Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Cheat entry!

OK, OK, this entry is a complete cheat as I've copied it, photos and all, from my doubleelephant blog because that's where I originally posted it!

Yes, at long last I feel well enough to put up some photos! I can't believe that two weeks after falling ill I'm still ill... mind you, the last few days of coughing have been down to the nuisance activities of one of our neighbours who appears to have decided to chop down and burn a number of trees in his back garden. Protected koala habitat? Fire ban? Permit required...? Nah, who cares about that?!

Anyway, a while ago I got on with making a saline etch solution and using it to make aluminium plates for my exchange project with Tina - so really this post should be on my Complicities blog, but anyway... I made up a sugar lift solution, dried it on the plate, used bituminous stopout to cover it, dried it again, washed it out in hot water and... realised that I'd need some sort of aquatint in order to retain ink in the open areas. Of course! Silly me.

Now I do have an aquatint box, but it's sitting in the carport still wrapped in corrugated card, just as it came off the container 18 months ago. I haven't re-instated it because I don't have anywhere suitably ventilated to put it. Somehow it doesn't seem fair to put it into the office/studio space that I share with Michael, at least not without equiping him with a P3 mask first. And it's a bit dodgy because we're in rented accommodation and I suspect there's fine print in the lease about using carcinogenic substances on the property! Fair enough. So I read up on techniques again and came up with spray-paint aquatint.

Here's my newly purchased can of black car enamel!

I was surprised at how easily this went on, although in retrospect I think I need to practice in order to get a finer mist on the plate. While I was waiting for the enamel to dry - less than 5 minutes in this climate, despite the humidity today - I made up the saline/copper sulphate solution. Then I coated the back of my plate with varnish to protect it and put the plate in to etch. Having read Aine's post about saline etch solution I was careful not to leave the plate in for too long, and anyway, having never used nitric and so not being used to my plate producing bubbles as it etched I was a bit wary of over-doing it.

This is the result. I can't show you a close-up as the right lense wasn't on the camera

I think my spray was too coarse and I need to practice getting that right, but I was pleased that it wasn't more uneven and that there wasn't any undercutting of the individual dots of enamel while the plate was in the etching solution.

The third attempt at printing because I was a bit messy the first two goes!

As you can see, the aquatint is a bit coarse but I think I'll be able to rectify it. I understand it's fairly easy to re-aquatint a plate using the spray paint method; I'll have to see whether I have enough energy to re-spray this plate while I'm busy etching the others! But overall I'm pleased with the result.

Meanwhile I've also printed Tina's plates, which are decidedly more interesting than mine! These are the plates for January and February inked up using a surface roll so that I get an embossed texture from the more deeply-gouged areas. And the plates really are deeply gouged, using drills and built up areas of lacquer I think, judging from the bare plates.

And these are the resulting prints. I need to change the size of the paper slightly; we'd agreed to print within the plate margins slightly and of course I forgot that the paper would swell while it was soaking... so to get the deckle edge I need tear the paper slightly smaller than the desired size to give it room to expand in the water.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


I've thrown my January bridge out into the unknown and I don't know what's happened to it! I have visions of my careful packaging having been crushed, the bridge broken, all that tricky cut-out text pulled apart... I haven't heard yet whether it's arrived, and the problem is compounded by silence. Another fantasy is that it has arrived, but that it has been literally and metaphorically 'shelved' and that the project can't continue, for reasons as yet unknown.

I can feel myself fretting. I'm not good at not knowing things. Of course, there are lots of things I don't know, but most of them I don't care about! I know and care about this thing, and the waiting is agonising because it has to do with more than the vagaries of two postal services; it is also about putting something of yourself out there for someone else to see, someone who doesn't know you or your background or your motivations or your approach to things. And perhaps they won't like it? Perhaps they won't like me? That is the primal fear, the underlying anxiety that takes me straight back to years and years and years of being bullied and taunted and disliked at school. Posting the bridge was a bit like offering myself up to someone to be abused, and waiting to hear a response is a bit like a long flinch. I'm waiting to find out by hard experience whether the outcome will be abuse or acceptance, or - because I'm an adult now and not a child anymore - it is perhaps more about whether there will be longed-for dialogue and connection with someone for whom making art is also an intimate process, or whether blankness and silence will cut the dialogue off before it has really begun.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Yes, I have finally managed to put the first book in the post to Celia! Why has it taken so long? Well apart from the fact that each book used 26 different shapes of cardboard and 14 pieces of paper to cover them, all of which took a long time to measure and cut out, there was also the trauma of cutting and recutting the text and the fun-and-games of general flooding and dampness because of the relentless rain we've been having here. Plus the joys of children/parenthood/partnership/housework... need I go on?

