A Long Blog Drought

Aperitif Time - linocut -Proof Print - Jenn White

Aperitif Time – linocut -Proof Print

It’s a shock to realise it’s almost a year since the last posting, here.  There’s nothing quite like a troubling and failing relationship and months of feeling my age, in the form of various physical inconveniences, to put a gag on the Muse, and a halt to things I used to enjoy doing.  Add to that, the vagaries of working with ‘technology’ that doesn’t want to behave (for me, at least, a lot of the time) and you have a blog drought.  Now that the Muse has shucked her gag, and making up for lost time, I’d prefer to be in the studio, rather than waiting for the machine to overheat and shut down, mid-sentence, (which it did/has!) but I’ve done my stint in the hot tin shed, and waiting for the morning’s work to dry.

The print shown above was a quick project in response to the Muse’s nagging to a short-notice art call.  She’s good at that. When in full Nag mode, she tends to assume I’m the Masked Marvel in speed and dexterity.  Often, my response is, “Yes, great idea.  I’ll think about that one, while I finish the other six projects you’ve already got me working on.” This time, I put on hold the said six, and got stuck in.  The call was for the ‘Women (Rural), Wine and Wetlands Art Prize’, to be exhibited at the Red Tail Gallery in Edenhope, Victoria.  With all of one day to organise an entry, I’d decided on entering the White-faced Heron, in keeping with the ‘wetlands’ part of the theme.  However, The Nag, Goddess love her, decided that was just not good enough.

One of the six current projects is a barely-in-progress edition of small books, combining images and words, my two creative passions.  The books will feature Aussie magpies. At present, Maggies are very much on my mind, and are always deeply entrenched in my heart.  This, despite being stabbed in the head by a ‘local’ during nesting season a couple of years back. My fault.  Having been a wildlifer, I knew better than to try and ‘rescue’ the nestling, blown out of a nest and huddled near the car’s wheel.  I didn’t want to run over the poor baby.  Anyway, combine my preoccupation with maggies, and The Nag on my case about the wine and rural women aspects of the art call, and it was precious little sleep for me that night.

Am I happy with the print?  Largely, yes.  It depicts what I was aiming for.  Are there things I would change? Yes, definitely – the woman’s overly-chubby cheek for one, some of the line work for another.  Oh, and there’s the…  Being a perfectionist sucks.  As do times of inactivity enforced by ailments.  But, hey, I’m back!

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Words Inspiring Images ~ Part Two

The Lament unframed sml

The Lament – reduction woodcut

My father used to tell my brothers and me as children that one branch of our family tree had its origins in Ayrshire, Scotland, where the famous poet Robert Burns (The Bard) came from.  Having spent quite some time on my family history, I’m yet to prove him right.  All the same, that supposed ‘fact’ being part of our family legend for decades – and the family having a Collie named after the poet – fostered in me a curiosity that blossomed into a love of The Bard’s poetry (even when I had to continually look up the Glossary for the meanings of the Scottish words!).  So, when I spied a call for art ‘Inspired by Burns’, my interest was piqued.

The poem that grabbed and held my attention was ‘Lament for James, Earl of Glencairn’.  A chord was struck in more ways than one.  The imagery depicted by The Bard’s words immediately brought inspiration.  As did, that from a very young age my most favourite of instruments has been the harp.  Reading Burns’ poem I could literally see the old bard sitting beneath the oak tree, grieving for what was lost – a dear friend and patron.  I could almost hear the notes as he plucked the strings.  I didn’t discover until later that the bard written about in the poem was Burns himself.  I doubt my bard looks anything like the famous poet, but that’s okay.  It was the words that inspired the image.

I chose to do a woodcut, as I felt the medium lent itself to the theme and the era.  The print was created in the reduction method – sections of the block carved away as each of the thirteen colours were successively printed.  The print is hand-pulled using a wooden ladle to transfer ink from block to paper.  An edition of only two prints were produced, and two artist’s proofs.  It’s a print I enjoyed doing, immensely, while listening to my favourite harp music (though I had to down tools when the playing of Maire Ni Chathasaigh‘, an amazing Irish harpist, and her offsider Chris Newman, a virtuoso guitarist, threatened to melt the cassette player with the speed of their fingers, and I just had to jig).

This print didn’t do any good in the Inspired by Burns competition, but it did win best Works on Paper in the recent South East Art Society Open Art Awards, currently being exhibited at the Riddoch Art Gallery in Mount Gambier.  That print is also, apparently sold.

