Friday 22 February 2013

At Last - A New Post!

Well, come December we took our show down and had frantic time finishing our years printing. Then breathing out, we stepped out into the hottest summer in years. So hot and it still is, we live in hope of no forest fires.
Studio maintenance this year has meant painting our windows. 

Fast little birds, they 'clean' tree foliage of thrips sap suckers and other tiny critters.
They are heard more than seen.

While slowly marching around with a paintbrush we began to notice a few beautiful birds bursting out of tunnels at our feet. These birds are Striated Pardalotes. Tiny and beautiful. Length is around 40-45mm, they nest in small tunnels they dig in soft earth. These tunnels can be 250 - 300mm long culminating in a small nest chamber. They lay 3or 4 eggs. How they successfully do this amazes me, as they seem so helpless in the face of countless enemies. The other surprising feat is that they migrate to mainland Australia every Autumn returning here in Spring. Around the studio they dig tunnels in soft sand left by the stonemason when building the wall.

In Pardalote land its watch out for snakes and bigger predators like birds who catch parents coming and going.

The nice thing about country living is that you get to see all these changes going on around you. I notice now that state planning laws will prevent people from constructing dwellings near forest because of fire risk. I'd rather take the chance thanks!

Jo in her painting outfit

A sandy bank for Pardalote nests!

Saturday 10 November 2012

Elemental Artspace Show by Dennis Wild

A small show of Photogravure.

Elemental Emu Bay Road Deloraine

I’ve been making a small number of Gravures over the years and I’ve never seen them in a single solo show.  So when the opportunity came up to show in a nearby town I jumped at it. Elemental Artspace in Deloraine Tasmania has a small gallery especially suited to small works of art. The problem I always had with these works was that galleries don’t get enough commission on a sale of say $350 when a reasonable sized painting occupying the same space could sell for $1 - 6000 with a lot more commission going to the gallery. Galleries often take 40% so after framing my little photogravures weren’t all that profitable.
Elemental is full of interesting hand works - clothing, jewellery, painting, glass, candles, textiles, quilts, and prints,  etc and it will go very well as business. So if your looking for good work by a Tasmanian artist head for Elemental in Deloraine and see a good Photogravure show as well. My prints are very reasonable at $350 in matts. Deloraine has a good framer who will do a good job for you. These are small prints - the image area is around 125 x 185mm in size. The show will be there for 5 weeks.

A small card about gravure

They are rich in appearance as a gravure is and nothing like a traditional photograph made in a darkroom or an inkjet print where a machine sprays pigment on paper.
Generally I print for a day and then number what I have rarely more than 20.
 Photogravure comes up often in the history of photography. Invented in the 1870’s as a way of making beautiful (as opposed to photomechanical halftone prints) repeatable pictures. Look for Peter Emerson, (around 1885 - 95) Paul Strand and many others.
While you are browsing around have a look at the small portrait of me by Robyn Mitchell (a friend of mine) and one of the few photographers I know who experimented in Albumen printing. Its the best portrait I have of myself. Thanks to Robyn for gifting it to me.
Jo was an amazing help come the day! framing too! thanks Jo
 I decided that a card printed Letterpress would be nice companion to the show. Most people are unfamiliar with these kinds of prints, so a card could be an informative keepsake and a nice small project. I decided on text only, in a few colours and printed on a hand platen. Centaur was used for all the setting - 12pt text, 20 point Museum Caps (Dale guild Foundry) and 42 point Monotype from M&H foundry. It ended up being two sides and four colours. Somewhat 1950’s was the look, using some vintage card I had tucked away. So if you visit make sure to ask for a card or two. On the card reverse there is an explanation of the process. Its not an advertisement its just a keepsake.
It has a nice feel about this space and it does the work justice

PhotoGravure Prints

When Photoshop was first released I bought a copy - the first for northern Tasmania. It ran only on Macs and we knew each other! All desktop publishing was Mac and at the college where I started teaching I began agitating for a studio of Macs. I could see that photography was going to be digital and I pushed for a radical approach to training. I wanted for once to have training in a leading position. We started in a small way and by 1996 we had scanners printers and some 20 computers. It was the political fight of my life as the Windows crowd were quite beside themselves with anger at having to compete for funds with wacko artists using Macs.  We had finally broken through but the opposition was still there in 2005 despite the fact that they had lost most of their training to private training providers.

We ran all the industry standard software and our graduates mainly drifted towards publishing because photography really didn’t get good cameras or printers until the turn of the century. After that, I had trouble justifying the darkroom even though students generally preferred darkroom work over digital. 

 I was beginning to feel the same way. I noticed that digital could make really good pieces of film and these negatives allowed a photographer to work in many of the “obsolete” processes like Cyanotype, Albumen, Brown printing,  Dichromate (gum printing). These are all contact processes needing film the size of the final print, and sheet film disappeared as the printing industry that used it changed completely. Inkjet is the replacement and is very flexible.
For me though, I became interested in Photogravure. Firstly it was copper plate using a sensitised transfer sheet. This is the traditional 19th century method and it turned out to be fraught with problems and very unsafe. My darkroom despite all my safety precautions began to show stains from the Ferric Chloride etch - dangerous stuff. I wore apron, visor, and gloves but I began to feel very wary of this process. I stubbornly stayed with it until I had a print in my hand and quietly tried something else. 

