monoprint

Trappist-1e Home Lithography

grid of nine monographs of planets in neon colors

I was really excited when Phil contacted me in early September and asked me to choose the next Kick-About theme. I bandied about a few ideas in my head before finally settling on the Trappist-1e exoplanet that was discovered just a couple of years ago. I remember when they announced the discovery of the planets that are orbiting the Trappist 1 star: a group of friends and I had a whole conversation about them while on a long training run. The planets Trappist-1e, -1f, and -1g fall in the habitable zone of the Trappist 1 star and they all have very short “years.” Trappist-1e has a year that is only 6.099 Earth days long. If humans were ever to settle on another planet with such a drastically different orbit, would we change the way we measure time? Years? Would it change the way we consider aging?

The prompt:

Artist rendering from wikipedia of the Trappist 1e exoplanet
Text box describing the discovery of the Trappist-1e exoplanet

For this Kick-About, I returned to making monoprints in the same vein as I did for the Alice Neel prompt from the Kick-About #5. I wanted something spontaneous and bursting with energy. I sat down and calculated how many Trappist-1e years I would be now and it was humbling to say the least: I am 2,307 Trappist-1e years old. The other two numbers represent my Earth ages: 38 years old, having spent 14,072 days orbiting our star. We don’t actually know what Trappist-1e looks like (the picture in the prompt is an artist’s rendering), so I let my imagination run wild making planets on the inking plate.

A few closeups of my favorites from the grid:

There were some monographs that didn’t make it into the grid – one is below – I plan to post the other “outtakes” on Instagram in the next few days. I am very excited to see what everyone came up with for the Kick-About #11, which will be up tomorrow!

monograph of black abstract planet with green edges

being repelling moving apart

three brown ink wash faces with black ink outlines transfer printed words overlay
brown ink wash square with black outline face and word "Being"
closeup of middle ink wash square face with "repelling" transfer printed on top
right hand ink wash square face with "moving apart" transfer printed over

Posting another mini-art experiment that turned out better than I expected – doing some ink washes and drawings before overlaying the transfer print. There is a part of me that feels I should also post some failed experiments – because that is the unvarnished truth: many don’t turn out. These days, because of all the transfer printing I’m doing, the transfer fails completely or pulls off the under-layers or dries really weird.

I think about the highly edited nature of social media and the illusion it gives of perfection – but then the other side of my brain is just so happy when something works that it says “No, but show that one! Blargh on the ones in the recycle bin!” So, just know that the truth is that experiments fail as often as they work (and if we shift to science, please know that 90% or more of experiments in the lab fail) and next week I’ll pluck up some courage to post some failures too!

Mini-arts that turned out

small red collage with bit of paper and the word "atoms" on it

The host of one of the open figure drawing studio sessions I used to go to (back in the time before COVID when there were such things) would always say that the secret to “art success” is to make a lot of it and not get too hung up on any one piece. This is true, although I think this man did not also have small children! My time for art is after my kid is in bed and it is very finite. And so I totally get hung up on individual pieces, especially if there is a deadline involved – I’m unlikely to get a chance to redo it once I’m committed to an idea. The compromise I came up with recently is to do mini-tests for certain works to see if I want to proceed with my plan or if it’s going to fail miserably. And sometimes I like these mini-arts just as much as the finished product! The “tester” for Atomic Courtesy is above (the scale is about 2 inches by 3 inches).

Another one, testing out how the Thomas Guide maps transfer print:

layered collage with map and a wooden circle and the word "motion"

This tester strategy has been working well for me and so I plan to keep it up! The bonus is that when the tester turns out, it becomes like a bite-sized preview and art in its own right!

If either of these pieces speaks to you, they are up for grabs: let me know in the comments and I’ll be in touch to send it to you. Remember, they are only 2 by 3 inches each, so not going to work over your mantelpiece (unless you have a miniature fireplace).

