Saturday, June 21, 2014

The project with no name (yet)

Added several hours after posting:
I really wish I could say that I planned for this post to be published on the solstice, but I didn't. Nonetheless here it is, and it seems quite fitting. Happy Solstice, be it short or long of light where you are.

I've made a few adjustments to the images I showed in the last post and am now ready to make the final version, but I'm out of glassine. So while I wait for that to arrive from Melbourne, I thought I'd tell you about the long term project I've been working on for a while.

If you've been reading this blog for a while you probably realize that I'm not particularly enamoured with Brisbane as a place to live. Nevertheless, I do live here for now, and in the spirit of increasing my awareness, relating to the seasons, and simply "getting more from something if you give more", I began this project.

Although I live in a small unit block, we have some small common garden areas and I have a large patio where I grow some pot plants. I've started to gather plant matter from the trees and bushes in the garden and my pots, and am doing tests to see what colours and marks they produce.

I've added to these with flowers and leaves that I receive as gifts, as well as collecting leaf fall from a couple of deciduous trees in the next couple of streets. Here in a subtropical Brisbane autumn is barely marked by the delicous colours that deciduous trees provide in other areas of Australia, but they are still the most potent symbol of that season, to my mind.

I'm also thinking of using some kitchen scraps, like onion skins and avocado pits, but I'm drawing the line at buying something we don't actually eat, like purple cabbage, for instance. The point of the project is to be a document of this place and time, so I don't want to add in plants just for the colour they provide.

I'm also choosing to include some things from my mother-in-law's garden, because she plays such an important part in our lives at this time. She lives in the next suburb, and we go to her place for dinner twice a week. She is the only one of our parents still alive and it feels right to include her in the record of this time and place.

Before dyeing swathes of fabric, I've been doing some tests with a few mordants to see the colours I can get, following a method described by India Flint. I've been using alum powder, copper sulphate, tea, and a home-made aluminium mordant made using alfoil and vinegar.

Below are scans of my journal pages documenting the tests for rose and callistemon leaves, and gerbera flowers, plus a few other bits and pieces. As silk is the most receptive to the natural colours, that is what I use for these initial tests, plus some tests on cotton rag paper, because I'm also interested in using the dyes as stains or watercolours.

Finally, here are some larger pieces of dyed fabric, including some bundled ecoprints. The fabric is silk, unless otherwise noted.

Gerbera flowers
Rose leaves

Callistemon flowers and leaves

And what's the plan for all of this? I don't have a clear outcome in mind yet. I just know that the work is about this place and this time. I definitely see it as a document, a record, and in that sense at least, as a book. I'm excited to start putting things together, but I know the collecting isn't done yet, and there doesn't feel as if there is a need to rush. The work may be a farewell to Brisbane...but that remains to be seen. For now, I'm very happy to continue as I have begun.

Monday, May 12, 2014

About ME : work in progress

As today is International ME/CFS Awareness Day, it seemed the right day to share where I'm up to with my artist's book "About ME".

Below is the text I am using in the book.

"Patients with ME/CFS experience abnormal fatigue that is both more intense and qualitatively different from normal tiredness. The fatigue in ME/CFS may take several different forms: post-exertional fatigue (abnormal exhaustion or muscle weakness following minor physical activity), persistent flu-like feelings, brain fog (mental exhaustion from everyday cognitive effort) and wired fatigue (feeling over-stimulated when very tired).
The type of fatigue that is a core feature of ME/CFS is post-exertional malaise (PEM). PEM is the exacerbation of fatigue and other symptoms (e.g. cognitive difficulties, sore throat, insomnia) following minimal physical or mental activity that can persist for hours, days or even weeks. PEM may be related to abnormal energy metabolism." *
*Quoted with permission from the IACFS/ME Primer for Clinical Practitioners (2014)

When I read this excerpt from the International Association for CFS/ME's "A Primer for Clinical Practitioners", it struck me as the clearest, brief description of ME that I have ever read. A sort of Goldilocks explanation. Not too much, not too little, just right. I use the text as a tonal element to create a self portrait, but despite being partially obscured, the text I select is an important aspect of the work.

In earlier posts you've seen some of the stencils I've been preparing. Last week I finished a first trial using the stencils to position the text on the translucent pages of the book.

Here's a photo of the trial, just snapped with my iPhone so please excuse the quality. 

Bear in mind this is a work in progress, a way to test whether the technique would do what I hoped. The text is written on eight pages and the book will be a simple pamphlet binding. There's tweeking and refining to be done, a little more detail in certain important areas, but it is a pleasing start.

