Tuesday, 4 December 2012

artists in conversation

I'm in love with a book I'm reading and think you might like it too. In many ways it encapsulates my dream job: interviewing artists and designers about their practice over many decades. 

'Artists in Conversation' by Australian journalist Janet Hawley has just been published and is well worth a read.
Hawley interviews many interesting (mostly Australian) artists and presents the book as a series of essays about each one. As this review points out "Spanning continents and decades, Artists in Conversation brings to life the creative talents of more than 30 artists including Brett Whiteley, Ben Quilty, Margaret Olley, Bill Henson, John Brack, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Adam Cullen, John Wolseley, John Olsen and Albert Tucker, among others."

I've read about 7 chapters so far and was moved to tears by one in particular where Hawley reprints letters between the then dying Lloyd Rees and Brett Whiteley. So poignant.

What's quite special about this collection of artist portraits is the way in which Hawley has developed quite intimate friendships with each of them over long periods of time. Often holidaying with the artists and their families, and always being invited for studio visits and meals and long, interesting, thoroughly-worth-reading conversations. She has the inside scoop on what plagues them, what stirs and motivates them and what fame has meant for their lives and their creative work. 

You can listen to an interview with Janet about her book here recorded 15 November on ABC Radio National Books and Arts Daily.

Fascinating, I tell you!

Dream job indeed. So I'm putting it out there. I'm available to do this kind of project for printmakers if anyone has funding. Just saying.....

Saturday, 3 November 2012

studio thoughts

2 plate etching
succulent blossom in sepia
etching press
APW studio
my work area - blood bath!
studio buddy's work area
drying rack
I've made my first use of the Australian Print Workshop's (APW) beautiful print studio. What a fun day! For me it was mostly about process and practice, and getting a better feel for the intaglio experience. As a relief printer and screen printer, intaglio is opening up a whole new, delicious world for me in printmaking. At the moment I'm just producing drypoint etchings. I have not worked up the courage to go near the acid bath and do anything that tricky.

Working in a communal print studio like APW's is a pretty wonderful experience. There was a collective buzz about the place as people went about their printing business, but also plenty of conversation and friendly advice for me when I asked questions. Mid morning an art tour group came through and watched us work. While that was a bit nerve-wracking it was also really good to talk to people who wanted to know more about printmaking.

One woman in the tour group asked me if working in a communal print studio had any benefits to working alone. Without a doubt I said yes. For example, yesterday I worked next to a monoprinter. I haven't done mono prints since high school, so for me to work next to my studio buddy all day was a wonderful way to revisit that process. And boy could she produce fantastic Goya-esque monoprints! There were other etching artists working there too so I was able to bug them with questions throughout the day about materials and process. And I got to see their prints together with mine on the drying boards. It was a lot of fun to see what concepts people are working with and how they resolve into prints.

One special treat I had was to work with an ancient etching press [pic 3 above] all day. What a beauty that old lady is! She's hard work to pull a print through but in many ways working like that is also very satisfying.

As you can see by the prints I made above I'm still working with botanical images, specifically succulent flowers. I'm a bit obsessed with the process and evolution of life at the moment and botanicals is the way I want to communicate the ideas I have about this. So there will be more to come!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

blood red

There's been some printing going on around here! This time I've made up a rich blood red ink and printed my banksia pod design with it. I quite like the way it came up against the warmth of the linen.

I use 2 types of Russian linen - a warmer colour called 'flax' and a slightly cooler one called 'oatmeal'.

pic 1: flax
pic 2: oatmeal
pic 3: oatmeal
pic 4: flax

The thing I LOVE about printing on 100% linen is the way these towels wear over time to a gorgeous softness with use in the kitchen. And linen is such a beautiful natural product. Remember this video I posted last year about how it's made?

Oh, and they're in the shop. Of course. Xmas pressies perhaps???

