Saturday, May 30, 2009

Minnesota Centre for Book Arts

I received an email to say that the MCBA had chosen the five finalists for its inaugural MCBA book arts prize, so I went and had a look at the exhibition website and the work is just lovely. It was good to see how many Australian artists entered: out of 110 entries from 10 countries I counted 11 entries from 10 Australian artists, which was excellent representation in a competition that was obviously dominated by American artists, and I think it shows the strength of book arts in Australia.

The website shows all of the entries and they present a fascinating mix of styles. One of my favourites, though, is Sue Anderson and Gwen Harrison's Quaranta Australis, a technically difficult and hauntingly beautiful book about the Quarantine Station in Sydney's harbour that processed incoming migrants. I hope they won't mind me including a small picture of it here because it is just so beautiful.

Quaranta Australis

I must make a mental note that next time I see the MCBA prize call for entries perhaps I could put some work in...

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Weird World of Fonts

I've been having lots of fun doing something I thoroughly enjoy, which is surfing the internet with the "legitimate excuse" that I'm contributing towards the development of my Etsy shop, when actually I'm just having fun. In my world this is called working.

My roaming has taken me from tissue paper suppliers to die-cutting machines via the fun of font factories. No longer will I be restricted by the TTF fonts pre-installed with my version of Windows Office! Instead I have been perusing the font catalogues of places like Font Squirrel, Font River and Dafont, and downloading fonts like "Inked God", "Hesperides" and "VTK Sonho". And it's so easy! If you're a PC user like me all you do is click on the 'Download' button, wait for the box to pop up and select whether you want to open or save the font, save the resulting Zip file to your C:\Windows\Fonts folder, and unzip it. Suddenly all sorts of interesting alphabets appear in the available selection of fonts in Microsoft Word, and you can start writing.

The one I really like for my Etsy banner is called Jellyka, Saint Andrew's Queen, which wins on points just for the title alone!

I should say as well that the fonts I looked at are free for personal use, and the terms for commercial use are very generous. I found Jellyka Nerevan's website and she writes that if you want to use the font in commercial settings that's fine if you make a donation via PayPal to her site, and so I did since I consider that an Etsy banner would be commercial use of the font. But I really like the open, trusting attitude because I imagine there are thousands of people out there who won't make a donation but will benefit from using a font in a commercial context, and I doubt if the average font designer has the time or resources to check the world for cheats.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Hooray! I found out last weekend that Willis's entry to the 2009 Print Council of Australia annual commission has succeeded, so now the lucky man has 40-odd prints to make before October. I did it last year, but as his work is digitally printed I think it will be easier (although more expensive...) to edition, the lucky beggar. I'm so pleased he's made the cut because I bullied him into it and it coincides with a new addition to his family: I don't imagine he'll have the time/room/headspace to produce much new work in the near future, so it's good that this has worked out and is relatively easy to complete.

This isn't the Print Council entry...

The reluctant review

Come on, you must have wondered why I haven't said anything more about the CPM Print awards I went to at Murwillumbah, haven't you? You're all so on-the-ball and intelligent that I bet you noticed the Tweets and then the silence. Or maybe you didn't, and it's just me sitting here for a week wondering what I can say without sounding like a horrible person. Oh yes, that's what it is.

I just checked the dictionary definitions of envy and jealousy, just to check which word I should be using about myself in response to the BEAUTIFUL work I saw on display at the Tweed River Art Gallery last weekend. It seems that I am deeply, deeply envious of other people's talent, which is not a particularly nice thing to say about myself but, sadly, very true... I walked into the lovely end galleries where the National Print Award entries were hung and was almost physically shocked by the strength of the selected works. Mine, also selected and hung on the last wall of the show, really was one of the weakest pieces there (deciding then and there that I didn't much like the frame OR the position in which it had been hung didn't help). Damn

There were several pieces by people whose names I had expected to see: Tony Ameneiro, Yvonne Boag and Mario Luccio, to name but three. And the mid-north coast of New South Wales i.e. my stomping ground, was well-represented with Brenda Nunn and Lina Bluhm both getting work into the show as well as me.

