Monday, May 30, 2016

Journey into Printmaking -- Part 5, Reflections

When I finished my NSCAD program, I thought my next step would be to get into the studio and "play with paint".  I wanted, through trial and error, to learn what paint materials can do.  I wanted to train them -- and be trained by them -- to produce the results I visualize in my mind.  I dithered through the early months of 2015, detoured into renovation and set-up of the studio space over that summer, procrastinated into the early fall and finally began with a realistic acrylic painting intended purely as an exercise.  In no time, my shortcomings with acrylics ground me to a halt... and from an earlier post, you know already about the diversions I set up for myself in early 2016 to keep painting at bay.

It comes as a surprise, then, to recognize that at last, at last, I'm playing at last, albeit with printmaking instead of paint!

I think one of the reasons I've drifted into printmaking this year concerns the physicality of the tools and materials.  While I was straining away on the acrylic painting, I could feel something missing, something to do with the handling of tools, the texture of materials, the engagement of my body in the making process.  Not that painting has none of the above, but it felt like a matter of degree; at the time my body wanted to move more actively than working small-scale with paint would allow.  My muscles were (figuratively) twitching; my hands wanted more to hold than a brush; I wanted to get lost in the trance of manipulating materials.  There are other reasons why I shied away from painting -- I was afraid to fail -- but the needs of my body were answered when I stopped fighting them and picked up my carving tools.

So were the needs of my spirit.  I'm having fun.  It's Christmas morning every time I peel up a fresh print.  Although I've made mistakes and had to re-do, I can see the undeniable progress in the results. I'm going somewhere; I'm getting somewhere.

Recently, I went into the Saint John Art Centre studio and used the etching press to successfully print a 10-print series of Side-Yard Gate and a 20-print series of Tree Swallow.  I created inventory!  That can be sold!  And learned another new thing: an official print studio (whatever that means) has an identifying mark or logo that gets embossed into every print made there.  Every one of my 30 prints now bears an embossed mark that announces to the cognoscenti "this print was made at the Saint John Art Centre".  A pair of embossed "artist proofs" of each print now resides in the Centre's archive.

I'm not giving up painting.  I'm not giving up photography.  I expect I'll still make handmade books.  I'm adding printmaking to the repertoire.  And I'm no longer angsting over what kind of artist to be when I grow up.  If there's a pigeonhole to put me in, it's labelled "Multi-disciplinary"... or to put it less formally, "Eclectic".  

Journey into Printmaking -- Part 4, Tools and Materials Matter

I imagine that every maker has his/her favourite tools and materials: metal knitting needles vs. bamboo ones; ash vs. maple; oil paint vs. acrylics; silver vs. gold.  A skilled technician can work with  virtually any tool and any material, but you want the ones that make your heart sing while you work.

I have some old linocutting materials and tools that were gifted to me after a friend's mother moved on from them.  I also have some new materials and tools I picked up at NSCAD.  I have my NSCAD experiences with printmaking, few and brief as they are, but they left a small legacy from which I can draw.  I have my own needs and desires concerning how I want to work and the results I want to achieve.  The upshot is that this short printmaking journey has also involved an exploration of tools and materials, completely unexpected when I began but unexpectedly enlightening.

I started with a piece of old lino and my high quality carving tools, really intending for wood carving.  The Tree Swallow plates were all done with lino and using those tools.  At my nascent skill level, I find it tricky to carve fine details into lino, especially the small areas that will print black.  The lino tends to "fail" when too much is carved away from a small section that you want to remain.  I succeeded with the Tree Swallow plates, but felt uncomfortably close to the brink of disaster several times along the way.

Briefly at NSCAD, I was enrolled in a relief printing course that I eventually had to drop because of schedule overload.  There, I was introduced to Sintra, a plastic that comes in large sheets and whose intended purpose is for sign-making... and which carved like butter.  I tracked down the few small scraps I'd saved from the course, carved a few trial strokes and was instantly converted.  Thence began a rather fraught search to find more.  I approached a sign maker in Saint John and was given an armload of cutoffs only to discover that while they looked like the real thing, they behaved differently.  Sintra is forgiving, they were not.  I tried the internet, where the cost of shipping was about five times the (exorbitant) cost of an artist-sized piece.  I contacted the US manufacturer who directed me to a wholesaler in Moncton, but the wholesaler didn't carry Sintra despite what the manufacturer thought.  I tried another Saint John sign maker.  He disappeared doubtfully into recesses of his warehouse and eventually emerged with a partial sheet, the last of his (obsolete) stock.

Thankfully, it's a large enough amount that if I keep working small, get the drawings right the first time and take care to get the orientation right, it should last for a while.  Meanwhile, NSCAD's printmaking department directed me to another source for the next time I make the four-hour drive to Halifax.  And suggested an alternative, Marmoleum, which again led to hours spent on the internet.  Eventually I got my hands on a 13" square tile although it's only 1/16th inch thick, which doesn't give much leeway for relief carving.  I'll try it eventually; haven't had time -- or the courage -- yet.

The point is: while someone else may prefer lino and know all the special techniques for making it sing -- like heating it up before carving -- my current love affair is with Sintra because of the fine lines it accommodates.  Side-yard Gate was carved into Sintra, and I would have despaired of achieving the long straight lines in that drawing had I tried to work it in lino, at my current, limited skill level.

While we're talking about materials, let me mention the papers onto which prints are made.  Who knew there is so much to know about papers?  The paper onto which my linocut prints were made is Somerset, which has a smooth, velvety surface.  The copperplate etchings were also made on a much different Somerset paper with a harder, slightly textured surface.  Somerset is hardly the only paper on offer; there's Stonehenge and Arches, only two that I've encountered and there are many more.  How to choose?  Eventually, I imagine, a person settles on the one that works for him/her and ignores the temptations of the rest, just to keep life somewhat under control given all the possibilities.

Then there are inks.  The first draft of Tree Swallow was made using hand-me-down Speedball water-based ink.  I can only hope that their formulas have improved; the tube I have must be at least 20 years old, possibly more.  I hated the results.  Next, I ordered some soy-based ink that cleans up with water, which I used for the second draft of Tree Swallow.  Much, much more satisfying.  But the siren call of the rubber-based ink I used at NSCAD held me in its thrall...  not finding a reasonable (affordable) online source, I turned to a retired printer I know here in St. Martins who tracked down a small amount for me to use.  Ooo, the smoothness with which the ink rolled onto the plate; ooo, the rich black on the paper; but arg, the ensuing clean-up!  It begins with vegetable oil... and here I mention that there is no running water at the studio.  I had to take the slippery, inky-oily plate and tools home to finish the task.  Yikes!

