In the Frame

After a year of daily art, I have a LOT of artwork to frame. I decided October would be Framing Month. Then at the end of October I decided November and December would be framing months too.

Fortunately, not all of the themes are framable. The flowers, food, car, hands & feet, and faces artworks are all in books. I have cut a couple of pages from the cars book for people who wanted them, but the rest will probably just stay in there. The books I drew the faces and hands & feet in are only partially used, so I intend to fill them at some point in the future.

In October I concentrated on pet portraits and toys. All but three pet portraits went to the pet owners and were very appreciatively received. The other three were pets of Paul and I, so they went into an IKEA frame together.

Half of the toys went into $10 IKEA frames. Unfortunately the paintings are 10×10 cm and the mat that comes with the frame has a 12×12 cm hole. So I had 30 custom matts cut with a 10x10cm hole. The paintings in the IKEA frames get to have a fancy ‘double matt’ look, and the rest have been taped to the backs of the remaining custom matts and wrapped in cellophane ready to sell or gift.

In November I intend to tackle the chairs, Nature’s Remnants and kitchenalia themes. A friend wants a 3×3 set of the chairs, so I bought some black mat board and Paul found a black frame still in its wrapping from an abandoned project. A few weeks ago I bought a mat cutter partly with a voucher I got for my birthday. It’s rather nifty, I have to say. Makes the job very easy, but it has limitations. The guides only work for single hole cutting, so to cut the nine holes for my friend’s set I had to use it more like a ruler – pressing down and hoping the board didn’t shift mid-cut. But it worked just fine:

When I posted a pic to show my friends, another put her hand up for a collection – this time just five.

The leftover fifteen made a 5×3 grid, bigger than the first one, and to get them to fit in a standard sized frame I made the holes smaller, cropping each artwork to show only the chair and background papers. That meant I had to redraw two that were too large, so it took most of a morning. When it was done I wrapped it in cellophane.

Next I tackled the kitchenalia theme. Theses were much easier to frame because the artworks are all in sheets of six.

The Nature’s Remnants series is going to be a much bigger challenge to frame, involving a bit of woodworking. I’ve looked at the tools and accessories artworks and they’ll require the same preparation as the toys and kitchenalia. It’s makes sense to get them out of the way first while I have the right tools out, so it looks like I’ll be changing the order I’m tackling the themes again.

Pen to Paper

Part of the Maiwa ink-making workshop is a brief lesson on writing with a pointed pen. I learned calligraphy as a teen at my local library, which had a wing for pottery and art lessons. I also remember having a book-and-fountain-pen set of the sort that used to be available at newsagents. Mostly of what I learned involved a flat-ended nib meant for medieval style writing, and later I was lucky to learn a bit of sign and ticket writing at TAFE before computers rendered those skills obsolete – well, until the hipster revival, that is.

I’m not sure when I learned pointed pen calligraphy. I know the way I was taught to write at school had roots in cursive script, but with simplifications that made some letters look more like printed type. The ‘r’ in particular has really changed, and capital letters are much simpler. The result of all this is my handwriting is a weird hybrid of styles. While I didn’t expect the workshop to teach me anything new about calligraphy, I did hope it would iron out those inconsistencies.

The approach was more along the lines of basic principles – more an explanation of how pointed pen writing works than fussing over letter shapes – which you can apply to handwriting. There were seven Spencerian script pen strokes to practice:

I found the second ‘O’ felt quite awkward, which explains why so many capital letters feel wrong to me. But overall I find it quite meditative and have done quite a few pages of alphabet practise now, so the awkward letters are starting to feel more natural. A bit of research told me that a desk slope of 20 degrees is better, and since I am all about ergonomics these days I decided to make an adjustable ‘writing slope’. Fortunately, before I went to the trouble I checked to see if IKEA had something suitable and, of course, they did. Adjustable from flat to 20 degrees to 30 degrees.

On which my glass slab fit nicely, giving me a deeper writing surface so I can get my whole forearm onto it.

The last module was about making ink from anything. There were lots of tips and a few recipes. One was white ink, and since I happened to have just bought some Titanium white pigment with the intention of making gouache, I mixed some up. At the same time I’d bought some ground walnut to make ink out of, but haven’t tried that yet.

The question of what to use all this ink for is constantly in the back of my mind. Last week I took the indigo and carbon black inks to life drawing class and they were really nice to work with. I’d like to do more pen and ink drawing, too.

And I snapped up seven notebooks with dot grids at the local trash and treasure for $15 – perfect for pen practise, but also they’ve got me thinking… maybe I’ll use one to give journalling a try.

