Friday, September 29, 2006

Topic #21 - Miniature: Artists books

Left: Little Red Book of the Body
Dim. (closed) 5cm x4.7cm; (open) 5x28cm
For Artwords this week I am submitting a miniature concertina book. It is really a maquette for an artists book I am working on and will be part of my MFA work investigating impermanence. The finished book will have quite a different feel from this miniature. For the final piece I will use more fragile paper and the covers will be translucent porcelain. I am thinking of dipping the paper in wax to give it a preserved "feel". I am also planning to use solvent transfers for the imagery to create a more mysterious and aged effect.

So...this little miniature is really nothing much like the final version will be, except for the imagery. It has been a great opportunity to play around with the layout and lots of fun!

Left: Inside imagery
I am totally hooked on artists books at present. I see it as my new direction. For some reason, the way ceramics are used as a canvas to explore all sorts of subjects has never really made sense to me. But a book? Well there is inherent logic in that, isn't there?

A little over a month ago I went to my first workshop on making books. We learnt how to make 6 different types of books including simple stitched bindings, portfolio books and wonderful folded books, like a triangle and a square book. I love papers and all sorts of books but some of the more sculptural types really lend themselves to clay. I can really see how the area could expand for me. Now I am trying to find ways to incorporate books into my MFA - a totally different direction from the ephemeral installation work I was pursueing! I haven't dared tell my supervisor yet - he'll think I've gone mad! I'm having enough trouble getting through the Masters with my health problems as it is, without changing directions at this stage.

Anyway it has been terrific to make my first real book and I will definitely be making more...And I'll be putting more shots of this one up on Flickr later today.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


This is the first week I've taken part in Illustration Friday. It's a massively popular online gallery with weekly challenges. Apparently 200+ people participate - so I figgered I better be in it...

This week the topic is phobia. Agoraphobia has had a significant effect on my whole family. Although only one member has agoraphobia, everyone is impacted. It has taken us a long time to accept how genuine it is but if you have any doubts, you just have to look at how it destroys a person's life. If you could just "get a grip" and overcome it, you would - nobody would live like that if they had a choice.

While you're here take a look at how other people have interpreted phobia on IF, there are some fantastic artists involved. I'm on the look out for lots of spiders...

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Topic #20 - Confession

This is my entry for Confession at Artwords. It is only a sketch really but I didn't want to miss the deadline again this week. I plan to keep working on it, just to enhance some of the background. If I end up changing it significantly, I'll post the improvements!

Sometimes I think confessing can be quite selfish. It can operate to make the confessor feel better, to cleanse the soul, but only leaves the confessee feeling totally betrayed. Some sins are better left unknown, unsaid. And if that means you have to learn to live with your guilt, then that is just how it is. In a sense, by confessing, you may just end up wronging the person twice. It's not always better to know the truth.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

On Enlightenment - Mindfulness

Breathing Buddha originally posted by Hanga Girl on Flickr
Original three-color woodblock print
see more at

I've been wanting include some posts about my buddhist practice and how this helps me deal with cfs and other issues in general. However, I didn't want to dive straight in to where I am right now without providing a little background. I've been reading about taoism and buddhism for over 10 years now and meditating regularly for over 4 years. I had attended a two day non-residential retreat on Insight Meditation some years ago and in 2004-5, I went to a Tibetan Centre irregularly.

At the beginning of this year I realized that if I am really serious about making any progress then I needed to make a commitment and find myself a teacher. After looking around at who was in Brisbane, it seemed clear that everything was leading me to Victor von der Heyde. Victor lives between Brisbane and Sydney, and when he is in Brisbane I see him weekly. These sessions have been enormously useful to me and are a very grounding influence in my practice. As well as seeing Victor, I "sit" regularly, usually daily, and read daily.

Over the year, I have found that each day I also have periods of "awareness" quite spontaneously. This is exactly what I have been working towards, and I hope to extend this gradually.

In my writings here, I will sometimes talk about my current concerns in my practice, and also write a little about the books I have been reading. This year I have been working through the recommended reading at the site which has included a range of books on vipassana or insight meditation by the following authors: Stephen Batchelor, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, Christopher Titmuss and Toni Packer. The range of approaches even within this small group is considerable and demonstrates what an organic creature buddhism is.

Today I want to begin writing about the Factors of Enlightenment. My reference for this is Joseph Goldstein's classic, The Experience of Insight. I used to be quite confused about enlightenment - now I am perhaps, a little less confused...

I have read in Zen literature that we are not to strive for enlightenment, because in striving we are not practising correctly. In (I think it was) The Tibetan Book of Death and Dying, I read that we must strive for enlightenment - because if we do not, then we are doomed to endless reincarnations. So... what to do? Well, I don't know, but Joseph Goldstein has explained the factors of enlightenment, and it seems to me, that if I can understand them, and adopt them, and not worry about enlightenment as such....then maybe enlightenment will "take care of itself" as they say....