In the copperplate etching course, we used an oil-based ink that had qualities similar to those of the rubber-based ink, but in the properly equipped Saint John Art Centre printing studio, the clean-up was a comparative breeze.  Health and environmental advocates endorse the water soluble inks over the oil- or rubber-based, and their concerns are legit.  But ooo, those rich blacks!  The heart has a say in the matter too.

Now we turn to tools and let me start with the baren, essentially a smooth pad with a handle above it that is slid across the paper while pressure is applied from above.  Mine is simple and inexpensive: a very fine metal screen on the bottom of the pad and a plastic handle with a good grip that arches over the top, reminiscent of a shovel handle.  The baren originates in Japanese woodblock printing and traditionally is surfaced with bamboo leaves.  They're still made and used today, and are touted as superior, so I went shopping online.  Having been assured that you-get-what-you-pay-for in bamboo barens, I bypassed the ones costing less than $10 and went looking for something of (presumed) better quality.  The next price range I found was $1,000+; nothing in the middle.  It would be fascinating to watch a skilled Japanese printer demonstrate the differences between a $10 baren and a $1,000+ one.  Needless to say, I won't be trying the experiment myself.

I already have enough to explore with my lino carving tools: a hand-me-down Speedball set with a plastic handle and disposable blades, and a Flexcut carving set with 10 (razor-sharp!) blades and a sharpening kit.  I felt so superior using the Flexcut kit, clumsily trying to follow the sharpening kit instructions, until I read a post online that said forget your fancy woodcarving tools, lino-carving dulls them too quickly, stick to the Speedball disposables for the best results.  Okay, my personal jury is still out, but next up on my shopping list will be a supply of disposable blades for the Speedball set so I can really explore the differences.

Copperplate etching requires a different kind of tool.  Bob lent us proper etching needles owned by the Saint John Art Centre so we could work on our plates between his classes.  But he had kindly allowed me to try one of his own tools, a modified dental pick... and it was so vastly superior in its mark-making that I sought and gratefully accepted the loan of it for the week.  The results were so gratifying that instead of immediately plunging into a re-working of the salt marsh print after the course ended, I plunged into a search for dental tools.  My dentist claims his clinic gets its tools re-sharpened, so I took to the internet again.  Eventually I found what I wanted, unexpectedly cheap, delivered promptly from Ontario, and got a machinist friend to grind it down into the right shape for an etching scribe.

I hope you're getting the point of all of this: in attempting to make prints, I had no idea I was embarking on a technical (and online shopping) journey as well as an artistic one.  I had no idea at the outset that the technical issues would make such a difference, not just to the artistic results but to my enjoyment of the process.  I like the feel of the Flexcut tools in my hand and the challenge of trying to keep them sharp; the buttery, easily carved Sintra; the sticky blackness of the ink on the glass plate and roller; the velvety surface of the Somerset paper; and the physicality of turning the handle of the Saint John Art Centre etching press.  Tools and materials matter, not only for the quality of the results they produce but for how they feel to the hand, and how they make you feel inside.  My advice to all makers: explore, explore, explore and find the ones that make your heart sing!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Journey into Printmaking -- Part 3, Copperplate Etching

If you've been following along with this series of posts, you know already that I was signed up for a copperplate etching course with Robert Morouney at the Saint John Art Centre.  This was a two-day course, over consecutive weekends, so clearly introductory rather than in-depth, but it was a really great exposure to the technique... and I took careful notes... something I sometimes regret not doing more carefully at NSCAD!

Copperplate etching is as it sounds: you take a plate of copper and using a sharp tool, you etch a drawing into the surface.  When you coat the plate with ink, rolling it on exactly as for the previously described linocuts, the etched lines fill with ink.  You carefully wipe the remaining ink off the surface of the plate, so only the lines remain inked, then you run the plate through a press that transfers the drawing onto the paper.  It also embosses the shape of the plate into the paper, resulting in a subtle three-dimensional aspect to the print.

There are similarities and differences from the linocut technique.  Here, instead of making a drawing out of black shapes and white shapes, you make a line drawing... and again you face the decisions concerning what lines are essential and those that can be dispensed with.  Although it's possible to do shades of grey in etching, we didn't explore them in this course, basic as it was.  The approach we used to shades of grey concerned the kinds of mark-making used to fill various parts of the drawing.  As with the linocuts, the drawing must be reversed onto the plate in order to print in the right orientation.

We were to come to the first weekend with a drawing prepared.  Having been repeatedly told about Rembrandt's numerous self-portrait etchings, I decided to emulate him -- heck, why not?  The resulting drawing actually looks somewhat like me, and incorporates some of Bob's mark-making techniques learned in the earlier course, in the background.  A close look will reveal that even though I understand that the drawing on the plate has to be the reverse of what will appear in the print, I still don't quite have the technique down: my initials appear in the proper, right-hand corner, but the j is backwards.

Self-portrait 2016, copperplate etching, 2-3/8" x 3-3/8"

Having been exposed to the basics, we were to come to the second class with a plate prepared with a somewhat larger drawing.  I had taken a photo that I wanted to use and worked hard at it, incorporating some of my own intuitive mark-making and some of Bob's more graphic visual techniques.  However, I blew it again; enthusiasm overtook me and I scratched the drawing onto the first plate the right way around, i.e. the wrong way for printing, and had to beg for another plate to work with.  

The results underscored the earlier lesson: in printmaking, the original drawing must be right or the results won't be right.  This is a scene looking across the St. Martins salt marsh.  It shows promise, but the squiggles in the mid-ground are channels where water moves through the marsh that are incorrectly drawn to properly convey the receding distance to the flat waters of the Bay of Fundy, beyond.  And though I used Bob's mark-making techniques in the water bodies, I don't like the results; they speak with his voice, not mine.

St. Martins Salt Marsh, copperplate etching, 3-1/2" x 4-5/8"

I have to give Bob credit; one of the last things he taught us was how to prepare a copper plate for etching.  As a result, we each left the course with a prepared plate ready for making another print.  My plan is to re-do the one above, working thoughtfully on the drawing in order to get it "right", meaning consistent with the vision in my mind. 

