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Magical Secrets About Thinking Creatively: The Art of Etching and the Truth of Life [Hardcover]

Kathan Brown


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Book Description

31 May 2006
This inspirational guide to unlocking creative thinking draws on the author's experiences with sixteen prominent contemporary artists who have made prints at San Francisco's legendary Crown Point Press: Robert Bechtle, Sol Lewitt, Shahzia Sikander, John Cage, Tom Marioni, Pat Steir, Chuck Close, Dorothy Napangardi, Wayne Thiebaud, Richard Diebenkorn, Nathan Oliveira, Richard Tuttle, Peter Doig, Laura Owens, Fred Wilson, and Hans Haacke. Author and Crown Point Press's founder, Kathan Brown, presents thirteen 'magical secrets' - creative strategies exemplified by the different approaches to art-making taken by artists she has worked with. Sophisticated and yet straightforwardly explained, the magical secrets help the reader understand fundamental strategies such as how to creatively use the physicality of materials or how an artist may enter a mental state that encourages creative connections. Clear explanations of print-making processes and stunning reproductions help to illuminate the secrets. An accompanying DVD features Brown's popular 'Magical Secrets' lecture. At once authoritative and inspiring, "Magical Secrets" offers a deeper understanding of the creative impulses in us all.


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About the Author

Kathan Brown, a highly regarded printmaker and the founder of Crown Point Press, is the author of six books, including Ink, Paper, Metal Wood: Painters and Sculptors at Crown Point Press.

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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The art of life 27 May 2006
By Rachel Lyon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In a culture where art and life are often inextricable, Magical Secrets comes as the latest in a series of books, sites and magazines that keep them entwined. In the last few years, the number of magazines and websites devoted to art criticism, art projects and found art, has ballooned, a sign of rising enthusiasm about art among people from all walks of life. There is an abundance of new books, on one hand (the hand of cultural criticism), Michael Kimmelman's The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa, John Updike's Still Looking: Essays on American Art; on the other hand (the hand of pure pop culture) an insurgence of immensely successful novels based as much on art as on life: Girl with a Pearl Earring, Jonathan Harr's The Lost Painting, last but not least, The Da Vinci Code. And then there are plenty of examples of pop cultural criticism, such as Hal Niedzvieki's Hello, I'm Special: How Individuality Became the New Conformity, along with countless books and products on the market designed to help everyone from businessmen to babies to bus drivers embrace their own creative genius.

Magical Secrets, which is at once a book, a DVD, and a website ([...] is one of the smartest of these forays into exploring creativity. The book is formulaic without being predictable: Author Kathan Brown has organized it into thirteen chapters, one for each "magical secret," (my favorites are chapters five and six, "Don't Know What You Want" and "Know What You Don't Want," a very Zen-like juxtaposition). Magical Secrets manages to pack a lot in, from stories about artists to musings on the creative thought process. Yet Brown spends no more than a handful of pages on any one Secret, and addresses her reader clearly and concisely, not as an entertainer or an academic but as a confidant, pupil and friend. She guides her audience confidently on a path that leads inward, but still somehow ends up outside the self.

It is a feat in itself simply that Magical Secrets conveys a lot of information. Etching, one finds, is a centuries-old technique of incising an image into metal with acid. The artist begins by covering the surface of a copper plate with a hard, waxy ground. He cuts the image he wants into the ground with an etching needle or other sharp tool, then submerges the plate in acid. The acid bites into the grooves and crevices, the waxy ground is rubbed off, and the image is left engrained in the smooth surface of the plate. The resulting incisions are filled with ink, a piece of paper is placed on the plate, and the whole thing is run through the printing press. Scraping and burnishing the copper, rubbing the ink into the grooves, and pulling the plate through the press are highly physical, labor-intensive processes that involve a lot of painstaking, detailed work, yet the resulting lines an artist can get are often the most delicate you've ever seen, and the textures the most subtle. Though etching is appreciated by many art lovers, the number of master etchers in the United States might be comparable to the number of virtuoso organists or rare orchid cultivators. It is not the first thing most people think of when faced with something as huge as Life.

But etching has been Kathan Brown's life. Despite the beauty of etching, it was not taken seriously in the United States contemporary art market until Brown made it her mission to revive it. Since Crown Point Press's inception in 1962, artists from all over the world who work in different mediums--from San Francisco conceptual sculptor Tom Marioni to New York composer John Cage; from Australian Aboriginal artist Dorothy Napangardi to Pakistani-born miniature painter Shahzia Sikander--have been drawn there for a unique experience in art making. Magical Secrets about Thinking Creatively marks the forty-fourth year in Brown's highly energetic and passionate career.