All Wrapped Up

You know how it goes. While at the fabric store buying something needed something else pops into your shopping basket. That’s how I came by this navy flowering gum Jocelyn Proust organic cotton knit. At the time I thought I’d make a top or pair of leggings, but when I’d finished the test version of the wrap dress the navy fabric caught my eye and I thought it would make a nice finished version. That meant buying more fabric, of course, but at least that time I didn’t succumb to extra fabric temptation.

The waist is rather high on me, but I’ve reached a point where I need the belly-skimming that a high-waisted dress achieves. I’ve lengthened the sleeves and skirt, and omitted the cuffs. I wore it to a friend’s Cup Day gathering. It’s very comfortable and, unlike other wrap dresses I’ve had the past, doesn’t gape in the chest area or fly open at the skirt wrap at the slightest turn or breeze.

I might make another one of these one day.

I’ll Ink to That!

The Maiwa ink-making workshop is done and it’s been a blast. Best online workshop I’ve done. Really. The videos and instruction sheets were clear and informative, the q&a forum was friendly and helpful, and none of it was done via Zoom. Well, there was an optional Zoom session at the end, but I skipped that because…

The last two inks we made were indigo and iron gall. The indigo recipe was simple and quick, and the resulting ink is really dark to write with while giving lovely shades when applied with a brush.

The iron gall ink was more involved but not complicated. I’ve seen YouTube videos in which gall nuts were fermented, but this lesson kept it simple (and probably less fragrant) by using extract-ready gallnut powder. It is fascinating watching the ink slowly deepen from grey to black as it oxidises.

Since there were no more inks to make in the workshop, I began tidying up, removing anything that hadn’t been useful from the work area. That’s when I found a bag of onion skins I had collected with the intention of dyeing cloth. Onion skins contain tannins, so I decided to see if I could make an ink from it. The process was as simple as simmering the skins in just enough de-mineralised water to be able to stir them for about 20 minutes, filtering out the skins, then reducing the liquid to intensify the colour. It smelled like French Onion soup as I was cooking the skins, so that became the name.

Here are all the inks, in little jars for storing airbrush ink that Paul bought for me. Of all the things needed for this workshop, suitable jars were the hardest to find in Australia. I had bought some bottles with droppers, but the narrow neck makes it hard to dip the pen without getting ink on the handle, and you have to find somewhere safe to put the dropper while you’re working.

The next ink I want to make is walnut ink. So far I haven’t found a fresh source of husks, so I’ve ordered some dried ones from the art store. I’ve also collected some bark from one of the big eucalyptus trees here. I’d like to try the bark and leaves of all the eucalyptus trees here. Next Autumn it’ll be time to harvest madder and forage for acorns.

But I’m also aware that I’ve not exactly used up ink very quickly in the past. In fact, when I gathered all the ink I had ready for the accessories month of the daily art challenge I found that a third or so had dried out – which is probably the most common way I ‘use up’ ink. My back protested after I did some calligraphy exercises on Monday, which was no surprise. I can’t do more than an hour of anything that involves sitting. So it doesn’t make sense to keep manufacturing more and more ink. However, it is cool to know I can whip up a batch when I need to, or when an interesting source material comes along. And the accessories month showed me that drawing with ink is really satisfying, so hopefully I’d do more of that, too.

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Not Quite Inktober

The second pair of inks we made in the Maiwa course was yellow from weld. This one did not go smoothly because I’d mistakenly bought ground weld, not weld extract. So the first batch went down the sink and I started again with instructions from the tutor on extracting colour from the plant material before repeating the ink-making process. The green is weld with indigo added.

The third pair of inks was extracted from cochineal bugs. Fortunately, I’d bought the right product for this one, and the process went smoothly.

In the middle of all this I made my own ink: Ash Pit Black. The source material was a chunk of charcoal I found where the ash pit at Boort Railway Station was back when they ran steam trains on the line. I ground it up in a mortar and pestle then mulled it for, well, aaaaageees. Maybe an hour. The resulting ink has a brown tone, which is probably because charcoal is not completely burned up fuel so the original source affects the result – in this case the fuel would have been coal. I was worried it would have oil residue in it, but so far nothing has come to the surface.

Of course, I had to try using it to make some art. Here is a drawing of the former Boort Railway station:

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Daily Art: Kitchenalia

The final theme for the Daily Art challenge was kitchenalia in oils on canvas paper. Though I had decided on that, I didn’t have a picture in my mind of what I would do until a day or so before September started. Continuing with the previous three month’s format of a small picture in the centre of an A4 page didn’t appeal, and would mean taking more canvas paper with me on holidays. A grid of squares would be a nice change. And then one of the friends we stayed with suggested circles. I looked at the roll of masking tape I was using to stick the canvas paper to boards and knew exactly what I wanted to do.

