Image of Maren Oates My name is Maren (pronounced Mair-en) and I’m a self-taught artist from the NW corner of the United States. My work usually combines printmaking, stitching, and collage, but my primary art form is gel plate printmaking. I love rolling acrylic paint on the plate, finding a texture to alter the smooth wet surface, then finally pressing, and lifting the paper off to see the result. Even after thousands of pulls, with gel printing I still get surprised.

And this is what has long confused me about my love of gel printing. I have had control issues all my life. I like to have a plan. I would never be called spontaneous. And generally, I don’t like surprises. Why would I gravitate to this often messy, unpredictable, and non-traditional form of monoprinting?

I’m still not sure I have a clear answer, but I think it has to do with balance. We’re all trying to balance lots of “things”. Personal commitments versus professional obligations. Things we want to do versus things we need to go. Becoming a mother made me think a lot about balance in my own life.

Having a child is powerful and all-consuming, turning everything in your life upside down as you adjust to having a new bundle of joy. There has been plenty of joy and happiness with the addition of children to my home, but also plenty of stress, disappointment, and frustration.

Being an artist allows me to process the conflicting emotions that come from motherhood through my work. Much of my printmaking involves base layers of colorful textures, balanced against bold shapes. These shapes are often placed to feel like a tug of war between symmetry and asymmetry or like rocks stacked on top of each other in a way that feels unsustainable. Perhaps these gravity defying arrangements feel a bit like balancing the different roles in my life. And people, unlike rocks, don’t have an obvious tipping point.

I’ve also come to realize that gel plate printmaking is the art form I need to balance out the control issues that are an enduring struggle. I will always try to control the plate as much as possible. But the jiggly surface of a gel plate is going to push back and remind me that it can’t be perfect, it won’t be perfect, and sometimes you must let it go. I think that’s good for me. Deep down I know some messiness and lack of complete control is good for the end result, in art and in life.

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Balanced Perspective, Acrylic monotype