A Printing Press by Another Name

Mangle or Press?

Mangle or Press?

I do enjoy printing with a metal spoon or baren (a small, handheld bamboo disk used for burnishing the back of the printing paper), but there are times I’d like to play with a press.  I also love old things.  So, what better solution than using an old mangle to soothe both desires?

A friend had the mangle in a garage sale, late last year, and I took the plunge.  Delivered by her kind husband, it has sat in the little display area of the studio for weeks.  Now, with the help of same said husband and his mate, Matilda the mangle – the mighty battle maid, and Mattie for short – is in place.

I readily admit I’m not always a patient person when it comes to artwork.  I want to get stuck in.  Mattie is definitely in need of some loving attention.  Nevertheless, she wears her mantle of rust with dignity.  I couldn’t help wondering how long ago it was that she came by ship from England, and how many homes she has had.  How many women have cranked her handle?  Looking at her worn and warped wooden rollers, it’s obvious she has worked hard in her previous incarnation, squishing water from untold amounts of laundry.  Evicting the resident spider, but leaving the cobwebs for the moment, I gave Mattie a run.

Test prints with Mattie the Mangle

Test prints with Mattie the Mangle

As with any new piece of ‘equipment’ the first try-out left a lot to be desired.  Using a mat board-lino-paper sandwich, did not accommodate Mattie’s off-centre and worn rollers.  I then tried re-positioning the sandwich to feed off-centre.  Better, but not great.  I tried running the re-inked sandwich through twice, reversing the feed, which meant a slight shifting of the paper – too dark and smudgy.  Add a top cushion of sturdy felt, and…wow…look at Mattie go. There’s life in the old girl yet!

Second test block - linocut - Mangle print - Jenn White

Second test block – linocut – Mangle print

Turning the wheel to turn the cogs, and listening to the clank, bumps and grinds was something special.  Like this old girl, Mattie is yearning for some oil in her joints, but happy to be moving.  I think I’ve also discovered a new exercise partner… Come on Mattie, let’s rock ‘n’ roll!

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Rennie - wood engraving - Jenn White

Rennie – wood engraving

My first printmaking project for the year was to be an edition for the Baren Forum Woodblock Printing Group.  An un-themed exchange, I struggled with choosing a subject – too many ideas.  I had thought to do a reduction print, but with the weather playing silly buggers, one day cool and the next dumping a heatwave, drying layers of ink would be unpredictable.  Like all exchanges, there was a deadline. There was also a Christmas gift to think about.  Added to that was the daily awareness of the ageing process, not only for me, embarking on another round of medical tests, but also for my canine mate, Finn, and his sister Rennie. The mind works in convoluted ways…at least mine does!  My Muse is much like Victorian weather with her whims and sudden knocks to the side of the head that have me reeling.

In late 2008, seeking a new canine companion, I trawled the internet, not pedigree sites, but those providing second chances.  I also wanted a large breed, something I would actually see before tripping over it.  I’m a sucker for any creature huge and hairy, you know, gorillas, Chewbacca, Yetis.

I found my perfect mate.  A litter rescued from ill-treatment and the prospect of a life spent pig-hunting (something Wolfhounds and Wolfie crosses are easily trained for) and already four months old, the dogs’ chances of being homed were slim.  The scruffiest one snatched my heart on first sight.  I wanted them all, but…

Arrangements were made, money paid.  Finn duly arrived in Bendigo, after the long trip from New South Wales with a helpful and dog-loving greyhound owner.  A few weeks later, Finn was reunited with his sister, Rennie.  Pretty and appealing, she had caught the attention of a good friend and neighbour in Maldon, where I lived at the time.

After what had been a very rough start, they soon settled into their new homes.  From nervy toddlers they quickly grew to formidable teenagers – in size, but not temperament.  And, like human teenagers, they egged each other on, embarking on adventures never considered alone.  Seen often together around town, the pair, and their owners, became quite well-known.  Fortunate, on the day they escaped.  During a play date one of them sussed out how to slip the gate latch.  After a heads-up from a kind and concerned local, the pair were finally apprehended, frothing at the mouth from exertion.  They’d had a wonderful time, tear-arsing around the town.  It was hard to keep a straight face while reprimanding, seeing the ecstatic grins and lolling tongues.  And probably a touch of pride in their derring-do at having crossed the busy road, twice, and avoided being skittled by any one of the numerous passing trucks.