Saturday, 13 October 2012

etching class with Bridget Farmer

some of the work I made at Bridget's studio
Fruiting Habit
The lovely Daylesford sky

After spending 2 days in Bridget Farmer's gorgeous print studio near Daylesford I feel very inspired and energised.
Bridget taught me the ins and outs of drypoint etching and I seriously think I've found a new printmaking addiction. Bridget's work alone is inspiring enough. Take a look at this gallery of some of her gorgeous bird etchings. Oooh la la! Aren't they just divine?

Bridget's originally from Northern Ireland but has lived in Australia for a few years now. Her current home is the gorgeous bushland near Daylesford which is where you'll also find her peaceful printmaking studio. And I can vouch that Bridget knows her birds! Her studio has several enormous windows looking onto the bush and while we chatted over lunch and cups of tea she regularly pointed out various little feathered beauties as they perched in tree branches nearby. I was impressed. My own bird naming knowledge doesn't extend much beyond knowing what galahs, lorikeets, cockatoos and the occasional magpie look like.

And the printmaking! What fun! Working in the etching medium allowed me to unleash my passion for linear forms, something that is quite hard to portray through relief printing, like woodblock or lino. So based on my botanical sketches I printed up a storm of various botanical inspired etchings and got to experiment with colour and shading under Bridget's support and guidance. I can't speak highly enough of the soft and gentle approach Bridget has towards teaching what she knows about etching. It was a really magical couple of days for me.

The good news is Bridget's running classes. So you too can learn about various kinds of etching processes in the peace and quiet of Bridget's lovely bushland studio.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

embodiment + sense-making

indigo dyed shibori textiles
ghost print on paper
snow gum in ice blue on 100% linen

I'm still working out the specifics of Instagram but have been playing there a bit this week for the first time @kyliebudge. Boy, there is just a world of non-stop beauty and inspiration in that app, no? I know I could easily lose a lifetime looking down into my phone screen perusing all that people post there. Wondrous!

Speaking of visuals and the role of them in sense-making for artists, there is a pretty cool new post on Pat Thomson's blog by Megan McPherson (@meganjmcpherson and @thomsonpat on twitter) that you might want to check out. In it Megan talks about the role of visuals and journals in sense-making for artists and it made me think of the way blogs and visual repositories like Flickr and Instagram do that for many of us. Go read and see what you think.

One of the topics the post touches on is embodiment. I've been thinking a LOT about this in terms of the big story I'm working on (a PhD about creative practice and the teaching of art and design in universities). Funnily enough this topic crossed my mind yesterday morning when I was home sick with a cold. I should have been writing, or at the very least analysing interview data but I was in that thick fog that colds bring on (still am really) where it's hard to make the brain work. So instead I did some printing. This decision was so automatic for me that it was only later I realised it has something to do with embodiment. While I still have to use my brain to think while printing it's different from how it's used when I'm writing. And I think it has something to do with how printmaking has become embodied for me through years of practice. By this I mean I can more or less just do it without thinking about it too much or over-analysing. And it feels good to do when the brain is tired. Even relaxing.

If you want to read more about embodiment in the context of art practice go read Erin O'Connor's work. If you're up for a big read here's a link to her thesis. Erin's PhD was an in situ ethnography about how it felt to become a glassblower - from novice right through to expert over about 3-4 years. She writes a lot about embodiment of practice and also language and culture in the context of glassblowing. Really fascinating stuff (ok, I might be nerding out here but I really do think that).

I'm really interested to know - do you feel like you embody some aspects of your art or design practice? In what ways have you noticed this?

Monday, 24 September 2012

shibori + indigo = love

Shibori class floor
work drying & oxidising
one of my test pieces
another test piece of mine
other students' text pieces
There's nothing quite like trying something new to give you a buzz. Jo Fowles taught a shibori indigo dye workshop over the weekend at the wonderful Harvest Workroom. I went along on Sunday and helped out. Which meant I got to see Jo in action and participate in some of the fun. In short, I got my hands dirty - blue dirty - as anyone who has worked with indigo will tell you they get even with gloves on! Originally from London Jo is now based in Sydney and creates the most dreamy geometric inspired textiles based on a combination of techniques. She says she is "process driven" and this shows in her passion to get people working and trying things out. You must, must, must check out some of Jo's work here.

