Saturday, November 28, 2020

Papermaking in a Pandemic world

This year many of us have been relying on Zoom and other digital platforms to participate in the arts community.

One of my recent experiences has been to participate 'virtually' in an international  papermaking workshop.

The workshop is being supported by the National Taiwan Craft Research Institute with workshop tutor Amy Richard from the USA.

The workshop has been offered to artists to develop skills in working with kozo fibre, challenging and inspiring them to translate their fibre into creative art works, which hopefully will be exhibited in the International Paper Fibre Art Biennial Exhibition Kozo Contemporary exhibition in 2021.  I'm one of 14 artists selected to participate, from countries such as Taiwan, United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, and USA.  

Its an interesting format, with face-to-face discussions via Google Meet as well as course content delivered via slide shows and pre-recorded videos.  Sorting out the different time zones for everyone to meet up was interesting!

The kozo fibre is sourced from the Paper Mulberry plant.  This is an introduced weed species in Australia, so my first challenge was to find a reliable source in my home town of Brisbane.  I did a lot of online research using databases such as the Living Atlas of Australia ( as well as reaching out to local conservation groups.  I personally visited at least six sites without any luck in finding the plant, but after some intense focused bush-bashing and creek rock-hopping, I found what I needed to be able to collect enough fibre.

Kozo is a beautiful fibre, used in countries such as Korea and Japan for papermaking, and its made using the inner bast of the branches of the Paper Mulberry.  

As I've worked my way through the online modules of the workshop, I've learnt how to steam, strip, and clean the fibres.  The next step is the cooking and hand beating, then finally onto forming sheets - this will feature in a future blog post.

Below are some photographs of my progress so far -

Jackpot! I found what I was looking for.

Collected branches - ready to steam,
then I strip the bark off.

Scraping the outer bark from the inner bark

The kozo fibre, ready for cooking.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Open Press Project

I'm a lucky printmaker.  I own two etching presses - a large studio press as well as a medium size portable press.  I also own an Xcut diecut machine (used in scrapbooking) which enables me to print A4 or smaller prints and is excellent for travel and workshops.

But recently I discovered the Open Press Project.  The aim of this international project is to open up accessibility to printmaking to more people through mini etching presses that are 3D printed.  

They can be ordered through their website or you can get your own printed, which is what I did.

The designs are printer-ready and available for free via the links on their website, with lots of advice about the print settings required.  I don't have a 3D printer so I sent the information to a local suburban guy who I found via google.  He gave me a quote, which was just over $110AUD.

When I received the parts, I gave a few of the pieces like the rollers and bed a light sand then put them together.  Its pretty easy.  In addition, I had to get a few bolts and nuts from the hardware store and cut a small felt blanket from a few scraps that I had in my stash.  For studio use, I'll need to screw the press to a piece of wood so I can clamp it to my studio benchtop.

Although I could assemble the press quite easy, I found a YouTube video by  Imagination Labs  which was helpful.  Its also fascinating to watch the printing process.

My little press weighs 377grams including the bed.  If I don't glue it together I can dissemble it for travel or storage if I want.  It measures 10cm W x 13cm L x 15cm H.  The bed is 7.5cm W x 14.3L.  I'm thinking I could get a longer bed printed if I wanted to make longer prints.

My first test print was a small collagraph plate of a fern (which I had put together some time ago), and I printed it intaglio style.  A total success!  

This opens up a heap of possibilities for everyone, thank you to Martin and Dominik of Open Press Project.

I can see that this little press will come in handy for our caravan and camping trips... I could even sneak it into my kayak! 😀

My "Mini-Me" 3D printed etching press

My collagraph plate, 
before inking with Akua ink

Revealing the print.

The print (and plate).

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Watercolour Leaf Printing

I knew there was a reason I'm a facebook user..... I ignore all of the depressing news stuff and follow some very interesting art related groups.  These groups bring together like-minded people who post all sorts of photos and information about what they doing in their art studios.  Sometimes I find some particularly tempting techniques, such as leaf printing using watercolours.

I give my acknowledgements and thanks to Karen Rush who posted in Craft Press Printmakers facebook group, where she introduced this technique that she learned from Rebecca Chamlee of Pie in the Sky Press.  

Its a straightforward process.  You paint dry leaves with watercolours, let dry, then print onto damp watercolour paper.  Its wonderful that something so simple can produce lovely results, without all the mess and fuss of the usual monoprinting processes.

I've shared this technique a couple of times with friends, and we've had a great time sitting around a table (social distanced of course!) painting, printing, chatting..... and then laughing over the ones that don't quite work.  

