Thursday, March 21, 2013

Gifts from The States to France

If you are coming over for a visit to stay with friends who live in France, there are a few food treats you might want to bring that could put a twinkle in their eye .       

Of course, most American food items have found their way over here just as most French food items are found in super markets across America.   But there are a few things that we might miss.

If you are American and living here you will have seen the appearance in recent years of  Pepperidge Farm cookies and Oreos in most of the high end markets.  There are even "m&m's" but just the peanut ones since these don't compete with "Smarties" or any other European candy.

 In the biggest markets in Nice and surrounds (Galeries Lafayette and Monoprix), there is an "American" aisle which boasts among other things:  microwave popcorn,  marshmallow fluff ( Whaa?),  Pillsbury cake and muffin mixes,  Skippy peanut butter (crunchy or smooth but never both), maple syrup and boxed macaroni and cheese.  Strange, because I have never bought anything off this aisle.  My favorite peanut butter (without sugar) is in the bio store. 

  Popcorn in kernels can now be found in the dried fruits area of the store and the maple syrup along with agave and honey are in the normal aisle for sweeteners .  Kellogg's and "Post" have long made in-roads into Europe and the only change is that the French don't seem to make "rice krispies" or "wheat chex" and they like to put chocolate chips in with cereal.  

AliceandtheMockTurtle .blogspot
Speaking of chocolate chips, French ones are disappointingly small.  And they are called nuggets (pepites de chocolate) .  They are hardly nuggets,  no bigger than a tiny diamond chip.  We should trade names.  Let Vahine have the name "chips" and  Nestle's Tollhouse can call theirs "nuggets".   And these nuggets cost "an arm and a leg" because they are half real chocolate.   

  No,  Neither Tollhouse nor Ghiradelli chips are found here in Nice.   If you are a fan of  the very American chocolate chip cookies, you will need to go to Jefferies in Antibes.   But if I make cookies now, I just chop up a bar of the superior chocolate to be found everywhere in France.

Stahmann's Pecans
Nor do the French seem to prize pecans and macademia nuts.  They are quite expensive when you find them.  Bins of dried fruits and nuts which can be found in American supermarkets are practically non-existant in France so these delicacies are pricey.   Thus dried cherries and unsweetened dried cranberries and apricots are a good gift to bring.

For a long time the thing I wished for was plastic wrap that didn't leave one tangled in plastic and cursing a blue streak.  Cousin Rog found a wrap with its own cutter called Stretch-tite by Kirkland and it is superb.  He has brought me enough wrap from America now to last at least a few years.  I try not to use it very often because lets face it , its non re-cylable. 

  You also might bring good re-usable plastic freezer bags....what we call "zip lock", especially the giant ones which can be used for a lot of different kinds of storage  (like sweaters).  

Uma's Culinary World.
One thing I have never seen over here are Lima beans .   Southerners would love those , I'm sure, or other varieties of heirloom beans.
And if you want to tease the French who produce the worlds best variety of cheeses,  you might bring some American cheese like " Pepper Jack" just for a taste comparison.

  You could bring these things to your French friends too,  just don't "super size" them, they would not appreciate that.  Treats should be ...well ...occasional. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

I do art, I make stuff

I am a "faiser".  This is a "made up" word from the French " faire" : "to do , to make". 
This is a collage I found downstairs in my things..... I made it a while ago when I was experimenting with technique ( vodka and tissue paper), color etc.... and it includes a scrap of an old love letter written to me by a boy who is no longer living.... a boy who died before he was a man.  

 If I hired an "art-speak-bull-pucky" type to write about this piece, he would say it is a "bittersweet tribute to love and youth".  

 I no longer have this boy to laugh with about our exploits together in the early days of "drugs, sex and rock and roll" ..... and, for that matter, I no longer have youth.  But I do still make stuff and it's fun.... and can get obsessive. 

In 1924, Francis Scovell Shinn wrote a intriguing little text called " The Game of Life and How to Play it".  In there she says that we all have the right to "health, wealth, love and perfect self expression."   The first three are pretty easily defined, but what is your idea of perfect self expression?  

  Is it making a home, effecting change in your world, raising a kid, making music, cooking, creating a product, collection or  business,  bringing people together,  making people laugh?   

There probably isn't just one thing.... but if there is you will know it because you love doing it..... and you probably get obsessive about it. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Aquatint: Part IV

Print # 2

Print number two does not inspire me.  It is badly inked with fingerprints clearly visible and there is a lack of a dark contrasting value.  

 I decide to redo the resin for the two darkest tones.  In order to do this I must be sure to cover all of the light areas with a layer of "stop out" varnish before the plate goes into the resin cabinet for a second time.  