In the workshop we used a whole range of wonderful tools and paraphernalia to twist, tie, clamp and stuff into our textile pieces before dyeing. We then dunked these into indigo dye vats and waited to see what would result. There was quite a bit of excitement happening as each person untied, unwrapped or unclamped their work. There were lots of surprises and part of the learning was about letting going of expectations about what we thought would result to play and experiment and let the process show us what was possible. The indigo cloth spectacular at the back of the Harvest Workroom by mid afternoon was really something to be seen.

I'm told via a reliable source that Jo will be back at Harvest Workroom in January for more textiles fun. You can find all the information about that here. I think yesterday may have ignited a little fire for me. If only I could get my hands into an indigo vat on a regular basis!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

the honey makers

So this one had a hard birth. The design came quick enough but then I wasn't happy with it as just a single colour print. The bees were meant to be just the one (not the 5 here) and it (the bee) was going to be in black too originally. And that all changed as I started printing which meant the bees got added one by one in that bright punchy yellow. I do mostly like a monochrome palette but occasionally I can let myself add a splash of colour to lighten the energy in a print.

So 'the honey makers' is here in gorgeous 100% linen + ready for use.

Some thoughts on process this week....I've been spending time with quite a few creative folk of late due to the 'big story' I'm writing (a PhD - some background on my other world here) and it's been a glorious thing. I've had a number of similar conversations about process birthing ideas for future projects/work. That is, you start working on something and while you're in there with your creative juices flowing it generates ideas for all kinds of other work. It's like you have to be immersed in the creative process to help this other generative process happen. Well in printing over this weekend I felt that happen. My head has been gurgling with all kinds of ideas for future designs and illustrations. Mostly I think it's a result of trialing designs, manipulating them, problem solving on the hop and then eventually resolving the design issues. Something happens in my creative head space when all of that other stuff is working away. Does that happen to you?

Saturday, 8 September 2012

ice blue

Sometimes you've got to go with the idea of 'less is more'. Even though the over-printing on the snow gum print was working out I decided that I wanted to have a single print of this design on linen as well. So I mixed up a nice ice blue this morning as an experiment. Then a printmaker on twitter, @meganjmcpherson, suggested that the coolness of the blue against the warmth of the linen worked because it does in nature. This was the image she used to make her case:

which kind of makes sense to me. So it's listed here in case it takes your fancy.

Sunday, 2 September 2012


Spring blossoms and country air. It doesn't get much better that this. Pics are from the Castlemaine, Chewton, Kyneton area in Victoria.

Friday, 10 August 2012

creating 'snow gum'

Guess what? More screen printing!

These are a few pics of a new design, 'snow gum', in progress. I was inspired by the beautiful shapes of eucalyptus snow gum tree leaves. They're so soft and round and very different to other eucalyptus leaf shapes which are often much longer and more pointed. I also wanted the print to have the appearance of floating on the linen.

I ended up making it a 2 colour print on the flax coloured linen even though I like the single colour (turquoise) on the linen also. I was keen to experiment with some overprinting which is how the 2 colour print (in turquoise and white) came about.

The last pic is of the design in progress with a layer of drafter's film over the top. This is what I've been using to create stencils because it's reusable even though it's harder to cut than paper. I really like it as a material for creating stencils.

Snow Gum in the 2 colour format is now available in the shop. Happy dish drying!

