Thursday, November 21, 2019

From Paddock to Mountain - Artist In Residence - Part 1

For two weeks I'm artist in residence at the Nancy Fairfax AIR Studio at the Tweed Regional Gallery in Northern New South Wales (Australia).

Its a 2 hour drive from home, past the Gold Coast and over the state border.  The Studio sits next to the gallery, overlooking cow paddocks and looking towards the impressive Wollumbin (Mt Warning).

Throughout her professional life Margaret Olley supported many artists through mentorship and financial assistance. The Nancy Fairfax Artist in Residence (AIR) studio continues this legacy as an extension of the recreation of Margaret Olley’s home studio at Tweed Regional Gallery.

The Studio has a self-contained accommodation unit, with a large adjoining studio space. Perfect for a retreat to concentrate on my art practice.

The Nancy Fairfax Artist in Residence Studio

I've set up my printmaking studio with my portable etching press 'Thumper'. I'll be working on monotypes, polyester plate lithographs, as well as making notes and drawings.

The gallery is just a few steps away, so no doubt I'll be lurking around there quite often, particularly in the Margaret Olley Art Centre which also has an excellent library of art books.

I'll be posting several times during my residency so you can share in my creative experiences in this wonderful space.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Crossing another one off the list

I'm often revisiting old prints and cutting them up, to remake the prints into artist books etc.  I find many forgotten treasures in my stash, each an opportunity to breathe new life into prints that sadly have been rejected as they're just not good enough for framing.

Last month, I was lucky enough to spend some time gallery sitting in Sydney.  I needed to take something to work on, but I didn't want to take my kit for printing.  I was thinking 'don't take too much stuff'....well, I still took too much stuff but I did achieve a goal of reworking prints into an artist book.

The prints were part of a series of monoprints that I did a couple of years ago for a hospital commission.  There was nothing wrong with the unused prints, they just weren't the best ones.

I had seen an artist book on Pinterest and had been contemplating it for a while.  I couldn't quite figure it out so I called on a fellow book artist to help me and she whipped up a sample pretty quickly (to my embarrassment!). Anyway..... that gave me the final motivation to make a book using the format.

Its a concertina book, displayed like a carousel book.  It has a folded cutout in the valley folds, revealing an 'inner circle'.  My prints were one-sided so I coloured the part that would show on the inside through the popout with loose gelatine prints, thus countering the hardness of the white paper and giving the viewer something interesting to look at as they peer through the cutouts.

After attaching covers and a tie using found string, the book is fully resolved.  I'm pretty pleased with it.  I'll probably use it as a sample to create another one using a different set of prints, next time I want the imagery of the prints to link to the format of the book.

Tick, cross that one off the list!  Onto the next project....

The basic fold and cut to create the pop outs. 
The concertina structure is made
up of multiple sections, each having this fold & cut
in the valley fold.

The concertina book showing the pop outs on the prints

The reverse side after the gelatine printing

Clipping the book together before glueing to
check it all works (generally a good idea!)
The completed book with covers tied together,
so it becomes a carousel type structure.

The book closed, revealing the triangular structure.  Nice!

A sexy viewpoint...i love those seductive folds!

A different view, with the book open lying on its covers.
Playing around with display the finished book gives me
more ideas how I could use this structure again.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Recording my travel experiences

During my recent trip to Curtin Springs Cattle Station in Central Australia, which I posted about here, I also completed a mixed media concertina sketchbook about my experiences.

My sketchbooks are not like travel diaries or nature journals, as they don't contain detailed sketches, perspective-accurate drawings or volumes of text. 

My sketchbooks are a chaotic mix of monoprinting, tracings, painting, and scribbles.  I like to think I am responding directly to what I am seeing and feeling, looking at pattern and repetition in the landscape, and generally just being loose and free with my creativeness.   This kind of approach ensures I don't worry when something doesn't look perfect, and I don't feel guilty when I use a bit of 'artistic licence' to interpret something my way. 

I like to work plen-air, sketching loosely from a 3 dimensional object rather than a photograph - I think this truly captures 'the moment' on the page.  Of course, photographs are useful for later, to add a touch of colour or other details not recorded at the time of drawing.