I don't really see myself taking up copperplate etching in a serious way... so far, I prefer the positive and negative spaces of linocuts over the lines of etching... but I think I've finally got the lesson concerning orientation.  It's much like the adage to carpenters: measure twice, cut once.  I think, I hope, I'll know enough next time to stop and make sure of what I'm doing before I reach for the carving tools.

Journey into Printmaking -- Part 2

This post is about my continuing journey into printmaking and about the more-or-less spontaneous evolution of an image through various media.

Serendipitously, now that I was immersing myself in printmaking, Saint John Art Centre artist-in-residence, Robert Morouney, was about to offer a course in copperplate etching, and ahead of it, a brief course entitled Drawing into Stories.  I signed up for both, thinking the first one would likely lead naturally into the second.  The Saint John Art Centre has a dedicated printmaking studio, available for use by artists that have been trained in using the press, and this seemed like a great opportunity to cross that bridge... not to mention trying copperplate etching.

In the drawing course, Bob focussed on mark-making and on the process of resolving a many-toned image into black and white.  One of the assignments he gave was to take a photograph and draw it in black, white and a middle grey.  I settled on a photograph I'd taken near my Halifax flat when attending NSCAD.

Side-yard Gate (digital photograph)

Although I had intentionally picked an image with strong lights and darks, I found it unexpectedly easy and satisfying to pick out the things that would matter in a three-toned (hurriedly produced) drawing.

Side-yard Gate, pencil sketch

In another instance of serendipity, I found myself under pressure to produce a small painting as a donation to a fund raiser being held by the Saint John Art Centre.  Encouraged by the drawing I'd done, I decided to continue working with the same image.  The painting that follows was done after Bob's drawing course but before the copperplate etching course.  Working on this realistic rendition made me more intensely familiar with details in the image that would eventually come to matter when turning it into a print.

Side-yard Gate (oil on canvas, 5" x7")

By this time, I'd finished the Tree Swallow print, at least for the time being, and wanted to do another linocut.  I started with the sketch I'd done for Bob's course and the challenge of going from three tones to two.  I decided to experiment with the idea of using cross-hatching for the mid-tones and produced the first print.

Side-yard Gate, first draft

Here was another instance of a first draft that didn't begin to match the image in my mind.  Back to the drawing board again, to further tackle how to turn the image into black and white... and in this case again, the first draft had helped to isolate what mattered to the image and point to ways to make them stronger in the next version.  Materials came to matter in this print, but I'll save that story for another instalment in this series of blog posts.

Still using a baren to print, I produced another draft.  The hatching was gone, but the diagonal siding that is visible in the photo inspired a different solution for how to delineate space and light around the door.

Side-yard Gate, printed with a baren

I was considerably more satisfied with this version and was thinking of it as finished when, as the weeks progressed, I finally got to print it on the etching press at Saint John Art Centre after Bob's course was over.  Well!!!  What a surprise to see the press bring out carving detail that I didn't get with the baren, which enhanced the image considerably and opened up a whole new avenue of exploration: how to intentionally use the carving detail to effect in an image.

Side-yard Gate, final draft, printed on etching press

Journey into Printmaking -- Part 1

There has been another long hiatus between posts but this time, instead being pre-occupied with diversions, I've been having a swell artistic time, venturing into places that have surprised me and gathering up lessons along the way.

It began with attending life drawing sessions at the Saint John Art Centre, starting last fall, which reminded me that NSCAD indeed taught me to draw, something I still marvel at after having believed forever that I couldn't do it.  I've been working on large sheets of newsprint, which allows the drawing experience to be very physical... large gestures... and that has led to its own artistic journey that will await another post.

The next impetus was an opportunity I had to observe artist Paul Mathieson at work, painting in acrylics.  Last fall I had started work on an acrylic painting that eventually underscored what I already knew: that I have much to learn about handling the materials of painting, acrylics especially.  Because Paul works in acrylics and there are techniques in his paintings I admire, I asked for an opportunity to watch over his shoulder.  Here's a link to his website for an image that gives some examples of the gradation in shadings he achieves  Check out the woman in the long coat, centre-left.

Unexpectedly, I got something extra out of that session with Paul.  He assembles his compositions out of individual figure drawings that he cuts out and arranges on paper before settling on the final image.  In other words, although the individual elements of his compositions are careful drawings, the eventual scene arises from his imagination.  My NSCAD training focussed heavily on observational drawing and painting... but I remembered an assignment I'd done in which I drew the image in my mind by working from poses in several photographs.  What if I were to go back into my mind for images again?

The other thing Paul does that stuck with me is he outlines each element of his compositions with black lines.  Unusual for a painter, but that -- along with the fact that my fellow life drawing artist, Peter Salmon, had taken to using pen and ink -- reminded me of the graphic possibilities of black and white.

I decided to try a linocut print.  I've had tree swallows nest in my backyard most summers since I've been in New Brunswick, have learned to recognize their flight and have grown attached to them in some way, so I started with a photo from the internet of a perching swallow.  I knew there would need to be features in the background to complete the composition and settled on a mackerel sky, thinking that the diagonals would work well with the diagonals already present in the bird's pose on a wire.  I found a suitable photo of a mackerel sky... and the lessons began.

The first issue in creating a black and white image, I found, is to decide what information is essential and what must be discarded.  The photos consisted of darks, lights and a whole range of mid-tones; what must stay and what must go when you're condensing the image down to the essential darks and lights, and exaggerating them to the extremes of black and white?  I worked very hard with the first image, posting it on the wall once I felt it was done to see whether it would stand up to repeated viewing over time.  After a week or so, I eventually felt satisfied.  But sometimes, one is too close to one's work, as I'll eventually explain.

The next challenge involved deciding how to transfer the image onto the linoleum block.  I was experienced enough to know that it would have to be reversed onto the block in order to print the right way around.  But different transfer techniques proceed differently.  I photographed the drawing, flipped it 180 degrees digitally, then got it copied on a laser copier and ironed it onto the lino.  The heat transfers the ink.  But the image had already been flipped and doing the transfer that way flipped it again... so now, facing me from the lino was the image I expected to see in the finished print.  The penny failed to drop and I started carving.