Atomic Courtesy Collaboration – Jacobson

GIF by John Sapiro

Atomic Courtesy

To smash the simple atom
All mankind was intent.
Now any day
The atom may
Return the compliment.

Ethel Jacobson

collage of beige and red particles escaping from a black concentric reactor

John Sapiro and I began our email correspondence about this little poem and the history of the atomic age a few months ago, before the early August anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but amidst the early chaos of the pandemic. It seemed almost ridiculous to be talking about yet another threat to worldwide health, peace, and humanity and yet, it was the mood of the day. I couldn’t find an exact date for Ethel Jacobson’s poem, although it is in a book I have that has a copyright date of 1952. And so our conversation centered mostly around the cold war of the 1950s and 60s but veered around widely. We talked about the physicist Richard Feynman and his “One Sentence” the sentence he composed that could be left behind to restart all of science and technology in the event of complete cataclysm (i.e. nuclear annihilation).

“…all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.”
– Richard Feynman (1918-1988)

I had planned to print Feynman’s entire sentence on my collage, but as I set up the transfer print, it felt wrong. It was too optimistic, too clinical, too exact for what I was feeling. I kept pulling away words and phrases until I was left with this one word; then I was satisfied.

We worked on our pieces in parallel and this is the result! Please stop by his blog (click here!) to see more of his unique combinations and recombinations of music, art, poetry, and video.

Lastly, my tiny paragraph of self-promotion at the end here:

Have doggedly kept up with the writing exercises from Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the craft latest entry (here it is!) is on POV and my very very short story called “The Mountain Lion Killing.”
Also, I have an IG, come on over to @merb02 to say hi and see different haiku and monoprints and some desert photography.

Mars Being Red – Bell

red monoprint of nude woman with poem by Marvin Bell

In a red world, imprint

the valentine and blush of romance for the dark.

Marvin Bell (b. 1937)

I went out into the desert to see the NEOWISE comet at the end of July (figured I wouldn’t be around to see it the next time in 5,000 years) and also saw a spectacular show from Jupiter and Saturn. I fell asleep before Mars rose blood red in the sky, but my friend told me about it in the morning. I’ve been thinking about Marvin Bell’s poem and my red monoprint from a couple of years ago ever since. The original post, including a little about Mr. Bell, is here.


I also did some experimentation with my old polaroid camera when I was out in the desert. This is what happens when you try to take a picture of a cactus with only car headlights for illumination:

For reference (and to alleviate the nightmarish quality of the polaroid above!), here is a nearby cactus in the early morning light:

On a side note: I am really terrible at self-promotion, so I have told exactly one other blogger-friend, but I do have an Instagram account! (@merb02 or click here) I admit when I first started on IG, it was basically a repeat of Illustrated Poetry, but from here on out, it will be new and different pieces from what I post here. So if it’s your jam, it would be great to see you on IG too.

Highway Haiku 2

black and white and silver texture and partial images with black text overlaid

Outside the Butcher

A man wheels
the plastic cow
inside for the night.

True story – the specialty butcher near my house has a life-size plastic cow on wheels that is rolled out when they open and rolled inside at night when they close. The transfer print of the words was, well – let’s just say it was not what I had in mind. But somehow the piece felt complete anyway and so I am releasing it into the wild.

Highway Haiku 1

black and white and silver reverse transfer image with haiku

silver + slick
legless mannequin
a flash on the highway
shoulder

Like most residents of Southern California, I spend a fair bit of my time commuting (although the pandemic lockdowns have cut traffic by at least half). My drive to and from work often takes me by the exit for the local landfill and it is not unusual to see items on the highway shoulder that didn’t quite make it there…

I’ve been working with small pieces of paper and doing repeated layers of transfers, glues, and textures. I’m not going for perfection in the transfer – I find it to be a meditation in accepting whatever comes as I pull the backing off.

