorporates a considerable amount of collage. The entire mermaid figure and all of the leaves/flowers are glued on. The piece at the top of this post, Subterranean Angel, also includes some collage elements.

Purpose vs. Providence

You may wonder if my monotypes are planned in advance with a particular idea in mind, or are they pretty spontaneous and random? The answer is: D) all of the above, and everything in between. 

painting of one-winged girl holding onto tree in wind

The piece above, Troubled Skies, is an example of one that was planned. I did the landscape monotype, complete with windy sky, having in mind the figures I would add. I recently reworked it, changing and repainting the figures in gouache this time, and making other changes as well. The two pieces below, The Speed of Darkness (below left), and The Falling Sky (below right), were done roughly the same way (though not re-worked).

toddler and magical crows mixed media art

painting of woman with egg in strange landscape

Unplanned Inspiration

monoprint of magical spirit and bird in marsh

On the other end of the planned-to-random spectrum is a newly completed piece, Maid of the  Marsh (above). Toward the end of a long printing session, on the back of a print I didn't like, I just threw all of the leftover, squished plant matter. I paid no attention at all to arrangement, just put it through the press several times. It looked like a jumble of weeds in a wild thicket. For a long time I had no idea what to do with it.

Then one day, I was looking at it, and the figure just "appeared" in my mind's eye. When this happens, I feel as though it's a gift from my subconscious, the collective unconscious, the muse, or whatever you prefer to call that hidden mysterious creative power.

Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things. Edgar Degas

A Word About Technique

painting of sleeping goddess with plants and fish

Deep in the Sea of Dreams, monotype with mixed media on Rives BFK paper

I hope this post hasn't been too boring, and that you're not disappointed that I don't have one set, step-by-step process that I always follow. In fact, I think the main take-away here is that technique isn't everything. You may have noticed from the quotes I shared that many great artists - Degas, Pollock, Gaugin, and Renoir, to name a few - all believed that true art doesn't come from methods or techniques.

The way I look at it is this: techniques give the artist a foundation on which to build their own art-making processes. And those processes result from passion, inspiration, and the minute-by-minute problem solving that occurs during the making.

Once again, lovely people, thanks for reading my rambling, brambly thoughts. I wish you all peace, love, and art!

"In painting, as in the other arts, there's not a single process, no matter how insignificant, which can be reasonably made into a formula."                  ~ Pierre-Auguste Renoir

monoprint of plant emerging from ground


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