Friday, December 19, 2008

Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!

Thank you to everyone who has stopped by for a read and a chat over the last year. I've had fun posting about 2008 and I'm looking forward to blogging again in 2009.
My friend Jan over at 'In My Spare Time' gave me a task list for the Christmas period that includes instructions to enjoy myself, eat too much and drink too much, and of course I'm far to scared of her wrath to disobey... (just in case you're reading this, Jan!). I'm hoping to add some extra fun into the mix with 'making things' with my Darling Daughter over the long school holidays, some reading for that fabled PhD of mine that is about to start, and a two-week residency with Tim Mosely up at SCU in Lismore at the end of January. So much to look forward to, so little time! And in the brief periods between all the fun activities I'm going to have a good think about a couple of ideas for prints that are brewing away in my subconscious because if we have to move at the end of January (a distinct possibility) I may not have access to my printmaking equipment for a while after that.
Have yourselves a very Merry Christmas and all good wishes for a happy New Year, and I look forward to catching up with you soon,
Sara x
PS. In case you're wondering about the card, it's very simple: strips of paper are pushed through slits in the card. The paper this year is mostly taken from various newspaper coverage of Barak Obama's election to the US presidency and varies from headline quotations in various scripts to strips cut from pictures of the First Lady-elect's acceptance event outfit! The election raised some interesting (well to me, anyway) parallels with traditional Western hopes and fears in the Christmas season: you know, all the old chestnuts about new beginnings, the 'choosing' of a 'saviour', etc, etc. Obama's election has echoes for me of the elections of Tony Blair in the UK after years of Conservative government and all that brought with it, and also of the election of Kevin Rudd to the Federal leadership of Australia just over a year ago. Again and again we pin our hopes on individuals to make a real difference in the world; I wonder what a new year will bring for them as well as for us. When I ran out of election coverage I cut out glossy bits from tasteful 'special offers' I can't afford, like luxury tours of French chateaux and a gourmet's tour of London. Hence the festive uniforms of the Horse Guards on parade!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Australian Bookbinders Exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

I'm so happy, having just found out that my little book has been included in the selection from the Pine Street exhibition that has gone to the Art Gallery of New South Wales' Research Library. On the off-chance that anyone reading this might be able to go and see it, the link to the Research Library is here.

I love it: it's a hidden treasure, located down a marble staircase from the main 19th century gallery, and the librarian must love artists' books because there are frequent exhibitions of absolutely beautiful things. It is one of the places I always visit when I can get to the AGNSW; how thrilling that I'm there and what a shame I can't go and see it!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

You're it

Ooooh, I've been tagged. Yep, Lady Duck, you got me. Actually I got myself, yesterday, bending down to put something in the washing machine and completely forgetting I'd left a piece of hardboard on top of it, in the "waiting-to-go-into-the-office/studio" freight area, so consequently I have a bruised cheek bone (to go with the stabbed-to-the-bone little finger that is the result of caving in to my darling daughter's demands to core her apple for her). Usually I'm very efficient/safe with my movements, but every now and again - usually when I've forgotten to take my HRT tablets for several days! - I get a bit wobbly and do stupid things. Goodness knows what I'll be like when they finally take the tablets away and I have to go through menopause... luckily that's another nine years of (relative) sanity left to me.

I'm digressing, I know, but I've remembered a hideous embarrassment from years ago. I was eighteen and had accompanied a drop-dead gorgeous friend from school to the local gym because she wanted to exercise prior to going on a skiing trip and was too chicken to brave the local blokes by herself. What happened was that she ran out after day one, I was hooked, and from then onwards I braved the local blokes by myself and got quite fit. Anyway, after a while my glasses would slip down my nose and I'd take them off... and on this one occasion I bent down and, yes, you've guessed it, clobbered myself on the cheekbone with the metal handle of a piece of weight-training equipment. Cue an enormous black eye the next day, and all the lads at work threatening to bash up my Dad for beating me until I confessed I'd done it to myself! Same eye, same cheek, but thankfully rather less bruising thanks to a swiftly-applied ice pack.

Where was I? Oh yes, back to the meme... so here you go, "Seven things about my Working Processes":

1 I am as tidy as I can be, but only because I can't bear the sense of panic that overtakes me when I realise I can't find something I need (car keys, daughter, you know the sort of thing). The inside of my head resonates with my mother's voice saying, "If you put things back where you found them you'll know where they are next time you need them", and the bother of it is that she was RIGHT. When I was learning something about making prints in Bristol a few years ago, my friend Emma Stibbon, who is a fantastic printmaker, commented that I was the tidiest printmaker she knew and it made me laugh because she always wore a boiler suit to ink up her (admittedly huge) woodcuts, but in a way I’m not sure if it’s a compliment. I don't know if being tidy is a marker for anything other than the fact that I need to have control over my working environment; I just know that not being tidy hurts my head and depresses me...

2 I, too, believe in the power of the hand in making things. I've never really been interested in things that come between me and the thing I'm making and I've always chosen to be painfully hand-made. I find myself tempted to take it to extremes sometimes, but as there aren't enough hours in the day to do all the things I'd like to do I have to compromise sometimes, which means that I buy the paper I use rather than make it. So what is the attraction of making things myself? I suppose its lots of things all rolled together. For me the act of ‘making’ is a kind of meditation; it is important for me to concentrate intently on what I do, and to maintain that concentration. I find that total immersion in what I’m doing produces a slow, rhythmic way of working that frees me. That sense of mindfulness is important to me and getting into that state of slightly detached mindfulness is the core of what I do. My mind goes off and chatters to itself, and I can sense currents of movements in my subconscious that develop into ideas and connections and understanding and which are the source of my creativity. I can’t focus on them with my mind’s eye; they are submerged, like deep currents of cold water in the ocean, and I only find out about them once they’ve risen towards the surface and become visible to my conscious mind.

I’m not a good practitioner of meditation, though: I’m not disciplined, and too often I slip into a dissociative state in which I am a separate observer in my life, rather than being truly ‘present’ in it.

3 Sometimes the materials come first and the idea comes second. I hoard lovely paper and bits of things, and if I’m lost for inspiration I do two things: look through my boxes of paper and bits, and look at my art books. I’ve never understood how anyone could be bored if they’ve got access to books! I spent a large part of my childhood leafing through my mother’s books about different art collections – the Prado in Madrid, the National Gallery in London and collections in St Petersburg, and it was like walking into another world. Art books – reproductions, surveys, art history or ‘how to...’ books – are a bit magical for me.

4 I work in layers: layers of ink, layers of paper, layers of meaning. I think this mirrors how I see the world, full of layers. People and events are never wholly one thing; we ascribe different meanings to everything and everyone and how I see something will not be the same as how you see it. Things that are essentially bad can also have good aspects to them, or at least this is the conclusion I’ve drawn from my life.

5 Following on from this, I’m interested in the distance between the work and the viewer and I’m very happy to allow it to exist, like silence in a conversation. I don’t want to be overt about the meaning in my work. I might do something for reasons of my own, but I might not want to share those reasons with you, and I don’t believe that any ensuing ‘lack of understanding’ about the piece is necessarily negative. Your conclusions about it and whatever meaning you might ascribe to it are as valid as my own; after all, once it’s made I hand it over to you in order for it to be viewed... from that point onwards the ‘meaning’ in it is out of my control!

6 Aaargh, still two more aspects of my working processes to reveal to you! I guess one of them is to let you into a secret, which is that I’m a dreadful procrastinator in my work. I spend AGES thinking about something before I can bring myself to start, and I think a lot of it is to do with an unwillingness to let go... I exercise a lot of control over myself and my environment, but in making things I have to release myself from some of that control and see what happens, and it’s hard. I am afraid of it, afraid of myself, afraid of the outcome, afraid of failure... But I have come to accept that this is itself an essential part of the creative process for me.

