On Developing a Visual "Voice"

Here's what we'll be tackling during my next course at the Southwest School of Art. I think the class is full (whoppee!) or nearly so. However, I think this is such an important facet of our work as artists. Discovering our own certain and individual voices as artists is what can take us past our own limited view of our work and in new and exciting directions.

Here's one of the handouts I'll be doling our during the first session -- you're welcome to try out the ideas on your own!


It seems to me that there are several parts to this process, and several important approaches to this self discovery process.

Pure Form: I believe – and my belief is supported by more than 30 years of work with children in creative learning environments – that each of us is born with an innate preference/leaning toward a particular way of perceiving and giving form that is directly connected to what I (and my colleagues in this work) call the sensory alphabet. This vocabulary of non-verbal qualities – line, color, shape, space, light, texture, movement, sound and rhythm  -- is a way of thinking about and organizing one’s individual strengths of perception and invention. Looking at one’s preferences and natural tendencies through this lens serves as both a way to self discovery and as a bridge to understand other creative work. This vocabulary is not just an artistic one – it can hold as true to creative work in business as in design, in science as in art.  (This, by the way is what our new book, THE MISSING ALPHABET is all about.)

 Think about which  of these constructs is easiest for you to notice, to manipulate, to play with –is it pattern (rhythm) or texture or color? What did you love as a young child?  Which of these elements are most important to you in your home, your environment? What artists do you resonate to? Design exercises and experiences for yourself that feed your mind’s natural interests, or find teachers that share your sensibilities (look at their work and see what they say about it) who can provide classes that feed your perceptual strengths 

An understanding of your own creative style in terms of this vocabulary can be the starting place for finding your voice – and even help you find the best and strongest medium for work.  For example, if color is my strong suite, I might take time to do dye and discharge samples, study Albers and other colorist’s work, take photos exploring color themes, investigate watercolor and glazing, look at color as understood by chemists and physicists, etc. If movement is a strong suite, I might see how to incorporate moving elements in my textile work, take up techniques that use my body in strenuous and challenging fashion, look at how movement blurs an image and how to capture that sense with dyeing or printing, I might even want to dye fabrics and construct garments for dance performances or architectural installations with moving components.

Most of us have three or four of these strong suites that interact in interesting ways and can pose intriguing puzzles for our work. Tracking down your strongest perceptual elements is usually just a matter of paying attention to preference, to what you notice in a space, to the materials that call your name. Journaling about childhood preferences and doing detective work in your closet, your home, your memory bank can help you name your sensory strengths.

 Content and themes: Another part of personal voice has to do with content and subject matter –Many artists who are just starting out jump around from one topic to another, one genre to another and this is an important part of learning. Sooner or later though the time comes to get beyond the surface of a topic or interest, whether it is rural landscapes or flowers or political activism or portraiture. Committing to solving the same problem different ways has a real benefit In the process of finding one’s voice. How do you pick?  Start with something that holds some passion for you – something with enough personal interest that you might have a chance of making it interesting to someone else.

Sometimes the content of one’s work is directly related to “formal” interests (for example, an artist interested in rhythm, might find a study of African mudcloth patterns particularly inspiring and influential, or maybe exploring the visual idea of windows would appeal to an artist who likes spatial concepts.) For others, a theme or content is something important because of experience, story and memory – journaling can help you identify these kinds of themes.

Themes and content lead one to develop personal imagery, ways of handling materials and tools, narrative content sometimes.


Materials and media – Part of one’s voice has to do with the materials and media that are central to the form. Both experimentation and fluency play a role. Experimentation means taking the time and having the will to push a media or material beyond what you have seen others do with it. Fluency means playing with possibilities and with the borders between media, combining it with other materials and using new tools with the medium. Fluency also requires “just sticking to it” long enough to get beyond the first easy idea, and this I think is the dirty little secret behind developing facility and technical skills. A lot of artists want their first of something to be fabulous, but most of us who have stuck with it long enough know that expertise does clarify the voice. Experience with the technical handling of the media, the tools, the physical material of one’s art and craft means that the message becomes clear, the hand of the artist is consciously visible rather than intrusively visible. You’ve simply got to keep at it and the “it” has to be something you like enough to carry you over the drudge, slog and boring parts.


Creative process – Finally, the entire process that you as an artist use to come up with and bring to life original work is part of your voice. No two people have identical creative processes. Some of us need lots of incubation and collection time. We want to look at other people’s work and make sketches. Other people need to amass piles of materials to dive into with no idea of the outcome; other artists are meticulous planners, with sketches and maquettes. Some need people around, music, noise and lots of feedback; other artists require long periods of solitude and silence. The more you know about and respect your own creative process, the clearer your voice will ring.

Knowing and respecting your creative process is again a matter of paying attention, of doing personal detective work through journaling, of metacognitive investigation—ie. thinking about thinking.


Coming up at Southwest School of Art


Here are the next two summer classes that you might be interested in. Both are at the Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, and both are perfect for teachers and/or parents interested in helping kids be more creative -- the weekend course will focus on classroom fiber arts activities, including collaborative and individual projects. The parent's class will give anyone who works with kids the vocabulary of "The Missing Alphabet." a powerful tool to help kids face the future we can't predict.