There are seven factors of enlightenment, which are seven mental factors and when these are cultivated, they relieve all kinds of suffering. The first is mindfulness, which is "the quality of noticing, of being aware of what's happening in the moment" (p.141).

There are four areas in which we are asked to be aware, known as the foundations or applications of mindfulness. The first is the body - the breath, the posture, sensations, movements.

The second is known as feeling, but I think of it as our response or judgement - whether we judge what we have become aware of as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. This relates to attachment - we want what is pleasant (we are attached to it), we don't want what is unpleasant and we don't care about what is neutral. The goal for us in noticing these feelings is to simply watch them arise and pass away, without clinging to the pleasant and condemning the unpleasant.

The third application of mindfulness is consciousness and it refers to being aware of our mental or emotional states, to be aware of when we are angry, fearful etc while we are in the middle of it, and then, (this is the hard part) not to judge ourselves for that. To simply be aware and to observe the passing parade of emotions.

The fourth application is mindfulness of the Dharma - to be aware of the three characteristics of existence (impermanence, suffering, no-self) and of the four noble truths - but that is for another day.....

Sunday, September 17, 2006


This is my first drawing for a new project I'm working on for my MFA. I'm going to make an artists book about the fragility and complexity of the human body. I'm thinking of making a porcelain cover with paper pages. I have just started working on the drawings for the book and am testing out solvent transfers of my drawings to add to the sense of fragility. The drawings are developed from anatomical diagrams which I really love. The model for this one came from an old medical text entitled: Cunningham's Manual of Practical Anatomy, which was first published in 1896.

I decided to start with the "voice box", as it is colloquially known, because this week's theme on Artwords was voice and I haven't had time to create a separate work.

After 10 years of studying Speech and Drama at school, the voice and how it is created is quite familiar to me. Do you know that the vocal cords (labelled here Plica vocalis) are often called the vocal folds? That makes them seem incredibly vulnerable to me, almost as if they were a mistake, or something that might not have developed. Imagine if humans had no voice.

And it seems even more incredible that something which is simply a fold of tissue can create the range of sounds, both in speech and in song, that they do. I never stop being amazed by the human body.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Hands on! A curator's dilemma

Beautiful porcelain by the very talented Mel Robson.

One of the streams of discussion I'd like to include in this blog concerns the place of craft in the art world and in contemporary culture. Occasionally I may write essays myself which examine issues of interest to me, about which I feel I have something to contribute. More often, I will be alerting readers to recent offerings of eminent craft writers.

This week I received a survey from Craft Victoria asking readers of Craft Almanac to consider a curator's dilemma. I thought I would post the scenario here on my blog to try to extend the reach of the survey and to see what response international artists have to this type of dilemma. I'm interested to see if the response and situation overseas parallels ours here in Australia.

The Scenario

You are the curator of a contemporary art museum with a passionate interest in contemporary craft. In the past, sadly, you have been unable to convince the director to present an exhibition in this medium. He thinks craft is nostalgic and inappropriate for a 'contemporary' institution. And there's a practical issue with the need to build special display furniture. Then one day, a proposal lands on your desk with a recommendation from the director.
'Hands on!' is an exhibition of leading designers from across the world who have developed objects with a 'handmade feel'. Reflecting strong interest in the tactile nature of objects, these designers have developed innovative manufacturing technologies that give objects the appearance of being made by hand. They enable random imperfections to emerge in the way forms are cast and surfaces are rendered. The objects include not only vessels such as vases but also objects not previously associated with the handmade such as computer casing.
The director writes: 'Seems a good international show, reflecting cutting edge technologies and subtly critiques the whole sentimentality of the handmade. And the exhibition comes with its own furniture in lovely white Corian.'
So how do you respond? Maybe it's a good opportunity to bring the issue of the handmade into the gallery. But does it imply that the actual use of hands in making is outmoded -- no longer a matter of enduring human expression but just a current fashion trend? What would you do?

This was my response:

In a situation that is so "anti-craft" this may be the only opportunity to raise the subject. I would want to be assured that I could write an essay to be included in the catalogue of the exhibition. In this way, I could propose a theoretical framework which set up a dialogue between this exhibition and genuine handmade objects - with a view to setting up an expectation with the public that REAL handcrafted objects would be seen in this gallery in the future. The essay would need to be very well researched and intellectually rigorous.

What would you do? I'd love you to post your response here in the comments section.

