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.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Artist is in Residence....

I'm thinking of fluffy bunnies and laughing llamas, whilst binge-watching 'The Sound of Music' and dreaming of sun-showers and warm beach sand between my toes....

Welcome to my new happy place as we float along on plant Earth in this weird temporary world, staying home and quietly feeling grateful for all those people trying to make things right again.

With so much time at home, I've decided I'm going to have my own arts residency (AIR).  I've done a few AIRs in Australia, in some beautiful natural locations, so what better than to have one in my own studio, looking out over my own garden?

I've always wanted a clear calendar, now that my wish has been granted, its time to make a bucket list of projects to do my downtime justice.

1. The fun stuff - play with new inks, experiment with new monotype techniques....etc.

2. The not so fun stuff, but very important - clean out the top shelf of my storage shelving - there's some pretty scary stuff up there that I really need to clear out and make room for what I really need to be stashing.

3. The self-improvement/professional development stuff - learn how to write poetry and learn how to use words more creatively.  Challenging but I really need it. 

4. The other important stuff - keeping connected with my family, friends and the arts community. So I'm making lots of phone calls rather than SMS and I'm aiming to blog once a week about my AIR.

So this week's virtual AIR is - I'm going to imagine I'm in a secluded art studio in the mountains, surrounded by cool lush drippy rainforest, and I'm going to play with my new lithography inks and make some new plates.  So convenient I don't need to pack a thing to travel there....!

Good luck on your journey too whatever you choose to do, and remember, we're all in this together!

My happy place...memories of eating homemade raspberry ice-cream.
This photo was taken in early March in Tasmania. 
Seems like a lifetime ago now!
What's your happy place memory?

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Amongst the Mangroves

As an artist I get obsessed about things.  My latest obsession (and distraction) are the seeds of the Red Mangroves.  These can be found bobbing around our local mangrove creeks and in tidal flows.

My obsession really started during a recent kayaking trip to North Stradbroke Island.  The waters there are clear with lots of marine animals, invertebrates and plants - a wealth of inspiration and interest to an artist like me.

The selfie stick comes in handy when kayaking !
I'm hoping that I don't drop my phone in the water
as I take the photo....

Paddling up a beautiful little creek off Amity Point.
Can you feel the serenity and peacefulness from the photo?

I love the prop roots of the Red Mangrove.
So architectural!
Perhaps my next obsession.....?

Just passing by a mangrove tree at high tide and spotted
these little guys, difficult to photograph because
they kept moving around the other side of the tree from me.

I jumped out of the kayak at a sandbank to photograph the beautiful
mangrove seeds that have dropped from the trees.
This one still has its 'cap' on.

Here is a bit of information about the Red Mangrove Seed -

Flowering occurs in winter, with the production of a single-seeded, brown, oval-shaped fleshy fruit during summer.

Seeds germinate on the tree (vivipary), which results in the appearance of a long, green, rounded propagule (seedling) about 30 cm long. The propagule protrudes through the wall of the fruit to hang vertically beneath it. This buoyant germinated seed is the first stage of the root system.

- Qld Govt, Department of Agriculture & Fisheries 

Tidal detritus on the sandbank - a goldmine
of inspiration and musing....

Back in the studio, playing with drawings of the seeds.
I like the idea of oversized mangrove seeds on
a full sheet of watercolour paper.

More play, this time with monoprint and watercolour.
Didn't quite work but still lots of opportunities to work into it further.
Playing is tough, persistence and keeping an open mind is key.
Not everything works, but it helps to sort things out in my head.

More monotypes, now playing around with the idea of drawing.
I've been obsessed with circles and mandalas lately, so
these are popping up in my latest work as well.

Using drawings from my sketchbook as a reference, I'm
working into my monotype print with a detailed pencil drawing.
I'm using my magnifier to get into the detail. Very handy tool!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Feather : Leaf : Print - photos from opening night

Just a few quick snapshots from my 'Feather : Leaf : Print' exhibition opening night.  The exhibition was very nicely hung by the Tiny Tree Cafe staff, and the opening well attended.   Thanks to all who came along to support me and fellow artist Robert (ecodyeing on paper artworks in the adjoining gallery space).

I'm grateful for the opportunity to exhibit my prints in such a lovely little art space in the suburbs, thanks again to Heinz and staff who made sure everyone enjoyed their drinks and nibblies whilst us artists chatted to everybody.   🙏

The exhibition continues until the end of February.

Tiny Tree Cafe
420 Cavendish Road
Coorparoo, Brisbane

Open to 2pm daily, closed Sunday and Monday.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Feather : Leaf : Print

Since the Christmas break, I've been busy preparing for my next exhibition, titled 'Feather : Leaf : Print'.  Its being held at Tiny Tree Cafe at Coorparoo which has a beautiful little gallery space at the back.  White walls, so perfect for displaying my work.  I love these small suburban places where art is more approachable and relaxed.

However, every exhibition creates a mountain of work for an artist.  Not only the creation of the artwork itself, but also documentation, framing, labels, bio, artist statement, promotion, delivery, installation, opening night etc etc.  And with the installation deadline looming, I must admit I've been spending more time on the fun stuff (making the artwork) in the past few weeks.   I know that I've already have a lot of artwork ready to go, but I love the excitement of creating new works and exploring new ideas.

So yes, I've been creatively busy (I can't help myself).  Over the break, I dug out my indigo dyeing kit that I bought after doing a workshop FIVE years ago and have got it going (finally).  My little black bucket is now a blue-heavenly witches indigo brew which I don't have to share with anyone and I can just step outside my studio and start dipping my papers.   Now I know that it's very naughty that it took me five years to do it, but I'm so loving doing it that I'm contemplating buying ANOTHER kit, but I know that it will probably take another few years to use that one, so I'll stay strong and resist that urge and just enjoy this one while it lasts.

I've also been playing around with cyanotypes, including wet cyanotypes, which of course seems to have brought on the rainy weather. My garden is thanking me, though the chickens aren't so keen on being damp.

Anyway.... having an indigo dye bath, cyanotypes and my printer 'Thumper' on the go, its been a golden opportunity to mix the three up a little.  An example is a wet cyanotype that didn't quite go to plan, so I dipped it into the indigo a few times, dripped water on it (which then obscured the feather cyanotype) so then I needed to monoprint the feathers on.  Fun, scary fun.    Now just waiting for the sun to come out to play more with the cyanotypes and to warm up the indigo bath and off we go again......

My exhibition at Tiny Tree Cafe (420 Cavendish Rd Coorparoo) opens on Tuesday 28 January at 5.30pm, please join me if you're in the area.  The exhibition continues until 22 February.  I hear they have some wickedly amazing European handmade cakes............!   The bonus is that two other artists are also exhibiting work, including Robert Astill with his eco-dyeing.  Sounds like it'll be worth the big slice of cake to see it all......

Indigo Dye Pot = Black Bucket

Indigo dyeing on paper,
dipping mindfulness exercise!

Close up ... with some water splashes
to make it interesting
This is a failed cyanotype of feathers,
which I have dipped in the indigo...
lovely effects.  I think I also
left it out in the rain overnight accidentally!
A detail of the failed cyanotype, with
feathers monoprinted on top.
I've called this one 'Fresco'
because it reminds me of a wall mural.