Monotypes: Clarity

I’m finally starting to feel like I can think straight about these monotypes. I worked today to tighten up my marks so that I could regain control over the tonal passages in the water. The black background is also allowing me to sink the figures deeper into the darkness and create more atmosphere than before.


I’m still keeping a fairly quick pace, each monotype is 24″ x 36″ and takes me generally no more than 20 minutes to complete.  I’m limiting myself in terms of time to try and retain a freshness and spontaneity to the image and to avoid overworking the passages.



Yesterday I knew things weren’t going well when I discovered myself in complete denial of where I was going with these monotypes.  I had settled into a predictable routine that felt stale and procedural.   I knew I was bored with my approach and process, and didn’t want to admit it to myself.   Today I wrestled with trying to get myself out of the predictability and worked to make some major changes in my approach to shift things around.  I started off the day trying to tighten up my marks to give them a little more tension and emphasis, as I felt in the previous monotypes that the marks were too scatter brained.


(above) The first monotype of the day yielded decent results, but it really wasn’t good enough for me. Tightening up helped the image somewhat in the water passages, but I still felt unsatisfied and I knew that I was up for a big change. My mind started wandering to the thought of creating drypoints and woodcuts, but I really wanted to see these monotypes through without giving up so early in the process. I started thinking about a sketch I did at least a year ago where a figure was “drowning” simultaneously while it waded in the water.(below)

12th Drawing of 20 Drawings

I started another monotype (below) which took this image but reversed the lighting situation I had been using, and took advantage of the darkness in the background to help the sense of space.  It ended up being the first monotype I had done in a few days that felt new and fresh.


This final monotype of the day (below) I was pretty excited about, simply because it seemed to have the bite and tension to it that I had been looking to implement earlier.


Experiments on Fabric

Yesterday I dedicated the day to doing some printing experiments on various fabrics and surfaces. I’ve been wanting to try this for a while, as the translucency that I’m working with lends itself perfectly to a range of fabrics. I bought several kinds of organza, chiffon, batiste, and interfacing, all of which have varying degrees of translucency.

Monotype experiment Monotype experiment

The issue I encountered right away was that many of these fabrics were so sheer that they weren’t able to pick up the richest blacks, and instead looked much more like ghost prints. The monotype on the left (above) is the first print on organza. The monotype on the right was printed on interfacing which is much more cotton-like and absorbent, so I was able to get richer blacks.  The drawback with the interfacing was that it did not have as translucent a quality as the organza and chiffon.

Monotype experiment

I also thought about the possibility of layering prints using different materials:  putting a sheet of organza over the interfacing allowed more of a range of values. In the end though, I found myself simply seduced by the idea of printing on fabric. Compared against the monotypes on tracing paper, the printed image read much better on the tracing paper prints.

Studio View

Monotype Layer experiments

I worked more today on experimenting with layers with monotypes printed on tracing paper. The tracing paper absorbs the ink in a completely different manner than the printmaking paper, and the result is that the first and second print have much more potential than I had originally thought.

monotype experiment

(above) The print on the right is the original print, the print on the left is the first ghost print, which I think has a much greater range of values and contrast.

monotype experiment

(above )I started layering the ghost prints on top of the original print, which made for some interesting interactions between the layers. The second ghost print has a delicate, ethereal quality to it which I liked a lot.

monotype experiment

(above)One possible idea I have for these prints is to explore the idea of solitude in an individual figure. I would reference only one sculpture for each print, and create a landscape of that one figure, indicating an image which deals with the experience of one figure.

monotype experiment

Back to Printmaking

I’m letting the 10′ x 4′ drawings “sleep” for a few days so that I can clear my head. I haven’t been spent any substantial time in the printshop for a few years now, so it’s exciting to finally be back and printing.

Originally my plan for these monotypes was to play with layering ghost prints on top of each other to achieve translucency, the technique proved to be too unpredictable for me to accomplish the results that I’m looking for. I also began to work the monotype surface with a breyer both to add and remove ink.  This technique allowed me to work the passages of water with more cohesiveness.