Print # 3

Here is the next print after that process and another acid bath.  I have used some paper to wipe  some areas of the plate which in this case has left a mottled appearance.  However, the darks now give a better contrast.  
I don't like the demarcation on the lower egg shell of the side shadow.   I take some metal polish and a burnisher to work on this area. 

Print # 4

This is the best print so far.  You can see that I have managed to fade out the lower egg shell side shadow a bit.  Those three little specks are flakes of chalk (blanc de Meudone) that were left on the press when the last person cleaned the plexiglass cover.  I will have to be more careful and check it next time.... but I can dab those with a wash of watercolor later.

  Even thought the Prof. considers this a good print, I would still like to lighten the next one and work with the burnisher a bit on the top egg shell to get more contrast.    I might also darken some outlines.

This year I am starting to really appreciate the process of printmaking and enjoy the class more.  A lot has changed since we got a new professor last year and just maybe.....maybe I have learned some patience along the way.   

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Aquatint Part III

 On to part three of the process of making an Aquatint engraving:  
After I have run my plate five times through the acid, covering the areas for the various value tones as I go, I am ready to try a print.  I first need to rinse and dry the plate from the acid bath and then remove all of the "stopping out" varnish I have gradually added to the various sections.   

Using the chamois leather covered "poupee"
1. Inking the plate: 
a.) To ink the plate we use a dabber or "poupee" in a rocking motion to make sure the ink penetrates all of the bitten areas.   

Three pieces of tarlatan from the first black one to the whitish one used last.

b.) Wiping the plate: tarlatan 
Three pieces of stiff gauze or "tarlatan" are used in succession after the ink is applied.   The first takes off most of the excess ink on the surface of the plate, the next darkest one still more, and by the third one, I can see the design quite clearly. 


c.)  Hand-wiping of the plate. 
One of the oldest methods is to wipe the plate in a sweeping motion with the heel of the hand. This insures an even distribution of ink.  It is our preferred method after the tarlatan is used and that is why you will see my right palm still a bit inky on Friday and Saturday.  It takes about 3 days to wear off. 

 The first print " premier tirage".
1.) Drying the paper: 
 The "BFK Rives" sheet to be used is taken from the water bath where it has been soaking, is dried carefully with a towel.

2.)  Printing: 
 The inked plate is placed face up on the flat of the press and the paper is dropped on top.  For this reason , one must measure to make sure the paper is centered before dropping it in place.  Then I place the leather and felt sheets  ("langes") on top of the  paper before rolling it through the press.  

 Photo by
3.  Now I have my first print and I can tell by looking at it ( below) that I have not removed all of the resin with "alcohol a bruler".  Also my darkest blacks are not very dark.  

Next I will show you the corrections I have tried.  

Friday, March 8, 2013

Aquatint Part II

Dry point needles and burnisher/scraper

Yesterday we talked about preparing the copper plate for engraving with a stylus.  Above are the main tools of the beginning engraving artist.  The first two are drypoint needles which can also be used to draw through the waxy varnish we have put onto the plate.  

For the first drawing on the plate I simply want to outline my drawing, there will be no shading involved. 

1.) Acid bath: 
Once I have the main drawing on the plate I am ready to put it into the acid bath for 6-10 minutes.   

a.) Checking the bite:
I check with a magnifying glass to see if the plate is sufficiently "bitten", if not I put it back in the acid.

c. ) Removing varnish: 
 I rinse the plate in water, dry it and proceed to a ventilated area to remove all of the varnish with "white spirit".  

Rough Sketch of how long I left each area in the acid after "stop out " resin was applied

d. ) Stop out varnishing: 
Now that I have an outline of my intended image I can proceed to cover the area that I wish to leave white in the final product.   In the sketch above, my first tone is #1: white.  This is the area I first cover with "stop out" varnish to prevent the resin from touching it.  

2.) Applying resin:  

a.) Resin cabinet:
With the aid of a bellows and a wooden box full of fine particles of resin,  I am able to disperse  the resin and then quickly insert the plate and let the particles fall on its surface. These particles will  later hold the ink.  I leave the plate in the closed cabinet for 5-10 minutes depending how fine or heavy I want the layer. 

b.) Fixing the resine: 
The old method was to burn the bottom of the plate with a candle to fix the particles but because of safety reasons we now use an electric heat gun passed under the plate, an inch away, to melt and fix the resin.  I let the plate cool.  

3.) Acid bath: 
a)  I am now ready to bite and stop out each value on the chart.  I am trying for 6 different shades in the diagram above. For the lightest grey I will put the plate in acid from 3-6 minutes and then "stop out" all of the areas marked with #2.  I will continue alternating acid and varnish for each area five different times. In the last bath, everything is covered with varnish except the blackest area.   
When I have done this five times the last uncovered area will have been in the acid for 15-25 minutes so that will be the darkest area.    

