Monday, December 14, 2009

Speaking of Seasons...

I thought I would talk a bit about my choice of imagery for the Book*Art*Object book.

I considered a few different possibilities before deciding on the mix of a jacarandah tree and photos of my mother. For a number of years I've been wanting to get more in touch with the cycle of seasons. Living in a city, I feel the need to make an effort to be more aware of nature and my place within it. I find this awareness can be both soothing and stabilising. Not being able to get out and bushwalk or something similar, I've been drawn to smaller, more urban acts, like planting seasonal flowers and enjoying seasonal produce as ways to mark the changes occurring around us. I'm interested in things that operate in cyclical ways and I also had ideas for artworks exploring the seasons as a metaphor for change for my masters, but ran out of time to explore them. Importantly, I see the seasons as a useful way to think about life and death, and to help with acceptance of this process. It seemed to me that imagery of the passing seasons could be a useful mechanism to explore the ideas inspired by the poem "Learning Absences" (Rosemary Dobson).

It struck me that when it comes to losing someone and we find ourselves needing to learn how to come to terms with their absence, we feel terribly ill-prepared. Yet, the whole of our lives could be seen as preparation in small steps for those far greater absences. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: "You cannot step twice into the same river" meaning change is constantly occurring, one moment to the next, and change brings loss and absence.

When I think of the seasons, I am often drawn to Spring with it's new growth and beautiful flowers, and yet in Spring, there is absence too, we just don't often take note. There is the absence of the branch, bare of foliage and flowers, seen in its starkness against a winter sky. This is the cyclical nature of the seasons that I chose to work with in this book.

I've been aware of seasonal change as a major theme in Japanese art, which I love. You see it on pottery, but also on screens and scrolls and all sort of artworks. I wanted to check out a little of how these masters worked with the seasons so I did a quick google search and found two terrific online resources. The first is the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Timeline of Art History" I think this is really exciting! You can search by work of art, time period, geographical location or theme. There are also a large number of thematic essays across a range of categories, for example there are 22 essays on Japanese art alone. And you guessed it, one of those essays is Seasonal Imagery in Japanese Art.

I also discovered that a few years ago the Art Gallery of New South Wales had an exhibition entitled Seasons: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art. They still have a PDF online which was part of their educational kit and it includes an essay and images from the exhibition.

With this reading behind me, I started to think how I would use seasons in my book. The classical symbol for spring in Japan is of course the cherry blossom. I am in love with cherry blossom, both the real thing and any sort of depiction of it. In fact, I happen to know I am getting this book for Christmas, but still, I wasn't sure about just adopting it holus bolus. It doesn't really say anything about me, or my life here in Queensland, Australia. I felt I needed to find a more representative plant, perhaps something Australian. But Australian native flora don't tend to be deciduous, and I wanted to use something that would show change in each season.

Fortunately, nature stepped in and offered up the obvious answer. By this time it was early October and Brisbane was starting to turn mauve, as it does every year at this time. The jacarandah tree, while not native to Australia, has certainly flourished, especially in subtropical Brisbane and Sydney. Like just about everyone who has grown up in Brisbane, I love the jacarandah, and try to make it to New Farm Park or the University of Queensland while they are in full bloom.

In the Met essay, the author notes: "A distinctive Japanese convention is to depict a single environment transitioning from spring to summer to autumn to winter in one painting ... In this way, Japanese painters expressed not only their fondness for this natural cycle but also captured an awareness of the inevitability of change, a fundamental Buddhist concept." ( This was pretty much how I was thinking about my book, although the transition occurs over the course of the whole book, rather than in a single image.

I'm really pleased to have started some work with seasons, and I plan to continue on this theme when this book is done. I'm looking forward to reading more about the way it's been used in Japanese art, and coming up with my own works in response.

I've decided to make this my last post for the year, and to have a few weeks break from blogging to mark the Christmas holidays. I haven't been too well this past month and I really feel the need for a break. When you don't go out to a job, it can be difficult to work out what constitutes a break unless you are actually able to go away. Funnily enough, blogging is one of my few commitments in the outside world, and I can actually manage to make myself stressed and guilty when I don't post regularly!

So I'll finish by thanking everybody who has followed my blog this year. Thanks to the new people who have joined recently, and thanks especially to those "old hands" who've been cyber-friends for a while now. Your interest, friendship and support means the world to me.

I plan to take a break till the schools go back after Australia Day, but to make sure you don't all wander off into the blogosphere and never find your way back, I thought I'd let you know some of the things I'm hoping to do in 2010: crank up the new etching press, experiment with my gocco printer, make a return to ceramics with another porcelain book, all of which I'll be documenting here.

I wish you all a beautiful Christmas, a relaxing break and and an inspired and creative new year. xoxox

Monday, November 30, 2009

Using Transparency and Translucency in Books

Above: A look at some of the translucent pages layered together.

