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Posts Tagged ‘Maureen Booth printmaker’

Getting Set Up

You’ll need some conditions for working, and it’s better to get them right from the beginning: a dedicated workplace, an etching press, heat, light and water, work surfaces and materials. You might be able to start out in a collective studio but, sooner or later, you’ll need a place of your own, even if it’s a garage or a garden shed. Creativity demands concentration, and you need to organize the studio to your own needs and standards of order and cleanliness. If you don’t have much money to invest, invest something else. Invest generosity. A gift of a beautiful print can start a chain reaction. Be generous with your time. Help other artists all you can. Don’t be stingy with your knowledge.

In our early years in Pinos Genil I used to give free painting lessons to kids in the village square and the garden of the old hydro-electric plant. The provincial cultural authority put up the materials, and I even got some mothers painting. That was in the late seventies and early eighties. My pupils were mostly eight-or-ten-year-old village kids. Today I’m old friends with most of the 50 and 60 year olds in town. An old friend in a small town is a rare luxury. A few years ago I was invited to pronounce the “pregón,” the ritual opening speech of the annual fiesta mayor, Pinos Genil’s most important fiesta of the year.

One way which enables you to survive is to swap your work, no money involved. My list is so long: I have exchanged my work for wonderful clothes, dentistry, years of attention from Granada’s most-prestigious gynecologist, a year’s dogfood for a family of Great Danes, a patchwork quilt, artisan pottery, handmade jewelry, original lamps, garden furniture, a magnolia tree, some beautiful handmade paper from the Paperki paper mill in the Spanish Basque country. When my friend, Luisa, closed her decorating business I exchanged two big paintings for a big sofa; some rugs from Taroudant, Morocco at the edge of the Sahara; some lovely lamps, beautiful hand-made curtains and tapestries. Start proposing swaps now. You will be pleasantly surprised. Boths gifts and barter will get your art out and about. You’ll be surprised to find how many people will be enchanted by the idea of doing business without money.

About Selling

My favorite place to sell my work is in my studio. It has a special allure. I’m not sure if it’s the exoticism of the etching press, the busy look or the smell of paints and solvents. It puts them in the mood. I like to sit them down on a chair facing a document chest full of prints in layers of drawers, and say to them, “See if there’s anything you like.” The drawers hold years of prints and proofs, large and small. If they purchase a few prints I make them a gift of another one. I can do that because I’m not paying any commissions. They’ll be back, often bringing along some friends. Studio sales are ideal, and you don’t have to frame anything or get in the car and drive anywhere.

My least-favorite way of selling prints is exhibiting. I’ve had some disappointing experiences. All veteran artists have. Sometimes, when we get together, we share stories. Many years ago, before my print lifetime, through some wonderful French friends, I got an invitation to exhibit in the municipal museum of Agen, in the south of France. I had all the arrangements fixed and we were invited to stay there with our friends, Olga and Touné. I had all the paintings nicely framed and securely packed and had made shipping arrangements with the biggest, most expensive transport agency in Spain, given the possibility of problems at the Spanish-French border. The shipment arrived at French customs a week before the scheduled opening and was turned back for the lack of a single document. I had bought my bus ticket for the following day. Exhibit cancelled.

You Can’t Live Without It

Obviously, there’s no way for an artist to avoid exhibiting, especially when he or she is starting out. But please be careful. I have come to the conclusion that the only thing you can do to avoid problems when you exhibit is to do your homework beforehand. Take the process seriously. Check out everything, Get references. Get it in writing. Even then you may sometimes bump into an unpleasant surprise. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve done everything humanly possible.

At the end of the nineties my sales drooped a bit, but that coincided happily with a query from one of my friends, an art teacher in an International Bacalaureate (IB) school in Germany. She wanted to know if I could put together a one-week printmaking course for a dozen or so students from her art classes during Easter Week. That’s what got me into printmaking workshops, and at a propitious time. Happily, the studio that Mike built for me back in the eighties at the bottom of our garden was quite large, 50 square meters, so it admitted small groups. Though one time I had a group of 20 from The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) and managed it by habilitating space in my Gallinero artists’ cabin and calling in my two part-time assistants, María José and Carmen. Martyn, the head of the TASIS art department, and Frank, the photography teacher were also valuable help. The result was an inspiring setting for creative high-school art students who had never done any printmaking. My experiences with groups of European students, which all repeated over a series of years, have been extremely positive, due both to the personal qualities of the students, as well as their exceptional teachers.

Workshops to Afront the Crises

My work with students opened the door to workshops with artists. That turned out to be a life saver in the lean times ahead. I started with mostly Spanish non-printmaker artists. It was rewarding to see them getting into ink. Then, thanks to the websites Mike made for me and kept up, I started getting artists from abroad, first in small groups, then individually. It turns out that the most productive mode of launching or perfecting one’s printmaking is in one-on-one sessions with a master printmaker/teacher. That’s how I learned at the Rodríguez-Acosta Foundation in Granada. The workshop had a lot of members but I was the only one who attended every day. José García Lomas, “Pepe,” the wonderful printmaking maestro there, appreciated that loyalty and took me on as his protege. Everything I know about teaching printmaking, I owe to Pepe Lomas. His method can be summed up briefly. “Respect the taste and talent of the students. Let them follow their own stars.” I can’t remember how many nationalities have passed through my studio over the past four decades.