2381 | Fiber Art: Fit for the Classroom

Whether you teach 4th grade or high school art classes (or just want some fiber art fun with your own kids or grandkids), there's a fiber art technique that will add texture, print, and even a bit of sparkle to your creative activities. Monday, whose experience with a wide range of classrooms and ages of students, will teach a variety of fun and manageable fiber art techniques and design approaches for use with children. Examples include mono-printed fabric art cards, easy screen-printed portrait tee-shirts, fabric paper collage, and fused fabric banners. These activities can be part of a formal art curriculum, or used by any educator to integrate the arts through new skills. Please see SSA website for a list of materials; bring a lunch each day. 

Level: All Levels 
Instructor: Susie Monday 
Dates: Sat & Sun, 7/14/2012 - 7/15/2012 | 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM 
Studio: Surface Design Studio | Campus: Navarro 


6-9550 | Creativity and Kids

special class for parents & teachers

Susie Monday

Mon – Fri, Jul 16 – 20 | 9:00am – 12:00pm Tuition: $145 (Members: $130) | 5 sessions

Discover more about your child’s learning. Explore their world of creativity, and find ways to stimulate and enhance it. With artist-educator Monday, co-author of

New World Kids: The Parent’s Guide to Creative Thinking as your guide, find out how to support, focus and direct your child’s creative thinking at home or at school. Hands-on activities, handouts, and an interdisciplinary approach characterize this invaluable class for the parents and teachers of creative kids. 

Special Class for Parents & Teachers 
Instructor: Susie Monday 
Mon - Fri, Jul 16 - 20 | 9:00a - 12:00p

TO SIGN UP. go to http://www.swschool.org


What You Want to Learn



Are you stuck with your art work, or trying to build a better studio practice? Or maybe you don't have room to do what you really want to do in your home studio. Perhaps there is a surface design technique you want time to master, or a series of work that needs your committed attention... What do you want to learn, right now, at this time in your creative life?

You could solve those problems -- or at least take a stab at them by signing up for the class I'll be teaching this semester at the Southwest School of Art: Independent Studies in Textile Art.

Class Sessions: 8, Monday, Sept. 26 - Nov. 14, 9:30 am to 12:30 pm

Maximum: 10

Location: Surface Design Studio | Navarro

With the assistance of the instructor, each student will design a personal investigation of a surface design technique and creative approach to fiber art, making samples first, then culminating in the design and production of a fused, pieced and/or whole cloth art quilt. Techniques available for exploration include soy wax batik, screen-printing, dyeing and discharge, photo image transfer or combinations of several techniques. This class is suited for students who have had some exposure to fiber art, but any level of experience is acceptable. Supply lists will be developed with individual students. Some basic studio supplies are provided.

Fee: $240 (non-member)

This is how this course will work: the first part of class #1 will be devoted to discussion of what each participant wants to gain, whether a specific technique or motivation, inspiration, good practice or other less tangible results. With one-on-one discussion with me, you'll plan your 8 weeks of study, develop a supply list, and help me develop my schedule of introductory lectures and demos for the course.

The class is held in the spacious surface design/mixed media studio at the school, and there will be a large 8' by 4' work table for each participant. The wet studio is well supplied with dyeing chemicals and easy-to-use wash out area, and a washer and dryer are also available for use. There is a thermofax machine (I'll have supplies available for purchase) and a large light table, a Bernina sewing machine for free-motion stitching, batik equipment, and design boards to use as you work. Just access to this studio can jump start your work into a new dimension.

Thereafter, each class will start with 15 minutes of critique and discussion of work done the previous week, a 30 minute demo/lecture or slideshow of inspiration and examples, and then 2 hours will be yours to work with my advice, assistance, critique and demonstration of techniques at needed. At the end, we'll spend 15 minutes together sharing and planning goals for the week to come.

If you have a project in mind, great! If you want just to play with some new ideas, techniques and materials, that's great, too. Just think of this as training time for your creative practice. Hope to see you there.

P.S. I will not be teaching until November at my El Cielo Studio.

P.P. S. If you are a member of Fiber Artists of San Antonio and don't want to miss the Monday morning meetings, I will work with you to plan an individual make-up session for classes you miss for the meetings.


Monoprints on Fabric


Just a few photos today, from the recent Southwest School of Art weekend workshop. We'll be reprising a few of these techniques with some natural items (leaves, sticks and stones) added this weekend at the El Cielo workshop. I just had a last minute drop out, so if you are interested, email me.


The first and third pieces were done with layers of textile paint applied from plastic plates of various kinds, textured with rollers and fingers and brushes. The second was with rainbow printing techniques directly on a screen. (You'll find more on this blog under rainbow printing in the search field.) Here's the link to Rainbow Printing.


