Friday, January 14, 2011


Yesterday, as the snow kept falling and getting deeper and my arthritic joints ached more and the sting of previously-frostbitten toes kept the shoveling sessions short, I started thinking how nice it would be to get out of this cold climate for a little while.  Two years ago, in February, I flew with Carol to San Francisco for about a week, to attend the CODEX book fair at University of California Berkeley and since the CODEX and the San Francisco Antiquarian book fair are scheduled within the same week this year we started looking into the possibility of doing the trip again.  There was an Air Canada seat sale available which was to end last night so we had to act fast.  It's always been one of our favourite places to visit.  Carol is from the Bay Area and we met there and had many memorable dates in "The City".  In fact I proposed to Carol in my 1949 Chev one evening, parked on the Marina, looking out on San Francisco Bay.  We both thought this was a great plan.  We checked on a few hotels and finally picked one we had not stayed in before, then sat back and did the calculations.  We calculated the seat sale (which hid the massive amount of taxes and fees and the baggage charges).  We added that to the cost of the hotel for four nights (we wanted seven, but knew that would be out of our budget).  We added the hotel cost in Calgary the night before (our flight was to leave early in the morning).  We added our hotel in Calgary upon our return (our return flight would arrive too late to drive home to Red Deer).  Then we added the parking fee for our car in Calgary while we were gone and the food and transportation costs in San Francisco and Berkeley and the then we totaled it.

The total was a figure that was over what we could afford without putting it on plastic.  We winced and groaned and told each other how disappointed we were that we couldn't do it and then we tried to convince each other that it was for the best.  But we both knew we still had doubts about the decision to cancel the plans and deep inside we both probably felt the debt would be worth it.  Think about how nice it was two years ago in the Bay Area, with only a little mild rain once or twice and seeing live trees and green grass, while our driveway was filling up with snow back in Red Deer!

It was best to get our minds off this regret so we settled in front of the TV and turned on the news.  One of the first items we saw was a story about an eighty year old British Columbia woman who was filing a complaint with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority about her treatment at the Calgary airport when she was returning to her home in BC.  The security person must have thought she looked like she may be a possible terrorist who was packing some explosives, because the security person started feeling her breasts and embarrassed the poor lady by dislodging her breast prosthesis.  She had had a mastectomy in the past and was extremely emotionally sensitive about it and broke into tears there.  Of course that meant nothing to the security personnel who were only "doing their job".  That job seems to be to fool all of us into thinking, if security "cops a feel" before passengers get on the plane, it will make us safer.  

Right then and there we decided we made the right decision to cancel our travel plans and we decided we would save our travel for better weather when we can drive. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


My friend Bill Starke, suggested I should display some photos to illustrate the engraving process and I thought that was a good idea.  So, as I was about to start engraving a new block in the series See What I'm Saying, I took photographs of the block as I worked.  This print went through a number of title changes.  I started with the phrase, Change Your Mind, then Change Her Mind, then, Bill suggested Headlock, which I thought was good, but did not reflecting my motive (he wasn't aware of my motive behind the image).  The title I've finally given the print is My Mind is Made Up.  The first photo shows the ink drawing on the block and the block was stained, so I'd be able to see, more easily, where I  engraved.  The blocks I use are end-grain hardwood, similar to butcher blocks, only with a very smooth and flat surface.  In this case it's a maple block.  I stained the block by brushing oil paint lightly over the surface with a dry brush.

I started engraving and moved into more than one area to get a feel for the relationships between areas.  These early areas are usually places in which I am fairly confident of what I want to achieve.  The surface which is removed in the engraving process cannot be replaced so I need to be sure of my decision before removing it.  Ink will be rolled over the surface of the block during the printing process and since the untouched surface of the wood is what will print, I need to be sure of my decisions before removing an area.  Wood engraving is a process of bringing light out of darkness.

By this stage I hadn't printed a proof yet and wasn't sure what I would be doing with the area around the head.  It was time to see what I had.  It was time to print the image.  Quite often I start proofing earlier than this, but this one went differently.

I usually print two or three proofs so I can draw on them with white paint or manipulate the proofs in some way to get some visual feedback as to how my plans for the print will look.  It's safer to mess up a print than mess up the block.  The middle proof in this photo has had the paper around the head cut out with a razor knife and a piece of white paper set behind, so I can see what it would look like with the wood removed from that area.  I decided I wanted some major white areas around the head, but still didn't remove it all.  I kept drawing on proofs between engraving, until I arrived at the final stage.  This is the final print, My Mind is Made Up.

You can see the other prints from this series, as well as other wood engravings and drawings on my website: http://www.telusplanet. net/public/jimwest