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.

The Daily Drawing

I started another blog on January 1st called The Daily Drawing, taking heed of an art school adage about 'doing a drawing every day'. I've made it simple and small, and I have done one drawing every day - 69 drawings so far at 7 x 7 cms, all in black on pre-cut squares of heavy etching paper that I had lying around. It's been a good way to use up scraps! I don't do any philosophising on the blog - no titles other than the date of the drawing, and no commentary... and I thought it would become a chore when I started out, but it's quite the opposite. In fact, these little drawings may be the most important work I'm doing at the moment.

For one thing, I have to cast my anxieties aside. There isn't room to fit anxiety into 7 square centimetres, but anyway you can't be precious about a drawing that size. My stepson asked me how I decided where to start drawing on each square, and the answer is that I don't make a conscious decision, mostly I just put my pen down until it touches the paper and start drawing, and the end of the image is wherever the edge of the square happens to be. Tiny things though they are, these little squares have freed me up. The rules are quite simple: I'm not allowed to edit, I'm not allowed to accumulate drawings on a different day to the date of that drawing (no cheating! It's one drawing each day), and if I don't like the outcome I have the option of turning the square of paper over and starting again on the other side, but I can't throw it away and get another square - I scored and tore 370 pieces of paper, so there are only 4 spares in case I'm travelling and lose my bag or something. I guess if I'm travelling and lose my luggage I might be allowed to re-draw the ones I've lost, but I'll decide about that if and when it happens.

The benefits of doing this have been huge. For one thing, it's started me drawing again, and in a much less self-conscious way. I've been drawing in cafes, Ella's riding/ballet/piano/swimming lessons, while waiting in the car, just before I go to bed, while I'm cooking... anywhere, really. And it's been fun. And I've been looking at what I'm drawn to draw and it's been quite illuminating. I'm drawing what I see around me. Not with a purpose in drawing a particular thing or in a particular style, nor with the object of presenting myself or my life in a certain way. I draw what catches my eye, and often it is little things: the way block lettering on a magazine cover falls down a page and the letters beneath each other form a random line with irregular spacing... the way in which a tiger on a bag of rice is drawn using lines, not sketched in an anatomically detailed sort of way... how the thatched roof of a cabana contrasted with the shapes of the leaves next to it... how the cheese board looked once I'd laid the table when friends were late coming over for dinner... the pattern on my daughter's flip-flops.

So I wonder if I should be painting the same things. Maybe next year's project should be a painting a day! Colour would bring added complexity to the idea, although it would be more difficult to paint spontaneously in a cafe... No, I'm thinking that this is all a scaled down version of my view of life. If I find it hard to paint because I'm not sure what I'm trying to 'say', perhaps I should look at these little pictures and recognise that 'my style' is in them. What I'm drawing is what I'm trying to say, so perhaps I should try painting it as well. There are plenty of other artists who paint domestically, as it were. What about Morandi? And there's an Australian artist whose work I really like called Peter Atkins, some of whose source material apparently comes from things like packaging that he sees around him.

Time I loosened up in paint, anyway, and did some experimenting.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Beautiful day

This isn't a blog about my life outside of art, but it is such a beautiful day that I have to say something about it or I'll burst! The beach was lovely this morning: 18 degrees C, just perfect, sunny, and with the foamy edge to the water that creeps up the sand with each wave and bubbles out again. Toby, our dog, loves it and spends a while running through the surf with the ball clamped in his mouth as if to tell us that he's too busy having fun to muck around chasing the damned ball, OK?

Now I'm back home and the sun is shining on the grey horse Jacko as he wades through the dam (small lake) at the bottom of the paddock, the currawongs are warbling, a large female swallowtail butterfly is looking in vain for somewhere to lay her eggs on the pot plants outside the studio window, and I'm listening to 'Viens, Mallika' from Delibes' Lakme - a stupid plot but a sublime song. It's very, very nice.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Well, to my astonishment I got an award today, from Jan Allsopp who writes the '...in my spare time' blog (http://janallsopp.blogspot.com/). This is it...

Thank you Jan!

The deal is that you reference the person who created the award, Emila, and then nominate 5 blogs you love to receive the award themselves... trouble is, I feel a bit funny about that because, as a relatively new blogger with a small audience I guess I haven't made that many contacts in the blogsphere and feel a bit uncomfortable about embracing people I don't know. How British of me! But it really is a great way of telling people about other interesting blogs, so without going the whole hog of sending them the award I'd like to tell you about these five sites that I visit, and maybe you'd be interested in them too:

Indexed - just a really amusing take on the world

ScienceWoman - ah yes, fighting the pressures of modern living, being a mother AND studying. I've been reading this blog for over a year, with enormous sympathy and recognition that I'm not doing what I do alone!

The Lancelet - who knew fossils were this much fun?

PrintFreak - this hasn't been updated in a while now, but if you're a printmaker it's still an interesting read!

Hackleys - the adventures of David Abbott, with whom I was at UWE for a brief while. He's definitely got more energy than me...


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