 Photopolymer is a letterpress plate material that will make a gravure plate when worked with a film positive. It processes in water. Perfect! I had plenty plate material and soon I was making good prints. Its not without its moments though. It is actually quite tricky. A gravure attempts to be a continuous toned print emulating grain in which printing ink resides. Its an intaglio printing process and a “mezzotint screen exposure introduces the grain. A balance has to be achieved between the first screen exposure and then the main exposure. The plate material has to be fresh and the plate is prone to marking if its not finished cleanly and post exposed to harden it.
Once you have a good plate they are a joy to print and if you work hard it is possible to make about 15 prints a day!
Choice of colour is user driven and not determined by the process. Its just a matter of mixing an ink in enough quantity to edition. Same with paper. I like Fabriano Rosapina, also a good Letterpress paper.  gravure fits in with my love of Letterpress, Photography, and playing with my hands and brain! Making stuff!

 I love making and converting bits and pieces. I built this vacuum frame out of a homemade copy stand a vacuum lid off a platemaker and a vacuum pump off a process camera. Works well! I've never owned a shop bought exposure unit.

exposure unit

The press is small (A2) but does a great job

Photopolymer can be hard to "read" because of its colour

Monday 10 September 2012

Mouse Picture

Started up the Heidelberg Platen a few days back and heard an odd sound. I stopped to investigate and found an extremely thin mouse on the inside of the variable speed pulley. It seems he decided to have a sleep inside the pulley housing. Bad place. Now this mouse has contributed to the art production in the studio.

Artists aren't Dancing Bears!

Here at last is our final letterpress protest piece - Don’t be a Dancing Bear! Its a linocut, mixed with type and printed on a Chandler and Price Platen press. Joanne cut the lino and it’s a very lively looking bear.
Why is it that those of us who choose to work as visual artists are being used as a largely unpaid labour force. It seems that visual artists are being expected to work as a form of public spectacle in community arts stunts for very little personal benefit. It seems that promoters and money is the reason for this stuation. Artist as a market commodity. There exists a core of people who have learnt to siphon off public arts money - which doesn’t end up helping artists.
In the 80’s and 90’s we operated without this layer of bureaucracy. For about a decade we were members of an art cooperative called battery art co-op with a membership of over 40. We organised shows of work in different cities of painting, photography, printmaking jewellery, sculpture, fibre, drawing. We did everything co operatively.
We operated a weekly life drawing class which raised money, and raised money from sales of work, tutoring, and entry fees for artists submitting work for show. We applied for and administered any grant money ourselves. At no time did we need directors, promoters etc. Our shows were democratic and not curated. In our nearest city, there was a gallery space which ran for years as a co-op showing members work monthly. It ran by membership meetings. In our local town we had a Co-op of working artists in established studios called Deloraine Art and Craft Professionals. This was a loose collaboration aimed at group shows and professional discussion. No Directors here either.
Personally I haven’t been involved in funded projects for many years but when I did, I applied, administered and acquitted all monies, and managed the project myself. Its not hard.
The rot set in with public money. Some who felt they could capture arts money began using regional arts groups as a base to set themselves in motion as promoters. Shop front windows are hardly the place to put artworks that is sensitive to heat and light. This happened to me twice and then I began to get angry about being told I was not community minded enough because I had protested about the running of this “event”. Our local arts group actually moved to protect the promoters interests and not artists! As far as I know none of these people are art practitioners.
So we are saying that artists who contribute work to these types of events are being dealt a very poor hand indeed.
The state government Arts minister and the federal government’s  ‘Australia Council’ should move to close off this type of activity. Arts money should go totally to practitioners. The history of artists organising themselves as I have outlined above shows that artists can easily manage themselves and don’t need the community arts circus. This is the United Nations year of co-operatives. lets support that initiative! The best place to start is in the art schools. Currently the business training is aimed at the artist as sole trader. There should be a broader scope of training in co operatives and collective self management.
Artists aren’t dancing bears. A fair go for artists!

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Ludlow Land!

Howard looks a little worried. He wasn't the only one.
Its amazing that it all really runs off a powered camshaft. Single phased power and water cooled.
For years we have worked with hand set type and for the last few years we have been building up our font range. Now though, we have been given a Ludlow line caster which is said to be a simple way of casting lines from brass matrices. They were used throughout the trade especially where scripts were used and large letter sizes. Social printing of all sorts, advertising, and headlines were all easily taken care of by this machine. There is no keyboard like a Linotype or Monocaster, the work is set on a "stick", by hand, right reading. This is then pushed into the machine and locked, the casting cycle is commenced, ending with a line popping out on completion. 
My friend and fellow printer, Howard, drove this over in is utility and we spent a day sweating and straining to get it down some planks and into position. It weighs in at about 1400lbs old measure. I don't think I have ever moved such an obstinate beast! I'ved moved presses guillotines Linotypes, and Monocasters but nothing compared to this difficult move. Plus, I'm getting older and a bit slower! At one point we were using a winch anchored to a large guillotine in the studio only to find the guillotine was moving not the caster. Some rearranging of anchor points was organised and finally it was moving. most the weight is in the top and being cast it cant be levered safely. Normally I use rollers but someone had used a type of pallet that didn't have a smooth underside so that made life hard.
It did come with many spares and tools and lots of different sticks and fonts in two cabinets. There is also another machine for buffing the lines called a supersurfacer. Luckily for me there is also a couple of manuals and font books. I say this because I have never had any experience with Ludlow. We had them when I was in industry but compositors used them - I only watched!
Stay tuned! Casting is not far off.

These are the fonts of matrices and spares. Some beautiful retro scripts

Getting it off the pallet was a very tricky operation. It wouldn't survive being dropped.

In its final position and soon to be operational.
A doorway had to be widened to fit it

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Hook Rug Kits

Joanne does this great job of organising small groups of very keen hook ruggers. They meet once a month and there is a link on this blog to hers which will tell you more than I can.  She has made some kits for sale though, that you should know about. $40 and the wool is rare carpet wool (the factory as closed unfortunately), you also get mesh and a tool. Go to Hook Rug revolution for more details!