The process of preparing a lino block for printing involves carving out the white areas of the drawing and leaving the black areas.  I had the right tools for the job and was enthusiastically on a roll before I realized the image would be facing the "wrong" way, but heck, it would be a mirror image and what would be wrong with that, I reasoned.  When the block was finished, I got out the rest of the tools -- paper, ink and a glass plate to put it on, a roller for distributing ink onto the block, and a tool called a baren for rubbing the paper by hand against the inked block.

For me, printing presents a moment of truth that has all the excitement and anticipation of Christmas morning when I was a child.  You peel the paper back from the block and discover whether you've succeeded or....  Oh, I thought, that isn't quite what I had in mind.

Tree Swallow, the first draft

The drawing of the bird was mis-proportioned, I saw for the first time, and there was too much detail in the mackerel sky, so the bird was getting lost.  And the orientation mattered; it didn't look right to me.  What clinched it was Peter Salmon's immediate comment when I showed it to him:  "Did you print it backwards?"  Peter has been a practicing artist and art teacher for his entire adult life, so now, at 73 years old, he has an experienced eye.  Still, it staggered me that he immediately knew that the image was facing the wrong way.   Being too close to the drawing initially blinded me to its problems; and the mirror-imaging I had casually brushed off turned out to matter.

Back to the drawing board, as they say.  This time, I changed the format of the drawing, worked to correct to proportion problems with the bird and after the meticulous carving of the first version, decided to try a much more casual approach to the sky, just to see what would happen,

Tree Swallow, second draft

After the great care taken with the first draft, I had dashed this second version off and it certainly showed... but it helped me get a clear idea of where I had to go with the drawing.  Finally I understood what had to be present and what could be stripped away.  It underscored an important lesson that I won't forget: in printmaking, the initial drawing matters enormously.  

Tree Swallow, final draft

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Learning by doing

A couple of people have commented that I seemed down in the last post.  No, not at all.  Sometimes facing unfortunate realities is depressing, but that wasn't one of those times.  Sometimes facing reality is freeing.


For starters, I've resumed art-making... working on a lino print.  For those who aren't familiar with what that is, you carve out a design on a piece of linoleum, then you make a print from it.  Nothing to it, right?  Not so, as it turns out.  

One of essences of a lino print is that it reduces the image you have in mind into colour vs. absence of colour -- or, colour vs. the whiteness of the paper.  You imagine an image, then you must "see" it in binary terms: black and white.  (Although, of course, you could use coloured ink, but for the moment let's keep this simple.)  Therein is the first challenge: how to translate the nuances of light and shadow into their extremes.  What part of the image needs to be dark; what part light?  

Sounds easy enough.  Imagine a little house, with a front door and windows on each side.  Obviously the windows and door would be white and the house black; let's put a little black doorknob on the front door, hmm?  Now let's put a tree beside the house and three flowers on the other side.  The trees and flowers are black; so far so good.  Next we'll put a couple of puffy clouds in the sky.  Hey, wait a minute.  So far the background is white, which means the clouds have to be black... but who wants black clouds floating over our bucolic little house?  The clouds should be white... which would mean the sky would have to be black.  But the house and tree are black, so how will we distinguish them from a black sky?  Okay, white outlines around them; problem solved.  Unattractive solution, maybe, but no more problemo!  Wait, now that the sky is black, should the clouds be moon and stars?  Oh, fer crying out loud!  As you can see, even in this simple example things get complicated.  

There is another binary to consider in planning the image: the high points and low points.  Lino prints, like woodblock prints and others, are called relief prints.  Carving out the block "relieves" material from it, and the high and low points of the resulting surface are what create the image.  The high points will take the ink; the low parts, where you carve away the lino, will be ink-free and will be pristine white in the print... or so you intend.  In reality, it's not that simple.  The carving tools leave marks in the low points, and paper is flexible and will bend into them.  If you have any large expanses that you want to be white, especially around the edges of the image, it's near-impossible to avoid traces of ink showing up where you don't want them.  You have to plan the high points and low points of the image accordingly.  The foreground in my little house drawing would be very difficult to keep clear of unintended marks.

Moreover, while it's not hard to carve out a thin white line in a field of black, the reverse is extremely difficult.  Lino is relatively unforgiving.  In my little drawing above, the mullions on the windows, the stem and leaves of the flowers and the flagstone pattern of the walkway would be near-impossible to carve as I've drawn them.  That cute little doorknob?  Good luck with that!  No doubt all of them could be done if you have the carving skill; me, I haven't got there yet.

Okay, with all those considerations duly considered, eventually you settle on the details of the image.  Then, it has to be reversed onto the carving block in order to appear the right way around on the paper.  You already have a headache from sorting out what the image will look like and now you have to create its mirror image?  How?  There are several ways and I won't go into the technicalities; suffice to say that despite some careful-but-not-careful-enough planning on my part, my image ended up the wrong way around, which turned out to have an interesting consequence (more later).

Once you have your image transferred to the lino block, the next step is to carve it.  In this case, the lesson is painful and bloody: always carve away from your body parts.  Damn, those tools are sharp!  Until they're not, which is when you get so wrapped up in pushing them harder that you forget to carve away from your fingers.  Great!  Once the blood is mopped up, you'll get to practice your sharpening skills.  

Several bandaids later, if you're a slow learner as apparently I am, the carving is done and you're ready to print.  You use a roller to spread ink across the surface of the lino block, lay it face down on the paper, flip the whole business over and rub the surface of the paper to press it against the inked block.  Bingo.  The inked image transfers to the paper and you have a print.

You peel the paper off the block and reality sets in.  First, there are marks on the print that weren't in your plans.  You reach for the tools and carve down the offending high points, re-ink the block and try again.  Shit.  Now you're seeing the image you (more or less) intended... and it ain't singing.  You thought you could get away with those white areas at the edge, but no.  You carve away some more and try again.  Now there's so much ink on the block that the shallowest carvings aren't showing up.  Simultaneously, there are places that obviously weren't inked enough, so they're patchy.  Damn.  Several tries later, you have a print that more or less suffices... at which point you can stand back and see the actual drawing as it has translated into a print.  Well, there's no getting around it... it looked a whole lot better in your imagination.