When the book is finished, I hope it will contribute in a small way to raising awareness of ME. This is the first artwork I've made in over a decade that deals directly with my illness.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A small space is all you need....

....cleared, amongst the mess... finish the stencil cutting....
.....and start to test out the text.



Friday, April 11, 2014

Not waving, mess

It seems that the more I try to focus my attention on a single art project, the more projects I end up starting.

 I have, as you know, wide-ranging interests and limited energy. As a result, I often find myself working on one thing while I'm longing to be making something else. So I thought that as a strategy to manage this, I would try focussing on one work for a month at a time. This would allow me to make some progress wih one thing, work on something else for a while, and then return to the earlier project before so much time has passed that I've totally lost my train of thought.

Before we went on holiday to Melbourne, I was working on a book using photographs that I took in Paris. The stairway in the building where we stayed in the Marais is very atmospheric and a great example of "wabi sabi". As well as the more elaborate staircase leading up to the apartments, there is a smaller, darker set of stairs leading from the entry down to the cellar.
My idea for the book, tentatively titled "ascendre/descendre", is to use the photos going up and going down in such a way that it's not always clear which is which and where we are heading. I see it as a metaphor for our times, and even the human race.

Here's one of the photos I'm considering using. The first step is converting them to black and white and making any other digital processing changes.

When I returned from Melbourne I was scheduled to start a three week online course Drawing for Textiles with Dionne Swift. I actually met Dionne in Brighton last year at the Art Fair, and after an inspiring chat with her and seeing her work there, I had enrolled in this course immediately. I've been waiting for March to roll around with great anticipation ever since.

But inspiration doesn't necessarily strike when it's convenient, does it? I've been tossing ideas around in my head for the upcoming Personal Histories exhibition for months and months. Nothing had really felt quite right to me. I was beginning to worry that I wouldn't be able find any inspiration to suit the theme.

And then, out of nowhere really (but of course from somewhere) I knew what I wanted to do. And I wanted to make a start. Straight away. So over a week-end, just before I got cracking on Dionne's first drawing exercises, I got to work.

This book is tentatively called "About ME" and I'm going to use translucent pages and text. It sounds horribly narcissistic, I realize, but I'm reasonably confident that it isn't. The text is information about M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) the now-accepted "proper" name for chronic fatigue syndrome. I'm really delighted to say that I've been granted permission by the IACFSME to use their text in the book.
There isn't much to show you yet, as I am just cutting stencils, but here's a peek.

Next, I dragged out my lovely chunky drawing supplies and roll of cartridge paper and made a start on the tasks set by Dionne.

After a week or so of drawing it was time to try out some of the ways she showed us to translate those marks into textiles. It was all new information to me, and the results are wonderfully textural and exciting.

But you should see the state of my studio now!
(no photos, It isn't for public consumption)

With all these different projects on the go, it has just become layer upon layer of art materials and media, and quite honestly, there is not a bit of surface clear to work. I am forced to take my lap-top tray to the sofa in the living room to do anything. Of course, that's exactly what I'm doing - I can't stop now, can I?

But April really has to be the month of culling and tidying, or else by May I might not be able to get past the door.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The making of gerbera prints

It started in December when I received these gorgeous gerberas from some dear friends. Ages before I had decided that whenever I receive flowers, I would use them to try some ecoprinting. This was prompted by the sense that my gardening capabilities are rather limited by my lack of energy, not to mention living in a unit.

I also really like the fact that people usually give you flowers to mark an occasion, and so any prints I make with gifted flowers also mark the occasion, and in a way that endures and can be extended in all sorts of ways.

I decided to try "cold bundling" as described in India Flint's beautiful book Eco Colour.

Silk and wool (animal fibres) will take colour more simply than plant fibres like cotton, so I began with some silk that I had bought cheaply on ebay. Strictly speaking, silk doesn't require mordanting (treatment with any chemicals to assist dyeing) but I had no idea whether gerberas were likely to be successful or not, so I decided to try to help things along.

After washing and rinsing the silk, I put it into a bucket with a solution of vinegar and some used, but clean alfoil for 48 hours. At this point the flowers had passed their prime and the petals were starting to fall, so I laid them on one half of the damp silk, as you see below.

Next I sprayed the back of the flowers with more vinegar so they were damp, and folded over the rest of the silk.

The final step was to roll the silk as tightly as possible around a piece of dowel. Close contact between the flowers and the fabric is essential for the colour to transfer, so I wrapped an old crepe bandage over the whole thing and secured it in place with rubber bands. Then I wrapped the whole thing in plastic to keep it moist for as long as possible and waited.