“Creativity” Covers More Ground Than You Think

Creativity is not just putting paint on canvas or scratching a copper plate. Creativity begets creativity and, once you get in the habit in your studio, it extends to other facets of your life. It becomes a lifestyle, and people who come here notice it. Virtually all the artists who stay in my Gallinero artists’ cabin comment that they sleep better. Serious printmaking is relaxing, but also tiring. The biggest commission I ever had was from a big Paris construction company. They wanted gifts for more than a hundred of their clients and employees. I made several different prints for them in order to keep the edition numbers down, assuring true limited editions. And I ordered some beautiful hand-made-paper, and envelopes in bright pastel colors, from my friends at Paperki. Beyond my most optimistic expectations, those atypical gifts were a big success and the company repeated the commission for two more years.

When Covid 19 shut down the world I went into shock for a while, but eventually decided I had to work my way out of it. So I produced a portfolio of my favorite recipes illustrated with prints. That was an extremely limited edition (limited to the amount of paper I had on hand) and it sold out in a couple of months. Then it occurred to me to convert it into a little book which, with the help of my wonderful printshop neighbor, Ricardo, was a big success. I’m currently working on etched VIP invitations to the inauguration of our village’s new Sierra Nevada Tram Museum. María del Mar, the new director there was one of the 10-year-old students in my village painting classes all those years ago.

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Though, As We All Know, the Best Commercial Is Non Commercial

In my last post I promised to dedicate the next one to selling your work. Then there wasn’t a “next one,” because I got swept up in a project to create images for our village’s new Sierra Nevada Tram Museum, located in our old tram station. The Sierra Nevada Tram was an ambitious project promoted by a Granada nobleman–el Duque de San Pedro de Galatino–to ferry clients up to his hotel/gambling saloon up on the mountain. It also provided transport for the people of several villages along the way, one of which was ours, Pinos Genil. The project–20.5 kilometers of tram line between Granada and El Charcón, at 1,500 meters of altitude, included 14 tunnels and 21 bridges, and was presented in August of 1919. Work began a year later and the first stage of the service–Granada-Canales–was inaugurated in 1925. By 1928 the line had reached the Maitena station, from which clients were carried the last stage of the trip up to the hotel by horse and carriage. The tram, which continued operating until 1973, never made a profit. It was finally terminated due to the construction of a giant new dam and reservoir that covered the tracks.

We arrived in Pinos Genil, where we have remained every since, in the fall of 1969 and made use of the delightful little yellow trams both for routine trips down to Granada and summer excursions up to El Charcón where it was cool and they had diverted the River Genil to create a chilly, melted-snow swimming pool. To give you an idea of what the old Spain was like, the couple of rustic restaurants on the tram’s trajectory permitted clients to take their own food and just buy drinks. Today that sounds like science fiction. Oh, I almost forgot, the town hall has very kindly offered me display space to sell my tram-related prints.

Pinos Genil’s Renovated Sierra Nevada Tram Station Museum

My Mixed-Media Images of the Original Trams

Back to Being Commercial

Let’s start with the foundation truth: too few printmakers are able to make a living from their artwork, and it’s not getting any easier. We’ve had the financial crisis of 2009, and for some of us that’s not over yet. Add to that a few more economic wobbles, a few wars, Covid 19, and the disloyal competition of people selling “giclee” reproductions-and calling them “prints,” when they’re just photocopies. What they aren’t is fine-art prints. But they could be sold profitably at a tenth of the price, and they have cut a wide swath through the fine-art-print market, our market. Print departments–and whole art departments–started closing down..

Being realistic, I suspect that printmakers will never again see prosperity like that of the old days. I’m referring to the 70’s-90’s. I fondly remember the first edition of Estampa, the Madrid Fine-Art-Print Fair at the Crystal Palace in Madrid’s Retiro Park in 1993. By the end of the second day of the five-day event I had sold everything I brought with me and had to phone Mike, at home in Granada, and ask him to empty all of the print drawers in my studio and rush all the prints to me in Madrid. Those were great times. There was a leak in the roof right above our stand. Did the management panic? No, they just rolled in a big, potted plant and placed it beneath the drip. It was beautiful, and we continued to sell prints.

That first edition of the fair was boycotted by the art galleries. I think they stayed home because they considered the lowly prints too cheap to make much profit on. But, when they saw the success of that first fair, they quickly awakened to the commercial possibilities there. Over the next few years they took over the running of the event, raised the prices of the stands, imposed mandatory minimum prices for the prints and generally started treating printmakers like merchandise. I wasn’t the only artist to abandon the fair after a few years. Though, it was great in the early days. I confess I miss them.

Selling Fine Art Prints in Troubled Times

So, with all the cards stacked against you, you want to try making your living selling your prints. It’s not impossible, but it’s far from easy. I think the first thing you have to get clear is the fact that you’re not just selling prints. You’re selling your humanity, culture, philosophy and lifestyle. The bottom line is, you’re selling all the best of yourself. If the retail business rests traditionally on three pillars: location, location, location… the fine-art-print business is based on three others: communication, communication, communication.

Luckily, we’re living in the age of Internet, the most powerful communications tool in human history. And, depending upon your level of Internet skills, it’s practically free, because you can do it yourself. Obviously, if you’re a digital native, it will be easier for you. If not, you’ll have to choose between learning to do it yourself or paying someone to do it for you. Happily there is a middle way which, I suspect, is the way many successful artists go. That is, have an expert design your website and prepare templates for your site and your blog. Then, all you have to do is fill in the blanks with fresh content in order to keep everything updated. There is still a bit of a learning curve but you can surf it if you’re constant. Your success or failure, of course, depends upon those three little words: “keep everything updated.”

The success of your online communications depends upon the professionalism of your site, what you communicate and how often. It’s not just about techniques, sizes, prices and shipping costs. It’s much more magical than that. You have to impart your enthusiasm, knowledge, secrets and “ilusión.” This is a Spanish word for which there is no English equivalent that I know of. It’s not about the illusion of a magician. It’s about hopeful enthusiasm and anticipation and the conviction to make things happen. It’s one of the threads that pulls us through life. Maybe I’m getting a bit airy-fairy here, but it’s true that you have to transmit to others your own enthusiasms, aspirations and commitment. That is to say, what you have to communicate is You.

