Week 14 – The renovations and my writing still take up most of my time and focus. But, things do progress in other ways as well. To get back into illustration and printmaking, I returned to my sketchbooks and tried a course on Domestika – Illustration Techniques to Unlock your Creativity – a course by Adolfo Serra. So far, it’s helping me to loosen the tight springs in my chest that scream for me to produce, produce, produce, and instead makes me play with colours and shapes in various techniques.
Sketching straight onto paper in ink – no pencil or eraser allowed – frees a lot of energy, and revisiting long dismissed tools – watercolour pens, pencils, or brushes – works against getting cemented into familiar grounds.
The framing around the new glass door is stripped from layers of old paint and shines in rimu again (nail borer holes and all).
Two raised beds are planted, and the foundation for my garden wall project is laid. Just in time, the weather has turned to bucket rain mixed with icy Southerlies ripping through my new planting wreaking havoc through my seedlings and most other plants …
Week 13 – It’s November, and that is a tiny bit frightening. But, things are moving in too many directions to count, and that is something, I guess.
I am still in recovery mode from last week’s printmaking crisis, but the studio inventory allowed me to look back and find some lost treasures. Amongst them are four prints of one of my favourite Afternoon Tea edition – The Donkey. They are listed in my studio sale on felt as are many other prints that I found in folders and drawers :).
The first sales have come from unexpected directions reminding me that to get your work in front of as many people in as many ways and places possible is essential.
Due to said crisis in the arts, writing took first place last week. I am grateful to be able to switch between two very different creative forms – if I get stuck in one, I can switch to the other following the ‘A change is as good as a rest’ principle. It comes with risking to lose focus, but anybody who can sit in front of a computer and write for more than four hours a day has my admiration.
At the moment, I can work through roughly 1,500 words a day in editor-mode (included are the odd missing paragraph and details that I skipped in the last draft). The draft currently stands at 166,000 words. I have reviewed about 26,000 so fa, which leaves me with 140,000 to go. Taking expected and unexpected gaps into account, I am looking at about 120 days until I have a draft I feel comfortable sharing … finger crossed.
Helpful in that matter is the bad weather that keeps me safely tugged away indoors rather than digging backwards and forwards through the garden … having said this, the tomatoes and beans have outgrown their pots (as have all the other new and old plant waiting on my front deck to spread their roots) and I took advantage of the occasional sunny day and installed the new stairs down the deck and built two raised beds from recycled wood.
And did I mention that I ripped out a hallway door to make space for the second-hand glass door that is leaning against the living room wall since a month? Or two. Or three.
Week 12 – Failures, except for the occasional, epic, and most likely embarrassing fail captured on oh-so-(not)-funny visual bites on Youtube, are not part of most Pinterest and Instagram compatible snapshots of our daily lives. Failure, however, constituted most of last week’s printmaking endeavours.
Printmaking is a finicky muse to follow – one day the prints might flow of the press on pristine paper with not an ink smudge in sight. Still, most days end in you and your studio covered in ink and ripped paper and misery and the question why am I doing this if it would be so easy to just send some digital files to a local Giclée printing service and be done with it?
Looking back to last week, I can see that I set myself up to fail, and I thought I share some of the insights with you. Remember that you are always your worst enemy!
Consider why you want to print a specific design and what the desired outcome is
Choose a technique that matches the look and feel you have in mind
Choose a technique that can produce the size you have in mind
Choose a technique that can achieve the colour pallet you have in mind
Choose a technique that aligns with your powers of patience
Align your expectations with the budgets, resources, and environment you are working in
(optional) Ignore the outcome of points above and do it anyway … one never knows.
1 – Consider why you want to print a specific design and what the desired outcome is
Looking back, I can see that I did this all for the wrong reasons – I don’t have the mind-space for printmaking at the moment. What I tried to do is start printing a new series of illustrations while already producing a sellable outcome. Not. Going. To. Happen.
I haven’t printed an edition I am proud of since the Wolf and the Fox exhibition in December 2012. The very few prints I have published in the last eight years are okay-ish but nothing that puts a smile on my face years later. I need time to get into a new printmaking routine in a now smaller studio set-up with left-over, dried-up inks and blunt cutting tools. It’s not going to happen overnight, or in a week, or even in a month.
2 – Choose a technique that matches the look and feel you have in mind.