7 To compensate for the above insecurities I have a certain optimism, in that I believe I’ll be able to work out the techniques/problems/mess in the end. It’s very rare that I’ve found myself to be completely stumped as to what to do next (although I recall with a little shudder the sudden wave of fear that came over me while making a friend’s wedding dress a few years ago: the pattern – a pencil sketch – was fiendish and the material was unforgiving, and I got to a point at which I honestly thought I was going to fail... luckily, 24 hours later, I’d wiped away the tears of frustration and worked it out). It's not smugness or arrogance, honestly, but more like blind pig-headedness. I charge ahead, assuming that if I read the necessary pages in some of my books I’ll get there in the end. This is very relevant right now as I’m attempting to do my first ever case-bound book in time for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday party on Saturday! Perhaps it says something about my belief in the power of books.

Now I have to tag some other people who might want to write about this meme. Who shall I tag? I know: In My Spare Time, Snippety Gibbet and Aine Scannell. Have fun!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Little badges made from scraps for the school Christmas stall... now you know what I do in my "spare" time!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lots of fun

Surprisingly I made it back from Sydney, despite inclement weather. I arrived at the airport to come home in plenty of time, only to find that my flight was already being called. It turned out that the thunder clouds were building over Sydney and they were packing people onto planes in anticipation of the departure schedule being thrown into disarray. It's funny how used I am now to the idea of hopping on a plane to go down there, but I do still feel a thrill at being in an airport - they are (non)places of such possibility!

Anyway, I had a fabulous time. It wasn't just the fact that I could spend hours in the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the MCA, or that I could wander the shops without a small person tugging at my hand asking for me to buy things, or that I could walk around the Botanic Gardens picking up interesting seedheads in the sunshine... what was loveliest of all was walking into the Australian Bookbinders artists' books exhibition at the Pine Street Gallery and seeing friends, meeting new people, talking about their work and my work, and having a wonderfully sociable evening which was rounded off by staying with Sue Anderson who, in addition to being a truly talented bookbinder and a very generous person is just lovely. So I've come away feeling inspired and energised and happy - and tired, if that makes sense.

I did have fun at the AGNSW. I'm a Country Member now (my Christmas present from M last year, and one that I have made good use of), which means discounts on entry to special exhibitions and access to the Members' Lounge on one of the lower floors, which has a library, comfy chairs and its own little cafe. It's a very civilised place to spend an hour, catching up on art magazines while sipping a coffee or a glass of wine. I'd forgotten that Wednesday is late opening, so I was able to make full use of the facilities, see both the 'Lost Buddhas' exhibition and the Monet exhibition, grab a coffee, have a general look around and use the very nice ladies' loo to get changed without the usual rush to see everything before 5pm.

I'd been looking forward to the Monet, but you know, this time I was disappointed. One reason is that having lived in the UK for 40 years, travelled in Europe and visited the Museum of Fine Art in Boston I've actually seen most of Monet's work, and that of his fellow Impressionists, in the flesh before now, and so my overwhelming feeling about the exhibition was to do with the lack of good Impressionist paintings. So I probably come across as a bit of a cultural snob here when I say that it is fantastic that so many paintings came to Australia, but very sad that the most spectacular pictures such as Monet's huge 'waterlilly' series didn't make it. The inclusion of one of the larger, later, more colourful and famous Monet waterlilly paintings would have made the show. Instead I came away with the feeling that I'd seen a survey exhibition of paintings that showed the development of Impressionism and how it both sprang from and differed from earlier themes and traditions in (mainly) French art. Where were Cezanne and Degas? Sadly only one early piece from each, and intriguing hints about their personal relationships with fellow Impressionists and the divisions and unravelling that happened. I thought that could have been expanded upon, but perhaps that is really another show.

What I did like were two quotes, the first from Monet:

"I am not a great painter, neither am I a great poet. I only know that I do what I can to convey my experience before nature and, most often, to succeed in conveying what I feel I totally forget the most elementary rules of painting - if they exist, that is"

The other quote I liked was from James M Millar, the rather enlightened CEO of Ernst & Young Australia, who were the exhibition's main sponsors. He summed up rather beautifully the value of art in the modern world:

"Art feeds the soul. It uplifts, inspires and enlightens us. And in this fast-paced life, it offers us moments of stillness and reflection". Exactly.

Ho hum.

The exhibition of The Lost Buddhas was, to my mind, much more inspiring. In brief, Chinese workmen were levelling a school playing field in Shandong Province in 1996 when they came across a pit full of 6th century statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that had been buried for some unknown reason in the 12th century. The whole thing is shrouded in mystery: where are the statues from? What happened to them between their making and their burial? Why were they buried? And how on earth did they survive so beautifully...? The statues are amazing: carved from limestone, in the main, they have retained the delicate sketch marks incised on the stone to show the painters where to paint, and they are exquisitely colourful. Traces of deep reds and gold leaf adorn the statues' carved robes and jewels. I have to say that part of the enjoyment of the exhibition comes from the air of tranquillity in the gallery, achieved largely by the wonderful lighting. It is dark, but somehow not gloomy, in there, and the statues loom gracefully out of the blackness, which softens the stonework. Delicate shadows outline the planes of their faces and the fall of their robes. Such peace! Such serenity! Such uncharitably smug expressions in the shadows! I loved it, and sat there drawing for half an hour or so, oblivious to everything.

After my last visit I was careful to make sure I went to look at what was on display in the "Collections Focus Room", and this time it was a print by Frank Hodgkinson called Inside the Landscape, an etching/aquatint/drypoint from 1971. Just my sort of thing: an asymmetric image of a hillside, deeply bitten and irregularly textured in a way that suggested the use of open biting on the plate, which I love. And there was ambiguity in the image too: the fissures and cracks and texture in the image could have been leaves/roots/growing things as much as they could have depicted a cross-section of the hillside, as is perhaps suggested by the title.

This isn't the print I saw, but one from the same series and it's part of the National Gallery of Australia's collection in Canberra. In fact, when looking for the image on-line I came across the NGA's website page on Frank Hodgkinson and now I understand why I like him! Of course... he met people who had been to Atelier 17 in Paris, learned about viscosity printing and started making prints in series! A man after my own heart.

My schedule for this trip was: arrive in Sydney; march quickly up Pitt Street stopping only to buy 600 Williamson & Magor Earl Grey tea bags in the David Jones Food Hall for Michael, the Christmas stocking chocolates from Haigh's in the Strand Arcade, and a belt for me (by the way, have you noticed that I haven't mentioned visiting any of the MANY clothes shops I like to look at in Sydney, ALL of which had super sales on? Dedication to the cause, say I!) before ditching everything in the AGNSW cloakroom; see the various special exhibitions described above; grab a coffee in the members' lounge; change; grab taxi to Chippendale to attend the artists' books show opening; stay with Sue Anderson in Mosman; visit MCA on Circular Quay; return to Coffs Harbour; collapse.

While at the MCA I was able to go and see two shows: Primavera '08 and Yinka Shonibare MBE, the largest show of his work to date. Fascinating, both of them. I went to Primavera '07 last year (surprisingly enough), and enjoyed it but wasn't bowled over by anything in particular. This year there was one artists whose work I really liked, namely Mark Hilton. He showed several double-sided lightboxes which hung down from the ceiling on wires. I couldn't see any electrical connections so I presume the lights in the boxes were battery-powered. On either side of the box were large lambda duratrans prints, depicting what were clearly interpretations of real, contemporary events in styles that referenced Indian miniature painting or Chinese tomb carvings. I didn't 'get' the references to the Melbourne 'Salt Nightclub Massacre' or the 2004 St. Kilda football club sex-scandal, but I did 'get' the use of imagery to examine how we stereotype cultural groups. The imagery in the indian-miniature-style pictures was exquisitely executed - and I presume the methods used were digital manipulations of Mughal patterns and the like, but placed together with digitised images of Hilton's own painting techniques which added the contemporary references of footballers' faces, modern gestures and athletic/club logos.

I read on a wall inscription that "in the series Collective Autonomy Mark Hilton critiques the activities of group behaviour - particularly sporting and peer groups - and the way in which society and the media respond to tragedies perpetrated by these groups". I enjoyed the deliberate and self-knowing appropriation of a received way of painting to say something new, but I also found myself asking whether this critique could happen anywhere other than Australia, with its cultural dependence on sport? Whatever the answer, the results were both aesthetically beautiful and culturally intelligent and I spent a long time looking, which is always the mark of a good show, for me. You can read an on-line article about Mark Hilton in Art & Australia, HERE.

