It’s time to talk about my nightmares.

This is a post about printmaking. Gloriously tactile processes, chemical, even alchemical. It involves materials like copper, stone, oil inks, asphalt, needles, zinc plates, acids, water, felt, soap, salt, talc… it’s beautiful, but it’s turning me dark.

Many of my favorite artists of the past have been printmakers. And I’m surprised to find that many of the techniques I’m learning are surprisingly, relatively recent. My favorite so far, the monotype, where one paints upon a plate of copper in black ink to print just one copy of a painting, was invented by Castiglione in the 1600’s.

I must say that the blackness of the ink is having a big effect on me. Black printers ink is one of the darkest substances I’ve had the pleasure to work with. I began, in working with it, to think about my relationship to the color black in printmaking and in imagination.

It starts to Kathe Kollwitz. At the dawn of the 1900’s I am convinced she knew more about black than any artist of that age. Her work speaks of poverty and death. Of dinners in cold rooms. Of a mother with a sick child. Of soldiers in barren fields. But her black is used with the hope that one day we will turn on the light. The note in my sketchbook from a visit to the Cologne Kollwitz Museum in 2011 simply observes: “Such works refreshingly in black. Just when you think black couldn’t get any blacker”

Then there’s Goya. His series of aquatint etchings known as “Los Caprichos” are all about the power of the nightmare. Web of black lines and acid grained grays depicting scenes of paranoia, madness, and violence. In my youth these captured my imagination, wonderfully, and took me to eternally unknowable places.

I have learned the hard way that there is a form of selfishness that comes from tring to please everyone else too much. I have spent years making art for everyone but myself.

We are formed so much by what we create. In videogame design I had to take much into account that just wasn’t about me. For 12 years my greatest consideration has been people’s reaction to what I was putting out into the world. While it is good to create unselfishly, to consider your work as a help, a joy, to others, I have learned the hard way that there is a form of selfishness that comes from tring to please everyone else too much. I have spent years making art for everyone but myself. And, let me tell you a secret, during this time I have often forced myself to not draw out of my head, to draw from observation and not make things up to much. Because honestly a lot of what I draw, when I go into that creative trance – staring into the fire of my own scribbles, are my own nightmares thrown up as shadows on the page.

This is not new. As a tortured teenager, I would draw grotesques that would give adults around me pause. This, drawn in 1990 when I was 19, caused an adult at my workplace to angrily object and tell me to stop drawing! He said I was somehow taking an “evil path” in life. Of course these days we would simply conclude that I maybe had a promising future in videogame concept art.

weirder-than-me
Sometimes what I draw scares me, I am not showing you those.

But sometimes over the years, I have indulged myself and had fun with my darker side. This was a sketch on the cover of a notebook around 2002, of myself as some kind of winged sphinx teetering over a cleft in the earth. No idea what was up with that, but I always liked this self-portrait.

self-portrait-as-sphinx

In printmaking class, in this first year, it’s mostly about learning how everything works: how to use the various sharp objects and toxic liquids safely. There isn’t much expected artistically. We all work on whatever catches our fancy. I usually open up my collection of museum photos and mythology books and make something loosely based on them without any preconcieved notion.


Two of the things I’ve based prints on, “The Caress” by Fernand Khnopff in the Fin de Siécle Museum, Brussels, the “Entombment” by Titian in the Louvre, and the myth of Cadmus and Harmonia from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

In this class there is so much freedom of the sort I have never actually had in my videogame work. Not only freedom to use my body, as it’s all hand work and i’m literally pushing ink around, but also I can let my mind wander all over! There is a loss of control, an enjoyment in the process and a care but not obsession with the outcome. What happens is often a surprise! In computer work I am often overcome with a desire to control everything, to steer toward a certain course, so it’s amazing to be free to dream. And for that dream to be a dark one. Let impulse have its form… right now, this is just what comes out:

(as an aside, here is a great article I’ve read recently that takes another look into blackness.)