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What do Cy Twombly, basketball players and printmakers have in common?

I am teaching a summer course at MCLA entitled Painted Papers. Prints. Book Arts. It’s a fabulous class filled with experimentation, invention and lots of new techniques. Paste papers, layered ink paintings, gesso scraffito and then all of these techniques together. In some ways, the technique is not important, what IS important is understanding the material, so that the artist can repeat the process again and again with consistency. As a result, we are creating in editions. Each student will make the same image 10 times. This allows for practice of the technique–adding to one’s skill set and helping the student to further understand the process. AND, then the additional copies are exchanged so that each student gets an original work from everyone in the class. Those creations are used as content for various book structures. Here is one such exchange based on the theme BLUE and created in a pivoting panel structure that I learned from Hedi Kyle.

But let’s get back to the question. What do Cy Twombly, basketball players and printmakers have in common?

Each of these people must understand their art so well that it is both replicable and consistent. And how do they do this? By regular practice and confidence in the self and the process.

Cy Twombly was known for his large scribble and calligraphic paintings. His lines, seemingly random are part of a complex process of overpainting and underpainting. The illusions of depth and age are the result of many experiments, trial and error and ultimately by an understanding of the materials and processes that he used to create.

Star basketball players must maintain their skill. To be a star shooter, they’ll do the “shooting the hundred” drill, essentially shooting 100 NBA threes from specific spots and then from random in-action spots. The top players get in the 90’s. According to Chris Ballard in The Art of a Beautiful Game, Brent Barry , when he was a San Antonio Spur made 94 out of 100 attempts. That’s only gonna come with practice.

But that same devotion to one’s skill and craft is essential for the printmaker. Especially the letterpress printer. A couple of days ago I worked with fellow artist Karen Arp-Sandel to print some of her lovely collages as pressure prints, a skill that I want to improve dramatically. The only way to improve is by understanding the materials, the equipment and then by practice, practice, practice. It’s also crucial to take notes to help remember what worked and what didn’t work in order to consistently repeat the technique and the process in the future. Eventually, these hours of practice become part of you–but they still must be maintained with regular drills and exercises. Those words are not limited to sports–but are just as crucial to any acquisition and refinement of skill.

So down at PRESS this week and next, I’ll be refining my pressure printing skills. Want to know more about it? Come on by.                                                                          …here is an example of a pressure print by Karen and the resulting prints. The matrix is in the center and the prints are around it. Pretty fun stuff.


1 Comment

  1. […] are different, when you start to dig into it similarities abound. (I wrote more about this here.) When I was anticipating my mastectomy, 18 months ago, my anxiety sky-rocketed through the […]

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