What else? Not much, really. I need to follow-up some contacts I made (more to the point, I need to find the business cards I squirreled away and haven't yet located!), thank Sue profusely for her hospitality, and get on with a load of stuff at home. The programme for this weekend? Making cup cakes, biscuits and Christmas presents with Ella, taking Ella ice-skating, finishing off some felt we made the other week (it's a bit wrinkly and needs some more fulling, I think), making some more felt on Sunday with friends and... oh yes, making the family Christmas cards for this year! Whoops - I'd better get on with it all.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Off on a trip

OK, I'm only going to Sydney, but it's very exciting nonetheless. My 'bridge book' is in the inaugural artists' book show organised by Australian Bookbinders Inc, opening at the Pine Street Gallery in Chippendale on Wednesday. I could have stayed at home, but I wanted to go, partly because the show is being co-curated by my friend Sue Anderson, and partly because it's just fun to go to Sydney. Dianne Fogwell - a printmaker whose work I admire - is opening the exhibition and I'll be going to the after-show dinner because I'm staying with Sue and if she's going, I'm going!

I fly there on Wednesday morning, I have the luxury of visits to the Museum of Contemporary Art AND the Impressionists exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (members' room here I come...), then the opening and dinner afterwards and staying with Sue, and as if that wasn't enough I can do some shopping on Thursday morning before I fly home. Bliss! The only slight downer is that I haven't really got enough money to shop on a grand scale, but who cares? Just catching a glimpse of the sort of thing one can't get in Coffs Harbour will be fun. I am an expert window-shopper.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Don't panic

I've had a certain amount of fun telling people my snake story, and you'll be relieved to hear that no-one has ever found a snake in their house. In the garage, yes; in the loft, yes; in the paddock, definitely yes; but in the house? No! Which suggests to me that it isn't very common and that you're unlikely to see one if you come and visit!

As I look out of the window now I can see a flock of wood ducks by the fence, and a couple of wallabies nibbling the grass about 20 metres away. Bucolic bliss; not a snake in sight.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Hallowe'en visitor

I blogged about this on our house-building blog (, but thought you might be amused to read it here.... M has been away for a week at a techie conference in LA, and P was out at a party on Friday night, leaving Grub and me to celebrate Hallowe'en by ourselves. Since she was tired and I was tired and we were on our own this just consisted of dinner followed by Scooby Doo cartoons on the box, although we did manage to make a pumpkin lantern! It had been a hot day and was still hot in the evening which is part of the reason why I went to bed really late. The other reason was that I stayed up to finish Grub's recorder case (for those not acquainted with Steiner education, children play the recorder and weave a case for it, but as she needed hers quickly I was asked to do most of it in order to get it finished...). There are only so many evenings one can face watching recorded episodes of Rebus and weaving.

Anyway, at 2:30am Grub came into my room and asked if she could come into bed with me, and I told her to get her pillow, so she went out into the corridor and... trod on something and squealed. Thinking it must be a cockroach I got up, told her to get into my bed, and said I'd clean up and get her pillow, but when I turned on the light in the corridor I saw a.... snake! And I really did have to look twice in order to believe what I was seeing, because it was so unexpected! Luckily Grub hadn't been bitten...

The thing is, what do you do? I'm British - British people don't have much experience of snakes. Yes, there is one poisonous British snake, the adder, but I don't think it does much damage and it's pretty rare - I've seen one once, and only because I was walking on the South Downs, which is a common habitat. Coffs Harbour of course is full of the damned things, including very dangerous ones, and because we live 'on acres', as the phrase goes, it is to be expected that we would eventually see one, but outside, not in the house!

So there I was, in my T shirt, wondering what the hell to do, when said snake decided to make a right-turn into Grub's bedroom, which doesn't have a convenient 'way out for snakes'. I went and put on my knee-length Ugg boots (thick sheepskin, so I didn't think any fangs would get through them and I've read somewhere that most people are bitten on the ankles!) and followed the snake. Now at this point you are probably thinking I'm a complete fool, but what does one do? The worst possible scenario, as far as I could see, was 'losing' the snake because I'd never be settled in the house again... and I couldn't put Grub back in her room with the thought of a snake on the loose. So I followed the snake until it went under her bed and looked as if it was going to attack me (i.e. reared up, folded its neck into an 'S' shape and looked a bit scary!), and we eyeballed each other for about 15 minutes or so until finally it relaxed a bit and I was able to dash out and grab the phone and the phonebook, and get Grub's pillow, book and teddy so that she could curl up on my bed.

Luckily I'd read about the Australian animal rescue organisation, WIRES, and found their number. It didn't say it was 24 hours, but a lovely lady called Donna answered the phone and said she'd get a reptile person to call me back, so I waited for another 15 minutes or so until Tom rang. He's at Nana Glen, which is about 25 kms from here and he was understandably reluctant to come out at what was by then 3:30am, but when I told him about the shape of the snake's neck when it looked as if it was about to bite me he said a very rude word and announced he was on his way and that I should take up position in the corridor and monitor the snake's movements. And that's where my stepson found me when he got in from his party; I advised him to go and wash off his 'zombie army officer' make up before Tom arrived!

When Tom did arrive it was all over pretty quickly. The snake had sloped off to a comfortable place wrapped around the bottom of Grub's basketball, behind a storage box (hmmm, what was that ball doing behind the box rather than in the box??), and he was able to catch it with a stick and a pillow case and take it away. It turned out to be a brown tree snake, which is venemous but not madly so, rather than the feared Eastern Brown snake, and apparently it is quite unusual for one to come into the house, especially when we've got so many juicy lizards OUTSIDE!

The excitement was all over by 4:30am, and we rang M, who was sitting in the departure lounge at Los Angeles airport, to tell him all about it. Unfortunately my hopes of catching up on sleep were somewhat vain as the phone started ringing at 7:30am and didn't stop until I finally got up!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More models

I said I was having fun, didn't I? This model of the main house we're hoping to build is only held together by masking tape at the moment... our architect's comments about my failure to use the appropriate balsa wood framing for the verandah/carport posts slightly took the wind out of my sails and I haven't leapt for the glue bottle, but I daresay I'll get there eventually. Meanwhile it's been a REALLY useful exercise plotting it all out and seeing how it might work in 3D.

This view is from the 'east' end of the building. The 'TV' lounge is to the right, with steps leading up past a double-sided fireplace apperture into the main living area, which opens out onto the verandah at the front, as you can see. Beyond the verandah is the sleeping end of the building, with 3 modest bedrooms, one with an en-suite bathroom and a family bathroom. The raised roof over the main living area allows light and air into the building.

This photo was taken more from the western end of the building, showing the car port next to the bedrooms. I don't think that's going to be an issue: living in the country it's not as if we'll have babysitters and I doubt if we'll be going out much in the evenings so cars coming and going won't be a problem at night! The main entrance is up some steps, in between the near edge of the verandah with its big planting box, and the cantilevered front of the main bedroom.

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hold the front page

As I suspected, I didn't get a prize or even a certificate, just the sheer pleasure of having been highly commended at the Bellingen Art Show. I went and picked up my work this morning and ran into Deb Wall (not literally!) and Lina Bluhm. Lina and I had a very nice coffee and a chat in Bellingen before I headed back to Coffs Harbour and took the family out to 'Botanica', a sort of environmental/gardening expo at the Botanic Gardens. Lina and I were talking about how little there is for printmakers around here, and I have to agree. We both have a dream of a community print workshop... but it will be a long way off in the future!

Anyway, since getting home I've continued to enjoy myself with making a model of our new house, from the architect's plans. It's been tricky in places! Mainly, I think, because the plans have been printed and reprinted on different printers, with the result that not all the sheets are to exactly the same scale. Although technically the plans are 1:100 at A3 size, variations in printing mean that they're not all the same, which has made resolving the design of the roof particularly difficult. Luckily I'm enjoying the challenge and here are some working photos from this morning.

