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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A Hard-working Dog in Lino

Kelpie - Linocut - Jenn White

Kelpie – Linocut

It’s appropriate that a Kelpie be present at the upcoming Print on the Line exhibition, happening this coming weekend.  A short drive from Sandford is Warrock Homestead, the birthplace of the original Kelpie.  It’s a lovely, atmospheric place, a complete village with oodles of history.  Casterton, an even shorter drive from home, honours this special dog with statues in the street and the annual Kelpie Muster every June.  In all conscience, I couldn’t leave the dog in the kennel, so to speak.  The lino block will be available for others to print, if they want to ‘have a go’ over the weekend.  I wanted a subject that might appeal to many, and also highlight some of the mark-making in a black and white relief print.

Right now, I can relate to how tired a working dog must feel at the end of day of rounding up sheep.  The only sheep in the vicinity are the ones in the paddock next door.  I haven’t been rounding them up, but I have been putting in long hours, preparing for the exhibition.  Who’d have thought there were so many things to think about.

Flowers wrens and plant markers - hand printed - Jenn White

Flowers wrens and plant markers

The printed book page wrens and flowers and printed wooden plant markers are done.  It is after all a backyard theme, and a ‘print’ exhibition.  Greenery, to go with the flowers will be prunings from the quince tree, which has shot profusely from beneath the graft.  Very pretty, but they’re taking the strength from the main tree, and potential fruit.  And I do love my quince jam.  Still much to do…and I could well be hunting out a house cleaner.

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Prints Inspired by Memories

Little Helpers - linocut - Jenn White

Little Helpers – linocut

My maternal grandfather, Charlie, introduced me to the mystery and hard work of the backyard vegetable patch.  He and his wife, Doris, had lived through the Great Depression, a time when even the smallest effort toward self-sufficiency made a huge difference to what was brought to the family table.  The couple lived in the same house all their married  lives, the veggie garden still being worked and producing up until when Charlie died from lung cancer in 1967.

I remember, during a family visit when I was young, being fascinated, and in the way kids are, a little disgusted, to see my grandfather out on the street with bucket and shovel, scraping up manure left by the milky’s horse.  This precious commodity he then dug into the veggie patch,  adding nourishment for home-grown food.  Years later, during school holidays, I spent time with my grandparents in West Coburg, helping Charlie weed, turn the soil, and picking the sweetest peas I’ve ever tasted.

Charles Edward Haworth (1897 to 1967) - Sapper, 12th Field Company Engineers

Charles Edward Haworth (1897 to 1967) – Sapper, 12th Field Company Engineers

Coming up to Remembrance Day, Charlie is on my mind.  As a teenager, he served in World War One, celebrated, if such can be said, his twenty-first birthday on foreign soil, possibly knee deep in mud in a trench, and was one of the fortunate service men and women to return home.  I’m grateful he survived, to go on and marry, be the father of my mother, and produce in me some wonderful memories, and an appreciation for the backyard veggie patch.  Though, right now, when I have so many other tasks on my plate, he’d be shaking his head at my one lonely snail-munched silver beet plant amongst the weeds.

About the Print

There are times I find producing a black and white print more challenging than a coloured reduction print with umpteen layers.  I tackle reduction prints in my own odd way, as if I’m painting with brush and acrylics, but instead using cutters and ink.  With the black and white prints, I often struggle to translate the nuances of shading of an image into varying cut marks, and balancing the white space against the black ink.  While doing this little print I also struggled with holding myself back from adding too much detail, in the garden and background, in a small block.  I tend to set myself up for additional challenges, but this time, I tightened the reins, and am pleased I did.

 

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Backyard Theme for Prints

The Newcomer - reduction linocut - Jenn White

The Newcomer – reduction linocut

Life is manic as I prepare for a one-off exhibition.  Not a solo exhibition, but one that will share with others over 200 original prints, collected through international exchanges over almost a decade.  As a printmaker, and a rare duck in my creative pond, it is always exciting to receive a package of work from other printmakers around the world.  It is akin to having my own private viewing.  Presented in various techniques – woodcut, etching, mezzotint, linocut, engraving, etc. – each print presents a different way of viewing aspects of the world. So, I thought, why not let others share the collection?

Home Is Where The hall Is, an initiative of Regional Arts Victoria, celebrates community creativity and the small country halls throughout my home state.  A perfect marriage for a unique exhibition.  Not only can others come along and view the prints, but I can also raise a few dollars towards the upkeep of the Sandford Mechanics Hall.  In a small town devoid of post office, general store, or even a working pub, our hall is an icon.  It deserves being used.

Although the prints in the collection are small works, there was the issue of displaying them, unmounted, unframed.  I wanted something quirky and fun and came up with a plan.  Implementing  it was something else.  I’ll have a go at most things, but my woodworking skills leave a bit to be desired in the accuracy department.  I enlisted the help of an old friend who was a carpenter’s apprentice when I first met him over four decades ago, and a current member of the Harrow Men’s Shed.  We collaborated on my idea and he came up with a design, and constructed the portable hanging frames.  I now have six ‘washing lines’ as a display system.  Woohoo!

Testing the hanging system for 'Print on the Line'

Testing the hanging system for ‘Print on the Line’

The prints being original art, and not wanting the collection to become inadvertently damaged by handling (I know we all love to touch to discover and learn), the next hurdle was protection.  In keeping with the casual-quirkiness of the exhibition, I chose plastic sleeves.  This also means I have uniformity to work out prints-to-a-line.

With a type of indoor-backyard theme happening, I decided I needed birds flying above the ‘washing’.  It took a bit of working out to do the linocut to produce a (reasonably) symmetrical and fold-able print.  Plus there was the need for detail showing on front and back of the wings.  A bit of double handling while printing on old book ages, and a flock was fledged.  I’m also doing a limited edition of hand-coloured ‘flying wren books’ on proper printing  paper.  Still working on the logistics for the innards….

None of the prints from the collection will be for sale, but visitors to exhibitions usually expect something available for purchase.  So, it’s a manic time in the studio, producing some new prints, cards, and other printed goodies.  While doing demos over the exhibition weekend, I’ll offer a ‘make and take’ experience for anyone who wants to have a go at printing.

Two weeks left in which to label collection prints, paint the clothes lines – bright, happy colours, of course – segregate flocks into family groups, make more flowers for the ‘garden beds’, work out and cut a fun block for the make-and-take, and print, print, print.  Leave a message and I’ll call you in a fortnight!

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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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‘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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