Earlier this year, I showed you a sketch of a dead dove I'd found near the Museum. Today, I'll start telling you about the print I made from it.
Probably due to a combination of large bird populations, an abundance of hazards such as feral cats and telephone poles, and open space, I've encountered quite a few dead birds around my neighborhood, including doves. Being able to study these birds up close, I'm always intrigued by the depth of their colors, with the numerous layers of feather filaments delicately piling up on one another to form a cohesive avian whole. I was no less aware of this when I was sketching the dove I found at the museum, and decided that I wanted to explore its multi-layered textures in a print.
For the last few months I've been reading about multi-plate etching as a means of achieving additional depth in prints. Like most methods involving multiple plates, careful planning is required to make sure all the plates register correctly, lest you end up with a jumbled image. I've done multi-block reduction linocuts before, however, so I figured I could handle it.
|Jack Coughlin, Mouse, color etching. Image courtesy of http://www.jackcoughlin.com/animals.html|
What impressed me about this work was its sense of depth as well as detail, particularly in the background. Successive layers of ink build upon one another to give the work a three-dimensional quality. Thinking back to the dove and its layers of subtle violets, yellows, and browns, I decided to give the multi-plate technique a shot.
Not wanting to spend a fortune on this experiment, I opted for my default support, Plexiglas. Before I drew, I distilled the bird and its plumage into four categories:
1. Pale primary colors such as yellow and blue
2. Light violet/light yellow-brown
3. Dark violet/dark brown
Each of the plates with be represented by a separate plate. The first plate would have the heaviest amount of markings, with each plate becoming successively lighter, allowing the earlier layers to peer through.
I began by taking a Sharpie and sketching a basic drawing of the dove onto it. I then placed each plate over the drawing and traced it with my etching needle. By tracing, I ensured that I would get the same drawing onto each plate, more or less, allowing for easier registration. With a work like this, where each plate would replicate the same figure, it was critical that I make them as identical as possible, otherwise the finished print would look sloppy.
When I was finished tracing, I decided to use this plate for the black outlines on the final print, so I went ahead and carved it with my etching needle.
From there, it was a matter of filling in the other plates with the appropriate lines and details.
|Plate 2: light violet/light yellow-brown|
|Plate 3: dark violet/dark brown|
The only plate that deviated from the line scheme, however, was plate number one, which had been set aside for light primary colors. Instead of drawing lines, I punctuated this plate with a seemingly endless series of dots, a process that took several hours and tried my patience with its incessant pecking sound.
Why would I subject myself to such a procedure?
I was thinking about stars. Around the time I began planning out this print NASA had released the Hubble's most recent panorama of the Andromeda Galaxy.
|Image courtesy of http://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/hubble-s-high-definition-panoramic-view-of-the-andromeda-galaxy/|
Aside from being a gorgeous image, it was also zoomable. Each time I clicked, I was taken deeper into the stars and an endless array of colorful spots. It was powerfully overwhelming, an experience that reminded me of how unbelievably small and insignificant we are in the cosmic scheme of things.
And yet, that realization doesn't make the situation a hopeless one. Yes, we're specks in a seemingly infinite universe, but so are all the other stars we see in the night sky. We may be infinitely small, but we all connected to an infinitely expansive universe whether we recognize it or not. Even a creature as mundane (and sometimes annoying with its early-morning cooing) as a dove is still part of the universe, and I wanted to put that in visual form.
Moreover, as Carl Sagan once said, "we're made of star stuff," summarizing the fact that carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and other heavy elements were first produced in stars. We are, according to that Moby song, made of stars. That primordial stardust may be buried under layers of feathers, or mundane worldly concerns, but it's still there.
To put it succinctly, the layers of this print concern more than ink.
Next week we'll print these plates.