The sketches I made on my recent trip to Tasmania have proved a valuable resource for further artwork – I made a large drawing using some of the elements (see here) and now have made a miniature version of my sketchbook.
In creating this miniature book, I scanned and reduced the pages from the sketchbook, then re-arranged the drawings to suit a small format, going from an A4 sketchbook down to pages that are 10.5 x 9 cm. All the drawings were redone from scratch, I felt if I traced the forms I would lose the original loose quality of them, and the painting was often reinterpreted too.
Once the drawings were done and the labels added, I glued the panels onto a long strip of mulberry paper, a thin but strong Japanese paper which has small pieces of organic material embedded in it, which felt like a nice accompaniment to drawings of natural objects. The front and back covers were made of card with mulberry paper pasted on, and the decorative corners and the panel beneath the title plate were made from offcuts from my recent prints.
This little book, along with the portraits in my previous post, and a small oil painting will be submitted to the Annual Awards exhibition of the Australian Society of Miniature Art. The exhibition is not until June, but I wanted to have the work complete well in advance.
Recently I had an interesting discussion with a friend when I talked about miniature portraits – his response was ‘Isn’t that a tautology, surely ALL miniatures are portraits?’ So, the simple answer was no, modern miniatures can be any kind of subject matter and any medium – landscape, still life, abstract and sculpture to name a few.
The annual awards exhibition for the miniature society is coming up in June, so I have been thinking in miniature. Every year as well as prizes for each media section there is a special prize for a themed artwork. This time it is Australian Icon. I have to admit my heart sank when I heard this – I can imagine a mass of Sydney Harbour Bridges, Opera Houses, cockatoos, Dame Edna Everage, Don Bradman. The idea did not inspire me. So I decided to think laterally, to people who maybe should be an icon but are not so well-known, and it seemed obvious to choose an Aboriginal person. The two above are long dead, and the likenesses extracted from old photos. I have not been too fussy about copying photos exactly, it was more about getting the essence of the person.
On the left is Truganini, reputed to be the last female full-blood Aborigine from Tasmania, who died in 1876, and on the right is William Lanne, died in 1869, said to be the last male full-blood from Tasmania. His original name has been lost. For both of them, their stories are tragic, of exploitation, harsh treatment and ultimately the deep humiliation after death, for William at least, of having his head stolen for ‘scientific purposes’. Truganini’s skeleton was put on view in a museum for nearly 100 years until finally it was removed and cremated according to her wishes in 1976.
Truganini is drawn with coloured pencils on drafting film, and William is on white scratchboard. The form was drawn with black ink, then the detail scratched away.
When matted and framed, Truganini will be 6.5 x 8 cm and William will be 8 x 9 cm.
Now that the pieces for my imaginary orchestra are complete, I have been able to spend time experimenting and exploring in printmaking. In some ways, the imagery is peripheral – I am not looking to make one beautiful plate that stands alone, but create unexpected results from layering and masking, using different colours and methods. The plate used has an image inspired by the workings inside a piano.
Luggage tags are nice small shapes to use as masks to interrupt – or disrupt – the base image. I especially like the patterns made by the tag strings. In the top image the tags simply masked the main image, but small residue marks can be seen as I used the tags on another print and some of that image was offset onto the tags. On the second one, I ran the print through the press with the tags in place, then lifted the tags off, turned them over, moved some around, but replaced them within the tag marks and ran it through the press again to offset the images back into the shapes. It sounds complicated but in fact is very simple!
The bottom photo is of some of the tags, which are now printed on both sides. Even the strings have picked up imagery. These are probably asking to be turned into a 3D object of some kind.
The prints are 27 x 39 cm, printed on Magnani Corona paper and the tags are 5 x 3.5 cm.
Four imaginary musical instruments are now complete. It has been a journey of discovery, several ‘aha!’ moments, and as many ‘oops’ moments. On my desk are a number of shapes cut from my prints which haven’t gone together in the way I intended, and they are now waiting for a new approach. There still may be a little more tweaking to all of these, and some gluing and strengthening to make sure they will travel safely to their destination.
The prints used in these are all drypoint, some on copper, some on acetate and some on drypoint card, a lovely surface to work on. I have used a lino block too, which appears on some of the circles in Whirlygig. They are printed on 250 gsm Corona by Magnani except for the one at the front on the curved base which is on 300 gsm Voyager watercolour paper. The inks are all water-based and are a mix of Akua and Schminke.
The two above images are of ‘Whirlygig’, in its completed state and in progress.
This one is called ‘Up and Down’. You can see the print that I used, cut into 3 strips, two strips cut and folded to create pop-ups and the third makes the base. You can see some of the image that is on the back (which I forgot to photograph). These formed themselves into a stepped construction, a bit Aztec in its form. Maybe there are new directions to come!
Printmaking is an art form that somehow gets inside you – once you start it is hard to leave it behind. I would have described myself simply as a printmaker 20 years ago, but over the years other media became important to me, and printmaking became less of a focus, but was always in the back of my mind. Now it is front of mind, I have an allocated day for it once a week, and of course preparations for that day occupy a lot of the rest of the time. There is so much pleasure in creating prints, that moment of the reveal as paper is peeled back from the plate – did you get what you expected, or something entirely different. The weather affects the print, high humidity makes the ink run more smoothly, and dampens the paper, low humidity makes the ink harder to work. Cold and heat too have sometimes unexpected effects. All this adds to the nature of printmaking, the constant surprises that emerge.
I am not looking for perfect editions, in fact the reverse is what interests me, the moment of serendipity, the reaction of layering another plate over the previous image, how the inks respond to one another. Even results which could be interpreted as a disaster can be turned to advantage. Inspiration comes all the time – an image may be offset back onto the second plate, and a new ghost print can be taken from this. Printing on the back of the paper gives new possibilities and this is what I have been using in then developing three dimensional forms from the prints.
Coming up is a print exhibition with the title of ‘Music Box’, and I will submit some of my 3D works. So far, two are complete, the one shown above, which was inspired by the workings of one of those tiny hand-wound music boxes that play a tinny version of Happy Birthday, and the one below. This one I see as an imaginary musical instrument, perhaps something from a civilisation we know nothing of, so no-one knows how it should be played.
More prints have been made, so the next step is turn transform them into more musical objects.
Both of these are approximately 26 cm wide.