I’m back! Feels like forever since I’ve posted on this blog. It’s not that I haven’t been creating. But I’m in the middle of a couple of paintings and under contract for a picture book. So, nothing completed that I could post recently. More to come on the picture book when it’s finished…
In the meantime, I’m continuing my Scotland series with another drypoint etching. Neist Point is the western most edge of the Isle of Skye. The lighthouse was designed by the Stevenson family. You’re probably more familiar with Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Kidnapped and Treasure Island), or D.E. Stevenson (one of my favorite female British authors of books such as Miss Buncle’s Book or The Tall Stranger). Well, the Stevenson family in general was widely known as lighthouse engineers. Starting with RLS’s grandfather in the 1790’s, Robert Louis Stevenson’s father, uncles, and cousins proceeded to design over 90 lighthouses throughout Scotland (as well as a handful in Japan) from 1791-1937. In fact, RLS greatly disappointed his father by choosing to become a writer rather than carry on the family tradition of engineering. You can read more about Stevenson Lighthouses here.
My visit to Neist Point was on a gorgeously sunny day. We followed signs from the main highway to what seemed like a tiny road leading nowhere. West, west, west you go until you come to a parking lot near a cliff. The lighthouse isn’t even visible when you park. You must trust that it’s there and be ready/willing to walk a couple miles to prove you’re right. Of course crowds of tourists with cameras around you help confirm that there’s something worth seeing down below. The trek to Neist Point is not for the faint of heart! From the parking area, you hike down an extremely steep “stair case” of something resembling steps carved into the cliff-side. There is a railing made of metal pipes. The thing seems safe enough, as long as you hang on and don’t let gravity cause your feet to get too far ahead of the rest of your body. Needless to say, we left my mom at the parking lot. She would have to enjoy this excursion vicariously through my photos. Once you get to level ground, the next mile or so is easy! A lovely walk along a path with sheep sunning themselves amongst the boulders. If you get close enough to the cliff’s edge, you will see seagulls swooping out from crevices in the cliff-side, soaring along the sea breeze, then diving down to catch fish in the foamy waves below.
The lighthouse station itself is more like a barracks, with several rectangular “cottages” placed around the perimeter of the main building. I believe these were once rented out to tourists. However, when we were there, they were abandoned and run-down. Paint pealing on the window sills. Broken panes looking into empty rooms. An old lace curtain hanging at a window, one of the few signs that the place had once been a home. The lighthouse is owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board and has been run automatically since the 1990’s, when the last lighthouse keeper was withdrawn.
Etching cliffs was a new challenge for me! I feel like I had a better sense of shading with the scribe tool this time. I tried to vary my marks to represent each surface/texture: rocky patches, vertical ridges, shadows and ripples in water, and the flat expanses of grass. I’m also gaining a better feel for wiping the plate to maintain a haze of grey across the water. If you’d like to read more about the etching process, take a look at my previous post: Eilean Donan – Etching. Below are a few photos from our visit. Look closely at the top right photo to see a seagull nesting in the cliff side. If you’re ever on the Isle of Skye, this lighthouse is well worth the drive…and the walk!
Leaving Edinburgh in June of 2016, we drove through the highlands towards Skye, stopping to visit 3 castles in 3 days along the way (Edinburgh Castle in the city, Sterling Castle south-west of the city, and Eilean Donan near the new bridge to Skye). Though rain had hit in Glencoe the night before, locals continued to express concerns of drought. For Scotland, I guess this means it rains periodically instead of every day. Lush green around us, with flourishing flowers, would seem to say that the land had seen plenty of water! But, I’ll admit that the fact that I could wander with my camera beneath the bridge at Eilean Donan confirmed lower amounts of rainfall than the area was used to seeing. Around 5 p.m. (according to my sketch journal), I walked a good ways out onto rocks beyond the castle and sat down with my sketchbook to draw. The panorama (in the photo montage below) was taken from that vantage point. It was interesting to see and sketch the castle from this less iconic angle. Just as I finished my sketch, large drops of water began to plop onto the page. Stowing away sketchbook and camera, I scrambled back over the rocks toward castle and proper land.
As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, Eilean Donan is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. In fact, a photography contest was going on while we were there! People from all over the world had sent in their favorite and best shots of the place, seen from various angles, including from boats out on the water, or gorgeous sunrise shots with pinks glowing on the horizon, and nighttime shots with castle lit by star and lamp. These photos were posted all through the cafe where my parents and I ate lunch that day. Winners of the contest had been decided days before our arrival.
Fast-forward to present-day. I was prepping a new unit for my Drawing 2 class – drypoint etching, and decided my demo piece would be a good chance to pull out photos of the castle and try something new in the Scotland Series. Drypoint etching is actually a technique I had never tried before, though I’ve heard plenty about it and seen samples of Albrecht Durer and James McNeill Whistler through the years. It’s a form of etching that doesn’t require acid. Instead, you use a metal scribe (looks like a sharp metal pencil) to scratch your marks into the plate surface. In Whistler or Durer’s times, copper plates were common to use. But, for cost-efficiency and ease of procurement, I picked up Plexiglas sheets from the hardware store and cut them down to size for my students. We actually started the process simply using nails (also from the hardware store), and sharpening them with sandpaper. For my etching, the side buildings and bushes to the left of the castle were all done with a nail. But, once we were a few days into the unit, I determined that it was worth the cost of ordering a class-set of traditional scribe tools. Boy, what a difference! You get much better control and cleaner/deeper marks with the scribe than with a nail.
Though this was my first etching, I’m pretty happy with the results! After a test-print, I tweaked minor areas, adding more hatch-marks, making some transitions more subtle. I’ve also begun to experiment with the inking and wiping process. In printmaking, you can change the look from one print to the next merely by adjusting the amount of ink you apply to (or wipe off of) certain areas of the plate. On my plate, there were bushes that tended to soak up too much ink. So, I’ve begun to wipe those more thoroughly before running it through the press. I’ve also been playing with leaving smudges of ink in the sky to accent clouds there. This is the type of thing Whistler would do with his prints as well, leaving sky or water virtually empty, but using a hint or smear of ink left on the plate to give subtle shading to those smooth surfaces. My kids are really enjoying this unit! They love getting to use the printing press (which looks like a metal dinosaur with a captain’s wheel to steer it). Perhaps I’ll get permission from a few of them to post results of their work on my blog. If you’re an art teacher reading this blog, I’ve been very happy with the Akua Intaglio inks and Akua tarlatan for wiping plates. The inks have an oily consistency but are soap and water washable, which makes for easier clean-up. Having tried drypoint etching, I’ll definitely keep using this method/media. There are several other shots from the Scotland trip that would translate well into printmaking. Now that I have a feel for using the scribe tool and creating shadows and texture with cross-hatching marks, I’ll work on improving depth, shading, and subtleties within the technique.