Saturday, January 16, 2021

Forming the sheets - papermaking with local kozo

Hello everyone!  Welcome to a new year, a new start, full of new opportunities and continuing challenges.

In November last year, I posted about an online papermaking workshop that I have been participating in.  Read about it HERE.

Since then I've progressed further with my process - including cooking and beating, as well as the most exciting part - the forming of the sheets.

It was a long, very physical process, different to my usual fibres of native grasses and banana trunks.  A surprisingly meditative process (in other words, lots of patience and attention required!).  Not something I'd do if I was in a rush.

I produced a small series of sheets, using both a Japanese-style sugeta and my western style mould with a circle deckle.  I've very happy with completed sheets - they have the softness and strength of kozo, though a little more beige than the white sheets I made in Japan a few years ago. That's most likely from contamination from the outer bark.  But I'm very proud that I made it myself - from the sourcing, the collecting, the peeling, the stripping, the cooking, the hand beating, and the forming of sheets.  An intense journey over a couple of weeks!

During the workshop I enjoyed connecting with papermakers from the other side of the world (Northern hemisphere) and listen to their own journeys with this beautiful fibre.

Many thanks to Amy our tutor in Florida for her documentation and videos which will continue to assist me as I work my way through the rest of the fibre that I have collected (I have only used a tiny fraction of what I collected so far!).

I'm planning on using my kozo sheets to create an artwork for submission to the International Paper Fibre Art Biennial Exhibition Kozo Contemporary exhibition later this year.

Paper Mulberry inner bark fibre during cooking.
I used washing soda to break down the fibres.

Hand beating with a mallet, an art in itself
as well as a work out!

The beaten fibre.  I preferred my fibre
with a bit of texture, so I probably didn't
beat it as long as I should have....

I used okra to create my formation aid,
which is a viscose liquid added to the vat
to help the fibres float in the water.
This helps to create more even sheets.

My circle sheet of paper on my
western-style mould,
ready to couch off.

My homemade Sugeta,
using an old sushi mat.
There's a sheet of paper on there ready to couch.
Luckily I used one of these in Japan a few years
ago so I had some idea on how to form the sheet,
but its still very tricky as I remember!

You can see the beautiful textures
of the dried kozo paper.

Circle sheets drying on my board.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Trying out Letterpress

Anyone can print text onto paper using their computers and home printers, but there's something special about type that has been pressed with ink into paper.  For me, there is a mystery and allure of letterpress, the serendipity of slight imperfections of old wood type, the breaking down of words into single letters arranged and printed by hand.

I've been working with artists books for many years, and have been wanting to try out letterpress as a way of incorporating text into my work.  I like the idea of hand printed type sitting alongside my monoprints and lithographs.  I've also been working on some creative writing projects this year, so would love to print some of my poetry using letterpress.

So, once Covid-safe restrictions allowed, my first step was to spend a day at a letterpress studio, to see what the process of letterpress was.  I visited Deckle Edge Press, run by calligraphic and book artist Fiona Dempster in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast ( The moment I walked through the doors, I knew I was in art heaven. The walls of her studio are lined with an assortment of large wooden cases, with long narrow drawers packed with metal and wood type, as well as various printing presses, rubber rollers, papers and plenty of inspiration in the displays of  Fiona's beautiful and thoughtful artworks.

For my first go, I picked a couple of words from one of my poems ' Silent : Listen '.  It was exciting to be able to select the font, then find the tray of type, then set up my 'chase' - which is the metal frame which holds the type to be printed.  There is an amazing letterpress language which has been developed over the centuries - for example, forme, fount, furniture, galley, leads, make ready, pica, planer, quoin, reglet, slug ...the list goes on!

I was able to print my words onto a variety of papers, including my handmade papers.  I plan to use the papers as a basis for prints, perhaps a series.  And I'd like to go back and print the rest of the poem now that I have some experience with handling the type.  I'm trying not to take on any more art techniques, but I can see that I'll be right at home working with letterpress in Fiona's studio when I'm ready to take the next step.

One of the trays of metal type

Setting up the type block with my chosen font,
I had to remember to put it in backwards/upside down.

Yay!  A successful print.

Soooo beautiful

Soooo organised

There's something so lovely about
old ink-stained wood

That's a BIG H....!

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!