Silos and sunsets, part 1

Sometimes it can take years to fulfill an intention. Take, for instance, my ongoing adventures with this silo:

When I moved to Roswell during the summer of 2013, I was drawn to a rusty old silo located downtown, east of Main Street. There aren't a lot of tall buildings in Roswell, aside from the old Bank of America building, so the silo is a readily visible structure that rises above most of the surrounding structures. Its metallic surface only enhances its presence as it reflects to bright new Mexico sun off its surface. It may be a rusty old building, but it has a certain stubborn dignity to it not unlike the barns I was writing about month.

My interest was hardly unique. Several artists in Roswell have painted beautiful interpretations of the silo, from Jerry West to Priscilla Ornelas, but nevertheless I wanted to put my own spin on it. During that first summer, I made my way down to the silo to sketch it, sometimes on foot, sometimes on my bike, as this was before I had a car. I drew the structure at various distances, ranging from a few streets away to virtually next to the building.

I knew I wanted to do something with the silo, but I never quite figured out what. Early on I made a monotype of the building using only black ink, and experimented with a couple of ghost impressions I made around the same time, but while they had potential I didn't take them anywhere. 

At one point I  even drew a fairly fantastical rendition of the building with giant centipedes crawling all over it, but once again, I never took it any further. Over the next two or three years, I forgot about the building while I focused on dinosaur mugs and other endeavors.

Until this year. Whether it was the potential for renewal with New Year's resolutions in the air, or the satisfaction I've been getting out of finishing other incomplete projects, I decided to settle the question of the silo print once and for all.

I started by revisiting the original sketches I had made in 2013. I simplified the compositions and shrank them down to fit on a single page so that I could compare them all at the same time. I knew I didn't want to make prints of all the sketches, at least not at this time, so after looking them over I settled on one that featured telephone wires. While I liked all of the sketches for different reasons, this one in particular reminded me of a group of lithographs Louis Lozowick had done between the 1930s and 1950s. Juxtaposing the geometric arrangements of architectural wiring against the more amorphous, organic forms of clouds, I liked the way these prints explored the intersections between nature and culture. 

As much as I liked the subject matter of Lozowick's prints, however, I knew that my silo needed to follow a different aesthetic. Lozowick is associated with the Precisionism, an artistic movement from the early twentieth century that often extolled the potential of modern architecture and urban living for cultivating a new way of life that elevated humanity.

Louis Lozowick, Design in Wire, 1948, lithograph. Image courtesy of

The silo I was sketching, however, or rather the way I was choosing to see it, is a product of the aftermath of that optimism. It's not a new, gleaming emblem of modernity, but a rusted structure that has witnessed history unfolding. I wasn't seeking to capture newness, but history, the effects of time on an edifice. From a stylistic point then, my interpretation would more closely resemble the etchings of B.J.O. Nordfeldt, an artist who had specialized in capturing the grittier side of urban life during the early twentieth century. In prints such as Chiasso dei Manetti, a depiction of an alleyway in Italy, he uses layers of hatched and cross-hatched lines to evoke the centuries of grime, cracking, and other evidence of history and the passage of time. This was the effect I wanted to capture in my own print, so once I settled on a view I got to work.

B.J.O. Nordfeldt, Chiasso dei Mannetti, Florence, n.d., etching. Image courtesy of

As with my previous barn print, I made this print a Plexiglas drypoint. Taking the lessons I'd learned from that work, I used foil and Modge Podge to introduce a collagraphy element of the work, taking advantage of the different textures to evoke the aged surface of the building and its surrounding structures.

Once I had worked up the plate to my satisfaction, I took it down to the Museum so that I could print it on the intaglio press. In order to capture the gleaming reflective surface of the silo, I wiped out higlights with a Q-tip after wiping the plate down with a piece of tarlatan. For paper, I used the last of my BFK Rives in cream, figuring that the off-white color would underscore the aged appearance of the architecture I had rendered.

Here's what I printed:

The gray, aquatint-like sky comes from my painting Modge Podge onto the plate. I also added streaks of Modge Podge along the silo itself, and added foil along the rings of the building and the top part of the structure, where is rusting is most pronounced. I also used foil on the buildings in the foreground to add textural interest. Although the telephone wires were a critical part of the drawing's appeal, I did not fully include them on the plate because I found it too difficult to draw a straight line through the Plexi. Instead, I decided to draw them in by hand, when I could more easily control the direction of the pen.

Besides, I knew I wasn't finished with these prints yet. I had captured the rusty dignity of the silo, but that wasn't the only quality I wanted to evoke. Stay tuned for part two...