I am aiming for a look and feel – and size – that is not compatible with the techniques I am using to achieve that look. Using drypoint to create even areas of flat colour won’t work. Using collagraphy or woodcuts to produce a detailed, precise line drawing won’t work either. I achieved a compromise in the 2010 Fragile Shadows series by combining drypoint with woodcut, but that is not what I am after for the new series.
3 – Choose a technique that can produce the size you have in mind
I want big. In the past, I printed mostly on an eight’s sheet (just under A4). A nice size, but I want bigger. Traditional printmaking techniques do not scale above a certain size (or only with a mammoth effort). Woodcut and lino might be an exception, but, for what I have in mind, screen printing seems the better option. So, forcing anything else won’t work.
4 – Choose a technique that can achieve the colour pallet you have in mind
I am only after three colours. Reduction cuts and multi-plate printing will do the trick, but do I have the resilience and stamina for this at this stage? No.
5 – Choose a technique that aligns with your powers of patience
I have none. Which is strange, because I don’t mind twiddling with a series of paper mache creatures for over a year where each creature takes at least two weeks to complete. So, if you get stuck and impatient, something is not right with either what you are doing, why you are doing it, or how you go about it.
6 – Align your expectation with the budget, resources, and environment you are working in
Remember that you are always your worst enemy – and your worst client. Managing expectation in relation to budget, timeline, resources, and work environment is my favourite mantra with my consulting clients, so what does that mean in my art context? It. Is. The. Same. Thing.
Some printmaking techniques – Intaglio and screen printing for once – require access to a printing studio or investments to set one up at home. I am lucky to have a printing press and a small screen printing set-up; however, I haven’t used screen printing in a very long time.
I need to inventory of my printing materials, tools, and inks. After no investments to speak of for the last ten years, I need to see where I am, research new methods – I doubt that I still need the mercury light stored somewhere in the attic to expose photo emulsions on screens? Do I need to expose photo emulsions on screens? I hate that stuff. And that dried up emulsion won’t come off the screens either … – restock and replace materials – in New Zealand that means ordering from overseas when it comes to anything not widely used in schools or universities – and, in short, make another evil masterplan.
Until such times, I will make an inventory of my print edition archive and organise an online studio sale. And maybe complete an old edition or two … for practice or some such thing.
7 – (optional) Ignore the outcome of points above and do it anyway …
This may sound flippant, but I mean it. Going to the print studio to experiment and test boundaries is maybe the best approach to printmaking (and maybe to any other art project that takes your fancy). The outcome might not be what you head in mind but even better. Or you fail. And restart. And fail. And restart all over.
Week 11 – It turns out Wednesdays are actually good for something – I tried various schedules for my weekly art sprints*, and, strangely enough, Wednesday is the least threatening day to stand-up and review the sprint plan.
Scrutinising success and failures on a Monday takes the wind out of my sails, and moving the review to Fridays feels like dooming the weekend. (Yes, artist and self-employed creatives and makers should have time to recuperate and recharge batteries like other beings! Doing so on weekends might help to stay in touch with family and friends.) So midweek is a good pivot point to look back on what I achieved and to look forward to what should be done next.
Wednesday is also my blog day so that fits well. So, what happened in week 11?
And I refined some ideas for a new series of prints and paintings, and some of the sketches comes along nicely – to soon to share sorry!
The bad is that I even though I rekindled my printmaking ventures, my first attempt on a collagraph in years failed spectacularly. I was unable to buy the right materials in Wellington, and cutting corners just does not work in printmaking! Having said this, collagraphy might not be the right technique for the style I have in mind, so further experiments will be conducted.
A spell of stormy days seemed to invigorate the review of Part 2 of my book project. After running in circles for weeks, the last restructure seems to work – touch wood – and the progress has been made.
Renovations are still focused on the outside. The weather did not allow much progress and to motivate further digging and landscaping, I went and bought a carload of plants. And it wasn’t even on a Wednesday.
*) Sprint is a term borrowed from the Scrum Agile productivity framework. You break each project into short, repeatable phases with a list of tasks to be completed – I usually prefer to work with weeks.
I also took photos of my new studio for promotional material. I had to carefully select angles seeing that the new studio – the whole house!!! – is still an incredible mess suffering under the dozens of half-finished projects.
I did not even make it through the first chapters of Part 2 without an existential crisis. I moved one scene back into Part 1, and I still struggle to make the scenes work and flow with each other in a nice rhythm. How has anybody ever finished a book?
I also fine-tuned my art(work) sprint board. I based it on a tool I developed for my team at work, and I find it helpful to keep me on track. It might help other artist and makers as well, and I’ll add it to my list of tutorials.
