A mix of miniatures

Every year since the late 1990s the Australian Society of Miniature Art has held an awards exhibition here in Sydney. I’ve been a member of the society for longer than I care to remember and have put work into the awards exhibition nearly every year since it has been going. Sometimes I win prizes, sometimes I don’t but it’s an exhibition that is always a pleasure to be part of. The standard of work is incredibly high, the best holds its own with ‘normal’ sized work without any difficulty.

There are eight categories: drawing, watercolour, printmaking, oil painting, acrylic painting, mixed media, 3D and hand made books and this year for the first time, abstract. Members of the society can put in up to 4 works, non-members one. There is a rigorous selection process and work that doesn’t fit the criteria, or is of poor quality is rejected. Prizes are given in each category, plus a Best in Show, Best Traditional work, Most Innovative work and there is also a prize given for a particular theme each year. This year it was ‘In My World’ which could be interpreted broadly. A different judge is appointed each year, and it is always interesting to see the different ways they make their choices. This year it was Judith White, a well-known artist in Sydney, and she gave a great deal of thought and consideration to her choices.

The main ruling that work must adhere to in order to qualify as a miniature is that two-dimensional works can have a perimeter of no more than 40 cm, ie 10 x 10 cm or 12 x 8 cm, or whatever fits within that. Many works come in well below that size. Also, the brushstrokes used must be small, no clumsy marks, and any subject matter must be miniaturised. Three dimensional works can be no more than 15 cm in any direction, including any base or plinth and hand-made books must be made entirely by the artist, and when closed the face be no more than 40 cm perimeter.

This year all my works ended up being abstract, mainly because that seems to be the direction I am taking in all my work at the moment. No prizes for me this year, but if you would like to see the works that won, go to the miniature society (ASMA) website here.

Below are my entries this year.

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‘Fleeting Thoughts’. This is a concertina book in a box, made from etchings, monoprints and drypoint prints, with added pen and collaged names of European cities taken from an old map. The box is 4 x 2.5 x 2 cm, and the concertina opens to 47 cm in length.

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‘Garden of My Mind’. This was in the Mixed Media section and also in the ‘In My World’ section. This is an element from a monoprint that I have worked into and elaborated with coloured pencils. The diameter of the circle is 6 cm.

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‘Opulence’. I put this one in the drawing section. The initial faint base image was created with a blot of Liquid Pencil, which I drew into with graphite, and also scratched into it. This one is 6.5 x 9.5 cm.

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‘Secrets of the Harem’. This was in the oil section, and is oil paint on a piano key, 4.5 x 2 cm.

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Print assemblage – ‘Songbook’

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A pile of monoprints has gradually transformed into a book – or a sculpture. The theme of the prints was music, in maybe an obscure way. Some of the plates were made some time ago, others are new, but all were destined to be made into assemblage artworks for a travelling exhibition called ‘Music Box’. The imagery was derived from the shapes of instruments, such as a violin, and the inside of a piano. I had made four artworks some time ago (see here) and am now discarding one and adding another.

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The images above show the main pieces that went to make the pages, and the first stages of putting it together. The pages are printed on both sides then folded in half to make a double page spread. To join them into a book form, I placed a wooden rod within each fold then wove coloured leather straps through small slots on either side of the fold and around the rod, then in to the next spread, and so on for 6 spreads. Finally, the long ends of the straps were glued across the front and back of the book as both an anchor and decoration. (See the last two photos.)

I also added smaller pages or pieces of print inside or outside each spread. Some of these were altered with cuts, folds or pieces inserted in them, to add interest and give a sense of dimension to the book. Although I have called it ‘Songbook’, I intend the book to stand fully opened so each page can be seen, rather than be ‘read’ as a conventional book.

The last two images show the book closed, with the spine and straps visible.

Next collaboration book – Garden Life

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The international collaboration is moving on another step. I received Karen’s concertina book from Melbourne about a month ago and have now completed my contribution, so today will be sending the book on its way to Rebecca in Sweden. From there it will go to Gale in Oregon, then Cathe in Minnesota. (Click on their names for links to their blogs. All of us except Gale are also on Instagram at Anna, Karen, Rebecca and Cathe.)