Then There’s Your Work

Your work is the motor of your whole enterprise, and it helps if you have some innate talent. But, talent or not, your trail is the same: study, work, learn to see, do a lot of sketches, re-invent yourself with new ideas and new techniques. And you must work hard to get all the qualified feedback you can, have some studio exhibits, inviting friends, family and art lovers and previous clients who already have some of your work on their walls. Never give up, be positive and create what you see around you, this makes your work authentic and unique.

The most popular way of getting artwork before the public is, obviously, exhibiting. Which brings me to a confession. I don’t like exhibiting. And as soon as I could shake it off, I did. It’s one of the most dubious commercial propositions I can think of. To begin with, it’s a lottery, and most of the risk is placed on the artist. Of course, there are great galleries who work with artists for years and help them consolidate their careers. But they are the exception. My recommendation is to sell as much work as you can from your studio or via Internet or local commercial outlets and choose your exhibitions with great care.

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Part 2/2 coming soon
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Let’s Talk about the Kitchen

A printmaker isn’t just a printmaker, especially if she’s a woman. She’s often a wife, a mother, a cook and gardener, and more. She might even hold down a job. I have been all of those things and still am most of them. I have a pretty clear idea of what you’re going through, and I’ve got a few suggestions for smoothing your way. I’m going to concentrate on the kitchen this time. I love the kitchen. It’s creative work and at its best it can be fun, even therapeutic. But having to come up with two or three meals every day can be time consuming and tiresome.

My first important suggestion: make your family complicit in the kitchen. If your husband cooks, you’re already a step ahead. If not, teach him. The earlier you start, the better. I recommend the second day after the honeymoon or as close as you can get to that. Here in Spain you almost never find men in the kitchen, except to go for icecubes. There is one shining exception to that rule, the men from the Basque Country, who pride themselves on their cooking. They have dining societies, each with its own dining room and big kitchen where they take turns cooking. Sometimes they even invite their wives and girlfriends. We are friends with a mixed couple. She’s from Jerez de la Frontera (the heart of sherry country), where a man in the kitchen is considered a sissy unless he’s a cook. He is a recently-retired engineer from Bilbao in the Basque Country. These days he won’t let the Jerezana into his kitchen. To be invited to a meal at their house is an honor and a delight.

Hubby cooking.

How to Get the Family on Board

Getting the family up to speed in the kitchen isn’t limited to working with (or on) your husband. The kids are even more important, as there are more of them–if you’re lucky. They’re also important because they’re the ones who carry on the tradition. It’s fun and easy to get them involved in the kitchen when they’re little, letting them stir the pancake batter, knead the bread, or turn the left-over dough from the scones into little jam tarts. Make them know from the beginning that to participate in the joy of cooking they are required to take on the tasks of buying the ingredients and cleaning up. Regarding “cleaning up,” if you can afford it, a little help in the house does wonders for your artwork, even it’s just a couple of days a week. How do you justify this luxury? By taking printmaking seriously, doing professional-quality work and selling it! (I’ll talk a bit about this in a future post…)

My husband, Mike, and I have raised three children, two boys and a girl (who are now two men and a woman. The youngest one turns 50 next month.) They’re all good cooks and they all love cooking–and eating. One day, when the youngest one was about 13, and I was up to my neck preparing an exhibit, I said to him, “Tomorrow you’re going to make lunch. Look through this cookery book and find something you would like to make. Go down to the store and buy the ingredients, prepare the meal and call us when it’s ready.” He made a delicious chicken stew and never looked back. The summer he was 18 he worked in an excellent Chaine de Rotisseurs restaurant at a fine hotel in Hamburg, Germany. They wanted to keep him.

This is the place where I have to say “thank you” to all of our kids. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Our Culinary Debt to Spain

Now that I think about it, the cooking at our house owes a lot to the kitchen traditions of Andalusia, as the eight southernmost provinces of Spain are known. I must confess that we eat more olive oil, chickpeas, lentils and spicy blood sausage at our house than the entire population of your average town in Britain or North America. Spain, with its fabulous variety of fish, fruit and vegetables, is a great place for cooking and eating, which is centered around a hearty mid-day meal–el almuerzo. The heart of that lunch is often a big stewpot of meat or fish with lots of vegetables, legumes, herbs and spices. The Spanish call those stews, comida de cuchara, “spoon food” and they are addicted to it. The first thing any Spaniard demands, when he or she returns home from an extended trip abroad, is a plate of lentil stew. “¡Dáme un plato de lentejas!” Believe it or not, none of our kids, raised eating and making real food, will go near a fast-food restaurant.

The Cocina Económica

In the early seventies, when we renovated the stone farmhouse where we still live, Mike insisted that we have an old-fashioned coal/wood-burning kitchen range, the rough equivalent of an Aga range cooker in the UK. The owner at Granada’s only foundry said, “We used to make lots of those but they went out of fashion. Now we make mainly manhole covers. I think we threw out the molds for the cocinas económicas years ago.” Then he added, “Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll try to find enough loose pieces to make you a kitchen stove.” In the end he managed to make two, one for us and another for our builder. That stove, which we only light in winter, is an endless source of wellbeing. It improved the way we heat the kitchen, as well as upgrading our cooking. Mike always wanted an excuse to keep a stockpot on the boil, and now he had it.

