Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Outperforming Dog

Dermott holds the fort

Have you ever wondered what it's like to live with an outperforming dog? Performing dogs I can relate to. It's simple - they do tricks for treats. An outperforming dog takes your ego by the scruff of the neck and drags it off to the old bones heap.

What is all this about?, you might ask. It's about the annual Making a Mark Awards (MAMA), that's what!

Making a Mark is an exceptionally popular blog about art. Each year at this time its creator, Katherine Tyrrell makes a number of well deserved awards to people who blog about art. However, for the past two years Katherine has recognised our dog and his blog. In 2007 it was two awards - the TALES FROM THE FRONTLINE MENTION IN DESPATCHES and THE AMUSING MUSINGS TROPHY. This year - he gets a Special Mention in THE MOOSE AWARD for the Best Animal in an Illustrated Blog.

Dermott is occasionally featured in my art:

But have you ever seen Dermott produce art? I thought not! This dog doesn't have anything to do with art. This dog thinks a painting is good 'if the eyes follow you around the room!'

So, I come to that time of year when I have to review my artistic goals set twelve months ago:

My Goals for 2008

1. Learn to make more use of Photoshop & Illustrator. FAILED.

2. Study Italian EVERY day. FAILED

3. Sell a painting (and I don't mean to a friend). FAILED

4. Come to grips with oil painting and become faster and more confident. FAILED

5. Paint more Watercolour and pen & ink sketches en plein air. FAILED

6. Share more of our life in Tuscany through my blog. FAILED

7. Achieve a quick sketch every day. FAILED

8. Be more risky and playful. WELL... this one wasn't a top priority after all.

Now do you see what I mean about being outperformed by a dog?!

I'm currently compiling My Goals for 2009:

1. BEAT THE DOG (and I don't mean outperform!)


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Suicide Printing!

Linocut reduction relief print 11.5cm x 11.5cm

Inspired by Sherrie Y of Brush and Baren I've produced my first (very) limited edition, three colour reduction linoprint. I've heard this method referred to as 'Suicide Printing' and I certainly understand why.

Sherrie very generously posted instructions for making a paper registration jig on her blog. Armed with Sherrie's instruction HWEM set off to Obi for some bits and pieces in order to prove that he isn't just a great cook. The bits and pieces included a new saw, a new screwdriver, a mini plane and many other essential tools and pieces of timber! But he did it!

Print station with registration jig

Since I'm using oil based printing inks, I've set everything up on a little desk under a window. Surprising this really doesn't have to be a messy job.

Once I'd cut my lino block I soaked some sheets of printmaking paper in water for 10 minutes. I inked the block with the first colour and then rolled out the first piece of paper between sheets of blotting paper.

You can use a rolling pin to press the surplus water out of the paper but I think a good bottle of wine is essential because a lot can go wrong in suicide printing.

Our salad spoon has found a new role in life. A piece of tracing paper on top of the damp paper stops the baren (right) or spoon catching and moving the paper.

First colour - Sanguine, I didn't like it as much as the yellow so I only made two prints.

While waiting for the ink to dry I started cutting away all the bits of the plate where I wanted the print to remain yellow - or yellow plus the second colour. Only 12 prints, I wasn't very confident about carving this complicated (for me) design and didn't want to waste too much paper.

Second colour stage and the registration is good so far (thanks Sherrie!).

Next I cut out the iris of the eyes and all the sunrise type background ready for the final colour - black. The finished print is what you see at the top of this post.

This worked out rather better than I anticipated and of course I was sorry I hadn't made more, particularly since the registration was out in two of the finals and I smudged another. That's why it's 'suicide printing' - there's no going back to print more of the earlier colours.

I realised quite late in the carving process that I could make a quick proof of my progress by placing a piece of typing paper over the lino and rubbing it with a graphite stick. I guess I'm not the first to think of that.

Finally I was left with my oriental looking cat so I experimented with a chine colle of rice paper and tissue and called it Striped Cat.

Editor's Note: Just remembered where I picked up the term 'suicide printing'. It was from the blog of the British artist, Ian Phillips. He has a wonderful description of the process on his blog here. Treat yourself and see some wonderful work.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Phew.... for a moment I thought

I noticed Jeanette at Illustrated Life had played the game What Card are You? and posted the results on her blog. There was a bit of finger wagging at the end of the profile on Jeanette's card about things I quite like to do. So I didn't think I really wanted to know What Card I Am. I've always been a bit spooked by fortune telling but then I also have insatiable curiosity, so of course I had to go to Vivien's blog Painting Prints & Stuff and click on the link.

