Meet the first artist to ever print with clay

Fifty years ago artist Mitch Lyons became the first artist to print with clay.

Mitch Lyons studied both ceramics and print making in college. After graduation he came up with the idea to marry the two and in the process became the first artist to print with clay.

Mitch calls his work ‘Clay Monoprints’ – mono means ‘one’ and in printmaking you normally get only one print off of a plate or etching. If the artist decides to make another print, that print is called a ghost image because it is a very faint residual print.

With clay monoprints Mitch can get many prints, but due to the nature of the clay each one is different, sometimes radically so.

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“You can get more than one monoprint. Now I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but because its layers and layered with clay you don’t have to recharge it with ink,” Lyons said.

Since no two are actually the same, each one is still an individual work of art and each is unique.

Why work with the clay instead of paint? “I’m very fond of the clay because it has a surface that is very unlike ink, or paint, or acrylic, It has a very soft intimate quality,” Lyons explained.

He also makes traditional items with clay, and, for him, the process is the same whether making a print or a pot. “They’re the same techniques, they’re the same material, of course the clay pots are fired and the clay prints are not, but they are basically the same process.”

Mitch has kept the same slab of clay wet for over 35 years and pulls prints from it every day.

To “paint” with the clay, he starts with white clay, like porcelain, sticks it in a blender, then adds colors. He brushes the slips or ‘liquid clay’ on the slab, layer after layer, color after color.

When he is done creating whatever design he wishes on the slab he cuts a piece of canvas, wets it and the clay and uses a simple rolling pin and a spoon to press the canvas to the slab. That process pulls off a thin layer of clay.

It sounds extremely simple, and it is. It sounds like something a child could do, and Mitch would agree, “It’s a very childlike technique and I’m enjoying it.”

Regardless of the simplicity, many people can’t wrap their heads around what the finished product is.

“To me it’s a very unsophisticated technique that gives you very, vey sophisticated results,” Lyons said.

The finished print is more like a painting. The inclusion of the clay usually has most people thinking it is more like pottery and has to be fired in a kiln. Mitch has spent many years trying to market the process and art form and still has trouble getting people to understand it.

One story illustrates the lack of understanding people have of the technique.

Mitch was prepared to go to Greece to teach a class on the process. After weeks of e-mailing back and forth with the teacher there, he received a note that, since they did not have a kiln, the school would unfortunately not be able to host Mitch. What the teacher failed to understand was that the process of clay monoprinting doesn’t require one.

Those issues aside, Mitch still travels the world teaching and demonstrating the technique – selling DVD’s and even his new book.

“I am so blessed by having that freedom that I can play and be a child and make work that seems to be very well accepted,” Lyons said.

For now Mitch is content to create his work, “I have an affinity toward the clay and its the love of the material that I seem to gravitate toward.”

It’s that love that gets him up in the morning to spend a day in his studio creating; that and the freedom. “I like the freedom, and the freedom leads to the passion,” Lyons said.

Mitch feels blessed to be able to make a living doing what he loves.

“I’m having fun with it, I always thought that if you are going to do something for the rest of your life you better have fun with it,” Lyons said.

For more information on Mitch, his work, and where he may be teaching classes visit his website.

Mitch Lyons passed away March 5th at the age of 79. Our deepest condolences go out to the Lyons family. A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, April 28th, 2018, at the Delaware Contemporary, Wilmington, DE, from 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM. In lieu of flowers, and in keeping with something close to Mitch’s heart, an art scholarship will be set up in his honor and memory.

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