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.

FleetingThoughtsMapweb

‘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.

Music box -prints to objects

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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.

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The two above images are of ‘Whirlygig’, in its completed state and in progress.

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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!

Transforming prints

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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.

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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.

Connections – a concertina book

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Time to reflect, absorb, think – this is a key ingredient in developing ideas. The drawings that I have been working on over the last few months based on blots made from Liquid Pencil are moving into the next stage of development. From the beginning I had an instinct that they wouldn’t feel finished as framed artworks. I have framed one and realise that it is something that should be examined closely, if looked at from across a room it says nothing at all, the delicacy of marks are lost.

The artwork demands an intimacy that largeness of scale cannot provide, so I decided to take elements of the drawings to concentrate on. First I started with the drawing I called ‘Blot Series No 4’, see here for details. I made a 10 x 10 cm mask to choose elements from the drawing that had an integrity of their own. I found 5 pieces, cut them out and, once I had chosen the arrangement and rotation of them, glued them lightly to a length of heavy watercolour paper which I had folded into a concertina. The next step was extrapolating some of the marks at the edges of each piece, extending and developing them across the support to link the individual pieces. I may extend this piece with more panels.

The concertina is 14 cm high and 70 cm long, each panel being 14 x 14 cm.

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Print assemblage

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As so often happens with my work, this was started some time ago and then set aside for the ideas for completion to gel. In my earlier post about this (see here, also for a gallery of the individual panels) I felt that the panels needed to be sturdier, and it was suggested that I add wood to the backs, and make them darker. So I bought some sheets of balsa wood and painted them with shellac, to give a warm, transparent and slightly shiny colour. Also, I have re-stacked the panels – originally there were only two in each level, which made a tall, narrow tower, but it was not stable. Here there are three panels to each layer, so the structure is more squat and grounded. I continued to wonder if more need to be added, maybe even threads to link the pieces together, but now I think it is a satisfying form as it is. The panels are simply pushed in place, not glued, so it can still be taken apart and re-stacked. Choosing a title has been difficult, but at this stage it is called ‘Growing Up’, a reference to the plant forms on it, and the fact it is not a flat object, but that could change.

The prints are multiple layers of etchings, drypoint and monotype and the structure in this configuration is about 28 x 28 x 28 cm.

Miniatures with a Japanese flavour

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The next miniature exhibition is approaching, so I have been gathering the works I intend to submit. I can put in two framed works and two three-dimensional works – one of the 3D works is in the miniature awards exhibition at the moment, but can be exhibited again as the two galleries are not close together.

The exhibition is called ‘A Brush with Japan’ so all the works will be inspired by Japan or Japanese gardens and will be held at the Gosford Regional Gallery. The gallery has a long cultural connection to Japan, and is surrounded by the Edogawa Garden which is laid out in the Japanese horticultural style.

My works are not Japanese in any literal sense, more representing my feelings and impressions of Japan. These ideas have suffused most of the work I have done this year. Above is my favourite piece, more of the piano keys. I have now painted eight or nine of these, and I have selected the three above to work together in one frame. The title for these is ‘Three Obi’, and I am very grateful to my blogging friend Julie Podstolski for suggesting it. Julie has a long and deep interest in all things Japanese – see her amazing drawings here.

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The second framed work I made when I was experimenting with encaustic earlier this year. The support is Ampersand Gessobord, and there are layers of oil paint, Neocolors 2 – which are water-soluble oil pastels – and wax. The layers are built up and scraped back to reveal colours hidden below, a process of discovery and surprise. To me it suggested windswept snowfields, so that became the title.

This three dimensional work has been shown on this blog before, but a little more work has been done to it, just general tidying up and refining. I have another wonderful blogging friend, Poppytump, to thank for the title of this one, ‘The Hidden Secrets of the Geisha’. She came up with it when I last showed this, and to me it sums it up perfectly. There are little objects hidden within each part, and these are all stored away in the shelves. For some of Poppytump’s wonderful photos, sketches and poetic words, see here.

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The last piece is ‘Architecture in Japan’ which I wrote about in my last blog, made from interlocking pieces of prints.

The works will be submitted at the end of this month, then I will be off on a long camping trip. I will be taking my sketchbook and my camera, so will do blog posts as and when I can. So please come along for the ride!