After a week of sunny spring days, it’s cold and wet again, and the work in the garden is on hold. I am working on a plant list for the fruit tree and scrubs for my fruit forest. I had no idea how complicated it is to select two different varieties of apple trees that benefit each other. A visit to a nursery is on the list for next weekend.
So progress has been made, and my evil master plan is if not on track at least in the making.
Week 9 – October has truly arrived. Time to think about Xmas sales – okay its already too late really, but better now than never. My Etsy shop is up and running again with one more listing this week – the first Night Keeper – and I decided to reopen my felt.co.nz shop this week. Available will be the new paper mache works, and I have started an inventory of my print editions to list some of my older printmaking work as well … with a bit of luck, new prints will be available as well.
I am still tweaking my photoshoot and editing set-up – the slightly different white tones in the back are driving me crazy.
The restructure of Part 2 of my book project is completed and I now go through the scenes with my fine editor eyes … the German writing in English editor eyes … ah well.
The landscaping work in the garden, I can do myself is progressing, but as everything else too too too slow. The raised bed need to be in place for planting this month … not very realistic, so maybe I’ll cheat with buying some bigger plants.
So … overall same same with timelines getting very tight, so time to NOT PANIC! Or maybe a little bit?
Week 8 – I can’t believe we are already heading into October! I continued to fine-tuning my photoshoot set-up – with mixed results – and both the first Night Flyer and Forest Keeper are listed on my etsy shop.
Overall, I feel I am moving in the right direction – my head is full of ideas, and a few might even be feasible. It’s hard not to get sidetracked by the fact that I am already two months into my twelve-month sabbatical – things will take time to grow and take root.
Even though the builder still can’t commit to a start date for the retaining wall, the landscaping work in the garden is progressing, and I can’t wait to built and plant the new raised beds.
The writing is crawling forwards. I have struggled with two scenes in part two for over a year now and finally given in and allowed my internal editor to rip them apart and merge what is needed into other scenes and deleted the rest.
For October, I plan to complete more paper mache sculptures, as well as somehow rekindle my printmaking – I have an idea where to start – and complete the final draft for Part 2.
Week 7 has brought the first new listing on Etsy since forever. I managed to finish the first paper mache sculpture – the Heart Keeper, a member of my Winter paper mache tribe – and the first photo shoot with the new set-up went well.
I sieved what must be tons of earth, and the garden is now officially a construction place. The builder called today to tell me that they now won’t start before the end of October. … Well, it’s not that there aren’t a million other things to do.
I am still fiddling with how to focus my time and efforts best… concentrating on one goal per week seems to work well, and this blog series keeps me on track. With all the work on the garden and the exterior going on, the weather has a say in my daily routine as well.
Good news arrived from Germany – my application to take on dual citizenship was granted, and I now can apply for the New Zealand citizenship without losing my German citizenship. The process took over 16 months, and I had almost given up.
In week 6, I untangled the structural issues in Chapters 6 to 9 – at least I hope I did – and my latest editing cycle can move forwards. I am not even looking at the last chapter for the time being; there are dozens of chapters to comb through before I need to make a final decision anyways.
The paper mache tribe, on the other hand, is at the stage where progress might seem slow – there is not much to show – but is made. Working with homemade paper mache clay without drying agents takes time. Each layer needs to be completely dry before you move to the next. Otherwise, you risk soaking through the structural layers, and your little creature will ‘meltdown’.
The renovations on house and garden are still taking up too much time, energy and mind space. It just seems impossible for me to slow down and leave things be and concentrate on my artwork.
The last light well is done – all three skylights are brilliant and definitely worth all the trouble. The kitchen and the bathroom are now flooded with light and almost unrecognisable. They are also the only two habitable spaces in a world of chaos.
I needed to move on to the front garden, and to moving and sifting tons of earth to prepare over forty metres (!) of section boundary before the builder can start work on the retaining wall and fence. I don’t get on with my neighbours on that side at all, which makes the process fraud with conflict and tensions and the costs have skyrocketed. Let’s hope that good fences make good neighbours, eh?
Week 5 finally brought some progress on the paper mache tribe strategy. I selected my favourite shapes – and the most feasible ones – from the prototypes and started on a line of creatures for my online shops.
I also adjusted my paper mache clay recipes to work better for the now taller creatures (which I will add to the blog shortly).
