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.


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