Text on the Surface at SWSchool

Coming this spring to a school in SA:


2560 | Text on the Surface

Susie Monday

Learn to embed text messages into the surface of your art cloth or art quilts, with the form holding as much importance (and as much of the “message”) as any literary element. The words might disappear, remain legible, or become a surface texture; find ways to add letters and text with innovative materials. Some techniques to be explored include soy wax scrafitto, stitched paper cloth with word collages, direct printing on fabric with an inkjet printer, sun printing with letters and words using dye and paint, and making your own stamps and thermofaxes with words, collages and favorite quotations. The course includes handouts and other resources. A supply list will be posted on the SSA website.

Mon, Jan 31 – Feb 28 | 1:00 – 4:00P

Surface Design Studio | Navarro Campus

Tuition: $170 (Members: $155) | 5 weeks

Last Weekend -- and What's Next at SWSchool



A few After WORDS. We seven had a fabulous workshop this weekend at the Southwest School of Art and Craft. I, as usual, found it a challenge unmet to take photos while facilitating this workshop! I really must train myself to do so, as it would be a lot more interesting to show some photos after the fact.

Instead, I'll just share one or two images that I've been working with using the techniques that were covered in the workshop. I really love the painterly kind of images that using wet media polyester film allows -- whether in black ink only or with color copies. Sometimes the images completely disappear into lovely clouds of colors, and other times they come out incredibly clear -- its all a matter of the density of the ink and the wetness of the underlying fabric.

The quilt above, which I've shown here before, is one called "FAITH IS A LAW," and it uses several photos of my neighbors Century Plant in bloom. I'm beginning to think of this image as a true icon of the Hill Country summer.


Above: Injet print on tissue paper incorporated into paper cloth and fabric art quilt.

Below: Direct inkject transfer using polyester film (look for the wet media film called Dura-Lar for the best results.)


To make prints like these, put a thin, hardly wet layer of gel medium or a mixture of gel medium and water on a piece of flat weave fabric. Blot off extra moisture if you wish. Run a copy or print of your chosen image (the two above were text collages created for my online course Text on the Surface) onto the polyester wet medium film. Flop the image onto the damp fabric and use your hand or a roller to transfer the image. Careful not to move it. Peel off the film and immediated clean it off -- the film can be reused many times.  When the image dries, it will be waterproof -- this does change the hand of the fabric since it uses the gel medium as a transfer medium. You can also transfer onto dry fabric and add water or medium on top to "melt" the pigment and make it permanent on the fabric.  This gives a very painterly look to your transfer and also removes the size restriction for the fabric upon which you wish to print an image.

What's up next at the Southwest School of Art and Craft (downtown San Antonio)? I'll be teaching two offering this fall: Soy Wax Batik on Oct. 30-31

As one of the latest hot wax techniques to make beautiful multicolored fabrics, soy wax eliminates many of the environmental concerns of using a solvent-soluble wax. It can be washed out with hot soapy water! Special techniques allow the application of several dye colors at once. Discover your own vocabulary of marks and patterns. Bring 3 yards of natural fiber fabric (cotton, silk, rayon or linen), an assortment of brushes and stamping tools, and a lunch both days.

2040 | Soy Batik $165.00 Sat & Sun, Oct 30 - Oct 31, 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM


And a Monday morning course in October and November on preparing work, finding exhibits to enter, etc.-- a good course for those wishing to work on professional development, no matter what level of experience so far!

Have you ever wanted to enter a juried exhibition but felt intimidated by the requirements, the entry forms, the photography requirements? In this course, Monday will help you find an appropriate exhibit for your work, and your accomplishment level, critique your portfolio of work and help you prepare it for presentation, and guide you through the application procedure including photography, artist statement and biography requirements. You will also spend time working on specific assignments to produce work to fit requirements for a magazine submission appropriate to your media of choice. Acceptance can not be guaranteed, of course, but you'll have a much better understanding of the process. Please see SSAC website for a materials list.

2600 | Surface Design Projects for Exhibition




Mon, Oct 18 - Nov 22, 9:30 AM-12:30 PM

Southwest School Opening


The All-School Show opened last Thursday at the Southwest School of Art and Craft. Lots of beautiful work, and as usual, displayed with elegance and professionalism. I'm honored to have my piece "Mas" included -- it's an 18" square fabric paper stitched piece. 

The second work I submitted didn't get into the exhibit but was selected to hang in the school's dining room gallery, The Copper Kitchen. (It's just there behind the cashier's desk.)

Here are some other photos from the opening.

Doerte Weber Seale won the best of fibers award for this stunning tapestry.

Adjunct faculty member Paula Gron showed these striking and original woven forms.

Diana Kersey, whose jars here were some of my favorite pieces in the exhibit, was honored as the Teacher of the Year.

A detail from one of two beautiful art cloth pieces by Lisa Kerpoe, also an adjunct faculty member.

All who have attended classes (or taught) at SWS during a year are invited to enter this juried annual exhibition. There are always lots of amazing pieces that don't make it into the show, so we're all pleased to be hanging this year! The exhibit is open through mid September, so hope you can stop by if you are in the area. (P.S. Both of my pieces are for sale, let me know if you are interested!.)