A Bit Fishy (with Foam), and an Open Studio for One

A Bit Fishy - Foam Block reduction - Jenn White

A Bit Fishy – Foam Block reduction

Weeks ago, a woman from a regional Probus group contacted me.  She was organising an outing for members, a bus trip to my area, and would like to make my studio, The Hatchery, a stopping off point.  Was I agreeable, and would I accommodate the group? Yes, of course!  It’s always a thrill to share my passion, art and processes.  She would confirm the details closer to the date.  Okay, wonderful.

There are two gallery/studios in Sandford that open their doors to the public,  Darryl’s Glass Gallery and mine.  As we are also next door neighbours, and a short walk apart, it’s convenient for visitors to Sandford.  The group would visit both.

A few weeks later, the woman rang again, confirming.  It was time to get my bum into gear.  Like an lot of creative types, I work ‘messy’.  Immersed in whatever current project/s I’m working on, supplies and wherewithal get pulled out, shoved aside, and form haphazard piles.  The floor is littered with lino slivers, the bin overflows, and there is a general air of mayhem.  There were several projects on the go, and I still hadn’t cleaned up from preparing work for a small solo exhibition at Gorman’s Art Gallery in nearby Casterton.  After weeks of rain interspersed with brief bouts of sunshine, my patch was a wilderness, grass and weeds out of control, and the driveway needed sprucing up. That’s okay.  It would be all in order on the day.

The week prior to the proposed visit by the group, I was given the time and numbers – around 10.15 a.m. and 40 people.  Think about that, Jenn: 40 people!  My space is small and rustic (let’s be real, here, it’s a bit rough, but quirky).  A converted garage-come-shed, it’s divided into flow-through work and display space.  Even accommodating two groups of twenty people, as agreed, it would be a sardine experience.  What to do?  Rearrange, of course.

I don’t normally air my disarray to the  public (only good friends and family, who know me so well), but in this case I would like to share at least part of the transformation. The most recent phone call put a bomb under me.  I had four days to get organised.  I neglected to take photos of the initial chaos.  However, you’ll get some (!) idea from the Work In Progress shots, below. (I am laughing, now..)

My work table is over 1 metre wide (over 4′) by over 2.7 metres (9′) long.  The base frame is steel, the top a slab of thick particle board, with a heavy under-shelf for storage. Originally, it was made as a tailor’s layout table.  It weighs a ton, even with the storage shelf cleared – which I did before reorienting the table from across the room to lengthwise (as seen above).  The table holds my two cast iron book presses – a strength training exercise to remove and replace. With the weather being perverse, I could not risk stacking stuff outside.

Why did I tackle this? Because I was excited.  Groups have visited in the past, and it’s a wonderful experience.  I wanted my very welcome visitors to have a shoal-swimming experience, rather than feel sardine-packed.  The cleaning, sorting, rearranging took the entire four days, and into late evenings.  But, I did it, alone, without getting a hernia, or doing my back in.  At 65, that’s always a bonus.

The fourth-night deadline saw the transformation complete.  There was room for folk to stand at the front and one end of the table, to watch the demonstration.  Blocks were available for those interested.  The heater ready to be turned on, and not a sign of the mouse invasion that’s an annual occurrence in ‘the bush’.

Until I finish the reno on my cottage, the ‘good’ dining table, covered with blanket and cloth, is in service as display space in the mini gallery.  There’s nowhere else to store it. Actually a pain-in-the-bum-nuisance, the old-world, well-made and heavy piece of furniture is yet another exercise in strength training and perseverance to move.  Re-positioned, it allows entry into a more open, albeit smallish, viewing area.

The following morning I was up with the friendly shrike-thrush’s song.  There was still a bit more prep, new prints to mount and package, pricing, and more freebies to put in the basket.  Every visitor to my studio is encouraged to select a take-home keepsake (bookmark, small print).  There was a demo to decide upon.  No time to dilly-dally.  A foam block reduction print would give the group some novel insight.  And, should I nick into to town for lollies to fill the nibble jar?  The essentials first, forget the lollies, remove the jar (you’ll only eat them, Jennifer).

