Monthly Archives: October 2020

Timeout for Art: Intaglio


“In printmaking. intaglio refers to all metal-plate processes, such as “engraving” and “etching,” in which the recessed areas which have been created and then inked are printed from (as opposed to the raised areas of relief printing…).”

Got that? Yeah, I know. Printmaking in all forms is one of the most complicated, confusing and difficult-to-explain of all art processes. There are so many different printmaking techniques! Screen-printing creates images based on a stencil, or a series of stencils. Woodcut, linocut and similar processes print the raised surfaces of the plate, so the areas that are cut away will remain white. It’s necessary, then, to think of the plate like a photographic negative.

Lithography is a process that allows images to be replicated perfectly. A drawing, done originally on a stone or special plate, will print lines, stippling, shading, even erasure marks. It depends on waxy inks and crayons that repel water, and – if this discussion were about the lithographic process – I could attempt to explain it in better detail. Since my topic is intaglio, I’ll just leave it here: lithography is complicated.

There are, of course, many printmaking methods that use non-manual means of duplication, from mass produced copies of paintings to photographs and computer-generated images. They live in a new, gray area: some are considered art, though they are not; some are limited-edition (often signed and numbered) copies of art that are often confused with traditional prints; still others are a brand-new, often misunderstood form of art. Printmakers who work in traditional, time-consuming, hands-on methods often struggle to differentiate their work from machine generated images.

On top of all that, there’s the idea that, in most printmaking processes, the original is not the actual work of art, but only the means to create the artwork. In many instances, including the intaglio process, the image created will be reversed when printed. Today, my goal is to simply make sense of the intaglio process.

Traditionally, an intaglio print is made based on an image created on a metal plate. The simplest engraving process employs tools to carve lines into a copper or zinc plate to create the desired image. Etching is a broader term that includes engraving, but also often refers to lines that are etched into the plate by acid. In that method, the entire plate is covered with a “ground” that the solvent can’t permeate. Lines are drawn through the ground, revealing the surface. The plate is put into an acid solution that etches the exposed areas, creating linear channels in the surface of the plate.

These are the most basic descriptions of the process. There are variations that involve special boxes and air-born grounds to create areas of texture that result in rich, velvet blacks. There are “soft grounds,” that will allow the plate’s surface to pick up delicate patterns of fabric or lace. There are “rockers” that cover the entire plate with texture, that is then painstakingly smoothed out, in areas, to create the desired image. Whether simple or complex, the premise is the same: the textures, cracks and crevices are the areas that hold the ink, and release it onto the paper.

To print, ink is spread over the plate, scraped into all of the textures and crevices, then wiped away from the surface with a series of heavily starched cloths called “tarlatan.” Properly done, and depending on the size of the plate and complexity of the image, this can take an hour or more. The ink remains only in the textures and engraved lines. When dampened paper is placed on the surface, and it is run through the printing press, the paper picks up the ink and results in an image.

To create a second print, the inking, wiping and running-through-the-press process has to be repeated. A good zinc plate can produce a thousand or more identical images…but every single image requires the same inking and wiping process. This hands-on method is certainly far removed from the processes that print hundreds of copies at the press of a button!

Fall, Fox Lake Road


It starts with a show of white: Queen Anne’s Lace along the side of the road, and the ramp flowers in the woods. Dandelion flowers turn to wishes, and milkweed pods burst open to reveal glowing silky streamers. White birch bark stands out against the dulling greens around them.

Next comes brown. Dark stalks of poppies rise above the dry, withered and paler leaves, all that is left of what was a magnificent bed of flowers in June. Ferns dulled to umber cover large areas between the trees. Tall grasses range from shades of tan to deepest rust.

The bright colors begin showing themselves, stingily at first. One red leaf will drop into the road. A gift, or an omen? A single branch of an entire green tree will turn yellow overnight. Leaves of the beech, growing up as scrub brush from the roots of fallen trees, start showing their russet tones early.

Then, abruptly it seems, the woods have turned golden. This is it! “This is the fall color at its best,” I think, as I snap a dozen photos. The next day, it’s even better. The day after that, even more beautiful.

As some colors deepen, the yellows glow even brighter. A hundred shades of orange and red provide contrast to the golden hues.

Fall winds whistle through the night; cold rains pour down. “That will be it for our fall color,” I think, but the view is only better for the onslaught. The ground is covered, then, with a crackling carpet of autumn shades.

The trees seem even more vibrant, now that light can shine through the remaining leaves. The bark, darkened to nearly black by the wet weather, provides a nice foil for all the varied colors.

This is fall, on the Fox lake Road.