Highlights I noted include several pieces referencing the recent bushfires: a diptych and a single piece by Christine Wilcox, and an intruiging piece by Marian Crawford. Marian's was a box frame containing dozens of small, twisting paper shapes cut from prints and joined together by umber threads. The work was titled Embers, and perfectly captured the bits of burnt wood that fly around in a fire. Aesthetically it was beautiful, but it was conceptually haunting as well: having seen all the press and read about the horrors of the February bush fires in Victoria it is somehow emotionally difficult to acknowledge beauty in the middle of the carnage.

I felt the same about Christine's amazing CARDBOARD drypoints of charred trees on Japanese paper. The techniques intrigue me: how do you do a drypoint on cardboard..? And I was interested to see that these prints too were box-framed and yet the thin, tough Japanese paper on which they were printed was stuck to the glass with book repair tape (?) - NOT what I think of as an archival approach to framing works on paper! Maybe I'm missing something, but I would have thought that the lack of distance between the glass and the paper would cause all sorts of problems with the humidity and insects in this climate. I wish I could show you a photo of the work, though. I've scoured the web to try and find a gallery of Christine's work, and Marian's, but in vain and of course I couldn't take photographs at the exhibition for copyright reasons so you'll just have to take my word for it that they are stunning pieces.

Tony Ameneiro has twice been chosen by the Print Council of Australia for its annual commission (I knew I was in good company when I was chosen last year!), and he won the Freemantle Print Award in 2007. His entry to the CPM National Print Awards is a drypoint landscape (with some etching - mainly, I think, to reinforce the darker areas) called The Gib NW Face. I hope he will forgive me for reproducing it here, but it is such a striking print. It's quite large - he doesn't give dimensions on his website but I would have thought it's about 70 cms wide by 100 cms tall - and it makes an impressive statement on the wall. I love rock faces and did a series of prints of rockfaces myself a few years ago, but this piece shows the power of drawing from observation, which mine never did since I executed them from photographs. I think what I love about this print is its power: the big, fluid gestures in the use of the tools, making black velvety gouges in the image. It isn't photographic in quality: it is closely observed, lovingly worked, gutsy and uncompromising.

Julie Barratt produced another interesting piece: a collograph with lino-cut, and pierced and stitched elements, made up of many squares brought together in one frame. I have still not contacted her about the possibility of an exhibition some time at her lovely gallery in Alstonville...

Gary Shinfield had a striking triptych positioned near the start of the exhibition, called Weather Pattern Triptych. He's an artist whose name I've seen around but know very little about, and although I find lots of references to him on the web I still don't feel I know very much! But I do know that I like his work, and this piece worked for me. It was a series of three unframed prints, mounted with map pins again (a bit of a theme in the show), showing layers of coloured etchings that evoke the shapes and swirls and accumulations of cloud and isobars of different weather systems. Up close you could see that quite bright colours were used in places, but the work was brought together visually by the common use of a mid-brown, which was the dominant colour. In fact mid-browns, umbers and yellow ochres set the tone for the first gallery-ful of prints, with many artists using this palette.

There were brighter prints here and there, and I particularly liked Rebecca Rath's monotype Scribbly Bark III, which was composed of very bright colours that had been overprinted with an off-white plate that hid much and exposed a little of the underlying life in the print. It was very effective, and I hadn't previously thought of using colour in that way.

But finally we come to the very worthy winner of the National Print Award, Debra Luccio. You can visit her website to read about her work with dancers and see her technique, but in brief she watches dancers in rehearsal and in performance, drawing madly, and then uses those drawings to make the most exquisite large-scale monotypes back in the studio. Her methodology is traditional: large copper plates are inked up, wiped back using little more than a paintbrush and a finger wrapped in cloth, and then printed on a lovely big press. How simple! And yet how delicate and evocative the prints: the trail of ink left by a wiping finger beautifully outlines bone and muscle and shadow. I love making monotypes myself, and I'm interested to see that Debra doesn't hide the marks inevitably made by the roller when inking up the plate. I've always agonised about getting a completely smooth and consistent surface, but perhaps I don't need to bother! In her work the uneven background (if you can call it that) contributes depth and shadow to the images, working well in the second of 'ghost' print too.

