Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Caterpillar is to butterfly as book is to ? or Writing an Artist Statement

This week I thought I’d write about the process of developing an artist statement. Instead, you are getting a super-short post as I continue to wrestle with the statement that has to accompany these photos. Together they will soon be off to East Gippsland Art Gallery to be considered for selection for “Books Beyond Words – Books Evolving”.

I wasn’t planning to suggest that I am expert in these matters, although I think I probably face the task with less dread than some artists I know.

The artist statement is crucial if you want to send your work, well, anywhere really. You will be asked for one in any gallery context, and as it will be representing you in your absence, it needs to be good!

So I will definitely put together some information on exactly what an artist statement is, what to include, what not to include and the process I use to write mine. I also have some references on the subject to share.

In the mean time, you could pop along to this site, which has been developed to help the struggling artist to generate their own Critical Response to the Art Product (or CRAP). I was delighted with this pearl which I hope to include somehow!

I'm troubled by how the reductive quality of the sexual signifier notates a participation in the critical dialogue of the 90s.


Hmm, maybe not!





Tuesday, March 22, 2011

6 Ways to Feed Creativity

All artists need to take certain steps at times to “pump up” their creativity.

Some people refer to “the muse” and while I’m not totally comfortable with this term myself (it seems rather disempowering to me) at least it acknowledges the elusive quality of inspiration and the important work we need to do to foster our creativity.

Even the most experienced artists (or perhaps especially them) have things they do that help them to “get into the flow”.

These are the things that help me:

  1. meditating – slowing down, being in the present and practising mindfulness. These all clear the mind and open some space for creative thoughts.
  2. allowing time – while great ideas often strike in a flash, they seem to require lots of open space around them and no/low expectations. It’s hard to be creative when your life is jam-packed with doing. It’s fine to take half an hour here and there when you’re in the flow on a project that’s going well, but I definitely need to spend some gentle days, going for long slow walks, pottering in the studio or the garden to develop a sense of spaciousness.
  3. art-gazing – with the internet it’s easy to look at great work often and getting out to real exhibitions when I can is even better.
  4. going back through my visual journals, looking at all the ideas I’ve generated in the past that I never had time to complete (or start!)
  5. play – trying out new materials or just doing something crafty. Often these things feed into future projects, but just as often they don’t. It’s really just about the importance of play.

I found an entertaining talk on creativity on TED.com by Tim Brown. He’s the CEO of a large design firm, IDEO, so he’s talking about stimulating creativity in collaborative teams (more collaboration!) but I found much of his talk useful. I especially like the way he talks about the way creativity thrives in a safe, secure environment. This, I think is key. I think its why we can be so creative as students and then when we get into the real world, we suddenly freeze up. So my final point is:

        6.   let yourself feel safe to fail – create time and space to have all those playful, crazy ideas, including quite a few that plain don’t work. They are an important part of the process.

If you feel like delving more deeply into this final point, I’ve posted the TED talk below or you can go to the talk on TED where there is a script if you prefer reading to listening.



Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More thoughts on collaborating in the book arts


When I last wrote about collaboration in the book arts here, the subject seemed to interest quite a few of you. Since then, I’ve thought a little more on the subject and I’ve put together two related posts.

In the first (which you are reading now) I’ll (very) briefly talk about the history of collaboration, both in art in general and specifically in the book arts. Then I have an recent example to show you, as well as highlighting the potential benefits of collaborating with others.

The second post appears on Book*Art*Object and follows on from this post by suggesting some ways that the artists in that group might like to organise to collaborate on books in the future.

Collaboration in the 20th Century

It’s rather arbitrary where you start with the art history of collaboration. Certainly major artists had assistants and employees, and it’s likely some of these may have collaborated in some sense of the word. However, early in the 20th century, artists associated with Dada and the Avant-Garde worked together with the specific aim of exploring collaboration.

Exquisite Corpse

The 1960s and ‘70s saw collaboration in art extend from movements like Fluxus and Art & Language to long-term duos like Gilbert & George and Christo & Jeanne-Claude. Today it’s an accepted, though not prevalent way of working.

Collaboration in the Book Arts

I think its interesting that collaboration was a part of the book arts from very early. In part this is due to the central role that artists books played in the art movements named above, already strongly incorporating collaboration.

