Thursday, July 31, 2014


Dinner on the wing

I had promised you hummingbird pictures this summer, but I've discovered that ruby-throated hummingbirds, or at least the ones at my father-in-law's place, are very camera shy. The female hummingbird seems a little less concerned about my presence than the male, so I managed to get a few decent photos of her from a respectful distance. The male, however, is very nervous and will even scold me if I'm on the far end of his flightpath to the feeder. I only managed to get this one blurry shot of him through the kitchen window, but at least his gorget was brilliant. 

All that sugar makes for a very high-strung bird

There seems to be just one male and one female hummingbird here. There could be other individuals that I'm not able to differentiate from each other, but since I've never seen any battles between two males or two females, I'm guessing there's just one of each. If the male catches the female at the feeder, he will chase her away. I find this interesting because where we live, rufous hummingbird females will chase away the males. Male and female hummingbirds will only associate with each other to mate, otherwise they are very antagonistic towards each other.

Pen & ink drawing of some hummingbird nestlings

I found this old pen & ink drawing I did years ago of some nestling hummingbirds. Unfortunately I can't remember what species they were. My cousins had a cabin in northern Idaho and a hummingbird built a nest and raised two babies right outside their window. We were lucky enough to visit just a few days before the babies fledged. The tiny delicate nest made of lichens, moss, and spider webs was a marvel of engineering.

I'm being lazy today and not including a quote with this post. I hope you'll forgive me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Adventures in Intaglio Printmaking

"I don't like to say I have given my life to art. I prefer to say art has given me my life."
                                                                                                                  ~ Frank Stella

Finished print on drying rack

One of the classes I'm taking this summer is a printmaking class. Printmaking has always fascinated me, but I've only had the chance to dabble in linoleum block printing and that was a few years ago, so I jumped at the opportunity to explore printmaking more.

Currently we are making intaglio (pronounced in-tahl-yo) prints, an Italian word for etchings or engravings which in its essence means "to cut into". In a nutshell, an image is cut into a copper or zinc plate, ink is applied and then cleaned off, leaving a residue in the cut areas. When damp paper is placed on top of the plate and forced into these cut areas by the pressure of the printing press, the ink transfers onto the paper and creates a print of the image. If a plate is cut into by hand, the process is known as engraving. If the plate is cut into by acid, the process is known as etching. In my class, we're using acid! 

Here's the etching printmaking process, step-by-step. You may recognize the image I'm etching from a shell drawing in a previous post.

Ready to begin the etching process!
A jig is made to keep the plate from moving when I transfer the drawing onto it.

Rolling on the acid resist.
 The whole plate is covered in asphaltum; an acid-resistant substance made from tar.

A printmaking sandwich.
The asphaltum-covered plate is returned to the jig, a piece of plain newsprint is placed over the plate and the drawing is traced on top of that.

The first reveal.
The pressure of tracing the drawing transfers the asphaltum onto the newsprint, which gives you a rough idea of what the final print may look like. Wherever there is asphaltum on the plate, the acid can't reach the zinc and that part of the print will remain blank. Where the asphaltum is removed, the acid will eat away at the plate, creating an area where ink will collect. You have to be careful when handling the plate because it's very easy to accidentally touch the asphaltum and end up with a fingerprint etched into your plate!

The acid bath is in an enclosed booth with ventilation and glass shields.
I donned safety goggles, long thick protective gloves, and a big protective apron before heading to the acid bath. My plate luxuriated in the acid bath for about 6 or 7 minutes. Once the plate comes out of the acid bath, it is important to wash off any acid residue so you don't accidentally get any on yourself.

The post-bath plate
It doesn't look like anything has happened to the plate at this stage...

The squeaky-clean plate
...but when the asphaltum is cleaned off, you can see where the acid ate into the exposed parts of the plate, leaving an etched image.

Inked and ready
 Ink is applied all over the plate and then wiped off, only leaving ink in the etched lines.

The amount of pressure this press can generate is mind-boggling
The plate is placed image-side up on a printing press, damp paper is placed over the plate, and big thick felt and wool "blankets" are placed on top to protect both the plate and the roller when the whole thing is run through the press.

The big reveal!
The final step is the "reveal" - the moment you get to see what all that work produced! There's a buzz of excitement in my class every time someone pulls their print off the plate because you really don't know exactly what it's going to look like. My first print was a little too stark, so when I inked the plate the second time, I didn't clean it off quite so thoroughly and got a nice faint tone in the background. If I wanted to, I could also reapply asphaltum to the plate and add more details, run it through the acid bath and try printing it again.

I'm really enjoying intaglio printmaking, but obviously this is not something I'd do in my home studio. Somehow I don't think our landlord would be too keen on the whole acid bath thing.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Paintings and Drawings

"Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice reduces the imperfection."
                                                                                      ~ Toba Beta

Chambered nautilus study in colored pencil

My father-in-law's shell collection continues to inspire me. My enthusiasm has caught on and now he is searching the house for long-forgotten boxes of shells to give me. He found one box the other day that included a magnificent chambered nautilus shell.

The nautilus is a cephalopod like an octopus or a squid, however its tentacles do not have suckers. It is also the only cephalopod with a protective outer shell. It has changed very little over the millions of years that it has existed, so it is considered a "living fossil".

My nautilus shell model, I fear, was store-bought. To stem the decline in nautilus populations, some countries have banned the commercial trade of nautilus shells, but others have not. I will try my best to make lots of beautiful art with this shell, as I would never buy one myself.

Plate of Shells - 6 x 6 acrylic on canvas panel

Here's a little painting I did of an assortment of shells. The plate wasn't perfectly flat in the middle, so the shells sometimes rattled and shifted positions when I would walk around near the little table I had them perched on. The painting was really finished 2 hours before I put down the paintbrush, but I kept fussing with it and of course ended up overworking it. Oh well.

After 5 weeks of class, my first figure painting in oil is done.

I finished my figure painting in class at PAFA. We'll start another painting with a new model this week. I'm excited to try a new painting, but this week also marks the half-way point of our summer adventures. Nooooooooo! How can it be halfway over already!? I haven't even gotten my fill of East Coast pizza yet - and believe me, I've been trying!