This is the main house, without internal walls

The blockiness of the unfinished model is great!

I've finished the office - studio building; this is from the front

An aerial view; I made models of all the BIG bits of furniture to scale, too

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Five Random Things about Me

When you've read this and picked yourself off the floor having laughed at me so hard you fell off, you can blame Jan at Snippety Gibbet for tagging me with this meme! I'm just like her in that I've been tagged before and haven't got round to doing anything about it, but this time I'll give it a go.
  • One of the worst jobs I ever had was temping at a publishing company in Bristol and sharing an office with the accountant who was permanently drunk and kept a dead fish rotting away in his desk drawer.
  • I love exercise, but only the kind you can do sitting down! Think cycling, rowing, weights... Come to think of it, they're all pretty much one-person sports so perhaps the real problem is that I'm antisocial?
  • I once won a lottery, and got a pack of 24 airmail envelopes as my prize. I still have 23 of them.
  • I am dyslexic with numbers in that I read them in the wrong order. Luckily I know how I mix them up so when recalling numbers I just have to rearrange them in my head... it helps having a very visual memory because I can 'read' them all over again as I correct myself.
  • I don't use black very often; I usually make my own black ink out of Prussian Blue and Burnt Umber mixed together and I vary the proportions depending on what effect I want.
Now you know.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I forgot!

I forgot to mention my success on Friday at the Bellingen Art Show, which is a members' exhibition held each year up in the hills... somehow Bellingen seems a long way away from Coffs Harbour, which I guess it is in some ways: instead of palm trees and the ocean there are mountain views, autumn leaves and winter frosts. It reminds me of the cool northern European climate of the first half of my life - until the sun comes out in summer and it gets hotter than it does down here on the coast!


Anyway, for the first time I entered the show, and put in the monoprint I did for the Art Auction here (that didn't sell, obviously), and I got 'Highly Recommended' in the print section. The prize-giving was a bit of a fiasco, and quite embarrassing at the time. The person leading the speeches made a point of asking all prize-winners to come up onto the stage and stay there for photographs, so when my name was read out, up I went. But they completely ignored me! I'd climbed the stairs in front of the crowd only to find the person carried on speaking, having turned her back to me, and to be honest I had no idea what to do. Louise Rawson-Harris from The Bunker Cartoon Gallery (and leading light of Bellingen art circles) noticed my embarrassment, kindly took me aside and engaged me in conversation, and then drew the person's attention to my presence on the stage - but I was still ignored. Being on show isn't my thing and I got to the point where I thought I shouldn't be there, so after gently moving to the back I slunk off down the stairs into the crowd, only for the announcer to tell me off later for ruining the group photograph... The upshot of it all is that I have no idea if I will get a prize or a certificate, because no-one saw fit to tell me about it!

Thankfully the whole event was overtaken by a lovely dinner we had with Anna Fisher at her house in Fernmount afterwards. Anna is a talented graphic designer, and her husband Christian is the architect of the house we'll (hopefully!) start building soon, and she'd invited us back for pasta and fruit salad and - in my case at least - a restorative glass of wine!

Monday, October 06, 2008


I've finished the edition! 44 good prints, all layered with blotters and tissue and weighted between boards. Just the numbering, signing and packing to go before they are consigned to the couriers in a week's time.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My little helper

Where would I be without it? $0.99 from Bunnings, the ubiquitous Australian DIY store, and it's great: a little cork sanding block that handy people wrap with sandpaper to help them get into hard-to-reach places... I use it by wrapping it with strips of scrim (tartalan), telephone-book-paper or tissue paper, to polish up my plate. Because I get arthritis in my hands I often can't grip small things for long, so soft pads of wadded scrim are a nightmare. Wrapping the material tightly around the sanding block enables me to polish just the surface of an etching plate, without the material being pushed into the lines and wiping out too much ink. Naturally this wouldn't be suitable for all prints, but for the plate I'm working on at the moment it's ideal because I get a nice clean surface - no plate tone! - without the pain...

This is the naked sanding block...

Now it's wrapped in telephone paper, to keep it clean, before I wrap other things round it to work with

In Memoriam

I was a trifle disconcerted this afternoon, returning to printing that edition (32 down, only 8 to go!) after a morning having my hair cut and talking Focus business with Ann in town, to find a small, very dead, grey mouse paws down in my paper bath. I was about to push another sheet of 300gsm BFK Rives paper into the water when I realised the bath was occupied...

It takes a certain amount of effort to empty the big black tub: I need to wiggle it to the edge of the box it is sitting on, slide and tilt it gently over the edge and pour into a strategically placed bucket. Two buckets later and the tub can be hauled outside, empty, for a quick rinse round with the garden hose and then back into service!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Printing problems

Is there a collective noun for mosquitoes? Perhaps "a whine of mosquitoes"? I quite like the idea of a whine of mosquitoes, so therefore let me tell you that I had a whine of mosquitoes in my paper bath today. Clearly I rinsed out the paper bath and refilled it, but somehow every print I've pulled today has come out of the paper bath with at least one mosquito leg clinging to it.

Millipedes. Need I say more?

A laugh of kookaburras on the clothes line, mocking my efforts.

Arthritis. Getting older is no joke, especially when my right wrist - of course I am right-handed - is killing me, but I still have to print. Grrr.

[I've lost count and everything's stacked between boards for drying, but I think I've now done 20 really good prints for the edition]

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blogger lessons

I'm not good with technical things (or perhaps I should say that I don't want to get too good at technical things in case I have to start dealing with them myself), and so I had a sinking feeling when I opened this blog yesterday to discover that the right-hand side-bar had disappeared. It's not what you want to see...

I did all the right things: I cleared my cache, republished, discovered a cached version of the page via Google and replaced parts of my template with parts of the template from the cached version and republished. Again. Still no side-bar. So I joined the Blogger Help community, studiously read all related postings from other bloggers whose side-bars mysteriously disappeared, and only then did I post my own question.

I'm still very silly, because it transpires that I made a very simple and obvious mistake, only I didn't spot it! When I posted the picture of the little fish I hadn't edited it in Photoshop beforehand, as I usually do, and so it was too wide and pushed all the content from my side-bar way down the page because it couldnt' fit into its column. Doh! Problem now resolved and I've learned my lesson.

By the way, 13 good ones down, only 27 to go...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Three good prints today...

... hooray! And the faintest possibility of a book arts exhibition some time next year...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Remember how much trouble I had last time I printed from my PCA plate...? All the agonising about making the damned thing, and then I had to spend days chipping 'tar' out of the lines with a needle...? I have to say it rather put me off picking said plate up again and re-starting the edition, but needs must so I finally pushed myself into it yesterday.

And blow me! It took only THREE prints before my trusty loupe enabled me to detect the beginnings of it all over again. Three prints! So it looks as if I will have to clean off the damned plate every three prints with white spirit and a tooth brush if I'm ever to finish the task. Can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it.

Little fishy

We take the dog for a walk on the beach most (ahem) mornings after we've dropped our daughter off to school, and usually there's some sort of treasure just lying there on the sand waiting for you to look...

Today's small joy was a tiny little fish, only 2 cms long, that shone so brightly in the sunshine that I saw it despite its miniscule size.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Well, the wait is over... I got the September issue of the Print Council of Australia's lovely magazine Imprint in the mail today - with my print in the centrefold as part of the 2008 print commission! And it's a good photo of the print, too, which is no mean feat as the blind embossing on the plate makes it difficult to represent accurately. Fingers crossed that people want to buy it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Round and round

When I'm suffering from a lack of energy and/or inspiration I take a look at links people send me or I look at Blogger's 'Blogs of Note' and sometimes, not always, I find something interesting! Here's what I looked at today:

A strange house perched on a small island, which I got from Joanna Goddard's blog, 'A Cup of Jo', which is one of Blogger's Blogs of Note this month. From 'A Cup of Jo' I went to Tina Roth Eisenberg's blog and found Eric Tabuchi's fun truck alphabet, and curiously she took me back to the strange house perched on the small island again, but not until I laughed at the 'How to be a good boss' pdf file from Number 17, which took me back to the 'How to be a good client' article on Tina's blog. It's all suspiciously circular...

