Monotypes are a medium that I have been playing with off and on for a few years. For those who don’t know, a monotype is a kind of print that, rather than being made using a printing matrix (like woodcuts), instead involves basically painting a non-textured plate with inks. The plate is then placed with a piece of paper and run through a printing press, producing a one-time, unique printed image. It’s basically the closest printmaking comes to painting, and is probably the least structured or technical form of it. I personally don’t own a printing press (the small ones run in the thousands of dollars,) but a good friend who is kind enough to let me into her studio every once in a while lets me use hers. Here are some pieces from the most recent session:
The above was the first one I made. I wanted to see how my recent “Doe Eyes” series would translate from watercolor to printmaking. I basically painted some pretty straightforward, normal eyes and lips and decided to let the press add the more unique, abstracted aspects to the image. This one didn’t satisfy me in that the end result looked too “normal,” so I decided to really glob the ink on in the following prints:
I added too much ink to the lips, and the run through the press made a really happy accident by creating this tongue effect. Miley Cyrus would love them.
Above is the “ghost” print made from the same plate. It’s made by running the same plate through the press again. The ink residue left over makes a lighter, ghost-like version of the first print. I often favor the ghost prints over the others.
Maybe someday I’ll have a great studio space and enough money saved up to buy my own press and do these more regularly, because they’re so fun. It’s often exhilarating to see the image that the press will give you. My tendency with painting faces is always to make them look controlled and clean- I have a hard time abstracting them. With monotyping, I can paint a pretty structured image and then let the press create the abstract elements for me!
I’m beginning to notice a pattern wherein during the times when I don’t quite know what to paint with my “core” work, i.e my oil paintings, I frequently retreat to fiddling around with watercolor. Although, like a lot of painters whose preference is to work in oils, watercolor’s unpredictability and permanence tends to frustrate me. However, over the years of working off and on with the medium, I’ve started to get more comfortable. Not to mention, I work small and on pretty inexpensive (none of that 300lb stuff) paper, so I’m okay with it not turning out great every time and simply being happy when it does.
Previously, I’ve only been interested in non-objective forays into watercolor. Recently, however, I’ve become interested in portraiture. Stylized, of course.
Doe Eyes, watercolor on hot press. By Megan Koth. Prints, etc. available from my store.
Doe Eyes III, watercolor on hot press. By Megan Koth. Prints, etc available from my store.
Sometimes, it can be beneficial to use a medium that you’re not all that invested in. Although it doesn’t always work out, during the times that it does, the results can be refreshingly interesting.
Ah, Kiki’s Delivery Service. Along with My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki is certainly my favorite childhood movie. I remember seeing a commercial for it either on TV or on a VHS (remember those?) and immediately demanding that we go out and rent it from the video store (remember those?!) My parents would let my sister and I take turns choosing a movie, and every time (to my sister’s annoyance) I chose Kiki– until, of course, my parents just bought me the VHS for my birthday since they’d already paid the cost of the movie many times over in rental fees by then.
So, naturally I own the Art of Kiki’s Delivery Service book from Viz. It’s filled with beautiful concept work, sketches, and commentary from director Hayao Miyazaki and others on the development of the film.
I totally recognized the above painting from its fully realized use in the film:
There are also some interesting early explorations of Kiki’s appearance:
This drawing was one of my faves:
Looking back, I can see why Kiki intrigued me so much. The fully realized female characters (including the protagonist,) the story of being on one’s own for the first time and finding one’s independence, and the fact that the whole “teen witch” thing is really just a metaphor for being an artist. Kiki has a seemingly innate talent for flying on her broomstick, but gets into a funk and loses her ability. She confides in her artist friend Ursula, and realizes that she needs to find “her own inspiration” to fly. Of course, she eventually finds this inspiration and gets her “powers” back in the end through self-discovery and an act of bravery. I think it’s great that a “kids” movie explored something so complex. And it’s no surprise, being an artist myself now, that I was drawn to such a story!
I’ve cultivated an impressive, and to my knowledge, complete, collection of all of the fabulously hefty Viz artbooks on Hayao Miyazaki’s films. However, the artbook for my favorite Miyazaki film, Princess Mononoke, long eluded me because it was never released to the US. That gaping hole in my life was finally filled when my wonderful sister brought me home a copy after travelling to Japan, purchased from the Ghibli museum no less!
