The Ghost in the Print

What is the artist's intention?

This is a question that art historians ask all the time, and they come to different conclusions depending on their research, perspective, and theoretical approach. I don't know whether scholars will ever study me in the future, but if they do, here's a summary of what I do think about.

I contemplate many things when I'm making my prints (or any of my art, for that matter), some of it substantive, some of it not so much. Most of the time, my thoughts are purely formal with regards to the piece I'm working on. Do I like this color combination? What about these textures? How would this look if I printed this monotype over it?

Other times, I think about the kind of message I want to instill in my prints. Is this a happy piece, or a sombre one? Is there any substance behind it, or is it intended purely for visual pleasure? I personally think that most of my viewers see my work as whimsical and nothing else, but much of the time I'm actually depicting particular memories or experiences. The lobster that appears so regularly is a perfect example; I'll explain it in another post.

Admittedly, much of the time I'm not even thinking about the print at all. Instead I'm thinking about family or friends, wondering how they're doing. Climate change, politics, religion, and my future also scuttle through my mind a lot as well.

Or I'm thinking about lunch. I really love lunch, especially since Burlington has so many great restaurants.

Let's walk through my thought process with a relatively recent work. A lot of my pieces nowadays are part of a series, but this was a one-off I did for a faded drypoint.

I started by printing this monotype over a faded drypoint of a lobster I'd done a while back. I noticed that the bristles on the brush I was using had given the paint a weathered, drift-wood kind of texture, and in my eyes at least, the already-faded lobster had a spectral kind of character. Ghosts, history, and other things that have passed entered my mind, and I decided to explore that theme, create a sort of memento mori, if you will.

I added two more monotypes to heighten the color and give the lobster an even more ethereal appearance. I wanted only the breath of it to be visible; I wanted the viewer to really look, to linger over the scene, in order to see it.

I decided to print a woodblock of a friar lobster over the monotypes. Typically I use black for this particular block, but I wanted to continue the idea of the spectral figure, of making my viewers work to see the image, so I used silver instead.

Since the lobster was bigger than my monotype plate, the tail and antennae were protruding from the image. For some other print I might have liked that, but I didn't want that for this piece, so I painted around the border to conceal the figure and give the piece and overall gauzy appearance.

Once I'd painted the border, I took some woodblocks I'd made of some rocks I'd found along the beach a few months ago. I always think about driftwood when I see these particular stones, so I thought they fit well with the texture of the monotypes. I also liked how the silver of the lobster peered through the black.

After I printed the stones, I added some more color by hand to help balance out the monotype with the opaque black ink of the woodcuts.

Finally, I went in with a micronpen and added some freehand drawings of shells I have lying around in my room. I'd thought about drawing skulls, since they're the traditional motif in the memento mori, but they seemed too obvious an option to me. Since shells are the former homes of now-dead creatures, I thought they seemed appropriate, and they fit in with the idea of driftwood weathered from water.

Detail of one of the shells
So there you have it. I don't consider this a morbid piece per se, though I did think about death, and our memories of things gone, as I was working on it.

The beauty of art, though, is that it is never limited to a single interpretation, so embrace what you see.