Thursday, June 11, 2020

She Oak: Women as Seeds of Change


Last fall I received a call to Ohio women printmakers to submit a print that celebrated women and women’s suffrage.  The Phoenix Rising Printmaking Cooperative in Columbus was putting on a show entitled, "Ohio Printmakers: Celebrate Women" to honor the centennial of the 19th amendment.  I knew I had to challenge myself to work that theme into my interest in printing botanical art.  I was letting the idea percolate when I came across an image of a Latina activist next to the following quote:

“They tried to bury us.  They didn’t know we were seeds.”  — Mexican Proverb

I loved the quote and it planted the idea in my head that women are "seeds" of change.  Plus, it helped make the connection between women and my interest in botanical art.  I had recently completed another linocut of a giant sweetgum ball where the individual arms of the body looked almost human.  So I thought the perfect way to combine the idea of women as seeds of change would be to create a seed pod where each nub was a woman.

As I began an internet search for the perfectly shaped pod I narrowed it down to two or three and finally decided on one that had perfectly shaped nubs that I could transform into women.  When I looked at the name of the pod I saw that it was from a tree native to Australia from the genus Allocasuarina.  And I couldn’t believe it when I saw the common name was “She Oak”!  I took that amazing coincidence as a sign I had to do the print, and after two months of meticulous carving I printed “She Oak: Women as Seed of Change.”

Image source: National Arboretum Canberra


I begin every print with a pencil sketch.  I make the drawing full-size so I can simply turn the sketch over and burnish it to transfer it to the plate. (If you want to see that process click here).

“I have great faith in a seed.
Convince me that you have a seed there,
and I am prepared to expect wonders.”
— Henry David Thoreau


My favorite part of the printmaking process is the carving.  I love listening to a podcast or music and losing myself in the work for hours at a time.

I began carving this print when the coronavirus started and it was so helpful to get my mind off of things.  Below is a 60-second video that shows me carving Oprah's hair.

I always like to photograph the plate before it is printed.  I love the soft, neutral palette and how the texture is only defined by subtle shadows.

If you only watch one video in this post, watch the video below.  I really liked how the music and photos fit together and spent A TON of time fussing with it.

When we see someone gardening alone, we do not know what private rituals she may be performing.  Who knows, in the humble gestures of weeding and planting, pruning and raking, what vows are being made or what insights disclosed?  Who knows what transforming power is perhaps being called forth in the gardener as she connects with the earth and with the longings of her heart? Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Holy Hunger 


I am always nervous the day of printing and this time was no different.  I usually spend the day before printing tearing paper to size and setting up my Ternes-Burton registration clips.  I try to think of everything ahead of time so that the day of printing I only have to think about printing.

Below you can see the plate inked and my incredibly helpful and supportive husband hand-burnishing the paper on the plate.

I just learned the term "peel and reveal".  Apparently it is a hashtag used by printmakers for videos where they pull the paper off the plate to reveal the print.  Below is my 30-second "peel and reveal" video.

The evening after printing I went down to the studio to look at the prints and noticed a few things I wished I'd done differently.  At first it was just a few things, but then I really started to look and decided all the lines were too thick.  I tried to ignore those thoughts and slept on it.  Slowly but surely I came to the realization that I needed to spend some time thinning ALL the lines and re-print.  I purposely did an ink-pad test with the plate before printing, but there is no substitution for pulling a test print with real ink.  In this case the viscous ink made everything a hair thicker than my tests.  Sometimes I feel I will never learn this lesson.  But there is such clean-up involved in printing just one print so I don't like to do it.  However, I also don't like having to re-do everything.  Live and learn.

“A seed neither fears light nor darkness, but uses both to grow.”
― Matshona Dhliwayo


Below you can see the final black and white print next to the color version.  I hand-tinted the print with watercolor.

One of my favorite women in the print is the voter below.  I wanted her to be central to the piece as the show is celebrating the 100th anniversary of women's right to vote.

When I was making this print I decided to mix examples of famous and non-famous women.  I will name a few, but I am purposefully going to leave most of them unnamed because I want the viewer to be open to seeing women they know.  In the photo below I depicted three famous change-makers...Amelia Earhart, Vandana Shiva, and Rachel Carson.