Ten years later, Finn and Rennie’s days of escapades are over, insecurities and failing bodies slowing them down.  Though, boys will be boys, whatever the age.  There are still nights, usually when the moon is either new or full, when my boy worms his way under the fence and takes off across the paddocks, his bark fading as he chases an invader.  For a short time he’s a kid again, forgetting his age and infirmities.  He pays for it later, but aren’t all the young-at-heart a bit like that?

The subject chosen, with both exchange and Christmas gift in mind, I decided on a wood engraving.  It’s been a while.  Plus, I’d promised myself to try out the disks of wood, sold as drink coasters and bought with engraving in mind during a trip to Bali.  I only have one engraving tool, a scorper, and had no idea until I started how it would work with an unknown wood.  It was a bit crumbly in spots, and I had to incorporate a hole in the centre into Rennie’s tongue.  Yes, there are things I would change, if given a second chance, but overall I’m pleased enough with the engraving, and the portrait of a younger, much loved and now elderly companion of a good friend.

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Someone’s Best Friend in Print, Paws and All.

Da - Jenn Whitekota - Linocut

Dakota – Linocut

Yesterday, the temperature soared into the forties (centigrade). I was coping okay.  Too hot to make printing ink work down in the studio, I battened down, working on my novel, regularly cringing as the violent winds bludgeoned the gum trees towering above the cottage.  I was, however, concerned for my ageing loyal mate. Poor Finn, my ten-year-old Wolfhound/Bull Mastiff cross, wasn’t doing as well.  Time for the air conditioner.  Watching his breathing gradually go from short, sharp panting to the regular, even rise and fall of his chest while he slept, I wondered how much longer we will have together.  For his breed/s and size, and with hips buggered since puppy-hood, he’s doing well, considering.  Still eager to go for rambles, especially down along the Glenelg River, he ranges ahead, the leader of a pack of two.  He inevitably veers off at the two sandy beaches for a drink and paw-cooling.  Dogs smile, of course they do.  His pleasure is evident while we’re out, but, he pays for it later, his disintegrating hip joints unable to sustain the effort of carrying his 46 kilos too far, for too long.



How will I cope when he’s gone?  I accept that in the not too distant future, he will embark on his last journey.  If love alone was the elixir of life, my raggle-taggle, scruffy boy would live forever.

Before Christmas my daughter-in-law asked me to ‘do something’ with sheets of paw prints of her friend’s now deceased dog, a loyal and much-loved member of the family.  Suggestions were vague – perhaps a bunch of flowers, something she can keep and display.   Uninspired by the bouquet idea, I was in a quandary.  What would I like as a commemoration of a dear mate?

There had been no printmaking for more than a week – oh, woe – so, incorporating a linocut was top of the list to include.  A photograph of the dog, Dakota, duly provided, I set to work.

The Book of Dakota - Accordion book, Jenn White

The Book of Dakota

I had fun doing the small project, the recipient was thrilled, and a devoted pooch was memorialised in a creative and, I considered, fitting way.  Not wishing to tempt fate, I won’t be starting a book for Finn anytime soon.  Later…

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Myth, Magic and Maladies

Unicorn Box - acrylic and lino stamps on wood - Jenn White

Unicorn Box – acrylic and lino stamps on wood

There have been years, when my children were young and grandchildren not so much as a glimmer in the distant future, that I’ve pulled an all-nighter on Christmas Eve, getting ‘homemade’ gifts finished for Santa to deliver.  I’m sure the Red Man’s elves were far more organised!  Perhaps it’s age-related, or merely being worn out at the end of a busy year, but this season I’ve put less pressure on myself.  There were plans.  Of course, there were.  Hopefully, they will come to fruition next year.

In a quandary over a gift for one granddaughter, I quizzed my son.  A glitch in family cohesion, with a blossoming adult travelling a separate path, meant I’d largely lost touch for a while with her likes and dislikes.  “She loves unicorns,” my son told me.  Ah, myth and magic, I thought.  Appropriate for this time of year.

