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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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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