A couple of days after all of this, my studio buddy, Peter, mentioned that he had seen the print so I asked him for his comments.  His first and only question was: did you print the image backwards?  Shit.  Yes.  My earlier failure to transfer the image onto the lino block properly transmitted distinctly into the finished print.  Of all the things, Peter could have picked up on, he discerned that the image should have faced in the other direction?  Wow.  Therein is much, much to ponder.  Can a drawing's mirror image be "wrong"?  So it appears.


Does this sound discouraging?  Heck, no!  I haven't made a print in four years... and having learned (or re-learned) so much, I simply climbed right back up on the horse and moved on.  Redrew the image, changing the dimensions.  Corrected the proportions (so I hope).  Eliminated the white expanses at the edges of the block.  Used a different process for transferring the image to the lino block and thereby got the orientation right for printing.  Loosened up on the carving -- an experiment that may prove flawed.  Tomorrow, I'll print.  If it turns out, I'll post it.


So much to have learned, simply by having tried.  Making art is a process of continual learning if one is attentive to the lessons... continual instruction by the art-making itself.  I am so glad to have been to art school and to have gotten a BFA, but the learning never ends you dance at the edges of your comfort zone and pay attention!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Seven weeks of silence

It has been that long since I last posted.  There have been distractions.  When I revived this blog, it was in part to talk about the journey into becoming a practicing artist.  Distractions, I admit, are integral to that process; another word would be avoidance.

Around the time of the last post, I started to feel a sense of imbalance in my life, more particularly a dearth of worldly obligations.  The first part of my life was spent diligently and earnestly trying-to-make-the-world-a better-place.  Eventually I learned: the "world" is much, much bigger and more powerful than I am... so I laid down my tools.  Took myself off the hook.  Surrendered.  And that opened the door to taking care of myself for a change.  Among other things, I went off to NSCAD University to pursue what I had once considered an impossible dream.

Fast forward to January 2016, and all of a sudden I began to feel over-weighted on the self-indulgent side and a little too indifferent to the common good, so the first two distractions stepped to the fore.  First, I volunteered to help with the Syrian refugee resettlement initiative under way in Saint John, trying to bring my organizational skills and experience to bear on a situation that was generally one step ahead of catastrophe at that point (children unattended on the roof of the hotel, a family with lice, three children that had to be hospitalized on arrival near death from starvation, unattended children in the hotel pool... you get the picture).  That meant driving into Saint John, an hour and a half lost to commuting every day.  It meant hours at home on my computer, poring over lists of volunteers... It brought relatively little contact with the Syrian families, a short-term job offer that I declined, and a sharp reminder about what life in the work force is like. 

The second distraction arose out of federal politics when the Trudeau government established a committee to review Senate nominations, having earlier announced that it will eventually appoint "ordinary Canadians" as senators.  I've always thought I'd make a damn good senator, not under the historic political patronage system of appointments because as a non-partisan, former public servant, I have zero credentials in the game of party politics.  But if you want public policy analysis and sober second thought, well!  I'm your gal.  So I promptly did the homework and yes, there are two New Brunswick Senate vacancies.  That led to a serious re-work of my CV and some deep thought about suitable personal attributes and experiences I have, the kind you don't put in a CV... some emails to a prominent New Brunswick Liberal politician (still unanswered)... some entertaining flights of fancy... and some sober second thought.  If I was finding a temporary volunteer gig... um, trying... how would I manage working to age 75 (or death, whichever came first) in a demanding public service position?  Where was an artistic practice supposed to fit in that scenario?

The third distraction was a more pleasurable one: a nine-day trip to Isla Mujeres in Mexico with my St. Martins friend, Kate.  It was a milestone event: at 65 years-old, this was my first international travel other than to the US.  Ahead of the flight, I was pinching myself: I'm going to Mexico? me? really?  It was lovely, about as benign as a first international trip could be.  When I got back home a week ago (ish), Kate's husband, Jim, joined her, leaving me to play Auntie to their dog, Chica, for the month of March.  Arguably, Chica is a fourth distraction, but not nearly as preoccupying as the first three were.

Chica catches some rays in my yard, March 6, 2016

So what is this blog post all about, really?  It's about avoidance.  It's about what I've been pre-occupying myself with in order to be too busy to make art.  Let's call a spade a spade, here.  I have been gifted with a studio space, a huge gift that most artists would crave, and yet I've spent hardly any time there since Christmas.  I feel a resistance within, without knowing what that's all about.  Artists need fallow periods at times, but this feels more cathartic than mere rest.  There's something I'm working through that has to do with finding my own voice as an artist.  It was telling that I had planned to take a sketch book with me to Mexico but "forgot" it.  I had a chuckle at my own expense over that one.

But I haven't been entirely idle: I got an urge to make a relief print, worked carefully on a drawing for it, and have started the carving.  It has been a way to avoid painting, which seems to be at the heart of the knot.  Having set aside painting at NSCAD in order to do a photography major, I lost touch with paint... literally, how paint feels at the end of a brush.  NSCAD wasn't going to teach me about the materiality of how to use paint, so I decided I could figure that out through other means after the degree.  Now, here I am, and for some reason I'm resisting the obvious next step which is to abandon all expectations and "play with paint" until I find a comfortable vernacular with it.  What is at the heart of the resistance?  Is it fear of failure?  Is paint the wrong medium for me?  I don't know; there's an itch, but I don't know yet how to scratch it.

I'm reading a book at the moment, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland, both practicing artists.  This quote seems to sum up my present conundrum:
     Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and    contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward.  Making the work you want to make means setting aside these doubts so that you may see clearly what you have done, and thereby see where to go next.  Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself.  This is not the Age of Faith, Truth and Certainty.

In other words, somewhere within myself I'm trying to reconcile the potential meaninglessness of making art (neither audience nor reward, nor any making-of-the-world-a-better-place) with the possibility it holds of being one of the most meaningful things I could ever do with my life.  

These are the closing paragraphs of the book:
      Today, more than it was however many years ago, art is hard because you have to keep after it so consistently.  On so many different fronts.  For so little external reward.  Artists become veteran artists only by making peace not just with themselves, but with a huge range of issues.  You have to find your work all over again all the time, and to do that you have to give yourself maneuvering room on many fronts -- mental, physical, temporal.  Experience consists of being able to reoccupy useful space easily, instantly.
     In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice (or more accurately a rolling tangle of choices) between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot -- and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy.  It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty.  And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice.