I'm grateful that at the moment we can gather together with friends to make art, but if you can't, please try it yourself.  Its a great dining table activity with children or if you have a spare hour or two.

To print the leaves, I used my Xcut diecut machine, but you could use any craft press or manual pasta maker.  You could try hand printing, but you may not get the detail of the veins or it might move around a bit.  Of course you can always 'tweak' the less successful ones with a fine marker pen and more watercolour when it drys.  Nothing is ever wasted!

Two colours on a grevillia leaf.
Leaves with interesting silhouettes and veins are best.

Two or more colours works best.
I put a layer of pink, let it dry a bit, then
added the paynes grey.

Yes this is a print, not the actual leaf!
I've found that the colour improves
after a few prints and re-inkings.
This one started with orange, then a mix of yellow ochre,
sepia then other colours I can't remember....
That's the magic of monoprinting,
it keeps it secrets well!

Beautiful colours and a bit of embossing too.

Applying watercolour, but
keeping water to a minimum because you
need the pigment to be strong.
Let dry before printing.

Another beautiful leaf! 
I think its the one I'm painting in the photo above.
These will make beautiful cards - I use double
sided tape to mount the print onto coloured card.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Sharing Nature Sketchbooks

Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings have eased in Queensland, for a while perhaps, so I'm finally able to offer face-to-face workshops again.  I'm so grateful for the opportunity to get back into running workshops in this 'new normal' world of hand sanitiser and social distancing.

I'm currently facilitating a series of 'Mixed Media Nature Sketchbook' workshops, combining gelatine plate monoprinting with drawing and watercolours in a concertina format.  Its a technique I've developed to combine my love of printmaking with the intimacy of sketching.  My books are always centered on a personal experience of place, usually involved with travel to national parks or coastal areas.  

The following photos highlight the results of two of my recent workshops, I hope you enjoy the imagery as much as my workshop participants did!

My work, a workshop demonstration

My work, scribbly gum inspired, workshop demonstration

Student work, I love the watercolour work on this one.
Viridian green can be hard to work with, but it really makes the work pop

Student work, guess what her favourite colours are!
I love seeing colour combinations that are so different to my own.

Student work, in progress.
This book was inspired by wattle trees.

Student work, wonderful to see them all at the end of the workshop!

Beautiful work girls!  A lovely day out for a group of like-minded friends.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Nature Journaling and Writing

Over the past few weeks, I've been working with Brisbane City Council to help facilitate a series of nature journaling workshops.

It seems that nature journaling has become more popular as we try to reconnect more directly with the natural world around us.  This is very promising as its introducing a wide range of people and children to a world they usually only glance at as they walk through forest and parks.

I don't regard myself as a 'nature journaler'.  I think sometimes the technique gets a bit too caught up in layout and design.  I'm more of a sketchy scratcher -  my sketchbook is full of odds and ends of pencil, pen, watercolour and writing, some pages half-done, some abandoned, some loved to death.

During the workshops, I really enjoyed sharing my love of art and the natural world with others and being able to give each person a way of entering into the world of observation, curiousity and 'slow' journaling.  My emphasis was on using writing (for example, asking questions, recording sensory experiences, lists, or weather observations) and not being concerned with the 'right' way to do it, just record your own story, your own experience of this place, this eco-system, this plant.

By the way, I gained some of my skills via the free 6-week online Natural History Illustration course - click HERE for more information.

And now for a few photos, including a few from my sketchbook.  I hope that you might get out into nature soon with your sketchbook and pencil.  Take a moment or two to give the natural world your full attention.  The attention it deserves.

Nature Journaling at Boondall Wetlands

Some pages from my sketchbook

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Drawing inspiration from the natural world

I've developed a new habit - notetaking - when out and about walking, riding, or kayaking in local bushland and creek areas.  It's a habit which I've developed since I've started exploring poetry and creative writing.  My goal is to get impressions and words out of my head and down onto paper immediately when the thoughts come to me.  I've found that I think deeper and more creatively when I'm in the environment.  And I also forget to write things down I get back to the car or home.

I made a couple of simple pamphlet stitch notebooks using an old sketchbook and some reject prints. Even though I have lots of ready-made notebooks, its so nice to make your own.  It's also the perfect size to fit into the palm of my hand.

At home, I transcribe my notes into word lists, which I then use as a source for writing my poetry.  I've found that the notetaking is really helping me with my observation and attention skills when out in nature.  And writing it down in-situ avoids any memory frustrations 😊

Here's some examples of poetic exercises in which I've used my notes from a recent kayak trip:

Syllabic Verse - Two Stanzas of alternating 7-5-7 syllables

Olive green water, opaque
ripples mirror my
boat drifting with the current.

