Wood Engraving with David Frazer

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“With most of his life dedicated to the miniature and highly detailed art of wood-engraving, and the slightly larger but equally disciplined format of the linocut, his last decades saw a joyous transition to the freedom and flourish of gestural lines executed in black gouache brushmarks on vast expanses of Arches and other imported artists’ papers…….His later work, on a grand scale, is the very antithesis of the art of wood-engraving. The surety of touch and control of the medium in the late gestural works is heavily indebted to the discipline engendered by the precision necessary for meaningful wood-engraving.” ~ Jenny Zimmer, in an article about printmaker, Tate Adams.

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of participating in a wood engraving workshop with David Frazer at his studio in Castlemaine. This traditional craft predates linoleum, but is also a relief printing method, often used historically to illustrate pages that included letter-type. The blocks, made of box or lemonwood, are the same height as letterpress type and very durable, because the end grain is used, rather than the lateral grain of the wood. First developed at the end of the 18th century, the artisan uses much finer tools (such as an engraver’s barin) and is capable of achieving a much more detailed image compared to woodcut or linocut techniques.

David Frazer is a master with this method, producing small, intimate pieces such as “Lost”, which features a caravan surrounded by domestic animals, which he calls an “Australian Nativity scene”. He also creates much larger scale works in linocut, engraving and lithography, which are filled with the same amount of detail, creating truly impressive images.

Latham’s Snipe ‘a la poupee’

Latham's Snipe a la poupee
This coloured collagraph image is my entry to the Overwintering exhibition, to raise awareness for migratory birds.

This collagraph image is my first using the “a la poupee” technique, which is a method of applying two or more different colours of pigment (usually oil based intaglio inks). It is a French term, which means “with a doll”, referring to the ball-shaped wad of fabric used to apply the ink. However, brushes, rolls of felt or a finger inside a sock can all be used to apply the pigment and wipe away with painterly effects.

One of the difficulties of this technique is gauging how much ink is required and how much remains on the plate. The artist needs to compare previous images and add and remove ink to obtain different effects. Julianne describes the “a la poupee” technique well on her blog. 

Little Blue wrens

Blue Wrens and Wiry Buttons
Blue Wrens and Wiry Buttons – hand coloured collagraph

“I like to work in watercolor, with as little under-drawing as I can get away with. I like the unpredictability of a medium which is affected as much by humidity, gravity, the way that heavier particles in the wash settle into the undulations of the paper surface, as by whatever I wish to do with it. In other mediums you have more control, you are responsible for every mark on the page — but with watercolor you are in a dialogue with the paint, it responds to you and you respond to it in turn. Printmaking is also like this, it has an unpredictable element. This encourages an intuitive response, a spontaneity which allows magic to happen on the page.” ~ Alan Lee

I do enjoy the dynamic nature of watercolors; the way the color moves and changes as the paper dries and the lovely transparency they give to an image. I also like the variety of effects that can be achieved using different techniques – wet-on-wet, wet-on-dry, blotting, sprinkling salt etc. I still have a lot to learn to be able to create the images as I envisage them, but I’m having a lot of fun in the meantime.

Some watercolour artists I admire are Stefan Gevers,  Natalie Martin and Guy Troughton. Stefan Gevers paints nature and landscapes without any human impact, often in a very minimalist style. Martin paints Australian flora also in a minimalist, contemporary style and Troughton has a wonderful series of photo-realistic native birds. Linda Blackburn is a local artist who paints flora and nature in a beautiful delicate and impressionist style.

 

 

Portland’s Upwelling Festival

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“In coastal waters rich in runoff, plankton can swarm densely, a million in a drop of water. They color the sea brown and green where deltas form from big rivers, or cities dump their sewage. Tiny yet hugely important, plankton govern how well the sea harvests the sun’s bounty, and so are the foundation of the ocean’s food chain.” ~Gregory Benford

On Saturday 29th October, Portland will be buzzing with the excitement of the annual “Bonney Upwelling” Festival. The Bonney Upwelling is the largest and most predictable upwelling in the Great South Australian Upwelling System.  The Blessing of the Fleet, market stalls, a street parade, Whale boat races and live entertainment will celebrate the natural bounty that comes with a confluence of climatic, seasonal and geographical conditions. The work above shows a blue whale, the largest mammal in the world, feeding upon the smallest plankton.

Falling Ginkgo leaves

Ginkgo leaves
Ginkgo leaves – collagraph

“The ginkgo tree is from the era of dinosaurs, but while the dinosaur has been extinguished, the modern ginkgo has not changed. After the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, the ginkgo was the first tree that came up.” ~ Koji Nakanishi

Ginkgo biloba (or maidenhair tree) is a species of tree, native to China, with distinctive twin-lobed leaves. It has been widely cultivated for many centuries, as a source of food and traditional medicine.  Scientists sometimes refer to it as a living fossil, because all it’s closest relatives are extinct.