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Words Inspiring Images ~ Part One

And the fiddler played on sml

And the Fiddler Played on – reduction woodcut

I always look forward to the annual John Shaw Neilson Art Prize, as it’s an opportunity to endeavour marrying, however subjectively, an image with words, in this case a poem by the celebrated poet from Penola, South Australia.  The poem I chose for inspiration was ‘Dear Little Cottage’. Rather than the description of the cottage itself, it was the lines about what went on inside the cottage that provided vivid mind-pictures – the fiddler playing and feet dancing on the rough boards.

The lines speak of old-time entertainment, before the digital age.  Of evenings spent with friends gathering, instruments coming out of their cases, and impromptu sessions of bush and folk music, the kind that makes you want to tap your feet, sing along, or get up and dance.

I did, however, welcome the digital age and the knowledgeable Mr Google, while researching photos of fiddlers and bush-dancing couples.

While carving the block in stages, and pulling the prints, I was transported back to to the era I was depicting, when things were done the long and satisfying way, by hand.  Adding to the atmosphere, I had the tape deck (yep, still have one that works) going non-stop with home-grown music from Blackwood, The Bruce Brothers ‘Kitchen Music’, and a selection of harp music by Andy Rigby.

In times past, while living in Central Victoria, I had the privilege of being invited to some ‘house music’ sessions.  What amazing and joyful experiences.  Thanks, guys, for the memories.

The actual process turned out to be a struggle because of issues with the ink and paper being a less than perfect marriage, and lacking time to allow each colour printed hang on the rack for a week or more of drying time.  Rather than an edition of four prints I ended up with two unique state prints and two disasters!  The print entered into the competition sold during the exhibition, which was a thrill.  The other print was sold in the Clarice Beckett Art Award exhibition today.

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The Block Stripped Bare

Did your mother know? - Reduction woodcut

Did your mother know? – Reduction woodcut

Taking part in an international print exchange through the Baren Forum I was challenged with a first for me, the theme being ‘Nudes’.  Yes, I have taken part in life drawing sessions, but never produced a work for public consumption of someone naked. I’ve always been fascinated by the women from the past who posed in various stages of undress for ‘girlie’ postcards and photos. What were their reasons for choosing the path of ‘blue’ photography? Was the decision financially based, a matter of ensuring survival?  Were they rebelling against the mores of society at the time?  Was it a lark, or maybe a means of scaling the heights to celebrity status, which some of them did. Did the parents, families and friends of these women, some mere girls, know about the photographic sessions?  Or was it a closely guarded secret? And, if so, were these women ostracised for unseemly behaviour, when their secret was discovered?

These days, nudity doesn’t have the shock-appeal it did a century or more ago.  Though, of course there is still a lot of hoo-ha when one of our revered female movie stars or celebrities is caught unawares by an ‘indiscretion’ of her past, getting her gear off in perhaps an effort to get ahead, or snapped by some moron in a private moment.

I remember being embarrassed as a child and young teenager at seeing my father ogling the well-endowed and all-but-naked girls in the Australasian Post – purchased ostensibly for its articles and jokes, and not the ‘tits and bums’. Even then, I wondered what went through those women’s minds as they posed provocatively for the camera.

It wasn’t difficult finding images for reference for the proposed print.  Actually doing the print was a whole other thing.

I wanted an old-world look and chose wood for the block.  Unfortunately, the piece of Masonite had been sitting in the shed for some time.  On first inspection it appeared fine, but as I progressed through the carving and printing process, I struggled to get even ink coverage.  Despite continual coats of Shellac, the block was warping.  Working to a deadline and denied the luxury of starting again, I had no choice but to persist.

It’s not the best print I’ve done, nor are the prints in the edition of 33 all the same, as they should be (just managed to salvage the required number for the exchange).  However, I quite like the ‘worn’ look in what turned out to be a ‘variable edition’ of naked ladies.

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The Flight of Freedom in Printmaking

The Girls, Rescued and Freed - linocut - Jenn White

The Girls, Rescued and Freed – linocut – Jenn White

Birds seem to have become a theme in my printmaking, lately.  Aussie printmaker Kate Gorringe-Smith sent out notification of a call for artists to contribute to a special exhibition.  ‘Birds + Us’ is being organised by BirdLife Australia,to raise money and awareness for the Threatened Bird Network, to celebrate their 20 year anniversary.  I was hooked.

Although, unlike the Tasmanian Wedge-tailed eagles, our Victorian wedgies are not on the threatened list, they are protected – it is illegal to shoot, poison or trap these beautiful birds.  Being protected by law is no guarantee of a peaceful existence, as I discovered during my time as a wildlife rescuer.  Over a few short years, I experienced the heartbreak of seeing too many magnificent wedgies brought into care.  Some were victims of mishaps, more often they were victims of human thoughtlessness and outright cruelty.

