An extra day in the year

line drawing of the windows of a row of brownstones

Happy Leap Day! It seems fitting that our extra day comes on the weekend, else I’m sure it would be overlooked by many of us. It isn’t as if the world treats this day any differently.

I’ve been trying hard to not allow the relentless news of the world to overwhelm me. It can be difficult. One thing that invariably brings a sense of peace is time in the printmaking studio. It’s one of my favorite things these days.

This week I began work on a new piece. I’m hoping the row of brownstones in the drawing above will work well on some strips of scrap copper; that their vertical lines and those created by the joins of the metal strips will result in a rhythmic sensibility and a kind of visual logic.

Photo showing the drawing taped to copper strips with graphite transfer paper in between

This is purely an experiment. Five strips of copper, collected from the cast-offs bin near the metal-cutter, have been composited into a single ‘plate’ by aligning edges that fit nicely, and holding them in place with contact paper on the underside.

The image above shows the earliest stage of my process. The composited strips have been covered with hard ground— a sort of waxy resist layer into which I will scribe my lines. Next I placed a reversed copy of my drawing over a layer of graphite transfer paper. By tracing over the drawing, I’ll transfer the lines onto the plate, resulting in a guide for scribing into the hard ground.

The inscribed areas in the hard ground will etch away in the acid, creating clear lines in the copper that will hold ink. The un-scribed hard ground protects the rest of the plate from the acid.

These scraps have been banging around in the bin for ages— nothing like the pristine copper plates I generally start with. The scratches and injuries they’ve sustained will hold ink in the same way as the lines created by the etching process, and I’m hoping they’ll result in a moody sky and weathered brownstones.

Side-by-side images of the copper strips, showing the many scratches and marks in the surface of the metal. The first if a normal photo; the second has been made into a negative to accentuate the marks

Above you can see the types of marks on the copper strips. It’s only a general idea; I made a negative of the image on the left— the very dark areas at the bottom represent the glare from the lights, not actual texture on the plate. But the upper part of the image should be a decent approximation of how they will print.

In controlled mark-making, varied line-weights are attained by masking off scribed areas in between acid-dips, eg: lines exposed to acid for five minutes are very fine, whereas 60-minute lines are bold. This deliberate way of line-making is in direct contrast to the naturally-occurring chaotic scratches in the scrap metal. I think the combination of the two will result in something interesting.

I see in this experiment a beauty that mimics experiences in life. In joining up these compatibly damaged scraps and introducing a sense of order, and purpose, they’ll become greater than the sum of their parts, in service to something larger than themselves. They’re no longer cast-offs. They have meaning.

I’ll update in the coming week to show you my first pull through the press after the line etch is complete. It has one more session in the acid, then I can ink it up.

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