I saw the bus arrive (me, watching? you bet!) and disappear down Darryl’s driveway to park.  I knew they were on a schedule, and already running 20 minutes late. They would have morning tea while enjoying Darryl’s glass art and wares.  Then they would wander over to me, from past experience, probably in dribs and drabs, but maybe en masse.  I was ready and waiting, genuine smile hovering, keen to share.

Finally, I saw one woman coming my way.  Woohoo!  But, hang on.  Where are the others?

Yes, the weather was iffy, showers earlier and grey clouds massing.  Yes, they were behind on an already tight schedule.  Yes, it was a short walk from the bus to my place…

The one visitor apologised for the rest.  She did suggest and encourage, apparently.  She did give my art a cursory glance, and did stay to chat, briefly.  She did not introduce herself (the organiser? and me too flabbergasted to ask), did not sign the visitors’ book, did not bother with a freebie. “We’re supposed to leave by eleven,” she said, looking at the clock on the wall.  “And it’s already after that.”

I was miffed.  Even more so after speaking with Darryl, later.  It had been discussed. The plan was for the bus to stop at the top of my drive (a disused road with wide road reserve and plenty of space). It didn’t happen. I watched it drive past, heading to Casterton.

More than anything, I was sad and deeply disappointed.  I thoroughly enjoy interacting with folk who come into my studio.  It’s the prime reason I open the door to the public.  If they buy something, great.  If not, equally great.  I’ve chatted, laughed, shared and perhaps educated or even enthralled.

Why bother to contact me three times to confirm details, ensure I would be accommodating, and then, not come in?  A consensus, or individual’s decision?  Who knows, not me.

End of the day - Demo done, just for me, in a clean and tidy studio.

End of the day – Demo done, just for me, in a clean and tidy studio.

The upside?  Yes, of course there is one.  There had better be! No huge jar of lollies sitting there, tempting.  Grass mowed, flowers planted, cobwebs swept, a studio that’s clean, tidy and more amenable to groups, and a joy to walk into and work in.  And now for some printmaking.

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Posted in Art, Open Studio, Printmaking, Reduction Method | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

‘In Our Hands’ – A Visual Ode to the Leadbeater’s Possum, in a Linocut

Possum in hand Colour 7 and Final Layer - Reduction Linocut, Jenn White

Possum in hand Colour 7 and Final Layer – Reduction Linocut

In the seventies, I was writing letters and poems, protesting and pleading against the clear-felling and wood-chipping of native forests in Gippsland, where the Leadbeater’s Possum lived in the hollows of dead or living trees.  Since the mid eighties there has been an 80% decrease in numbers of this cute little possum, with none now known to be living in Gippsland.  Forty years later, I’m making art in this little guy’s honour for the Animalia Print Exchange , the proceeds of sales going to the World Animal Protection organisation.

Listed as Critically Endangered, and now found only in pockets within our natural forests in Central Victoria, the future looks grim for this Aussie mammal.  Despite a ‘Recovery Plan’ being put in place in 2015, the Victorian Government is still allowing the decimation of the Leadbeater’s Possum’s habitat.

The Print

As with all aspects of life, some printing days are truly golden, with everything working well.  Others… well, let’s just say the frustration levels hit unsurpassed heights.

The baby Leadbeater’s Possum is finished, though not quite how I envisioned it.  I am disappointed in the lack of tonal difference between the dark and mid-tone flesh of the fingers.  I printed the darkest colour first, but felt it needed another variation in shadow, so cut away what I would leave the darkest tone and re-inked with what I thought was a mid tone.  It looked okay when first printed, but after a week of drying, the colour had darkened, leaving little variation.  It is done in the reduction method, which is indeed the ‘suicide’ method.  I had already cut away those mid-tone sections before taking a week off. No going back once the lino is in slivers on the studio floor!

I did consider cutting an extra block to either darken the darkest, or lighten the mid tone, but the prints are for an exchange and needed to dry for mailing.  Neither was I confident in getting a second, replica block the exact size for registration (lining up) purposes.  Such is life, at least the life, some days, of this printmaker.  Still, I guess my mistake makes the little possum the main focus of the print, which is what it’s all about.