I considered doing a print or painting, but with my granddaughter’s living arrangements soon to again change, wall art might be a bugbear rather than a blessing.  So…what else?  Something decorative but portable, easily stored if need be, and also useful.

An avid collector of boxes, ones to use and others to do something with, sometime, there are always potentially useful receptacles on hand.  Why?  Perhaps because I so often am unsure where I fit in the world?  Trying to find the right box for a good fit?  Trying to avoid getting into the box?  Striving to be a this-millennium woman and get out of the box?  Mr Freud would no doubt explain it succinctly.  There was no need to dwell on the foible, or hunt through my stash – I’d recently picked up a promising item.

I was on my way, gesso, paint, music from the tape player (I’ve already admitted to being old-fashioned) and in the zone.  Having had a week or so away from printing, the lino sat like an itch I needed to scratch.  Two small stamps resulted.  The effect on the painted surface was imperfect – live with it, Jenn – but added a bit of otherworldly-ness to a fantasy effect and subject.

Unicorn Box (2) - Jenn White

Unicorn Box (2)

The painting and decorating complete, I wanted the lid hinged.  A rebated lid added a new challenge – hinges attached, this way, or that?  By far the most frustrating part of the project was adding those piss-farty hinges, for which I needed to use a screwdriver as skinny as a skewer.

Repeatedly struggling with the tiny screws while positioning the box and lid, with arthritic hands that some days can barely grasp the morning’s magnesium tablet – a size suitable for a horse pill – I railed against the upside-down nature of being human.  Now, finally, when I have the time and freedom to indulge my heart’s delights, my body is turning traitor.  Ah, well, there was nothing for it but to persist, while swearing alternately at my fumbling, dropped minuscule screws amongst the lino chips, and be grateful that I’m still here to finish the box.  Just hope the recipient likes it!

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Times Past in Linocuts

The Concert - linocut on card - Jenn White

The Concert – linocut on card

The television ads for Christmas present suggestions get more and more ridiculous, cost-wise, each year.  I suppose there are some folk ‘out there’ that can afford to spend thousands of dollars on gifts for family and friends, but I’ve never been one of them.  Yes, it would be wonderful to be able to give high-price-tag items to my children and grandchildren.  But, honestly, that’s not what this time of year is all about for me.

When I think of Christmas, I think of family, getting together to share a meal, a few laughs, stories of Christmases past, and remembering those who are no longer with us to sit around the table, usually fanning away heat and flies.

When I was a child, one of the highlights of the season was the annual Christmas party with my mother’s family, the Healeys.  My grandmother’s sisters and brothers would take turns to host the gathering, in various suburbs of Melbourne, everyone contributing to the food and enjoyment.  There was always wriggling in anticipation, while waiting for the handing out of presents, small gifts for each member of the family.  It might have been a tin of toffees, or a Christmas stocking filled with kid-sized packets of lollies and mini pinball games for the kids, a cake of soap for the adult females and a packet of hankies for the chaps.  Whatever it was, it was always appreciated.  More so was the chance to catch up with cousins, aunts and uncles.

It was special going to auntie Mavis’s, my grandmother’s outgoing younger sister, for the family singalongs around the piano.  We weren’t a musical family, with instruments appearing from under chairs at family gatherings (though there was always someone to join in with the ‘spoons’!).  Nor do I ever remember a family concert, as such.  When there was music, it was a treat.

My Christmas card, this year, reflects what the season means to me.  A looking back to simpler, often harder times, when working class families made their own entertainment in celebration.  A time long before all the gadgets with screens and buttons took over as ‘family fun’.

Taking a rest from coloured reduction printing, I’ve recently been focusing on small black and white prints – appropriate for one whose first camera was the family’s old box brownie!

Time Travellers - linocut - Jenn White

Time Travellers – linocut

In the seventies, along with my then partner, I was involved in rallying.  A friend’s birthday inspired the above linocut.  A bit of time-travelling of my own, back to when my friend’s wife and I spent nights at checkpoints, rain dripping down our necks, waiting for the bush to be illuminated by Super Oscars, the sound of engines screaming with quick gear changes, as the cars approached over the crest.