Traditionally there are probably three pairings that are often seen in the production of artists books. These are:

  • artist and master printmaker
  • writer and visual artist
  • artist and bookbinder

Additionally, there are collaborations between artists and publishers, where the aim is to move beyond the handmade to achieve increased distribution of the artists book.

Exquisite Corpse

Recently a lovely book was published which based its concept on a variant of the Surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse. There are a number of variants of the game, but in the one I’m most familiar with one person starts by drawing the top part of a person, then folds the paper so that only the end of the drawing is visible. The paper is passed to the next person, who adds the next section before folding the paper again and passing it on. The third person completes the drawing which is then unfolded to be seen in its entirety.

The recent book is called “The Exquisite Book” and it has 100 artists who collaborated to create 10 fold-out double-sided accordions within the one book. Each accordion has a theme along the lines of “In the clouds”, “in the jungle”, “in the city” etc. and within each accordion there is a continuous horizon line. During making, the artists saw only the work that preceded theirs, but no others.

Here are a couple of photos of spreads from my copy of the book. Please excuse the rubbish photography (still grappling with a new camera).


Above: L-R Jen Corace, Pablo Amargo, Mel Kadel

Below:: L-R Sophia Martineck, Joseph Hart

Martineck-Hart close

I love this book and have spent more time than I’m prepared to admit admiring it and delighting in the detail and beauty of so many of the drawings it contains. I think the book is an excellent example of why collaboration is so worthwhile.

Benefits of Collaboration

These are numerous, and to an extent personal. Each person will have a slightly different take on the experience, and benefits will also differ according to the way the collaboration is organised. Some of the major points for me are:

  1. The whole is greater than the sum: or the work created will be something quite unique and different from the creations of the individuals.
  2. Collaboration enables more complex works than an individual could manage.
  3. A number of artists will possess a greater variety of skills and approaches which can be used to create the work.
  4. Learning from others – need I say more? I love learning.
  5. For artists concerned by issues like “self” vs. “the collective”, collaborating with other artists can be a solution.


BAO is already a collaborative project in some ways. When its time to choose our source material, every member is encouraged to make suggestions. The group selects the texts to be used as inspiration by voting. We make our books or objects individually, although the process is blogged – the level of detail is up to the individual artist. Finally, the works come together as a group when they are exhibited and so the final impression on the viewer is cumulative.

There are many other forms and directions that collaboration within BAO could explore. I have some thoughts, which I’ve offered up over on the BAO blog. I’m sure other group members will have ideas of their own. If you’re interested in following the discussion, you will find it here.

What’s your experience collaborating?

Library collaboration

Before I finish, I’m wondering how many of you have experience collaborating with others on an art project? I would say that I only have a little myself, including my recent experience with Monica Oppen, which I wrote about in the previous post about collaborating. I would be very interested to hear how collaborating worked for you. What were the benefits? Are there any pitfalls? Would you try it again?

And what about group exhibitions? Aren’t they collaborations too? I think in a loose sort of way they are, more so if there is a theme and the works undergo selection. In this case, it’s up to the curator/s to make sure the show has unity, and I would argue that by the lack of interaction between participants while they are working, a lot of the benefit of collaboration is lost. But definitely not all in terms of the cumulative impact of different works by a variety of artists, which have the potential to play off one another for the viewer.

Still, my point is that collaboration is about regular interaction, and a dedication to communicating with your co-collaborators is the best way to ensure success.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Drypoint: Using cardboard and perspex plates


Last week I showed you how I made the covers for the altered book I’m working on for “Books…Beyond Words”. This week I’d like to show you how the next stage is coming. I’ve been doing tests with drypoint using both card and Perspex (acrylic) for the plate.

For the book I need an image of a cocoon. I think I’ve mentioned (just a few times!) how much I want to learn etching, but the trouble is I have a few projects on-the-go, and a personal (exciting!) deadline of mid-May (more later!!!). I can foresee that a number of attempts might be needed before I can etch to my satisfaction!

Then this article from Nontoxic Print.com arrived in my inbox, showing me the way. I made the decision to try drypoint, also an intaglio print method, but a direct one, and therefore rather more straight forward than etching.