The variety of art represented at Crown Point speaks to the depth of Brown's understanding of it; while her technique is narrow, her scope is broad, and that is what makes Magical Secrets a compelling read. Brown offers a broad understanding of the etching process, and ultimately steps back to examine creativity itself. "Many artists have told me that after working with etching they have a new awareness of what they are doing in their painting or sculpture," she writes in the preface. "You can share their awareness through this book, which is for artists and people who have - or would like to have - the spirit of an artist." Indeed, Brown's style makes it difficult not to share this awareness: like good art, her writing makes her subject seem both obvious and somehow profound.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The creative practise explained and illustrated 8 Jan 2009
By M. Stankewitz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you are looking for a detailed,technical manual on etching this book might not be the right choice even though the process is explained very well.

If you want to understand the principles of creativity in art,but not only in art, this is a great source no matter whether you be an artist and art lover or not.

Kathan Brown the founder of Crown Point Press,San Francisco explains 13 secrets that artist use to come to superior results in their field. These secrets are patterns of behaviour or strategies that she observed over decades working with such outstanding artists like Richard Diebenkorn,Wayne Thiebaud,Kiki Smith and others. Kathan Brown publishes the essence of her very long experience with numerous artist that worked at her studio. Each secret is featured in one chapter and each chapter is dedicated to one artist.

"Magical secrets" is an extraordinary book that has a singular position in the literature on art and creativity, because it is routed in lived experience with artists. I don't know of any other publication that offers such clear,precise and complete insight into the principles of creative work. Instead of lengthy,difficult theories Kathan Brown explains straight and in an entertaining way what are the driving forces behind artists actions.

Together with the book there comes a CD-rom with videos, a lecture by Kathan Brown and interesting interviews with the artists featured. The book is printed in excellent quality with numerous colored reproductions of artist works,rare photographs taken of artists in her studio and others.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical Secrets about Thinking Creatively Review 6 Oct 2008
By Dana Zullo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I read this book in one sitting, but have turned back to it frequently. The poignant and refreshing artist quotes and the lessons on creativity are inspirational and relevant. I scrawled down this quote by John Cage in my notebook, "As you continue, which you will do, the way to proceed will become apparent." I like its honest, composed approach to life's challenges. "Magical Secrets about Thinking Creatively: The Art of Etching and the Truth of Life," is quite a hefty title to chomp into. But then again isn't there that thing in all of us that is searching around, like a chicken scratching in the sand, for that thing we are meant to do? Maybe that Laura Owens chicken perched on a bow on the cover is really some mystical sage reincarnated, and contains the wisdom of the ages in one multi-colored feather. Or maybe it's just a fancy chicken. This book will not show you nirvana but it will expand your creative approach to work and life, and may inspire you to think and do things in unique ways. It will introduce you to intaglio printmaking and explain the processes with illustrations from contemporary artists like Peter Doig, Shahzia Sikander, Dorothy Napangardi, and Richard Tuttle. "Magical Secrets" is the introduction to a continuing series of 5 books on intaglio printmaking processes-- each successive book gives valuable, in-depth information on the techniques, tools, and processes. This book is broken down into 13 chapters, and each chapter highlights a "secret" or lesson on creativity drawn from the artists. They are ingredients for the reader to take and make into their own special recipe. The writing is straightforward and informative, yet casual. The author does not preach to the reader. Also, there is a helpful glossary of terms, detailed artist biographies, and a dvd of the author talking about the points she illustrates in the book. I would recommend this book to an art student, teacher, or individual who is looking to be more creative in their life or work. The design and layout is very appealing and the bright red backing with the chicken on the cover makes a great gift idea! I gave this book to my mom who is a life skills/general arts school teacher, and she used the idea of Tom Marioni's drypoint, "Flying with Friends" as a motivational class activity. Her students ran and jumped with paint brushes and they called it "Soaring with Friends." Check out the "Secrets" and see for yourself.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring Book 15 Feb 2010
By Bham - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book-it doesn't have a lot of overly excited motivational talk like some other books about creativity. Kathan Brown simply lists the "magical secrets" of the title, ones that she learned by observing artists doing work at Crown Point Press, her printmaking studio. She illustrates the "secrets" through describing how different artists express them in their working habits.

I learned more about printmaking, about how artists approach working in a new medium, (many had not done printmaking before coming to Crown Point Press), and most of all, I came away stimulated to try new things in my own work. A lovely book--highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical 7 Nov 2009
By James - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The "Magical Secrets" trilogy is a must have for printmakers. The series includes thinking creatively, etching & engraving and aquatint. When I showed these books to my printmaking instructor and fellow students, they went positively "ape". The janitor asked us if we were trying to revive a dead art. "No", I replied, "Kathan Brown's Crown Point Press has already done this." Included are wonderful reproductions of contemporary printmaker's works which illustrate the technical possibilities of the medium. These three books are the best current sources on the market.
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