This print, Spin, is the piece that won the National Print Award

It was lovely to meet Debra at the gallery. I'd gone early to attend the Print Council AGM in the morning and ended up having lunch with Debra and Jan Davis and Christine Cordeiro afterwards. We all knew she'd won because someone dropped a large hint to us, but she was unaware, despite the fact that she'd been phoned in Melbourne earlier in the week to encourage her to attend something that was a very long way away from home. She's good company and tall and elegant, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to find that she was once a dancer herself. Anyway, she richly deserved the award and it's not her fault that I'm sighing with envy at her talent and achievement!

Where does it all leave me? Actually I think it's done me some good. It's given me something to think about and something to aim for. It's put my work - which is still good work - in context with other work that I think is better, and after the initial despair it's allowed me to give myself a break. Instead of killing myself to put entries in to a couple of up-coming exhibitions I'm giving myself some time to think. We're about to start building our house and there are some health issues floating around that could become distracting again; I have a lot on my plate at the moment. The best thing I can do for myself is take the pressure down a little and allow myself the opportunity to get on with some new work, but at a less frenetic pace. So that's what I'm going to do, and having made that decision it feels like the right one to make.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Codex Event 6

I came to look at my Blogger dashboard this evening and found that Tim Mosely had invited me to participate in a new blog about the Codex events he runs at Southern Cross University's Lismore campus, about which I have previously blogged. I'll be interested to see how this team blog takes off, and if you're interested you can take a look here.

Friday, May 15, 2009


I've been suited up like a chemical worker trying to etch that bloomin' lino and guess what? Not a mark on the darned stuff! And that's despite checking my methodology with Lesley Trussler's detailed instructions. So on further examination I can conclude only that what I'm using isn't actually the real thing - it's an imposter masquerading as lino!

Back to square one: first, acquire real lino; second, start all over again.

I'm admiring the day outside instead of feeling frustrated

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pink baby elephants

I've come back from the baby shower feeling slight confused... I now know what the protocol for a New Age-y, Steiner-y baby shower celebration is, and it's not all about presents (which is nice). The event took place in a park known locally as 'The Spider Park' because it used to have lots of big hairy spiders in it. Now, I'm thankful to say, there are no obvious spiders, a nice play area and lots of grass on which were rugs and huge floor cushions beneath a rainbow-coloured 'tent' slung between some trees.

There were five of us there, including the soon-to-be-a-mother-again, Kerstin. It turns out we were there to celebrate motherhood, a sense of community, the special bond between us and the sacredness of the coming of a new life into the world. This entailed all being tied together with a string around our wrists which was then cut, and then we all lit candles from Kerstin's candle and gave her small gifts of crystals (smoky quartz and rose quartz from the others) and the abalone shell and the book from me. The symbolic string and the candles celebrate our connectedness: once Kerstin goes into labour her partner is going to text one of the group, who will then text the rest of us, so that we can light our own candles and think good things for Kerstin, and we'll only take off the strings when her baby is born.

No-one gave an elephant, but it was such a perfect image - and copyright free!

Now I know there will be some people reading this and muttering, "Oh for goodness sake..." at the pseudo-pagan, New Age-y crystal-wavingness of it all, but despite my aversion to crystals, my ignorance of 'the sisterhood of women' and my general cynicism I found myself very moved. A group of friends came together to celebrate the fact that one of them is going to be a mother again. It wasn't done in a spirit of misty-eyed perfectionism but with the realism of us all having been through the iniquities and indignities of pregnancy and birth before. We weren't talking about impossible ideals for pain-free, intervention-free birth but about the difficulties we all experienced, the embarrassments, the ignorance, the finding things out the hard way and the acknowledgement that having other women around with whom to talk about these things makes it all more bearable.

