Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Best Day of My Life

Today is my cat Tiger's gotcha day.   You know, the day of his adoption.  That was 13 years ago today.  My husband and I were walking past a neighborhood pet store, and Friends for Life, a small local shelter, has having an adoption event.  I tried my best not to look at the kittens.  I knew I wanted to adopt a kitten, but I was planning on waiting a few months before doing that.  But I have a HUGE soft spot for ginger cats.  I looked.  There he was.  I was in love. The rest is history.

In the 13 years we have shared our lives, I have been through some ups and downs.  Jobs and career changes, losing another beloved cat and dog, starting new jobs, adopting new furry friends.  Through it all, I have had my buddy by my side.  I am grateful.

He wasn't always the easiest cat to live with.  Tiger has always needed to be the dominant animal in the house.  Even over the humans.  Tiger lives with two other cats, and a dog, and Tiger rules.  And they know it.   I have also had aggression problems with him.  So much so, I'm not sure if another person would have kept him.  He used to attack me when he was young.  But for me, once I adopt, it's for life.  So I did all I could to work with him and his aggression.  It was tough.  We have made it to the other side.

Tiger, my buddy.

 Tiger is the first pet I have ever adopted.  So he will always have a special place in my heart.  I have learned soooo much from him.  About unconditional love, for him, and from him.   About patience.  About animals in general.   And of course, he has been an inspiration in my artwork. 

"Magic Carpet," print inspired by a photo of Tiger.

"Wise One," print inspired by a photo of Tiger.
Adopting Tiger really was one of the best days of my life.  And yes, we will be celebrating Tiger today with all his furry brothers, and some of his most FAVORITE food, tuna fish.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Black Cat Awareness Month

Did you know that October is International Black Cat Awareness Month?  Being that I just completed a series of artwork with a black cat theme, I thought I would shed a little light on the plight of black cats.

Black Cat Handmade Prints @MaryAnnTestagrossaArt

"The creation of International Black Cat Awareness Month came about after it’s creator, Layla Morgan Wilde, noticed that while there are two days dedicated to black cats in the world (One in the UK, one in the US) there wasn’t anything dedicated to them on a national level. Such an observation is desperately needed, as superstitions surrounding black cats had gotten so out of control that shelters won’t even adopt them out during October any longer. Too often the cats were being adopted as part of the Halloween holiday mystique, and would be abandoned or worse after the holiday passed.  Throughout the rest of the year, it’s typically more difficult to get them adopted.  How much more difficult? Black cats have the longest wait in shelters and are adopted at a rate 50% lower than any other color of cat, which we can’t understand at all."  Shelters across the country call this "black cat syndrome."  Black cats are overlooked again and again by adopters because they associate them with bad luck, black magic, and other negative superstitions.

Black Cat Handmade Prints @MaryAnnTestagrossaArt

This issue doesn’t apply to only solid black cats. Tuxedo cats, cats with a white chest and sometimes paws, are equally hard to place.  I can tell you personally, we have a tuxedo cat and he is the best.  We adopted him from a local shelter, and he is funny, playful and so loving.  One of our best adoptions yet.

What can you do to help black cats:

1.  Adopt a black or tuxedo cat, or two, from a local shelter. 
2.  Keep your black cat indoors, especially at Halloween time.
3.  Donate to black cat organizations.
4.  Donate to cat shelters.
5.  If you are a black cat guardian, talk to people about how great your black cat is.  Educate people.  

(Above quote shared from:  https://www.daysoftheyear.com/days/international-black-cat-awareness-month/)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

On Inspiration - Ellen Von Wiegand

Before I started making linocut prints, I did a lot of looking at other artist's work.  The internet is such a great resource for inspiration.  My favorite social media platform is Instagram because it is soooo visual.  I think many artists feel the same way.

Ellen in her studio, pulling a new print.

One artist who really inspired the style of my cat prints was and is, Ellen Von Wiegand from the UK.
"With a Sigh"

Ellen uses herself as a model for her nudes.  Here is some of what she has to say about her work...  

"My images reverberate with this search for self assurance and serenity, and my own nude body is featured in each piece. I originally began using myself as a model because it gave me a lot of control over my compositions, and I didn’t have the ability to pay someone else. However using my body has caused my work to develop into something highly personal. When we are nude we are at our most vulnerable, and I have come to see my work as a way to reconcile with the shy, insecure and fearful pieces of myself. There is also something I love about showing myself naked when in fact I am severely uncomfortable being undressed in front of others. It is a practice in being more open and allowing people into my world when in my real life I struggle to do so."

"Moon Splashed"

Ellen continues... "That said I don’t see my prints as self-portraits, but rather physical representations of emotional states of being. Male or female, my hope is that you see a piece of yourself reflected back to you in each image."