In my last post, I mentioned that I am using vellum for many of the pages in this book. I thought I would explain my thinking and the intent behind this choice.

Working in ceramics, I could make any shape or form (within the limits of my skills, of course!) that made sense for the idea I wanted to communicate. So in choosing to limit myself to the book form, the particular structure and materials employed are inherent to the meaning of the work. At this stage, I'm not planning for the book I'm making for the Book*Art*Object project to have any ceramic parts. Incorporating porcelain or other clay has to make absolute sense, and not be about working with clay because that's "what I do".

It doesn't take long working in the book arts to come across the scholarly contributions of Keith Smith to the field. In addition to five volumes of practical binding techniques, he has also published a number of titles exploring more theoretical concerns of using the book as a vessel of expression. Eventually I hope to own the entire collection, but late last year I picked up a second hand copy of "Structure of the Visual Book" (1994).

I have to confess that I am nowhere near finished reading this book in its entirety. It isn't that it is heavy going or difficult to understand. It's just that there is so much to consider and experiment with, that I haven't got far. It is certainly a book that you can dive into, to read what Smith has to say about say, blank pages, and although my plan is to read the book from front to back eventually, I can see there will be sections of particular relevance to the way I work, that I will return to again and again. If you never had a look at this book, I really recommend it.

Early in the introduction, Smith talks about using transparent materials as pages. For me, after working with porcelain, the concept of transparency bounces back and forth, in my head anyway, with translucency. Most ceramics are static objects, so working with books, the whole idea of "turning pages" and the power and meaning in this fundamental action is still very exciting to me. The act of page-turning represents the passing of time in the work, and if the page is made from a transparent or translucent material, then it seems to me to imply the way the past and the future can impinge on the present, if we let them.

In his book, Smith talks about using a number of transparent pages in sequence to enable imagery to be built-up and torn-down again by the turn of the page. He also discusses the way a shadow will be cast by the page as it is turned, moving into and out of focus. Both of these seem to me to work well as metaphors for emotional turmoil, for the way we grieve and do the emotional-work that is required of us in order to deal with loss. I'm incorporating a mix of pages in my book, transparent, translucent and opaque and I'm hoping they will work together to suggest the stop-start confusion and growth that occurs at these times.

Above: Translucent pages layered together.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Detail shots

With the heat we've been experiencing here this past week, I haven't been too well, so progress on my book has been slow. I have started printing the first digital pages, but that involves a lot of colour checking and testing, and I haven't really progressed since last Monday.

However, I am finding how beneficial Photoshop is for this type of project. Combining the layers function and with adjustments to the opacities allows me to move imagery backwards and forwards, and experiment with potential page orders. This satisfies some of my urge to keep up the momentum, but of course I'd rather be working with the actual pages.

Below are some detail shots of different orderings of pages. These are just tests - it may be that none of these are in the final book, in just this way. In case you haven't guessed, quite a number of the pages will be vellum, and therefore transparent. In my next post I'll write a bit about why I made this choice.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Book Art Object

While I've taken a break from blogging lately, I've still been making art. It's been a great source of both consolation and distraction, and I feel lucky to have it as part of my life.

Back in August I joined Book Art Object, a group of book artists established by Sara of Double Elephant fame. The idea of the group is for each member to make a work in response to a set poem or novel. There are a few guidelines to draw the works together, such as size of finished work and inclusion of a colophon acknowledging the inspiration and the group, but other than that, we have left our options open, at least for this first project. One of the most appealing aspects of group membership, apart from being part of this special little online community, is the fact that at the end, every member receives a "full set" of the books made. If you would like to follow our progress or read more, head over to the blog here.

The set piece for our first project is a very evocative poem, by Rosemary Dobson. Here it is:

Learning Absences (1986)

Being alone is also to be learnt
Long time or short time.

Walking the length of the house, shutting
The doors and the windows

No longer calling casually over one's shoulder.
Returning to find no trace

Of the other, companionable living -
Bread smell, the stove still warm,

Clothes on the line like messages,
Or messages written and left on the kitchen table:

"We need to keep watering the cumquat."
Or, "I have paid the milkman."

At night, at this season, lingering at the window
Not being certain where to find Halley's Comet,

And looking a long time at the darkening sky

Text taken from "Rosemary Dobson, Collected Poems", part of the Angus & Robertson series 'Modern Poets'. Published 1991, ISBN 0 207 16864 4. Text copyright © Rosemary Dobson 1991.

It is important to me that any works I make extend the concepts that I have been exploring over the past few years. Since starting my masters, I've been examining transience and change in life, and this has at times inevitably led to works about death. I view death as an inevitable part of life, and something to be worked with and understood, before we finally must face it ourselves. There is in fact so much (in fact, almost everything) in life, that could prepare us for death and make it less frightening, but many people choose to avoid looking at this truth, which surrounds us.