Monotype sketch Monotype sketch

(above) On the left is the first monotype of the day; I was too fussy and product-oriented, and it shows. I used the brush a lot in this print and I ended up thinking about details too much. On the right is a monotype I worked on only using rags and a breyer.

Ghost Print Layered Print

(above) On the left is a ghost print, and on the right is the same ghost print with another print layered on top of it.  Since the ghost printing clearly wasn’t working, I started thinking about other ways that I could create layers with monotypes. I pulled a few monotypes on tracing paper and started layering them on top of each other.  My thought right now is to use some kind of combination of chincolle and tracing paper to achieve the layers. One possibility is to create a monotype on paper, create a second monotype on tracing paper, and then to use chincolle to mount the tracing paper monotype on top of the monotype on paper. Another thought would be to print all three monotypes on tracing paper, and then to use chincolle to mount them onto a sheet of printmaking paper.

monotype experiment monotype experiment

Trial installation

Yesterday afternoon I did a trial install for one of the crayon drawings in the Jewett Art Gallery at Wellesley College.  The gallery is closed over the summer, which gave me the opportunity to install my work into the space; one of the more unusual perks of being the Gallery Director. Doing this trial install was really important; I had mistakenly thought previously that I had a concrete plan for the install at the Davis Museum, but this trial install got me to rethink to create a more fool-proof plan.

Trial Installation

My first plan was to put 4 nails through all three sheets of Dura-Lar right into the wall. I punched holes in the Dura-Lar in advance of hanging the piece, but I quickly discovered how impossible it was to lift all three sheets together up onto the wall; the sheets kept slipping, and the large scale of the piece made it incredibly awkward, heavy, and difficult to manage while I was high up on a ladder.  While I did eventually get a nail in the wall to hold the three sheets in place temporarily, I saw as I nailed in the other 3 nails that the three sheets were not perfectly aligned.   One sheet was just a little too much to the left so that towards the bottom of the piece, the three sheets were not lined up with each other. Another consequence was that I didn’t get the drawing as high up on the wall as I wanted, and the result was that the bottom of the drawing touched the floor instead of being up on the wall. I didn’t take the time to correct the trial install; I knew the more important thing would be to get the distance from the piece and to rethink a better strategy for installation. Granted, I’ll have experienced staff at the Davis Museum to ultimately help with the install, but I wanted to have everything tested and thought through in advance to make things as smooth as possible.

Trial Installation

I solicited advice from some of the other studio art faculty here at Wellesley:  I talked to Phyllis McGibbon the other day about the possibility of having a thin strip of metal at the top of the piece to bolt the three sheets of Dura-Lar together, and got Carlos Dorrien to take a look at the piece while it was installed in the gallery. Carlos’ first reaction was that the drawing had a strong presence, and that the tall shape of the drawing suggested a door or portal into another world, which I liked very much and hadn’t thought about. He also made a strong connection with printmaking in terms of the way that the sanded surface creates a “burr” for the lithographic crayon to sit on top of.

Then, as I was walking to my car at the end of the day, a perfect, manageable solution came to me: I would hang each layer of Dura-Lar separately, and then nail them each on top of each other separately. In this way, I would be able to line up each layer with the previous one and be sure that they’re perfectly aligned with each other. This will make for many more holes in the drawing, but the nails are so small that they’re barely seen, especially from a distance.

Trial Installation

A detail of the side of the drawing.  The fact that the drawings are only attached at the top with nails allows the three layers of Dura-Lar to have a little bit of space between them.  There is also a very slight shadow behind the drawing on the wall that I’d like to preserve.

Installation: Dress Rehearsal

I completed a final pass over the reflections on all three drawings today, thus completing 95% of the drawing stage. It felt a little strange to be telling myself that the drawings are near complete, as I’ve been preparing and thinking about them for so long. The clear signal that I was near completion was the fact that as I was drawing, I found myself picking at areas instead of really drawing gesturally.  One aspect of these drawings that I have on my side is the fact that they are very large and will be seen in a gallery with 25′ tall ceilings, which will enable the drawings to be seen from a far distance.