These are the issues that are at the centre of my resistance, avoidance and raising of distractions to keep them at bay.  No wonder I'm stalling; these aren't small matters.  My earlier life came with a built-in sense of meaningfulness and there were built-in rewards and recognition -- in the former case as prosaic as money and the latter case, as seemingly trivial as a specific job classification.  Those things are what the conventional work world gives you, none of which are to be sneezed at and to all of which I'm thoroughly conditioned after an adult lifetime in the work force.

Perhaps my younger art student buddies have it easier, not having been habituated to the norms of a "career" outside of the arts?


Now, having distracted myself further for a couple of hours by writing this post, it's time to... put the next load of laundry on, check the wood stove, put clean sheets on the bed, make a batch of soup, take Chica for a walk... 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Nellie and the mouse...

Yesterday, a friend sent me a photo of my dear cat, Nellie, taken in one of her habitual locales:

(photo credit: Alice Higginson)

Nellie came to New Brunswick with me in 2009, hiding under the seat of the 26-foot U-Haul truck that my son, Geoff, and I drove from Whitehorse -- nine days on the road.  She was about two years old then, a former stray I had picked up at the local humane society... a bit standoffish like a typical cat, but she had some endearing habits, one of which you see above, another being that she loved to play fetch with sponge balls that she would retrieve expectantly, eager for another throw.

I had originally planned that she would be an indoor cat, but after watching her spend hours gazing out the window, poised as though to jump, tail twitching... always silent, but I could hear her internal keening... I caved, she became an outdoor cat and unwittingly, I laid down the path to her demise.  In October 2010, she went out one day and simply never returned.  Was it a fox that got her, an eagle?  I walked the woods and fields calling for days and days, watching for kill sites, but there was never a trace to be found to let me know what end she met.  Occasionally, for months afterward, I'd catch sight of her out of the corner of my eye, at the edge of the road or emerging from the trees beside the field, but of course it wasn't her, it was my heart's longing for her return.

Fast forward to today.  This morning I was getting ready to go to town for a life drawing session, when an item I needed went flying... search as I might, I couldn't find it, time was running short... oh, the hell with it I thought, I'll look later.  There was a more thorough search when I got home: under the couch, under the piano...  

Here, I must digress for a moment.  For the last few weeks, there has been a lingering unpleasant smell in my kitchen... a dead mouse, I'm sure, and though I've looked everywhere, even pulling out the fridge, stove and dishwasher (my kitchen is now as clean as humanly possible when apparently there's something dead in it), there's been nothing to indicate where the smell could be coming from.  Maybe in a wall somewhere or under a cabinet, though I can find no signs of egress.  The smell is mostly faded now but needless to say, it's been an unsettling business.  Mice don't ruffle me, except when they're dead and rotting somewhere.

So imagine my reaction when I peered beneath the piano and saw in the dimness... a mouse carcass, lying on its side.  Tail, white throat, the dark shape where a mouth would be... but wait, there had been no smell from under the piano... what was I looking at -- a mouse mummy? 

I reached for the yardstick -- really, do yardsticks serve any purpose higher than that of sweeping things out from dark recesses under heavy furniture? --  gave a swipe... and this is what emerged:

Oh, Nellie!  I do miss you...

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The kindnesses of strangers

Okay, perhaps this is what they call "pent up demand".  Three blog posts in one day is probably excessive, but the snow plow just passed in front of my driveway.  And thankfully, the driver backed down to the end of my dead-end road, which means that the windrow of snow ended up on the far side of the road, across from my driveway.  

Do you appreciate what that means?  

I am incredibly grateful that the government road crews in this area do the kindness of backing down to the end of this short road, plowing forward with the snow pile ending up on the "north" side of the road, when all the dwellings are on the "south" side.  Nobody's driveway is blocked.  Such a kindness!  I ran out to the road and flagged down the plow driver to say thank you.  Not that I'm the hero; the drivers are.  (I wish I knew how to insert a heart here -- that's the price of being 65 and an internet klutz.  Heart... heart... heart!)

The fabled Nor'easter

As someone who grew up far from the sea and who spent most of my adult life on the west side of Canada, I had heard of the Nor'easter and was aware it was weather that easterners respected and even feared... but it was mythological, the subject of folksongs and tales, not anything within my ken. 

Now that I've lived in the Maritimes through six winters and the beginnings of a 7th, the Nor-easter is old hat.  You fill the woodbox ahead of time, then hunker down, stay inside if you can, avoid the roads at all costs, make soups or stews, find sedentary things to do (like reactivating this blog), go to bed early or otherwise wait it out.  The weather forecast on the radio this morning wasn't for a winter storm or blowing snow, it was for a Nor'easter... as though everyone listening knows what that means, what comes with the package, without needing to have it spelled out: gusty winds, blowing snow, drifts across your doorway and other inconvenient locales, windows plastered with snow on the prevailing-wind side of the house... um, the northeast side... and if things are really howling, the possibility of a power outage.  Oh joy!

Never let it be said that I'm a competent videographer, especially with my tiny Canon Powershot camera, but I thought I'd post a small Nor'easter sample for your viewing pleasure (especially pleasureful if you're watching in a warm, sunny place)...  Try to imagine the sounds that weren't picked up: the chirps of chickadees unfazed by the storm, and the muted sonorousness of the fog horn aiming to be heard above the blast... as if any mariner were foolish enough to be out on the Bay...

In the nearly interminable time it took to upload that video, I got stir-crazy enough to go out and shovel off the back deck even though the snow isn't expected to stop for another 7 hours... at least the drift in front of the door won't be quite so deep tomorrow morning...  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to attend to my soup...

Kate Eardley Wonderment is ba-ack...

After a hiatus of many years, I've decided to resume this blog.  Why?  Because people who enjoy my writing occasionally encourage me to write a book... and because I haven't got a clue what I'd write a book about... but I like writing... and even if no one's listening, occasionally there are things on my mind I'd like to say...

So here we go.  This time around, the blog will be public rather than restricted.  I feel less need to safeguard my privacy than I did lo, those many years ago.  Progress, I guess.  Much has happened in my life since then, notably the fact that at the ripe old age of 61, I returned to school, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University to be precise, and graduated this past spring with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Major in Photography.  Back in 2010, I would never have seen that coming; now, it's in the past and I'm working through the transition from art student to practicing artist -- with some successes and more than a few challenges involved.  Among other things, I'm going to write about that process, in part because I need a forum to air my own related, internal meanderings but also because I suspect there are others "out there" who would benefit from knowing that they aren't walking that same twisty-turny road alone.  If a dialogue ensues, perhaps there will be others who can help me on my own journey. 