Only 3 weeks after the poem was chosen for the group by Sara, my mother died. At first I wondered whether I'd be able to continue in the group. It wasn't apprehension about the subject matter that raised this for me. I was more concerned about my health and energy at this time, which I view as one of the most important and significant psychological and spiritual moments in a person's life. I want (and need) to be able to engage with the learning and adaptive processes that can be catalyzed by an event like this. I knew I was entering a challenging and tiring period.

Eventually I realized that the poem chosen by Sara and the opportunity to make work in response, were a gift and as long as I remain open, the project could be very healing and therapeutic for me. So I plunged in and began thinking about how to approach the poem.

Inspired by some ideas I've had rattling around for ages, I've taken the subject matter of the poem as a starting point, rather than working more illustratively. I'm aiming to draw parallels between the cycles of the seasons and the human life cycle. Dobson focuses on the experience of absence, probably the most painful aspect of loss or death. In mt book, I'm working with the idea that because change is constant, there is always absence of what was before, and this process can help us learn to deal with those "big" absences.

This is quite a long wordy post - I haven't chatted with you for ages so I've got lots to talk to you about! But before I go I thought I'd share a little of the imagery for the book. I started by developing a digital image for each season. Bear in mind that these then have to be worked into pages, and will change somewhat. Below are spring and winter.

Next time I'll tell you how the book will be printed and how I developed this imagery.

Friday, October 30, 2009

And the mystery item is....

.... an etching press. Carol and Sara did very well with their guesses - you know me well!

At the moment it has a bit of superficial rust from living out in a shed, but it was reconditioned a few years ago and is very solid. All the moving parts operate smoothly and easily, so it's really just in need of a cosmetic clean-up, some oil and grease for lubrication and some new felts and it will be ready to go! So far I've spent just over $400 including transport and I can't believe my luck! I've had an eye out for more than a year and this is the only one that I've seen on offer that wasn't $2000+

By the way, if anyone out there has any advice about caring for this little beauty, I'm all ears.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm back - and awaiting a new arrival

Just a quick post to let you all know that I'll be back in posting mode again in the next few days. I want to thank-you all for your patience while I've been off-line.

To keep you guessing about what's been happening, I've posted a photo of the studio where I've been moving things around and clearing some space for a new arrival. What could it be? Any ideas?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Short Break

This is just a brief post to let you know that I will be taking a short break from blogging as my mother passed away last Friday, in the early hours of the morning. I am very thankful for the fact that I was with her at the time.

I plan to be back on board some time during September. Till then, happy creating!

P.S. I have posted a few photos of my mother on my Flickr account.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Buddhists believe emotions are like clouds

And so do I....

If you've been reading this blog for more than a year or so, you may have followed the process as I put together my first artists book, Like Weather (above). It is a flag book, and explored the idea of "change" by tracking my emotions for a 24 hour period and suggesting that emotions are as changeable as the weather. (If you weren't around the first time through, you can find the first post in the archives for March 2007 and they run through to October 2007. If you'd just like to see some pics. follow this.)

Of course, we can't help what we feel, only what we choose to do with those feelings. In the past week I've seen my emotions fly high, and plummet to great depths in a very short space of time, and it's certainly confirmed for me the fragility of any situation. Our unrealistic desire for things to remain the same is constantly overturned, but it takes a long time for most of us to come to a genuine acceptance of this.

In my case, in the past week I've received the devastating news that my mother is gravely ill. Shortly after hearing this, I heard from the talented Joanna Kambourian who was "on location" at the opening of the SCU Acquisitive Artists Books Award. She had amazing news for me - the judge has selected Like Weather as one of this year's acquisitions! This is the first work I've had acquired by an institution, and as this is a career goal for me, the news is particularly significant and exciting. Later in the evening, a similar email from Sara Bowen gave me confidence that there was no mistake!

At the time, the situation felt quite unreal. I found I was able to "flip" from a sense of incredible joy and satisfaction to deep desolation, almost at will. It even seemed possible to hold these two wavering extremes within my chest at the same time. Looking back, it reminds me of the hope we feel when the clouds part briefly during cyclonic weather and we glimpse the blue sky. It reminds us that after the winds and rain subside, finer days will be waiting for us. This is exactly what I hoped Like Weather might say.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Aug-Sept: artists book exhibitions springing up

Just a quick reminder about some shows that are on this week-end. Some of you, who are on the same lists as I am, may have this information, so I apologize for the redundancy.

Opening this week-end is the Southern Cross University Acquisitive Artists Book Award at Barrett Galleries, Alstonville. They have an online catalogue and after looking through the field of artists and the works displayed, I feel honoured just to show my work in this company. If you are in this area of the country between now and Sept 24, I recommend taking a look.

The new event on the artists books calendar is at East Gippsland Regional Gallery. Books…Beyond Words opened last week-end with the announcement of the competition winners as follows:

First Prize: Deanna Hitti for Simulated Symphony and
The Tantaro Design Innovation Award: Katren Wood for 76635 263 585438

There's more information about the winning books and others which received commendations, as well as some photos at the link above. If you're not familiar with Deanna Hitti's work I suggest you follow that link - it's beautiful and intriguing work.