In the article Jenny Robinson discusses how she makes her large (e.g. 38” x 23”) drypoint monoprints using illustration board as her plate. She applies a thin coat of wood varnish and then treats the plate as she would any other drypoint.

With the high (and increasing) cost of copper and zinc, I thought this was definitely worth a try. As Robinson notes, cheaper materials provide the artist with more freedom to experiment, because you feel as if you can throw away something that hasn’t worked – and artistic freedom is always good, in my book!

Another cheap material that is often used for drypoint plates is plastic. I’ve heard of people trying virtually any type. Actually my kitchen chopping mat has some interesting lines appearing on it, and I’m thinking of swiping it and inking it up, but first I need to buy a replacement for the kitchen. More common choices are mylar and perspex, so I decided to give perspex a try too.

Tools, ink, paper 


Apart from ink and paper, this photo shows everything I used. For paper I used two different Japanese papers in buff, one a medium kozo and the other with a little more texture.

I compared two inks, an oil-based etching ink from Graphic Chemical and a water-based one from Akua. The second ink was self-mixed using transparent intaglio base and the Akua Kolors, rather than the pre-mixed intaglio inks that are available. It really needed the addition of some thickener, which I didn’t have (but now do).

Tests & Results

1) Initially I began testing with tools that I had on hand – an etching needle (above – yellow handle) which I had used before for this my only previous drypoint (plate: perspex).

I knew I would want some tone as well as line in this print. I don’t own a roulette, the tool often used for achieving tone. In the article, Jenny Robinson talked about using carborundum, but the art store was out of stock. Initially, I decided to test some dry pumice (in the Matisse jar above) applied with acrylic gel.

drypoint 4

The result wasn’t bad, but the tone is more in the style of a collagraph, and that isn’t the look I am after.

2) Next I inked the plate with my self-mixed Akua. The ink was much softer and the textural effect of the pumice is lessened (pardon the shadow that’s come through on the scan).

drypoint 3

I wasn’t happy with the tone alone, and tried sketching in some detail in pencil.

3) I decided to add more line detail to the plate using an engraving attachment on the Dremel. I also tried wiping more lightly, so that more ink would remain on the plate.


I did quite like this result, but I felt the image now had a “man-made/machine” look to it. It’s an interesting effect, but I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted for the book.


Here’s the plate (on the right) and the print again, this time using Akua ink. You can see I started experimenting with the Dremel’s mark-making abilities.

4) I wanted to test the Dremel further and decided to use line to achieve tone, a traditional drypoint/engraving technique. The plate here is perspex for the first time.


The result was a very controlled and neat image, almost illustrative.

5) At this stage I made another trip to the art store and decided to splash out on a “proper” drypoint tool (you can see it in the photo under Tools). I was pining for that special soft line that you can achieve when your tool lifts a burr from the plate. It is this that holds the ink and gives the drypoint its characteristic “look”.

And there it is over on the right side. All those lovely lines! I’ve finally worked it out!

tests on card (l) and perspex (r)

Still no carborundum at the art store, so I bought some Golden fine pumice gel, which you can see holds the ink quite beautifully. There are also tests with three different grades of sandpaper (150, 280 and 400 – reversed).

6) So finally I tried with my new scribe on a cardboard plate with the oil-based ink. I’m still working on my wiping technique, but this print is the best result so far.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Working with Wax: An Altered Book


After last weeks post about a safe studio set-up for working with wax/encaustic, I thought I would show you some of the ways I’ve used wax in my work over the past few years. I also have my favourite encaustic references for you and a step-by-step look at my most recent use of wax in a book art project.

Early Work

As I mentioned last week, I am completely self-taught when it comes to wax and I haven’t really scratched the surface of what I’d like to try! Here’s a few things from around 2007 when I spent some time trying out the possibilities.

self portrait in wax

Above: Testing the effect of embedding myself in wax.

a heart in wax2

Above: This was to be part of an artists book – still a work-in-progress!

wax box

Above: testing out ways of working with wax in 3-D

If you’re interested there’s a little more of my work with wax to be seen here.


New Work

For “Books…Beyond Words” this year, the theme is books evolving and this has given me the chance to work on an idea I’ve had since I was doing my Masters.