Since then that stockpot has been the key to virtually everything we cook. Over the years we have refined the procedure for making the magic broth. For a long time we had a standing order with our butcher who would save us the nice fresh chicken carcasses after he removed the breasts, thighs and drumsticks. We would feed them to our dogs and cats. One day, Mike was chopping them up for the animals and it occurred to him to throw a couple of them into the stockpot. That quickly became the rule. That winter our lemon tree had a bumper crop and he started taking the odd bag of lemons to our friend, Sergio, for use in his bar in the village square. On one of those deliveries Sergio said, “Miguel, we sell a lot of ham (jamón serrano, a local delicacy) and we have a lot of meaty ham bones left over. Could you make use of some of them?” That was when our stockpot took the Great Leap Forward. We bought a large stainless-steel pan and started making enough stock to freeze. So we are never without.

Not only does a constant supply of rich chicken/ham stock improve everything we cook, it also makes the cooking faster and easier. Do you need a heavenly chicken noodle soup? Just put some stock on to boil and throw some pasta in it. Do you need something more substantial? Start with a liter or so of stock, add some pork ribs or any other meat you have on hand, then sauté some onions and garlic. You can add celery, thyme, parsley and bay leaf if you like. Let it boil for a while, then add potatoes and carrots. While they’re cooking, put together a quick green salad with a vinagrette dressing, and lunch is ready.

“Peas Porridge Hot” Cooking

If you increase the amounts a bit you can also resolve the next day’s meal. Just add some chopped spinach, cabbage or kale and, bingo, you’ve got another meal. Mike calls this “peas porridge hot” cooking, and it’s true. You can extend that stew for more days, though beyond three, it’s abusive. If you’re a vegetarian you can do the same thing. Just start with a rich vegetable stock and add legumes: beans, chickpeas, lentils and whatever else strikes your fancy.

The Spanish don’t eat much tinned food (except for tomate frito–fried tomato–a blight on their kitchens). To make chicken soup they start with chicken. To make a cazuela (a soupy seafood dish with noodles) they start with fish, clams, mussels and calamares pulled from the Mediterranean yesterday. Two of their absolutely finest soups–gazpacho and ajo blanco, for me both world-class cuisine–are made in a blender (originally a mortar and pestle) and served ice cold. Google the recipes next summer and make them. It’s easy. I think you will like them a lot.

Please forgive me if my kitchen suggestions sound like Greek to you. I arrived in Spain in the sixties and took to the place, its people and its cuisine like a duck to a goldfish pond. Maybe none of my well-intentioned advice will work for you in your circumstances. But maybe some of it will.

Before I go I want to mention something I have learned after dealing in my studio with printmakers from all over the world for four decades. The world is not made up solely of countries, at least for some of us, the lucky ones. There’s an additional “nationality” and it’s made up of all the printmakers in the world. A print artist from Slovenia is likely to have more in common with a printmaker from Mexico or Pakistan than she might with her next-door neighbor in Ljubljana. I’m not sure what we should call this phenomenon, a “sisterhood/brotherhood?” Whatever you choose to call it, I know it exists. I’ve experienced it over and over. Its a beautiful thing. And you’re a part of it.

Hasta luego,

Maureen

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by Maureen Booth

It’s an Opportunity to Share Some Village Wine, Chat and See Some of My Work in the Place Where It Was Created

Any boy or girl who turns out to be an artist in life will never forget the first time he or she set foot in the studio of a professional. It’s something that stays with us for the rest of our lives. There is only one experience in an artistic life that inspires more awe: your own studio. Not a corner of the bedroom, nor a garage, nor a porch, but a proper studio with proper light and a door that locks. I was lucky on this count. It was 1966 and I had been living for a short time in Nerja, a village in the province of Málaga, Spain. That little town, in those days, was a dream for a girl from Manchester, UK. It was an authentic Mediterranean fishing village with cobbled streets, roman tiles and a friendly cop with a cap and truncheon. And sunshine beyond my wildest dreams.

There were also foreigners, but not many, and a good proporption of them were painters and writers and one etcher. That arty element gave a special character to the pueblo. It was like an artists’ colony that had sprouted naturally, like mushrooms in the woods, a place where nobody pronounced the phrase, “artists’ colony.” Those artists opened my eyes to a culture and a life that I would never have discovered without their influence.

In the exact center of the village was a big house with an enormous garden dotted with fruit trees. That plot of land was the envy of the village that was already foreseeing a brilliant future in tourism. It was the perfect place to site a luxurious block of flats. But the owner, Conchita Bueno, daughter of a distinguished local family, refused even to consider selling her orchard.

We first met one day when I was painting in the plaza. She paused in her mornintg “paseo” and expressed interest in what I was painting, adding, “So, you like painting on the street, do you?”

“Yes,” I replied, “Besides it’s my only choice. I don’t have a studio.”

“You don’t have a studio,” said Conchita, as if she were alarmed. “Come with me, daughter.” Conchita was like that.

She took me to that big house with fruit trees and led me up to the top floor. It was a spacious attic, one diaphanous wooden-floored space with a view over the orchard.

“Now you’ve got a studio,” said Conchita.

I protested, “You’re very kind, but I’m not sure I can afford such a splendid studio.”

Conchita replied, furrowing her brow as if impatient with me, “You’re not going to pay anything, daughter.”

That’s what Conchita, who didn’t have children, was like.

