This blog is a record of my adventures as a copper plate etcher and printmaker. I'm a self-taught amateur learning from the ground up.
"I will again define etching as an impression set down on a copper plate from nature or life -- not a built up, elaborated composition."
Joseph Pennell

Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's All Greek To Me

I was 28 when I went to college. Part of the course of study was 2 ½ years of koine Greek, the ancient common Greek that was the language of trade and commerce throughout the Mediterranean at the time of the birth of Christ. The memorization of words to establish a working vocabulary began immediately as did basic grammar: Auto, Autos, Auton. -ei, -eis, -ein. You get the idea; much fun ensued. At some point in my elementary school education I had been taught English grammar: noun, verb, adjective, etc. English is a fortunate language, not having declension tables to worry about. In any case, having been duly educated as a young man I promptly forgot most of what I had been taught about English grammar and now at college, 10 years out of high school, found that to deal with the grammar and thereby learn this ancient and quite dead language I would need to relearn English grammar.

I mention the above because I’ve discovered in my exploration of etching that I have a similar failing. The cure for this failing is the same as it was then: get back to basics. This translates into a need to learn how to draw. Of course, I had some notion of the need to draw at the time I was first contemplating printmaking at all. I’ve never considered myself an artist and certainly have not felt I’ve had any particular skill or natural ability at drawing, painting, or creating images in general. I took whatever art classes in school were required, I think it was one in high school, and focused on other things. That has always meant some kind of craftwork and is why I’m a cabinetmaker today.

So when I first considered getting involved with printmaking, and copper plate etching in particular, I thought about how my lack of either training or special ability to draw would affect what I would be able to do. I decided I could probably do some simple basic work but for the most part confine myself to more abstract images and especially soft ground work in which objects are pressed into the ground to create the image. But as part of my self-taught education as an etcher that has involved reading about the etchers and methods of the past, especially those etchers of the Etching Revival of the 19th and early 20th century, I’ve discovered in myself a real thirst to express myself as an etcher that will require more than stick figures or tracing.

I’m therefore teaching myself how to draw. I’ve picked up several standard works and have my dad’s old drafting leads and lead holders. I’ve made two short drives in the last couple weeks to practice recording local subjects. I live on the Delaware River and there are an unlimited number of interesting and beautiful subjects to choose from. So far I’ve confirmed that I don’t have any particularly great natural skill. But in this short time I’ve found that I’m not completely bereft of any ability. I’ve seen enough in my work to give me confidence that if I continue to learn and practice I will be able to at least satisfy my own desires to communicate through drawing and thus through etching. I’ll be making etchings as I go since I am still learning there as well. But it will be déjà vu all over again as I learn etching at the same time as I learn its prerequisite drawing, the same as I once learned to understand Greek grammar at the same time I learned its prerequisite English.

Now I have to go as a sudden urge for souvlaki has overtaken me.

1 comment:

  1. I hope to follow in your footsteps...this is great!