Flow and the Wandering Mind

One of the purposes of this news section is to honestly document the creation, from beginning to end, of the projects in production at Monkey-Rope Press. Inevitably, it is not all good news.

In addition to the print series, Monkey-Rope Press is also in the early stages of writing and illustrating a book. Print production is old hat: I took all of the fine printmaking classes I could work into my college schedule, worked for a year as a pre-press and press operation apprentice in a small-production offset facility, and then a year honing my typesetting and letterpress skills with my friends at Starshaped.

I am reminded of the work of positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi on flow. Flow is the creative production ideal: a loss of self-consciousness, a total absorption in the matter at hand, a loss of track of time & physical needs. It is pure, undistracted, rewarding concentration. When settling in to print work, flow comes easily. I know the process thoroughly enough to not need to look up answers to problems; I find every aspect of design and carving, ink-mixing and printing challenging and rewarding; I find myself irritated at daily necessities that get in the way of continuing on the project. Why do I need to buy groceries? This block needs hours more work! I can eat tomorrow.

Unfortunately, it has been markedly different with this book work. While I have made small "sketch" books and taken bookbinding & book arts classes with artist & educator Melissa Jay Craig, I have never before attempted anything on this scale. Every decision breeds two new questions, breaking any rhythm I had briefly found. In almost every way, this project is thrilling: it is the fulfillment of two years of daydreaming and testing and hind-brain planning, but it also has that carpet-pulled-from-under-feet feeling of working in new, untested media. Even worse, without settling into that easy rhythm of production-flow, I find myself seeking distraction. Cats walking by my feet? They must need entertainment! Computer in the same room? Surely something of life-or-death importance has been sent to my email! Suddenly I find my bicycle too dirty to function without a good cleaning, the day too beautiful not to walk in, and then the whole day has passed with my notebooks untouched.

The only solution I have found that works is to physically isolate myself from distraction. Without a Woolfian room of my own, I settle in to the comfortable cliche of Young Urban Writer Slash Artist Working in Independent Coffee Shop. This has been much more successful a strategy than working in my home studio, which is encouraging. Since changing spaces 3 weeks ago, I've made a lot of progress. I'm not as far as I'd hoped, but this forward movement is significant. I am still writing the story, with the goal of finishing writing by the end of the year to turn to production in January.

I can't wait for that production-flow. Until then: off to the coffee shop.


Printing Process: Part 1

For the first print in Monkey-Rope Press's ongoing collaboration with, we are creating a portrait of Christine Jorgensen, the first widely publicized person to have sex reassignment surgery (1952). She was an actress, a singer, a photographer, and a vocal advocate for trans rights, speaking with wit and candor about her experiences to university campuses and other venues across the country.

Inspired by Angel Zammaripa's bold portraits of revolutionaries, we decided to create two prints for each portrait: the first a single-color linoleum block portrait, and the second purely typographic, serving to (briefly) narrate the history of the icon.

After determining the final size of the prints, the first step was to draw a loose sketch of what the print would look like:

Since the image has to be reversed for printing, I traced the image on the back of the drawing on a light box with a brush pen:

Rather than shading, I fill in the gradation with directional contours. The final print will not directly follow the lines marked in the drawing above, but it will serve to guide my carving.

The majority of the decisions about light/dark balance will be made in the carving process. With the rough contour drawing complete, the next step is to tape the drawing to the linoleum block with a piece of graphite paper below and re-trace the drawing, transferring the image to the block.

Next: carving!


Upcoming Events


Saturday, November 13th from 7pm to 10pm, the ladies of letterpress will be working the 11th Annual Starshaped Press Open House at 4636 N. Ravenswood #103. Sarah from Slow Industries, Jen from Starshaped and yours truly will be there all night, schmoozing and talking type and offering home-baked complex carbohydrates. Try your hand at one of the presses! Take home a free demo print! Buy TONS of prints and cards! We'd love to see you.

If you can't make it on such short notice, coming quickly around the corner is the Renegade Holiday Sale on December 4-5 at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse. The three of us had such a good time at September's Chicago Renegade that we're jumping back for more. Mark your calendars!


In Development

Monkey-Rope Press is emerging from a two-month hiatus after an agressively over-scheduled spring and summer, and I couldn't be more excited to get back to work. While an unhealthy amount of Buffy has been watched and veritable gallons of stew cooked & consumed, the holiday has also allowed for undistracted down-time to percolate and plan two long-term projects that I hope to document here as they unfold.

In response to the rash of queer teen suicides over the past few months, I am working on a collaboration with friend & historian Jacqui Shine to support her project Monkey-Rope Press is producing a monthly series of diptych prints portraying mid-20th century queer pioneers in the United States. Proceeds of the sales of the prints will go directly to support Write Your Principal, and in (at least) my dreams, the collected series of prints could be organized into an educational traveling show for LGBTQ youth centers or high schools across the country. Coming up soon (to subvert the acronym and put a trans experience first): Christine Jorgensen.

Secondly, in an effort not to get addicted to brain crack, I am working on (finally) developing and producing a book that first emerged as a series of drawings in spring 2009. The comic/graphic novel(/novella/nivola) is only just beginning to take a clear narrative form, and I will post updates here as it develops.

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