I Adapt My Studio to Printmaking

I worked for almost three years in that magnificent studio with a little kitchen and its own entrance from the street. I soon began to sell almost everything I painted–lots of local color–and to dream of living from my artwork. That sounded then like a fairy tale. Not quite. I just needed a dose of perseverence and little bit of madness. My next studio was a little stone goat shed on a rocky hillside above Pinos Genil, a village outside Granada. That was followed by a revamped chicken house, and finally a big well-lit studio that my husband Mike built for me. There I only painted until I was selected to study printmaking in the Rodríguez-Acosta Foundation in Granada (1977-80) under the tutelage of José García (Pepe) Lomas, a true master printmaker who left the south of Spain peppered with his disciples. A couple of years later the Foundation closed and I had the opportunity to buy one of their etching presses and all the tables and accessories necessary to convert my space into a fully-fledged printmaking studio. There, over the past 30-some years, I’ve received artists from around the world, to learn printmaking techniques with me.

My Invitation

It’s there that I propose to invite you one weekend during these Christmas holidays (which last 14 days in Spain). There we can sip a glass of village wine together, chat and have a look at some of my work, both paintings and prints. You’ll have the opportunity to discover some new work and some half-forgotten stuff lying in boxes and drawers for decades.

How would you feel about the weekend of December 17, 18 and 19? The address is: Ctra. Güéja Sierra 10, 18191 PINOS GENIL. You can best park in front of the big warehouse with the red and green facade just before arriving at our house. Then it’s a date? I would love that. Hours: mornings 11:00-14:00, afternoons 17:00-20:00. Phone: (34) 605 341 632.

P.S. It’s not easy to get lost, but if you do just ask for “la casa de la pintora.” Once someone got lost and stopped to ask their way. The reply was: “Oh, you’ve got the wrong village. The one you’re looking for is six kilometers down the hill and to the left.”

Photos by Mike Booth

(Follow this link to see a big display of photos. The text is in Spanish but the pictures are in English.)

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Our granddaughter, Elisa, age about ten. She later
got a fine-art degree from the University of Granada.

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The Sketchbook Copy Project

For years my husband has been threatening to photograph the content of all my sketchbooks. But first we had to find them. One of the fringe benefits of the new shelves from heaven was that a lot of old sketch books turned up. Mike got inspired. He snatched the first book from the top of the pile and took it into his goat-shed studio. A couple of hours later I pay him a visit and he’s teetering on top of a ladder peering through a camera mounted on a copy stand. It turns out that, in order to photograph the larger books he has to raise the camera pretty high. I protest. He replies, “Don’t worry, it’s not dangerous once you get the hang of it.” This is why women live longer than men.

Mike’s intention is to photograph all the sketchbooks and post them here one by one. The photographs in this post are the result of his first trials.

Meanwhile, I get to talk a bit about the importance of sketching, whether in pencil, charcoal or watercolours. Your sketches are your roadmap, your compass, your storyboard, and you should not be without them. No, photographs won’t do. You need live drawings. I find it so distressing when art classes from excellent European schools come to my studio and I find the students copying images from the screens of their cellphones. This is a history clash. I’m way too old. They’re way too young. And there’s no middle ground.

This necessity to have sketches obliges you to make them. For that you have to be prepared at all times. The greatest images appear at the most unlikely–and inconvenient times. So I urge you to get in the habit of carrying a bag with your current sketchbook and pencils, and watercolours if you’re so inclined. At first it will feel cumbersome and conspicuous. Later it will become part of your person. And you will notice the boost it gives to your work. In this recent rediscovery of my sketchbooks I have more that once been tempted to sit down right then and there and turn a 20-year-old sketch into a brand new print.

I could go on and on, but I’ll leave you with the photographs. I’ll be posting more regularly–if my photographer doesn’t fall off the ladder.

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(Como surgió este librito)

(Ver la versión española a continuación…)

It’s an Offspring

Maureen’s Kitchen / La Cocina de Maureen, my recent bilingual limited edition of recipes and hand-pulled, hand-colored prints was a response to a year and a half of semi-stagnation, something I suspect many of us have gone through. I was finally able to convince myself–with a little help from my friends–that the way out of the labyrinth was creative work. Get to work and make something beautiful. The edition was limited to 19 portfolios of 16 recipes and prints, because that was all the large sheets of hand-made etching paper I had left in my studio. That sounds ridiculous, but it’s the simple truth.

The invention worked too well. The edition sold out in three weeks. And I still had requests for more–but there weren’t any more. It was the brilliant idea of Ricardo Calvente, our neighbor and the owner of Granada’s finest print shop, la Imprenta del Arco, to publish the content of the portfolio as a book. Using digital technology and incorporating some images from my sketchbooks to add interest, he could print up however many books I required, as the need arose. These books have no fine-art pretensions but I am, nonetheless, delighted with the results.

The smaller format, the spiral binding and glossy paper, encourage the use of the book in the kitchen. On a kitchen counter the open book will lie flat, and if you spill something on it you can wipe it off with a damp cloth. And it can be sold for a fraction of the price of the limited edition portfolio. It’s not the same, of course, but it is an elegant solution to the problem at hand.

Es un descendiente

Maureen’s Kitchen / La Cocina de Maureen, mi reciente carpeta de edición limitada en inglés y español, de recetas y grabados tirados a mano, fue una respuesta a un año y medio de estancamiento/paralización, algo que sospecho que nos ha pasado a más de uno. Al final pude convencerme a mí misma–con la ayuda de mi familia y amigos–que la salida del labirinto pasaba por el trabajo creativo. Pónte a trabajar y haz algo bello. La edición se limitó a 19 portafolios de 16 recetas e imágenes cada uno, porque no me quedaban más hojas grandes de mi papel favorito de grabado. Sé que eso suena ridículo, pero es la pura verdad.

