The Artist

 

In her high school graduation yearbook, Beth expressed a desire to become a hairstylist. Her father changed her mind.

In her high school graduation yearbook, Beth expressed the desire to become a hairstylist. Her father changed her mind.

Elizabeth (Williams) Shirk loved art from an early age. But if it had not been for her father, she might never have pursued art as a vocation. She had her heart set on being a beautician (check out the yearbook quote). But her father said she needed to go to college, so she went to the Imperial Valley Community College and during this time she continued to receive art instruction from Juanita Lowe, a teacher who would have a lifetime influence on Beth. In fact one of Ms. Lowe’s paintings occupied a central location in our home for most of our marriage.
This photo of us with our friends, the Dunnings, on New Year's Eve 1983, is the only good picture we have of Juanita Lowe's painting that hung in our house for  many years. It is the one in the middle above Beth. The works on either side are Beth's intaglio prints.

This photo of us with our friends, the Dunnings, on New Year’s Eve 1983, is the only good picture we have of Juanita Lowe’s painting that hung in our house for many years. It is the one in the middle above Beth. The works on either side are Beth’s intaglio prints.


After two years at IVC, Beth transferred to San Diego State where she majored in graphic communication and received her bachelor’s degree. Beth became very interested in intaglio printmaking. She would spend long hours in the SDSU printmaking studio, experimenting with various methods of etching designs into zinc plates. In addition to traditional drypoint (direct marking with a sharp stylus) she mastered such techniques as aquatint, soft ground, sugar lift, and embossing. Her instructor during this time was Prof. Berg.

It took Beth a couple of years after graduation to get work in the graphic arts profession, quite typical as it is a difficult field to break into. During that time, she worked as a bookkeeper for the San Diego camera exchange.

This was one of the many modeling assignments given Beth while she was a graphic artist for the Norman Tolle advertising agency.

This was one of the many modeling assignments given Beth while she was a graphic artist for the Norman Tolle advertising agency.


Beth’s first job in graphic design was for the Norman Tolle advertising agency. In addition to preparing the layouts of ads and brochures, she also modeled for some of their projects including the shipbuilding company brochure shown here.

After a year with Tolle, she had the opportunity to take a much higher paying job with Hughes aircraft in their graphics department in the Miramar area. There she produced graphics for slides being used to instruct pilots learning to fly the F-14. This was often classified work and she had a secret clearance.

While she was at Hughes, she became pregnant with our daughter Jennifer and coincidently was laid off when Hughes downsized. From that day forward she stayed home, raising our children and continuing to develop as an artist.

She resumed her studies in intaglio printmaking, first back at San Diego State with Paul Lindgren and later with Justine Wolfson. Her work was well recognized in San Diego and she won awards at the San Diego County Fair and the San Diego Print Club. Many of her editions sold out.

Here are some of the zinc plates used to produce the Christmas cards we would send out.  The process involved carefully masking and then etching into the zinc plate. You can see many of the finished cards in the gallery below.

Here are some of the zinc plates used to produce the Christmas cards we would send out. The process involved carefully masking and then etching into the zinc plate. You can see many of the finished cards in the gallery below.


Beth began a tradition of creating an intaglio etching for our Christmas card each year. This was a long process that she would start around Thanksgiving and complete in time to send out before Christmas. Eventually she was producing nearly 100 of these pieces of fine art each year. You can see a gallery of those cards on this page.
Beth especially enjoyed the process of making collage paintings. She rarely used “found” materials but instead would and color tissue paper to get the colors and textures she wanted.

Beth especially enjoyed the process of making collage paintings. She rarely used “found” materials but instead would hand color tissue paper to get the colors and textures she wanted.


Eventually Beth became concerned about the possible health effects of being exposed to the strong chemicals involved in the printmaking process (concentrated nitric acid, paint remover and paint thinner, asphalt from, etc.). So she decided to take up watercolor painting.

Beth joined the San Diego Watercolor Society and began volunteering by staffing their gallery which at the time was on Kettner Avenue in downtown San Diego. Eventually she became director of staffing for the organization.

“Quilted Patterns” was the  first of two paintings Beth had accepted into the San Diego Watercolor Society International Exhibition.

“Quilted Patterns” was the first of two paintings Beth had accepted into the San Diego Watercolor Society International Exhibition.


Her watercolor paintings were as well received as had been her intaglio prints and before long she was once again receiving awards and selling her art. Two of her paintings were accepted into the prestigious International Exhibition of the San Diego Watercolor Society. If she could have lived to have one more painting accepted she would have become a signature member. Now that she is gone, we are fortunate to have so many tangible reminders of her life’s work in art.
Dreamability, an art show for disabled artists was another venue for Beth's art. Here she is  at the 2011 show explaining her work process. The painting in front of her is one of the last pieces she produced.

Dreamability, an art show for disabled artists in Escondido was another venue for Beth’s art. Here she is at the 2011 show explaining her work process. The painting in front of her is one of the last pieces she produced.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association has one of Beth's paintings in their National Art Collection in Tucson, AZ. They chose it  to appear in their art calendar that goes to top officials and major fundraisers.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association has one of Beth’s paintings in their National Art Collection in Tucson, AZ. They chose it to appear in their 2013 art calendar that goes to top officials and major fundraisers.


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