Ten years ago I decided to try something new for the holidays by printing my own cards and sending them out to friends and family. That first card was a spontaneous affair, the result of my excitement to share in what was then a new medium to me, printmaking. Since then, making holiday cards has become an annual tradition, and along with it, writing a blog post about each print’s backstory.
This year, I knew I wanted to print something special. After all, these cards have remained one of the most consistent aspects of my creative practice, and have become something that a lot of my friends and family look forward to every year. Or at least I think they do.
The question was deciding what to print, and how I would do it. Every year I’ve made a point of changing the technique I use. Sometimes I make intaglio cards, other years it’s relief printing. One year I used cyanotype as my main technique. I’ve hand-painted prints, printed on marbled paper, used different inks for an ombre effect, and even tried my hand at chine-colle in my most recent card. The pressure was on to do something special.
In the end, though, I opted for a different route. Instead of achieving novelty through my printmaking technique, I changed the subject matter.
As readers of this blog know, my creative practice takes inspiration from my local surroundings, and the cards have been no exception. I usually get their subject matter from walks I’ve taken, whether it’s birds I’ve sighted or leaves I’ve collected. Others get their inspiration from places I’ve visited, whether it’s Los Poblanos when I lived in New Mexico, or the Historic Area right here in Williamsburg. What they all have in common is that it’s something I’ve seen in person, and it’s usually been near my home or within driving distance of it.
This year, instead of looking for inspiration near my home, I decided to focus on my home, and more specifically its two feline inhabitants, Iris and Gustave.
For years, Brandon has been encouraging me to make a holiday card featuring the cats. As our constant animal companions, they influence just about every facet of our lives, from when we wake up to our daily conversations, and they’ve appeared in many of my sketches and paintings. For previous holiday cards, I found something else to use as my subject matter because it was novel or spoke to a specific experience I’d had. This year, however, I decided to take Brandon’s suggestion and center the kitties.
There was another reason for sticking close to home, however. Last year, Brandon and I experienced a momentous life change when we bought our first house together. Becoming homeowners has been a seminal experience for us, as we’ve taken on the responsibility of maintaining the property as well as expressing ourselves through changes in paint, flooring, light fixtures, mural interventions, and more. Buying a house was also a major catalyst for our decision to get married, and we even had our wedding at our home. It only seemed apt, then, that I recognize the changes that have taken place through this year’s card.
After experimenting with different sketches, I settled on a scene of the two cats looking onto our back patio. From skinks to wrens, a lot of critters like to visit that space, and we’ve heard the kitties chattering at them on multiple occasions. Even when there isn’t a visitor on the patio, there’s usually something to watch at the birdfeeder or in the neighboring trees, so that part of the house is a favorite spot for them.
As with most of my cards, I printed these in September so I wouldn’t be rushed during the holidays. Knowing the card would be mailed in December, I decided to show the patio in winter to make it seasonally appropriate. We actually did have a good amount of snow in January this year, so I knew what the patio looked like when coated with a generous dusting of snowflakes. And although I settled on this sketch before the wedding, the fact that we actually got married on the patio adds another personal layer to the scene.
In terms of technique, I settled on intaglio since I have that mini-press from the Open Press Project and want to be sure I get some good use out of it. I made the actual print with black Akua ink on BFK Rives paper. To make the scene more seasonally festive, I hand-painted the patio red and added some greenery by painting in some coniferous squiggles. Initially, I wanted to monotype these details, but I found it was more efficient to paint them by hand. Once the prints had dried, I used some Modge Podge to paste them onto some cream-colored card stock I had leftover from last year’s card.
In a lot of ways, this feels like one of my more festive cards. I don’t use traditional Christmas iconography, but between the colors, the domestic setting, and the presence of the kitties, it certainly does feel cozy when I look at it. More than anything else, that’s what I wanted to convey in this card. Through this impression, Brandon, Gustave, Iris, and I are sharing our home with our friends and families. All in all, I don’t think that’s a bad way to celebrate ten years of making cards, a tradition that I plan on continuing for years to come.
Good tidings, everyone. From my home to yours, wherever you are and whatever you celebrate, be well.