Al final, el invento funcionó demasiado bien. La edición se agotó en tres semanas. Me quedaban solicitudes de más portfolios, pero no quedaban más. Fue la genial idea de Ricardo Calvente, nuestro vecino y dueño de la mejor imprenta de Granada, la Imprenta del Arco, de publicar los contenidos del portfolio en un libro. Usando tecnología digital e incorporando unas imágenes de mis sketchbooks para añadir interés, él podía imprimir cuantos libros que yo necesitara, según surgía la necesidad. No puedo pretender que estos libritos sean “fine art”. Sin embargo, estoy encantada con los resultados.

El formato más pequeño, la encuadernación con espiral, y el papel brilliante, animan a usar el libro en la cocina. En una superficie de cocina el libro abierto se queda plano y si se ensucia, se puede limpiar con un trapo mojado. Y se puede vender por una fracción del precio de la edición limitada. Desde luego, no es lo mismo, pero no deja de ser una solución elegante al problema.

(Click to enlarge, haga clic para ampliar.)

How to Get your Copy of This Charming Little Book

I’m asking 15€ for the book. There are two ways to get it:

  1. If you’re within striking distance of Pinos Genil (eight kilometers from Granada on the old Sierra Nevada road), just drop by the studio and we’ll have a coffee or something and you can take your book home with you.
  2. If you can’t make it in person I’ll be happy to send it to you, and you’ll just have to pay the postage. Drop me an email (maureenluciabooth at gmail.com.) and we’ll discuss the arrangements.

Como hacerse de un ejemplar del libro

Pido 15€ por el librito. Hay dos formas de adquirirlo:

  1. Si puedes acudir a mi estudio en Pinos Genil (a ocho kilómetros de Granada en la carretera vieja de Sierra Nevada) puedes pasar por el estudio, nos tomamos un cafe u otra cosa, y puedes llevar tu libro personalmente.
  2. Si no puedes acudir al estudio, te lo enviaré por correo con mucho gusto. Tendrás que pagar el franqueo. Simplemente, envíame un email (maureenluciabooth arroba gmail.com) y concretaremos el pago y la entrega.

The Presentation

My dear friend, the Spanish poet, Ángeles Mora, will present the book in the Pinos Genil village square on August 4 at 9:00 p.m., during the Pinos Genil Culture Week. You are cordially invited.

La presentación

Mi querida amiga, la poeta de Rute (Cordoba), Ángeles Mora, presentará el libro en la plaza de Pinos Genil el día cuatro de agosto a las 21:00 horas, durante la Semana Cultural de Pinos Genil. Os invito cordialmente.

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This project wouldn’t have been possible without the invaluable help of my
studio assistant, María José Braojos and her daughter, Silvia Romera Braojos,
as well as Ricardo Calvente Chacón, of the Del Arco Print Shop in Granada.
And, of course, Mike, my photographer, webmaster, and husband.

I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends

Much as I have tried over the past long year to stay positive, I confess it hasn’t always been easy and at times events have taken a toll on my morale. The pandemic took us all by surprise. Life was different and we suspected it would never be the same again, but first we had to survive the virus. (We have a friend who did die–briefly–and came back and told us about it.) We couldn’t see friends and family, which in Spain form the cornerstone of life on this planet. We couldn’t go out for a drink and tapas. Or drive down to the beach. Our life was reduced to a recurring supermarket-pharmacy-laundromat routine. Though, I shouldn’t complain too much. We were never without our inspiring riverside walking path, nor the loving company of Cuca, Diva, Bundy, Rosey and Susu, whom Mike refers to as “our little people.”

As I mentioned before, it was María José who inspired me to get back to work in a serious way. Let me tell a bit about her. She has become for me more of a daughter than a helper. We met 20 years ago when her husband, Juan Carlos Romera, was planning the production of a 38-minute short film called “Bive,” (“Live” in semi-literate Spanish). He needed a foreign woman artist for a story set in a fishing village in the Mediterranean province of Almería. As soon as he saw my studio he said, “You’re the one… and we’ll shoot the studio scenes in here.” María José was his assistant on Bive. Working on the film with Juan Carlos, María José, and his professional crew from Madrid was all new to me. It was hard work during a hot summer, but intensely interesting, and included some good fun. (You can see the complete film here on YouTube.) But I’m meandering again. What makes working with María José so gratifying is her limitless good humor, her sweet demeanor, her careful work, and her readiness to learn. She’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever known.

It Turned Out to Be a Healing Process

So we decided to start on the prints-and-recipes project. I prepared the originals on acetates and when they were all ready María José stepped in to help me burn the plates and pull the prints. That was our usual procedure. What was new in the process was the hand coloring (“illuminating” is the delightful traditional term) of all the prints, for which her help was invaluable. It was an extremely limited edition of 19 portfolios, but each one had 16 prints and they all had to be colored by hand. It was a demanding, meticulous job that required concentration to the exclusion of everything else. That exclusion included all forms of worry, anxiety, or stress.

A few days after we finished illuminating the prints and had wedded them with the introductory texts and the portfolios (which I made to measure myself), and sold the first few books, it occurred to me that I was feeling quite a bit better. People liked the portfolio. I was full of pride and optimism, and had some money jingling in my pocket. I even had some new projects fall into my lap, a couple of portraits and a big job for our village’s new Sierra Nevada tram museum. It seems I have been renewed by a combination of art, work, and loyal friends. I have always prided myself on being a working artist, and this is just one more proof of its miracles.

I wonder if this simple formula might not work for you, too.

P.S. There are still a few portfolios left. If you need one you can contact me via email: maureenluciabooth (at) gmail.com.