Karen’s theme was Garden Life, which encompasses all kinds of plants, animals, birds and insects, but I decided to stick with the Bird of Paradise flower which was in full flower at the time I was looking for inspiration around the garden.

This plant is huge and very old, it was well-established when we moved to this house 35 years ago, so is probably over 40 years old, and it dominates the front garden. I feel it has been a constant companion for that time, watching over us, seeing our girls grow from babies to mothers themselves, so it is significant, as well as being exotic and beautiful. The seedheads have a form that fascinates me too, see here and here for recent drawings. I did this drawing in coloured pencil.

Karen has done an amazing amount of work on this book, making not only a front page cover but a box as well. It is created in her typical style, strong, beautiful forms and rich colours, it is a real pleasure to look at!

So now it will be heading towards Sweden for Rebecca to add her hand to the book! I can’t wait to see what is next!

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The front of the box
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Front cover
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Karen’s spread
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My spread

Small concertina collaboration

The two-part collaboration project with my friend Sue continues – more portraits (see here for previous post) are being done, and the four small concertinas continue to grow. Each has a theme of its own – the garden, household objects, landscape and toys. The one I have found most challenging was the landscape one, but a challenge is good for the brain, and I am happy with my contributions so far!

The first two books (garden and household objects) are bought ones, made by Sennelier – I found them in an art shop sale, couldn’t resist them and when Sue and I agreed to do the concertina collaboration they were perfect for the job. The other two I made, they are the same size, 15 x 9.5 cm, with board ends and folded 250gsm watercolour paper for the pages.

The way it works, we each do a drawing or painting on a double spread, leaving a little bit of the image hanging over to the next spread to anchor the following image. We have taken it in turns to be the starter, Sue started the garden and toys, I started the landscape and household objects ones. The subject matter has been very broad and ranging from very real to completely imaginary. We are working on both sides of the books.

Each one has been a joy to work on, and receiving them back from Sue I’m always excited and curious to see what she has done. Our styles work well together, and the ideas from each push the next forward.

I must apologise for the quality of the photos, I took them quickly before I packaged the books up to send to Sue for her next contribution and didn’t realise till too late that the focus wasn’t great on some of them, but hopefully you get the idea!

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Collaborating across the world

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Minnesota, Oregon, Stockholm, Melbourne and Sydney – five artists who have never met are collaborating across the world on a set of handmade books. In 2015 four of us collaborated on handmade books, and we overcame distance, trepidation and time to have a hugely successful result, and forged firm friendships in the process. So, we have decided to do it again, and this time invited one more artist, Rebecca from Stockholm to join us.

To make it a little different, this time each of us is making a concertina book, with a double page for each person, encased in a cover of our choice. The image on each spread will spill just a little on to the following one, for the next person to incorporate into their drawing or painting. The closed books will be approximately A5 in size, 210 x 150 mm, and the paper weight around 300 gsm, heavy enough to take whatever medium we apply. After a couple of initial hiccups, where we found some papers simply collapsed on the fold when watercolour was applied, we have all taken different approaches to solving this, reinforcing the back of the folds, or changing paper. I have decided to join the pages at the end when the book finally comes back to me, so have supplied the other artists with sheets of unfolded paper to work on.

We each chose our own theme for our book, but agreed to keep the themes within the realm of plants or animals (I think dogs will feature largely as I am the only non-dog owner among us, but I like to draw dogs so that will not be a problem!) My title is ‘Eat Me!’, and will be portraying any kind of edible plants, in any way that works! The title from Cathe in Minnesota is ‘A Dog’s Life’, Gale from Oregon has chosen ‘Yard Friends’, Rebecca from Stockholm is taking us on ‘A Walk in the Woods with a Friend’ and Karen in Melbourne is featuring ‘Garden Life’. All these titles conjure up so many ideas, I’m looking forward to them all. Karen’s book is with me, ready and waiting for the first mark. We each start our own books, then post them on to the next person, who will do her page, then send them on again, until they finally return to the instigator.

The cover of my book is made from a monotype print that I made just recently, it felt as though the imagery spoke to the idea of edible plants. The drawing was inspired by the display on a stall at London’s Borough Market, a treasure trove of interesting food, I loved the different shapes of the mushroom varieties, with the big red chili on top. It is mainly graphite pencil, but highlights of coloured pencil were added to enhance certain areas.

