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Channeling obsessive/compulsive into art…I’ve finally admitted to myself I’m a LITTLE obsessive. I love the details and that’s okay. For thirty years I worked as a secretary/bookkeeper. Now I’m a full-time printmaker and painter, and still obsessed with recording all the information.
Whether it’s the subtle colors and individual parts of flowers, the bug-eaten decay of fall leaves, the complex symmetry of butterflies or the intimate views of our landscape—I want to capture all of it. By embracing the details and frequently the imperfections of nature, my work offers a unique, creative perspective. I primarily focus on the region where I live in the Emert’s Cove area of Pittman Center, Tennessee—just on the edge of the Greenbrier entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My studio is full of treasures collected from the forest and river near my home. Lichens, nutshells, rocks, seeds, mossy sticks, and flowers—these treasures go into the gestation of my paintings and etchings. The variety and intensity of color in a dying leaf or the graceful line of a stem, the personality of a dancing blossom—these are nature’s gifts that are all worthy of recording. I work primarily in copperplate etching and watercolor, but I also do mixed media work in mordant gilding of gold and/or silver leaf and India ink. While growing up in Knoxville I spent an enormous amount of time with my grandparents, who were prolific gardeners. My grandmother, Lois, taught me to plant and love flowers. One of my first memories is lying in the spring grass with my face buried in the fresh blossoms of the daffodils—the intense yellows and greens, the scent, the details are all burned into my mind. This was the inspiration for my etching “Daffodil Dream”. My grandfather, Will, taught me to care for the fruits and berries of the orchard. The peaches with their fuzzy skin and incredible pink-golden hues, the bark with its texture and sap—I cherish these memories. They taught me to appreciate all aspects of nature, and I try to convey this in my artwork. My work focuses on the details –my personal preference for the tiny and the subtle.
Copperplate etching is an intaglio printmaking technique. A copper plate is incised by a corrosive solution, which bites into the copper creating the lines and textures that hold the ink. The botanical engravings and etchings from previous centuries are especially appealing to me and have had a strong influence on my work. After painting watercolor botanicals for many years, I decided to transfer this knowledge and ability into the printmaking medium. Seeing the etchings of Mary Quinnan Whittle, another member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, inspired me to seek her out and take my first etching class in 2008. Copperplate etching is a challenging medium—not for those who are afraid to get a little dirty or put some muscle into the day’s work. Etching is a fascinating medium begun in the 1400’s and practiced my some of the finest artists in history. Dürer and Rembrandt were especially talented etchers—of course, they were incredibly talented in a variety of other mediums too. These are artists whose work I admire and study. Many people are unfamiliar with what an etching is. I have written a detailed description below if you would like to understand more about how it’s done.
My work is produced by preparing the copper plate—beveling the edges, polishing and cleaning it before applying a hard ground. The hard ground is a mixture of bees wax, asphaltium and mineral spirits, which is painted on a warm copper plate to disperse the ground evenly. The plate is then allowed to completely cool and dry. My original, freehand, value study drawing is prepared on drafting trash (tracing paper) and then the basic contours of this drawing are transferred to the hard ground in reverse. The contours of the drawing are then “needled” into the hard ground, which is the use of any sharp tool to remove the waxy ground thus exposing the copper in very thin, delicate lines. After the entire drawing is needled, the plate is ready to be lowered into the etching solution. The solution is a mixture of ferric chloride, water and citric acid. This mixture is a corrosive solution, which eats into the copper creating a crevice capable of holding ink. Now I hold my breath and make all the appropriate gesticulations of honor to the etching gods. At this point I remove the hard ground from the plate to reveal the contour lines that have been etched into the plate and run a test print. After the lines are etched to my satisfaction, I usually continue the etching process by adding an aquatint to produce tonal values. This involves applying a thin layer of enamel spray paint and either utilizing a technique known as “spit bite” to etch various degrees of tone to selected areas by controlling where and how long the corrosive solution is applied to those areas. Or the aquatint is produced by lowering the plate into the solution again for a series of shorter periods of time. Again the plate is cleaned and a test plate is run. Any necessary adjustments or additional tonal etching is done to achieve the final etched plate. Once the final test print has been run, I’m ready to begin running the series of prints. I limit my series to 50 prints per plate to make them more precious and rare. I use oil-based ink, usually sepia or black on buff color, archival, 100% cotton rag paper. Many of my etchings are tinted with watercolors after the ink is completely dry. To complete my artwork I have the work framed in a dark wooden moulding, which has a subtle gold-crackled under-layer. I believe this particular moulding has a classic Renaissance look, which compliments the traditional style of my etchings. All the materials used in the framing process are archival with UV Conservation Clear glass. I strongly believe a fine piece of art deserves a high quality framing presentation. Due to the involved chemical nature of the etching process, the bulk of the etching work is done in my home studio—affectionately known as “the lab”.
I also do watercolor botanicals on true vellum (calfskin), which is a traditional surface for illuminated manuscripts. You may see a listing of my awards and exhibits on my personal website. Several of the Southern Highland Craft Guild shops carry my etchings and note cards, at the Folk Art Center, on Tunnel Road and at Moses Cone Manor. They may be contacted via this Guild website. My artwork continues to be an evolution of creative ideas.