Monday, August 18, 2008


Another thank you to that nice man Mr Heather because while reading a comment he made on (again!) I came across Nicholas Forrest's blog, and a very interesting read it is too. Not only does he like printmakers generally he also happens to like Torres Straits Islander Dennis Nona, whose work I love, so we have at least two elements of good taste in common!

I'm not spending enough time on the internet doing blog stuff at the moment, and I need to get back to it. I keep finding great things to read, comment upon, think about, do... but it's always a compromise between art and life. I guess I haven't done too badly this year so far: I made the grade for the Print Council of Australia's 2008 commission, and my bridge book was acquired at the Southern Cross University Acquisitive Artists' Book Award, and I've got a number of other prints in progress and a second book going down to Sydney for a show soon with a bit of luck. Given the fact that we're building a house and Michael was so ill I don't know that I could have achieved much more this year but today I'm still managing to feel a bit melancholy about the amount of stuff not done. I'm going to take the melancholy indoors, however, as it's freezing in the studio at the moment and I need to persevere with some perspective drawings of the possible interior design of bits of our house. There are some practical things I can do with my art that make a difference for the whole family and that is one of them!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Green Door Studio

Check out Green Door Studio if you get the chance. I was alerted to their existence by Robert Heather on the Ning 'Artist Books 3.0' online community, so I went to have a peek at what they're doing with the 'Combat Paper' project. This is a collaborative project by Drew Matott and Drew Cameron, working with war veterans, activists and artists to 'retell' the stories of people in military service by using their uniforms to make paper and then books and images from their experiences of war.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Mother of all Fun

OK so this isn't strictly speaking about my art practice, but what the hell. I've just crawled home after my third day of papermaking with the 21 kids in my daughter's Year One primary school class, and I think that this evening I am allowed to have beer. Or gin. Wine's good too... I'm not picky, just emotionally and physically exhausted!

I practiced on my daughter and 9 of her friends during the school holidays recently, fresh back from the papermaking course as I was, and we made over 50 sheets of paper. I pressed them onto the glass of our sliding windows to dry (and must remember to clean the windows before my parents-in-law arrive next week!), and it was a great success. Goodness only knows what they've all done with the paper since they made it, as my lovely daughter has simply filed it in her 'making' box and it will probably never be seen again.

The kids at school had a great time, though. I made all the pulp up the day before and experimented with dying one bucketful a lovely crimson with cold-water fabric dye suitable for cellulose (or that's what it said on the packet). Consequently my hands are slightly pinker than usual. I split the class into two groups: 10 on Monday and the rest on Tuesday afternoon, and we made 4 sheets each: one white, one red, one red sheet decorated with pulled and drawn finger marks before the sheet was couched, and one pink sheet. They got to take everything except the plain red sheet home; we're saving one red sheet per student for a different craft project later in the year. And today we moulded fresh sheets of paper around various objects, ranging from a lobster-shaped cracker used for cracking shellfish limbs to shells and a couple of turnips and lots of shapes in between.

What I hadn't appreciated was the amount of before and after work I'd be doing. Never mind the frantic hour I had with the kids each afternoon actually making the day's work... it was staying in the class for two hours afterwards, putting up sheets of paper onto the windows to dry and washing out couching cloths, cleaning up water, and today pulling 40 sheets of paper very quickly during the lunch recess so that the kids were each able to have a couple of goes at moulding! Plus the several hours of preparation last Sunday making the pulp. In the end it was a lot of effort, but a lovely result with no outlay except for the electricity used to blend up the pulp. And the children had so much fun. In the middle of the whirwind of activity I didn't really see how excited they all were, but their teacher said to me this afternoon that they've talked of little else all week, which made me feel really good.

I do enjoy teaching. A tiny little part of me points out that if I could combine such crafty activities for children with my previous business experience I could perhaps make a little niche for myself running paid children's workshops, particularly in the school holidays. But is that what I want to do? And wouldn't it take away from my attempts to turn my fine art practice into something that generates a (small) living? Perhaps the truth is that I should have trained as a teacher in the first place and then I would get paid for doing such things, but back when I was in my twenties I'd not really encountered children before and didn't realise how much my older self would enjoy them... so it wouldn't have happened anyway, and it's not on the cards now. No, what I really want to do is to earn enough money through making and selling my art that I can pay tax! And if I have a little bit of time in between I shall continue to be delighted to do crafty things with children.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Double chocolate please, hold the optimism

I thought I had it all worked out there, didn't I? Ho ho ho. Luckily I have Mr Willis to help me, because otherwise I'd still be ignorant...

It turns out that in addition to ALL the other mistakes I made last week printing this damned edition, I used too much chalk when dusting the plate just before printing. The chalk has mixed with the ink and set hard on the plate. I thought I'd cleaned the plate off successfully every couple of pulls and didn't worry about the 'blackness' still in the etched lines because in my (apparently limited!) experience the lines often 'go black', but it turns out the lovely aquatint I put into the lines is clogged with a baked-on mixture of ink and chalk.

I'm currently experimenting with various solvents to see which one will break down the mixture so that I can clean the plate off properly and start again! And I've put some tonic water in the freezer to cool down so that when I've finished my nightly taxi service, in a few minutes, I can have a large gin and tonic, because I feel like a twit. I'm saving the chocolate I mentioned until a bit later on... when hopefully I'll have a clean plate.

The nice thing about Willis is that although he always gives me a quizzical look when pointing out my mistakes, he manages not to be a patronising bastard about it, for which I am very grateful. It means I only feel slightly smaller. Anyway, Willis is about to embark on a fun-packed trip to the USA and UK, where he'll combine putting work into an exhibition that has been conceived of by Julian Schnabel with not one, but two, artists' residencies, so good luck to Willis and let's hope that I don't muck anything else up while he's away!

Monday, July 28, 2008


There are times when nothing will do except chocolate and I'm sure there are as many men as women who would agree (although I haven't met any of them yet).

I'm STILL in the middle of printing my edition, which adds up to 8 days of effort so far which can be broken down as follows: 1 day of easing myself into it, 1 day of super success when every print I pulled was good, 1 day of not achieving much because of family responsibilities followed by an evening in which I managed to pull 1 decent print and was about to pull another when I... managed to forget to put the etching paper on top of the plate and printed an excellent image onto newsprint. I went to bed, tired and frustrated. Unluckily for me, when I started again on Thursday I got it all wrong and pulled a series of awful prints on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well.

It is only today that I've rediscovered my sanity, having worked out that of all the possible variables EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM needed some slight adjustment in order to get things back in order. What a pain it has been to work it all out... but now I have, I'd better pull off one last print before bed!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Personality DNA

I had fun this evening with a post I found on Jan Allsop's blog... I don't usually take much notice of personality tests but found the visual nature of this one very appealing, and slightly surprising since it concludes that I'm "very feminine", which is news to me! That's after doing a test a few years ago that identified that I have a 'masculine' brain with unusual (for a female) abilities in terms of pattern recognition, spacial awareness and map-reading skills which would, apparently, make me ideally suited to being an engineer. There you go!

My personalDNA Report

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Getting ready

I can tell I'm procrastinating when cleaning the crusty saucepan that's been soaking in the sink for a day seems a more attractive proposition than snapping on my gloves, turning on the hot plate and starting printing my edition! But tomorrow I shall have no more excuses as I've torn all the paper, sorted out blotters and boards and tissue and dabbers and those little bits of card I use to put the ink on the plate. I've cleaned my work surfaces, put fresh water in the paper bath, mixed the ink and pulled the blankets into place on the press. All that remains to do is to make the damned prints, and it's the 50-odd hours of work in completing the whole edition that's bugging me, because I'm essentially a lazy creature and think that it sounds too much like hard work!