The whole delicious ambiance we created, sitting under the trees in the sunshine, shaded by the funny tent strung up under the trees, eating food we'd brought and talking made me feel quite emotional I'll have you know. It's a million miles away from my own experience of giving birth: no pre-natal classes, no ante-natal classes, a midwife who hated me, nine months of morning sickness, a doctor who thought I 'seemed depressed' about becoming a mother, the difficulties of talking to anyone about it as no-one else in my family had children and my best friend was unable to have children, spending the last few months on crutches or in a wheelchair and then my mother dying four weeks before I gave birth in an inner-city maternity unit that specialised in drug-addict, alcoholic and HIV mothers... I am aware of the huge irony in the fact that the closest I got to the company and strength of other women during a milestone in my life was the compassion shown to me by the Hyster Sisters in the United States who as well as being a source of knowledge and wisdom as I drew closer to having a hysterectomy also sent me flowers, emails and texts when I had the operation - despite the fact I never met any of them.

So never mind whether you think a lump of rhombohedral silicon-oxygen tetrahedra SiO4 'carries the heart vibration' or can convey healing powers, I think the value of today was in the friendship offered at a key point in someone's life: a gift freely given and gratefully received, and I didn't feel stupid in giving it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


A German friend at darling daughter's Steiner school is about to have a baby (and has amazed me with just how spry she still is, two weeks before the birth) and so tomorrow I've been invited to her baby shower. This is a first for me. I did vaguely comprehend the phrase but have never been to anything like it, not that I think this is likely to be typical! I've been asked to bring crystals and a candle. Oh, and I was asked to make a small book so that we could all write something nice and perhaps Kerstin would be able to use it for photographs.

Thanks to my sister for the translation

Being a complete spoil sport I have baulked at the 'crystal' aspect of things (sorry), but I am taking a delicious lavender aromatherapy candle with me that I purchased in New York aeons ago (still unused, I hasten to add!) but continues to smell divine, plus a beautiful little abalone shell that I found washed up on the beach. It's not a crystal, but hopefully it still sends the same love-the-earth, peace-to-all sort of messages.

I had fun with the book. I chose a sort of album format with a hinged front and back cover, combined with my favourite Japanese pamphlet binding. Colours were a bit difficult: Kerstin loves handmade paper and so I started with some delicious inclusions and worked outwards, covering it with a wrapping paper I've saved for years. It has a garden all over it and I think it works as a metaphor for new life: things growing, opening doors, beauty and discovery, etc, etc. I've included heavy etching paper with tissue paper overlays for photographs, plus handmade sheets for decoration and some lovely envelopes for bits-and-pieces that I also picked up in New York, at Kate's Paperie (one of my favourite shops!).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Oh no, I've been memed!

Eight things I'm looking forward to:

The weekend
Winning the lottery
Going back to the UK and seeing friends for the first time in two years
Caren's book making course at Sturt in July
Craft group at the school tomorrow morning (nothing like coffee and a chat to brighten my day!)
Finishing my next artists' book
Opening the front door to our new house for the first time, once it's built...
Attaining a permanent state of Buddha-like calm and wisdom (well I can dream, can't I?)

Eight things I did yesterday (in chronological order):

Had a lie-in!
Pulled a muscle in my left shoulder - again - getting out of bed (I knew it was a mistake getting up)
Did some Pilates exercises to try and help myself
Enjoyed my darling daughter's several Mother's Day cards, which were just lovely
Mowed the front lawn (which strangely helped my shoulder a lot)
Washed the car windscreen
Saw some friends for yummy drinks and nibbles and sat talking for ages - lovely
Watched several episodes of 'Gardening Australia' which we'd recorded from the TV

Eight things I wish I could do:

Achieve twice as much in half the time
Do a handstand and a cartwheel
Still ride a motorbike without feeling guilty about the potential impact of having an accident on my family, but I think I made the right decision
Appreciate things better as they happen instead of noticing the fun after the event
Sleep more
Move into our new house right now and leave the stress of renting behind!
Spend all my time making things and having fun with my family and friends without worrying about money
Make time to teach myself to play my guitar

Eight TV shows I watch*:

Gardening Australia
Sunday Arts
Grand Designs
Lie to Me

* all recorded on our TiVO, so I'm rarely up to date with any of them - currently we're running about 3 months behind!