Timeout for Art: Hatching Lines


Hatching lines are lines drawn close together to create areas of shadow in a drawing. They are especially necessary when the drawing medium is hard pencil, marker or ink, where smudging to create shadows and variations in tone is not possible. The process of creating depth and shadow in this way is also called “cross-hatching.”

Hatching lines are usually diagonal to the picture plane and can be sets of parallel lines all going in one direction or sets of lines in opposite directions, laid on top of each other. Curved lines, particularly if they follow the shape of the object being rendered, can be useful in describing mass.

My Favorite Day


Sundays have lately become my favorite day of the week. I don’t work on Sundays, and since I also have Monday and Tuesday off, there is no urgency to get things done. I have plans, of course, but I approach them slowly. The most important thing on my Sunday agenda is relaxation.

I don’t set the alarm for Sunday. My morning routine stays intact, but it begins when I wake up naturally. I take my time with it, too. Journal-writing can get a little more expansive on a Sunday morning; I put additional time and effort into my drawings. I may spend a few extra minutes in meditation practice, or increase the time spent exercising.

When I open my book to study, I don’t have to watch the clock. On a work day, I may only get through two or three pages, reading and taking notes. Sunday mornings, I can finish a chapter, or complete a topic. I can continue until I’m tired of it.

On days when I have to be at work by eight o’clock, the dogs don’t usually get a morning walk. They often sleep in, and wake up slowly. One by one, they go outside, and come back in. I take all three of them out for a quick turn around the yard before I leave for the day. Most of their exercise happens after I get home in the afternoon. Sunday mornings, though, we set out early.

I bring my little tablet to take pictures, and to listen to whatever book I currently have downloaded. Right now, that is Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty. Often, the book I’m studying, the one I’m listening to on Audible, and the one on my nightstand for reading before bed are widely disparate. At this time, they are all quite similar in topic and energy. In the morning, I’m taking notes and doing exercises from Meditation & Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe. Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte is what I turn to before I switch off the light at night.

When we’re back from our walk, the dogs are ready for a nap; I’m ready to turn on the news. Because the programs I like are available on my computer, I’m not tied to their programming schedule. I enjoy CBS Sunday Morning. It’s the news, but more inclusive of personal interest, arts and entertainment as well as the usual headlines. Then I watch Face the Nation, which gives me an in-depth look at the current happenings.

After that, I plot out my day. My blog had moved to Friday, when that was my only day off. Now, I think, it’s better planned for Sunday, when I have the whole day to fit it in. In addition to that, I have a few choices. The weather is cool, but the sun is shining; I could start the mower and finish giving the yard one last good trim. The raspberries need to be pruned before winter, and I’d like to transplant the roses this fall.

I brought movies home from the library yesterday, to entertain me while I worked in the studio. That’s another good possibility; there’s plenty to do there. I also picked up a book review, and haven’t read it yet. I got a new catalog in the mail yesterday, and a magazine the day before that. No need to rush to any decisions. I have this entire wonderful Sunday ahead!

Timeout for Art: Graphite


Graphite, of course, is what we think of when we think of pencil drawing. The raw material is actually a crystalline form of carbon, and is compressed with fine clay to make the “lead” in pencils. Graphite has long been used for writing and drawing, and is in common use for all types of sketching.

That hasn’t always been the case. Many beautiful old drawings, by artists like Titian, da Vinci and Michelangelo, appear to have red or sepia-toned lines. These were done as preliminary sketches for paintings or sculpture, at a time when drawing was not considered an art form for its own sake. The drawing tool was a soft silver or copper wire, and the image revealed itself only as the material oxidized, causing the reddish hue.

According to John D. Barrow, “the modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte, a scientist serving in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. The magic material that was so appropriate for the purpose was the form of pure carbon that we call graphite. It was first discovered in Europe, in Bavaria at the start of the fifteenth century; although the Aztecs had used it as a marker several hundred years earlier. Initially it was believed to be a form of lead and was called ‘plumbago’ or black lead (hence the ‘plumbers’ who mend our lead water-carrying pipes), a misnomer that still echoes in our talk of pencil ‘leads’. It was called graphite only in 1789, using the Greek word ‘graphein’ meaning ‘to write’. Pencil is an older word, derived from the Latin ‘pencillus’, meaning ‘little tail’, to describe the small ink brushes used for writing in the Middle Ages.”

Pencils come in various degrees of hardness, and are chosen for their intended use. The range goes from 9H to 12B. H stands for hardness; B indicates blackness. The most commonly used pencil is the #2, found in classrooms around the world. The graphite is soft enough to flow smoothly from the pencil when forming letters or numbers; it can be erased without difficulty, with the proper tool. It is hard enough so it will not brush off, or easily smear across the page.