 

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Always a Story to a Print

Dual Purpose - linocut - Jenn White

Dual Purpose – linocut, 10 X 10 cm

In answer to a recent call for printmakers to submit small black and white works on the theme of ‘Gender Equality’, and what it meant for each of us, I stewed about a subject. Despite feminism and changing attitudes, inequality still exists in so many areas of life and society.  Yes, I could do something on domestic violence, something with which I’ve had familial dealings.  Or perhaps any number of other serious and disturbing issues.  I chose instead a bit of light ‘relief’ (pun intended).  As a sole parent for many years, I strove not only to be a good mother and earner, but also a stand-in father between access weekends when my two kids visited their other home.

Thinking back, I’ve rarely been afraid to tackle what is generally considered ‘man’s’ work.  In the late sixties, in my fourth year of secondary school, I rebelled against the ‘girlie’ subjects of typing and General Business Education.  Then, they bored me senseless and no way did I want to work in an office at a desk.  Now, after the directions my working life has taken, including sitting at numerous desks in various offices, perhaps those subjects could have been beneficial.  But, I’ve always gotten by.  Besides, how much more interesting, and fun it was to do sheet metal with the boys.

To give him his due, my father took my side when I was keen to do something more creative than use all my fingers to type – which I still can’t do.  He was also a bit of a rebel in his own right.  Having worked for years as a sewing machine mechanic in the rag trade during the fifties, he and not my mother was the sewer in the family, apart from me. It was Dad who sewed the uniforms for the marching girls team of which I was a member.

Thanks to my father’s backing, and my persistence, I was the first girl in a Victorian school permitted to do a traditionally boy’s subject.  After that year, I transferred to a different school with a more dedicated art stream, but I set a precedent.  Subsequent years saw girls doing wood- and metal-work, and boys cooking and sewing at Glenroy Tech.  The trend flowed onto other schools.  And, why not.

I’ve not done any welding since that year at school, but I’ve turned my hand to a lot of other ‘male’ tasks, mostly through necessity.  I’ve done my share in fitting out a log cabin, walls, tiling, and floor sanding included.  For years, I tented-it with two young kids and a large dog at various camping spots around the countryside, dug and unblocked drains, mended pipes, laid bricks, cut glass (sometimes successfully!) and puttied windows.  I’ve serviced my own cars (pre-computers), can wield a hammer (without choking it), can saw a straight line without the benefit of electricity, hefted wood splitters, pulled down and put up walls, laid floors from the stumps up, converted two garages into studios, put up shelves that are fairly level (!) and am now onto more renovations.  Things may not always be perfect, and might take longer than if a ‘man’ did them (though, not always!) but they do eventually get done.

Jenn, The Brickie (ravishing as usual)

Jenn, The Brickie (ravishing as usual)

Some first-time tasks would not have been possible without the willing and patient instruction from experienced ‘male’ friends and family.  To them, I say a heartfelt thank you!  Rarely have I been told, “You’re a girl, you can’t do that.”  To those who have dared utter those words, I’ve shown them that I can at least have a go.  I’m not great on ladders and I do draw the line at circular saws and chainsaws – I know myself well enough – but give me a jigsaw and electric drill and I’m off and doing.

There are certainly times when it is nice to receive a compliment as a ‘girl in a frock’, hair in some sort of  order, and a touch of make up.  But, it is just as rewarding to look at the laminated shelves in the pantry, cut by hand and put up with a struggle, by me, a ‘girl’.  And, it is equally wonderful to have a gentleman open a door for me, or enjoy a delicious meal, cooked for my benefit by a fella.

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All in Hand – Reduction Linocut

Possum linocut block - Jenn White

Possum block, two cuts, and new ‘Baren’

As a sole parent for so many years, when the kids were growing up and money was scarce, necessity often inspired lateral thinking.  It has stuck with me.  Walking through Mitre10 last week, I paused at the ‘chuck out’ table and spotted a door handle.  I don’t need it for it’s original purpose, but hefting it in my hand I realised how weighty it was, and perhaps could be put to a different use.  For a single dollar, it was worth the gamble.