I wasn't sure whether mold would be a problem so I carefully checked things every couple of days. After 15 days I saw a few spots starting so I decided it was time to unwrap my bundle.
Above you can see the silk still on the dowel and below with the dowel removed.

And here is the whole piece of fabric, still wet, hanging out to dry.

There is of course a loss of colour when the fabric dries. Below is how it looks now.
I'm over the moon!

These are the flowers after they've been through this process.

India Flint says that there is usually still plenty of colour left in plant matter after cold dyeing, so I put them into a preserving jar with some filtered tap water and a piece of alfoil to try some solar dyeing.

More about that later.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Visiting the State Library of Victoria

I'm spending a couple of weeks in Melbourne staying with family and yesterday I visited the State Library of Victoria.

Despite living here for two years, I had only visited the SLV once before. Quite odd really, given the ceramics department of RMIT is directly across the road and I am a book artist.

I had never been to the LaTrobe Reading Room, which you can see below is quite beautiful. It's topped with a glass dome and so is wonderfully light. I wandered around quite enchanted and spent more time there than I really had.

I actually went to the reading room to see the map-based book sculptures by Nicholas Jones, who I confess I did not previously know. These proved impossible to photograph without the glass dome reflecting in the glass cases, but did make for some pretty photographs.

Next I went to see the Mirror of the World, the exhibition drawn from SLV's collection of rare and significant books - and it was wonderful. I ran out of time, and am really happy that the exhibition is a permanent feature as it is well worth another visit. 

It presents a history of books, starting with the oldest book in the library's collection from around 400AD.

Below are some photos of books that particularly appealed to me from the first half of the exhibition as sadly I had to rush through the second half of the exhibition. The photos aren't great as I only had my iPhone and of course, the lighting was kept very low. Apart from the last photo, all the books are religious ones, as of course were the earliest books. The second half of the exhibition moved on to books of litery significance and modern artists' books.

The works of Augustine from ~400, showing the oak boards through the vellum

and metal clasps (and the shadow of my iPhone!

An illustrated Buddhist text in (I think) Sanskrit.

 A scrolled edition of the Torah, with silver reading pointer.
The Koran (my favourite in the exhibition)
Japanese concertina and stab-bound books

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Regenerate: Impress Printmakers Launch

I'm pleased and proud to be a part of this inaugural exhibition at the new premises of Impress Printmakers. You're invited to the Opening, but please note that it is necessary to rsvp. 

If you can't make it on the 21st, I hope you'll check out the show and new premises soon. The gallery will be open Thursday - Sunday, 10am-4pm, and the show will be up until March 30th.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Handmade Wedding Album

I rounded out last year by finishing this wedding present, a hand bound album to hold my friends J and B's wedding photos.

This has been the most technically challenging book I've made, being the largest and heaviest, and obviously needing to be able to be handled. Making it even more challenging was my promise to use an "across the spine" binding.

At the time when I suggested it, I knew how to do coptic binding and celtic binding, and I knew it would appeal to J. & B. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that they weren't really considered very stable, and particularly for a large heavy book like a photo album.

Once I was aware of this problem, I turned to my trusty Keith Smith books, (Volume III in particular.)  According to Smith, across-the-spine bindings, properly executed, are actually pretty stable. However he also noted that if you aren't convinced, it is possible to combine an across-the-spine binding and an along-the-spine binding.

And so that is exactly what I decided to do. Above you can see the central celtic binding (as taught to me by Adele Outteridge) which is sewn first. The icicle binding in white at either end of the spine is from Keith Smith's Exposed Spine Sewings. The thread runs the length of the signature , appearing on the spine at intervals to perform its decorative duties, which also add stability, and then finally crossing to the next signature. This definitely gives the binding a much firmer feel and although I wouldn't recommend frisbeeing the album across the room, I feel pretty confident about this choice of structure.

The covers are archival board covered with a handmade paper I found in Sydney. I used items I knew reflected J & B to make the album uniquely theirs: orange pekoe tea as a colorant, together with amber beads and a photo of the wedding guests taken before the ceremony. The pages are chocolate brown with old-style glassine interleaves.

And this is the calf leather case I made to protect the album when it isn't in use. I was inspired to try this after working a little with leather in Paris and realizing that it is actually a much more forgiving material than I ever realized. I discovered some historic bindings were stored in leather envelope-like cases and decided to design my own modern interpretation for J. & B.