Acknowledging My Blessings

Blessing Book cover

As part of coping with the effects of the pandemic and resulting lockdown, I’ve been continuing with my participation in Cosmic Smashbooking, invented by Catt Z and an Intentional Creativity process inspired by Shiloh Sophia.  This particular project, the making of a Blessing Book, using the Cosmic Smashbooking process, resulted from an idea by one of the instructors, Mary Ann Matthys. It’s helped me cope, sometimes dig deep in a whimsical way, and focus on the many positive aspects of my life.

It’s also given me an outlet for my urge to ‘cut and paste’, a hangover from childhood, and, to use just a fraction of the must-keep clippings and images, lovely packaging, and ephemera that seem to multiply of their own accord in the tubs in the studio.  That’s what I get for being a ‘visual’ person!

In this instance, I’m using a repurposed journal.  Thoughts are written on the pages, and then covered with layers of paint, drawing, collage – whatever calls to show up on the page, at the time.  It’s a process that gags the internal critic and welcomes imperfection, which is like a sweet ocean breeze coming into the studio.  It’s also a process that continually surprises me, at what does show up on the page.  Though, the Blessing Book, having a specific purpose, is lighter in content than some of my other Smashbooks.

Some blessings inspire poems.  I haven’t written poetry for quite some time, but am enjoying the the challenge, and the opportunity to incorporate words.

Some pages are inspired by everyday meetings with the critters, that make a day special, like the visit to the kitchen by a frog, the first of the season, and my first, ever, sighting of a scarlet robin.  Both inspired me to look up the ‘messages’ their sightings had for me.  And, were both surprisingly apt for the tone of this time in my life.

One of the prompts was our Inner Landscape, which resulted in a collaged extended spread of all the things I hold dear inside of me and visit, at least mentally, on a regular basis.

At a suggestion by the facilitator, that we have a ‘paper doll’ as a Compassionate Observer, I got carried away this week when I’d injured my foot and needed to have it elevated, cocooned in frozen beans.  Although Cosmic Smashbooking, by its nature does not need to be detailed or ‘pretty’ (it depends on what issue one is working on at the time – some pages can turn out primitive or even ugly, but still contain a message from-and-to the person’s heart and soul – part of the meditative aspect for me is in the details).  I lose myself.  Too busy creating to bother  listening to the Inner Critic, I just go with the flow.  Thus, the little dancing girl…  She put a smile on my dial when I needed it most, even though she’s a pensive sort of gal.

 

Image23

At a time when I am re-evaluating my creative life, and what brings a dose of delight into my days, making a Blessing Book has proven to be a blessing in itself.

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A Woodblock Journey – Worth Every Hour

 

At the End of the Day - woodblock reduction print, Jenn White

At the End of the Day – woodblock reduction print, Jenn White

Bewildering to realise it’s more than twelve months since I did this woodcut.  Being in ‘lockdown’ doesn’t seem to have done my brain a lot of good.  I’d been looking forward to attending a ‘creatures’ exhibition, in which this print would be hung, as part of the Glenelg Shire Cultural Collection. Like so many events in which folk would gather together, it has not happened because of the COVID19 pandemic.  A small price to pay, compared to what others have paid in illness and, sadly, demise. Who would have thought the world would come to a virtual standstill.

The print was purchased last year for the Cultural Collection, after a viewing at the annual John Shaw Neilson Art Prize exhibition in Penola, South Australia, (also cancelled this year).  The idea for this woodblock print had been gestating for a couple of years.  Inspired by one of Neilson’s poems about the Smoker Parrot, also known as the Regent Parrot, and being concerned with dwindling habitat for these glorious birds, there was a lot of thought and passion going into the design and process.

Rather than doing a detailed sketch, first, (will I never learn) I drew the design straight onto a piece of Masonite.  I proceeded with the process as I had numerous times before.  The blank block coated with an acrylic layer, to enable me to see the cut marks easier, I dew the design in pencil then permanent marker, made the first cuts for sections that would be ‘white’ and gave the block a couple of coats of Shellac.  This prevents moisture soaking into the wood, and helps preserve the design during numerous runs of inking and cleaning with each colour printed.