Eight people I'm tagging:

I don't think I know eight other bloggers well enough to say, which means I'm a sad wimp with no on-line friends or far too tactful! If you read this and are interested in participating I know I'll be interested to see what you write.

Etching Lino

I'm having fun, just the sort of thing I like: protective eye goggles over my glasses, scummy workshop shirt all buttoned up and chemical-resistant gloves pulled right up to my elbows, and all because I want to try etching some lino. I can't show you the results yet, but I can tell you what I've done so far:

Whaddya mean, 'you look ridiculous'?

  • First, find the box of caustic soda crystals you bought years ago for un-blocking your kitchen sink

  • (hint: you've looked everywhere except under the sink...)

  • Second, find the handy pack of wallpaper paste you put in your daughter's 'making box' for doing papier mache. Make up about a half-litre of thick wallpaper paste in a glass jug or large glass jam jar

  • Third, unearth a glass jam jar from the recycling bin, and a cleanish stick with which to stir things

  • Fourth, empty your one and only multi-purpose plastic developing tray and line it with newspaper

  • Fifth, fill two plastic carrier bags with small gravel to use as weights later on....


Half-fill the jam jar with cold water (this is important as water + caustic soda = heat, so don't start with warm water!). Then slowly add teaspoonfuls of caustic soda crystals using a plastic spoon (so that the solution doesn't eat away your precious metal spoon), stirring gently, until the solution reaches saturation point and no more crystals will dissolve in the water. Leave it to cool.

Once cool slowly add some of the caustic soda solution to the wallpaper paste and gently stir.


Place a lovely, grainy piece of wood in the newspaper-lined plastic developing tray. Paint with wallpaper/caustic soda paste. Apply lino (wiped grease-free with methylated spirits preferably) face-down to the area of wood you want to etch into your lino, and press down. Put a sheet of newspaper over the top of the lino and then weight it down with the bag of gravel, which will help to bend the lino in towards the wood.

At this point it doesn't look very impressive

Wait for 1 - 5 hours depending on desired depth of line and/or relative humidity and temperature, then wash everything off carefully with cold water - preferably outside - and avoid splashing yourself or your clothes in the process.

Now my only problem is what to do if the end result is singularly uninspiring, since I've made it sound so exciting! Oh well, the obvious thing to do while I'm waiting is to go and make myself a large, cold gin-and-tonic. Cheers!

I'm not finished yet!

But what do you think? Do you like the colour...? I keep going away from it and then coming back again, and I'll probably do a bit of experimenting with other backgrounds but overall I'm happy to move away from the black pages - they were fine when I started but they're a bit old hat now.

Friday, May 08, 2009

There may be trouble ahead...


The whole 'hooray for 100 posts" thing unfortunately got me thinking that perhaps after 3 years and 100 posts (is that all the posts I've done in that amount of time? Huh!) perhaps this blog is due for a makeover. Whereas on other blogs I've gone with the new Blogger layout thingy, on this my oldest and dearest blog I've stuck to the original template and haven't fiddled at all. I'm not saying I'm going to spend the weekend re-jigging the html... I'm giving you fair warning: it could be a bumpy ride.

It could go either way

100 not out

It's my one hundredth post, apparently (I wouldn't have realised without Blogger keeping me up to date when I sign in), so hooray for DoubleElephant!

We went to the Japanese Children's Festival in the Coffs Harbour Botanical Gardens last weekend (on a glorious Sunday) and a local student kindly wrote 'Elephant' for me in kanji.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


Do you ever read Artlink? It bills itself as a Contemporary Art Quarterly, and although it focuses mainly on what's happening in Australia and New Zealand I've found it great reading for years before I moved into the Southern Hemisphere because of the way in which it concentrates on particular themes in each edition, and partly because it draws connections between what's happening in art around the world.