I had a lovely meet-up with Jan Allsop in a delightful coffee shop called 'Cocoa' on Friday, and how nice it is to re-connect with someone you haven't seen for ages but whom you suspect sees the world in much the same way that you do! We talked about all sorts of things, but in the end the conversational topic I keep grappling with, because it is at the core of my existence as an artist and many other things as well, is how to position my practice centrally when that seems to entail just the sort of selfishness that makes me feel uncomfortable, and which my mother told me wasn't anything to do with being a woman. I was brought up to do everything on the 'needs doing' list first, and if there was any time left once all the chores had been done then I might - if I'd been good - be allowed to do something for myself for a change. And I struggle with myself daily, usually because I don't realise that this is exactly what I'm doing, all too well! And then I find that I'm spending all my spare time moaning about not having enough time to do anything because of all the chores and I slip into being just the sort of boring person I can't stand...

So I'm trying really hard to stop myself, and came to the major decision that I'm going to reduce the amount of ironing and other disagreeable activities that I do, and try hard to do/make/enjoy some more art instead. Hoorah! Now that has been established so easily I'm going to procrastinate my way to bed.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Time flies...

... whether you're having fun or not, I think. I'm startled to see that it's over a month since I posted on this blog although I have managed to keep my 'daily drawings' more-or-less up-to-date. Things have been a bit tricky in the last little while, with Michael being very ill again, but hopefully we're over it now as we have a diagnosis and a treatment plan and Michael is responding well. Phew, because it was touch and go there for a while.

Anyway, from an art perspective a few things have sorted themselves out in my mind, the first of which is the progress of my PhD. You may remember that I am - allegedly - doing one. But if you're wondering what happened to it, I put it formally 'on hold' while moving over here, to give me a chance to settle into being in a different country and completely altering my life. Despite my good intentions and the intentions of my colleagues at UWE, however, things are not really working out. The sheer distance to travel to see anyone is a huge block to face-to-face communication, and electronic communications via email and the post-graduate forum have failed to take off not least because my UWE email ID was rescinded as soon as I put my PhD on hold! The consequence is that I have exchanged very little apart from vague Christmas greetings with my colleagues at UWE in the last year and I have had to reconsider my options. I should add, at this point, that I'm not criticising my supervisory team: it's obviously very hard for them to keep tabs on a candidate so far away, especially when that candidate wanders off for a year and says, 'see you when in 12 months' time'! So what's the answer? Well I think the answer is to move my PhD to a local institution, and Southern Cross University in Lismore is the likeliest candidate. I have explored the possibility with them, since I have links with Tim Mosely and Associate Professor Jan Davis, and the signs are encouraging although I obviously have to got through a formal application process. I am sad to be losing that link with UWE, which is a great place for visual arts, printmaking and artists' books but hopefully the professional connection will survive the cutting of PhD ties!

Meanwhile, if you read this blog and are interested in book arts in all their variety you might be interested in a new forum on the 'Ning' network called "Artist Books 3.0", set up by Robert Heather in Melbourne. Check it out and join us if it's up your street! I know that on-line networks aren't for everyone, but I find them incredibly useful (although I withdrew from Facebook about a week after joining up because it was such a pointless waste of time!!! Obviously I'm not sufficiently cool...), for a sense of community and as a source of information.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Up and down and round and round

I have had a bit of a rollercoaster two weeks, with good news and bad news. The high point was finding out that the print I've documented making on this blog has been selected by the Print Council of Australia (PCA) for its 2008 print commission. This is just great! The PCA exists to support printmaking and both established and emerging artists working in print media, and each year it commissions up to six artists to produce a limited edition print which is then distributed through a subscription scheme. I'm a member of the scheme myself, and by paying a bit more each year I can chose one print from the annual commision as well as receiving the usual member benefits. Imprint, the PCA's magazine on print media, is really interesting and the prints I've chosen through the commission scheme have been brilliant. You'll recall me writing several times about GW Bot, and although her work sells for vast sums of money (well out of my league!), through the PCA print commission I am now the proud owner of one of her prints. I am so pleased to have been chosen, and slightly stunned too. I really didn't expect it, given that I arrived in Australia less than two years ago... Now all I have to do is to produce six perfect proofs and an edition of forty perfect prints!

Last weekend was great fun: I attended Glen Skien's workshop on making boxes and books, at the Primrose Park Art & Craft Centre near Cremorne in the northern suburbs of Sydney. The building itself nestles in a wooded park, tucked down a steep and winding side road, and I was extremely glad that my friends knew where it was and were willing to take me there! I think the whole site used to be a sewage pumping station (and that the old stone building is the craft centre) and also a waste incinerator. It probably means that underneath the adjacent rugby/football/hockey pitches horrible contaminants are lurking, but it looks lovely.

I didn't realise that it was so far away from any shops and that refreshments weren't provided, but the lovely people who were on the course with me shared their food and were so kind. I had a great time and made new friends as well as running into a couple of old ones. How great, when I haven't been in Australia that long, to find myself recognising people when I walk into a workshop!

Susan Baran gave me a cheery greeting as I walked in, and it was lovely to meet her again. She is one of the leading members of Warringah Printmakers, where I attended Seraphina Martin's viscosity printmaking workshop last year. Susan was very helpful and gave me an impromptu introduction to solar plate etching, which I must make use of! Also at Primrose Park was Christina Cordero, whom I was thrilled to meet. She's someone whose name I seem to have known for years and I love her prints. I was very sad not to have had enough time to visit her just-finished exhibition at the Australian Galleries works on paper gallery in Paddington, but I just didn't get a chance this trip... Christina is a lovely person, very modest about her own work, and very encouraging.

The tutor, Glen Skien, is a printmaker and maker of artists books who lives in Brisbane. He's another modest, self-effacing person, and you would be hard-pressed to get much information out of him about what he does! But he runs the Silent Parrot Press as a vehicle for his own work, and it's beautiful. The object of the workshop was to show us all his method for tearing up and cutting out bits of prints - an ideal way to 'use up' duff prints or working prints that don't make the grade! - and collaging them onto book boards and boxes. So to begin with we made the boards and the boxes, and it was great to be able to make a hardback book; it's something I've read about but never attempted, and although the final binding is deficient in many ways I had great fun doing it and am inspired to do more...

It was lovely meeting all the people at the workshop, and I was particularly lucky to share a table with Sue Anderson who is a very talented and experienced bookbinder. I tried hard to find a good picture of one of her books up on the web but the only example I could find was this one, which with its cover of vellum and snakeskin, among other things, sounds fascinating and looks beautiful...

I stayed with friends in north Sydney, who were absolutely great, and had two wonderful nights' sleep. All was well when I got home, but on Wednesday the roof fell in as Michael was suddenly taken ill. Hopefully he'll be fine, but we've got a few tests to get through before we have a diagnosis and/or treatment and in the meantime I've fallen way behind with everything including my art...

Friday, May 16, 2008


It's Friday evening, but the crucial difference between this Friday evening and last Friday evening is that I've finished the damned print!

You'd have laughed to see the set up I had for soaking the sugar lift off the final version of the plate - I ended up with the large black plastic trough full of water balanced on top of my wheelbarrow, out in the car port, so that I could wheel the trough into the light as it faded (and also to help my back by raising it up a bit while I brushed off the stop-out varnish).

My nifty wheelbarrow setup!

Etching it was fun and games. I put on a killer aquatint and... left it in the acid for too long and bit it all off again. Second time around I was more careful and it worked, and then I had to cover up the aquatinted areas to protect them while biting the rest of the plate so that the embossed areas stand out enough when printed.

It looks a bit surreal, but this is the plate in the water as I finished brushing off the stop-out

Once etched - finally - it took a while to work out how to ink up the plate. I have to be very careful applying the ink so that it doesn't get into the areas that I want to appear as an embossed white-on-white texture on the print, which means careful application and removal of the ink. Having practised three-cloth wiping, I tried chalking the embossed areas and using tissue paper for a final polish-up of the plate surface to remove tone, and I think I've got there. It took half a dozen goes to produce a bon a tirer print, but I did it, dried it, packed it and couriered it off to Melbourne on Monday morning.

The final print - but this was taken before it was flattened so forgive the kinks in the paper!