However, that's not all I'll write about... as you'll see in the next post!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dear blog readers

Hi everyone, it's been a while hasn't it.  That's because I thought I'd leave lots of time for responses to the reader survey to arrive.  It's been over a month now since I posted the survey, and all seven of you have responded.  So, to the seven of you, thanks for your interest.

I originally intended this blog to be a way for my friends and family to keep up with all the adventures I've been having as a result of my move.  Sad to say, none of my children and only one of my siblings responded to the reader survey.  Also, most of my Yukon friends, who I thought might be interested in the differences between there and here, are conspicuous in their absence.  Yes, it's been disheartening.  It's not that the adventures have stopped (do you know what a "large morning" is?  have you ever picked wild leeks?  do you know there's a bird whose call sounds like a rusty hinge?)...  This world is still fresh and new to my Yukoner eyes.  But I'm sorry, it's taken the wind out of my sails to learn that the people I thought would be the most interested in this blog are occupied elsewhere.

I don't think I'll give up entirely, because I've enjoyed creating these posts.  But I'm going to step back for a while.  If the original intention for the blog is irrelevant, I have to figure out what it's to become.

Thanks again for reading...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


My backyard is obviously a springtime hot spot for birds looking for worms.  A few days ago, I counted 35 robins; and there were others out of my line of sight.  Today, there were almost the same number of birds, but mixed species: robins, starlings and five (!!) of these beauties.  This is a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker.  It's quite a large bird and very colourful, with a red head patch, distinctive black bib on the chest, a white rump when flying, and bright yellow on the underside of the wings.  All five were males, I believe; the distinguishing mark for males is the black "moustachio" strip beside the beak, which can be seen quite clearly in the middle photo.  When one bird would stray too close to another's feeding ground, there would be a display of strutting and wing-beating.  At first I thought it was courtship, but no, just back-off-buddy-yer-on-my-turf.  Wish the photos were better... but this is the best I can do with my point-and-shoot.  Oh, for a motor drive and telephoto lens at moments like this...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Reader survey

Okay, nothing formal intended here.  But I'm curious...  and perplexed.  This blog is supposedly by invitation only, so I've invited people and some have signed up, most haven't.  Some of the people who've signed up read my posts; others, so I'm learning, can't stand blogs and even though they're signed up, never read this one.  Finally, there are indications that people I haven't invited are reading the blog; in which case,  I might as well skip the by-invitation business.

So, I'm left confused and curious... Who reads this blog, anyway?  Dear reader, please do me a favour and if you read this post, please take the time to leave a comment, even if it's just to say hi.  I'd just like to get some idea of whom I'm writing to.

Thanks so much...!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The sugaring off party

Part of the annual maple sugar ritual for Jean-Marc and Linda Fiset is the pot luck they hold so friends and neighbours can see the sugar shack and eat maple taffy -- or sugar-on-snow as my Quebec-born mother used to call it.  Saturday was a good day for it; bright, sunny, but cool enough to keep the snow from melting and to help people appreciate the warmth of the fire under the bubbling sap.  The pot luck was sumptuous.  Linda went all out, with some traditional foods: pea soup, ham cooked in maple syrup, tourtières, and baked beans.  Guests similarly rose to the occasion... and it was tempting to pig out, everything looked so good, but I was saving myself for the pièce de resistance.

Most of the credit for the photos that follow goes to Bill Hall and Kate Montgomery. Personally, I was  too eager for the main event to think about taking many pictures, so Kate took over my camera and did the honours.

While Jean-Marc boiled down the syrup, everyone milled about, waiting, watching and chatting.  Linda packed snow into the trough (which we'd collected in the woods the day before on our latest run for sap) and handed out popsicle sticks.  

Some testing was required to ensure the syrup was boiled down enough... but then the golden moment came: 

Here's what the snow looked like after a few rounds: 

And here's what my face looked like after a few rounds.  Ecstasy!

Jean-Marc explained how to make maple butter and some of us -- me included, naturally -- tried it.  You take the boiled down syrup and stir it vigorously.  That incorporates air into the syrup and slowly but surely it begins to crystallize, first into a creamy butter, and if you stir long enough, into maple sugar.  Linda made a batch in her mixer, but the rest of us did it by hand.  Took a while, but the results were worth the effort.  

Nothing quite like fresh maple butter on toast in the morning!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pileated woodpecker

Went out to fetch the newspaper one morning this week.  It gets delivered at the roadside in front of my house.  This handsome fellow was foraging at the old power pole across from the end of my driveway.  Not the best photo, but I only got a couple of shots in before he flew away.  Big bird.  Love the mohawk hairdo!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Trade show

What do you do when you're a come-from-away, newly living on the Bay of Fundy, and there's an ad in the newspaper for a commercial fishing trade show?  You show up!  I couldn't resist...  and talked my friend, Kate, into coming with me.  She took some of the photos that follow.  We saw exactly what you'd expect to see; things like:

Lobster traps...

Boys and buoys...

Survival gear... 
Diesel engines...

Shiny props...

Little boats...

And a great big boat...

Lots of fishermen there (emphasis on the "men").  Kate's a blonde bombshell, recently back from a trip to Mexico so even more glowing than usual.  Suffice to say that, being among the few women in the crowd, we attracted a bit of attention. *wink*

Got your varmint license yet?

"Varmint": an objectionable or undesirable animal, usually predatory, as a coyote or bobcat. says the word is used chiefly in the south and southern midwest U.S.

Also in New Brunswick, so it appears.

Maple sugaring

I grew up in Quebec, where maple syrup is part of the culture and maple sugaring, an annual rite of passage into spring.  Sugar shacks, with their sweet steaminess and smell of woodsmoke, always evoked things close to my heart: a connection to the land and Nature, and intimacy with their seasons and secrets; and the straightforward honesty of a simple way of life where hard work produces sweet rewards.

Yes, I am a dreamer at heart.  But as a Montrealer, sugar shacks were places I only got to visit; I could look but not touch.  Consequently, I've always longed to participate in the annual sugaring process... and this year, it's finally happening.