Next post will be the first print of my image.  This technique "grows on you".  If it weren't for the moments when I get it right, "la belle surprise" I don't think I would keep doing it.  Like most things, it requires rigorous discipline to get it right. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Aquatint Printing Part 1

Some of you know that I have been following a printmaking class here at the municipal art school of Nice.   We have been introduced to several of the many techniques including "intaglio": printing with an etched metal plate or stone.    In the class, I have tried aquatint and sugar lift aquatint which both require an acid bath to bite into a metal plate. 

This egg drawing is an example of an aquatint intaglio engraving that I am working on at present.   

  Here are the main steps to prepare a plate:

Step 1:  Prepare the image
 The first step is to make a drawing showing , more or less, what values you want to use in your final copy.   I used  washes of black water color to draw a series of values from black to the lightest grey or off white I wanted to use.   I am using a photo I have taken (above) and then sketched out. 

Step 2: Prepare the plate for printing
    A) Bevel the edges
 My next step after the drawing,  was to prepare the plate or "plaque" to be used.  With both copper or zinc plates, one must bevel the edges with a metal file so that the plate will not cut the felt "swaddling clothes" (langes) on the press when printing.  Felt and leathers are a big expense for any studio.  ( Of course, the printing press is the biggest investment for an engraver.)

    B) Polish the plate

Part of preparing the plate involves polishing the metal with metal sandpaper so that it is smooth and free of streaks and grease.  A copper plate, which I am using, takes 3 different grades of sandpaper to relieve it of any streaking.

   C.) Degrease the plate

The plate is then degreased with a combination of Blanc de Meudone ( a powdered chalk) and white vinegar until water won't bead on the surface.  With some treatments not involving resin, it is enough to polish the plate with metal polish and alcohol.

    D.)  Protect the back of the plate
We use an adhesive backing as protection from the acid bath to come.  This is the stuff you can line your drawers with.  It works a charm in this capacity. By covering the "wrong" side of the plate the acid doesn't get dirty faster and you can always use the other side of the plate later, if you wish.

 E.) Apply varnish

Next  apply an Ultra flex engraver varnish ( I use one made by Charbonnel.)   We brush it on with a wide brush to cover the plate.  Ultra flex drys in an hour and one is then ready to transfer the design onto the plate .

F) Transfer the design

 This can be done freeform drawing with a stylus or with the use of tracing paper.   With engraving you need to realize that everything will be the mirror image when drawing on the plate with a drypoint needle through a waxy varnish.  So we place the design backwards on the plate.

In the next post we will talk about the resin, the and the "stopping out" process.   Stay tuned.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Weird looking food category

This strange tumor-like monstrosity is not from the latest horror film nor is it a truffle.  It is another delicacy that I can buy here in Nice at the outdoor market and if not here, I can easily find it across the border in Italy.

It is a fire roasted beet or "betterave" as it is called in France.  You may be familiar with roasted beets but I was not until living in Milan.  

If you take a look on the web , you will see all sorts of inspired recipes and ways to roast them yourself.  Here is a site that caught my eye with its delectable sounding salad with radicchio and chevre ( goat cheese) and black olives, all Nicoise specialties.  

Photo by blog: Smarthmouth

What could be easier when all the work of roasting is already done for you by the vendor.  

Whoa,  I am getting hungry now.  Let's try it. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

In my school of fish....

Photo by Mary Payne

Happy Birthday:    Lanie,  Iris,  Dave,  Zelda,  me, Bruce B., Emma,  Marianne,  Karine,  Monsieur, Jen and all of you Poisson ( Pisces ) out there.    Have a swimmingly festive birthday. 

Fellow Pisceans were/are Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein , Michelangelo, Alexander Graham Bell , George Washington, Mitt Romney and Osama Bin Laden.   Hmmm.  

For my birthday I am going to meet four new people and have dinner with them.  How is that for an interesting gift to myself.  Oh, and the Carnival of Nice is over that day ....another thing to celebrate as we can have our beach front back to bike along.  

 I know , watch out for turning into a crotchety old lady.   It can happen just like that.... snap.   

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Highlights of the week

New french friend, Juliette, two weeks old ( such a thrill)

Wearing my first hand knitted sweater (It's supposed to roll on the bottom, just saying)

Made a salad out of this errant child of Radicchio

Mozzi finds a new spot for a nap ( in front of the heater)

Dug two giant plants out of the garden ( took me two days of sawing and digging)

Second bike ride of the season,  (  I am ready for Chemin de Terron, Jeanne)

Starting new knitting project, self stripping, so much fun.