Excuses aside, though, it has been a wonderful, frustrating, fun, tiring, learning experience that I have really valued. I have learned a lot, from the importance of sub-millimetre accuracy when measuring to how to use sandpaper and a block to smooth slipcase edges down before gluing to how quickly glue dries in this climate to using old etching plates as weights while things dry! I hope that all of this new-found experience will permit me to make future books and their slip covers more quickly and effectively. As it is, I am very pleased with the constructed element of the books: I had no pattern, just some free-hand pencil drawings that I measured up, and I had to work problems and solutions out as I went along.

I'm not sure that the final result has worked quite as I wanted it to, but that may be because I don't have much in the way of lighting that could be used to cast darker shadows through the lettering in the way that I'd hoped. But here are some pictures... bear in mind that the bridge piers are only 6cm tall.

Each bridge has two boxes, one for each pier. They are constructed internally to provide support for the pier (with or without the text attached), so that when closed the piers won't rattle around and possibly get damaged. I'm concerned at how well they will travel!

I put in an instruction sheet to explain how to put the whole thing together...

So there it is. What do you think?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The joy of text

It's taken me a while to post these pictures, partly because I've been recovering from the trauma of recutting the same text a total of six times! But the results have been worth the effort.

A chronological photo of my efforts, oldest on the left...

As you can see from the photo I have been refining my technique, and the materials used. The first effort was using an ordinary craft knife on Tru-grain, which is used in silk-screen printing. The second effort was on the sort of clear polythene I use for wrapping prints. I used an X-acto knife, or its equivalent, but I felt the result was too flimsy and it was very difficult to work, so I recut it all again on Tru-grain using the better knife and I would have been happy..... but! I got to a web page about paper cutting, through a devious route via a Blogspt 'blog of the week', and saw just what can be achieved with a little more patience and better motor control, and I realised that what I'd done so far was clumsy and that I needed to do it again.

E voila!

This time I cut two versions, both of which I will use. I decided that as I'm entrusting the whole enterprise to the wiles of the Australian postal service I ought to have a second one at home as insurance, and that anyway, a second one would allow me to exhibit it here. Unfortunately I had to cut the two versions separately because it was impossible to cut through two layers of Tru-grain along such narrow lines, but I am pleased with the results. The poem is much more legible, and the weight of the lines and the weight of the materials are appropriate. It took about 10 hours of solid work to cut the two pieces of plastic! And I have bruised fingers and strained elbow and wrist joints in commemoration.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The first bridge

I've been stumbling over how to get started with the artist's book project, partly because I've been stuck in a gloomy hole about completely separate family things. Only they're not completely separate because when I get like that, sunk in on myself and gloomy, I can't work. It affects everything I do, my (tiny flicker of) faith in myself... etc, etc.

Having snapped out of it, and waking up with ideas half-formed I've had a great time working out the practicality of the first bridge book. I got a bit stuck on identifying a first bridge, until I realised that it didn't have to be a real bridge, it could be a conceptual bridge or a fantasy bridge, or in fact any damned bridge I like!

Then I stumbled upon a poem by Walt Whitman, which tied a few things together for me. I wrote a poem on the plane coming over here in 2006, about all sorts of stuff including loneliness and spiders and hoping you've done the right thing, and the Whitman poem coincided beautifully with what I was saying and with the theme of bridges, and gave me a sort of entry-point into the first book.

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul

Another book idea

I thought I'd put this in just for fun, although it's something I did about 5 years ago. I like origami and this is a large version of Tomoko Fuse's rotating tetrahedron which is made out of three rectangles of paper. It rotates, folding and unfolding the images as it goes, and that for me makes it a book. This example is a poignant one for me as the images are of the area around where we scattered my mother's ashes in Petworth Park in West Sussex, England, and the pictures were taken just afterwards. I was - am - distraught about it; it was such a sad and strange occasion, but set in a beautiful landscape on Midsummers' Day, what would have been her 65th birthday. Richard Long had done an installation in the park, of glinting white pebbles that made a path in the moonlight, but I didn't stay to see the moon come up.

The rotating tetrahedron acts like a sort of prayer bead: turning it over and over again I see the beauty of the place with its white pebble paths, elegant trees and the wonderful landscape of the South Downs, which was part of my childhood, and I feel comforted.