It would mean painting smaller images than I’d planned, but I was determined to only use the two small long flat synthetic brushes I’d bought specifically for the challenge. When they were new, it wasn’t hard to get lines and details, but toward the end of the month the hairs began to curl. I bought a third brush in the same size and tried to be gentler when washing but it, too, started to be like painting with a toothbrush. I even cut off the curl-ended hairs and then only wiped the brush clean after a quick tip in solvent, but the same problem occurred. So maybe it wasn’t abuse but the brushes themselves.

During the month the same pattern of exploration unfolded. I paint the same way for half the month, then suddenly want to experiment. In this case, I tried a black and coloured backgrounds. I started using short, small round brushes for details once the long flats started going curly, then stopped for the last six. The first twelve subjects were random – whatever I had around that appealed – but after that I began selecting items that formed a group and making sure the circles lined up.

By the time the last painting was done I knew what I wanted to do in October. As much as I’d like to continue painting daily to a theme, I need a break. I’m now attending art workshop during the week, and I have projects to do at home that I’d like to work on daily, but not feel obliged to finish on the same day. Hopefully I will end up painting most days anyway.

Overall it’s been fantastic. I’ve learned a great deal, truly woken up my visual artist brain cells, had something to bond with friends over, and got a whole lot of artwork to show for it.

An Inkling

A few months back a friend (hi Amanda!) recommended I do a natural dyeing workshop run by the Maiwa School of Textiles. When I headed over to the website I discovered they were also running an ink-making workshop. I’ve been wanting to try making my own paints for a while, and after enjoying doing a month of pen and ink drawings for the Daily Art Challenge I’m keen to go back to that medium. Making inks seems like a natural crossroads between my two interests in fibre (dyeing) and art (ink).

I signed up and after pricing the items in the materials kit I realised it was much cheaper to buy them locally – and I didn’t want to worry that the materials wouldn’t arrive in time. Well, it would have been much cheaper if the shop I used for my price research actually had them all in stock. I hadn’t noticed the ‘out of stock’ on one item, but the other had no warning until I went to buy it. Having most of the materials bought or on order already, it would make no sense point buying the kit for just two items, so I had to hunt around online and wound up buying those two ingredients from Israel (from Dekel Dyes, where you can also purchase an interesting little booklet on making ink that includes eucalyptus as a source). This meant not buying the kit didn’t save me as much money and I still got to worry about a parcel not arriving on time.

Luckily it did, and I gathered everything together before we went on our holiday. I also watched a lot of YouTube videos and reread a book I had on the subject (Make Ink by Jason Logan). Finally the workshop start date arrived, and I started working my way through the weekly modules.

The first task was to make sock solutions. I’d only found gum Arabic in solid and liquid form, not powdered, but figured I could grind it up myself in my mortar and pestle. Wow, that stuff explodes when you smash it. I had gum Arabic shards everywhere. The second stock solution was shellac, which was easy but time-consuming to make.

The second task was to make carbon black ink. An easy task, but I managed to make it complicated somehow when the pigment didn’t want to mix with the solutions. But I persuaded it to eventually, and without too much mess, and finished with two black inks: water-soluble and water-proof. Which I then put to good use:

Gum Arabic based ink on Rhodia ivory paper
Shellac based ink on watercolour paper with watercolour wash
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Plein Air Wanderings

The main aim of our recent holiday was to visit friends in Adelaide. I wasn’t keen to risk the chaos of unreliable flights and understaffed airports, yet my back wasn’t going to stand up to long hours of being a passenger in a car. So we planned to take a meandering route there and back, staying two nights at each location in case I had to lie down for a day to heal.

We stayed in the Euroa campground first, where a bunch of our friends had arranged a weekend away. It’s a nice spot. A pretty creek winds through the place. People were fishing or kayaking, walking dogs or riding bikes down the path alongside. Paul and I stayed in a cabin, and I was so keen to get painting that I did this not long after we arrived despite a cranky neck headache.

The next morning I took a little longer to paint one of the bridges.

On the Sunday we bid our friends goodby and headed to Boort in central Victoria, where Paul spent most of his childhood. I didn’t paint anything as it was only a one-night stay, but if I’d had the time I’d have painted the lake.

The next day we headed to Mildura, managing to catch only the leftmost edge of a storm as we left, then later just missing the top of a long ribbon of rain. There was a little extra blob of rain on the weather radar that didn’t look substantial, but when we and it reached Mildura at the same time it turned out to have grown into a full-on thunderstorm with torrential rain and large hailstones that had me seriously worried our car would be damaged – as mine had been in a storm several years ago. Fortunately there was no damage and we made it to the campground.

