Come Up and See My Etchings

My bachelor's degree is in advertising design, which was a brand new major offered when I enrolled at Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey). It was bolted onto the arts courses, and as such my curriculum was heavily art-oriented. As it was, I'd already earned several credits toward that degree by attending art courses the college had opened up to high school seniors.

Consequently I became fascinated by etching, an old, time-honored process of creating—as well as reproducing—artwork. When I learned that I could take the same class over as often as I wished to fulfill my credit requirements, I took etching, with the professor I had during my senior year in high school, Dr. Wendell Brooks, three times in a row.

Wendell was an excellent professor, and when I approached him with a crazy idea for a new etching process, he expressed skepticism but also encouraged me to try. My thought was to create a "soft ground" (a process to generate rich, dark shades and tones, which was ordinarily extremely complicated and prone to failure) using masks and spray paint. To my surprise—as well as Wendell's—the process worked perfectly. The closest analogy is airbrush painting, except in reverse: the heavier the spray application, the lighter the printed tone will appear. And so I spent three semesters refining a technique that, to our knowledge, no one else had attempted. I also married my love of railroads with my artwork to create a themed series.

All of my prints—along with dozens of other pieces of artwork—were destroyed in my nervous breakdown in 2001. However, I'd given some of my first signed prints to my good friends Rick and Linda Spano. They both loved them so much that they hung them on their dining room wall, where they've remained ever since I made them in the late 1970s! I recently came across photos I'd taken of those prints.

My favorite of the bunch is an adaptation of a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz called "The Hand of Man" (above right). It was my first and, I believe, best application of the spray paint soft ground technique.

My second-favorite work was based on a photograph that appeared in an obscure little book called Twilight of Steam by Colin Garrett, which examined the decline of steam power in Europe. The image titled "Dust and Dereliction" caught my eye, and it became the most complex etching I'd ever made, involving dozens of masks.

The remainder of the prints were, to be honest, so-so, and not especially memorable. This purely fanciful rendering is kind of corny:

The last of the bunch is a moody empty passenger platform scene that's very loosely based on the old Reading Line West Trenton station.

I'd actually made many more prints, some of which I wish I still had. But since I hadn't given them all to friends for "safekeeping," they're lost... like tears in rain.


Copyright © 2017-2018 by David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved.