Tag Archives: Michigan State University

Timeout for Art: Etching Press (April A~Z Challenge)



My etching press is small by many standards. The press bed is less than half the size of the one I used in the Kresge Art Center at Michigan State University. The roller is much smaller in diameter, too, making its operation a muscle-building exercise. A good etching press can cost upwards of ten thousand dollars. Mine, when I purchased it more than twenty years ago, cost a little more than six hundred dollars; the heavy press blankets added another five hundred dollars to the bill. It is classified as “student grade,” suitable for use by the individual print-maker. It is perfect for me!

That’s what I am, an individual – and occasional, I might add – print-maker. I don’t teach print-making, so don’t have students and inexperienced users pushing the press to its limits. I rarely use the press for metal etching plates, which can be harder on the roller, gears and felt blankets. It’s main use, in my studio, is for printing monoprints, using a thin plexiglas plate, and collagraphs.

My collagraph plates are usually created on binder board, a dense, smooth cardboard designed for book-binding. Sometimes I just use the cardboard backing from sketchbooks and bound tablets. I’ve learned to get a great deal of textural information from very little actual depth on the plate, so they can be run through the press without difficulty.

After nearly two years of disuse, the press and I are becoming reacquainted. I cleaned each of the felt blankets, and trimmed off the frayed edges. I cleaned the roller and gears of accumulated dust. I wiped down the press bed. Next, I checked and adjusted the tension. Finally, I was ready to try it out.

I had to remind myself of the process, too. Prints to be re-printed and papers for new work all had to be dampened (I use a spray bottle to generously spritz the surface) and layered between sheets of blotter paper. The whole stack, then, goes into a large plastic trash bag for several hours or overnight. I cut mat board into squares, to spread the thick ink over the plate. I cut card stock into squares, and folded each one, to use as holders to pick up and move the inked plate. I assembled inks, burnt plate oil, cheesecloth and starched tarlatan for wiping the plate, and latex gloves to protect my hands. Finally, I was ready to print!

As I worked, I continued to make adjustments: to the viscosity of the ink, the amount of wiping of the plates, and the tension on the press. I remembered, and learned, through my failures. The first long day was almost a total bust, and I left the studio exhausted and a little discouraged.

The second day, I gathered the knowledge I’d gleaned from the mistakes of the first day. I added less burnt plate oil, keeping the ink thicker; I kept a better eye on the surface of the plates, to be sure not to over wipe. I had finally gotten the adjustments to the press right. And I was rewarded, that day, with some good results!


two different versions of “Heart Murmurs”


three versions of “Fever Dream”


three versions of “Redshift”


and this pair: “Shelter” and “Secret Space”


Artifacts to Memories: This Pig



I found her among the ads in the back of a gardening magazine: a cast iron piggy bank. She is different than most piggy banks, with their cartoon-like, gender-less countenance and big fat bellies designed for holding many coins. This is a realistic depiction of a pig, reminiscent of a character in an E.B.White story, with full udder pronouncing her gender and an expression that reminds me of Rodin’s “Thinker.” A noble pig.

I placed my order, with the intention of giving the bank to my father-in-law, Jack, for Christmas. When it arrived, I was so enchanted with it, I couldn’t bring myself to give it away! Jack got homemade slippers for Christmas, and the story of the pig, which made him laugh out loud and tease me with mock offense that I had kept his gift. The pig became a treasured object in my home: useful for coin collecting, heavy enough to act as a bookend, a reminder of the pigs we’d raised as children, and a beacon of hope for the small farm I hoped to someday have. It was also the first of what turned out to be quite a collection of pigs.

The next pig was a wooden cutout, varnished to shine, with an inch of twine for a tail. Then I found a pair of silly pink pig salt and pepper shakers, and a little china sow attached by short lengths of fine chain to three little piglets. I purchased a small David Bigelow intaglio print of a pig strapped into a pair of broad wings, prepared to step off the edge of a cliff. “Moment of Truth” is the title. My husband bought me a larger print by the same artist, titled “Escape from the Cycle,” that has hundreds of pigs rising up out of the grid of plowed fields and pig pens.