Friday, 3 August 2012

giant succulent blossom

Last weekend it was a hive of activity around here. A friend of mine swears people are possessed with a wave of creative energy as the moon is waxing (building to a full moon). Anyone who was out and about on Wednesday night this week would have witnessed that big, beautiful, luminous moon hanging low in the eastern sky. It was full or close to it. As I was cycling home (north) I found it near impossible not to look to my right (east) and stare at the moon. It was so, so, so lovely!

I think my friend was right about that creative burst. I was drawing and designing, cutting stencils and printing like a fiend all weekend. And it was so much fun!

So here's another product of that rush of activity. Giant Succulent Blossom, Black in 100% linen (this one is oatmeal). Those of you who've visited this blog before know how much I'm obsessed with succulents and succulent flowers. Here's more proof of that!

Along with the new banksia pod designs, these tea towels are also now in the shop.

What have you been making lately?

Saturday, 28 July 2012

banksia pod red

My banksia pod tea towel is now available in a deep, dirty red after a morning spent screen printing. These are 100% linen and I've printed on both the warmer 'flax' type (pictured) and a slightly cooler 'oat'. So you can take your pick. I'll be listing the oat one in the shop later today. If you haven't tried these towels before then you're in for a treat. The quality in Russian linen is exquisite and will soften over time as it's used and washed and loved.

Friday, 13 July 2012


In my mind, weeds are pretty special. Meg Keating has a whole exhibition on at the moment focusing on this very specialness. It's called Nature Strip and can be seen at MARS Gallery in Port Melbourne until 5th August. Meg's also doing a floor talk on the 21st July if you'd like to hear more about her work. I'll be going along so come say hello.

When I saw Meg's work it reminded me of my own interest in all things weedy. When I was living in Kyoto (Japan) I made this woodblock print, Wallflowers, based on some weeds I fell in love with in my local neighbourhood. To me they were beautiful.

And then I remembered my recent obsession in photographing one kind of weed I saw everywhere in Greece on my trip there last month. I found a great paddock of them in Crete and went crazy with my camera. Fortunately for you I'm only posting one pic here.

I think the information for Meg's exhibition captures the special quality of weeds:

"In the body of work Nature Strip, weeds are presented as graphic silhouettes that are both beautiful and elusive. The motifs hover through thin veils of pearlescent-layered paint on natural beech grounds. They are delicate in their appearances and at times disappear from view. The wildness presented here is ideal and alludes to utopian gardens and serene vistas while the simple motifs are common and ordinary in their depiction." [MARS Gallery]

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

travel is good for the soul

And we should do more of it. It opens the mind and the heart and allows us to breathe in and see new spaces.

I went to Greece for 24 days: Athens, Naxos, Santorini and Crete. The jet lag hasn't yet worn off and my body is readjusting to being back in Australian winter after the searing heat of the Mediterranean. But it was all so good I don't really mind my current sleeplessness. I took 800 photos while I was there, both on my camera and phone. I've put a very small sample of some of them here.

Thank you Greece for reminding me of how to slow down and just be.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

thoughts on making

rubbing the image onto the block

This post is about the importance of making.

A no-brainer for those who make, and no doubt also for many who have art/design/craft/making blogs of some kind or other. You already know how valuable the act of making is.

But it's interesting to see how all the wonder and goodness and beauty that makers know comes from making is now starting to be recognised in broader society. People are starting to sit up and take notice of making and makers. Which is a great thing because it doesn't seem so long ago that craft and other making type domains were looked down upon and seen as, well, kind of quaint, but not much more than that. And the thing I'm also noticing is the boundary between art/design and making generally is blurring. And I, for one, am very happy about that blurred boundary.

David Guantlett's book 'Making is Connecting' is one that pulls ideas about the value and place of making together along with a dash of history for good measure. It's quite a good read and for an academic (he's Prof of Media & Communications at the Uni of Westminster), David writes in a very accessible way.

Yesterday Lindy Osborne, an architect and academic, was live tweeting (@LindyOsborne) from the 2012 Experience Conference - a national architecture conference in Brisbane. Two of her tweets caught my eye:

'Students take note: 'The hand is the most important method of learning.' Murcutt wisdom.'


