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.
During my recent visit to Tasmania, we were given the opportunity to stay in a beachside ‘shack’ for a few days. Nestled in the Freycinet National Park, a short distance from the beginning of the Wineglass Bay walk, close to Fisheries Beach, it was a delight to settle in there to enjoy the peace and scenery. It was an opportunity to read, walk, relax and for me, to draw. (See my previous post for more of the sketches.)
As a small thank you to the owner of the shack (actually a very comfortable house!) I have made up a drawing using my sketches from the local area, adding little annotations of names and places. Hopefully it will remind her of the peace and quiet of Freycinet when she is far away.
It is drawn using pen and ink and watercolour, on Arches Aquarelle 300 gsm paper, hot-pressed, 26 x 36 cm.
In the middle of December I flew down to Hobart to join my partner who had taken the car over on the ferry a couple of weeks before, as he had work to do at the University of Tasmania in Hobart. After a few days there, of course visiting the wonderful MONA (Museum of Old and New Art), we spent a week in a friend’s beach ‘shack’ in Freycinet National Park, one of the most beautiful places in Tasmania. We walked – one walk that we HAD to do was a climb up to look down at Wineglass Bay, then down the other side, a long loop across a marsh, another beach and through the bush back. About 11 km it took us 5 hours and was a good workout, but worth it!
On other days we drove to walk on the Friendly Beaches – the sea intense turquoise blue and sand white, with rock pools at the water’s edge, The Gardens with the same coloured ocean and sand, but massive boulders covered with orange lichen … and numerous others. In between we relaxed, read and I drew. From Freycinet we moved up the coast to St Helens, a small fishing town in the Bay of Fires, then camped at Policeman’s Point a bit further up the coast, still in the Bay of Fires. A beautiful spot for bush camping and walking on the beach until it rained … but we weren’t daunted and took ourselves to Bridport on the north coast. An unexpected delight, the coastline composed of numerous small beaches bordered by rocks. And the sun shone again!
Our last stop was Launceston, another pretty small city, hilly like Hobart, with elaborate Victorian architecture. We watched the New Year fireworks from a park by the Tamar River – a delight to be so close and walk back to our hotel in a matter of minutes, very different from Sydney! On the ferry back to Melbourne we had a very comfortable cabin, the Bass Strait was a millpond, so a simple and uneventful (thank goodness, I am a very bad sailor!) trip. Then towards home, catching up with friends along the way.
I only had time to sketch between Freycinet and Bridport, but took every opportunity I could, walking around with my eyes on the ground looking for any attractive little object!
Two more drawings inspired by flowers found in Scotland. The top one was based on hollyhocks, old-fashioned flowers that are not often seen these days. The plants grow very tall, with elaborate ruffled flowers arranged along the length of the flower spike.
The one below was growing in the garden of Dunvegan Castle, on the Isle of Skye. I haven’t been able to identify it – the plant was a creeper, covered with pink/purple bell-shaped flowers, many of which had a long pendulous part hanging down, unusual and exotic.
As before (see my previous post here), the flowers were initially drawn in water-soluble graphite then coloured with watercolour pencils.