I keep thinking of doing another book like this.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hoorah for the Paperboys

Yep, I've just come off the phone from placing my order with the lovely Craig Tillotson who is, I gather, one of the company's founders, from looking at their website. Nice man, and a big thank you to him for sorting out an order of a pile of A3 size greyboard which is 1.5mm thick. Hoorah! It should all arrive next week, which means I won't have any excuse for stalling on those slip-cases, which will be good a) because it means I will have started the project properly and b) because it will force me to think more about the contents.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Aargh! It does get hard to find suppliers over here! In the UK it wasn't a big stretch to get things from another country, if need be - postage costs weren't high because the relative distances are small. Here it's as far to get paper from Melbourne as it is to get paper from, I don't know, Germany, but the postage costs are huge because the transport network isn't as developed and I guess demand isn't as high.

A big challenge is actually finding suppliers, and the temptation when you can't find what you want is to look for it in Europe and think about getting it shipped over, but then you are stung for the postage costs! I've been trying hard to find greyboard. You know, that grey cardboard, about 1.5mm thick and I guess around 900gsm that is used to make book covers. Well I've found suppliers who can let me have industrial quantities of the stuff for $1,000 or so... but I haven't found anyone yet who can sell me 20 or so sheets at a reasonable price. It's possible that The Paperboys might be able to help, and I am awaiting a reply to my latest question, so I'll let you know how I get on. Meanwhile I managed to find some greyboard at J Hewit & Sons in Edinburgh and thought that I'd get a quote, out of interest, from their on-line shop. The quote for cardboard was fine: GBP 9, but the quote for postage was ridiculous: over GBP53! For a few pieces of cardboard! Since the postage rate didn't change if I amended the order quantity I assume it was a flat rate charge that would cover up to a certain weight of posted goods, but even so it is pretty steep... I won't be buying from them, anyway, which is a shame as they had lots of things I'd find really useful.

Oh well. Hopefully The Paperboys will come good for me. If not I'll be scavanging cardboard from the back covers of a lot of sketch pads in order to make my slip cases!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


I've got this grand conception rolling around in my head at the moment, gathering detritus as it wanders through and getting more and more complicated... the trouble is that the germ of the idea seems like a good one: using slip cases for each monthly instalment, but formating them like childrens' building blocks - brightly coloured, simple shapes (but not just variations on the standard book rectangle), and able to be reconfigured into a bridge, just as Grub's building blocks can make bridges. Fantastic idea! But...

Size? Colour? Contents? Closures...? Lots of issues to sort out. Grub's blocks are no longer than 3 inches, but mostly 1 - 2 inches across. I can't make complex shapes that small for slip-cases, and enlarging the shapes seems to add to the idea of them. But how big? Some of Grub's most intruiging blocks - the ones that started me off down this path in the first place - are rectangles with an arch scooped out of the bottom edge. They're yellow and they look like bridges! We love playing with the blocks: we make castles, fairy palaces, bridges, tower blocks, all sorts of things; I think the idea that the slip cases could be configured separately from their contents is great. The challenge is creating something manageable, that I can get to grips with using the limited resources at my disposal...

So what about contents? Well, as I envision nice, precise building-block-shapes for my slip covers, clad in primary colours, I also envision nice, precise innards, so I was thinking about 12 bridges - one for each month - with two sorts of innards to go inside the cases. One would be a pop-up bridge: a direct physical representation of the real bridge, probably with cut edges to the fold-out insert, and clean text and graphics. The other would be a more personal response, as several bridges are part of my 'history': the Clifton Suspension Bridge, for example, or Waterloo Bridge. They feature in different parts of my life and in a strange way they represent different things. These inclusions might be less precise, deckle-edged and not as 'clean', in a graphic sense.

This leads me on to a provisional list of Which Bridges? I came up with nine off the top of my head: the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Sydney Harbour Bridge, bridges in Venice, Magdalen Bridge in Oxford, bridges across the Seine in Paris, the bridge over the Bospherous in Istanbul, Waterloo Bridge, Coffs Harbour rail bridge, the Stari Most bridge across the river Neretvar in Mostar, Bosnia. That leaves three still to occur to me.

Size-wise, looking at Grub's blocks, I think I'd have to do them at least 400% of their actual size, to make them easy to handle. The shapes are going to cause me enough problems, without complicating things further! I'm going to have to make a run to Spotlight, a local store that's a bit of an Aladdin's cave of wonders for crafts-people in order to get enough card to make 12 slip cases anyway, having used up the last of my UK supplies making slipcases for the two souvenir books I made for my father-in-law and his twin brother, celebrating their seventieth birthday party in Wagga last November.