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Joy spotted a sign for an etching workshop here in Oaxaca (grabado en metal, in Spanish): three days, five hours a day, various techniques. Investigation confirmed that the artist, Marco Velasco, would gladly teach a ten-year-old how to work with acid, something not all printmaking workshops here have been willing to do, so all three of us signed up.

The germ of this piece came to me seven years ago; it even inspired me to begin learning GNU Gimp (open-source Photoshop) because I envisioned it as a digital collage. But I didn’t learn how to make digital collages (yet), and the piece sat in my sketchbook and a corner of my mind. When I learned about the variety of marks one can make with etching, it emerged and said “make me a print!”

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Colony Collapse Disorder, etching, about 4″ x 8″, (c) Amy Zucker Morgenstern July 2017

 

It involved fun research. I did not know that the headache-medicine people, Bayer, own a company called Bayer CropScience, soon to acquire Monsanto. Nor that it is one of the biggest manufacturers of neonicotinoids, the pesticides that work by attacking insects’ neurological systems, and of course an ardent advocate of the claim that they have no significant effect on bees. Nor that Monsanto has decided to protect Bayer’s flank by producing a new kind of bee. (It’s the Roundup Ready corn of the insect world. Make poison, spread it on everything, and when you discover that it kills some species you like, instead of changing the poison or ceasing to spread it, alter the species.) Bayer’s logo even resembles the cross-hairs of a rifle, a pleasing bit of serendipity. I also did not anticipate that looking up images of the Gadsden flag, the one that says “Don’t Tread on Me,” would cause websites full of US flags and pugnacious political mottos to pop up in my ads, but of course it did.

I think the founding principles that united the American colonies left us particularly vulnerable to attacks like the one on the bees (and our food sources, and the entire web of plant and animal life), but these ideas are still too abstract for art; I don’t have the image yet to express what I think is threatening to cause the collapse of the human colonies. Maybe there will be future works in a series.

I know for certain that I want to do more etching. I loved the techniques. You can scratch into the varnish that will resist the acid, or use a different kind of varnish and draw right onto it (the smudges in the lower left come from my leaning on the plate as I did that, a mistake), or scratch into the plate itself. And make areas of darker and lighter tone by how long you leave the plate in the acid, and by gently sanding the plate’s surface. Unlike relief techniques like linocut, where you think in negative (what you want to be dark, you leave behind as you carve), the marks you make on an etching plate will be dark. This makes it possible to transfer images to the plate in my own drawing style. The three days involved painting, drawing, scratching, sanding–I enjoyed every minute.

A benefit of being in Mexico is that I don’t have my smartphone. My service wasn’t easily transferable to Mexico, and rather than sign up for something that would deliver data here, I just got a pay-as-you-go cheap phone with Telcel, a Mexican company. It lets me text and call, which is all I need, and frees me to look around and be more present. My smartphone is waiting out the six months in a drawer, but I recognize myself in the people all around who are doing this:

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The only reason I’m not doing the same thing is that my phone doesn’t work.

I made the above piece under time pressure. I had to draw something for a lesson in silkscreening, since the project I had in mind didn’t fit the criteria of simple lines and three colors. So I drew what I’d been noticing, wincing a little at the preachiness of it. Silkscreening turned out to be fun and frustrating; of 30 prints, I didn’t get a single one that was in register (colors lined up properly) and lacked smudges and had a clear print of all three colors. Just the same, there is something very satisfying about lifting up the screen to see what the squeegee has accomplished.

Most of all I am glad I made this piece because it lodged a reproof firmly in my mind: the preachiness hit the mark it ought to, myself. When, last month, the munchkin and I spent a week in Maryland and Pennsylvania and I reactivated my phone, I remembered this just-finished print and managed to use the phone mostly for its important purposes–calling and GPS–and stay off it the rest of the time. But oh, the lure of Facebook! So much of what I’m seeking there is simply “We see you,” as Marc Maron says, in a statement illustrated devastatingly by Gavin Aung Than on Zen Pencils. It is a supremely ironic reason to ignore my friends and family. But the data access and other tools are very useful, so I’ll have to find a good site blocker when I’m back, to use them without giving in to addiction. And maybe I’ll post this print where I can see it often.

I haven’t been posting most of the art I’ve been making, so over the next few days I’m going to post a piece per day.

This is a linoprint, about 4 x 4 inches. I was in the studio we all go to together most weeks, Ishuakara (I finally found out the origin of the name; it means “rebirth” in the owner’s native Zapoteco), with extra time on my hands, and no particular idea for a print. Armando had a field guide to shells on his bookshelves, and since my daughter loves cowrie shells,  I started in that section and zeroed in on this one, a measled cowrie. I’m going to frame one of the prints for a Christmas or Hanukah present for her (shhh).

It’s the second linoprint I’ve made. His methods are a bit different than those at Burro Press down the street. For example, rather than using a press, each was printed by hand, with the pressure applied with the back of a spoon. Nice to learn these different ways to do things.

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Last Saturday we went to a workshop on barro negro (black clay) with an artist from San Bartolo de Coyotepec. Incredibly, the method is pure pinch pot: building it up with one’s hands, without coils (for the most part), slabs, or pottery wheel. I really liked the vase I made, but the bottom is much too thick and has developed cracks that would break it right apart in the firing. So I am going to dissolve it back into clay and start over–now that I’ve documented what it looks like.

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Then, yesterday, we went to Burro Press and got a lesson in linocuts, called suelografía in Spanish, to my amusement–suelo means floor. Here’s the first proof of my first linocut, and the placa (what’s it called in English? plate?) below.

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There are two changes I’ll make now that I can see how it’s come out, and one change I wish I could make but can’t. I will make the sky and the area around the door more purely white, and I wish I could change the cross-hatching on the left-hand building (left-hand in the print, that is, not the plate). I wanted it to look lighter in color than the building to its right, but I think it is too busy. If I had it to do over again, I would use the same technique of vertical white lines, but make them denser.

And I will have it to do over again, because I’m taking a class in woodcut and linocut at the Casa de la Cultura Oaxaqueña starting in two weeks. (I won’t really re-do this piece, though. I have other plans.)

Joy & Munchkin made beautiful pieces in both media, and we’ll be picking up their fired barro negro later today.

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