Issues with the woodblock

Issues with the woodblock

Rolling on the first colour I was mystified and then devastated to see the Shellac peeling off the wood and sticking to the brayer.  Far out… This was new.  Completely baffled, I posted on a printmaking Facebook page for advice or suggestions.  Duly noting all, and, being a tenacious person and determined to salvage the block (no heart for beginning all over again, even if I had more Masonite) I cleaned block, roller, inking plate.  The design traced from the block, I sanded, and scrubbed with steel wool and meths, some sections refusing to clear of Shellac that had stuck fast – more mystery.

Worried about inconsistency in the uptake of ink on the block, I carried on regardless.

Never keen on large editions, mostly because there are so many ideas vying for attention, plus, I seem to be becoming an ‘art activist’, which means probable limited appeal, I ended up with one good print out of four.  Successful, as far as I’m concerned.  And even more successful with the print now part of the Cultural Collection.

I may not have won any  prizes in the John Shaw Neilson awards, but through having my work entered and viewed, two of my woodcuts found homes.

 

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Heeding the Sighs of the Soul

Smoke

For one who calls herself a printmaker, there’s not been any printmaking coming out of the studio for the past season.  Summer has come and gone, literally in a blaze, leaving a legacy of destruction and loss.  The south west corner of Victoria, where I live, fared quite well during the horrendous fire season, though, like any caring and concerned person, the ferocity of the bushfires affected me deeply.   Being physically unwell during that time didn’t help.  But, things are looking up and I’m looking ahead.

Most of us creative types experience times of questioning – Am I on the right path?  Am I working in the right medium? What do I want to say through my art?  What’s happened to my sense of play?

I love how the Universe works.  When we’re open to guidance, synchronicity steps in when we most need it.  Months ago, to inject more freedom into my creative ‘work’ and give the perfectionist a whack to the side of the head, I signed up for a workshop series of online seminars called Sketchbook Revival.  Modules led by creative women and men reintroduced me to sketching, playing with watercolour and mixed media, and playing with words through quick sketches.

The course also introduced me to a creative process developed by Catt Z Geller called Cosmic Smashbooking.  A combination of writing, painting, and collage, all activities I love, it has the added amazing result of tapping into the subconscious, providing answers to questions I struggled to articulate.  The timing was perfect.  I was drowning in a morass of confused emotions, after losing by four-footed best mate and constant companion.  A heart-and-soul-centred process, it is a playful way of tackling serious issues,  and getting to know oneself better. Even in my sixties, I’m still learning what makes me who I am.

Go with the flow cosmic smashbook

Make friends with myself picking up pieces

During the recent concern for my much loved continent, a physical sinking into ennui resulting from ill health, definitely feeling my age, and asking – How can I invest more meaning and purpose into what I do?  How can I make a difference?  What the hell am I supposed to be doing? – I turned again to Smashbooking.

New Moon Energy Activation Pisces

And, I have a renewed and revitalised focus.  Yes, I am back in the studio, working with cutters and ink, though there will be more ‘Smashing’ while a new project incubates.  I’ll be forever grateful for the time freely given to others by creative folk like Catt Z, who mentor, encourage and inspire.  Floating in a sea of possibilities, I wonder where I’ll actually come ashore.

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Play Time in Spring

Golden Hour

Although printmaking and art in general has been largely and noticeably absent over the past couple of months, life itself has been busy.  Juggling several community-based responsibilities (self inflicted, naturally) continues to be time-consuming.  Even so, I didn’t want to miss out on participation in the annual Solstice print exchange, something I’ve been involved with for a decade.

Having neither time nor motivation, or a desire for putting myself under more pressure, I decided it was ‘play time’, and a chance to experiment with a different form of printmaking.  I’d played around with foam block reductions before and thought I’d have another go.  Using a photo as reference (a section thereof for my desired purpose), I re-used a Styrofoam cake tray (I do have a sweet tooth).  Forgoing the aid of drawing on the ‘plate’ first, I set to with a non-working Biro and made the first dents in the foam.

Working with a limited palette of quick-drying Block Printing inks, I printed pale yellow.  The plate cleaned after the run, it was interesting to try and ‘see’ where I’d been, and where I needed to mark-make next.  It was also interesting to see the ink beading on teh block, resulting in mottling on the paper.  At first I was disappointed in the coverage, but rather liked the effect, considering the subject – the last hour of daylight.  I proceeded with the colour layers.

I reached the stage where I was completely lost, as to how to add a last darker ‘layer’ to pick out some shadows.  The foam block was a dead loss.  Perhaps another foam block was the answer.  No.  Perhaps I could carve a lino block, but that was too time-eating with the pending deadline.  A glue block (PVA dripped and squeezed onto a piece of matt board was an unmitigated failure.  Calming the panic, I ended up making it a mixed media (variable edition) print and used watercolour to add the shadows in the waves and on the underside of the seagulls.