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To see the works as they progress, all of us (except Gale) are on Instagram: karenbaileystudio, cathejacobi, rebeccacaryandersonart, and me anna_warren_portfolio, Gale is at sticksstonesnpaperstew here on WordPress.

The Kimberley in July

For almost 20 years we have travelled through Australia, top to bottom, all around and through the middle. To the wild and remote places that most people never go. On every journey I take a sketchbook, waterproof pens and a travel watercolour set and I document our journey, in words and in drawings. The drawings are mostly of the objects I find, feathers, shells, leaves, bones, occasionally a bit of landscape. I take photos too, but it is the sketchbooks that really keep the memories fresh.

The drawings are also a resource for works that I create later. I redraw loosely from my original drawings, sometimes altering them a little to suit my new purposes, but the essence remains. My present project is using drawings from a 2009 trip that went up through the centre of Australia, through the Kimberley, down the Western Australia coast and home to New South Wales via the Nullarbor Plain between July and September.

I cut sheets of watercolour paper to postcard-sized rectangles 150 x 105 mm and started, choosing images that worked with the shape, and adding the handwritten notes that I put in my sketchbook. The intention is to make these into a book, possibly a concertina that will show the progression of images, but that will evolve later. I’m not sure how many drawing I will do either … so far I have completed 6 and one is in its pen and ink stage, before I add the colour. I have included it to show how they begin.

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Odds and ends at the end of the year

Over the last few weeks I have been working on a range of different artworks, in a somewhat disjointed way. I have had the (totally delightful) distraction of the unexpectedly early arrival of my first grandchild, a little girl called Lumi. She was tiny, but is thriving, clearly a determined individual! And now the lead-up to Christmas provides other distractions.

On one day last week I heard that I had made two sales, very different artworks in different places. One was a painting, sold through Bluethumb, an online gallery. I have had work there for about a year and a half and had previously sold two paintings to the same buyer, but that was all, so this was a nice surprise. The other sale was one of my miniature hand-made books which was in an end of year group show, this too was quite unexpected. Neither work is new, but I had faith in them both, so it is good to know people liked them! The painting is called ‘Enigma’ and is oil on board and the book is called ‘Sleeping Beauty in Short, a book in a box’.

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Etching is a print medium I have always loved, but have done little of in recent years. It is time-consuming and heavy on equipment, so when a printmaker friend who is also a magnificent teacher said she was going to conduct two mentor workshops in using aluminium plates (as opposed to copper or zinc which I have used in the past) I seized the opportunity. We had a small group of wonderful artists, it was an enormously pleasurable experience and I was reminded of the scope within etching, and how much I enjoy it. There are a few fundamental differences with using aluminium – the acid for etching is very gentle, and easily accessible from any hardware store, and there is no need to go through the complexities of applying aquatint in order to create tones, as when areas of the aluminium are left exposed in the acid, it bites leaving a texture on the plate. The darkness of the tone can be controlled by how long the plate is left in the acid – it can be pulled out and blockout applied to the areas to be kept lighter. The downside is that it can be unpredictable, and it is more difficult to obtain the clear, fine lines that are possible on copper or zinc, but this unpredictability is what I am hoping to exploit when I make more plates next year. The first image below was comparatively controlled, the second one is the same size (10 x 15 cm) and was more experimental in the way I blocked out areas, then wiped off bits of the blockout in an almost random way.

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Drawing into my monoprints is continuing – a never-ending source of surprise and pleasure! The image below is a small part (about 20 x 20 cm) of a larger piece, with a ghost mono print underneath, worked into with coloured pencils. I am now thinking of simply taking the elements that work from these larger pieces and treating them as small finished works. I haven’t come up with a title for this one, so any suggestions welcomed!

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I am so grateful for the continuing support from the people who visit this blog, and who follow me on Instagram and Facebook. So many developments and new directions have come from the intelligent and thoughtful comments that you go to the trouble to make. I am constantly inspired by seeing the work of artists I follow too, so thank you, have a wonderful, peaceful Christmas, and looking forward to an inspired and productive New Year!