Meet Jean-Marc Fiset.  He and his wife, Linda, live at the other end of West Quaco Road, where it meets Highway 111.  Jean-Marc came here from Quebec as a young man, and met and married Linda.  They moved to Quebec, raised their family, then returned here for "retirement".  At 67, Jean-Marc still works as an electrician and house painter (exteriors only, he insists).  And every spring, he makes syrup.

I learned about Jean-Marc from seeing the photos of last year's sugaring on Bill Hall's Facebook.  Bill doesn't go anywhere without his camera, so his life gets chronicled in regular Facebook posts.  Some people in the village duck when they see his camera come out of his pocket, shy about having their picture appear online.  Bill's a pretty good photographer most of the time, and credit for some of the photos in this post goes to him.  As there are going to be so many photos in this post, I'm keeping most of them small... but you can see more detail by clicking on them, then using your "back" button to get back to the blog.

Anyway, Jean-Marc didn't know that I followed Bill's Facebook posts before coming here.  Therefore, when he came to my house to install some new phone jacks a few days after I arrived, he was some surprised when I exclaimed, "You're the man who does the maple sugaring!  Next spring, I want to help."

Jean-Marc is salt-of-the-earth, so when spring appeared on the horizon this year, I got my wish.  We (Jean-Marc, Bill, Brian and I) started tapping a couple of weeks ago, when the temperatures at night were still below freezing but the days were warm and sunny.  Although the snow was long gone from my yard, there was still two or three feet of it in the bush, about 15 minutes drive inland.  It had a firm, icy crust, so you could walk without breaking through.  The air was crisp, the sky clear, yet the creek was alive with meltwater.  Jean-Marc drilled the holes and tapped in the spouts, while the rest of us hung about 120 buckets and lids.
You tap on the south side of a tree, where the sun will heat things up and get the sap running.  If the tree was tapped previously, you stay at least four inches away from the old hole, because the tree will have formed a brownish scar tissue around it, which will colour the sap.  Depending on the size of the tree, you can have more than one tap.  On a few of the biggest trees, Jean-Marc used a smaller plastic spigots with plastic hoses that were draped into a bucket hanging from a regular metal spigot.  You don't tap trees smaller than six inches diameter, which would be kind of like taking candy from a baby; they need their sap to grow big and strong.

Occasionally, I caught Jean-Marc peering intently up at the tops of the trees.  Since this was a mixed hardwood woodlot, sometimes it was hard to tell which were maples by the bark alone.  Did you know that you can identify a maple by the tips of its smallest branches?  They end in a single twig, no side branches, with a pointed bud.  That's what he was looking at.

There was much improvisation evident in Jean-Marc's supplies.  He has only a few of the typical metal sap buckets that you often see in pictures.  The remaining buckets are recycled plastic ones of various shapes and sizes, with a hole for hanging cut out near the rim.  Many of the lids are made from recycled election signs, cut up and put to useful purpose.  I had always assumed that the lids were for keeping dirt out, but no, they're for protection from rain.  The sap is already dilute enough that you don't want any extra water in it.   Did you know that it takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup?  In fact, Jean-Marc doesn't use the word "sap"; he refers to it as "water".  Here's what it looks like fresh from the tree:

So, a couple of days after setting up the taps, we went out to collect the water.  The technique is simple: you carry a bucket from tree to tree, dumping the buckets on the trees into the one you're carrying.
When it's full, you dump your bucket into a larger container strapped to the ATV (or the horse-drawn sledge, as it would have been in the olden days).  Here again, improvisation was evident: funnels made from a cut-down five-gallon water bottle and an inverted, orange, highway marker cone; plastic milk cans and a white plastic 45-gallon drum on a home-made, made-to-fit trailer.

It was the best of late winter experiences.  Fresh air and the smell of wet leaves, warm sun and blue skies, the ping of sap hitting the bottom of freshly-emptied pails, the distant knocking of a woodpecker, the rustle as snowmelt converged into streamlets.  I savoured every moment.

We go out every two or three days to collect more water.  After the last outing a couple of days ago, the 45-gallon drum was only one third full, so things have really slowed down.  It all depends on the weather, and lately the temperatures have been above zero at night.  If that pattern holds, it will have been a short but intense season.

You can't hold onto the water very long or it will spoil, so Jean-Marc began the process of boiling it down right away, in the tiny sugar shack addition on his garage.  The stove is home-built.  It has a small firebox for small, hot fires, and a cut-down fuel oil tank welded on the back that tapers toward the chimney.  That way, there's enough heated surface for four evaporator pans.  The water goes into the one closest to the chimney and gets scooped from one pan into the next as it boils down and darkens.  There's never more than an inch or two of liquid in the pans at a time, except for the last and smallest one, directly over the firebox, where the final cooking produces syrup.

Jean-Marc watches closely, monitoring, scooping, pouring.  Although the pictures and improvised gear make the process look a bit rough-and-ready, this is actually a precision operation and Jean-Marc's experience and care are evident.  He hangs a thick cloth cone in the steam, warming it to be ready when the syrup's done.  As the moment approaches, the syrup bubbles frothily and starts to rise up in the pan. 

At this point, seconds begin to count.  Jean-Marc places the heavy filter, plus thinner ones inside and outside of it, into a large metal syrup can.  He dons a heavy leather apron and gloves, and the scooping and pouring begin in earnest.

In the beaker is a large and carefully calibrated thermometer.  He's watching for the syrup to exactly meet the red line, at which point it's perfectly cooked. If it's under, he waits a few seconds then tries again; if it's over, more liquid gets added from the adjacent pan and he waits a few minutes before trying again.

When the exact moment arrives, he whisks the evaporator pan off the stove and pours the syrup through the filters into the can.  Then, the bottles (previously sterilized) go into pans of hot water over the firebox, to heat.  The bottles and lids need to be warm when the hot syrup goes into them so that, as both cool down, the lids will seal properly.  While he waits for the syrup to filter, Jean-Marc scoops liquid along from one evaporator pan into the next and adds new water to the first pan in line. The filtering doesn't take long... and the bottling begins.  The small scale of the operation means there's only a few bottles at a time to fill.

Behold the finished product!  This year, for reasons known only to Nature, spring has come early and fast, and the trees produced sap copiously for a short time (and will produce longer, we're keeping our fingers crossed).  The resulting syrup is light and fine in texture, with a delicate yet clear flavour; grade AA, the champagne of maple syrups.

What a thrill!