Hello and Welcome Friends,

  February 2009
volume 8 number 2

February is always a month that flys by while seeming like it just got here. I suppose that in the middle of winter such a quality can be good thing. But for me, winter is a much appreciated time of the year. I love the snow, the ice, cold temperatures and the bite of the air. Frozen water is so full of colors to which I respond strongly. The aqua blue of glacier ice. The foamy green of fresh water in a mountain stream, frozen to the rocks and overflowed with the coldest, clearest water. I love the way the snow glows a pale blue after the sun has gone down and all detail is drained from everything that isn't snow or sky. I love the afterglow of pink along the horizon in the eastern sky as the sun sets in the west. I'm dazzled by the brilliant yellow of the raking morning light on the river ice as the sun streams up the Connecticut River from the south.

I could go on even though I know there are many who don't feel the same way about winter I do. Still, it is only in winter, in the far north when my favorite geophenomenon occurs; the aurora borealis. It comes and goes in enormous, shimmering curtains of softly tinted light. In winter the night sky is bright with stars, clear and dry. Somehow the universe seems closer to us in winter.

When the cold and short days start round again each autumn I find my most productive time of the year. This cycle has been going on for some years now. I find it cozy and comforting to work in the studio in winter. As well and as illustrated by the above paragraph, I am often inspired by winter. This month was no exception.

First, I'll start with my latest print. This is based on a house in Brattleboro on Oak Street. I went out one night in a blizzard with my camera, a tripod and a big plastic bag to protect the camera. It was very beautiful. The pictures came out well and I've used two of them as jumping off places for this first print and the following print.

Although the photographs were successful, they did not capture the falling snow due to the very slow shutter speed. In fact, if you were not told it was snowing when the pictures were taken, you would never know it. So part of my challenge in doing this nine color print is figuring out how to make it appear to be snowing. For each color printed snowflakes were carved in the surface. In the end there are eight different colors of snowflakes in the design.

    "Quiet Night" 9-color Linoleum Block Print 9" x 12"

The next print preceded "Quiet Night." This one is a scene that often plays out just down the street in a snowstorm. The Congregational Church is the oldest in town, built in 1842. It was picked up and moved from the town common to Main Street in 1864. The clock in the spire is a classic and continues to work well. We hear its bells sounding the hours throughout the seasons from our home.

    "Illumination" 7-color Linoleum Block Print 12" x 9"

I like both of these prints very much. I enjoyed the process of discovering progressive patterns in the carving that describe various things. I like the dark and rich colors of the inks. But mostly I like the lit architecture and the snow.

When you see these prints in person, they have some substance to them. They have a leathery feel from the many layers of ink on the thick paper. The oil-based ink has a slight sheen to it and feels like the vinyl seat covers of an old kitchen chair set. The inks have a deep and intense color to them.

Now I'll show you a small etching. This is, like all of my other etchings to date, is a drypoint. It is scratched into the surface of the plate with a hardened steel scribe and printed like an etching.

The print is inspired by the Van Doorn Building down the street from us, at the foot of Flat Street. Some years ago, a friend of mine, Rick Zamore, did a charcoal drawing of the building from this same vantage point. I always remembered it and this print is based in that memory and the many times I have looked at the building myself. The blueish ink I used is intended to emphasize the wintery feeling.

The building is the last pitched roof building remaining on Main Street and was built in 1851 as a home. In winter large, threatening icicles hang from the center of the roof, directly above the sidewalk. No fatalities to date, that I know of. But an excellent illustration of why there are no longer pitched roof buildings on Main Street.

At the peak of the roofline there are pidgeons sitting in a single file all the way across and gathered at the corners, catching what warmth there is from the sun on the slate roof shingles. Wantastiquet Mountain, across the Connecticut River, rises behind.

    "Brattleboro Winter" Drypoint Etching 7" x 5"

We've all heard the expression, "Making lemonade out of lemons." The next print came about that way. When I began the idea for the above etching, I neglected to reverse the image before starting. As a result, I began doing the image backward. I stopped about an hour into it and started another plate with the image facing the right direction. I thought the pairing of the two was a potentially interesting design, so I finished both plates using different methods to contrast each to the other.

The first plate (on the right, below) I used sandpaper to do most of the drawing. The lines are much finer than the scribed lines and I had much less control over each mark. The softer and more irregular lines contrasted with the more precisely hatched lines of the second plate (the one used for the single print, above).

Because the plates are plexiglas, they do not hold up under the pressure of the printing press for very long. I can get an edition of about 25 prints from one plate. Then the pressure of the press begins to break down the lines and they start to hold ink irregularly. Cleaning the plate with turpentine changes the lines too (the plastic dissolves a little bit in turpentine).

Printing the two plates side by side offers a different set of challenges. I printed 15 sheets of paper. But in the end the image was broken down from wear and I was only able to produce five prints that were acceptable. Talk about a limited edition!

    "Brattleboro Winter II" Drypoint Etching 7" x 11"

And that is the latest from The Artist's Loft in February. I look forward to hearing from you and hope that you'll drop by the studio or visit during Gallery Walk on Friday, March 6th from 5:30 to 8:30 PM. The prints above are available for purchase online. You'll find them to be quite affordable as well as high quality, original works of art.

Yours,

William H. Hays


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