Though her work is VERY personal, what drew me to her style was that she prints her nudes in shades of blue and deep reds, which give her images a less personal, and more universal appeal, like this could be any woman, not just her specifically.  I also like the simplicity of the line work, not a lot of details in the nude image, but just enough to convey a feeling.  

Austin Kleon, in his book "Steal Like an Artist," talks about finding your own voice by copying your heroes.  He says, "By copying your heroes, you find your voice because you can not perfectly copy anyone's work.  You are influenced by other ideas that mix with the work,  and that becomes your work, your voice.  You transform or transcend what you started with, and it becomes your style." 

Now when you look at my work, I think you can clearly see her influence.  Here are just two examples...


"Wise One"

When I start a new cat print, I start with a photo of one of my cats.  My cats are ginger and a black and white tuxedo.  In my artwork, I have chosen to use black as the color for all the cat images.  My black cat prints are usually seen as artwork about black cats, and that is OK.  I like black cats too.  But I am using the black cat as a universal symbol for all cats.  

My hope in doing this post is to give you a little more insight into my artwork.  And to share one of my inspirational heroes with you.  Hope you enjoy her work as much as I do.

To learn more about Ellen Von Wiegand, check out:

And to see more of her beautiful work, check out:
-Ellen's Instagram page

(All images of Ellen Von Wiegand's work used with her permission.) 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Meaning Behind the Cat Artwork

I've been thinking about, how to put into words, the significance of this body of cat artwork that I have created.  It is all about love.  The love I feel, and felt, for my cat Motor, who passed away two years ago.  He is the inspiration behind most of the pieces in this body of work.

Motor, just brought home.
Motor was the second pet I ever adopted.  I loved him DEARLY.  He was sweet and shy and in the nine years he lived, maybe only a handful of people ever saw him.  Whenever someone would come over, Motor would run under the bed, or into the closet. He even hid from my husband.

Motor was named Motor because he was a constant purrer.  And he loved to talk.  He and I would have discussions back and forth.  He was a very happy boy, walking around with his tail up in the air most times. And he was photogenic!  I took some of my best cat photos of Motor.  He was a natural.

I haven't dealt with a lot of loss in my life as of yet, and Motor's illness and death was devastating for me.  I was so in love with him.  Unconditionally.  I used to tell my husband that Motor was my heart on the outside.  And that I wasn't sure how I would cope if he ever passed.

Motor was never sick in the eight years we had him, until he got cancer.  When he started not being interested in eating, and then throwing up, I knew something was wrong.  I won't go into the details here, but I think he lived about 3-4 weeks after his diagnosis, and they were painful for him, and for me.  It's hard to witness someone you love in pain.  My heart ached.

I told Motor in the end that I would never forget him.  I didn't know this body of artwork would be part of my remembrance.  I really couldn't do much creatively for a year after.

When I started doing linocut prints, starting with cat imagery was a no brainer for me.  I love animals.  They are my heart, my family.  I think I connect better to them than to people at times.  We have three cats right now, and a dog, Willie our schnoodle.

All the cats in the prints are from my photos of my cats.  Most of the images are of Motor.

My cats are not black cats.  My idea for using a black cat, is as a universal image or symbol for all cats.  Yes, people who have black cats may relate better to my imagery because they see the cat literally as a black cat.  But I am using the image for all breeds of cats.

So these prints are all about love for our feline friends.  And what an impact they make on our lives.  And some are about what happens to them after they pass.  Enlightened, Blessed, Wings. These are all about being on the other side of this life, as we know it.

One of the last photos I took of Motor.
To Motor,
My dear boy, I miss you everyday.  I haven't forgotten you.  I never will.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Test Printing my Block "Wings"

I like to take videos while I work of different stages of the printing process.  Here, I am inking up my block "Wings," for the fist time, all in black, and doing a test print. 

You can do a test print in any color you choose.  I think the details show up best in black and white, or in this case black and pink, pink being the color of the block I am using.   And you always do a test print first to see if you need to do any further carving of your design before you start printing on your good paper. 

Next step will be to carve up the block into what will be the different colored areas.  When all is said and done, this will be a four color print.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Arnold Schwarzenegger's 5 Rules for Success

Very inspiring.

I have never been a big Arnold Schwarzenegger fan. But I saw this video on Facebook from the site Good News Network, and I felt there was some really good advice here on being successful, no matter what you want to be successful at.  


I would recommend watching the video, because his talk is inspiring.  But here are his five tips to excel in whatever you do:

1. Find your vision or goal.  Find your purpose.  Find your passion.  Follow it, or you will not feel happy in life.   

I agree.  Otherwise you will be floundering.  Having a dream, a goal, a sense of purpose, gives one a reason to get up in the morning.  Gives your life direction.  Gives you grounding.