The Night Man - linocut - Jenn White

The Night Man – linocut

Perhaps it’s my ‘advancing’ age, or my confusion over today’s society’s priorities, and what is taken for granted by so many, that takes me back to things and events of my childhood.  I seem to sound more and more like my grandmother!  Even living in a Melbourne suburb in the early seventies, sewerage was a luxury for many, my family included.  Not only was there the payment to the council for the infrastructure – pipes underground – for a struggling, single-income family, but there was the additional cost of ‘connection’ to the system, and the physical relocation of the ‘dunny’.  In our situation, it meant building on to the family home to accommodate an internal toilet.

The dunny man was an essential part of life.  And he, like the garbos, milkman, and postie, received a small Christmas gift from my mother, every year in appreciation.  I never envied him his job.  The few times I saw him (he usually visited during the early hours), he was balancing the pan on his head.  What if he stumbled or tripped?  What if the dog barked and startled him, had trouble with the latch on the gate, and the pan wobbled, leaked or overflowed…  I shuddered, thinking about the poor man wearing our family’s poo and piddle.  It was only after quizzing my parents that I discovered he wore a special hat.  Unlike my father’s, the dunny man’s hat had a supporting frame beneath the battered felt. It was not as precarious as it appeared, thank goodness.  Though I never quite understood how he didn’t also wear a peg on his nose.

It’s inevitable that times change.  Today, it’s all about technology, to make life faster and easier (often debatable).  Though, I too regularly wonder, at what cost to family values, sharing, togetherness, and sociable communication.  What family stories will my great-grandchildren hear?  I, for one, don’t mind regressing to simpler days, or appearing old-fashioned and behind the times, especially at this time of year.



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Teaching Linocuts among the Brolgas

Learning Survival Skills - Drypoint ecthing - Jenn White

Learning Survival Skills – Drypoint etching

Watched over by a very mixed flock of Brolgas in various stances and sizes, five participants embarked on the linocut printing process at Edenhope’s Red Tail Gallery last weekend.  The Kowree Farm Tree Group, a dedicated group of people committed to assisting with re-vegetation and protection of native flora and fauna species, sponsored the current Brolga exhibition and the workshop.  The Brolga is one of Australia’s most iconic birds, stands about a metre tall, has a wing span of up to 2.4 metres, and is known and admired for its dancing skills.  A member of the crane family, they depend on our wetlands for breeding, and therefore survival.  As our wetlands diminish, so do our beautiful birds.

My entry into the exhibition should have been a linocut, but time had sped away, and I chose to do a drypoint etching on perspex instead.

Assisting with lino carving

Assisting with lino carving

This was my first time facilitating a formal linocut workshop, and have to admit the stomach moths were frantic in the lead-up.  However, being passionate about printing and the process, the moths soon settled, and I settled into the enjoyment of guiding the five participants through the various steps to produce a linocut.

The ‘Kelpie block‘ made for the make-and-take aspect of the previous weekend’s print exhibition, got another workout for trial prints and ‘good’ prints for the dog lovers amongst the group.  The participants produced some wonderful prints from their own freshly-carved blocks, several going back for a second, or even third,block.

Each participant received a folder pack of materials and three types of paper, as well as handouts outlining the aims and the various stages, expanded for future reference.  There were quite a few laughs and I had a wonderful day while sharing my passion.  Going by the smiles, and an invitation to ‘do it again’, I’m pretty sure the participants enjoyed it too – the object of the exercise.

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An Odd Way of Exhibiting Prints


Print Exhibition - Looking through the hall to stage

Looking through the hall to stage

Faced with the prospect of exhibiting in my local hall over 200 hundred original prints, gleaned from years’ of print exchanges, I needed to think ‘off the wall’, which describes accurately the set-up that eventuated.  And, it worked a treat!

Comments from visitors were all positive, the ‘backyard’ atmosphere casual, but the works presented as professionally as the method allowed, and the prints easily viewed up close to appreciate, and marvel at the detail and techniques employed by each printmaker.

The Frames

The hanging frames were developed and built by a cluey friend and keen woodworker.  I provided a rough sketch and requested they be ‘portable’.  We made the idea workable and good friend built six – hinged and folding versions of a small old-fashioned clothes line.  Thank you, Peter!

After painting the first one with the lines attached, and almost garroting myself – there’d be no exhibition if I were defunk – I removed the cords (no mean feat, tackling good knots with arthritic fingers…) and cross bars from the rest .  Six different colours would add a bit of gaiety.