Harder pencils are chosen for technical drawing: architectural rendering, and medical and scientific illustrations. Left-handers sometimes choose harder leads, as they are less likely to smear.

Softer pencils are often selected for artist’s drawing, for their ability to convey many different tones without getting shiny, or embossing the page. The line a soft pencil makes can change from thin to thick quickly, based on a change in pressure. This can help to convey energy, or weight, or movement in a drawing.

Art History can cite drawings that go back 30,000 years, to the earliest images found in caves. Sketching has always been utilized for preliminary studies. It’s only within the last one hundred years that drawing has been widely recognized as an art form by itself. As it’s gained in popularity, the materials used to create drawing have expanded, too, to include various chalks, crayons, markers and charcoal. Of them all, the graphite pencil is still the most favored.

This Girl…


My niece, Tina, was born when my sister, Nita, was still in high school Nita’s friends would come over, and they’d all go upstairs to “play with the baby.” Tina had more ruffled dresses, frilly bonnets and darling pajamas than there were days in a month. Before she had time to grow from one size into the next, another entire wardrobe would show up, one outfit at a time, gifts from doting teen-aged girls. By the time she took her first steps, Tina had been the subject of hundreds of professional and amateur photographs.

In spite of the many high-school girls that adored her, several young aunts that dearly loved her, and her firm position as my mother’s favorite granddaughter, Tina was not a spoiled child. She had piercing, dark eyes and a toothy grin that gave her a look that combined thoughtful intelligence with clownish good humor. It suited her. She was a bright child, a fast learner, and an exceptional student. She never seemed to take herself, or the world, too seriously. She was quick to smile, and her giggle was contagious.

Because she was close in age to my daughter, Kate, they paired up as cousin-friends whenever the family gathered. Tina came to my house for birthday parties and overnight stays. As an adult, she often mentioned how kind I had been to her when she slept at my house, even though she wet the bed. Having been a bed-wetter myself until I was past eight years old, I always treated those occurrences like the accidents they were, no matter who the child was. Though I was glad she remembered that I was nice about it, I honestly have no memory of the incident.

Once, while drinking, my sister Nita was going on about how beautiful my daughters were. With Tina sitting beside her, I said, “Nita, all of us have beautiful children!” Nita waved her hand dismissively in her daughter’s direction, and said, “No, but your daughters…” I know what she meant: she was trying to give me a compliment about my girls; it wasn’t about all children, and it wasn’t about her daughter. Plus, she was tipsy.

Still, I saw Tina’s face fall. I wondered if I had ever inadvertently broken the hearts of my own daughters like that, without realizing it. Then, Tina waved her hand right back in her mother’s direction, shrugged her shoulders, and mouthed, “She’s drunk.” Then she grinned.

As the years went by, our family grew up and stretched out in all directions. The years – a distant memory – when we all got together for Sunday dinner gave way to years where many miles and many states separated us. We gathered, then, infrequently, and too often for funerals. Social media and occasional telephone calls helped us keep in touch.

In recent years, Tina had moved around the country, and then settled in Texas. She came back to Michigan for a visit when my Mom was ill, and then to stay when her own Mom was dying. Clearly, extensive alcohol and drug use had taken a toll. Even more evident was her rejection of any lifestyle other than the one she had chosen, or fallen into. She declined all offers of help.

Shortly after her mother’s funeral, Tina packed up her belongings and headed south, to New Orleans. From a distance, we watched her roller-coaster life from sporadic posts to social media. Photos often showed her with lidded eyes and a vague smile, dressed in one goofy costume after another. She got an apartment…but then the place was flooded during a hurricane. She sobered up, from time to time, but it was hard. And definitely “not fun.”

Tina sometimes put out vague requests for money, or complained that she got no help. Once, I sent her a private message, scolding her for saying she had no support, when she deliberately moved far away from people that loved her, and that could help her. “Sorry, Aunt Cindy,” she answered, “I didn’t mean to post that…still trying to figure out my phone.”

Often her posts were pleas for affection, and her aunts and cousins and friends would jump in to reassure her, “hang in there, Tina,” and “we love you!” Tina and Kate had long, rambling text-message conversations that would go on for days. “Wow, you got old,” Tina told her once, in response to Kate having to either go to work, or get some sleep.

Last weekend, while out walking, Tina was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. Suddenly, I live in a world without Tina in it. And even though she was far away, not a big presence in my life, and often aggravated me, this feels like a big loss. Maybe greater because she was so far away from all of my memories of her. Maybe because she died alone.

Tina, I hope you knew that your aunts and cousins and long-distance friends kept track of you as well as we could, that we missed you, and worried about you, and cheered your progress. I hope you knew that you were beautiful. I hope you always felt loved. Good-bye, sweet girl.