Friday, April 11, 2014

Not waving, mess

It seems that the more I try to focus my attention on a single art project, the more projects I end up starting.

 I have, as you know, wide-ranging interests and limited energy. As a result, I often find myself working on one thing while I'm longing to be making something else. So I thought that as a strategy to manage this, I would try focussing on one work for a month at a time. This would allow me to make some progress wih one thing, work on something else for a while, and then return to the earlier project before so much time has passed that I've totally lost my train of thought.

Before we went on holiday to Melbourne, I was working on a book using photographs that I took in Paris. The stairway in the building where we stayed in the Marais is very atmospheric and a great example of "wabi sabi". As well as the more elaborate staircase leading up to the apartments, there is a smaller, darker set of stairs leading from the entry down to the cellar.
My idea for the book, tentatively titled "ascendre/descendre", is to use the photos going up and going down in such a way that it's not always clear which is which and where we are heading. I see it as a metaphor for our times, and even the human race.

Here's one of the photos I'm considering using. The first step is converting them to black and white and making any other digital processing changes.

When I returned from Melbourne I was scheduled to start a three week online course Drawing for Textiles with Dionne Swift. I actually met Dionne in Brighton last year at the Art Fair, and after an inspiring chat with her and seeing her work there, I had enrolled in this course immediately. I've been waiting for March to roll around with great anticipation ever since.

But inspiration doesn't necessarily strike when it's convenient, does it? I've been tossing ideas around in my head for the upcoming Personal Histories exhibition for months and months. Nothing had really felt quite right to me. I was beginning to worry that I wouldn't be able find any inspiration to suit the theme.

And then, out of nowhere really (but of course from somewhere) I knew what I wanted to do. And I wanted to make a start. Straight away. So over a week-end, just before I got cracking on Dionne's first drawing exercises, I got to work.

This book is tentatively called "About ME" and I'm going to use translucent pages and text. It sounds horribly narcissistic, I realize, but I'm reasonably confident that it isn't. The text is information about M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) the now-accepted "proper" name for chronic fatigue syndrome. I'm really delighted to say that I've been granted permission by the IACFSME to use their text in the book.
There isn't much to show you yet, as I am just cutting stencils, but here's a peek.

Next, I dragged out my lovely chunky drawing supplies and roll of cartridge paper and made a start on the tasks set by Dionne.

After a week or so of drawing it was time to try out some of the ways she showed us to translate those marks into textiles. It was all new information to me, and the results are wonderfully textural and exciting.

But you should see the state of my studio now!
(no photos, It isn't for public consumption)

With all these different projects on the go, it has just become layer upon layer of art materials and media, and quite honestly, there is not a bit of surface clear to work. I am forced to take my lap-top tray to the sofa in the living room to do anything. Of course, that's exactly what I'm doing - I can't stop now, can I?

But April really has to be the month of culling and tidying, or else by May I might not be able to get past the door.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

The making of gerbera prints

It started in December when I received these gorgeous gerberas from some dear friends. Ages before I had decided that whenever I receive flowers, I would use them to try some ecoprinting. This was prompted by the sense that my gardening capabilities are rather limited by my lack of energy, not to mention living in a unit.

I also really like the fact that people usually give you flowers to mark an occasion, and so any prints I make with gifted flowers also mark the occasion, and in a way that endures and can be extended in all sorts of ways.

I decided to try "cold bundling" as described in India Flint's beautiful book Eco Colour.

Silk and wool (animal fibres) will take colour more simply than plant fibres like cotton, so I began with some silk that I had bought cheaply on ebay. Strictly speaking, silk doesn't require mordanting (treatment with any chemicals to assist dyeing) but I had no idea whether gerberas were likely to be successful or not, so I decided to try to help things along.

After washing and rinsing the silk, I put it into a bucket with a solution of vinegar and some used, but clean alfoil for 48 hours. At this point the flowers had passed their prime and the petals were starting to fall, so I laid them on one half of the damp silk, as you see below.

Next I sprayed the back of the flowers with more vinegar so they were damp, and folded over the rest of the silk.

The final step was to roll the silk as tightly as possible around a piece of dowel. Close contact between the flowers and the fabric is essential for the colour to transfer, so I wrapped an old crepe bandage over the whole thing and secured it in place with rubber bands. Then I wrapped the whole thing in plastic to keep it moist for as long as possible and waited.

I wasn't sure whether mold would be a problem so I carefully checked things every couple of days. After 15 days I saw a few spots starting so I decided it was time to unwrap my bundle.
Above you can see the silk still on the dowel and below with the dowel removed.

And here is the whole piece of fabric, still wet, hanging out to dry.

There is of course a loss of colour when the fabric dries. Below is how it looks now.
I'm over the moon!

These are the flowers after they've been through this process.

India Flint says that there is usually still plenty of colour left in plant matter after cold dyeing, so I put them into a preserving jar with some filtered tap water and a piece of alfoil to try some solar dyeing.

More about that later.
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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Visiting the State Library of Victoria

I'm spending a couple of weeks in Melbourne staying with family and yesterday I visited the State Library of Victoria.

Despite living here for two years, I had only visited the SLV once before. Quite odd really, given the ceramics department of RMIT is directly across the road and I am a book artist.

I had never been to the LaTrobe Reading Room, which you can see below is quite beautiful. It's topped with a glass dome and so is wonderfully light. I wandered around quite enchanted and spent more time there than I really had.

I actually went to the reading room to see the map-based book sculptures by Nicholas Jones, who I confess I did not previously know. These proved impossible to photograph without the glass dome reflecting in the glass cases, but did make for some pretty photographs.

Next I went to see the Mirror of the World, the exhibition drawn from SLV's collection of rare and significant books - and it was wonderful. I ran out of time, and am really happy that the exhibition is a permanent feature as it is well worth another visit. 

It presents a history of books, starting with the oldest book in the library's collection from around 400AD.

Below are some photos of books that particularly appealed to me from the first half of the exhibition as sadly I had to rush through the second half of the exhibition. The photos aren't great as I only had my iPhone and of course, the lighting was kept very low. Apart from the last photo, all the books are religious ones, as of course were the earliest books. The second half of the exhibition moved on to books of litery significance and modern artists' books.

The works of Augustine from ~400, showing the oak boards through the vellum

and metal clasps (and the shadow of my iPhone!

An illustrated Buddhist text in (I think) Sanskrit.

 A scrolled edition of the Torah, with silver reading pointer.
The Koran (my favourite in the exhibition)
Japanese concertina and stab-bound books

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