We had arranged to stay in a cabin on the river, and it was a lovely spot. The next day we went for a walk around town and the riverbank and stumbled upon the art gallery of the local artist society, where I was told I could buy art supplies from a local hairdresser. (I needed some linseen oil.)

That afternoon I did a painting of riverboats from the cabin. The sun kept going behind cloud, so it was easier to paint something that was in the shadow of trees.

Our next drive was to Adelaide. I’d noted that our windscreen had hardly any bug splatter on it, and I hadn’t seen many birds so far – mostly carrion-eaters. Now there were no bugs and no birds, and the roadkill lay bloated by the side of the road. Perhaps it was because were were passing through the fruit fly quarantine area, and all the bugs were being sprayed out of existence.

We also noted people were jumping fences and trampling canola fields to take photos, and figured farmers might not be too keen about that. Sure enough, this week there was an article about the biosecurity risks and nuisance it causes. Filing that under “The stupid, inconsiderate things people do to follow the latest Instagram trend”.

Once in Adelaide the only painting I did was my daily art. We stayed with friends, visited friends, had dinner at friends’ places, and spend many hours chatting with friends.

When the time came to farewell our friends we headed south, following the coast to Robe. Just before we arrived we learned a couple at one of the dinner parties had Covid. So we spend the rest of the holiday staying away from people – eating takeaway rather than going into restaurants, not going to touristy attractions where we’d encounter people, and cancelling visits to two friends living in places on the route home – and monitoring ourselves for symptoms.

Which we never manifested, thankfully. I did a painting on a Robe beach, but it was terrible and went in the bin after a failed attempt to fix it when I got home. The next stop was Dunkeld at the southern end of the Grampians. The day we arrived the weather was good but the sun was in the wrong position and my back was not happy. The next day it rained. The day after it was sunny, but we were heading home. Before setting forth, however, we drove around to take some photos, and when I saw the view from the Arboretum I had to stop and do a final painting. And I’m glad I did.

Despite the near-brush with Covid, it was a lovely break. There were moments when my back did get cranky, but nowhere near as much as I’d feared. We saw our friends, I got some plein air paintings done, and really benefited from a break from routine and familiar surrounds. It had been four years since our last trip, and I’m glad we travelled locally rather than set off overseas. I’d like to do more trips within Australia. Maybe next year.

Daily Art: Tools

Deciding which theme and medium to use for August was a bit trickier than usual, because I was going to be travelling at the end of the month. Since I would still be travelling in September I needed both themes and mediums to also be relatively portable.

The two themes left were tools and kitchenalia. I guessed that kitchenalia would be easier to find than tools in the cabins and motel room we’d be staying in. That was right, though mainly because it was harder to find tools while travelling. Paul’s car had surprisingly little in the way of drawable tools in it. I even bought a spanner in an op shop purely to draw it.

Since I was aiming to do some plein air painting in oils during the trip I knew I’d have that medium on hand, but I preferred the idea of doing kitchenalia as oil paintings. Instead I chose colour pencils for the tools. Water-based ones, because I like how creamy they are.

For a portable, folding backdrop I stuck two pieces of card on the back of a sheet of white paper. I took two lamps (warm and cool). Fortunately this was a car trip and we have a station wagon, so there was plenty of room for my art materials.

I was constantly surprised how effectively I was able to depict the material the tools were made of – especially metals – when white highlights are hard to create in pencil. Some of these bend the definition of ‘tools’ somewhat, but they were all fun to do.

Even after the month was over, the pencils and pad of cartridge paper I used came in handy on the holiday when we had a rainy day and nothing to do. We went for a drive and found an old rusty cart to draw from within the car.

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Daily Art: Continued?

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Two months shy of finishing the daily art challenge I started to think about what I’d do once it was over. I want to continue to make art every day, but not in the same format since I’d be scratching to find twelve more different themes or mediums to tackle.

A couple of of ideas have me interested. The first is to depict a different material each month for six months. Glass, metal, wood, ceramic, paper and plastic seem like the most interesting and practical. But in what medium? While it would be good to try depicting each in different mediums, that would involve a lot of messing about putting one medium away and getting out another. There are a handful of mediums I didn’t use in the daily art challenge, and a few I did use that I don’t fancy going back to. I could just pick a shortlist of favourites and revisit them.

It also occurred to me that most of the daily art I produced in the last year is still life, and the materials challenge fits that category too. What if I took a similar approach to portraiture, and narrowed in on eyes, noses, ears, mouths, hands and clothing? Or concentrated on aspects of landscape by depicting sky, water, rock, buildings, vegetation, figures and animals?

I seem to have come up with another year and a half of daily art challenges!

Well, I’m not going to decide until I get to the end of this challenge at the least. As I near the end I am growing more and more in favour of taking a rest for a month before considering anything.

And then there’s all the framing…

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