I don’t mind getting old and ‘crinkly’ (as my then-young granddaughter once put it), but the side-effects drive me nuts.  Yes, I am grateful for my hands, scars, lumps and bumps included, but the aches, pains and increasing lack of flexibility from arthritis, some days, make me want to scream.  I’ve lost count of the times I’ve fished my morning tablet out of the bog’s water bowl.  Anyway, as a printmaker doing everything by hand, without a press, the constant and repetitive gripping and burnishing to transfer ink to paper is becoming difficult.  Having not long ago discovered my passion for printmaking, there’s an urgency to produce prints, while I’m able.  There’s a lot I want to ‘say’.

With the ho-hum result of the collagraph prints drying on the table, I set to on a new lino block.  Same subject, different reference photo, to fool myself I was doing something ‘new’ (life is short…) and embarked on cutting, inking and burnishing with the newly purchased baren – the doorknob.

Weighing in at 400 grams (almost 1 lb) it’s a dream for gagging Arthur Itis (such a whinger!).  Being so heavy for a small object, it does most of the work, instead of me having to continually exert pressure in burnishing the back of the paper.  For larger projects, I’m now on the lookout for an iron doorknob from a chateau door – I’m happy to remove the rust.

I’ve also taken on-board advice, tips and suggestions, on achieving more consistency in ink coverage and editions, from the Linocut Friends Facebook group.  Thank the Goddess for artists whose egos don’t get in the way of helping others.

After the frustration of the collagraph possum (previous post), I’m feeling much enthused on familiar ground with a reduction linocut.  Yes, it’s early days, yet, and only two colours printed, but it’s going  okay.

Reduction linocut in progress - Jenn White

In progress – reduction linocut, first two colours on Zerkall paper, oil-based inks.

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The Collagraph Puzzle

A welter of possums from a jigsaw collagraph block

A welter of possums from a jigsaw collagraph block

I’m often told persistence pays off, and I can be extremely persistent, but in this case, I give up.  The aim was to print an edition of ten little collagraph prints, but after two printing sessions, I’ve ended up with not even a ‘variable’ edition but rather a variegated edition.  Some days are like that, especially in the studio, though never have I before reached this level of frustration.

I started with the bright idea of a jigsaw collagraph.  Nothing wrong with that, except…

The cardboard I chose to use worked only to a degree.  It was too flimsy to be continually fiddled with while placing the ‘jigsaw’ pieces together.  Next time, I will choose something sturdier than a teabag box!  I chose the jigsaw block to enable easier printing of different colours.  Yeah, right.  The itty bits (the whole block just over 4 inches square) were a pain in the bum to roll ink onto – kept sticking to the ink and rolling with the brayer.  Then there was the challenge of fitting them together, now more curved than flat, and inserting them into the surrounding ‘keeper’ frame while wet with ink.

Possum jigsaw collagraph block - Jenn White

The small (12 x 12 cm, so larger than life) jigsaw collagraph block

I decided to use Somerset Velvet paper, of which I had plenty of off-cuts to utilise from an edition of larger prints.  It’s a nice thick, soft paper and I figured it would work well for a collagraph print, especially dampened, when using the book press.  The first batch of paper I soaked in a dish, sheet by sheet while I inked the fiddly block, section by section. Some pieces of paper were not damp enough – depending on how long it took to ink the itty bits and peel them off the brayer, and often having to re-ink.  Other sheets of paper were, to say the least, odd, in the way they absorbed the water.  Several ended up half the sheet saturated to almost transparency. There was a definite demarcation line, as if the paper had been half in and half out of the water for days, instead of fully submerged for a matter of minutes.  Yep, odd.

The result was some possums having very dark heads, and others with very dark bottoms, as you can see in the photo, depending on which way I laid the wettest section of paper.  So much for that printing session.

After trawling through both the collagraph and Linocut Friends Facebook pages, and consulting the oracle, Mr Google, I decided to have a second attempt with a different paper-dampening method.  I dipped every second sheet of paper, layered wet and dry sheets in a stack, sealed them into a zip-lock bag, and left them overnight, to allow the moisture to wick evenly – I hoped – through the stack.