I know it arrived safely so now all I have to do is wait to hear back whether it's been chosen or rejected. I must say that I have no high hopes of it being selected, partly because I have no idea of what other prints will be offered, but also because I can't seem to make any judgement about my own work. If I like it other people don't, and if I don't like it then other people do! Or at least, that's how it seems.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Big Battle of Juanbung Swamp

It's 10pm and I've been printing all day, all week in fact, and I am tired tired tired, but what is worse is that I'm not much better off than I was when I wrote my last post on Monday!

I am having a huge battle with my print, although I guess I knew that it would probably turn out this way because it often does and it's partly to do with the 'artistic process' generally rather than my own specific quirks. I mean, how do you decide when something's finished? Or if it's 'good'? Or even if it's good enough? Each artist has their own point when they have to stop/recognise that it's right/realise that if they do anything else to a piece of work they'll ruin it. I seem to keep working and working and working at it until I just can't face doing any more. Along the way I will have had a few happy moments of thinking that perhaps what I'm doing is 'good' in some glimpsed-at way and more unhappy moments when I think it's all rubbish and that I should just throw in the towel right now. It's a bit of a roller-coaster.

The last few days have been a real roller-coaster as I've grappled with yet more unfamiliar techniques. Art-school aquatint theory says that it well-nigh impossible to lay one aquatint over another when using an aquatint box to distribute the rosin evenly on the plate, or at least that's what I was taught in printmaking evening classes. But it turns out that if you use the rough-and-ready method of sprinkling rosin over your plate from a flour-shaker with muslin tied tightly around the top then you can, actually, layer several aquatints over each other to beneficial effect, so that's what I've been doing. I imagine it must have looked quite funny as I sat patiently sprinkling rosin onto my plate on the back verandah, wearing my P3 face mask, and then teetered on a chair to blow-torch the underside of the plate which was suspended from the verandah roof on two wire coat hangers with one of the racks from our gas barbeque creating a shelf on which the plate could sit... I hate to think what would have happened if I'd toppled over!

Fortunately I was able to apply the aquatint, but unfortunately it wasn't particularly successful and J 'P for perfectionist' Willis did point that out. I should say here that he was only articulating what I knew but had hoped he wouldn't notice, but Willis isn't a perfectionist screen printing artist-cum-art tutor for nothing and he noticed straight away. His advice, which is usually well worth having, was for me to bite-out the existing aquatint, thus creating a deeper line on the plate which sounded attractive, and then to re-apply the aquatint into the deeper line, thus creating a better aquatint AND a nice embossed mark all at the same time.

Sadly all did not quite go according to our plan. I was able to bite-out the existing aquatint and re-apply a new one (and believe me, this was a convoluted process involving cleaning and degreasing the plate, rolling on a hard ground using a hard roller so as to protect the flat surface of the plate while revealing the lines so that they could bite properly and having to do tricky things like stop-out the back of the plate without damaging the hard ground on the front) but... in the end the rosin dust settled nicely into the 'floor' of the bitten-out line, and didn't adhere to the sides, which meant that when the line printed there was much less definition of the edges and in some places not enough aquatint to hold the ink. ^%$(*$ !!!

I am, of course, up against a tight deadline and I still have to work out how best to ink and wipe the darned plate, but now I'm going to have to re-make the plate (and try to salvage this version by re-aquatinting it again in the very faint hope that things might improve), from scratch. Drat and tarnation, I say. And now I have to clean up which is NOT my favourite part of printmaking.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rainbows, autumn leaves and experiments

Autumn leaves

We had a lovely few days away, driving 1500 kilometers across the mountains behind Coffs Harbour, down through Armidale where we stayed for two nights, over the tablelands and into the Upper Hunter Valley wine growing region where we stayed for another two nights before driving back up the same, spectacular road and home again. We got a brief taste of autumn among the deciduous trees planted by European settlers in the colder weather of the tops. Most local trees are sub-tropical evergreens around here.

The rainbow graced us with its presence in a delightful vineyard where we'd had lunch, both beginning and ending among the vines.


Back home I've been battling with the biggest plate I've ever etched, which has confronted me with various challenges! Willis suggested I try screen printing a mark drawn onto TruGrain and applied to my plate, using sugar-lift solution instead of ink so that I could then treat it as a lift-ground image, soak it off in water and hand-aquatint it using rosin applied through muslin.

Abortive attempts to make fluid lines in brush and ink...

Well, what fun I've had. Firstly it took a while to work out how to make the marks on the TruGrain. Brush and ink and pen and ink were both discarded when I discovered I couldn't reliably produce the feathery line I wanted. Marker pen was more fluent but less descriptive somehow, so in the end it came back to chinagraph pencils. Willis made me re-do my lines a couple of times because he's a perfectionist and didn't like some of the curves!

The finished chinagraph line on TruGrain film

Half way through re-doing my lines I realised that I'd been sent copper plates that were slightly larger than I'd ordered, and the extra millimetres made the difference between being able to wash out or etch the plate in my plastic trays and... being completely stuck without a suitable tray. Cue: minor panic and trips around photographic shops, farm supplies shops and eventually a large hardware store which resulted in the purchase of an ENORMOUS plastic crate thing, which is the only container I can find that is large enough.

This of course creates its own problems because then I realised I might not have enough Ferric Chloride in which to etch the plate since it would now have to cover a larger surface area in the new tray and I don't have time to order any more from Melbourne. Cue: another panic trip into town, this time to visit an electrical bits and bobs store that just happens to stock litre bottles of 42 baume Ferric Chloride for the nerds who etch their own PCBs locally. Thank goodness for nerds! There was a slight panicky moment in the shop when the cashier noticed a discrepancy between the two bottles I'd found on the shelf and the stock inventory, which seemed - momentarily - to suggest that I couldn't have the bottles because they didn't show up as being there on the stock list, but we overcame that little hiccup, although strangely I still had to pay full price for two bottles that technically didn't exist. ??!

The TruGrain line screen printed onto the plate

Now I still don't have much Ferric Chloride, but I've got as much as I'm going to get locally, and remembering Archimedes and his bath I started thinking about displacement of liquids in a tank... somewhat nobly, I think, I decided to sacrifice my liver to the altar of printmaking and have emptied a few winebottles over the weekend (although not, I must confess, alone. I had help.). I'm going to fill them with water so that they don't tip over and place them in the etching tray to help raise the level of Ferric Chloride. Eureka!

Fine detail washed out - not enough sugar in the lift? - but I like the slightly ragged, raw look to it anyway

Having solved these minor technical problems I decided I'd better soak and then aquatint my plate, which I did today. All I have to do now is to etch it tomorrow, print it, fiddle with it and produce a bon a tirer print by the end of next week. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Nozzles - the answer to my prayers

Now you'd think, being female, that I'd know about this sort of thing, right? After all, I spend my time playing with hairspray and stuff... not. Apparently, as every graffiti artist worth their tag knows, it's not the spray paint that makes the difference, it's the nozzle. So what I need to do to get a finer spray is pull the nozzle off the top of the can and experiment with some different ones. So now I might have to go to the chemist and buy lots of cans with nozzles on them. Drat. Oh, and the other thing I should do, once I've identified the perfect nozzle, is to spray up in the air and let the mist of tiny particles fall down onto my perfectly prepared plate.

OR... I could go back to using resin as an aquatint and apply it by hand, using muslin stretched over a flour shaker to distribute the dust over the plate and then blow-torching the underside of the plate. Half my problem is that a lot of my equipment is still in boxes as I don't have a permanent studio space in which to work, but I think I do have a blow torch top lurking somewhere that I simply have to attach to a bottle of gas, so this may be workable.

The other part of the problem is that I often just don't have a range of techniques at my disposal - just whatever I learned in printmaking classes. So it's great talking to people with more experience than me, even though I'm left feeling frustrated at my own ignorance sometimes!

