“She”, a Slow Art Monotype

A monotype is a form of slow art. Each monotype is unique–there are no multiples, no print runs. There is just one.

Printing ink is applied to a plexiglass sheet and then marked or incised to create an image. The plate is place face up on the bed of a rolling press. A piece of heavy print paper (in this case, Arches) is put over the print and sheets of felt are laid over the paper. A rolling press applies pressure to complete the print. Since most of the ink is pressed onto the paper, each one is unique.

Below, “She” in purple, red, and gray. 5-inch x 7-inch image on 11 x 15 sheet.

There are two more prints in this series. See them at QuinnCreative.com (c) Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved

Monotype, “She” by Quinn McDonald

Tutorial: Paper and Ink

Ink and brush are an ancient combination that create contemporary art. These illustrations make wonderful handmade cards. With a little practice, the art of sumi-e yields wonderful results. You can leave them black and white or you can add a touch of color. You can buy the ink, or you can buy a stick of sumi-e ink and a grinding block.

sumi-e bamboo

The ink stick looks lacquered. It is. Rub the short end against a wet grinding block until you have a puddle of ink. I like to use distilled water in a spray bottle to create a deep black ink.

If you buy the fat brushes traditional for this art, soak and rinse the brushes. They are stiffened with fish glue to help them keep their shape in transit.

The basic strokes are simple: hold the brush upright, start with the tip of the brush, then push down, drag, then lift up as if it were an airplane taking off. That’s a leaf. A stem uses the tip of the brush pushed down and dragged, then pushed again.

The rest is practice. 15 minutes a day yields good results in about a week. The minimalism is soothing. The suggestion of the completed piece is all you need. Your mind does the rest. Creativity in action.

sumi-e butterfly

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and an artist. She develops and runs training programs in communication. She believes art is an important form of communication that doesn’t require words, although words are art in themselves. (c) All rights reserved. 2008.

Tutorial: Valentine Tree Card

Valentines Day is this Thursday–time to make cards! I’ve always preferred hand-made cards to purchased ones, and I prefer cards that are a little different. Most of all, I like original art–pieces I think up and make myself. It’s a little harder than assembling cards, but it’s more satisfying as well.

Valentine Tree CardToday we’ll do the first card, and tomorrow a different one. Today’s card is the Valentine Tree Card.

In this case, the cards are green, too. Not just the color, but the pieces are cut from watercolors that didn’t work out. Watercolor paper is expensive and recycling it for cards is a good way to save paper and money.

Steps to make Valentine Tree card:
1. Choose a good quality watercolor paper. Cheap paper will curl and fold, and won’t look like a card. I used 140-pound cold press Arches paper. I work small size pieces, so I purchased a 9 x 12 block, folded it once to 4.5″ x 12 inches and cut it in half so I had two cards 4.5″ x 6″. I trimmed a bit more off to make the top (where it came off the block) smooth.

2. Using a #6 watercolor brush, I applied a blue wash over the top two-thirds of the card. You want the wash to be uneven, it gives a more interesting background. You do not need to be a watercolor expert, or even talented, to get it right. Apply a green wash on the bottom third. I tilted my paper too much and got a lighter spot. This actually adds visual interest. Dry the piece of paper completely.

3. Paint another piece of paper with a green wash. You want to get different shades of green into the piece, so don’t be shy using and mixing color. Let it dry before cutting.

In my case, I took a disaster painting that had green in it and used it. Cut out hearts freehand. You want them to be different sizes and shapes.

Tip: You can probably cut out half a heart shape well, but not the other half. Me, too. So I cut out half, then turn the paper over, and can do the “better half” again, creating a pretty good heart.

4. Paint a heavy piece of paper in red watercolor. You can also use acrylic for a different effect. But make sure it’s very red. No pastels here. Let it dry completely. Cut out a fat heart shape, slightly larger than any of the others.

5. Using an HB pencil, lightly draw a tree shape starting about an inch from the bottom of the card, in the center of the card front, over the green wash, reaching into the blue wash. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as you will cover most of it with leaves.

6. Using lots of watercolor on an almost dry brush, paint in the trunk. Use several colors of brown, starting with the palest and working toward black. Let each layer dry, or use a hair dryer carefully to dry the paint. The darker the color, the less you use. Let dry.

7. Arrange the green hearts over the branches of your tree. Using a cheap watercolor brush, put a dot of glue on the card and a dot on the heart and glue each heart down. You want a mix of sizes and colors, and you want the hearts to overlap in places. Put the red heart in a prominent place and let one or two other overlap it slightly.

8. It’s fine if some of the hearts stick out over the edge. When the glue is dry, trim the pieces that extend beyond the edge off.

9. When the glue is dry, put the card between two pieces of wax paper and press it between heavy books overnight. You can either make and envelope or simply buy one that is a bit larger than the card.

10. To make an envelope, trace around the card, leaving about 1/4 inch of space around it. Over the center of each side put a dot about three inches up. Draw a line from the dot to each corner of the outline. Before you cut, make sure the flaps will cover the card completely. Adjust as necessary.

You can also purchase mailers or save envelopes from cards sets that left you with a spare envelope.

Write a message inside that links the illustration with a loving thought.
Your love brightens my life
Your love is special to me
In the world of love, yours is unique
Your love is the one I pick

–Quinn McDonald teaches card making at the Mesa Art Center in Arizona
(c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Show Artists, Speak Up!

Here is your chance–you are being asked for an opinion on a topic you’ve always wanted to speak up about. If you are a show artist, your opinion on what’s happening to the art show world is being counted.

