Yezinky: Experiments on Copper

Yezinky by Miss Birdsong
Yezinky, a print by H.L. Birdsong on Flickr.

The Internet ate my original post. Grumble, grumble. Moving on…

This is a little print I pulled last week.  I’ve been experimenting more with methods of working directly on the copper, rather than etching, so that it’s easier for me to work on plates at home.  My home studio is in a nook in the studio apartment that I share with my partner.  When I say we share it, I mean everything, not just the living space: he is also an artist.  He uses the drawing table more often than I and is probably better-disciplined about his studio practice.  I’m going to have to figure out a way to carve into and polish my copper in the same small area in which he draws: the shavings get everywhere and my copper dust stains his paper.

For the print above, I used engraving, drypoint, and mezzotint.  Some of the drypoint is the result of ineffectively using engraving tools.  I’ve had the tools for a couple of years but haven’t made much use of them.  Since I intend to keep at it, I ordered a sandbag this morning, to help with how I’m holding the burin: a chamois cloth over a tin of ink just wasn’t cutting it.  I’ve had the mezzotint rocker longer than the engraving set, but I’ve only tried using it recently.  I purchased it for a bargain when they were discontinued from the art supply store where I used to work, figuring that I would want to give it a go eventually.  Mezzotinting is proving infuriating; it’s tedious, tiring, and hard to control (at this point).  I am trying to rock a whole little plate black, and I’m not sure I have the stamina to do it.  You can clearly see where I gave up on the Yezinky plate.

The Yezinky are a trio of witches from that book of Slavic folk tales I found at Powell’s.  In the story (which you can read here), they are beautiful young women who trick shepherds into falling asleep, whereupon the witches steal the shepherds’ eyeballs and run off with them.  My Yezinky is an old woman, partly because I felt like drawing an old woman (the wrinkles seemed more appealing than smooth skin), and partly because I’ve always thought of the Yezinky of being old women in disguise.  Perhaps this is because of a cultural bias, where we ascribe virtue to beauty and evil to ugliness–which is usually considered synonymous to old age in women.  Perhaps it’s because of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: any three witches are automatically crones in my imagination.  Now that I think of it, I’m not sure the Weird Sisters are ever described as being old, though it seems to me that they are usually depicted as wizened women.

I didn’t invest too much in this plate since it’s just a little 3-inch square of scrap copper, and all I really wanted to do was practice some new techniques.  When I started to like the old woman, even though the eyeball she’s holding between her fingers is a bit muddied, I began to regret the mezzotint in the corner.  I didn’t want to do any more mezzotint on this tiny plate, especially since my skill with the tool is limited, and I would inevitably mess up the lines in my figure if I tried.  Now that I see it printed, however, I like the quirkiness of the mezzotint corner.  I’m happy with this little thing just the way it is, which is a far better result than I was hoping for.  Three cheers for low expectations!


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