Nurturing Our Visual Ideas

One of my earliest artistic beliefs was that ideas for pictures arrive fully developed, ready for immediate implementation. All one had to do – or so I believed – was paint the picture according to mental impressions. It was only later, and after I began to mature as an artist, that I realized ideas for pictures are little more than visual seedlings. Like tender young plants, our emerging ideas for pictures need nurturing to grow and time to develop.

Ten or twelve years ago, I prepared a workshop on mono-printing. As my visual major in college had strong roots in printmaking, I was fond of the sense of immediacy that came from monoprints, and the fact that every monoprint is a unique means of self-expression. Unlike other printmaking processes like etching and lithography which provide for editions, there is only one monoprint. 

At some point after the completion of this workshop, I began exploring the possibilities of combining monoprint with watercolor, the latter process my “go to” technique in the 1970s. One of the pictures that came from this experience in 2009 is the following one; Man of the Cloth / Endangered Moth. The priest’s face was done with monoprint, the image of the moth in fluid watercolor. I relied on color harmonies to tie the two images together. 

Years passed during which I completed two fictional novels. One of these yet-to-be published stories, God’s Acolyte is about a morally corrupt priest. For the cover of my reading copy shown below, I returned to the image of the priest in Man of the Cloth/ Endangered Moth. I asked a friend of mine to sit for a few photographs, and from this session came my painting of the lower portion of his face. Little did I know at the time, that this image of my friend was destined to return one final time.

On September 12, 2020, while looking through a portfolio of my drawings and watercolors, I paused when I came across the monoprint/watercolor image from 2009. Seeing it next to the image of the priest on the cover of God’s Acolyte, I made the decision to make one final variation of the idea.  Over the two-day period of September 12 and 13, I completed the 20” square acrylic on canvas shown below. Like descendants in a family, certain similarities in look and tone may be evident, but colors and other compositional devices changed. Put simply, the initial visual idea underwent a final change.

Man of the Cloth/Endangered Moth

How do we ever know that our first response to a visual idea is the best, or ideal, manifestation of that idea? As I used to tell my students, if one makes five solutions to a given picture idea and place them against the wall, my guess is that one of the five responses will strike you as being the strongest. picture. Like the seedling, we may have to wait for the idea to blossom.


My visual works are exclusively carried by The Art Cellar Gallery in Banner Elk, North Carolina. For information about my works, one may contact the gallery at 828-898-5157, or through their website:

2 thoughts on “Nurturing Our Visual Ideas”

  1. I love this. I also want a copy of your last book. I only have the first one you wrote. I love it. Couldn’t put it down.
    Love to both of you. If you come to Raleigh I want to figure a way to see you.
    Sara Jo
    Can you let me know how to get your book? I don’t even know what the name is.

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