Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


Tools of the trade


The workbench

Another inkjet printer for the landfill. I tried to fix it, new ink cartridges (100.00) and several unsuccessful bouts of trying to align the skips, realizing I can’t live with every fourth sentence dropped. A whole package of transfer paper wasted. Three art projects on hold.


Two days before the new printer we needed a new coffee maker, this time I got a Cuisinart from Bed, Bath and Beyond purchased during my lunch hour with a coupon a coworker gave me. That leaves a Bialetti, a Krups, and two Mr. Coffees on the floor of the barn, the Bialetti less than a year old and already requiring three stop/starts and unplugging/replugging for just one pot of lukewarm coffee despite a name that sounds like it should last forever. It’s been three days and so far the Cuisinart is fine. The huge new inkjet (150.00 off on sale with 50.00 off for the recycled old one and 24.00 rebate for twelve ink tanks–six empty and six full) sat in its unopened box on the floor because I couldn’t lift it by myself. I need to finish the text transfers for the artist books I’m working on, ironically one is about my grandmother’s low-tech button collection, and another is about my mother’s hankies. If I’m 68, that gives you an idea how old those buttons and hankies are.


So many tools of our trade as artists and writers span the new technology (how did we ever exist before the inkjet and the laptop?) and the age old brushes, inks, typewriters, red-lit darkrooms we once relied on. I first went to art school in an army barracks in Jerusalem abandoned by the British and rented by the school for its Ceramics department. It was 1969. I walked through rubble and into a dark cavern before entering the actual studio which had only kick-wheels, no heat or hot water or ventilation, and open tubs of powdered red lead which we mixed into glazes with our bare arms and no respirators.


That I am still terrified of the toxic dust lurking somewhere in the interstices of my DNA goes without saying.


I still have most of the tools I have cherished through the years. Pottery scrapers we fashioned from broken trash barrels. Conte crayons in their original box from the art store on Ben-Yehuda. A clay stamp with my initials carved by my Japanese boyfriend in 1973 that I used to sign all my work from 1973 to 1984 when I closed up my production shop. The tiny treasured brush purchased in Japan in 1974, along with a journal and several iron chops. I still use them. Bamboo pens from 1978. My father’s Underwood from the ‘30s which I was able to somewhat refurbish in an old shop in White River Junction. Cheap Staples mechanical pencils–for measuring and note taking there’s nothing better. The specific Pilot Razor markers. The newly discovered, migraine-producing Chart-Pak colorless blender. The velvet Koh-i-nor Vermillion ink. And most recently, an antique ruler pen scored in the vintage market in Boston, with its worn wooden handle, an object I purchased for its beauty and only later figured out what it was for. It allows me my new passion, wordless Asemic writing, with that gorgeous velvet ink.


I’m not complaining. I just used spell check from the tool bar on my laptop and will magically produce a page on my website. Well, complaining a bit, I suppose, about the landfills and shame on us for producing tools like coffee makers that die in a year and printers designed to spit ink into the ever darkening void. But as commentator Willem Lange always says, “I gotta get back to work.” (When he says that it always makes me think of old farm tools and milking stools.)