2.  Never think small.  Think big.  

I say, why not?

3.  Ignore the nay sayers.  This is a big one.  For all of us.  Do not listen to them.  Move forward towards your goal.  

We have all dealt with nay sayers.  As an artist, since I was a child, I was told, get a "real" job, do art on the side, as a hobby.   By my parents, art was not looked at as a viable career choice.  And by a lot of society, art is looked at the same. 

4.  Work your ass off.

5.  Don't just take, give something back.  Help others.  Help create a better world.  

"If not us, who?  If not now, when?" 

Love those two lines. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Steal Like an Artist - On Art

One of my VERY favorite books about art is "Steal Like an Artist," by Austin Kleon.  He makes many good points about art that I would like to share.  Here are some of my favorites. 

1.  Nothing is original.  All creative work builds on what came before.

Every new idea is just a mashup or remix of one or more previous ideas.

2.  There's an economic theory out there that says if you take the income of your 5 closest friends and average them, the resulting number will be pretty close to your income.  (I heard this theory before in a Mastermind marketing group.)

The same is true of our idea incomes.

3.  Chew on one thinker, one writer, artist, activist, role model, that you really like.  Study everything there is to know about that thinker, artist, writer, etc.  Then find 3 people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them.  Repeat.

4.  Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage will help you feel less alone as you start making your own art.  I hang pictures of my favorite artists in my studio.

5.  The great thing about dead or remote artists is that they can't refuse you as an apprentice.  You can learn whatever you want from them.  They left their lesson plans in their work.

6.  Carry a notebook and pen, or sketch book and pencil, with you every where you go. 

7.  Keep a swipe file.  A file to keep track of the stuff you've swiped from others.  Keep a scrap book, take photos, etc.  Need some inspiration?  Open up your swipe file.

8.  You're only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with.  In the digital space, that means following the best people online, the people who are smarter than you.  Pay attention to what they are talking about, what they are linking to. 

9.  Harold Ramis says "Find the most talented person in the room, and if it's not you, go stand next to him or her.  Hang out with him or her.  Try to be helpful."

10.  If you ever find you are the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.  

If any of these thoughts and ideas pique your interest, I would highly recommend reading this book.  It's a quick read, and well worth it. 

On Creativity, by Brene Brown

Love this quote by Brene Brown.  So true.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

My Art Website

I have been working diligently on a website for my artwork. This is the first website I have built, and it did have it's challenges, but I think I am done. I have tried a few platforms for building one, such as Wix and Big Commerce, but I decided to go with the company Big Cartel, because it seemed to be the most intuitive for me to figure out. 

I would recommend Big Cartel to other artists just because of it's ease to put together.  It probably took me about 6 hours.  I all ready had LOTS of photos to use.  It was really just figuring out how to use the template I chose.  The most fun part was setting up the slider of photos for the home page. 

If you have a chance, please go check it out and let me know what you think. I would appreciate the feedback.


Monday, February 26, 2018

Wise One

The third print in my cat linocut print series, is "Wise One."  This was my first print using three colors.  

My method of printing multiple colors is by carving my block into pieces, like a puzzle. 

Once the pieces are carved, they are inked separately, and then fit back together, carefully, before the paper is laid on top of the block. 

As you may notice, the eyes for this print were left white, then I hand painted them in with the printing ink to match a combination of the background colors.

This is part of the 50 print edition. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Why Cats?

I adopted my first pet, a cat named Tiger just over twelve years ago.  I wanted a buddy for companionship for the days I was home, working in my studio.  I have learned so much about animals since adopting Tiger.  I would have to say, Tiger has changed my life for the better.

Tiger, just a few months old.
When Tiger was two, we adopted a second cat, Motor, the constant purrer.  Once again, this little furry boy changed my life, for the better.

My Motor, just adopted.
I used to say Motor was my heart on the outside.  I used to tell my husband, if anything ever happened to Motor, I didn't know what I would do.  I was so bonded to him.  Almost two years ago now, Motor got sick with intestinal cancer and passed away.  He had never been sick before.  It was quick.  I was devastated.  It's still hard to look at this photo of him.  He was just nine years old when he passed. 

In a way, this body of work is a tribute to him.  Many of the images start with a photo of Motor.  The cats in my prints are black, not because I am making black cat artwork, specifically.  For me, the black cat is symbolic of all cats.  My cat images could be blue, or brown, or red, but I chose black. 

When Motor passed, I had no thoughts or desire to adopt another pet.  But my older cat Tiger, my original cat, seemed lonely.  After all, Motor was his companion for nine years.  So five months after Motor passed, we decided to adopt again for Tiger.  There were not a lot of kittens available at the time, but we found two boys, similar age, fours months old, from two different litters.  This is Hobbs and Oreo.  You can see I have a thing for ginger cats.  They have been great additions to the family.