Below are some photographs of the concertina book I completed at Curtin Springs.  I used a variety of objects to create the imagery in my book. 

Plants and grasses were used for gelli plate monoprinting and drawing from.  I also drew seed pods.  The colours were inspired by the landscape.  I also used a stick to do some sepia ink drawings - a great way to loosen things up!  I use a variety of waterproof pens, from 0.05 to 0.8, and also a pen with a brush nib.  Water brushes with my watercolours also provide colour content.

It took me 6 days to complete my book on site.  I finished it off at home with a cover made from paper made from Curtin Springs grasses and a platted fibre tie.

If you're in the Sydney area and are interested in learning how to make this kind of book, I'll be running a workshop on 14 October at Me Artspace, St Leonards.  For more information and bookings, click HERE.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Ode to the Desert Oak

I'm in love with a tree.

Its the Desert Oak, from Central Australia.  Its latin name is Allocasuarina decaisneana and its a slow growing tree with the typical branchlets of the casuarina family.

Young trees have a narrow trunk and form, looking somewhat like old-fashioned feather dusters.  They mature to an adult form with spreading limbs and bushy foliage.

They tend to grow in multiples in the one area which creates a surreal looking landscape of the variously shaped trees in different growth stages.

During my recent trip to Curtin Springs Cattle Station, I decided to produce a work based on these trees.  When I visited in 2018, I did sketches of the trees, their branchlets and their cones.  This time I wanted to extend myself a bit more, and decided to use cyanotypes to record the trees.

Using my unit's bathroom, I created a darkroom to pre-coat my papers with the cyanotype solution, then exposed them the next day with various samples I had collected.   The sunlight was very strong, so I couldn't use my standard exposure times, but chose instead to work fairly organically and probably did overexpose the prints.  I love the serendipity of it anyway.

I've assembled the cyanotype prints into a concertina book, using a piece of my handmade paper I created from the station's grasses.  The cover features a sample of paper made from the Desert Oak.

We have casuarinas here on the coast, known as She-Oaks, but the Desert Oaks have really captured my imagination, so I've enjoyed creating this book to record my memories of them.

Recording Desert Oaks in my sketchbook in 2018.
Young Desert Oaks -
they look like feather dusters I think!

Mature Desert Oaks, surrounded by a few young ones.
I can still hear the wind whispering through the branchlets.
The front cover of my book, featuring
Desert Oak paper and cyanotype of the branchlets.

You can see the texture of the paper in this photo...yum!

Close up of some of the pages. I applied the cyanotype
solution roughly on purpose, leaving the white of the
paper showing through in places. 
To me, this evidence of brushstrokes replicates the breeze
was flowing through the oak's branchlets.

This photo shows the spine of handmade paper.
The earthy colour of paper sits well with the indigo of the cyanotypes.

Photo from the top downwards - you can see that I've glued
the cyanotype papers to the handmade paper spine.
A simple concertina construction that lets the cyanotypes and
handmade paper take centre stage.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Return to Curtin Springs

In 2018 I did a two week artist residency at Curtin Springs Cattle Station in Central Australia. 

Last week I returned to Curtin Springs as a tourist, along with 9 members of Papermakers & Artists Queensland (plus 5 husbands!).

We spent our week touring the property, making paper from grasses, sharing stories and laughter, and generally just being very creative.

I completed two artist books which I will tell you about in my next blog posts.

To find out more about Curtin Springs, here is the website

Mary and Wendy collecting grasses to make paper with.

Exploring a sand dune, looking for animal and bird tracks in the sand.

Gladys and Wendy couching their sheets of paper.
Both Gladys and Wendy work very texturally with their fibres.

Gladys adding dried plant fibre inclusions to her paper.

Helga and her husband Victor couching sheets.
The red coloured paper has red clay added to the vat.

Ngaire forming a sheet.

Bangtails - hair from cow tails - can be
added to the paper as an attractive inclusion.

My post - featuring a red clay paper.

The girls laminating their wet sheets to a smooth
surface to restrain dry.