Friday, April 11, 2008

More spray paint antics

It's dashed tricky, that spray paint aquatint! I wonder if it's because I bought car enamel rather than a different kind of spray - I may have to investigate whethere something else gives a finer mist. My biggest problem is atmospheric: high humidity and/or a stiff breeze make spraying anything evenly with fine droplets a bit of a problem, and I have to do it outside because I can't use all these solvent-based products in the office I share with my husband...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Saline etch update

Yes, at long last I feel well enough to put up some photos! I can't believe that two weeks after falling ill I'm still ill... mind you, the last few days of coughing have been down to the nuisance activities of one of our neighbours who appears to have decided to chop down and burn a number of trees in his back garden. Protected koala habitat? Fire ban? Permit required...? Nah, who cares about that?!

Anyway, a while ago I got on with making a saline etch solution and using it to make aluminium plates for my exchange project with Tina - so really this post should be on my Complicities blog, but anyway... I made up a sugar lift solution, dried it on the plate, used bituminous stopout to cover it, dried it again, washed it out in hot water and... realised that I'd need some sort of aquatint in order to retain ink in the open areas. Of course! Silly me.

Now I do have an aquatint box, but it's sitting in the carport still wrapped in corrugated card, just as it came off the container 18 months ago. I haven't re-instated it because I don't have anywhere suitably ventilated to put it. Somehow it doesn't seem fair to put it into the office/studio space that I share with Michael, at least not without equiping him with a P3 mask first. And it's a bit dodgy because we're in rented accommodation and I suspect there's fine print in the lease about using carcinogenic substances on the property! Fair enough. So I read up on techniques again and came up with spray-paint aquatint.

Here's my newly purchased can of black car enamel!

I was surprised at how easily this went on, although in retrospect I think I need to practice in order to get a finer mist on the plate. While I was waiting for the enamel to dry - less than 5 minutes in this climate, despite the humidity today - I made up the saline/copper sulphate solution. Then I coated the back of my plate with varnish to protect it and put the plate in to etch. Having read Aine's post about saline etch solution I was careful not to leave the plate in for too long, and anyway, having never used nitric and so not being used to my plate producing bubbles as it etched I was a bit wary of over-doing it.

This is the result. I can't show you a close-up as the right lense wasn't on the camera

I think my spray was too coarse and I need to practice getting that right, but I was pleased that it wasn't more uneven and that there wasn't any undercutting of the individual dots of enamel while the plate was in the etching solution.

The third attempt at printing because I was a bit messy the first two goes!

As you can see, the aquatint is a bit coarse but I think I'll be able to rectify it. I understand it's fairly easy to re-aquatint a plate using the spray paint method; I'll have to see whether I have enough energy to re-spray this plate while I'm busy etching the others! But overall I'm pleased with the result.

Meanwhile I've also printed Tina's plates, which are decidedly more interesting than mine! These are the plates for January and February inked up using a surface roll so that I get an embossed texture from the more deeply-gouged areas. And the plates really are deeply gouged, using drills and built up areas of lacquer I think, judging from the bare plates.

And these are the resulting prints. I need to change the size of the paper slightly; we'd agreed to print within the plate margins slightly and of course I forgot that the paper would swell while it was soaking... so to get the deckle edge I need tear the paper slightly smaller than the desired size to give it room to expand in the water.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


So much for the Easter bank holidays! Michael came back from Europe with a cold last week and it's going round the whole family. Not his fault; with all those germs floating around in the recycled air on planes it's no wonder people come back from long-haul flights with a cold! It's come as a shock to us all, though, because Giardia not withstanding we've all been so well since we moved to Australia. I haven't had a cold like this for a couple of years, and in the UK I used to have one most of the time...

Anyway, it's been a yucky weekend enlivened by a visit from my sister and her husband, which was lovely. Unlucky for them that they've been exposed to all of our germs, but great for me!

The plate with stop out. For some reason I can't edit it so you may see the psychadelic patterns in the sugary areas!

The only things I have managed to do are to coat my sugar-lift plate with slightly diluted bituminous stop-out, take a few photographs and update The Daily Drawing which took a lot of will power given how lousy I feel.

The sky this evening was beautiful and definitely merited a photo

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sugar syrup, lots of fun

I managed to fence off some time to myself today so that I can get started on some experiments with saline etching on aluminium, but of course realised that first I have to make some marks on the plate! My thoughts turned to lift ground etching, but then I realised that I no longer have my trusty bottle of Camp Coffee, which I've never actually made up as a drink but which has stood me in good stead for years as a sugar solution for lift grounds. I guess it was one of the things I had to ditch when I moved over here: the Australian Quarantine Service is justifiably hot on examining the luggage and personal possessions of people moving over here, and I had to get rid of loads of stuff... everything from pine cones in with the Christmas decorations to bits of bark I used to make rubbings. Spike Island Printmakers in Bristol were the lucky recipients of a lot of my printmaking chemicals that I couldn't bring over here, so maybe they're using up the Camp Coffee now?

Sugar syrup, yummy

Anyway, I dug out my trusty copy of The Complete Printmaker by John Ross, Clare Romano and Tim Ross (ISBN 0-02-927372-2 for the paperback version), and found several recipes for making lift grounds. In the end I mixed together some gum arabic (a small dollop), some black and some red liquid gouache (because I only have small tubes and didn't want to use up all the black!) and a small squirt of washing up liquid, and then I decided to stop mucking around and make some sugar syrup (small amount of water, large pouring of sugar, stirred over a low heat until dissolved and then boiled vigourously for 2 minutes, then cooled and bottled), which I added to the gum arabic/washing up liquid/gouache mixture and duly painted onto my aluminium plate. Voila! As I speak, it's drying nicely on the plate.

It's that river image again - I can't get away from it...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Copper Sulphate

I'm going to have fun at some point in the next couple of days, trying out something I've never done before: making up a Bordeaux Etch solution of equal parts copper sulphate and salt in distilled water in order to try etching aluminium plates. I've been looking on the web for information about how to make up the solution as my printmaking books are a bit vague. Both the Warringah Printmakers website and the reference to Cedric Green in the right hand side bar will give you a clue, if you want to do it. I was unable to find a chemist or a vet to supply the chemicals (apparently a copper sulphate mixture can be used on pets to treat wounds), but it was readily available at a local farm supplies store at only $7 per kilo. I'll let you know how I get on!

Willis tells me that the bite on aluminium is fast and unpredictable, but as I quite like foul biting and open biting perhaps that will suit me.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Actually, I realise that one of the main ideas running through the daily drawings is about recognition, and specifically, how much information you need to see about something in order to recognise it. I was just thinking about that in connection with another love of mine, which is surface, which in turn gets translated into texture. For me there's a bit of a conundrum here: in paint I seem to work either with lots of 'surface', lots of texture, or none at all. When I'm working with none at all it becomes part of the challenge of what I'm doing to depict whatever I'm drawing without resorting to texture to give visual clues about the subject, which is a bit sneaky when sometimes I'm also messing around with scale. In print I work quite differently: texture and surface are and have always been important in the finished image, but I guess I don't always use them as signifiers of the content.

And there's another thing that interests me that has only dawned on me through looking at the daily drawings: I realise I'm often interested in what things aren't as much as what they are, or what they appear to be. Hence a continuing fascination with biological examples of chimerism. This has been of abiding curiosity to me for a number of years and I suppose I'm working away at it in my head, because I can sort of feel that soon it will begin to come out in my work in a way that hasn't been possible so far. And that's something I've realised, too: I do work with themes that grip me in strange and unexpected ways. For a few years now I've been working through a looping twist of river that has surfaced and resurfaced in a number of pieces. Why? I don't know, except that perhaps it has provided me with a 'way in' to the Australian landscape that hasn't been to do with the painterly 'problem' of how a European tries to render the colours of the bush!

So there you go - these little drawings have really been working away at me. I feel a bit silly really. In some ways doing a little drawing every day isn't much different to taking your sketch book around with you and using it. I do use sketchbooks but they tend to be places in which I work things out: dimensions, ideas, make notes about other artists and their work or make plans for future pieces, rather than being somewhere I draw... I do think that so much of being an artist is about these bizarre and labyrinthine thought processes, about examining yourself and what you do (and not in a narcissistic way) and recognising what you do, or at least, it is for me.


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