Hobbs and Oreo - just adopted.
Two brothers from different mothers.
So anyway, why cats?  I think you can see why.  For me, I want to create art that I feel passionate about, and I have a strong connection to animals.  So this is my starting point.  I know after a while, my imagery will change, but I will always come back to the cat.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

What is a Linocut Print?

I have been trying to figure out an easy explanation for the process of linocut printing.  This is what I have come up with for you.

Tools for printing - gouge, ink rollers, carving block, ink.
Lino printing is a form of fine art printmaking where traditionally, the printing plate is a piece of linoleum. Yes, lino as in linoleum, as in floor covering.  More recently, there are other rubbery surfaces being used instead of linoleum.  I use a block called Speedy Carve by Speedball which looks like a large pink eraser.  It is easier to carve than linoleum because it is softer.  It's flexible, durable, and will not crack, crumble, or break.  So it has certain advantages to traditional linoleum.

Transferring the image and beginning carving.

Ink rolled out on block and first print pulled.
Once your design is worked out, it is transferred to your block.  The design is then cut into your sheet of linoleum with a sharp knife or gouge.  The parts of the linoleum that are cut away create recesses, and the parts of the linoleum that are uncarved are raised.  These raised surfaces are then inked with a roller, and paper or fabric is pressed onto the block, transferring the design.  This process can be hand done or with a press.
Multiple prints and the tools.
From one carved block, a number of prints can be printed.  This can be any number from the first, to an unlimited amount.  All the prints printed from the same block are called an edition.  The artist decides how large the edition will be.  Sometimes how large an edition will be is determined by how well the block holds up. 

When a print is signed, traditionally it is done in pencil, under the image.  Limited editions are considered more valuable than open, or unlimited editions, just because there are only a limited amount of that print image.  If it is a limited edition, in the left corner will be two numbers, the first number is the print number and the second number will tell you how large the edition is (e.g., "10/30" for the 10th print in an edition of 30). 

Care for your print, as with all works of art on paper, should always be used.  Keep your artwork out of direct sunlight and away from incandescent light, to keep your print from fading.  And a moisture free environment is recommended, so that the paper does not get water damage from moisture that can collect under the glass in a frame.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Jim Carrey - I Needed Color

Jim Carrey: I Needed Color from SGG on Vimeo.

"Your vocation chooses you."  Jim Carrey

I like that idea.

This is a wonderful video of Jim Carrey, and his creative process.  I find it inspiring.  I hope you do too. 


"Enlightened" © MaryAnnTestagrossa
"Enlightened."  My second cat print in my series.  This one has special significance.  It was inspired by my beloved cat who passed away, Motor.  A very special boy, indeed.  

The idea behind the print, "Enlightened,"  is that when we all pass, we have a larger perspective on life, and what our own personal journeys are all about.  We become enlightened.  And so this print, is a tribute to my Motor, but also to all cats who are waiting for us at the ***Rainbow Bridge. 

This is the carved block.  There are many different types of block to choose from.  This is Speedy Carve by Speedball.  It is very soft and easy to cut.  Highly recommend, especially for beginners.  

This is the carved block, cut and separated for inking two colors.

Finished prints and tools of the trade.


More samples of finished prints, and the tools used.

***The Rainbow Bridge  ( inspired by a Norse legend)
By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill,
Is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.
Where the friends of man and woman do run,
When their time on earth is over and done.
For here, between this world and the next,
Is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.
On this golden land, they wait and they play,
Till the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.
No more do they suffer, in pain or in sadness,
For here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.
Their limbs are restored, their health renewed,
Their bodies have healed, with strength imbued.
They romp through the grass, without even a care,
Until one day they start, and sniff at the air.
All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,
Then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack.
For just at that instant, their eyes have met;
     Together again, both person and pet.
So they run to each other, these friends from long past,
The time of their parting is over at last.
The sadness they felt while they were apart,
Has turned into joy once more in each heart.
They embrace with a love that will last forever,
And then, side-by-side, they cross over… together.
 Author Unknown


"Curiosity" Original Lino Cut Print ©MaryAnnTestagrossa
When I decided I wanted to explore lino cut printing again, and in more depth than I had in the past, I knew that I wanted to start with a series of small images first.  And since I am an animal lover with three cats and a dog, I knew it was going to be cats.  "Curiosity" is the first print in my series of twelve cat prints.  They are all 8"x8"prints, with the actual image being 6"x6."

I tend to take a lot of photos so I can share different parts of the process of making my prints.  This photo shows the block carved into three pieces.  This is for the three different colors of the print.  Makes it easier to roll the separate colors onto the block and not overlap colors.


A few finished prints, and the tools of the trade.


A few more finished prints.