Monday, August 24, 2009
Last weekend we had another etching course at Maison Conti. This time the class was offered in French, which presented me with the challenge of learning quite a bit of new vocabulary. It was what they call here, "un coup de pied aux fesses", (a kick in the butt) for my advancement in the French language, which does not come easily to me at all. The other interesting aspect of the course was that the participants had never done any printmaking before, so they were brave new souls and it was important to get down to basic explanations and to design projects which would allow everyone to have success. Being on the spot to create beautiful works of realistic art is something that can fill people with anxiety. Many people have had such bad experiences with drawing that they have not picked up a pencil and had a crack at making a drawing since they were children, so the idea of drawing on a piece of metal is not necessarily a happy one. I feel as if my main responsibility as a workshop leader is to be sure that everyone enjoys themselves! And nothing is more enjoyable than creating successful art work. One of the reasons I enjoy etching so much is that the results are often very rich and beautiful, just by nature of the process itself. One does not need to be a talented artist in order to make beautiful etchings. The participants were Michèle, who is French-Canadian, but now lives in Paris with her husband Philippe. She is a writing instructor and discovered our course in a general brochure which advertises our area of France and some of its activities. Although she had no idea about the process, it sounded interesting to her and she signed up to come. Philippe spent several years as a French diplomat and has literally traveled the world. His collection of photographs chronicles these years. He is a very fine amateur photographer and because of this, I suggested that I could organize the class so that I would teach them a little etching and my husband Rick could show them how we create our photogravures . They seemed excited by the idea. Because it is always more fun to have at least four people in a class, I invited our friends Françoise and Bernard to join in. They graciously accepted. Françoise is a writing instructor, but also an accomplished potter and enjoys artistic pursuits. I think she is the only one in the class who has some adult experience in drawing. Bernard is the kind of person who is competent at just about everything, and really enjoys figuring out how things are put together and function. He also turns out, to my surprise, to be a clever artist. Françoise and Bernard also launched and manage an organization in Mali, which sponsors a village there. They visit Africa often. Like Michèle and Philippe, they are world travelers. It was a very harmonious group of people, which, of course makes it all so much more interesting for everyone. I began in the morning with an explanation of the soft ground technique, which allows one to make an impression of natural objects into a protective varnish and then etch the impressed images in a very delicate way. No drawing necessary! Everyone was able to not only get the idea right away, but went right to creating their own designs, using dried grasses, fabric, lace, leaves, crumpled paper and various other found objects. It was rather delightful that everyone seemed to adopt the same can-do spirit and worked at exactly the same pace. Before lunch, we had designed, etched and printed four very charming images, one for each participant. After lunch Rick took over with the photogravure portion of the instruction, and people really came alive with this technique. People had brought their photos and we had a great deal of satisfaction looking at the lovely images and choosing the best for the technique. Bernard chose an old photo of his great grand father, a seaman from Brittany. We first made a transparancy and then exposed the image onto a photo sensitive plate. Rick has built a box with a UV light which can expose the transparancy which is placed over the photosensitive plate and pressed under glass, to keep it flat. There are various steps to follow, but the technique is quite simple and anyone can have success, once they understand and follow the necessary steps. Once exposed to the light, the photosensitive plate is developed in a water bath. It's quite magical to watch the image emerge. The plate is inked and printed in the traditional way. We all gather around when a plate comes off the press. It's the exciting moment when you see what you've created! Bernard was pleased with the results from his plate, and plans to give a copy of the print to each of his brothers and sisters. Of course a handmade print of old family photos, impressed onto luscious all-cotton paper, is a fabulous and unique and very personal gift! We worked for two days in the studio and each participant went away with three images. After we were finished, we relaxed together on the terrace before people left for home. On Sunday afternoon, when the Place was completely empty of other vehicles, two beautiful old antique cars rolled up in front of the house. It seemed a fitting end to a very aesthetic weekend!