With one of the categories for the artwork being ‘Working with Birds’, I immediately thought of the two beautiful ‘girls’ rescued by volunteers of the Wildlife Rescue Emergency Service (WRES), based in Central Victoria, I had the privilege to know and help care for.

Tasia, the Wedge-tailed Eagle in care with WRES

Tasia, the Wedge-tailed Eagle in care with WRES

Tasia was found as a fledgling by a property owner.  Instead of notifying wildlife carers, he caged and housed her in a busy machinery shed, from which he conducted his business.  She was captive for over a year, fed an improper diet, which resulted in a longer than usual beak, had no perch and was forced to stand in filth. She was without sunlight – accounting for her darker than usual plumage – and could not see the sky. On being rescued, she high-stepped across the ground in the hospital aviary, the earth beneath her feet an alien experience.  With infinite patience and care, Neil Morgan, the raptor specialist with WRES, encouraged and taught Tasia to grip a perch, to fly, and hunt.

Cassie, wondering what's going on

Cassie, wondering what’s going on

Cassie was found near railway tracks in Castlemaine, Victoria.  Whether she escaped or was thoughtlessly set free (perhaps her captors became bored, or went on holiday, or some damn thing) is unknown.  All her flight feathers were sheared off or broken, due to being captive in a too-small cage.  She had used her talons to climb a tree, seeking safety. A gentle girl, whose eyes told of her confusion at the hand she had been dealt by humans, Cassie was in care until new flight feathers grew, after a complete moult.

The Girls in the flight aviary at WRES

The Girls in the flight aviary at WRES

These magnificent birds were companions in care, in a spacious, specially built flight aviary for almost two years before they were released. I had the privilege and joy of seeing them both take to the sky.

The sunrise in the printed image signifies hope, while the broken wire represents their rescue and eventual freedom.  Whether or not my linocut print of ‘The Girls’ is chosen for the juried exhibition, it was wonderful to relive some very precious memories of these two wedgies while I cut the block and pulled the prints.

A Note on the Process

The print was hand-pulled – placing the paper on the inked block and burnishing the back of the paper using a wooden ladle and metal spoon, and lots of elbow grease, transferring ink to paper – no mechanical press involved. It was done using the Reduction Method (otherwise known among printmakers as the suicide method – no going back, and any major boo-boos in cutting-away means starting the whole process again from scratch with a new block).   After each successive colour is printed, sections of the block are removed to retain what’s already printed and in readiness for printing the next colour, usually working from light to dark.

Registration (getting each pull of the print perfectly lined up on the paper with preceding passes) was my first challenge.  Although I delight in the mystery and often unexpected results involved in the Reduction Method, I was yet to work out the perfect (for me) method of registration.  I was continually frustrated at too many ‘lost’ prints.  Pablo Picasso might get away with misaligned registration in his ‘Portrait of a Woman after Cranach the Younger 1958‘ which hangs in the Tate gallery, but Picasso I ain’t.

Research gave me a few tips and I duly tried the ‘pin’ method.  This involves dowel or metal pins being inserted into a fixed ‘border’ of the registration board, upon which block and paper are placed, and punching corresponding holes into the paper, a margin allowed. Before beginning to print, I tested putting the paper on and off the dowel pins, as there would be several colours and this would happen numerous times for each print.  The holes stretched.  The registration would be thrown off.

In the end, I ignored the pins, but utilised the wooden strips attached to the registration board.  I added mat board borders on two sides to ‘contain’ the block.  And, as much as I love the softening effect of deckle edges on prints (even though they are usually covered during framing) I proceeded to cut clean edges on the two corresponding sides of the paper.

Registration board for The Girls print

Registration board for The Girls print

Fingers crossed and heart in mouth I began printing The Girls.  Mostly, it worked.  One colour on one print was off because of a tiny chip of lino stuck to the back of the block, throwing the registration out, dramatically.  Another was a bit off, for whatever reason.

As more of the block disappeared with cutting, there was a lot of wiping of already cut areas needed, to result in a ‘clean’ print.  I missed a section and there was a print with dark streaks in the sky.