Protecting the Prints

The prints are precious, as well as original works of art.  To avoid creases, fingermarks and direct handling, I plastic-sleeved the works.  The smaller ones, I put two to a sleeve, carefully adding a staple or two as spacers, to keep them positioned separately.  Here was another exercise in dexterity and patience.  New plastic sleeves hate to be parted!  I’d rather have done without the white, punched strips, but acid-free cello bags would add dramatically to the cost, may not hold up to the ‘pegging’ as well, and, it was only for one weekend.

Print Exhibition - Sleeved prints

Sleeved prints

Descriptions and Colophons

Collating the various colophons (information on artist, method, inspiration etc) for the exchange prints was time-consuming.  I had thought of individual ‘labels’ for the prints, but did not want to cover any part of the individual work.  Plus, time was becoming the bane of my life.  One of the ‘joys’ of flying solo with any project.

Print Exhibition - Getting up close, and colophons in peg basket

Getting up close, and colophons in peg basket

I did have the colophons available, though they didn’t get much use, except for a couple  of queries by visitors, when I looked up the relevant information for them.

Not For Sale

There was disappointment for several visitors over the weekend, that the prints exhibited were not for sale. I explained (and also had a handout leaflet available containing the story) that they were not my prints to sell, and I would never part with them.  Amongst the collection are a few prints from printmakers no longer living, which have very special meaning for me.

I likened the exhibition to someone visiting the National Gallery, pointing to a work on the wall, and saying, “I’ll have that one, thanks.”  If only…  I did offer to contact the relevant printmakers, to enquire whether more of the particular print was available, but no visitor followed up.  Overall, everyone was happy to get up close, study, appreciate, admire, and discuss the works and different methods of printmaking.

One visitor commented how great it was to be able to ‘handle’ the works without fear of damage when glare was an issue.  A gentle touch with a finger and all became clear.

Participation and Flexibility

I had available a linocut for folk to try their hand at printing.  Not everyone who came along wanted to print, but those who did, thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  The smiles and grins of pride, seeing their finished efforts were also a joy for this printmaker.

One young girl spotted the ‘leftover’ block from one of my exchange prints.  A Tawny Frogmouth, it was a three colour reduction wood block that I had mounted as display, along with examples of the stages and progress through the colour layer and reduction process.  She loved the bird.  After explaining that there was no guarantee it would print well, being the remains of the block, she was till keen.  I was willing if she was.  It was no effort to remove the block and let her at it.  She produced two lovely prints, and went away very happy with her new-found skills and works of art she planned on framing.

Others who printed their own Kelpie linocut were equally thrilled.  All were attentive and keen to learn the printing process.  None were hesitant in asking questions.  And some didn’t even bother donning an apron, provided.  Foregoing gloves, none worried about mucky fingers, though were grateful for ‘wipes’ on hand.  I also showed how useful ‘paper fingers’ can be!  (One woman marvelled at the fact that they were strips of folded milk carton, not store bought.)

Each person who printed, then co-signed their work with me.  It was a collaboration – my block, their effort in printing.

Print Exhibition - Work station near stage area

Work station near stage area

Due to the weather – rather warm – I chose oil-based inks for the adult and teenage visitors.  There is nothing more frustrating (for me, too!) than ink drying on the glass and roller, before one can get it to the block and paper.  I did provide easier-clean-up water based block inks, and Christmas blocks on hand for any young ones, though they were not used.  Given the time over, I would work out some way of involving the local school students…(more frames?).

Most visitors took advantage of the refreshments available, provided by another Sandford resident (thank you Lez).  It was scrumptious weather, warm but with a gentle breeze.  Taking a breather to sit, eat, drink and socialise beneath the beautiful 150 year-old oak tree in the hall’s grounds was idyllic.

Print Exhibition - Travelling circus - Third trip from hall to home

Travelling circus – Third trip from hall to home

One visitor, and another who could not make it over the weekend, both from other parts of Victoria, suggested the ‘event’ would make a great travelling exhibition.  Something to think about.  Though, given my current mode of transport, I would have to rethink the fold-ability of the hanging frames…  I do like a challenge.

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