in the beginning...

This blog was suggested by my friend Tracy Jager, who is working on a project with me entitled The Archaeology of Water, a handprinted suite of etchings based on poems submitted by five writers from the Canadian prairies. The first print in the suite, incorporating the poem The Life and Surprizing Adventures by Robert Kroetsch, seemed to require an image of a coconut monkey, which/who was duly found by Tracy in a local Filipino grocery store (whoops! see comment below) and nicknamed Bob. Bob continues to reside in the studio now named after him, Coconut Monkey Press.

More images of the project will be posted over the next few days, so please check us out once in a while!
The second print in The Archaeology of Water suite. The poem, Fish, was contributed to the project by George Amabile.

The five poets whose work forms the literary core of the project are associated with the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. The project was initiated and coordinated by Winnipeg writer Karen Clavelle, who teaches in the Department of English, Film and Theatre at St. Paul's College, U of M.

The imagery for the prints was developed through a collaboration between myself and Vancouver artist/writer Tracy Jager. In fact, most of the concepts and materials for the imagery came from Tracy, while I worked out the technical elements necessary to get the imagery embedded into the plates, and eventually printed.

The third print contains the poem Riverhurst 3 by Birk Sproxton, whose untimely death in March 2007 was a great loss to the Canadian writing community, and to our project. Birk taught creative writing at Red Deer College for over thirty years while writing and publishing numerous books of poetry and prose.

The plates used for these prints are industrial grade copper, approximately 18 x 13 inches. The text for the poems was screenprinted onto the plates using sugar lift ground, and the plates were deeply bitten in ferric chloride to ensure that whatever else happened with the plates, the text elements would be well established! The imagery beyond that was mostly a combination of soft ground elements bitten directly into the plates, and photo-based elements which were screenprinted with sugar lift, then aquatinted with rosin. Once the plates were ready for editionning, they were steel faced at New Leaf Press on Granville Island, Vancouver.
Gimli Waltz, a poem by David Arnason, is the basis for the fourth print in The Archaeology of Water. David was born in Gimli, Manitoba, a community of strongly Icelandic origins on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. David now teaches English and Icelandic Studies at St. John's College at the University of Manitoba, and was instrumental in organizing the initial seed funding for this project. It is intended that some of the proceeds from sales of the suite will be used to fund scholarships for creative writing at the University, and some funds will be used to create scholarships in the Fine Arts Department at Langara College in Vancouver, where I teach printmaking and drawing.
The fifth and final poem in the suite, know it was for you, was written by Dennis Cooley, originally of Estevan, Saskatchewan, but now teaching English at St. John's College, University of Manitoba. It was during the reading and re-reading of the five poems that we realized that they all had some relationship with water, hence the name of the suite.

Each of the plates required numerous printed proofs in the process, first to establish the imagery, then to develop the colour for each print and for the suite as a whole. It was during a visit to the interior of British Columbia at Thanksgiving in 2004 that I had the experience of observing (and photographing) the Adams River sockeye salmon run, a phenomenon in which over 2 million salmon return to the small Adams River location, where they had hatched four years earlier, in order to spawn. The developed photos of the bright red fish swimming upstream, or drifting pale and dead downstream, combined with the rich colours of the autumn landscape, were exactly what we'd been searching for in terms of a palette for the prints. Some of the prints required as few as five or six colours; others involved more than fifteen. The inks were applied a la poupee, and the editions were printed on Hannemulhe German Etching Paper, using my 19th Century Ledeuil a Paris etching press.