Compass and Ruler: a new etching adventure

Statistical Serendipity: intaglio print of two bisectors meeting at the insector of a traingle
Statistical Serendipity by H. L. Birdsong (also further proof that I can write backwards in cursive)

For the last couple of months, I’ve experimented with using geometric constructions in my etchings.  In addition to having to learn a fair amount of geometry that I either was never taught or never stuck, I had to figure out how to use a compass and ruler on a grounded copper plate without any foul-biting.  It’s something of a trick: the metal needle of the compass, which usually digs into the fiber of paper to establish a solid pivot point, just skips right through the pliable hard ground and scratches the delicate copper as it does.  Metal rulers scrape right through the ground too, when I try to move them ever so slightly, and plastic rulers stick and lift off tiny, little, hardly-detectable dots of ground.  I think I’ve found effective tricks to get me around all these technical problems.  Perhaps I will share my secrets in a later post.

Then there is my dream of using colored inks: many pigments react with the copper and oxidize.  The color above was process blue mixed with opaque white, and the white oxidized like crazy.  I knew it would, but it reacted more than I remember, and resulted in something far more dull and dark than I intended.  To get truly amazing colors, I would have to steel face my plates, and that’s just not on the menu at the moment.  I wish it was, and if this project goes ahead as well as I hope it will, that might become necessary.

And then there is this print:

Internal Tangents: intaglio print of a geometric construction of two circles with a pair of internal tangents
Internal Tangents by H. L. Birdsong

It is the first plate of an intended two-plate print.  I would like this one to have more color and zest as well.  The ink mixed for this was actually much lighter before I applied it to to the plate: again, the white oxidized a lot.  It’s also a bit over-wiped: the tarlatan was too soft.  Beware soft tarlatan, intaglio printers, for it feels nice but is not your friend. A nice, stiff tarlatan does the job.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have much to choose from that day.

The more I work with geometric constructions, the more they take on metaphorical properties.  Like in “Statistical Serendipity” (the title of which may yet change): I imagine that the two rays are two people walking through a park in an urban setting, and the only factor that determines whether they will actually meet one another on their current trajectories is time.  The right place at the right time, and they meet: a serendipitous moment.  Then again, perhaps the serendipitous moment is in not meeting, thus averting a possible disaster.  Life seems to be a series of these chances, where things either happen just so or not at all.  It would be funny if it all didn’t seem so important.  Sometimes it’s funny anyway.


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