Responses to this survey can be tracked at Clog.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Five Go Mad At The Arias

This is my husband Ian Thompson's latest CD - an ironic look at the Australian music scene. Listen carefully to the lyrics - Enid Blyton would be shocked!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Printmaking Update

In a comment, Judith Hoffman asked about the printmaking course I mentioned in an earlier post. Well, it went really well. It covered the basics of quite a few techniques: monotypes, linoprints, drypoint and collagraph with a specific emphasis on ways to use these techniques in a home studio. All the techniques except for drypoint could be managed quite successfully without a press. For drypoint, you really needed some sort of press, but Krysti, who ran the course had a great cheap option - a pasta machine! I bought a second hand one on Ebay for less than AU$40 and it works beautifully. So... I guess you'd like to see some of what I learned?? Well, okay - but please remember that these are all first attempts and that I'm on a very steep learning curve!

All these prints were done using acrylic paints extended with Golden glazing liquid.

This is known as a subtractive monotype, because you lay down the ink/paint on the plate to start, and then wipe it back, creating your image. I found this easier and more effective that the additive method used here and here.
Left: Nude, 2006.

Right: Blue Shroud, 2006.


This is an intaglio collagraph. I loved making collagraphs. You start by making a collage focussing on texture as the means of conveying your image. This plate was so simple to make, but I love the wonderful shading you can achieve. To print this I used my pasta press, but of course you can also make relief collagraphs which don't require any press at all.
Left: Geometrica, 2006.


This is the only print I have done so far where I combined two techniques. The colour scheme leaves a little to be desired, but otherwise I was reasonably happy with the result. The butterfly is drypoint and the leaves are intaglio collagraph.

Taking an online course worked really well as far as my CFS was concerned. Each week there was new stuff to try out but no pressure what so ever. After about 3 weeks I did fall a little behind and didn't get to post my final weeks work before the site access closed, but that was okay.

At the time I was feeling really disorganised and having some structure imposed on my week really helped. Learning new techniques meant I didn't feel pressured to create "art", as long as I got the technique to work, I could feel I was successful.

In terms of printmaking, I was right - I do really love it and it was terrific to find ways to achieve reasonable results here at home. My only problem is that its still a little bit "big" for me with my current level of energy. By this I mean that doing a "print run" of say 10 prints in a day is too tiring. But I guess that's just a mind set really, there is no reason you can't just do one or two prints in a session - it depends on the technique you are using as to how much energy is required in preparing the plate for each print.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Taking Up Blogging Again

Thanks to Ascenderrisesabove for my first comments! It is amazing how little encouragement can be enough to reinforce human behaviour!

I have been giving blogging quite a lot of thought since I last posted about 5 months ago. I've been trying to discern a direction for the blog. I felt I needed to be saying something that was important enough for people to want to hear and think about. That's quite a responsibility really. And I realize that is falling into an old pattern of mine.

When I was 20 years younger (oops! giving something bad away there!) I was in the habit of trying to second-guess what other people wanted all the time, and then adopting that as my preference too. I guess the theory was that conflict would be avoided and I would be liked. I'm not sure how well it worked, but one thing I do know is that over time my sense of self was hugely eroded and I built up a lot of frustration and anger. I thought this was a bad habit I had managed to curb, and I think that mostly I have, but in putting myself out there in this blog, I was falling into the same old, same old. So...

For now I have decided that I'm not going to choose a particular direction for this blog. It will be a documentation of my thoughts and life, hopefully in a coherent way, so that I might learn something about the process of living my life. There are a number of possible directions I would like to take in life and I think that documenting the process here may be helpful to me. And who knows, it may be helpful to someone else too.

I am keen to re-name the blog, but it's already had one name change (from Art Heals to Always Tired) so I'm holding back, and waiting to see what emerges. Some of what may be seen here over time includes:
my art and some documentation of my art process; how art operates as a healing force for me;
some discussion about art - what inspires me, the role of art in the individual's life and in society;
some teasing out (hopefully) of the old art and craft nexus;
documentation of life with CFS;
exploration of Insight Meditation and buddhism; and along with this no doubt, some of my responses to the complicated world we live in - as a human being, it's impossible not to worry about the state of the environment and our society, and much more. I don't know what Margaret Thatcher meant when she said "there is no society" - it's just a justification to assuage the guilt we feel when we don't respond with compassion to the plight of others. Anyway, I won't mount the soap box in this post!

To finish up this post, I'd like to promote a blog I've been participating in for a month or two called Artwords. It is an online art journal started up by the wonderful artist Susan Tuttle.

Each week, Susan posts challenges to stimulate the many talented artists who send in their responses to the theme. It is my participation in this blog that has helped me to feel that it may be worth re-inventing my own blog. And it is over at Artwords that I first encountered Ascenderrisesabove, mentioned at the beginning of this post, as my motivator-to-action. Her blogs can be found at:

The image I have posted today is an exercise in automatic drawing developed for this week's Artwords challenge, surrealism. Automatic drawing is one of the streams of surrealism that artists like Miro used as a drawing parallel to Freud's "stream of consciousness". It is a wonderfully freeing technique and has contributed to my feeling I can be just as free with this blog. I can really see this image working as a print and hope to test that vision out soon...