I of course love all of Miyazaki’s films, but I consider Mononoke to be his masterpiece. It just tackles so much from environmentalism, war and pacifism, human brutality, and just… life. Being alive. Heavy stuff, but it’s all told in such a masterful and natural way that I can’t help but choose it as my favorite.
The book obviously has gorgeous images of the hand-painted backgrounds featured in the film…
… While also, of course, featuring things like character sketches and other preliminary images:
The only downside to me is that it’s all in Japanese, and my 3 years of studying the language in high school has pretty much dissipated by now. But it’s fine, the images are the real meat of it anyways.
In making Mononoke, Miyazaki has said that he had “started to think about what a villain really was… It was hard to make a villain that really deserved to be defeated; at least, I couldn’t do it.” And it’s true. There is no pure “good” and “evil” in his world- only people with differing motivations. It is this sophisticated and nuanced view of humanity that makes Mononoke a timeless classic.
***All Images are my own crappy ones taken of the book
Ah, the oft derided “selfie.” Those crazy kids these days with their shallow documentation of their own appearances! No one remembers that the (much longer!) process of immortalizing ones appearance in art is a longstanding, and respected, tradition!
Probably anyone who’s ever pursued art in some capacity has (maybe begrudgingly) had to face (get it?!) the challenge of depicting their own likeness from a mirror. Whenever I was given such an assignment, I seem to remember most of my classmates moaning and groaning while I was at least mildly excited. It just always seemed to me like such a cool, “artist” thing to do, to sit down and paint your own portrait.
Artist self-portraits are also great because you’re basically seeing the face, more or less, that you make when working.
Self portrait by Megan Koth, Oil on Canvas, 18×24″, 2014.
Apparently, I look pretty stern while working!
However, I understand how it can be scary. The portrait assignment is kind of the perfect challenge for students because it’s a great way of getting them to paint something from life that they actually feel personally invested in. It’s hard to get invested in getting a crumpled paper bag or some random kitchen utensils right (we had some pretty terrible still life setups,) but their own face? Now that’s something a student isn’t likely to want to mess up. There’s also a unique personal intimacy that comes with painting a great self-portrait. I mean, you have to look at your own appearance at a level you never had before- noticing every detail, including every “flaw.” I can see how the latter would make some uncomfortable, and that probably explains a lot of students lack of enthusiasm for the assignment. But I’ve found over the years that painting myself has made me more accepting of the “flaws.” In that way, the self-portrait can end up being much more than just an assignment, but a process of self-discovery and acceptance. Or, if you’re not an artist and just wanna take a picture of yourself because you look fly as hell today, you can do that too.
Hilarious top “Mona Lisa” image courtesy of Sangerous on Imgur
Lately I’ve been back to doing a lot of small, quick abstract watercolor paintings. I think I need this to wind down after months of working on super structured and planned oil paintings in school. It feels good to let loose for a bit with a low cost, low risk medium. If a painting doesn’t work out, I have no problem throwing it away and starting a new one (something much more difficult to do after investing in a canvas painting.)
Untitled, Watercolor and crayon on paper, Megan Koth, 07/2014
I’ve been enjoying using mixed media, like pencil, stamps, and crayon, to add texture and visual interest.
Untitled, Watercolor, graphite, and crayon on paper, Megan Koth, 07/2014
And I even managed to stumble upon some abstract flowers! Totally unlike me, but I like how they turned out nonetheless.
Red Posies, Megan Koth. Prints and more of this available at my Redbubble store!
Doing these little watercolors has always been a kind of palette cleanser for me to do between big paintings. I see it as the painting equivalent of doing stretches before a big race.
Sometimes thinking out of the box means painting a box! (sorry for that.) But really, painting small wooden boxes (like cigar boxes) can be a fun departure from the everyday canvas or panel. In fact, painting on a box is basically the same as painting on the latter, only the end result is something that you can put stuff in!
I originally fell in love with the idea when I saw these painted boxes Wayne Thiebaud did as gifts for his wife:
I just knew I had to do some for myself. Being cheap, I opted for the cigar box option. All I needed was my painting materials and some painters tape to cleanly section off the area for the image:
I don’t know what I’m gonna put in here yet, but I feel like it should be something dirty. Like vibrators.
Getting from point A to B.
People pursuing creative careers often look up to the very successful for guidance on what to do. Creative careers don’t have the benefit of a rigid, structured career path, which is part of the draw of them. The freedom! The independence! But the main disadvantage of that is, of course, that it can sometimes feel like all your efforts are leading nowhere, or not in the right direction, or to something you don’t really want (or, maybe you’re not even completely sure what you want in the first place.)