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An interview by Bart Sedgebear

Manchester Girl Came Long Way

Maureen is from Manchester, U.K. In her last incarnation there she was a suburban housewife with two small children. That was in 1964 and she was feeling restless again. She had always been restless, at school, in church, in her job as a secretary earning coolie wages in the Manchester textile sector. This time it was bigger. She wanted out of suburbia, out of Little England. She had experienced only two weeks of sunshine in the previous year and yearned to feel the sun. She had painted her children’s bedroom walls with a bullfighter theme. Painting made her happy. She had attended a few night classes with a professor from the Stockport College of Art. “I needed to know how to stretch a canvas,” she says. After a half-dozen lessons the art professor said to her, “You don’t need to come any more. Just go home and draw everything.” She sold her first couple of portraits and thought the life of the artist would be easy.

One day, when her husband arrived home from work as a sales rep, she said to him, “Let’s move to Spain.” They had been on holiday a couple of times on the Costa Brava on Spain’s northern Mediterranean coast and enjoyed it.

In July 1964 she stepped off a plane at the Málaga airport, a thousand kilometers south of the Costa Brava. She was shepherding her two children and struggling with the carry-on luggage. Her husband was waiting there to drive them to their new home, a cobblestone, Roman-tiled fishing village 50 kilometers up the coast. As she stepped out the door of the plane she was buffeted by a wave of heat like nothing she had ever experienced before. She wondered if she had done the right thing.

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Time Flies

Flash forward a half century. She’s sitting midst easels and etching presses, stacks of canvases and exotic papers, worriedly anticipating the return of the wren that built his nest outside her studio window last week–and looking back over a life that took her by surprise.

Q: What happened?

A: We sold our house in England and pooled the money with another English couple to build a restaurant/bar and 12 apartments on a bluff over a Mediterranean beach in southern Spain. We ran the business working alternate weeks for a few years, the wives cooking and the husbands doing the shopping and tending the bar.

A couple of years in I rented the whole top floor of an old house overlooking a big vegetable patch and made it into a wonderful studio. The woman who owned the house was called Conchita Bueno and she was truly buena. I would paint there during the off weeks and any other time I could steal. Sometime during the fourth year, with the business taking off and me selling some paintings, I got restless again. We didn’t speak hardly any Spanish and we had never really integrated with the villagers. What’s more, the town was turning into a tourist trap for wayward Brits and Northern Europeans who formed English-speaking cliques and whose idea of adventure was to go to a “native” bar. It wasn’t an ideal place to raise children. I felt that I needed to get out of there. But how? I badly needed some serendipity.

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It came along in the form of an American lad who wore cut-off jeans in mid-winter and always carried a couple of cameras. He moved into the ugly new block of flats opposite our restaurant and began coming over for breakfast, and we had time for long chats. It turned out he was writing articles for American newspapers and was determined to stay in Europe. He liked fried bread, had never heard of it. One morning he and I made mayonnaise together in the kitchen, him pouring the oil slowly into the bowl and me whipping it into the eggs with a wire whisk. Shortly afterwards we coincided at a party of those boring expats and spent the whole night in a corner reading aloud to each other from a book of Yeats’ poems. We read Beggar to Beggar Cried. That did it.

Q: What happened then?

A. Two weeks later I was back on the plane with my kids, headed to my parents’ house in Manchester. I was there for six months working in my brother’s flower shop while my soon-to-be second husband searched for a “real” Spanish village well off the Mediterranean coast, found one, rented a house there, and helped the owner install a bathroom. We’ve lived in that village ever since. It hasn’t changed much as it’s in a steepish valley that doesn’t have much room for “development.” Here we raised my two kids and one of our own.

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Becoming a Printmaker

Eventually we bought an old house and fixed it up. As we had no money left nor collateral, the village mayor co-signed a loan for us to do the renovation. That is how our pueblo has treated us. Some years later we built the studio and converted the goat shed into an office for Mike and have happily lived and worked here ever since. Much later we built a cabin to accommodate the print artists who came from all over the world to attend my printmaking workshops. Workshops are what you do when a disastrous world economic crisis slows your flow of art sales to a drip. Even in this I was lucky. My husband was a freelance journalist and photographer who had worked in PR in the US, so it didn’t take him long to adapt to being an artist’s online publicist. Try googleing “printmaking courses in Spain”  and see the first results.

This was the etching studio of the Rodríguez-Acosta Foundation in 1979-80

Q: How did you become a printmaker?

A: More serendipity. Louise Waugh, a wonderful English watercolorist friend, stopped by the studio one day with some beautiful etching proofs. I was astounded. How did she do that? She said she had been accepted to study in the etching studio of the Fundación Rodríguez-Acosta in Granada. “You just take a portfolio of your work and leave it with them, and then go back after a week to see if you’ve been accepted.” I did. I was. A whole new world opened up for me. I worked there for two-and-a-half years, under the direction of the magical printmaking maestro, José García Lomas, “Pepe Lomas,” who had been exquisitely formed in Barcelona and Paris. Pepe liked his students to be earnest and I was certainly that, so he spared no effort to see to it that I mastered his traditional techniques. It’s a good thing I did. Everything starts there.

The Creative Life

Q: Let’s talk about the creative life. How do you see it looking back?

A: And forward. That’s something I need to clear up. A writer friend of ours recently turned 40 and expressed concern about being “past her prime.” What nonsense. You’re never past your prime until you stop struggling. I made my first print when I was 37. Consider Georgia O’Keeffe, nearing 98, virtually blind, and still painting.

As for “the creative life,” Mike and I have discussed it a lot. We agree that authentic creativity goes beyond putting paint on canvas or ink on plates. For us an artist’s first mission is to take responsibility for crafting a creative life. That can mean different things for different artists but the essential part is about making a vital and artistic ecosystem for yourself, tailor made for your own needs, tastes, challenges and aspirations. And don’t fail to leave some space for serendipity.