The exhibition will be open until Sept 8th and voting for The People’s Choice Award will continue until Sept 2nd, so if you make it to the show be sure to put in your vote.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Inks!

Very excited by the arrival yesterday of my new Akua water-based inks all the way from Dick Blick in the US. Everybody seems to rave about them and I can't wait to try them out. I guess this indicates a significant step for me towards committing to printmaking.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Productive Afternoon, But At A Price

Last Friday I booked another afternoon at Impress studio to make some prints from my solarplates. Above you can see the fruits of my labour. I don't know how this rates for productivity - but I can tell you, some thing's got to give. I haven't been as tired as I was after that session in a long time. Not good. The next day I paid with a headache and I am still not fully recovered.

The etching press I used wasn't the new whizz-bang one. Since it is enormous and new (read very expensive) and I am inexperienced with presses, I decided to use a smaller one. This operates via a handle which turns numerous wheels. In order to achieve the embossed effect I was after, the pressure required is tremendous, and the physical effort too! Maybe someone used to printmaking can tell me: is a press with a fly wheel less physically demanding to operate? I know there are geared presses available, but they are AU$4000+. Maybe it will be back to the pasta machine after all!

Anyway, back to the prints. There are 4 in the series at this stage, but I'm not happy with the composition of the fourth one, so it may be dropped. My original plan for these plates is to use them in series to create a variable edition, which will be folded to form a small concertina book. I wasn't sure how the plates would look together - whether they should be spaced out or flush with one another, and I won't make a final decision until these ones are folded.

There is another layer of imagery to be added, figures, as I alluded in an earlier post. I've been testing out a couple of ways of adding the figures but I can't photograph my results very effectively and there's a problem with the scanner, so you'll just have to be patient, I'm afraid.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Solarplate: work in progress

Last week I booked half a day in the studio at Impress Printmakers, my first time there to work on my own, rather than attend a workshop.

I spent some hours beforehand preparing more than I thought I would need for the time, as I wanted to make the most of the afternoon there. I took four transparencies of cloud imagery to expose to solarplate using their UV box, as well as plenty of paper, torn to size for testing and printing.

I tested the cloud imagery using a small piece of solarplate and a 1 minute exposure in the box, as recommended. The imagery has been simplified and is now a straightforward relief plate, designed to be printed on an etching press. Below you can see one of the original images and two of the plates.

The test worked perfectly first try so I was able to expose all four plates. Next step is to wash the plates in water using a soft brush to gently remove the parts of the plate that have not hardened. With an intaglio plate this is not a long process, but with relief you remove the polymer down to the metal plate (the grey areas you can see above). All that scrubbing took a while, and after two plates I only had about forty minutes left till I had to leave. It's quite possible to delay this stage, so I put the unfinished plates into a black plastic bag to protect them from the light, and left them to clean up at home.

This gave me a chance to quickly ink up one of the finished plates and test out the ink and the press, which were both new to me. The ink I chose from the studio supply was a Heidelberg relief ink which washes up in water. I didn't really enjoy working with it, and although I did love the colour (prussian blue) I wouldn't say it's a great ink for a beginner, like myself.

That was as far as I got at Impress, but on Saturday at home I was able to test out two plates using the pasta press. The relief ink I've been working with here is made using the Georgian block printing medium which is coloured by adding ink paint. I actually find this really nice to work with, and I love the almost chalky-look of the ink when printed. Despite it being oil-based, I don't find it's hard to clean up. I use vegetable oil followed by soap and water.

So below are the first impressions from two of the plates, and I am pretty happy with the results so far.

Below: detail

Monday, July 20, 2009

Photographing your art

When I was studying ceramics we did a photography subject which was geared specifically at teaching us to photograph our ceramic work. This was slightly before the "digital revolution", and I'm quite pleased to have had that grounding in basic technique with an SLR camera (single lens reflex).

Back then slide transparencies were the benchmark for entering work in competitions, and I am quite thankful that era has nearly disappeared, because the film was pretty expensive especially when you consider the need for "bracketing". For those not familiar with this term, it means take the same shot with three concurrent exposures, just to be sure you get the perfect image.

Photographing ceramic pieces is not as straight forward as you might expect, because you often have to cope with shiny areas due to the glaze or ways of highlighting translucency. I found out the expensive way that the training we had in our ceramics course made me better equipped for the task than some professional photographers (but that's another story...) and I know that I'm not the only ceramic artist to fork out lots of hard earned dollars for images that simply were not usable.

Still, I was frustrated that even with digital technology, my photos just weren't quite making the grade. At college, we had this great box thing with a lovely white curved perspex surface which you could position your work in and then snap away. I've often thought longingly of that "box" (I'm sure it had a proper name, but I can't remember it). It seemed to assure a great result.