I chose to make a collagraph of these leaves due to their unique shape and a graduated roll in yellow and green to represent the change of colour in autumn. Unfortunately I only had these colours in water-based inks, which dry too quickly for effective collagraphs. A better result could be achieved with oil-based pigments, to allow time to apply, wipe back and reapply for the desired effect. This plate is A4 size.

Hand-coloured Magnolias

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“I’ve always loved magnolia trees and their blooms—there’s something so beautiful about a magnolia blossom. It demands attention, and you can’t help but love those big, creamy petals and that fragrant smell.”~ Joanna Gaimes, The Magnolia Story

I haven’t had much success growing a magnolia tree on the farm, although I love to see the bare branches festooned with pink flowers in the early spring. They would have to be one of my favorite non-native trees. What I haven’t been able to capture here is the velvety brown undersides of the leaves and, of course, their lovely aroma!

Overwintering – Latham’s Snipe

Latham’s Snipe
Latham’s Snipe – collagraph

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better” ~ Albert Einstein

After another very productive day at Portland Bay Press, in the Julia Street Creative Space, I finished my entry to the “Overwintering” project.  Congratulations to Kate Gorringe-Smith for initiating this wonderful project to raise awareness of our migratory birds.

Latham’s Snipe (Gallinago hardwickii) is a shy and cryptic bird that breeds in Japan and migrates to Victoria in the Spring and Summer. It was the existence of this bird at the Powling Street Wetland Reserve, in Port Fairy, that resulted in a VCAT ruling that a housing development be significantly scaled back to reduce habitat destruction. A committed group of local residents collected data that provided strong evidence that the site was crucial to the survival of this species. 

This winter habitat is critical to the bird’s survival, as it is here that it builds up it’s fat reserves by foraging for plants and a variety of mud-dwelling invertebrates. The creamy-yellow, energy-rich fat is what fuels it’s flight across the equator to the northern hemisphere. This fat is also what made the species a valuable food source and caused it to be hunted extensively until bans were introduced in 1970-1980. The species is listed as Near Threatened in Victoria and nominated for the Flora and Fauna Guarantee. (SWIFFT)

As a Biology teacher, what fascinates me about this bird, is it’s remarkable structural, functional and behavioral adaptations that enable it’s survival. Millions of years of evolution have resulted in individual birds that instinctively navigate their way across the globe. Seasonal cues cause constriction of the gizzard and liver and enlargement of the heart to power it’s epic journey. Extraordinary feathered camouflage make it disappear into the rushes and reeds of it’s wetland habitat. (Birdlife)

 

New Holland Honeyeaters

New Holland Honeyeaters
New Holland Honeyeaters – collagraph

“This simple process of focusing on things that are normally taken for granted is a powerful source of creativity.” ~ Edward de Bono

New Holland Honeyeaters are a common occurrence in our garden. They seem to love the Grevillea and Echium flowers, of which we have a few different species. This is a collagraph plate, produced from my old Botany herbarium, with the bird cut-outs pasted in. I chose one of my favourite colours, Payne’s Grey, for this print, to give it a smoky atmosphere.

Today I am working on another collagraph plate of Latham’s Snipe, for the “Overwintering” project and exhibition that may come to the Portland Bay Press gallery.  I rented a unit in Port Fairy for a short time, opposite the Powling Street Wetland Reserve, which is a known spring and summer habitat for this endangered bird. This species begin their migration in February and depart northern Australia in May. Their breeding grounds are in Japan, so they are protected under the Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (JAMBA).

Hand coloured Lotus pond

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“From the mud of adversity grows the lotus of joy” – Carolyn Marsden

This linocut has been hand painted with watercolors, possibly a bit too soon after it was printed because the black ink has ‘reanimated’ in some places. Curse my impatience. One thing I need to learn from my art practice is to slow down and enjoy the process. Almost all my mistakes and imperfections are caused by rushing.

I am going to do a bit more work with this design to create a repeating pattern and recarve it. Since I have practiced with better quality tools, I can get finer detail and more consistent cross hatching. You can see another version of this print a few posts back, overlaid with a ghost print. Which one do you like best and what would you change to improve the image?

Ginkgo collagraph

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“The creative process is a process of surrender, not control” ~ Julia Cameron

This plate (in progress) is a collagraph – cardboard cutouts glued to mount board with three coats of shellac. The intaglio ink is applied with a stiff brush and then wiped away and reapplied in a painterly fashion. I plan to use a graduated roll – green to yellow – to add more interest to the repetitive shapes. I might try eucalyptus leaves as well.