The lino block of The Girls at the end of the Reduction process

The lino block of ‘The Girls’ at the end of the Reduction process

The print ended up darker overall than I anticipated, due to being extremely low on white ink for mixing colours.  With my regular supplier in Melbourne being out of stock, and having no one local to go to for printmaking supplies, a visit to Castlemaine presented an opportunity.  No, it wasn’t Graphic ink, but the Caligo (which I also use) would work fine.  I stocked up, only to discover the said ‘5% difference in formula’ had a major impact on mixing and drying times.  For me, the two inks were not compatible.

I was working to a deadline (as usual) and rather than waiting days for the Caligo/Graphic mix to dry, I resorted to white oil paint mixed with Georgian Block Printing Medium, which I’d used before. The medium transforms the paint into a tackier consistency suitable for rolling, essential for printmaking.  And, it dries quickly.

The final result? Out of eight prints, I ended up with an edition of five, plus two artist’s proofs (acceptable but not perfect) and a trial proof.  Better than my average for the Reduction Method.  Despite the challenges, I am pleased to have captured – only figuratively – the two regal wedgies that will dwell eternally in my heart.

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A Different Take on White-Line Printing

If I'm very quiet - Linocut - Jenn White

If I’m very quiet – Linocut

A recent print exchange with the on-line group of international printmakers, Baren Forum, was a technique exchange.  This one was to be our interpretation of a white line print.  Normally, the method is to cut a white line around all the relevant parts of the image to be printed, secure the paper to the edge of the block, roll back the paper, hand colour the different sections (with watercolour or gouache), lay the paper onto the wet paint, and burnish the back of the paper to transfer the coloured section.  Repeat for all sections and colours until the print is completely transferred.  An edition, by definition, is supposed to consist of identical prints.  With twenty-plus prints to pull by hand, I couldn’t get my head around that one, particularly matching colours from one print to another.

There was quite a bit of discussion on the Forum’s group site, including one comment about the possibility of a white-line reduction print.  This took my fancy.

Me being me, I wanted to challenge myself as well as have fun with the technique.  It turned out to be more challenge than fun, with each successive colour.

If I'm very quiet in progress 1

If I’m very quiet in progress 1

The image I’d chosen, taken from a photograph of a rescued magpie (from my wildlife rescue days with W.R.E.S.) sitting on my bookshelf, was busy and complex.  I’d followed normal white-line printing procedure and outlined the design on the block – linoleum, not wood as originally planned.

If I'm very quiet in progress 3

If I’m very quiet in progress 3

What I hadn’t banked on was the white line becoming lost in sections due to registration issues with the ‘reduction’ method.  Getting prints to line up properly is always an issue, which I’m constantly pondering on and adjusting.   In an edition of this size, with so many colours in the design, it was troublesome, to say the least.

If I'm very quiet in progress 4

If I’m very quiet in progress 4

It turned out to be not only a case of the disappearing block (as happens in the reduction method), but also the disappearing white line.  Fortunately, the key word in the brief was  ‘interpretation’.  The edition of prints may not be perfect, but I’m pleased with the result, and taking on the challenge.  Now, I’m eagerly awaiting a parcel of prints from twenty-one other printmakers around the world, to see how they tackled the same challenge.

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Birds in Print

The Call - Great Knot - Jenn White sml

The Call – Great Knot – Jenn White

A recent call, instigated by The Flyway Print Exchange, for submissions from printmakers caught my attention.  In conjunction with an exhibition of the prints in the exchange at the Riddoch Art Gallery in Mount Gambier, South Australia, there was to be included a selection of additional prints by artists wishing to take part – Birds Without Borders.  Prints were to be ‘based on aspects of shorebirds and their migratory flyway’.

This was the first I’d heard of a ‘flyway’, so research ensued.  It was a fascinating mini-adventure, learning  that certain water birds, which I took to be native to Australia, actually held duel citizenship.  How fascinating  is Mother Nature and the journeys she inspires.  The East Asian-Australasian Flyway web site was a mine of information on the migratory birds that travel hundreds, and sometimes thousands of miles between their summer and winter homes.  One such bird is the Great Knot, which I chose to represent in print.

With seeing the call close to the deadline and time against me, rather than a reduction print I chose a White-Line woodcut for the work.  Wanting to add some symbology I included the North Star and the Southern Cross with a pair of Great Knots facing in opposite directions.  It’s a fairly simple print (of necessity due to time constrictions) but it has been chosen for the exhibition, which pleases me immensely.  It’s always a great feeling to get our work out there on view, and it’s also heartening to be part of an awareness campaign for our amazing birds, many species of which are becoming increasingly vulnerable due to human intervention.

Flyway Print Exchange - Birds Without Borders Exhibition

Flyway Print Exchange – Birds Without Borders Exhibition

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