Then I stumbled on this great post over on Strobist. Basically it explains how to use either natural or artificial light and make your own "box" (ah, he calls it a light tent!). I'm not going to repeat everything he says here, you can just follow the link, but I am going to post a photo of mine in action (below).

I didn't clear up my studio at all, because I wanted to show you how simple it is to use, once contructed. I just plonked it on my table after sweeping the rubbish aside slightly. All you have to do is choose a spot near the sun (that window faces west) or even better is to carry the box outside and place it in the sun. Below you can see the lovely even soft light that the tissue paper creates.

Above: caterpillar binding as learned from Adele Outteridge

And I have to say that books are about 100x easier to photograph than ceramics, but even they turn out much better with Strobist's Light Tent. Thank-you Strobist!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Monoprinting skies

Writing about your work is such a valuable tool. I wonder whether most of us use it often enough? I am sure that I don't. Writing my last post really helped me to clarify in my own mind what I was doing (obvious really, if I am going to explain it to you!) and this helped me see where I was getting caught up.

I've been a little too anxious to use the solarplate technique for everything, just because I wanted to use it. It's far better to look at the creative problem that you have and then decide the best possible methodology that you have at your disposal, and this definitely includes the media. This was always clear to me with ceramics, which was my first media. It's simply not good enough to say you are making such-and-such from clay, because that is what you do. The choice you make is so much more important to the work than that.

So, I realized there were other, more effective ways to depict the sky in the way that I am looking for, and I have started to test them out. Monoprinting is a very free way of working that really appeals to me, despite the fact that I don't have a background in painting, as many monoprinters do.

I used the new Golden Open acrylics on paper and perspex for these. Some of the perspex ones have added acrylic and drawing. Some of these look more like water than the sky, but that's all right. They were great fun to make, and lead me in a variety of directions, as well as coming much closer to solving my original problem.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Solarplate advice: Start Simple

I’ve been fuddling about in the studio lately, and don’t really have anything much to show for it. I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time on art, but it has all been very experimental and not really terribly successful. Of course they do say that you only learn from mistakes, and I guess that means that I am slowly working out what not to do! That said, it doesn’t leave me very motivated to post about my “discoveries”, as I suspect they are the type of discoveries that a beginner needs to make, but that seem pretty obvious unless you are in the position of trying these things out for the very first time.

You might remember from this post that I was quite hopeful about the potential of these images. The de-bossed figure really appealed to me, and is something that could work nicely both on paper and on porcelain. So since then I’ve been working on the imagery in Photoshop, and then testing it by exposing small strips of solar plate and printing them.

I’ve run up against my usual problem which is being overly ambitious before I've developed the technical skills and know-how required. In the test above, the de-bossing is achieved by making a relief plate and running it through an etching press. This is a step beyond making an ordinary relief print, and I managed to confuse myself for a while, although I did eventually work out what was happening.

In addition, I think I was trying to get too much happening at once, with not enough general printmaking experience and very little solarplate experience. This makes it difficult for me to visualize exactly how things on a plate will appear when printed. Below is the image I 've been working on, hoping to achieve the clouds popping out from the page, the figure de-bossed into the page and the sky floating somewhere in between these two.

To achieve this type of tonal range you need to use a double exposure, which I had learnt at the workshop I wrote about before. First, you expose an aquatint screen, followed by the image. I am exposing using sunlight, but even in winter here we reach a UV level of 4 most days, so there hasn't been any problem with UV intensity. I tested 3 different exposures before I was satisfied that I had developed sufficient detail.

And below is the result:

Left: printed with Charbonnel soft black etching ink

Right: printed with block ink made from Georgian block printing medium and alkyd paint

You can imagine that this is not the effect I am after, as it is pretty muddy and uninspiring. However, I think the test plate has been successfully exposed, the result just doesn't look how I had visualized it would. This comes from my general lack of printmaking experience, I believe. I think I will achieve a result more to my liking by separating the backgound (sky) from the foreground (figure and clouds). So it's back to the drawing board and I'll be putting up a sign to remind myself of my new motto: Start Simple! And if any printmakers are reading this, please feel free to comment!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Books...Beyond Words: Shortlisted for Award

I was over the moon to find that I have been shortlisted for this artists books award, to be held at East Gippsland Art Gallery from August 8 to September 1, 2009.

The gallery is in Bairnsdale in regional Victoria and they are planning to make this award and exhibition a biennial event. It is wonderful to see how artists books are growing in popularity and stature.

The work of mine that was shortlisted is Self (States of Change) a book with porcelain pages. I've written about this book before on this blog, as it was part of my masters body of work.

Here are a few pictures of the book and I've also included an edited excerpt about the book from my masters, for those who are in "that way" inclined. I apologize in advance for the academic jargon and "art talk".

"Two works, an installation and a book, were developed from the experiments
with self portraits.