Feeling directionless is not pleasant, especially when you look around at your peers and see them all in their structured, cushy jobs while you’re still trying to nurture an art career. At least if you want to be a doctor, there’s a way to figure out EXACTLY what you need to do to get there (not that actually BECOMING one isn’t hard, but at least you get a road map.) Artists don’t get a road map. There is no one, formulaic, way to become a successful artist. And that fact can sometimes be refreshing, oftentimes maddening.
I would take any opportunity to ask successful people in my field the question: any advice? What should I do? And they pretty much always say the same thing- just keep on making work. Okay. I would get so frustrated with this answer, because I felt like they were deliberately keeping some secret from me. I wanted to shake them and say “but what should I really DO! JUST FREAKIN’ TELL ME THE SECRET!” That answer is frustrating because it negates the idealistic fantasy that there is some sort of “secret formula” for success. That you can just gather the right ingredients, cook it under the right conditions, and BAM!, you have success gumbo.
So I’ve started to realize and accept this fact. It’s a scary thing to accept as a young, aspiring artist because it means accepting that you’ll have to go out and make a lot of calls for yourself, and that you will have to trust yourself to make said calls. Not crumbling when you make a bad one is where the “keep making work” advice kicks in. Gathering the strength to keep going, despite failure, or hopelessness, is really what “keep making work,” means. Although it’s no secret formula, it is great, valuable advice.
I very recently graduated with my BFA, and I must say, I have some mixed feelings about it. Part of me obviously feels really great to have graduated and to be done. Another, strong, part of me really didn’t want to leave.
Art school is a very nurturing environment. In my case, I had even secured a shared studio space with some friends for my senior year. We had a keurig in there and everything! My professors would visit and give impromptu critiques on what I was doing! I could take a painting straight from class to my studio space for more attention! It was great. And I even had a life-affirming experience there on Spring break. My solo painting show (that I’ve already posted about!) was happening right after break, so that was truly the cutoff point to finish any paintings. So, I ended up driving down to the studio just about every day of what was supposed to be my vacation like it was my job- coming in in the morning, leaving in the evening. I remember driving there- to my studio, to work on my paintings, and feeling like “this is it. this is the feeling I want to have every day of my life.” And now I’ve moved out and graduated and it feels like all of that is gone. It feels like I spent all this time building something over 4 years and now I have to start all over.
We art students are human. We feel all the time the subtle (and rudely unsubtle) disapproval from others for daring to pursue a creative degree (apparently, to them, universities are just glorified vocational schools.) But in the supportive environment of art school, you get positive affirmation every day from fellow students, mentors, and professors. You have an (albeit insular) place where you belong and are appreciated. Then, you graduate and it can feel like you’ve been cast out of Eden or something.
Then I snap out of feeling sorry for myself and realize that this uneasiness is pretty natural for recent grads. It’s natural that, after four years of structured schedules and assignments and being surrounded by people literally being paid to help you, being spit out into the world where we have such an abundance of freedom can feel overwhelming. I now have to find my own place in my art community and eke out a career for myself and that means putting myself out there without my professors standing beside me. And that’s scary. But that’s okay. Looking back, every positive change that I’ve gone through started with me feeling at least a bit uncomfortable in the beginning. And that’s what this is: a beginning. I think I and other grads should take comfort in the fact that this uncomfortable feeling, like all things, will eventually pass as we settle into lives of our own creation.
Moleskine notebooks are the quintessential chic and artsy notebook. At least, that’s what the marketing goons have convinced me over the years. But I did manage to get my hands on some, and I have to admit, I like them. The pages are a nice, smooth texture, and resist bleeding really well (so messy pen sketches are achievable!) And I have to admit, it does make me feel more polished writing in one as opposed to some spiral-bound monstrosity. Oh, how positively gauche.
However, the plain black cover, although nice, could sometimes use some jazzing up. Being an artist always well-supplied in acrylic paint, there was no question as to how to resolve this little issue:
I also painted a special one for my recent solo show’s guestbook.
I like to think that adding this personal touch to a plain notebook made those who were kind enough to write messages feel that they were writing in something just a little more special. Sometimes I forget that my painting skills can expand beyond the typical canvas or board. But that’s what all artists do: we have the ability to use our own unique vision to add that extra touch of beauty to our lives, whether that be through our work, homes, or a humble little notebook.