By that time, I was officially a “collector of pigs.” That led to gifts of swine in every form, from buttons to pot holders to throw pillows. When I spent my winters in a tiny apartment on the campus of Michigan State University, the pigs dominated the small kitchen. Three dimensional versions marched and wallowed along the top of my bookshelf. Pig towels hung from the oven door, and pig pot holders sat in a basket near the stove. It eventually became just too much pork.

When I graduated, and cleared out that apartment to move back to my home on Beaver Island, I wrapped all the little statues and packed them into a sturdy box, labelled “PIGS.” It sat in my attic here for several years as I contemplated where to display them. Life here tends more toward natural treasures. My windowsills are laden with ever-changing displays of pine cones, driftwood, shells, beach stones, and the occasional bird’s nest.  No place for pigs. Finally, I went through the box, gave several pigs away and donated others to our re-sale shop. The rest, I brought back out for use or display.

I kept the two intaglio prints; the small one always hangs above my desk. I kept a small green tin with a pig painted on the sliding lid. I kept three little squeaky rubber pigs, that my grandchildren used to play with; my big dog likes to carry them around now. I kept the jump rope with carved and painted wooden pig handles, though I doubt I’ll be starting a jump rope routine…ever.

Of course, I held onto my original cast iron piggy bank. It still has a dignified appearance; it is a good place for stray coins and continues to work well as a bookend. It makes me want to re-read the essays of E.B.White. It reminds me of hopes and dreams I’ve grown out of or abandoned. When I think about it, I am transported to a long-ago Christmas, in a much different life. I can still here Jack’s laugh, and picture his expression of mock horror as he asked, “You kept my present??” For all of that, I keep the pig.



Timeout for Art: Just Art?


collagraph, Touch Point

In response to my request for ideas to fill these pages every day, one friend suggested that I just post a picture of a piece of art:

“Just the art. No description needed. Just something you did. That we can appreciate (because we will!). Let us see the art and add our thought/feeling that it provokes……”

Well bless her heart! That sounds wonderful! Not only would I not be needing to make art to talk about, I wouldn’t even need to talk…or write.

But is it cheating? Unfortunately, it feels kind of like cheating. If I commit to writing a blog a day…and then manage it, through hell and high water, for one hundred and forty-five days…I don’t want to take the chance that someone will pull out a rule book and tell me I failed because a blog means words or some such nonsense. So i will write, dammit, even if it’s foolish drivel like this.

Another friend suggested that I post a piece of art and talk about it:

“How about talking about one piece of art that you created per week and any memories surrounding that piece?”

Well, just to avoid the “foolish drivel” designation, let me give a little background.

This is a collagraph print. It is made using a collagraph plate that I created when I was a graduate student at Michigan State University. I was in a not-always-successful relationship; I had two teen-aged daughters; I had a killer schedule of work and classes; I was often desperately lonely for my home on the island. In the middle of a long winter, I got a card from my friend, Topper, on Beaver Island. He gave me all the “news” from home, most of it lies and invention, and it made me feel connected when I most needed it.

I made the collage from his card and letter: I cut the heart from the card stock; the envelope contributed the rectangle shapes; some worn out sandpaper scraps formed the wing-like bits on either side of the heart. Drops of glue march across the top border. It makes me think of a stage, with the curtains pulled back…and there is the heart, exposed, open, sharing.

I titled it “Touch Point.”

Cherry Lane


cherry lane2

Since all of the old “Family Housing” apartments on the Michigan State campus were demolished a few years ago, it’s hard to find pictures. If I were at home, and had time to look, I might be able to find a snapshot or two. As I am visiting a friend on the other side of the state today, this stock image will have to do.

It is a good photo as it shows what the apartments looked like from the street. Because they were tiny, strollers and bicycles were stored outside. Students from other countries often had large shipping containers beside their doors. Originally used to bring their belongings to the U.S., they later served as a mini-garage. We always wished we had one of those big boxes, for storing all of our excess!