A black square was painted on to a board and wet clay was pressed onto the
black area. A life size self portrait (head only) was made by transferring an
inkjet print onto the clay, which was then cut to shape by following the outline.
The clay was allowed to dry and once it had fallen to the ground, the pieces were re-assembled sufficiently to allow them to be read as a portrait. A clay trace remained on the board.

A series of photographs were taken documenting the process of the clay
drying. These were digitally processed using Photoshop and sent away to be
made into decals to be used in a porcelain book. .....

An artists’ book, entitled Self (States of Change) was the work
made using the porcelain pages. The goal of the book was to explore the tension created by the juxtaposition of process and permanence. These are represented by the changing portrait (unfired clay slowly drying and cracking) versus the documentation of the moment, a snapshot of “what was”.

The work presents “what has ceased to be”, as described by Barthes (1981)
and explores the relentless progression of time and change, in contrast with
the human desire to hold onto the past. The images are presented in sepia, a
photographic tradition employed to add a sense of nostalgia (, 2008). The presentation of the photographs on pages made from porcelain further emphasizes the desire to retain that which has gone, by its association with the enduring materiality of the high fired ceramic.

In order to activate the viewing process, it was decided that the pages would
remain unbound. They are presented in a purpose-built clamshell box, and the
viewer is able to handle each page and to determine how the sequence is
ordered. The clay slabs were hand-rolled and there is evidence of the expected
variation of the handmade, which serves to humanize the work. There are
cracks in the clay and the translucency of the porcelain allows the viewers’
fingers to be visible through the pages, drawing them into the image....."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Overcoming Inertia

If any of you are also on Facebook you may have seen that I set myself a challenge last Tuesday - that I would post on this blog within 48 hours. Well, so much for that! But I wrote that to help myself overcome what I call "inertia".

It's something I never experienced before I had CFS, but just at the moment I'm having it a lot. It's not the same as lacking motivation or procrastinating, although from the "outside" it could look much the same. And it's not the same as being too tired.

It occurs on the way up from being really tired, and also on the way down. You have enough energy to have ideas, and even to know exactly how you want to start, but that's as far as it goes. It's an uncomfortable mental space, because you really want to get going with whatever the idea is, but you just can't.

To be honest, there is no sure fire way of overcoming inertia, because it really is about not having the energy to get organised and kick off. I think the best thing to do is to make sure everything you need is ready, and also to try to have lots of free time. This works both to let you rest, so you can build up energy, and also means that when your energy finally does reach the required level, you are free and available and able to capitalize, not having scheduled "low energy time fillers" in your frustration and boredom.

I've been seeing it as rather like those days at the beach, when the swell is small and you must wait patiently for a decent wave to arrive so you can jump up on your board and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Exploring text as image

Life's been full and as ever, challenging since my last post. I attended an orientation to the facilities at Impress Printmaker's Studio and am now eligible to book time there to use the equipment. It's the same studio I mentioned in previous posts, and they have a UV box for exposing solarplates and a number of presses. I'm quite excited about the possibilities this opens up for me, and the convenience of the studio, being only 10 minutes away from my home is wonderful. I've heard on the grapevine that they are thinking of re-locating to larger premises, which would be good for them but I hope it doesn't happen too soon.

In preparation for my first session at Impress, I am working on images to expose for a book. I've been using Photoshop to experiment with ordering and layout - ah, what a wonderful tool PS can be! Here's a peek at two possible pages - it's just a rough "sketch" .

As well as pages based on imagery, I've been exploring some text-based pages. I love constructivist, dada and futurist art with their use of typography as a graphic element, and of course artists in these movements were the first in the 20th century to produce artists books. This is one of my favourite examples of this type of work.

Ruth Laxson is a book artist who is a great source of inspiration to me. She began her press, Press 63 Plus, at age 63 and established herself as much respected in the field. Her books expressed a real playfulness with text and are reminiscent of concrete poetry.

Playing around with text in Photoshop (which, by the way, makes exploring that kind of artwork so much easier) I have decided that I really want to develop my own style with text. The beauty of the constructivists is that their artwork looks deceptively simple, but that is the way of all good design. Of course, it never is that simple to achieve the dynamism and perfect composition required. Like Ruth Laxson, I hope to make the visual impression of the text echo the sense of the words. I came up with a number of alternatives - the one below is the one I find most satisfying.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Testing the limitations of the pasta machine as etching press

Despite spending most of this week trying to recover from the stress of the past few weeks, I did manage one afternoon in the studio.

Add ImageFollowing on from last week's post about solarplate etching, I decided to run the test plates from the workshop through my pasta machine press. To anyone who has missed earlier posts where I've mentioned this little beauty, it is exactly what it says - a pasta making machine which I use for intaglio printmaking. I learned about this in an online printmaking course I took a couple of years ago.