Studio View

The next stage is for me to do a “dress rehearsal” of the installation.  Andrew Daubaur, the Museum Preparator at the Davis Museum came by to look at the work the other day and to advise me on the installation on the piece.  Ultimately, I’m trying to achieve a look where the drawings “float” on the wall.  After looking at the work and the materials, he suggested simply nailing 4 nails on the top of the piece, and then painting the nails the appropriate grey so that they disappear into the drawing.  Tomorrow I’ll install the work into the Jewett Art Gallery (where I’m the gallery director) to get a sense of what the drawings will look like in a large space. Luckily, the gallery is unoccupied during the summer so I can look at the work without being concerned about interrupting the gallery schedule.

Studio View

Crit Wall

RISD Section 19

“Crit Wall” is an open invitation to submit your artwork for feedback on my Facebook fan page. The idea is to create a place where you can get constructive suggestions on your artwork from a larger audience comprised of  my current and past students. You can submit anything from a set of thumbnail sketches to a fully realized piece in any media.

TO SUBMIT: Post your image on my fan page wall, or email your image to me at clara[AT]claralieu[DOT]com.  Be sure to provide a caption for your image: give us details on the piece like media/size, briefly explain what your intent/goals are, and any specific issues/questions that you’d like us to comment on. I will post your image in the photo album “Crit Wall” on my Facebook fan page, where you will be able to receive feedback from a wide audience.

For every image you submit, please make 2 comments on other works on “Crit Wall”. The more people who submit and comment, the more activity and feedback we’ll be able to generate together.

A Shift of Pace

I’m about 75% done with all three drawings, which means that I’m in a good place considering my July 27 deadline with summer session starting at RISD and Wellesley in about 2 weeks. Everything is blocked into the compositions so that I can now focus on smaller passages without worrying too much about losing the essential composition.  Since I’m at this point, my drawing pace is slowing down, becoming less aggressive, and smaller in scale. The square  lithographic tablets and the lithographic rubbing ink were appropriate for blocking in the largest masses, and but now that I’m getting more focused on the detail work, I’m shrinking down to the lithographic pencils and smaller chunks of crayon.

Studio View

The other change in my work process is that I’m really starting to work between the layers of Dura-Lar, moving back and forth to constantly re-evaluate their relationship to each other  The consequence of working with multiple layers is that I frequently end up covering up sections of the drawing that I like, or I end up losing details that are hidden behind the Dura-Lar. To emphasize the translucency I’m trying to draw through the figures with the ripples of water as much as possible, something I haven’t used as much in the past.

Studio View

Stepping back and getting distance from the drawing as I work on it has become especially important given the scale of this piece.  I won’t really know how it will appear until it’s in the gallery since my space in the studio is limited. The gallery I’ll be in for the Davis Museum exhibition has 25′ tall ceilings, so I’m hoping the drawings will still be able to hold their own, even in such a monumental space.

Studio View

Blocked in

Studio View

I’m finally at the point where all three drawings have been completely blocked out in terms of both the figures and the water. It’s a relief to be at this stage, as everything leading up to this point has been focused on preparatory work. I’ve been eager to get to the point where I can relinquish my photographic references with the water; as much as I need the references to get myself started in these compositions, I also know what an enormous distraction they can be to the drawing process.

Studio View

A detail of one of the drawings, in this view you can more clearly see the coarse surface created by sanding the Dura-Lar surface.

Studio View

I’m been taking a fairly aggressive approach with the drawing to be sure that I see the big picture, but I think today that worked against me.  I was too hasty with my blacks and the consequence was having to scrape away large areas of crayon that were making passages of the drawing appear to be murky and confusing.  On this large scale, it’s hard to slow myself down in the drawing process, as I’m highly conscious of getting too involved with details and moving quickly around the composition prevents that from happening.  I keep reminding myself to continually step back as well to be able to see the composition clearly as I work on it. At the same time, my fear is that the aggression is causing the drawings to lose their sensitivity and subtlety.