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!

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Monotype miniature book

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With a miniature art exhibition coming up, I decided to continue making monotypes, using the same approach I took in making larger works to make some miniatures. Using smaller stencils and a similar colour palette, I made a set of 16 prints, each 7 x 11 cm. Two of them happily stood alone, so I have framed them, and I decided I would like to make a miniature book out of some of the others. As usual, I went through a number of ideas and approaches before I decided on a concertina. I wanted to keep the torn edges of each print, so made a backing  from a drypoint print, printed in ochre on brown paper (see below), then folded and glued 8 of the prints down. The imagery suggested to me the views you see in Central Australia – bright blue skies, red dirt and huge monolithic rock formations, so I have called it ‘Mapping the Road from East to West’. Once the book was made, I felt it needed more depth and intensity, so with some trepidation decided to overprint it using the drypoint plate that made the texture on the back. If it hadn’t worked, I would have had to abandon the whole thing, but all was well, and I think it has enhanced the imagery, and the sense of Central Australia.

Once the book was complete I made a tag to contain all the details (the colophon), then had to decide on how it would be held together, whether a box, or a tie of some kind. The final solution was to make a slip cover, open at both ends, like the cover on a box of matches, from two of the remaining prints.

The title of the exhibition is East Meets West in Miniature – this is open to broad interpretation, so I decided to make it where East meets West in Central Australia.

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The individual prints
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The book with slip cover. The colophon tag is just visible underneath.

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The back
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The book in its case, with the colophon
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The two individuals before they were framed.

Miniature sketchbook

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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.

Rogues Gallery – a miniature handmade book

 

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The mug-shot drawings on cigarette papers eventually came together as a miniature book, to be exhibited in the Australian Society of Miniature Art Annual Awards. To my delight it was awarded First Prize in the 3D and Handmade Books section. The judge’s comment was ‘This book of mug shots perfectly invokes a time and idea. No doubt they are all called Bugsy or Shorty or Babyface’.

The book came together over a period of time, and as is generally the case in projects like this, didn’t always conform to my intentions, several changes of direction and approach were required, which was fine, because it meant it took on a natural character that developed from the evolution.

The cigarette papers were the starting point, and became an appropriate medium to depict the strong faces inspired by the mug shots from the Police and Justice Museum in Sydney. There is more about them in my previous post which you can see here.

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After much thinking and experimenting, I decided to present the 12 drawings in small frames, using a dirty-brown lightweight card and keeping them open from both sides, so that each image was visible from front and back. I rubbed black and brown pencil around the edges of each frame to give them a grubby, well-worn look. I wanted to give the impression of a small book that one of these men may have kept in his pocket – maybe to remind him of friends long gone, or for more sinister reasons, maybe revenge or retribution.

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The next step was to put the images together. I decided on a flag book method – you can see the concertina-folded black paper in the photo above. One fold for each framed image was made in a sheet 38 x 6 cm, each fold 1 cm in depth, with a 6 x 7 cm panel left at each end to make the basis for the cover. Then came the really tricky bit of placing the drawings inside the frames, folding and gluing, then gluing each frame to the front edge of a concertina fold.

Then came the cover – several mis-steps here. First I put a dark-brown leather cover on, but as the glue dried it curled the covers, not a good look. So, I found an off-cut from an etching I had done some time ago which just had some patterning and tone on, and drew another face directly on this, then hand-lettered the title. The back cover just had another piece of black card attached to strengthen it.

 

The final element was the slip case for the book to go in. I made this from another etching off-cut, drew another rogue and the title on a cigarette paper and glued it on. You can see it in the picture below, in the gallery – I forgot to photograph it before it was exhibited, so that is the best pic I have.

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I had a total of four works in the exhibition: a drawing of three of the convicts on complete cigarette papers, this time full torsos, the three placed together in one frame, attached just by the glued edge of each paper, so they fluttered a little. The next was another drawing, coloured pencil on drafting film of cherries in a bowl and the last was a piano key, painted in oil – for this I was given a Commended, so all up this has been a very good exhibition for me!

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A rogues gallery

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In the Police and Justice Museum in Sydney there is an array of mug shots of criminals from the early part of the 20th century. These faces each tell a story, whether it is of violence, or petty crime or a life lived in poverty and desperation. Each is unique and powerful. I have used some of those faces as a loose reference for these drawings, trying to get a little insight into the characters behind the faces, choosing men in hats as being typical of their era.

The drawings are in graphite on cigarette papers cut in half, so are very small, about 3.5 cm square. The cigarette papers seemed like an appropriate surface, as something that would have been very familiar to these men. It wasn’t easy to work on, very flimsy, so the drawings are a little scratchy. I have kept the glued edge on the left hand side of each drawing, and will probably make use of it when putting them together to make a book or album of some kind, I haven’t quite decided yet what it will look like, but with another miniature exhibition coming up in August I will need to make some decisions fairly quickly. I will do another post when the final is created! Below are the individual drawings.

The beard album

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The idea of miniature men with beards has consumed me for the last few weeks, beginning with the ones drawn on drafting film with a brush pen (see here). This book was conceived to be like a Victorian photo album, full of serious looking people sitting very still. These are serious looking men, some from the modern era, some from earlier days, with their only link being that they have beards. Their beards are clearly an important part of their identity, often worn with a swagger, and generally beautifully kept, trimmed and neat. The modern ones may even use beard balm – a product I have only recently come across.

The book is made as a concertina, with windows decorated with punched holes to surround each face. Each drawing was as crisp as I could make it. The ones inside are 25 x 25 mm and the one on the cover is a little larger, being 30 mm deep. They are drawn with graphite pencil. I do my initial drawings much larger, spilling out of an A4 sketchbook, then I scan them, reduce them to the size required then redraw from that.

The album pages are paper with a marbled texture to them, and the cover is red leather, with punched holes and gold thread stitched and woven around the aperture. The cover is very simply made, simply cut to size with a very sharp knife, the folds for the spine made with pressure from a bone folder pressed along the edges. The drawing for the front was taped in place, then a piece of the same paper as the concertina glued on top, then the concertina glued to the back cover. The black leather straps for closing the album are inserted through small slits cut in the spine of the book, and then wrap around to be tied at the back.

This album will be submitted for the miniature art exhibition which will be held in Sydney in May at Juniper Hall in Paddington.

Bearded men in miniature

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The impetus behind these drawings was an upcoming miniature exhibition. The title is “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” and it will be held in Juniper Hall, a beautiful historic house on Oxford Street in the centre of Sydney. Oxford Street and Paddington in general is an area where the young men you see are frequently beautifully turned out, with immaculate, chiselled beards. When I started thinking about subject matter, I realised that if they were simply reclothed in the outfits of a bygone era, they could easily travel back in time a hundred years and no-one would bat an eyelid, yet still be part of today, and even tomorrow.

The more references I found, the more fun it became – I did large, loose drawings, not trying to be too literal, then scaled them down and redrew them till I was satisfied with the character that emerged. Only one is intended to represent a real person and that is the one at top right (above), who is based on an old photo of Ned Kelly, one of Australia’s most notorious bushrangers.

Three of them will be framed and submitted for the exhibition – in the main image, the top left (1916), bottom left (2016) and probably the top middle for 2116, but I’m not quite sure about that yet. I thought about adding colour, but in the end have pretty much decided to leave them black and white … I think … (Click on the images below to see more detail.)

The next development of the idea is to draw them again very large, bigger than life size, with a lot of detail, and maybe let them develop into something more abstract.

I used a Pentel brush pen, with permanent ink, on drafting film. It glided on beautifully, very satisfying to use.