To pass the test plates, which are only small strips approx 10cm x 3cm through the press, I decided to place the plate on some perspex. The dampened paper goes does next and then I experimented with the "felts". For the pasta press I use half sheets of the felt that you buy from craft shops. Depending on type of plate you are using and therefore how thick it is, I have used up to 3 layers of felt to give the desired pressure. In this case, with the perspex backing sheet, 1 layer of felt was all that would fit through between the rollers. And the results are below:

I have to confess that the umber speckles on the person are old sepia ink from the workshop that I hadn't cleaned off properly. They make the clouds look more like land masses I think, and could be useful in certain circumstances. I am pretty happy with how these tests turned out, and plan to continue developing this imagery. I think the pasta press has shown that it is definitely up to doing test runs, and if the imagery is not as finely detailed as the clouds on the left, it can even be used for the final print, especially where embossing is a feature.

Next I thought I would try my zinc etching plate through the pasta press, just to see how that worked. Almost straight away I discovered a problem:

Photo: kschmic, photobucket

Unless your plate is shorter than the distance from the rollers to the base plate, it needs to be flexible, so you can pull it forward as you wind the plate through. Previously I've used perspex, mylar and mat board for the plate, so flexibility has never been an issue, but with the zinc plate being 20cm long and obviously inflexible, it couldn't pass through the press. Oh well! maybe I'm the only person crazy enough to think of putting a zinc plate through a pasta machine anyway!

I do have a couple of prints of the etching I did on zinc to show you. It's not completely finished but the term of classes I was doing at Studio West End has come to an end, so this is as far as I can take the etching for now. I apologize for the quality of the images, but the prints are a bit large for my scanner so I have photographed them, and it's getting a bit dark.

This first attempt (below) is just the line etch with plate tone in sepia. I quite liked it, but I thought more atmosphere could be created by working with the light.

For this version (below), we added a number of aquatints, progressively darkening the plate. I think we've maybe gone a bit far, but it is possible to burnish back some areas to lighten them. I was about to try this when I discovered the pasta press couldn't be used to print the result.

Soon I will have access to an etching press through the community printmaking studio Impress Printmakers, so I'll be able to keep working on this plate then.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Solar-powered techniques Part 2: Solarplate printmaking

Thank-you to everyone who has written to me with best wishes for my mother. After 8 days in hospital she is glad to be home. I was able to clear out most other commitments and made it as easy for myself as I could, so that I could be there for her as much as possible. I am pretty tired out now and am trying to take it easy in order to recover. I hope that you will understand if I don't respond to your kind messages personally.

In April I finally made it to a second workshop at Impress Printmakers Studio. My first one was in 2006 and was my introduction to artists books. This recent workshop was on Solarplate Printmaking.

Solar plates are a method of exposing plates either for relief or intaglio printmaking. It's another low toxicity technique that looks pretty simple and that I have been aching to try for about 3 years. Luckily, I purchased the "bible" on the technique around that time, as it is out of print and as time passes, the price is rising in a rather unbelievable fashion. Dan Welden took solar plates from their commercial application and experimented with their use in fine art settings. He wrote the book with an Australian scientist and artist, Pauling Muir and gave it the rather lyrical title "Printmaking in the Sun". I believe that a second edition is currently being written.

The book is amazing. It is wonderfully thorough but if anything, the talk of exposure times and test strips made me feel that I really needed to attend a workshop before I could give this technique a try. Once we went through it at the workshop, I realized that the basic technique is simple, although each print you make will be different and a certain amount of testing and "tweaking" is necessary to get the result you want.

The basic process is:
  • prepare your artwork on e.g. wet media acetate, OHT, drafting film (intaglio images are not reversed while relief ones are)
  • place your art and the plate in a contact frame and expose to UV light (the sun or a lamp/light box will harden the polymer in the areas it reaches)
  • remove and rinse in water, using a soft brush to remove areas that have not hardened (i.e parts of the image where the UV could not pass through to the plate)
  • print!

Personally, my greatest interest is in finding a way to make intaglio prints. I don't really like the idea of working with the acid and other materials necessary for traditional etchings. It seems very daunting. Recently Wim de Vos at Studio West End took me through the hard ground process, together with aquatinting and that has dispelled some of the mystery around the whole thing, but I still feel it could take me years to produce anything I find truly satisfying. I like the idea of working away here at home with solar plates; plus they provide the option of using my photographs as a starting point, which is very appealing to me.

The major drawback I can see with solar plates is cost. The plates themselves are not cheap: $14 for a 15 x 21cm plate against $7.90 for 12.5 x 20cm zinc plate. And while there are no other chemicals to buy for the process, it is quite possible to ruin a plate with the wrong exposure (once you've rinsed the plate, you can't re-expose if you aren't happy with the result). I guess this is where real discipline needs to be exercised to ensure you test your exposure and print your test plates, and keep testing until you have the result you are looking for. That way you are only wasting small pieces of plate, rather than a full plate. According to Dan Welden, it is possible to re-work plates by scratching into them with etching and drypoint tools, but I can imagine this wouldn't always give the result you were seeking.