Horizontal branches reach
out, filtering light,
soft shadows and reflections.

Syllabic Verse - One stanza of verse running 3 6 1 4 8 4 1 6 3 syllables

Bronze liquid,
rhythm of paddle strokes,
clothed in shadows.
Mangrove honeyeater forest
ends suddenly,
water outflow like a

So much inspiration amongst the mangroves -
reflections, the smell of mud, honeyeaters,

Paddling a kayak and writing in my notebook
can be a challenge....but luckily my partner
Craig is very patient and waits for me.
He is already used to me taking photos and
a few selfies!

My handmade notebook, also
challenging to keep it dry when
out on the water
Some of my notes....errrrr....scribbled

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Distractions, Diversions and Divine Interventions

In my last post I referred to things not going to plan.  Well, its been nearly six weeks of Covid-19 lockdown and I've found myself in a totally unexpected place with respect to my art practice.

I have to admit I've lost my art 'mojo'.  I'm normally right into my printing, drawing, making - I'm quite prolific.  I've got folders and boxes full of prints, artist books, various work-in-progress, UFOs (unfinished objects), and art supplies.  Plenty of evidence of a healthy, productive and enjoyable art practice centred around making, creating and doing.

But for the past couple of weeks, I haven't felt the need to make anything.  My printing presses lay idle, I haven't touched my gelatine plate, no inks to clean up.

But I have been busy, and embracing the change in direction.  I've been busy looking after 'me', doing a 'spring cleaning' of my art practice.  More time thinking, reading and writing.

Lets wind back the clock to earlier this year before we had heard of Covid-19......  I signed up for a 12 month research program with art educator Ruth Hadlow, with five other artists.  The program has a focus on reading, writing and guided working on individual art/research projects.   My goal for this program was to challenge myself, work on some new ideas, and experiment with a new direction.

And having the lockdown has helped interrupt my 'routine' and enabled me to slow down and divert off onto a new road.

In the past few weeks, I've embraced a new way of working for a while - thinking and writing.
I'm studying the art of creative writing, specifically poetry, using audiobooks and ebooks.  I've enjoyed listening to Stephen Fry with his book 'An Ode less Travelled', learning about poem structure.  I'm also working my way through Diane Lockwards' books 'The Crafty Poet'.

And what I've learnt is that writing is helping me to focus my attention, much like drawing helps you to observe better.   Words are helping me to connect with the ideas floating around in my head, getting them down onto paper is giving me a new perspective on my passion for the natural world.  I can see how this mode of practice will give my making more meaning and satisfaction.

So you might see a few more creative words in my blog posts in the future, but don't worry it won't be all words, I can feel my urge to make something again getting stronger and more insistent ....or maybe that's because my world is slowing coming out of lockdown again, the spell is being broken!

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Artist is in Residence - playing with drypoint

Week 4 of lockdown and I'm getting more comfortable with my new 'normal' routine.

I think I can admit at this stage that having more time at home doesn't equate to a productive art studio.  There's still plenty of distractions - beautiful weather, bike rides, kayaking adventures in local creeks, a large backyard habitat garden to maintain, art webinars, applying for funding, all those yummy recipes I've wanted to try, and neglected sewing projects that I was waiting for that spare time to tackle.

So for this week's artist in residence at home, I have only managed to play around with some drypoint printing of wrens and Willy Wag Tails.  I had taken some photos of these cute birds at home and on past camping trips, so it was time to use the photos to make some small drypoints.

I like these simple prints, just a bird, no background, to bring out the bird's character and appeal.

As usual, not all goes to plan.....

Drawing on the plate using source photograph

Applying textures using sandpaper, this
holds the tone on the plate

First print from that plate....URGH!
Not at all the result I wanted, after a couple more prints
I decided that it was the plate that was the problem.
Time to start again.

The new plate in progress, just a simple outline to start with.

A print from the new plate, with the simple outline.
Needs a lot of work, but I've been distracted
gardening, sewing, cycling, kayaking etc etc.
Work in Progress!

A cute wren photograph I took on a camping trip

Print from my drypoint plate.

Willy Wag Tail in my garden.
Willy Wag Tail print.

Testing out hand colouring using watercolours on a photocopy.
Red?  Green? Sepia? 
Handcoloured print.
The yellow ochre paint helps to give the
print a lift and highlight the bird.  So cute!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Artist is in Residence - Exploring the Mangroves and Tidal Zones

How's your lockdown/stay-at-home time going?  I'm continuing with my self-residency @ home daydream.....

