PALM HARBOR — Holly Bird stood in her home studio recently, the large monitor of her computer boldly dominating the room. This is the high-tech studio once crucial to Bird's livelihood.
Here she uses the techniques of the digital world — programs with the tools to mimic brushstrokes, pen strokes and pencil marks. With a stylus attached to the computer, Bird can add, delete or modify elements of her drawing in a flash.
At one time Bird, 50, was all about technology. In 1982, armed with a degree in fine and graphic arts from the University of Florida, she began working for magazines and advertising agencies, then moved on to other challenges. She laid out scenes for movies, including 1998's Cocoon: The Return, filmed in Miami. She served as art director of Tampa Bay New Homes magazine, and from 1987 to 1999 was senior designer for the local Fox News affiliate, WTVT.
By 1999 Bird was tired of the high-tech world and left Fox.
"It's a deadline-driven environment," she said of television and magazine work. "I worked 50 to 60 hours a week in a good week."
Bird pursued other jobs, including teaching graphics design at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg and the International Academy of Design and Technology in Tampa.
In 2006 Bird changed artistic directions — she found her way back to her college love: printmaking.
The impetus was a class she took at the Dunedin Fine Art Center that year, taught by print master Stephen Littlefield. After four years of study with Littlefield, Bird launched her first exhibit in 2010 at the Cool Art Show in St. Petersburg.
Viewers, she said, seemed receptive.
"I think people appreciate an actual handmade, tangible item," Bird said, "rather than something that will disappear when the power is turned off."
Her Palm Harbor home is filled with the fruit of her labors. A lifelong sailor, Bird is drawn to seascapes. One scene, a linoleum block relief print titled Cedar Key Afternoon, features three people in a sailboat adrift on a calm sea. Hand-tinted with watercolor, the piece won the Award of Distinction at the Tarpon Springs Art Festival.
A printmaking studio stands behind the home that Bird shares with her husband, Richard Carr. This former hurricane shelter now houses a large etching press, vats of ferric chloride, hand rollers and boxes of styluses, among other tools distinguishing this art form from others.
Three types of printmaking go on here: copper plate etching, block relief print on linoleum, and mezzotints, which involve burnishing an image without the use of any chemicals.
The most time-consuming of the three processes, Bird said, is etching plates of copper. It requires transferring a hand-drawn image to tracing paper and then onto transfer paper. The last of these is placed directly onto the copper plate and traced with a hard stylus or ballpoint pen. The plate, already coated with beeswax and asphaltum, is dunked into a vat of ferric chloride, which etches the picture. The plate is rinsed off with water and then washed in mineral spirits to finish the etching process.
"It can take all day," Bird said, "but you end up with a precious piece of metal from which you can make many copies."
Bird plans to exhibit for the second year in a row at the Cool Art Show, slated for July 16 and 17 at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg. She's happy with her return to her artistic roots.
"I love having a finished artifact in my hands after long hours of work and not have it made of something as fleeting as pixels," she said.