Well, I suppose you might like to see some results from the day for yourselves. I'm not too sure how impressive they will look online, but they will give you some idea. I plan to re-print them using the old "pasta machine press" to see how the plates respond.

This first test (below) is an intaglio print made with some of my cloud imagery. This was originally part of this photo.

This silhouette (below) comes from the cover of "Resistance" (which by the way I hope to return to soon, now that the weather is cooler). They were both printed in both relief and intaglio. The lovely thing about them is the debossing, which you can't really pick up in these pictures.

Friday, April 24, 2009

500 Ceramic Sculptures (including mine!)

Just a quick post to share some exciting news, as this week has been taken up with hospital visiting. My mother, who is now 84, has had a heart attack so things have been a bit crazy here.

At the same time, the Lark book "500 Ceramic Sculptures" has been published and my copy arrived earlier this week. I like the format of these books as many of the images are full page...including one of an earlier work of mine. (see below)

This work was exhibited in a solo show at Craft Queensland in 2002, and my thanks must go to the photographer Alastair Bett, who generously offered his services to document the show. There are more photos of the show on flickr, and I wrote about it in this blog post. The installation of the porcelain pieces was re-worked in Livable 2, which was shown in Melbourne in 2005 in the group show "Home Ground".

This is the first time my work has been included in a book and it is an exciting step for me. These achievements in the "real world" are all more sweet for the extra time they take, and of course my mother is thrilled about it too.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Exploring solar-powered techniques Part 1: Sunprints

I don't know whether it's a subliminal effect of "Earth Hour" or just the fact that at last it is a little cooler here and I can actually enjoy being outside again, but recently I've tried out two art techniques that rely on the sun (or UV). Both are things I've been interested in trying for a couple of years (!) but had to wait until my studies were done.

I love many of the old photographic techniques that are now experiencing a revival as "alternative techniques", especially photograms and cyanotypes. Historically, the greatest proponents of photograms are Man Ray, who re-named them rayographs(!) and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. The basic concept is that instead of using a camera and film, you place an object directly on photo-sensitive paper and expose it, then fix it and rinse as usual.

Cyanotypes, also known as blueprints, were traditionally used for plans in architecture and for recording botanical specimens. It's a simple process that can be used for photograms or with a contact negative (where the negative is placed directly on the paper, rather than using an enlarger).

I've been planning to buy a cyanotype kit from this photographic store in Melbourne, when I knew I would have some time to experiment, but last year when I was at the Tate Gallery, I saw these "Sunprint" papers in the shop. Although designed for kids, I knew some people on Flickr had used this type of thing to good effect, and besides at less than 5GBP, there was nothing to lose.

The papers sat among my supplies for nearly a year and when I stumbled across them about a week ago I was a bit dismayed to see the packet said: "use within 6 months of purchasing" I rushed out to give them a try.

One idea that relates to process and change that I didn't have a chance to explore in my masters was "the life cycle". I've had a number of ideas about this that I hope to eventually explore, and one symbol I'm drawn to is the chrysalis. So rather than using objects for my sunprint test, I decided to use a drawing of a chrysalis that I was preparing on transparency for a workshop (more about this soon).

I think the paper manages to pick up a surprising degree of subtlety from the image, considering it was drawn with a chinagraph pencil. The beauty of this paper is that it comes ready to use and is processed in ordinary water, so it's low toxic. There's only a bit of testing with regards exposure time, if you want to be really picky. If you'd like to see some more examples take a look at Sunprint and Photograms groups on Flickr.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Celtic Binding

The past fortnight has been really busy and tiring for me. As well as my weekly class at Studio West End (SWE) I went to a full day workshop on folded books. I am learning a lot and looking forward to having more time to play with this new knowledge and integrate it into my work.

Last week at SWE I learnt how to do celtic binding. My family's ancestral roots are in the south of Ireland at Maynooth and so the idea of doing celtic binding is very appealing to me. There is a traditional form which Keith Smith teaches, and my teacher Adele Outterridge has modified and extended this. So far I have made two books with celtic bindings, but it is so pretty I am sure I will make many more.

As soon as I tried to set up to take some photos of the books for the blog, Claude had to help!

But eventually I managed to move him far enough away to focus on the bindings....

Above: This is my first attempt, using Adele's modification. I think the
paper on the covers is Japanese - I bought it ages ago.

Above: this one is just made with printer paper and some coloured art paper I had lieing around, although the thread is the proper waxed linen (this helps the sewing to sit nicely). This is two of the celtic cross-overs (Keith Smith style) joined by 3 coptic stitches in the centre. This is a variant of a variant developed by Adele!

You might remember that a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned I was going to try etching. Well, that is progressing slowly but surely...I've made it as far as the first etch of the plate and this week I will ink it up and see how it looks. In the mean time I thought you might like a look at the plate...

I have to confess I find the fine detail on the plate quite intoxicating.