Bonfire on Fiesta Island

Today, I’m sharing a little  print that I never posted in its finished state (though I did post an early proof). I didn’t share the finished version here because I intended to surprise my friend Rachelle with it for her birthday, but I missed the mark on that one: I posted it to Flickr, where she saw it (and shared it on Facebook) before the actual print made it to her doorstep–after her birthday. Ah, the folly: I posted it on Flickr because I didn’t think she would see it there, and I rather like this print and wanted to share it. I should know by now that I’m no good at keeping quiet about things like this. Next time, I won’t try to surprise.

Bonfire on Fiesta Island, 3.75″ x 5.5″ (plate size), etching with aquatint, 2012.

As you can see from the watermark, it’s on Magnani Revere paper. I like their smooth option (“silk” in their product nomenclature) for printing fine aquatints and detailed lines. I knew, after producing two states of this print using line work only, that it needed aquatint. I also knew that it needed some sparkle in the sky and in the crackling sparks from the fire.

In following the sage advice of Sarah Horowitz, I applied rosin to the plate in two stages. First, I applied an even, thick coat of fine particles using an aquatint box. Second, I hand-dusted a smattering of mixed-size particles over the sky and fire using a rosin bag. The variation in particle size resulted from breaking the big lumps of rosin down using a hammer. It was the first time I tried using a rosin bag, and it was fun.

Melting had me feeling a little nervous: I was concerned that the larger pieces would take too long to stick, and that the smaller particles would puddle out. It all worked out beautifully, however. In printmaking, the first time I try anything usually works out well–it’s the second attempt I usually muddle through and wind up having to re-do. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t had another go at the rosin bag since finishing this one in May.

Sketch for "Bonfire on Fiesta Island"
My (very) rough sketch for “Bonfire on Fiesta Island”

I developed the image from a sketch, began in the half-dark of late evening. In February, I went to visit my friend Rachelle in San Diego, to see a little slice of her life and her apartment before she moved back to Las Vegas, where I never visit if I can reasonably avoid it. My first night there, we drove out to the fire pits on Fiesta Island for an impromptu gathering. Rachelle and I got there first, to secure our fire pit, and her friends followed with some dumpstered Ikea furniture, scraps of wood, and a cake.

The more abstract and exuberant lines are all I had time for, before stowing my sketchbook in favor of actual participation. Later, the next morning I think, I fleshed it out from memory (if you can even call that sparse, messy thing “fleshed out”). While I enjoyed all the time I spent in San Diego (and all the food–I had the good sense to schedule my visit during Restaurant Week), I think the bonfire was my favorite event. I so rarely gather outdoors around a fire in Portland, and there is something delicious and magical about watching fire consume something like that. And, of course, the beach was much more hospitable and sunny than our gloomy Oregon coasts, even in February, with semi-overcast skies.

Lately I’ve been doing prep work for the evening class I’m helping to teach with Heather McLaughlin, editioning prints I’ve already shared, and doing a good deal of reading and writing. I’m working my way through The Accelerating Universe by Mario Livio (some parts are harder for me to work through than others, I confess) and Art & Physics by Leonard Shlain, which has been on my “to read” list for several years. Oh, and the PAN Emerging Printmakers Residency program is finished, and the show might actually go on, despite the currently uncertain location of Print Arts Northwest itself.


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