Back to the studio bright, early, and hopeful, the next day, I began again with rolling and inking the itty bits.  The result?  Major frustration at the inconsistency of the so-called edition.  Naturally, the print is for an exchange, with a speeding-towards-me deadline. So, what to do?  A reduction linocut, of course – now in progress!

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Playtime with Collagraph

There are times, despite the length of the never-ending to-do list and whatever level of chaos in cottage or studio, art calls, persistent and loud.  Some time ago I had drawn up this little guy on a lino block, but that was as far as I got.  The idea was for a bookmark that might appeal to kids.  Yes, I know reading books is largely out of fashion (not trending!) in the younger generations, but it does still hold appeal for some.

With the weather decidedly nippy, and wanting to be in by the fire doing something creative, with the tellie in the background, I assembled some bits and pieces – an off-cut of matt board, thick-ish paper, knife, scissors, embossing tool, seamstress’s pattern cutting wheel, glue and shellac.

The next day, when the block was dry, and the studio above freezing, it was time to try it out.  With no rolling press, but a solid cast iron book press and blanket remnants, the results of printing anything intaglio (drawing ink from inside the cut marks onto dampened paper) are always hit-and-miss.  But, that’s part of the mystery and adventure!  The different effects and various versions fascinated.  Some I was pleased with, others not.  The main thing was that I had a bit of fun and fed my creative need.

So often, the ‘shoulds’ take precedence over the wants (and needs), the soul-food that aids balance and health in mind and spirit, and therefore body.  There is nothing like a bit of arty playtime to give me a renewed enthusiasm for the mundane things.  Even if I’m actually bribing myself with more studio time.  If there is one thing I’ve learned, especially over the past year, it is that our time is finite.  Allowing time for joyful experiences, in whatever form they take for each individual, is more important than wearing ourselves ragged in crossing off ‘shoulds’.

Playtime with seal collagraph - Jenn White

Playtime with seal collagraph

 

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Printmaking and People

Block of 'Spirit' reduction linocut - Jenn White

Block of ‘Spirit’ reduction linocut – Jenn White

With the Casterton Rotary Club taking over the annual art show held during the Kelpie Muster weekend, there were additional categories to enter – not just Kelpies, as gorgeous as they are.  I decided to try my hand at a portrait, in the theme of ‘True Blue’.  Not sure what it is about me that I continually challenge myself, but it is certainly a way to learn.

I chose to do a portrait of an Aboriginal man, for me the epitome of ‘True Blue’. Reference photo at hand, and the basics transferred from sketch to lino block, I dove in. I wanted muted colours that were also reminiscent of the Aussie landscape.  I also wanted a less ‘solid’ effect than I normally do in a reduction print.  It was the essence, the ‘Spirit’ of the man, the People, and the land I yearned to depict…somehow.

Three colours down reduction linocut 'Spirit'

Three colours down reduction linocut ‘Spirit’

Fourth colour down reduction linocut 'Spirit'

Fourth colour down reduction linocut ‘Spirit’

Pulling prints by hand (i.e. without the aid and pressure of an etching press) always entails a degree of mystery.  Questions hurtle through my mind as I work.  Will it turn out the way I want? Will it be acceptable as a print?  Will the blasted ink stick properly to the paper?  Have I used too much medium, added too much white to pale-down the colour?  How much Cobalt drier do I add to hurry the drying process, and not have the ink drying on glass or block?  It’s all part of the process and delving into the joy of creating a print purely by hand.

In Process Reduction Linocut 'Spirit'

In Process Reduction Linocut ‘Spirit’

Printing an edition of only four prints, there is not a lot of leeway for disasters.  Still, I only really needed a single print to enter into the show.  Am I happy with the final result? Yes, but, as always, there are things I would do differently next time, lessons learned, and new questions to which I will puzzle out the answers, during the next printing session. No, it was not chosen as the ‘Best Portrait’, but it was considered as a possibility.  Good enough for me.  Though, maybe I’ll enter a Kelpie next year.  I do like those dogs.

Finished print 'Spirit' - reduction linocut, Jenn White

Finished print ‘Spirit’ – reduction linocut, Jenn White

 

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