Sometimes when we cross each other's boundaries, the discussion gets lively. Usually this is because something is not working, like the spatial relationship of colors, or if the quality of the etch is up to what it needs to be to carry the full edition. The prospect of having to strip and re-etch a plate after spending weeks on it can be overwhelming. After a night's sleep, you can usually rally to evaluate the need for any changes and approach the project fresh. The expectation for excellence that we have for each other is responsible for the quality of our work. When things go well, we reward each other with praise and champagne, an intimacy that is rare to many working relationships!
Aside from the creation of our etchings, we divide our duties. Denise worked at a frame shop during graduate school and is the matting expert. I do all the framing. She trades printing or other studio chores for my doing the applications for shows, the newsletter and endless publicity. When we are really crunched, I will do a show alone to allow her studio time. She does the books, keeps receipts and handles sales tax reports to all the states where we do shows. I book all our hotels and do most of the driving. We share the child care. There are many ways that the working relationship balances.
There is always tension between doing anything new which may represent a departure from our previous work (with risks in the market place), and our need to develop as artists. To discourage any new development of each other's work would not be healthy. There are strong conceptual ties throughout all our work. We each have to find ways to give each other the room to grow, despite the concerns of making a living.
Denise has influenced me to do certain pieces. Denise often encourages a piece which I may not have had on the front burner. I did a thumbnail sketch of a kite-flying robin, and she was wild for me to do the piece. I greatly enjoyed doing it and it has found an audience. Two small works that I did for personal reasons come to mind right away: "Rainy Day Wolfeboro," and "Trout Dreams." "Trout Dreams" started as an experiment in texture; Denise was delighted at the result and pushed me to edition it. "Rainy Day Wolfeboro" was a plate I had no business trying to tackle during our Sunapee Fair preparation crunch, but for that reason, I couldn't keep away from it. Still, I was not concentrating and I kept etching it. It got more and more rainy at each state. Finally, I went too far. I tossed the plate in the waste basket. After Sunapee, Denise encouraged me to get back into the plate. I scraped, burnished, re-etched and it became a rich textured piece. Now that we are sold out of both of these, I admit she demonstrated significant insight as to their appeal.
Most often the effect of Denise's critique is seen between states of a new piece, while we are trying to resolve spatial issues of color and texture. While looking at a black and white proof, I felt that a mountain was too close to the edge of one of my images and I thought this tampered with the sensation of depth. She knew that the effect would be resolved in color.
"In their Element, Like Bubbles off their Back" (pictured right) was the great "I want it" image. The only compromise was to work on this plate together. I did some drawing. Chris cut the plate. We both worked the plate. Chris had some ideas for the color proofing. The plate went back into the acid a few more times, and our first collaborative piece took shape. Our efforts merged completely. No arguments.
Sometimes, we are not on the same page. "Starflight's Night Canopy" was one image for which I had a clear vision. When I cut the shaped plate, Chris had no idea where I was headed and said so. I ignored his questions and said, emphatically, that I wanted to talk with him only after I had a color proof. We each have had images on which we wanted to make the decisions alone. Most often, we take in our partner's response and it leads us to our best result.
I believe that as we mature in a committed partnership as husband and wife and as business partners, our critiques of each other's work continue to nurture our artistic development. Somehow, one thing does lead to another and out of a sometimes chaotic working atmosphere comes a body of work of which we are both proud.