I also purposefully wanted the central woman to be pointing out at the viewer in awe.  Because the reality is that each and every one of us is responsible for making change in this world.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

The image below shows my niece "Loretta", Sojourner Truth, and Malala Yousafzai.  I wanted to include Loretta in the piece because she is an amazing young woman who has chosen a sport that is dominated by men.  Her courage is an inspiration to me and to all young women to follow their passion.

The image below shows our cat-sitter Jenny, a suffragette, and Billie Holiday.  I wanted to include Jenny in this print because she is an incredible person.  She not only loves our cats as much as we do, but she is a tireless advocate for cats.  If she is not trapping and neutering cats, then she is running fundraisers, not to mention taking care of other people's pets plus her own (on top of keeping a full-time job).  Her compassion and love is unbounded and has changed the lives of countless beings...both human and feline.

Below are images of Wangari Maathai, Roxanne Swentzell, and Greta Thunberg.  Roxanne Swentzell is an AMAZING sculptor, activist, and seed-saver.  Two years ago I was incredibly lucky to take a sculpture class with her.  Both Roxanne and the clay taught me how there is a power in soft things.  I thought I was there to learn about clay but the class was transformative on many levels (you can read more  here.)

As I was researching various women to include in the print I learned so much.  At times I was brought to tears at the bravery, skill, and love of these women and how their actions changed the world.  After reading many of their stories I felt so inspired to contribute to making this world a better place to live.

It is my opinion that each of us are brought into this world with a special gift or talent and it is our job to find out what that is and follow it to the best of our ability.  That means NOT following what others want us to do, but having the courage to listen to the pull and yearnings of our hearts.  We have to ask ourselves, "What is my passion?  How can I bring beauty, love, justice, compassion to this world?  What are my talents and what makes me come alive?"  It involves finding out who you are and being you to the fullest extent possible.  I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately and came to the realization that "You can't fail at being You".

I like to imagine this Earth as a giant seed pod where women (and men) all over the world stand up and seed change wherever they are planted.  If we tend our seeds with our attention and lovingly water them every day our roots will grow deep and strong and we will rise up.  If we all tended our seeds, what was once a lifeless desert may become a lush forest.  What wonders will you grow in your own backyard?

"In these times it's not enough to awaken ourselves, to find our community: the world is in need of restoration, and each one of us is challenged to do the work of collective change.  The day of the Heroic quest is over, with its all-conquering, dragon-slaying Hero saving the world, one sword-stroke at a time.  The Journey we need now is not a journey of active, world-beating individualism, it is a journey of collective re-enchantment -- a re-animation of the Earth.  It's time to become native to our places again.  It's time for women to shrug off the yoke of the patriarchy, and reclaim our native power.  The power that is the Earth itself speaking; the authority of the Voices which came out of the Wells.  If there is to be change, it will come from us.  Right here, where we stand.  Women were always the story-givers, the memory keepers, the dreamers.  Listen now to the land's long dreaming.  Do you see what it's dreaming?  It's dreaming you."  —Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted

"Think about your favorite song, your favorite work of art, your favorite piece of clothing. Think about the device you are reading this from and the chair you are sitting on. Someone, somewhere, at some time had a crazy idea. It was scary to tell others about it. It was scary to make that idea materialize and then to put it out into the world for others to see, use, enjoy -- and judge. What if the person who wrote your favorite song stayed too afraid to share it? What if your favorite work of art stayed under the artist's bed and was never seen by another pair of eyes aside from her own? YOU have a message. YOU have a mission. YOU have a purpose -- one that is unique to you and will never be able to be duplicated by another human being, ever.

In the beautiful words of the Honorable Charles D. Gill: 'There are many wonderful things that will never be done if YOU do not do them.' The world needs you and your beautiful heart. Be brave -- share those parts of yourself."  
— Melody Ross, Brave Girls Club

If you are interested in purchasing this print, please visit


goodsam73 said...

What beautiful work! An artist friend Jacqueline Sullivan shared your post with me and I'm just blown away by the level of detail in your carving and the print came out just great. I'm sorry the pandemic will keep us from celebrating our 100th anniversary of the vote. But I am most certain our women artists will keep the celebratory spirit alive.
Chris Wachsmuth
San Francisco

Nessy said...

Thank you for your comments! I will have to thank Jaqueline for sharing it with you. 100 years is a big milestone. I am not sure right now if the show I made this for will be online or in person. I don't even know if I was accepted yet. But we can at least all celebrate it by voting! Thank you again for taking the time to peruse the blog and leave a comment.