Taking and editing pictures with the iPad works quite well and saves a lot of time that would otherwise be taken up by struggling with memory chips – my SLR doesn’t have Wifi or Bluetooth – and Photoshop. How To Take Product Photography At Home With A Smartphone by shopify.co.nz is a useful tutorial – it prevented me ordering a new fancy lightbox and camera.
The last light well for the skylight in the kitchen is almost done. For a time, the renovation work will focus on the garden (even so the interiors still match a construction place more than a home). The new retaining wall is about two times the budgeted costs mainly because the neighbour insisted on a fence along the whole length … ah well, the joy of compromise.
The first three chapters of my book are through the latest review cycle – I am sure it wont be the last one – but I am pretty much stuck on the draft for the last part. There is no way to force these thing top happen, so I’ll take it day by day.
Week 4 highlighted the strange habit of mine where balancing on a ladder with a badly hurt knee seems to be easier than to sit – and keep sitting – at my desk and create and write.
It’s not that I don’t love to create and write and make, and once I manage to sit still for about 30 minutes, I forget everything around me and surface hours later wondering why it’s dark outside; the issue is the first 30 minutes sitting still and letting the magic happen.
Two out of the three skylights are plastered and painted.
The first of the giant tree ferns has been relocated. (If you ever consider to fell a 6-meter tall tree fern stuck between two houses with the only option for it to fall is through a 90cm wide gate with the gable of your house sticking out 30 cm into the before-mentioned 90cm … reconsider. I was gobsmacked when everything went to plan, and the tree fell precisely at the calculated angle, but I call this stupidly lucky any day)
Ah and the papermache tribe has two new members, and the last but one chapter of the book is now in a rough draft.
Ah … and I wrote this poem
up the ladder, down the ladder up the ladder, down the ladder up the ladder, down the ladder
In Week 3, renovation work pretty much dominated the scene.
Two out of the three skylights are installed, the two light wells still need to be plastered. Which we plan to do ourselves. … (Light wells are maybe the stupidest place to test your plastering skills … .)
The garden migrates deeper into the it-get-worse-before-it-gets-better stage. We felled two small trees have to make space for the planned fern tree (tree fern?) relocation.
The paper mache tribe is making progress four figurines are ready for the photoshoot, including one newly painted one.
The external painting creeps forward in more mini-steps.
And I might have a candidate sketch to be turned into a painting.
As before, time for studying, writing and editing took up the rest, plus the occasional walk on the beach.
Week 2 felt pretty much like falling over myself in too many ways to count. My mind is adapting to the new regime, but progress feels slow. Very slow. Like standing still slow. Still, I feel that stupid smile on my face every single time I remember I don’t have to go to my old day job. There are never enough hours in a day to do all the things I want to do, but at least I work on things I either love doing or to improve my studio and my home.
The builders are in the house installing the new skylights. … I might have underestimated the impact on daily routines … seeing that the guys are working in three out of four rooms in the house … and in the bathroom :).
I needed to find ways to make the paper mache creatures heavier – the prototypes fall over too quickly for my taste. I had to saw a few of them into parts … very unsettling. Poor critters! However, it highlights one of my favourite advantages in working with paper mache – it’s easy to change your mind and rework designs!
The external painting creeps forward in mini-steps.
The rest of my time is split between studying, finding out how to do things – for example, more efficient ways to take and edit product pictures, or how to build three-meter high sliding doors on a budget (How exactly did we cope without youtube?) – as well as writing and editing, and the occasional sketch.
Ah well … and a second blog post has been written ^_^ …
Taking stock after one week without a day job. I don’t feel different really. Some of the anger and noise is gone, but my mind is sluggish to reset.
I get up, go through my morning rituals, get ready for the day. At 9:00 am latest—working my way towards an 8:00 am start—I sit in my studio and plan the day. Most days are split between study time, writing, renovations, and making time. The weather decides which task takes priority. Sunny days are reserved for external renovations, rainy days are focused on studio time.
The new studio is a work in progress but feels comfortable. It is painted, the printing press has moved in, the bookshelves are built, and materials are decluttered and stored in new places.
I won an auction for a beautiful old glass door in a rimu frame and managed to get it home in one piece.
I rekindled my writing exercises – If you haven’t read or listened to Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, I’d highly recommend doing so.
I started the work on the external renovations in an unexpected break from the wet winter weather.
Plans have been made, including one to finish the first paper mache tribe.
