Thursday, November 29, 2007


Thankfully the move was completed without significant injury and only minor outbursts of swearing. I've been told, confidentially, by the lady at the bank, that the British swear a lot... and she's probably right.

There were a few sticky moments when we wondered how, exactly, the *&^^%$ press had been taken through the doors at the gallery to get it in to the studio, but eventually the combined brains of Michael, Patrick and Willis managed to work it out - with minimal damage to paintwork and limbs! It was commented, however, that once it has actually moved to our new house (whenever that happens) it ain't moving again. I can live with that.

Pictures of my new working space will follow soon. MANY thanks to my removals team. I wasn't allowed to do more than adjust a few boards and open doors, but frankly I'm not complaining.

Oh the pain...

... Of moving one's studio! I'm moving out of Gallery 37 because I've come to the end of my lease and, sadly, I am not yet making a sufficient return through selling prints there to justify continued expenditure on the rent. It's a simple equation, but has an impact: I daresay Shelley's upset that I'm leaving, not least because of the implications for her cash-flow as mine was the only studio she'd been able to rent. But I can't miraculously conjure up the money from nowhere and although there are tangible benefits to me being able to work away from home, they still don't outweigh the costs.

Anyway, such is life, and today's the day when we move my etching press! Michael, Patrick and Willis are kindly helping me... I'll let you know what injuries we sustain in the process.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Viscosity Workshop

Michael very kindly fascilitated my attendance at a workshop in Sydney last weekend, when I should really have been sharing the driving up to Brisbane to collect our son from University! Instead I had the luxury of driving to the local airport, parking in the secure car park (having learned from the painful experience of replacing the front door locks because they'd been broken by a screwdriver that parking in the ordinary car park has attendant security problems...), and catching a plane to Sydney, where I stayed with our friends Chris and Amy in their lovely new house for two nights!

Amy looked after my bag on Friday while I had a lovely day wandering around the Sydney Aquarium and the National Maritime Museum (which might prove a useful hunting ground for my PhD research on a future visit!). Why the aquarium? Well apart from the fact that I just love the fish, it was also interesting and a good discipline to sit and draw them. I'm not very good at seizing the opportunity to draw 'outside'; in fact these days I tend only to draw for a purpose: sketches of our building plans and their relation to the geography of the house site, or explanations of things, or directions. I no longer put aside the time to sit and draw anything, and I must change that. And it is particularly good discipline - and it was a lot of fun - to draw moving things. I'm not keen on drawing people, perhaps because I'm usually far more interested in the backdrop. I can do it, but I don't much enjoy it and it takes me ages to get a likeness. But give me horses or people moving around in the background, or fish, and I'm away... so I had a very happy couple of hours sitting down in small spaces so as not to inconvenience the other visitors, looking at beautiful fish. My output wasn't huge, but it was SUCH FUN!

The main focus of my visit, though, was a workshop with Seraphina Martin on Viscosity Printmaking at Warringah Printmakers in Manly, north Sydney. It was such fun getting there! I love bus journeys (and train journeys) because of the different perspective you get, as opposed to sitting in a much lower, and more cramped, car. I love the pauses as the bus stops, and the flow of people on and off, and on a sunny day it was great meandering over the Harbour Bridge, up through North Sydney, down and over and up past The Spit and into Manly.

I've encountered Warringah Printmakers before: a year or so ago one of their committee, Jan Melville, proposed to Spike Island Printmakers in Bristol that the two studios should run an exchange exhibition as part of Warringah Printmakers' 10th anniversary celebrations. Sadly I wasn't at Spike for long enough to see the end results, which are currently on show in Sydney at a gallery that I couldn't get to, but I gather it all went well. Anyway, having met Jan I sometimes browse the studio's website, which is how I found details of the course.

I've actually been using Viscosity Printmaking techniques for several years, having acquired - through exposure to Martyn's copy - Stanley Hayter's seminal text. As an exceptionally creative printmaker he developed viscosity printmaking, and I now know from Seraphina that he also developed the soft ground that I am used to. Clever man! A chemist by training, I understand, which provides a partial explanation for his innovations.

I must say that I'm not a particular fan of the brightly coloured '1960's' style prints that are often the product of using Hayter's techniques. I admire the technique and production skills, but the colours used are a long way from how I use colour in my own work, and I tend not to be so abstract, either. But it was fun to spend a day consolidating my skills, making notes about where I could improve my technique and exchanging ideas with other students that will probably find their way into new work - and that is what one wants of a workshop!

I also got a chance to make a solar plate because the copper plates I had brought with me weren't really appropriate in subject matter for the kind of printing we were doing. Susan Baran, who runs the studio, kindly showed me how to make a photopolymer plate in record time using a Printite solar plate and an exposure unit. This was particularly interesting for me because just before I left for Sydney I'd put an order in to Melbourne Etching Supplies for some solar plates, having earlier acquired a book about solar plate etching. I've been inspired both by the imagery that I've seen exponents get into their prints - text and photographic images - and the apparent ease of the process. Up here in Coffs we get a lot of sunshine, and instead of using a professional exposure unit I should be able to use the midday sun to expose my solar plates and just wash them out in water. No nasty chemicals, no mess, no expensive equipment! So you can see that the opportunity to have a go during the workshop was serendipitous.

