A Chicago Artist Looks To Nature For Her Inventive Monoprints


A white woman with white hair in a denim apron stands in front of blue cyanotypes.

Printmaker Beth Herman Adler’s first foray into her craft began with monotypes. Her more recent work focuses on cyanotypes (background), which is a 170-year-old photographic print process

The world must seem a little more wondrous through the eyes of printmaker Beth Herman Adler. It’s a natural side effect of creating her expressive monoprints and cyanotypes, where any object, however mundane, can be used to make something beautiful: think plant clippings, netting and even ordinary tools. Alongside more conventional equipment like her beloved printing press, her charming storefront studio in Evanston is filled with these little discoveries, which she uses to impart unusual patterns into her unique prints. “Shape is really something I look at in everything,” says Adler. “The beauty is there.”

A bucket filled with letter blocks.

“Shape is really something I look at in everything,” says Adler. “The beauty is there.”

Three monoprints hang on a wall above a small desk.

Three monoprints from the artist's “Inspired by Modernism” series.

A woman at work in a print studio.

Adler at work in her studio. An example of her monotypes, "Ochre Lotus," (left) hangs on the wall.

A multi-color monoprint in shades of black, blue, yellow and red.

“Far Out”, a monoprint with wood block on handmade paper, is from Adler's "Flow" series.

A blue cyanotype on paper.

“Swimming really put me in touch with these watery compositions,” Adler says of her cyanotypes.

Adler honed an acute sense of shape and color for years while working as a graphic designer for institutions like the Field Museum and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The experience only deepened her fascination with these elements when she transitioned to her full-time art practice. The move “brought me back to what I originally was drawn to in graphic design: the hands-on making of images,” she explains.

Her latest series focuses on cyanotypes, a light-sensitive printing technique similar to that used to make blueprints. When exposed to UV rays, the chemically treated paper turns a vivid Prussian blue. Adler was drawn to the process during an artist residency where she spent every day swimming in Lake Michigan. “Swimming really put me in touch with these watery compositions,” she muses. And then there were the logistics to consider. “I had no press in the residency,” she says. “So, I decided to use the sun.”

To make her cyanotypes, she lays out various objects onto treated handmade paper. For example, in her “Tools of the Trade” series, she gathers instruments of different professions to form sharp, graphic silhouettes. In contrast, her pieces highlighting local plant life feel like dreamy waterscapes, an effect she creates with a mix of oddities, including vinegar, soap bubbles, Saran Wrap and salt. She then places these pieces outside to process, taking advantage of the precious Illinois sunlight. Working with the elements often proves unpredictable, but Adler fully embraces the mercurial process, noting, “In many ways, it’s my dialogue with the sun.”

This speaks to her greater conversation with nature, and as seasons change, likely so will her work. She may move on to different techniques and materials, yet there’s nothing more satisfying for the artist. “I’m endlessly curious,” says Adler. “And there’s so much to still explore.”