Short Pieces About Making

Talking About Making: What takes so long?

I posted six new pieces on this site last week. It’s been 18 months since the last set.

What takes so long? 

Of the dozen or so originals I typically generate in a week, most are clearly not printable. I can count on five or six contenders in an ordinary month. Of those, about two thirds seem as if they’ll make good prints. What's good? Good is subjective at this point. Often others believe a piece has possibilities I don't see ("Fires of loss" exists in the world because David loves it. I probably would not have printed it.). I have a print of "Black Rising" tacked to my studio wall and if I can’t imagine the new piece hanging beside it, the new work probably won't make the cut. I leave the best candidates laying around for a week, two, considering them intentionally and incidentally as I make other prints. If my attention is drawn to the same few over and over, those make it into the queue. 

 Black Rising

Black Rising

And that's when the process becomes a little less predictable. "Tiny blue flowers" is one that made it through the initial culling stages, and ultimately did not work. I first posted images of it in a blog post in the summer of 2016. A proof at 24”x36” leaned against the wall in the studio all winter. Many nights, I went to sleep looking at it. When I thought I understood what needed to happen next to make it a good print, I resumed work.  

Here are some photos I took when I decided it wasn't going to work as a print:

Twenty-seven proofs and seven digital versions. I only keep the numbered proofs; many interim proofs were discarded. Still, I couldn't make it work.

I have a couple of stories like that from the last year. Most of what I've learned is still hard to articulate precisely. But I can say a few things. I'm sometimes uncertain how to think about what I'm seeing, and rather than sitting with that uncertainty until it clarifies, I hurry, make a guess, then blast ahead in what may turn out to be a wrong direction. Tenacity does not always serve.

One of my rules with originals is: go fast. Another: do not overthink. A third: move on. Making an original is a process of choosing individual scraps of paper, putting them together and then waiting. One day, when I look at it, I see a whole rather than elements. I try to apply these principle to printing, but it's thornier, partly because the prints are what I share, and it’s urgent they be worth the viewer's attention. 

The paradox is that when I summon the patience to just look until I see, my output is steady. So, that’s my project these days: thoughtful, patient viewing of my own work in progress.