The progress on the external painting might be as pitiful as the progress on writing and making—and the house is in chaos with so many tasks incomplete—but beginnings have been made.
Ah well … and one blog post has been written ^_^ …
It’s not really session 1. There was much sketching and revising on paper beforehand. But this is not what this post is about ^_^.* I am not even sure what this post is about (to be honest) … other than this strange thing that happens when you re-start.
There were many things getting in my (creative) way since “The Fox and the Wolf“—the House, the new studio, winter, work… stuff…
And then one late afternoon there is all of a sudden an empty canvas – well, in my case a recycled plywood panel, but that sounds less … not “poetic”, this is not a poem, … less “something” – in front of you, your tools are arranged around you (and yes, that really important glazing medium has dried out, but on this afternoon it’s not the end of the world), and the image hovers just around the edges of your consciousness, and you know it’s that time.
Time to enter the Night Forest and see what the guys are up to…
1) Recycled plywood board, sanded and cleaned, leaving ‘uneven patches’ (layers of old stains).
2) Base layers using Fluid Acrylics thinned with GAC-500 Extends Fluid Acrylics (Golden – there is not much else available in New Zealand… ). Let each layer dry completely, before applying the next one**.
2a) Adding glazing layers using Polymer Medium (gloss)
3) Turn panel from time to time to paint back with Gesso to avoid bending
4) More layers until the starlit night just shines through…
5) Transfer outline onto panel.
6) Knowing when it is time to step back and go to bed…
… to be continued soon …
*) There is never a session 1 in (my) creative process anyways. There are just loose ends floating around, and if I am lucky I can catch one … but this is not what this post is about either.
**) Writing useless blogpost between the layers dry is optional…
My first experiments with mono print (…it was high time to try something new). Once you get a handle on the inks this is fun, and no press needed!
Printing shadow rabbit – mono print, 1 colour
There are quite a few different mono print techniques. The term mono print defines that only one print is taken from the plate; it does not define the way you get the ink on the plate (or the paper). I chose to ‘paint’ onto a perspex sheet and to transfer the print onto the paper using a roller.
1) Choosing the ink
It took me a while to make it work*. You have to work on the plate for some time and the thin layer of ink draws quickly. I tried a couple of different inks and paints, in the end I used screen printing ink (water based) and thinned it with screen printing medium (the medium extends the time you can work on the plate). The screen printing ink can be rolled, painted and wiped away easily.
You can also use open acrylics and an open thinner, in a way that’s the same thing…
This is a follow up post on my tutorial about Drypoint etchings (…›‘How To: Drypoint on Perspex (Plexi-glass)’ ). This post describes how to apply different ink layers onto one plate to print various colours in one go. I use this technique in the ‘Afternoon Tea’ and ‘Miyu’ series. The plate is inked using Charbonel oil based etching inks, the plate is pulled using a professional etching press on Hahnemühle etching paper and now … the interesting bit ^_^ …
Miyu Shhh… No. 6
First colour layer
The plate is prepared like discribed in ‘#1 Transferring the artwork onto the plate’ keeping in mind that various colours will be used. For the Miyu prints all the lines should be black, so I cover the plate with black ink first, making sure that the ink reaches down into the incised lines. I carefully wipe the surface ink from the plate using gauze.
This tutorial is from 2009, and I plan to update it as soon as possible. It is still very popular and people find it helpful, so I’ll keep it here for now. I bought am etching press in 2012 and am using it for all my drypoint prints now.
There are a million different approaches to drypoint printmaking. This post describes one approach among many possibilities.
Background: Relief and intaglio printmaking
Traditional printmaking techniques like drypoint or etching enables an artist or print maker to print a certain amount of prints (edition) from a handmade plate. The plates are inked and the ink is transferred from either the surface (relief printmaking e.g. woodcut or linocut) or the incised lines (intaglio printmaking e.g. etching or drypoint) onto paper using a printing press.
In drypoint printmaking an image is incised into a plate with a hard-pointed “needle”. Traditionally the plate was copper, but today plexi-glass is commonly used.
Advantages of using Perspex or Plexiglas
The material is cheaper than copper or zinc plates.
The plates are easily cut into the right size.
You can see your sketch through the plate.
You can see the inked areas through the plate.
Intaglio printmaking processes follows three steps.
I was honoured – and a little bit nervous – when Thomas from World Sweet World contacted me with the idea for an article in the Magazine. The article is part of the World Sweet World Issue #5 (March 2009). The beautiful images were made by Kate MacPherson.