I did hesitate over the question 'Do you like to drink or smoke?' Well, I don't smoke! Anyway my mother always taught me to tell the truth. So I wasn't optimistic about what my card might be.

You are the World

Completion, Good Reward.

The World is the final card of the Major Arcana, and as such represents saturnian energies, time, and completion.

The World card pictures a dancer in a Yoni (sometimes made of laurel leaves). The Yoni symbolizes the great Mother, the cervix through which everything is born, and also the doorway to the next life after death. It is indicative of a complete circle. Everything is finally coming together, successfully and at last. You will get that Ph.D. you've been working for years to complete, graduate at long last, marry after a long engagement, or finish that huge project. This card is not for little ends, but for big ones, important ones, ones that come with well earned cheers and acknowledgements. Your hard work, knowledge, wisdom, patience, etc, will absolutely pay-off; you've done everything right.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Venice Etching

Bird Woman of Venice - Etching & Aquatint 24cm x 24cm
limited edition prints for sale

This is my first attempt at a copper plate etching with aquatint.

The picture is based on my own photograph of a woman shooing birds from her balcony, high above a Venetian canal. At first I thought how sweet, she's feeding the pigeons but when I enlarged the photograph I realised I'd probably witnessed a daily battle between this woman and the birds who squat on her tiny balcony. What struck me about the picture was how much the old lady's arm was beginning to resemble the wing bone of a bird - almost as though she was going through a metamorphosis that would one day see her too fly away.

Here's how I went about making the print.

Burning lamp black on to the varnished copper plate

I believe you can simply use a dark tinted varnish for this first stage of etching but loved learning the traditional smoking technique demonstrated here by my printmaker teacher, Rick Woodbury. Once the thick layer of lamp black is wiped away the copper plate has a hard dark ground into which I scratched my drawing.

Copper Plate before etching in an acid bath

The bird in front of the old lady's arm got in the way of the focal point of the drawing so Rick showed me how to use block out varnish to stop that area being etched by the acid.

The process of inking the plate is time consuming and pretty messy so I was covered in ink by the time I finished and I wasn't able to take photographs. Currently each print I make takes me about half an hour of inking and wiping the hot plate.

First Proof

In order to bring some darker values into the plate, and after using more block out varnish to preserve the highlights, Rick showed me how to dust it with powdered Gum Arabic. The plate was then heated to melt the Gum Arabic on to the copper and then it was back into the acid bath. I got quite a shock when we fished it out to see what a dramatic change I had in the second proof.

Second Proof after Aquatint

Now the hard work started, as I had to scrape or burnish back the aquatint pitted areas to make softer transitions between light and dark values.

Third Proof

That's more what I was aiming for and I can't tell you the thrill of pulling back the paper after the plate had passed through the press. I had no idea what it was going to look like. I don't think I will ever get over that excitement no matter how many prints I may make in future. I scraped and burnished a few more refinements and then pulled the final print that you see at the top of this post.

The print is too large for my scanner, so I've had to photograph it for this post. When I get some more sunlight I will replace this with a clearer photograph which I will have signed and numbered correctly.

I've never offered any of my art for sale before but since my plan for 2008 was to finally sell something here's your opportunity to acquire a rare piece of art! You are welcome to email me for further details.

Awarded to this post by The Colorist - Many thanks Casey.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Playing fast and loose again....

Watercolour & Ink - Canson sketchbook

Trapped inside most days lately by an unusually wet, grey autumn in Tuscany, I have been dreaming of Spring and the opportunity to get out sketching again. Of course I then have to admit I never get around to that much plein air sketching. It's because I am too slow. So the exercise I have set myself is to do some fast and loose sketches from the huge library of photographs I take (when I really should be sketching).

These are both from my computer screen using my Mont Blanc pen with Pelican Brillian Brown ink which I love because it's not in the least bit waterproof and bleeds happily all over the place when I add watercolour.

I took my sketching material on a trip to Perugia in Umbria yesterday. Didn't sketch a thing because we stumbled upon From Corot to Picasso - a magical exhibition from the vast Phillips Collection (Washington).

Vincent was there with House at Auvers; Modigliani with his beautiful Elena Povolozky; Cezanne Still Life with Ginger Jar, pears and Pomegranate; Picasso Woman with a Green Hat. Some days are absolutely perfect!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Remember when AmEx stood for Service?

