U is for unruly

I am blogging from A to Z about Helen Burling Ottaway, my artist mother, and other women artists.

Artists are unruly. They are not obedient. They are usurpers. They are unreasonable. This is another etching of my mother, a self portrait, titled “Giantess”. She looks giant, rising from an ocean. Will she have arms and hands and legs, or is she an octopus? We do not know. It may depend on her mood.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE #APRILATOZ

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

T is for tree

I am blogging from A to Z about Helen Burling Ottaway, my artist mother, and other women artists.

My mother loved painting trees and doing etchings of trees, but this is a tree peony. Another etching, and this printed with two colors at the same time. Delicate work, to ink the plate with two colors and gently wipe off the excess without mixing them.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE #APRILATOZ

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

F is for Fish

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

F is for Fish. But… it isn’t a fish, right? It’s a dolphin. At the moment I do not have access to all the art because I am on a trip. I have what I have.

This is one of my mother’s tiny etchings. It is 2 inches by 1.5 inches. She very much enjoyed the tiny etchings. She said that tiny, etching and fantasy were NOT popular with her college professors at the University of Tennessee. She said that her friend, Maline Robinson, was doing large abstract works, both silk screen and oils and that those were much more to the professors’ tastes.

Maline Robinson is another woman artist. Her silk screens are 18 by 24 except then she wanted bigger ones. She built her own frames to do 24 by 36. Her painting tend to be 4 by 6 feet, and she has done triptychs that size. Three large oils that go together. She says that most of her really large works are bought by companies, who hang them in their huge imposing atriums. The tiny dolphin would be lost.

Here is one of Maline Robinson’s works. I took the photograph a few years ago when visiting. I wanted to be immersed in the painting. I think that this one is 4 by 6 feet. I will have to contact Maline for the title!

Not all of H. Ottaway’s work was tiny. This etching is another ocean themed one, with the plate size 9 inches by 11 inches. This is a proof and I will have to look up this title as well! She has used two colors together inking the plate. That is one technique. Another is to have multiple plates and run the paper through the press multiple times.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE

E is for etching

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

My mother loved water colors, but she also did etchings, for as long as I can remember. We had the largest etching press that she could get back in the 1960s. When I was 14, we moved from Johnson City, New York, to Alexandria Virginia for my father’s job. The press went into the basement, along with numerous boxes of books. Soon after we moved, there was torrential rainfall and the sewers in the Del Ray neighborhood backed up. The water stopped draining and just piled up! There was a crack in the foundation of our basement with a waterfall pouring down. My mother wanted the engine of the press saved first! She and my father and I could barely carry it up the stairs, but managed to. Next came boxes of books, some of which were so waterlogged that they were floating. The water was cold, dirty and up to my upper thighs. We unloaded box after box of wet books and spread them out to dry.

I think that my mother’s art was not in the basement, so we did not lose much of that! We installed an automatic sump pump eventually, because that was not the last flood. That was the most spectaular, though. The water was 8-12 inches deep in the front yard. Buses would still drive through the water, sending a wave to hit our front steps.

Afterwards we wished we had taken a photograph in the canoe in the front yard, to use for Christmas. Our Christmas ornaments were flooded too. All the color peels off the balls, so our tree was silver and glass that Christmas. My mother claimed she liked that better and kept it that way from then on!

Etchings are diddly, as my mother would say. A zinc plate, coated with a tar mixture. Then a drawing in the tar, set the plate in acid, and wait for the drawing to etch into the plate. At a certain point, my mother would take the tar off and run some proofs. These were experimental, trying different colors. She would put the tar back on and continue with the drawing. When she was satisfied with the proof, she would start running the edition. The tar is removed, and for each etching the plate is inked with a roller. The ink is gently wiped off, until it is light on the remaining flat parts of the plate and heavier in the lines. The plate is placed on the press, a piece of paper that is soaked is placed on the plate, heavy felt cloth is lowered over it and the plate and paper are run through the press. We had a guard, but keep your fingers away! The felt is lifted, the paper is lifted and the paper is set to dry. The plate is wiped and inked again. The edition is numbered: 1/20 or 1/50. My mother ran some plates many many times. A tiny one named Tag, of a unicorn playing tag with butterflies, is done in multiple colors. Others were a much smaller edition, of 20 or 30. The very large plates are a challenge to ink and wipe. It takes practice to wipe the ink but not wipe it out of the lines.