The National Association of Independent Artists (NAIA) has a survey on its website. You don’t have to be a member of the NAIA, just an artist who does art/craft shows. The survey is in the left navigation bar. It takes about 15 minutes and is worth taking.

craft showHere’s my take on the condition of art shows–it’s my opinion, based on 15 years of observation and doing shows, big and small.

Once upon a time, in the 1970s, the purpose of an art show was to let artists who did not have gallery representation sell their work to a local audience. Artists could show and sell their work, and the public had access to good, original art.

Over time, promoters took over shows, giving them organization, advertising, and recognition. To make the show profitable for promoters, they charged the artist for the space and the public an entry fee. In those days, the promoter spent the artist’s fee money for expenses and advertising, and took gate money as profit.

Skip forward to the 80s. Promoters noticed that art shows were profitable. It was a time of art appreciation and the cash to buy it. Artists could make a living in the show circuit. Promoters added loyalty rules and raised prices. Scouts from one promoter swept through other promoter’s show and took names of artists who “weren’t loyal.” No promoter ever guaranteed you a living, but you played by the rules or you didn’t play. Many artists were able to make a decent living.

mpatrizio.blogspot.com posterBut many artists admitted they didn’t know much about business, and were happy to turn the business end of being an artist over to a promoter. There were whole groups of artists who became known by the show promoter they were loyal to.

The crowds, however, didn’t want to see the same artists over and over again. Particularly if the artists didn’t add more and different work to their line. The public was eager to attend different shows to find new and different artists.

Promoters took that as a sign that the public wanted more shows. Shows who wanted the best artists dropped the loyalty rules.

There were many factors that signaled the collapse of the art show success. Promoters raised prices for booth fees. A $250 fee became a $600 fee over five years. Artists had to pay extra for electricity and corner spots, so a $600 booth could become a $800 booth if you wanted to light up your corner spot. Artists who did all of a promoters show were given an incentive–free corner spots, or a whole free show. Promoters began to ask for full payment six to eight months in advance. And not all promoters used all the booth fees for expenses and advertising. Instead, they looked to artists to develop mailing lists and bring their following to a new show.

Artists had their own ideas. In the face of rising costs, they began to cut corners. They hired friends, relatives or other cheap labor to do the time-consuming work while they created originals. In time, the cheap labor did more and more of the work. In fact, you could pay the cheap labor to be at one show, while the artist did another, creating more income on a weekend when there was more than one good show. It was easy to add a few pieces that looked a lot like your work, even thought it was made by cheaper labor overseas. Newly arrived immigrants joined the art show circuit and had their relatives in poor countries do the work. It seemed like a wonderful world where everyone made art and enjoyed it.

Except for the third leg of the art-show stool: The public. While artists were creative in cutting corners, and promoters decided not to enforce the buy/sell rules because they were increasingly difficult to apply, the public grew from art lovers to bargain lovers. We raised up among us a Wal-Mart Nation. Art lovers turned into art consumers, and the buying decision was based on price. Artists who had bargain prices were those who by now had stores, factories, or at least a lot of family employees. They could pay the higher booth fees.

To a promoter, a check that clears is better than one that does not. The original artists, who made every piece by hand, who hand-fabricated everything, were not honored as national treasures. We were laughed at for being slow, expensive and not consumer minded. The public reminded us at each show that “I can buy something that looks just like this for half the price at Wal-Mart.”

Original-work artists began to dwindle. As we couldn’t afford the shows, art evolution worked by natural selection. Why pay full price for a painting, when print was cheaper. In fact, you can print it on canvas, treat is as special, and call it a “Giclee”? Why buy a painting at all, when a photograph does as well? Why pay full price for a photograph when a print will be no different, but a lot cheaper? Who cares if that necklace clasp is handmade or purchased in bulk? Does it matter that that jacket is hand-sewn and stitched or if you purchased it pre-made from China and painted it?

Promoters, needing larger audiences to cover expenses, increased the size of shows. It was not unusual to have shows with 400, 500, even 700 artists. To the public, this looked like the best flea-market in town. If one artist wouldn’t lower a price, they simply went to the next row, where an enterprising art-representative had a piece of “family made art” to sell, and much cheaper.

Large shows meant longer stays, so families began to bring the kids and dogs. Food and entertainment was added to the art mix, turning artists into part of an entertainment package. Dogs peed on tent corners, children touched art work while holding french fries, fried dough or cotton candy. To an original artist, it meant a ruined piece of work. To a store-artist it meant a tax write-off.

What no one noticed was that art lovers left the shows. And the original artists followed them. Some opened galleries, some got part time jobs, some began to teach what they knew at art retreats.

Is it too late? Are original art shows a thing of the past? It depends on what artists want, what the public values, and what promoters are willing to do. We are now a consumer nation, a bargain-loving nation, and a nation who has become used to outsourcing. If your job is being done by someone in India, why shouldn’t your art be done by someone in China?

I believe the art show is now a flea market show. I’m still an original artist, and I will continue to make each piece of my art by hand. That means my work won’t be cheap and won’t be outsourced. Why am I so stubborn? Because the original purpose of my art is not to make money. It is to make meaning. I’d rather do other work (and I do) to allow each piece of art to have a voice and speak with a clear voice. So far, my work has always spoken to an audience. It is the only way I want to make art.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com
Images: Tents, westcoastshowsmaine.com Poster: mpatrizio.blogspot.com (c) 2007, Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. No reproduction, electronically or in any kind of print, without express written permission of the author.