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.


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.


For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: timely.

My mother died in 2000 and my father in 2013 and my house is full of art. My mother was a prolific artist and I am working on placing, gifting, cataloging her art. There is rather more than I’d seen. Watercolors and etchings were her most loved, I think, though she did woodcuts, silk screen, oils, pottery and all sorts of crafts.

She did tiny etchings, often 2 by 2 or 2 by 3 inches of fantasy creatures.

Etching of Winged Hare, by Helen Ottaway
Winged Hare by H. Ottaway
etching: Dolphin, by Helen Ottaway
Dolphin, by H. Ottaway

Mother Daughter Show III

The Mother Daughter Show III is hanging, with a few additions still to come, at Pippa’s Real Tea, in Port Townsend, Washington.

Gallery Walk is Saturday June 6, 2015 from 5 to 8 pm and the first Saturday in July as well.

The photo is of four framed etchings: state I, II, III and IV of the Four Seasons. Each is a limited edition etching individually run and numbered, twenty of each edition. Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. These are by my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway, not by me.

I have not done a full inventory of our art, so I don’t know how many I have of each of these etchings. These are 18 by 24, so technically difficult. I do not have the press, but I may have the plates, though they may have been damaged. And even though I know how to run etchings, I don’t have her skills in inking the plates and more importantly, wiping the right amount of ink off. I may have notes about the ink colors, but the trick would be finding them. And is the same paper still made?

At any rate, I am really delighted to have our work up and ready to show for the months of June and July.

I lost my father today two years ago, so am thinking of both my parents.

Love and self

When you love someone, do you lose your self?

I think that is the tricky bit about love. When you fall for someone else, do you fall or do you hold on to yourself? Where is that boundary?

I am in a flirtation. I am very interested in a person. I am interested in what he says and what he is interested in. I am learning quite a bit about some topics that really, have not been on my radar. I also often disagree quite strongly in the realm of politics. And I don’t really care that our politics are just about opposite ends of the spectrum.

I am interested in where we meet and where we don’t meet. Where we agree and where we very strongly disagree and privately think that the other person needs their head examined. I am not falling too far into the “really this person thinks like I do, they just won’t admit it” trap. Well, perhaps I am. Perhaps that is what love is: when we project part of our self and the ideal part of ourself on to the other person. They reflect and occupy some part of our ideal. That does not mean that they ARE our ideal or that they ARE the projection.

In this particular flirtation, he does not seem interested in much of what I am interested in. Well, particularly poetry. Occasionally this bothers me but mostly I shake it off. I am hoping that I have reached the age and level of cynicism where I do not expect the other person to like everything I like, to agree with what I say, to have the same ideals or ideas. I am watching myself and wondering how much of what I like in him is him and how much is my projection. Don’t know yet. The mind is a peculiar place. So is the heart.

But …. I am feeling much happier about holding on to myself at the same time as I fall and crush. I look at what he likes and wants but I also hold what I like and want. I am trying to give them equal weight, the needs and wants and desires of the two people present.

Hold and fall, at the same time.

The picture is of an etching by my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

Shake it off.

Also published on

The Mother Daughter Show II

Over the last two days, I hung the Mother Daughter Show II, at the Boiler Room in Port Townsend, Washington. It will be up for the month of December.

This time it is the joint work my mother and I did in the 1980s. She did etchings to go with nine of my poems. The tenth poem was written for an etching she had already done. I asked my mother if she would do this project with me and she replied, “Only if the poems rhyme. None of that free verse stuff.”

I worked on the poems, I think with my mother’s etching style in mind. She used a zinc plate, with a tar solution on it. She would do a drawing in the tar, usually with a dental tool. The plate was placed in acid, which would etch where the tar had been scraped away. She would etch the plate multiple times, which gave different depths to the etched lines.

When the plate was finished, she would remove the tar and run an artist’s proof. She would heat the plate on a metal hot plate. She would ink it and then gently wipe the ink off until there was a very thin layer on the unetched parts of the plate. This had to be done delicately, so that the ink was not wiped out of the etching lines. She would place the plate on the press, place a piece of wet paper gently over the plate, lower the thick pile of wool pads over the paper and run the press. After the plate had gone through, the paper was peeled up and there was an etching, with the edges of the plate pressed into the paper.

Sometimes she was not satisfied and would return to the tar and change the etching. Sometimes she ran multiple proofs until she had the color right. Then she would run an edition. The print and poems are editions of fifty. Each etching is signed and numbered: 1/50, 2/50, 3/50, and so forth. We had the poems printed first, on a lead type press, and then my mother ran the etchings. We had a show in the late 1980s in Alexandria, Virginia.

My mother died in 2000. My father died in 2013. My mother was a prolific artist, so trying to deal with the estate felt insane. I put the art in a storage unit. When I had The Mother Daughter Show in July, it felt like a remembrance of my mother. And anyhow, I have to do something with the art in that storage unit, don’t I?

I find the etchings easier to show and sell then the watercolors. I want to clutch each watercolor, but eventually I will start to let go of them. I have the etching plates, too, because my mother said she was terrible at finishing editions. I have the box of poems printed on the lead press and the guides for running the edition. I do not have the press. My sister took it to California and it disappeared. That is ok, because there are presses in Port Townsend. There is a big art community, which is part of why my parents moved to this area in 1996. Art, music, gardens and boats.

My mother did many small fantasy etchings, flying elephants, fairies, a mermaid, a merman. The poems I sent her were almost all about animals. I wrote Eating Water Hyacinths and my mother did a charming etching of two manatees. She looked in various books to see what manatees looked like and then drew them. I wrote a blue crab poem and we bought a live crab. I photographed her drawing the crab, which was skittering around unhappily on the dining room floor. I enjoyed the constraint of rhymes. It made it easier to write the poems, though I am not sure why.

I have six of the series hanging in the show. I don’t currently have the other four framed. The Gallery Walk is this Saturday. I hope that people will come and perhaps we will sell one. We are also going to show the Panda Minimum, outside. The Panda Minimum is a mountain bike camping trailer, a bit like a teardrop trailer, designed and built by a local friend. We will have it outside the Boiler Room. I’ve already told the friend that I think the Panda will steal all the thunder and the art on the wall will be ignored, but ah, well. I have a third show scheduled, for June and July, at another venue. It is easier to do shows of my mother’s artwork than my own, because I think she was so good.

Also published on everything2 today.

The Boiler Room:

Donate to the Boiler Room! Or come to the auction, also tomorrow!