My biggest problem with it is the same problem I have with all of the lovely arts-related publications I like to read (A-n, Imprint, Printmaking Today, Art World, Art & Australia...) - it takes a sustained effort of will for me to carve out the time, quiet and headspace to sit down and read it properly, even though I know that I will enjoy doing so and benefit from it. Anyway, this quarter I have made the time to read the magazine from cover to cover, and found lots to enjoy and even some things I want to come back to, which means circling them with my trusty red pen and turning down the top corner of the page so that I can find my marks again!

One thing I really liked was the inclusion of a quote from Shakespeare's Richard II: I wasted time And now doth time waste me, which seems particularly apt to me at the moment. This quarter's issue of Artlink is concerned with TIME (and only tangentially with its wasting), so there is a selection of articles/essays about interesting things such as Aboriginal concepts of time (and how they've been misinterpreted) and whether culture evolves or is revealed, interspersed with examinations of many different artists' practices. What I find so helpful is that other people's discourses on other artists' works sometimes reveal to me insights about my own concerns and approaches to my art practice. It's not so much that I need to borrow other people's words, but that there are so many words about my own work floating around in my head that I find it hard to line them up coherently. Why do I do what I do? How do I do what I do? And what does it all mean? Well sometimes I find that looking at and reading about other artists coalesces previously wraith-like whisps of themes and meanings into a more tangible, presentable whole.

There is a fascinating article in this quarter's magazine about an exchange of video-letters between two artists: Victor Erice in Spain and Abbas Kiarostami in Iran. They have completely different approaches to their work: Erice is painstaking in the way he prepares for,organises and builds up his work into something that can be exhibited. He isn't prolific, and has to use what he has carefully, although he took the opportunity in the exhibition that resulted from their video-exchange to create a totally new piece of work. Kiarostami is described in the article as "prolific without trying to be... and this is a poise he carefully cultivates". His work is described as having an "off-hand, impulsive, almost unworked quality", and there is the suggestion that as he's so prolific he's almost lazy, walking away from anything that suddenly bores him even if it's only half-complete. And yet the other side of this is his emphasis on art making as "practising the art of seeing - with [the] eyes, not in the first place with any representational apparatus". He is described as having "a kind of openess, an availability to the world" that allows him to capture what he has learned to see swiftly, apparently effortlessly.

I find collaborations very intriguing and this one was clearly a challenge, certainly for Erice who was confronted with someone with whom he wanted to work but who didn't play by his notion of the 'rules'! The outcomes are interesting, but I find myself most interested in their different approaches to making art. In character I am probably most like Erice: I'm not prolific. I don't make vast amounts of work, and what I do make I make carefully, painstakingly... But in the same breath I say that I find myself like Kiarostami too: I rarely fill a sketchbook because with me it all goes in through the eyes and I prefer to spend more time looking than drawing. Sadly, identifying traits I have in common with two interesting professional artists doesn't necessarily make me either professional or interesting, but reading about them allowed me a glimpse of myself. And it also reaffirmed to me the value of collaboration, something I will continue to seek out.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The finished Journal

I really enjoyed making this! It's got headbands and a bookmark, about which I am ridiculously pleased

Inside the pages are a mixture of pastel paper, etching paper, wrapping paper and pages from the AA 1955 Touring Guide to Europe, highlighting some of the places we're hoping to go later this year

Friday, May 01, 2009

Learning the hard way

I mentioned I was busy making myself a travel journal a là Jan in a previous post. Well, it's almost ready! I've just tipped in the end sheets and it's drying for a day or so in my little book press. This is my second go at finishing it: I incorrectly positioned the book block within the covers when I first tried pasting the tapes etc to the covers, and while the end result was immaculately neat it unfortunately didn't open properly... I was a bit gloomy until I managed to pull out the book block again (despite the glue having dried) without having to slit the tapes etc off, and I put it aside for a couple of days until I had the time (and the courage) to try again. Fingers crossed that it works this time because now I've tipped in the end pages it will require a major salvage operation to repair any mistakes.

It's been a (slow) adventure making the book: it's only the second hard-cover book I've made, and I outdid my first effort by including a stiff spine, headbands and a ribbon this time, with few instructions on how to do it properly. If it works I shall take photographs to show to you proudly in a future post!


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