Don’t worry what other people think of your lifeplan. It’s for you, not for them. Do you want to raise chihuahuas or learn Mandarin. You can do that, and more. When I was headed back to Spain in 1969 to start a new life my two brothers, both successful businessmen, expressed their grave concern for me. They thought I was crazy. Forty-some years later they came down individually for visits, and both confided to me, “I wish I had done what you did.”

Q: Do you have any advice for young artists who are starting out, say, where you were in the mid-sixties?

A: I can make some general suggestions, but every artist is a world apart. First and foremost is the importance of actually working, filling sketchbooks, painting, making prints. If you don’t do that conscientiously it’s all pointless. Inevitably, what you are seeking, to live from your art, entails some risk, but it need not be an impediment. There’s a simple formula for taking the stress out of it: Figure out what your wildest dream is and give it a try. The worst that can happen is that you have to go home and get a job.

You’ll have to sell some work, of course. You’ll need to exhibit and participate in art fairs and other cultural events. Whether or not you ever sell much work over Internet, a compelling presence on the Web will be an important element in your success. Your story is just as important as your work and you’ll need to develop it and find interesting ways to divulge it. Right now the media for that are websites and blogs, videos and podcasts and, of course, social media. Later there will be something else but the essential element will still be your story: your humanity, your humor, your best teacher, your hopes, your unexpected successes, the morning light on your nasturtiums, your cat, and your trip to Tasmania or the Grand Canyon. Don’t worry about including any sales pitches. The captivating life and times of a full-time professional artist is sales pitch enough, and your potential clients will appreciate your low-key presentation.

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More Preparation

It would be good to study something, too, regardless of whether you get a degree. You will learn how to learn and this will serve you well when it comes time to build a a website or a sailboat. Don’t laugh. A dear artist friend of ours in Colorado makes lovingly- crafted three-quarter size Indian canoes and people hang them from their ceilings.

Travel all you can. Read all you can. Without it you cannot become a complete artist–or person. Read quality fiction and non-fiction. Everything fits into the artist’s blender.

Q: Do you have more suggestions, something to help artists survive a crisis?

A: I discussed that more extensively in an article I wrote some years ago. Here’s a link to it.

Q: What about working space and conditions? How important are they?

A: Ample workspace is essential for a visual artist, especially considering that you might need to mount courses in there. That studio is your sacred space and you must devote some thought and resources to it. You also need privacy and tranquility. At first you may need a day job, but don’t let it prevent you from spending quality time in your studio. Program that into your life. Set some objectives, make some plans. Write them down. They will help you navigate the hard times to come.

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Think about what kind of work you’re going to do, how commercial you can go without compromising your creativity and your self respect. Who are you going to sell to and how? Resist the temptation to spend time and effort cultivating rich clients. Normal people–teachers, nurses, programmers, office workers, small business people and the like, are better, more loyal and constant. They will think of you when they need wedding presents or portraits. Then, if a rich client comes along, that’s OK, too.

Don’t despise anyone. My best client for paintings (this was before etchings) when I started out in Granada was a young pharmacy employee. He would phone me occassionally and say, “I’ve got some money saved, Maureen. Can I come out and have a look-around?” We’re still friends.

Q: What about the coronavirus pandemic? How do you think that is going to influence the lives of artists?

A: I think that’s impossible to predict at the moment. The first thing that occurs to me is that involuntary lockdown has given artists valuable time to think and observe, time they have never taken before. I hope they take good advantage of it. As for national and world events, they could go from revolutionary social and political changes to just more of the usual muddling through. Only one thing is clear to me: our creativity–in the broadest sense of the word–will be stretched to its limits Artists may have to plant potatoes. In any case, look on the bright side. Creativity is what artists are good at.

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Back for Seventh Successive Year

This group of high-school juniors, from Germany, Russia, the USA and Spain all attend Bremen’s  International Baccalaureate school and study art under Brenda Eubank. This is the seventh (eighth?) successive year that Brenda brings her students to Maureen’s studio to do a printmaking workshop. (Note: Brenda notifies us by email that the first workshop Maureen had with the students from Bremen was in 2011, so this year’s visit was the ninth. Time flies.)

This year, under Maureen’s guidance, they made three collective artists’ books. It sounds complicated and it was but the results gratified everybody.

Have a look at the photographs, below.

(Thanks, Brenda, hope to see you next year.)

 

Photos by Mike Booth and Brenda Eubank
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Children Loose in My Studio with Indelible Felt Pens

Our friends ask me frequently, “When are you going to do a workshop for children?I would love for our kids to participate.” So last Saturday I invited  a group of friends’ kids, along with our own grandchildren, to a day of printmaking in my studio. Some of them didn’t really know why they were here; they were sent. Some were frankly reluctant at first.

How does one overcome that reluctance and get them centered on the work. I found out a long time ago that it’s not so complicated as it seems. You put a sheet of acetate in one hand and a felt pen in the other and tell them to do whatever they like. No art teacher ever told them that before and it makes them feel empowered. That, and seeing their first print, maintains their enthusiasm.

Aside: One of the fathers was there when I passed out the materials, actually a well-known local painter. He stood over his daughter and started giving her instructions.  I suggested he might be more comfortable out in the sunshine and she immediately got seriously to work. Moral to the story: Children are actually people and people like freedom.

After creating their first image, seeing it burned on a solarplate and run through an etching press onto paper, they wanted to do more printss. I couldn’t keep up with them. The only way to slow them down was to announce lunch. What do kids like to eat? Anything followed by chocolate pudding.

They all went home with a couple of prints, some more, and a new  experience under their belts. The parents were also delighted. Some of them actually expressed an interest in doing some prints themselves.

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Photography by Miguel Ángel Martínez and Mike Booth

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