Since I 'returned' from my virtual lithographic residency in the mountain rainforest (see last week's POST), I've been lurking around tidal zones amongst the mangroves and mud.  It's a favourite place of mine, with lots of childhood memories associated with it.

We've been out on our kayaks a couple of times in the past week, luckily kayaking for fitness is allowed under the lockdown laws!

So this week at my self-residency @ home I decided to finish off a project.  It was intended for an exhibition in June, but that has of course been postponed, but its time I resolved the artwork.

To get you in the mood and so you can fully appreciate my headspace in this week's residency project, here's a short video of me out on the water in my kayak.  It might give you a feel of the moment I'm blissfully just floating along listening to the birds.  If the video doesn't play via your email feed, you can view it directly on my BLOG or Instagram feed.

The work I completed this week is some 3D sculptures of mangrove seeds.  I wanted to have larger-than-life seeds to hang on the wall, featuring monoprints using leaves from the tidal zones.  The scultpures will sit alongside some other works on paper that I started in this blog HERE.

So my first step was to print lots of monoprints on lightweight papers, such as tissue and japanese kozo. Its great fun and freeing to randomly print without worrying about composition.  I used my oil-based inks and my Xcut press for maximum colour and detail. Here are a few samples:

The next step was to make the mangrove seeds.  I created wire and paper frameworks then covered them in a product called Paper Magiclay.  Its a lovely soft flexible product that air dries.  It was a fun process recreating my large seed models based on the shapes of actual seed pods.  I inserted small loops of wire on the back so the seeds can seamlessly hang on the wall, like they're floating.

I then tore my prints into small pieces and glued them onto the paper seeds, in a paper mache-like style.  I used a mixture of Yamanto japanese glue and PVA.  I painted the seed tips with acrylic paint and I also printed using my gelatine plate over the top in sections to add some more detail.  More is better!

In progress

The final step this week was to apply encaustic wax, to seal the work and give it a rich dimensional look.  This is a 2 step process - applying liquid wax then fixing it with a heat gun.  Drippy, messy fun!

I melt my wax in tins in a skillet filled with water, on a low heat
setting.  I use unrefined beeswax that I source from farmers markets.

Applying heat to the wax melts it into the paper
and makes it transparent.
The end result is some interesting representations of the mangrove seed.  I like the layers of prints using leaves from the tidal zones on top of the seed structure, as a kind of representation of the connection of the different elements from the tidal zone.

I'm happy with the completed works, hopefully they will get selected and exhibited when the galleries are open again.  In the meantime, they'll hang on my wall, assuming I manage to find a spot amongst all the other artworks!

The finished works.
The longest one measures 64cm.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Artist is in Residence - Playing with new Lithography Inks

Week one of my 'stay at home' Artist in Residence - I've been playing with lithography.

About a year or so ago I was introduced to Polyester Plate Lithography - this is lithographic printing using a special plastic plate.   Lithography is a printmaking technique based on the concept that oil repels water.

This week I have been printing a plate I've made using a drawing of a Stone Curlew - look them up HERE - one of my favourite local urban birds.  I did the drawing on cartridge paper using black marker pens (0.3 to 0.8), then photocopied the drawing onto the plate using a laser printer.  The heat of the printer fixes the toner to the plate, and its ready to print.  Easy!

I wet down the plate with a mix of water and Gum Arabic.  I then rolled the lithographic ink over the plate, taking turns of wetting and wiping with a sponge then rolling etc etc.  The plate must be wet so that only the image accepts the ink.

I then printed the plate using my Xcut machine on damp paper.

All good fun, I plan to do some more printing tomorrow.  Right now its time to get out into the garden and get some fresh air!  I just wish there was a real Stone Curlew out there.....

My printing area in my studio, you can see my Xcut printer
in the bottom right corner. 
My 'inspiration' pin board is behind my work bench,
looks kind of cluttered but totally OK in my mind!

My new inks, expensive at $40 tube but I'm
hoping will perform better than my etching inks.

My polyester plate on the left and print on the right.
Like two curlews checking each other out!

Wiping the plate with water between inking rolls.

Detail of the sponge in action.
Gloves are great for printmaking as well as for
virus protection....

Rolling the ink, back and forth, side to side.
Then wipe down with water again.

Disappointingly and not surprisingly,
the plate was a bit dirty and left marks on the print.
Perhaps an opportunity to monoprint onto
the background to disguise it? 

A finished print.
I did four, this was the best one.

Gum Arabic - the key to this lithographic technique.