Seraphina's an interesting person. She, too, has grappled with the demands of art versus the demands of a family and appears to make a reasonable living from her work: something I always admire. She's done a lot of teaching and knows Coffs Harbour as she participates in Camp Creative in Bellingen each year, in January. Sadly I've missed the chance to do one of her workshops at Camp Creative next January as the places start filling up in May, and I've only just cottoned on... Maybe I'll make it the following year! But the big draw for me in taking part in Seraphina's Viscosity Printing workshop this time is that she went to Paris in the mid-80's, when Hayter was an old man, and worked with him in his studio. How fascinating! So she learned her skills from the master, and it was great that she was able to pass them on to us.

After a weekend away I came back to Coffs Harbour feeling refreshed, and looking forward to getting my studio set up at home again, for the first time since we moved here, and to starting work. I have lots of ideas and once I've got printing the Christmas cards out of the way I'll get moving! Watch this space.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Artist's block

I've mentioned before the fact that I don't always find it easy to make work, and I've often wondered why it's a problem so widely recognised for writers but not for artists. Then the other weekend I read Angela Bennie's interview with Michael Gow, and felt a great sense of recognition of what he suffers as a writer! Phrases like 'the permanent migraine of not creating, or nothing coming out' and 'the vicious bastardry of being an artist' rather leapt off the page...

It is not that I feel as if I am a victim of my desire to make art, but I have a terrible frustration over the fact that 'being an artist' is hard to define, and the shape and nature of making art is also difficult to pin down. Not being aware of how it works or where 'it' comes from is frustrating, and the trouble is that none of this is new. There's a lot of writing out there by and about visual artists that describes individual battles with the creative force. I should probably have read some it before daring to mention it myself.

Part of the uncertainty comes from the effrontery of saying that making art, or music, or writing, is intrinsically different from other sorts of labouring. But I've had other jobs and none of them has twisted me around inside like this. When I was a programmer I agonised about cutting code; when I was a recruitment consultant I struggled with deadlines and difficult clients and awful applicants, and I got stressed about whether I was recommending the right person for the right job. Running my own businesses entailed all sorts of creative activities from designing packaging to making products, and I had to psych myself up for selling every time... I had moments of joy, moments of despair and interludes of quiet achievement in all of them, but each and every one relied upon identifiable, assessable skills that could be evaluated, labelled and reported upon if need be. Making art is nothing like that. Yes, having a flair for self-promotion or the skills to speak clearly about your work in public are very useful - in the end you're reliant upon selling yourself and your 'product' unless you're very idealistic or at least independently wealthy - but the act of making something is, for me at least, almost beyond words. So it's nice to see something written down that reflects something of how it is for me.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Nascent mail project progress...

Thanks so much to Sarah Bodman at UWE for putting up a poster advertising my wish for a collaborator for a mail project! In the end I have had three responses, and hope to be able to set up three different projects that might/might not work out, to do with bridges, mapping and distance. More news as and when things become a bit firmer...

Meanwhile I've been having fun sorting out what to print on my Christmas card this year, and making a papier mache plesiosaur with Ella. Well, there are lots of different ways in which to be creative, aren't there?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Mail project

Having been here a year now I have an urge to build bridges back to the UK, partly as an antidote to the depression occasioned by some friends' extreme inability to communicate over distances! You'd have thought that people we've known for 20 years might recognise the importance of a little communication now that we've moved away, but with some honourable exceptions the fact is that we have, of course, lost touch with many 'really good' friends despite all the magical aids to communication that exist now, such as Voice-over-IP, international telephone calls to special numbers that cost the same as a national-rate call, email and the wonders of blogging.

Anyway, since dis/connection is a concern in my work I want to start a mail-art project with someone in Bristol, perhaps mailing each other something once a month for a year and seeing what we end up with. If it all sounds a bit vague, it is at the moment: I've found a potential project partner, but all the details need to be decided before the project can begin. I'm really excited about it, not just because of the possibility of 'connecting' in some way with bits of my old life, but also because of starting something tangible and new that has resonances with the rest of my work. I"ll keep you posted about what happens...

While I was ruminating the possibilities I came across Kirsty Hall's fab blog about her mail art work-in-progress, The Diary Project. She's sending envelopes to herself every day for a year, but I know that I'm not disciplined enough for that!

New stuff

I need to do some new thinking. In many ways I haven't yet used this blog as I had intended to. It hasn't yet been a collector of images relating to my work, nor a documentation about my work. In fact, really the only references to my work have been a link to photogalleries on the right-hand side bar of the page! I haven't used it as a way of noting my thought processes about my art practice; it's really just been a journal of some (not all) gallery visits I've made, which is fine, but the question is, why?

Partly it's been a question of time. I've been running another blog for family and friends in tandem with this one, and if I'm honest that blog won most of the limited time available for me to sit in front of a laptop and post articles... but in some ways that's a disingenuous excuse! The underlying problem in my art practice is my own lack of confidence in what I do, and I find all sorts of excuses not to do it because I'm afraid of it. Silly, isn't it? If I used half of the time I spend worrying about my art practice actually doing something that contributes to it, I'd be working a lot harder than I have been... and it's not as if I'm unsuccessful; I lack belief in myself.

This is not a new problem, but I do need to approach it in a new way, and perhaps this blog can help. There are a lot of people out there who struggle with conflicting demands in their professional and personal lives; I'm hardly unique, and I'm well aware that they're out there because I read some of their blogs.

Anyway, it's time for me to work more productively, and hopefully more regular postings will be a part of that.


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