Not the most detailed of prints, but I was pleased it had worked at all.  And, I had fun along the way, giving myself a challenge.

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A Bee in My Bonnet

Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not

A recent sign-up for a print exchange had me inspired, though in a quandary about which theme to depict.  Due to popular demand it was a choice between ‘Underwater’ or ‘Bees’.  Both appealed.  I considered, ever so briefly, changing the bees’ natural environment.  However, Mother Nature stepped in by providing me with my first sighting of a Blue-banded Bee, an Aussie native, going happily about its business in my vegetable garden.  Apparently, it, too, loved the scent of flourishing tomatoes (a good crop, and another first for me in my current location).

As so often happens, I got to thinking.  This time about the plight of bees, not only Aussie natives but also worldwide.  They are in decline.  Mostly due to human intervention in the form of herbicides, insecticides, pollution, and the general, continuing decimation of the wild places on our planet.  Time is running out for these amazingly productive creatures.  So, I had my theme and my take on the theme.

There size of the print was a given, as the exchange prints are determined by set paper measurements.  I decided on a thin Japanese paper.  Nearing the end of the roll, I cut the twenty required for the edition, plus an extra eight, allowing for proofs and the inevitable misprints, and weighted the stack of paper, hoping it would uncurl.

When drawing up a block for printing, one can either do a drawing and transfer it to the block, or draw directly onto the matrix, in this case a piece of linoleum.  I drew the design, in detail, onto the lino, which turned out to be a mistake.  (The first of many!)

At the best of times, the continual inking up and wiping of the block, during the reduction process, tends to fade the mark making done with even the most permanent of ‘permanent’ markers.  At the worst of times, which this would turn out to be, the image on the lino all but disappears.  By the time I was about to carve away more of the block, ready for the second colour, I knew I was in strife.  The design was already fading.  To help with a memory apparently fading as quickly as those black lines – I’d experienced the problem before – I took a snapshot of the block, printed it out, and roughly set out the colours as a guide.

There are definitely times when I long for the flexibility and do-over-ability of working with paint on canvas.  Right from the start, there were issues with this edition of prints.  It was as if I had forgotten all experience had taught me, and gremlins threw in a couple of hot coals to juggle while I was at it.

The issues and challenges:

  • Thin paper that refused to stop curling until about the sixth layer of colour, despite stacking them interleaved with phone book pages for a smidgen of weight.
  • Caligo Safe Wash ink that takes forever to dry, even with the addition of cobalt drier solution.
  • Losing much of the layer of ink to the phone book pages – a soft blot helps the next layer take – when prints stuck.
  • Too many times when the paper did not adhere to the corner of the block, where required for registration (matching up) because of curling, though stuck extremely well to my hands and fingers, while trying to re-position it on the block.
  • Colours losing much of their depth and needed contrast during the sticking, un-sticking and drying processes.
  • Losing the ‘marker’ almost completely from the lino block before I was ready for it to disappear.  That, combined with a less than perfect printed image of the block, meant losing some details in the prints.

As there were several back-tracks, colour-wise, the above photos do not show each and every state (colour application) of the printing process, and to be totally honest, the frustration level was such that I forgot I even had a camera.

The result was:

  • Many prints lack refinement, with inaccurate registration.
  • Many prints sport unsightly finger marks in the once-white margins.
  • Several ‘lost’ prints, and
  • A completed, most definitely ‘variable’ edition of 24 prints that look like they had the design applied in some type of liquid vinyl – thick and shiny to the point of glary, even after days of drying.

So, what did I learn?  Never, ever again use Caligo Safe Wash inks for a reduction print on thin paper.  I’ve always liked the colours and intensity, but not the way they behave – gooey-ness and eternal drying time.  I’ve found oil-based inks are often touch dry overnight and even oil paint and medium is amenable to wet-on-wet layering, and dry faster than the Caligo inks.  I’m not the only printmaker that has had the dry-time problem, sometimes it is weeks before the prints can be handled and/or stacked.

Block end result

Block end result

The prints have arrived at the first stop on their journey, for collation and mailing to each participating printmaker around the world.  Though, whether the coordinator will open the packet to find a ‘block’ of prints is yet unknown.

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