I have three photographs of H. Ottaway’s Iris and Poppies etching. The featured image is 17/30, colored edition, 1976. The one below is a proof for the color edition. The last one is a proof for her black and white edition.

Iris and Poppies Etching, by Helen Burling Ottaway, proof for color edition.
Iris and Poppies Etching, black and white proof, Helen Burling Ottaway, 1976.

#ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 # art # Women artists # Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE

B is for Busy and Burling

My mother, Helen Burling Ottaway, was a very busy and prolific artist.

Every New Year’s, she would resolve to paint a water color a day. By March she would complain that she had only painted 25 or 30. However, she would also be doing birthday presents for me and my sister and our father, all in March, and crafts and etchings and pastels and a life drawing class and the sketchbook that she constantly carried.

B is also for baby. The etching is of my sister, Christine Robbins Ottaway, as a baby. The title is Chris I and she did this in 1968.

I have described the process for etchings here: Four Seasons.

My mother was a very busy artist.

#ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 # art # Women artists # Helen Burling Ottaway

Four seasons

These are etchings by my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway, who died in 2000.

All four are done with the same etching plate.

Winter is done first. The zinc plate is covered with a protective layer and then she draws with tools, including dental tools. The plate is placed in an acid bath. The acid etches where the drawings are, different depths. The protective layer is removed. The plate is inked. Most of the ink is gently wiped off and the plate is placed on the press. Wet paper is laid on the plate and the heavy wool covers are folded down over that. The press is run. The wool is folded back on the other side and the paper is lifted and laid to dry.

The plate is re inked for each one.

She puts the protective cover back on the plate and adds the buds for spring. These are etched. Winter is now gone, the plate has changed. She prints all of the spring series.

Next is summer. Leaves are added. She prints those.

Last is autumn. Now there are leaves on the ground as well. She does some the plates with more than one ink color. This was one of her largest etchings. She did a small series first, where the etchings were about 4 by 6 inches. This was 18 by 24. She had a really big etching press. I don’t know who has it, my sister took it to California and it disappeared.

I have the etchings and I have all the plates. I can’t run this series, I could only run autumn. I grew up surrounded by my mother doing art, etchings, watercolors, oils, lithography, a constant sketchbook and crafts. I took a painting class a few years ago. The instructor says, “Acrylics are NOT watercolors.” I reply, “I know how to DO watercolors.” I was being quite creative with the acrylics only I automatically used the watercolor techniques that I grew up with.

The photograph doesn’t really do them justice. I will have to take some more. Plus I have her slides in some of the boxes left from when my father died. More cataloging.

Blessings and good memories of my mother.

If

This is one of the ten poems that my mother made etchings for, the year I was just done with college. 1983-4. I wanted to write, but had no idea what to do with the poems that I was writing. My mother Helen Burling Ottaway had done a series of etchings with a family friend’s poems, so I asked if she would do the same with me. She said, “Yes, on one condition.” “What is that?” “They have to rhyme.” She did not like the free verse. Almost all of the poems were about animals, except for one about my sister. Another friend printed the poems on a lead type press and then my mother worked on editions numbered 1-50 of each, inking the plate separately for each one. This one is number 5/50. You can see the imprint of the plate on the paper in the photograph.

If I could be anything
I’ll tell you what I’d like to be
One of those small green frogs
That sails from tree to tree

These frogs can jump, they have no laps
They are not birds with wings
the have parachutes between their toes
And I am sure that they can sing

They spread their toes and jump so high
To float like snowflakes in the air
Frogs fall like rain from clear blue skies
It must be nice up there

Why they jump I do not know
Maybe escaping hungry eyes
Perhaps to catch a tender bug
Or they just like to fly

If I could be anything
I’ll tell you what I’d like to be
One of those small green frogs
That sails from tree to tree.