Amee and Joanna cooking the grasses.
Amee giving basic instructions on how they work their paper mill.

Here I am doing a 'dance' on top of the post to manually
remove some of the water from the couched sheets.
Its usually done with a hydraulic press.

Here we all are, posing with our deckles in the paper studio.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Resonating with audiences

In previous blog posts over the past couple of months I have been posting photos and details of artworks for an artist book exhibition called 'Compassion' which was held during July and August.

One of the artworks 'Listening to Rain' sold during the exhibition.  I posted about the artwork here.

As it happened I was visiting the gallery when it sold, and it was lovely to speak to the purchasers.  I also received lots of positive feedback from many other people that passed through the gallery during the exhibition.  It seems that the concept behind the artwork and the quote from David Haskell's book 'The Song of Trees' really resonated with audiences.  I think everyone felt the connection of the author's words to the arrangement of the leaf monoprints.

And then I was approached to do a commission of 'Listening to Rain', as another viewer (on the same day) was interested in purchasing the work.  To repeat it or not.  I usually only like one-offs, which is why I love monoprinting.  I decided to take on the challenge to see if I could make another 'Listening to Rain', whilst retaining the essence and emotion of the original work.  I also had to remember how I put the first one together, a balancing act of hanging tape and waxed linen thread!

And after 5 weeks of work, 'Listening to Rain II' is complete.  It looks very similar to the original from a distance, but every detail is unique.  All of the leaves used for printing are different, the toned papers are different, and the repurposed wood used for the hanging is different. 

I hope that the new owners enjoy the work and are inspired like me by Haskell's words. And perhaps it might rain again one day as we are currently experiencing very dry and hot conditions (and its only early Spring!).

The printing of the leaves and feathers is the fun bit!

Laying out the  monoprints and getting
the spacing right - the tricky bit!

The completed work...SIGH.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Prints Unforgotten

I've got a huge stash of print 'seconds' in my studio, a large boxful. This is one of the issues of being a monoprinter - for me, there are many more unsuccessful prints than successful prints that I frame and sell.

Recently I came across a few prints of wrens that I did back in 2012.  Most of the series has been sold but the last few remaining prints I feel need 'something' to resolve them.  So I decided to dig out the paper stencils I used in that series -luckily I'm a bit of a stencil/paper hoarder so I still had them, and more importantly, knew where to find them!

So I recomposed the images using the original prints which I cut down to bleed prints (that is, no blank paper margin). I then used the stencils overtop of the prints to create a new scene, ensuring that the stencils extended beyond the background image. I feel that this gives a fresh dimensionality to the original image.

The prints are now rehomed in new raw wood frames with fresh mats, and ready to go back into the world and find new homes.

Moral of the story:  Never ignore your past work.....perhaps just rethink it in the context of your current art practice.

The original monoprint
The stencils used to create the 'Dance' series -
the monoprinting process transforms paper stencils
 into beautiful collage pieces

Recomposing the original print by adding stencils -
looking at colour, shape and balance.

The new work 'In the Shadows'.
Detail of 'In the Shadows'

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Experimental Marbling

I recently attended a workshop doing experimental marbling, Turkish style, by artist Bronwyn Rayner (instagram raynbowcrowstudios).

Although marbling is not part of my usual art practice, it was great fun and very relaxing.  A bit like gelatine monoprinting but more freeform and delicate.   I did lots of prints on paper as well as marbling 3D objects like fans, pots, and rocks.

I also managed to marble lots of japanese papers like kozo and book pages - these lighter weight papers will be perfect to use for chine colle with my drypoints.

Bronwyn showing me how to marble a fan -
harder than it looks!

Lightly pressing the fan onto the marbled surface.

The completed fan - I'm all
sorted for summer now!
We marbled leaves as well - gorgeous!
Using a pipette to drop the colour.
I love the circular organic shapes at this stage.

Using a wooden skewer to create a design.
This is the really fun bit!

I love big swirls and drops, rather than
fine designs.

Lifting the marbled paper out of the tray -
so exciting (and wet)!

One of my favourites - marbled paper
from a Japanese book

Another bold design that I love!