'Murcutt keeps focussing on importance of 'making' in his discussions with Wang Shu. Wish every QUT archi student was here.  '

Her enthusiastic references to Murcutt were from Glenn Murcutt, also an architect, who was hosting one of the sessions at the conference. I was intrigued and also elated to hear an architect valuing making and work done by the hand as a way to learn given how digitally savvy that industry has become. 

And every time I watch an episode of Grand Designs lately there is a story about somebody needing to make with their hands, the result often being they give up indoor day jobs to work onsite building their dream houses. Long gone are the days when it was somewhat shameful to work with our hands and more desirable to do 'clean work' indoors, most often behind a computer. Tradies are valued quite highly these days for the skills and practical handwork they can do. And why shouldn't they be?

So makers of all kinds. It feels like the wheels are turning our way. Do you feel it too?

Friday, 20 April 2012

just kids

I've just finished reading an extraordinary book. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the creative process and the evolution of artists. I'm talking about Just Kids, a memoir by Patti Smith focusing on her early life as a young artist finding her feet in New York City and her close relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

Extraordinary in so many ways. It's hard to put words to it.

I loved many things about this book. But one thing in particular was having a detailed account of how Patti and Robert worked through the beginning years of creative development, the trials, the explorations, the self-doubt, the hunger and poverty, the small steps forward, the struggles, the sudden unexpected opportunities, and the incredible range of characters that they met along the way. All real. All amazing artists.

As well as all this Patti gives a detailed description of her and Robert's life at the infamous Chelsea Hotel. Absolutely fascinating! It's really quite mind blowing to read about this period of history from a great artist who was deeply immersed in it. Patti Smith, you rock! And thank you for writing this book and recording this history for others to read.

I'm now on the pre-order list for the kindle version of Patti's latest book 'Woolgathering'. Am so looking forward to it.

And she writes so beautifully. Which I guess is to be expected from a poet and song writer of her stature. You must, must, must give it a read. Honestly.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

MONA love

MONA, Tasmania
iron sculpture of cement truck
iron sculpture of cement truck
pencil rubbings: Okabe
pencil rubbings: Okabe

There's a whole lot of beauty, inspiration, and surprise waiting for you if you haven't yet been to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart, Tasmania.

Where do I begin?

The location for one. Oh my goodness. MONA sits carved into a cliff face on the gorgeous Derwent River. You can arrive by ferry or car. I've heard coming via ferry is pretty special. I had a car so went that way. However, I parked about a kilometre away (accidentally) and walked in. That was pretty special in itself. You get to see glimpses of MONA sitting there on the edge of the cliff facing the water from various angles around a small cove.

That cement truck iron sculpture in the pics above captivated me. How extraordinary that someone could make something so mundane and ordinary so intricately beautiful! Something so bulky like a cement truck has been utterly transformed into this delicate sculpture.

Inside MONA was mind boggling to say the least. Exhibition pieces have been chosen deliberately to push the boundaries of peoples' expectations about art. There are a lot of surprises in stall. And I won't ruin them for you by telling you too much here. Let's just say you need to set aside at least half a day - one day to be there. It's massive. There's so much to see and experience. And the place is gorgeous so you might like to have lunch and a glass of wine and sit outside on the pink bean bags and look at the river while you're there.

I was especially moved by the pencil rubbings (pictured above) by Okabe. These were made by hand over a 9 year period of the Ujina Station train platform in Hiroshima. Eventually the train station was demolished to make way for a freeway but Okabe's rubbings remain as simple reminders of what was once there. You can read more about their background here. And here's a picture of Okabe with his work.

I'll be going back to MONA later in the year. My brother also loves the place so we thought we might go again together. There is no other art gallery like this in Australia. It's extraordinary on so many levels. So if you can, go!