The Cherry Lane complex – one of three family housing complexes on campus – had more than forty of these building, with 800 apartments. We lived in two of them, in the seven years we were at Michigan State. We started on the ground floor, at 814B. We were relocated after a couple years, due to ongoing renovations, two blocks over to 920E, a second floor apartment. They were identical except that the later unit had carpeting.

We were pretty proud of our little Cherry Lane apartment. We were close to campus, being on the campus side of Harrison Road. My classes were all within a mile from home. We loved the name. Cherry Lane sounded so much better than University Village or (dread!) Spartan Village. We loved the proximity to the grocery store, which was just a short walk across Harrison. That plaza also had a cute little soup and sandwich restaurant where my daughters and I would sometimes go to have gazpacho while doing our homework. We were less than a mile from the main street downtown. We soon learned the bus routes, which added the shopping malls and downtown Lansing to our excursions.

The apartments had one door, that entered into the living space. To the left, a small closet, and a shallow nook that held a desk and a narrow bookshelf. To the right, the living room came equipped with one or two office chairs and a sofa that folded open to a bed. The next third of the space was divided between a small kitchen with a dining area, and a bathroom. Two small bedrooms behind the kitchen finished the layout.

Though small, the apartments were efficient and comfortable. Our lives spread out to the places we worked and the things we did. The MSU Library and the DeWaters Art Center became like second homes to me. Jocundry’s Book Store downtown was a weekend haunt, and Beggar’s Banquet – with hand stitched tablecloths and a changing art display – was my favorite restaurant. We’d take the bus to the Frandor Triplex on Wednesday nights, when all seats were two dollars, to watch whichever movie sounded best. We made friends from all over the world.

Of all the places I’ve lived, for a million reasons, the Cherry Lane apartments were one of the best.

Moving On

Tulips and Beaumont Tower.

Tulips and Beaumont Tower.

After the end of winter and all of spring in North Branch, Michigan, my daughters and I went back to Beaver Island for the summer. They had friends to catch up with; I had a job waiting. We had a houseful of belongings, left hastily behind, to make some sense out of.

I paid my friend, Roy, for the time we’d stayed at his Erin Motel. I set up payments (or at least let them know there would be payments…sometime) or made  trades with all the people that had provided materials or labor, in getting our house to the state it was in. The electrician, who had expected my husband’s labor in exchange for his work, was offered a fairly new sofa, a color TV or to  be added to my  list for future payment. He chose the TV set. My cousin, Bob, for his assistance in building and roofing the house, had me draw a scene on a wall-sized mirror, and etch the picture into the glass. I had to learn how to sandblast, but one more person was paid.

One by one, I spoke to people that had given us lumber or insulation or shingles, in exchange for the promise of my husband’s help at a later date. Since I no longer had a husband, they had to deal with me. Some, I was able to pay out of the tips I earned tha summer. Others would have to wait. They all knew I cared, anyway.

At summer’s end, we moved to East Lansing, Michigan, to the Cherry Lane apartment complex on the campus of Michigan state University. There were three family housing complexes on campus: Spartan Village, University Village and Cherry Lane. They were spare, but had everything we needed. Everyone that lived there was either a student, a member of the faculty, or one of their family members.There was a huge library on campus, and many opportunities for cultural experiences from art to theater.

The campus itself was like a park. Walking trails led through well groomed lawns and gardens. Trees from all around the world were tagged with their origin and other information. There was always something blooming.

The entire town was geared toward college students. That was exciting to my pre-teen daughters. There were video game arcades and cute novelty shops, funky restaurants, and young people everywhere.

In the days before they started school – which was three weeks before my own courses began – we wandered the campus, learning our way around. We found the swimming pool, accessible for free, just by showing my student ID. We found the dorm building where free movies were shown. We gathered local newspapers to learn about the town.

Everything was new! These were exciting times for my little family. For the first time since my marriage ended, I started to imagine a future where we’d all be okay.