Quite an impression

by Guest Blogger

A resident of Leverett House concentrating in Visual and Environmental Studies with a secondary field in Linguistics and a French citation, Rebecca Levitan ’12 was awarded an OFA Artist Development Fellowship to take a printmaking course this summer at the Manhattan Graphics Center. Levitan is a freelance graphic designer as well as an illustrator for Hare Today, the weekly Leverett House newsletter. She is also an arts editor for the Harvard Crimson and an Art Board member of the Harvard Advocate.

This summer I am taking an etching class. I had some ideas about what that would mean. Our first assignment was to bring in examples of our work. I didn’t know what I was going to make in the class, but I had an idea that working on a copper plate would somehow change my art, and enable me to make things that I could never make with oil paint.

But this wasn’t what my teacher had in mind. As he looked at all of our (mostly) drawings, he made his pronouncements about how to make them into etchings. One student could use sugar-lift with aquatint to make her ink-wash drawings. Another could use Xerox transfer or photo-emulsion to create a collage look.

Once he finished, I had a couple of questions. First of all, what was sugar-lift, hard ground, rosin, drypoint? It seemed like etching was a lot more complicated than its Wikipedia page had led me to believe! Secondly, it was all very exciting that there were ways of creating many different drawing effects in etching, but what was I going to make? It turned out that I was expected to make my drawings. And that’s when I realized two things: how much sheer technique goes into making a working print, and how much of that technique was geared towards reproducing things already in existence.

While my parents were very happy that for once I was making things five inches instead of five feet wide, I felt somewhat like I had been given a technical task and I was doing a very bad job of it. Because the thing about etching is that you will be very bad at it for a very long time. Also, it will take you a very long time to make that five-inch etching. (If this is not true, please don’t correct me because it is a great source of comfort to me!)

What remains true is that every time my teacher looks at what I’m doing, he finds something to correct. However, I’ve had a little fun behind his back. Going into the studio without a teacher means you will do something wrong, many times. But by doing that, I’m starting to deviate from my drawings and noticing all the crazy little things that acid burning into a copper plate can do.

I can get the outline of a brush stroke while removing any of the texture inside. I can create weird, unpredictable, organic textures. Etching is such a technique-bound (and expensive) medium that it lends itself to careful planning and testing at every stage. But I’m finding it easier and easier to deviate from that plan and when I start to be able to consider the copper plate, and not my sketches and notes, as a system in itself, I can see why someone might want to spend 50 years of their life around toxic chemicals, as my teacher has done.

[Caption: An untitled print from an etching by Rebecca Levitan (2011).]