Printmaking explorations


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.

Music box -prints to objects


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!

Transforming prints


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.

Print assemblage


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.

Collaboration book – the circle of life

circle_01frontwebThis is the next stage in the series of collaborative works, a hand-made book. I am working in conjunction with three other artists, Karen Bailey, Cathe Jacobi and Gale Everett Stahlke – we each make a book, around A5 (210 mm x 148 mm) in size, with 12 pages, choose a theme and set to work. The first page in each is to have contributions from each of us, then each person completes one double page spread, the last spread is combined and the final page has thoughts about the theme, presented however we wish.

This is an international project, Karen in Melbourne and myself in Sydney both in Australia, and Cathe and Gale in different parts of the US. None of us have ever met, we know each other through our WordPress blogs, but I feel we have become good friends as well as collaborators over the development of this idea.

The theme I decided on for my book is The Circle of Life – so much of my work is motivated by explorations of plant forms that this seemed an obvious path to take, and one that the others can interpret in ways that are meaningful to them. So, my drawings portray the life cycle of Christmas Bells, an Australian native plant, from buds and flowers, the development of seedpods pushing through the withered petals to the dry, twisted seedpods after they have burst and scattered the seed. The drawings are graphite pencil and coloured pencil, Faber Castell Polychromos.

The cover of the book is made from the drypoint prints that I have been experimenting with recently, and some small etchings. The heavy paper is printed on both sides, using several plates overprinted to make intricate images. The imagery was inspired by lichens, fungi and fern leaves. I made a small label, also using a print, and attached it to the front with a narrow leather strap, with the title handwritten on it.

So, in the next few days this book will be going to Karen in Melbourne, and I can start work on my pages for hers!

To see all the other books so far (which are stunning I have to say!) go to:




Inside front cover and first page.
Inside front cover and first page.
My double page spread of the seedpods popping through the dried petals.
My double page spread of the seedpods popping through the dried petals.
The spread that we all contribute to - my drawing is of the seed head after the seeds have gone.
The spread that we all contribute to – my drawing is of the seed head after the seeds have gone.
Inside back cover.
Inside back cover.
Back cover of the book.
Back cover of the book.

Herbarium stilt book


Printmaking has yielded another book-like object, and it seems to me this has a Japanese feel, like the two previous ones, quite unintentionally.

This one started as a concertina pocket book, made from two sheets of paper, printed on both sides, using the same plates and colour choices, joined, then the bottom third folded up to create a pocket, and the resultant piece folded again to make an 8-page concertina.

Cuts were made across the folds so that the paper could be pushed against the fold at intervals to make a piano hinge. I inserted narrow bamboo sticks through the folds and hung on them the small labels that were printed at the same time as the main images. The purpose of the stilts was to allow the labels to dangle below the edge of the book, so they could be seen from either side.

The labels had been scattered randomly across the inked-up plates before the print paper was laid across the plate, so there are label-shaped areas interrupting the image, as well as embossing from the shape of the labels and their strings. The labels were turned over and printed again when the next plate was printed. (This is not so complicated as it sounds!)

Once the book had come to this stage, I had to decide what went in the pockets – I had intended the labels to be tucked in them, but they disappeared as the imagery was the same as on the paper, so I had to rethink. Eventually it came to me that it should be some kind of natural material, grasses or leaves. On my morning walk I found fronds from a pine tree that the cockatoos had stripped off, then a small twig with gum nuts and a few leaves. I already had some dried bay leaves, so they were included too. I am really happy with the way this looks, but it may not be the end. I am thinking of printing some contrasting larger labels that will fit in the pockets as the leaves are not really durable. Maybe the labels will have natural imagery on them …

stilt04web stilt02web stilt03web stilt06web stilt07web stilt08web

Printed on Fabriano, each panel 90 x 100 cm, total length 72 cm, bamboo poles 20 cm

Paper tower


I was expecting to be making a more conventional book with these pieces of print, but when I came to put them together I realised that the detail was lost folded into a book, so started to work out ways of using the panels that I had cut and folded in a different way. It took some time of just playing with the pieces, arranging them, piling them up, turning them upside down, inserting one inside another before the idea of an interlocking stack evolved.

Where this began was with two large multi-plate prints, in complementary but contrasting colours, one in tones of gold and brown, the other in orangey reds and dark brown. For all the recent printing (including last week’s Lichen letters) I have been using just three colours of ink: sepia, yellow and red, and creating the final colours by mixing and overprinting. The imagery was some of the same drypoint plates I used before with marks inspired by lichen and flax seed heads, plus some small etchings of mushrooms that I made some years ago.

As I had planned to make a small book, I divided both prints up into six long panels (roughly 20 x 9 cm) and folded each in half. To make the pieces lock together, I cut a small slit in the centre of each half along the long edges of the panels, then slotted one into another. The way they are shown here may not be the final construction – they could be interlocked in a more horizontal way, or more randomly. I am not sure if the amount of white showing is a good thing or not – I could place two panels back to back and lock them so that there is no white showing. Something I do like in an artwork is a degree of interactivity, so that another person could come along and re-arrange the pieces in a way that they find satisfying.

Below are more views of the tower, and a gallery of the 12 pieces from the two prints.

Tower7web Tower3web Tower2web Tower1web Tower5web