Recycled art for Marine Week

black and white image of wandering albatross on plastic trash
black and white image of wandering albatross printed on plastic trash

I’ve always loved recycled art and art that uses household or industrial discards as a medium. I credit one of my high school art teachers – she was passionate about recycling as art and petitioned our school district to allow her to teach it as a stand alone elective. They did not approve her petition, but she was undaunted and incorporated almost all of the projects and curriculum into her “regular” art class.

Fast forward to today and Paul at Wombwell’s Rainbow had a post over the weekend about National Marine Week in the UK, asking for art and poems to celebrate the different themes each day (not too late to join in, I think!). It inspired me to try some monoprint transfers of old sea-themed drawings onto trash and plastic waste to highlight the strange tension of how we revere and utterly trash our oceans simultaneously.

The first transfer was of a 1809 wandering albatross engraving by George Shaw onto plastic pipet inserts. These are for reloading pipet tips into boxes for micropipettes (which are devices used to measure tiny volumes very precisely in labs). They are used once and thrown away. The next one I tried was of 19th century etching of narwhals onto a used plastic food storage bag.

plastic food bag with black and white narwhal etching on front
close up of plastic food bag with black and white narwhal transfered on the front

It turns out all trash is not created equal for this technique! I also tried to transfer onto some tin cans but that didn’t work at all. My last successful print was of a 1921 etching of an oarfish by W.B. Robinson onto a foil cracker bag.

Guide to Loss

In a testament to this time of lockdown, I didn’t realize what day it was and completely missed the deadline for submitting art to the latest Kick-About on Red’s Kingdom Blog! Kick-About #6 is officially up today, please do check it out – it is another stunning set of entries. I shall set an alert on my phone for the next one!

These are my art responses to this round’s prompt – which was the book by Rebecca Solnit titled “A Field Guide to Getting Lost.” I haven’t read the book and wasn’t going to attempt it – so I worked with the title. My initial thoughts really hovered over the “Lost” part. I recently read a Reddit post about the Vietnam draft lotteries and how there appeared to be heavy bias in the initial lottery towards birthdays at the end of the calendar year. No one knows why – presumably the number draws were random – but there are explanations proposed of simple human error. Birthdays at the end of the year were added to the hopper last and then the whole thing was not properly mixed. These men, born at the end of the year in the years 1946-1950, “lost” that lottery.

My father was drafted in a different round, but the outcome was the same. The top picture is a reverse transfer monoprint I made from a photo of him and my mother shortly after he returned from bootcamp – he’s leaning on his beloved car from high school. The lower print was made from the first photo I could find of him after his first deployment to Vietnam. His face is different. He is different. Which is so strange to me, because I was born after he got out of the service and I’ve never known him any other way but after Vietnam. But making these transfer prints, it had never been more clear to me. It was shocking – and full of loss.

But then Kerfe Roig posted her response to the prompt and it was about labyrinths and journeys and paths. I found it very helpful and comforting. So I made one more transfer print for her poem.

Alice Neel Home Lithography

The prompt for the Kick-About #5 on Red’s Kingdom blog was the early Alice Neel painting, Symbols (see below). I decided to do some monoprints and had several tries where the prints just weren’t matching the vision in my head for this challenge. Finally, in frustration, I mixed some fabric ink I had with the printing ink on a small metal rolling plate and had that moment of excitement when I pulled the paper off the plate. The two inks weren’t really compatible (even says so on the bottles!) and the effect was much closer to what I was looking for – much closer to Alice’s experience, I think. Alice Neel’s biography is fascinating and she lived a difficult life as a woman artist, receiving popular recognition only later in life. She painted unvarnished, unflinching portraits of her subjects and from what I read, never compromised on that.

Symbols by Alice Neel, 1932

Thank you, Kerfe for the Kick-About inspiration! (And you are right – I had seen some of Alice Neel’s portraits – although it was the one of a heavily pregnant woman in bed. It was in a larger show about less-often-portrayed nude figures). The entire collection of responses to the Kick-About #5 goes up next week on Phil’s blog – so stay tuned!