“Cocoon” as a place of transformation was one of the concepts that I hoped to explore as part of my masters thesis on change and process. Time ran out on me before I got to make any “cocoon” works, despite have a number of ideas developing. “Cocoon” seems to me to work into the theme of books evolving quite nicely, and so I am working on my first altered book work, assisting it in its “evolution”.

The first part of the book to change will be the cover, which will be made from paperbark. This will be a type of return to the tree from which the paper came, in order to “evolve” via the process within the cocoon.

In my local area the Council has planted hundreds of paperbark trees (Melaleucas). There is one out the front of my place and at the end of the street is Riding Road, with its beautiful avenue of paperbarks.


I love trees with weeping foliage and the paperbark is a favourite of mine. For a few years now I’ve picked up the bark when it falls off and stored it away, thinking I would somehow incorporate it into something. This new book is my first attempt working with it.


1. I gently peeled away layers of the bark using my fingers until I have the desired thickness, selecting pieces of bark with attractive patterns and colours.

2. I laid out my pieces of bark as you would any collage. You can see my final arrangement below.

paperbark on japanese tissue

3. Once I was satisfied with the arrangement, I made a 50:50 mixture of wheat paste and acid-free PVA. I painted this onto a sheet of Japanese bookbinding tissue and then onto the back of each piece of bark, gently pressing the tissue to the bark to ensure good adhesion.

4. After a few minutes, I placed the whole thing between some sheets of cushioning paper, then boards of marine ply and left it overnight to dry completely. I didn’t add any further weights, although if you were after a very flat effect I think you could place weights very gently on the board.

5. The next day the paperbark was ready to be coated with wax. My aim with this was to stabilize the surface of the bark so it could be handled without small pieces coming away.

wax melting

You can see the beeswax melting into the baking tray which is on the hot plate you saw here.  At this point, I should explain that for this project I am using beeswax only, which is different from encaustic medium. Encaustic medium is beeswax with one or more additives, most usually damar resin, but other waxes such as microcrystalline or carnuba wax may be used. The purpose of the additives is to alter the characteristics of the wax, such as melting point, brittleness vs pliability, hardness of the finished surface. I am just beginning to explore how these work, so I have stayed with the straight beeswax, with which I am most familiar.

6. Once there was enough wax in the tray, the process was very simple and as you can see, not even particularly gentle! I simply placed the sheet of paperbark into the wax. To ensure good wax coverage I used a traditional Japanese printmaking baren which was coated with alfoil.


 7. The final step is fusing the wax. Fusing is done by lightly re-melting the wax, just to the point where a sheen appears using a heat gun. This allows the different layers of wax to bond and improves the structural integrity of the surface.

This final series of photos shows how the wax looks before fusing, immediately after turning off the heat gun and 5 minutes later.





My Favourite Encaustic Resources

Bear in mind, these are just my own favourites. There are numerous others out there. Just take a look on Amazon or on the R&F Handmade Paints website.

1. Joanne Mattera: The Art of Encaustic Painting (Contemporary Expression in the Ancient Medium of Pigmented Wax) 2001

The original contemporary guide to encaustic painting. Includes history, a survey of artists working with encaustic, and a thorough introduction to materials. Focuses on painting primarily.

2. Lissa Rankin: Encaustic Art - The Complete guide to Creating Fine Art with Wax, 2010.

New on the market last year, this is the book I was waiting for! Its focus is fine art plus a great “how to” guide to many different techniques. There have been other “how to” books out there, but they were more project-based.

Both books 1 & 2 can be checked out via the “Search Inside” feature of Amazon. The links above will take you there. 

3. Paula Roland: Encaustic Monotypes – Painterly Prints With Heat and Wax (DVD)

For something different, this is great if you’re a visual learner, but it does only cover monotypes i.e. using your hot plate as a printing plate with encaustic paints. This was something I was interested in and before Lissa Rankin’s book came out, it was impossible to find any information on it online. The DVD definitely contains more detail on this technique specifically than Rankin’s book.

4. R&F Handmade Paints – Forum 

A great online resource which you can search, and pose all your questions to staff from R&F and others, who in my experience are both extremely knowledgeable and helpful.