What you sketch when you are hanging off the phone trying to cancel a card

I've been sobbing with frustration. Two years ago I decided two AmEx cards was excessive and being a much more conservative soul these days decided I was sick of paying fees for a credit card I never use. After a mind numbing hunt on the internet for a contact number to cancel a card I eventually fought my way past the computer generated voices and got a real human being. I sobbed with relief and said 'I'd like to cancel one of my AmEx cards because I never use it.' The nice human being was very disappointed in me and said that the company would prefer to offer me a fee-free year on the card. You never know when you might need the line of credit. I accepted and forgot about it. Two years later the next annual fee for the card was automatically deducted from my bank account. I still had not used the card.

I have since spent another mind numbing hunt on the internet to find a contact number to cancel the card. I've managed to have two conversations with a human being. The first told me they could not accept my cancellation from overseas via a Skype phone call. I would need to call American Express in Australia reverse charges. I couldn't find the Italian phone number to request a reverse charge call - you know how it is when you'd rather be painting.

I eventually made my way through the electronic maze again to another human being - still paying for an international phone call, still waiting on forever for human service. Unfortunately it was Saturday in Australia and the people who have the power to cancel cards do not work on Saturday. I was given a number which I was told was the reverse charge number and told to call back on a week day. I missed a few week day opportunities - you know how it is when you'd rather be painting.

Finally I lined up all the documentation on my desk and dialed the number. I was greeted by a kind electronic voice which lead me through many button pressing options - one of which, blessedly mentioned cancelling a card. As requested I keyed in my 15 digit account number and was told to wait until my account was retrieved - at this point I started sketching the handsome Roman on my credit card. Finally I was told to hang on and I would be connected to an operator. After a few clicks the line started making that ominous beep that sounds like you've been cut off. Then the line sounded live, almost as thought there could be a human being there. I called out for help. The ominous beep returned. This happened several times. At no point did anyone reassure me that I could relax because this was a reverse charge call. After 13 minutes I decided to hang up. I didn't want to have to use my American Express credit card to pay my Italian phone account.

Are you out there American Express? I love my original card - the one I pay the total balance of at the end of every month. I don't use it much these days but it gives me a nice warm feeling and the frequent flyer points are nice to have. What do I do next?!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Watercolour Landscape Castiglion Fiorentino

26cm x 36cm watercolour on CP paper

The only watercolour I've painted since I started my Printmaking course.

As a number of other Bloggers have noted it's jolly hard to photograph paintings in the winter light. When I go for the highlights I lose the sky detail, so it looks a little duller here than it actually is.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monoprints - Skeleton Leaves

Monoprint 9cm x 9cm

These are the last of my monoprints for the time being.

Monoprint 9cm x 9cm

Monoprint 9cm x 9cm


My darling daughter was here for a few moments it seems. Now she is on the other side of the world again and I miss her madly.

Now I'm off to throw my hard ground etching into an acid bath. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Monoprints Umbrella Pines

Three Pines - Monoprint 13cm x 13cm

Three Pines 1 - monoprint 24.5cm x 24.5cm

These are a couple of my early early monoprints. I enjoyed the process but have a long way to go. I'm still working on my first hard ground etching. I'm hoping to get it going again now I'm (hopefully) over this virus.

Rick keeps a neat studio.

I'd really love to have this at home.

Studio actually has a lovely view out over the valley but I'll save that for another day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Local Colour - Final Pages

The Flying Pictures International Sketchbook Exchange is almost over. A couple of sketchbooks, including mine, still have to finish their journey. Casey's book Local Colour is now available as a slide show on the Flying Pictures Blog. These are my sketches which were the final pages of Casey's book.

The garden chair where I photographed many of the books.

Casey's book ready to fly home to France.

The sketchbook exchange has really challenged me and I've tried a great many different styles and approaches, some more successful than others. I'm so grateful for all the enthusiasm and encouraging comments from so many of you who visit my blog. Thank you.

I was constantly inspired by the beautiful and imaginative work of my fellow Flyers and even though this project has been much more demanding than I imagined, I can't wait to fasten my seatbelt again for another creative adventure with the Flying Pictures Crew.

Vivien and Lindsay have now also created slideshows of their finished books.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Printmaking Adventure

Linocut 10cmx10cm

Apart from the Flying Pictures Sketchbook Exchange, I haven't been doing a lot of sketching lately because a few weeks ago I started a three month printmaking workshop. I found a wonderful teacher, Rick Woodbury with a beautiful studio right here in Castiglion Fiorentino. I couldn't believe my luck! Then I had to wait for more than a year for Rick to fit me into a workshop. I couldn't have wished for a better opportunity as the rest of the group is made up of American university students here at the Santa Chiara School for a semester studying art and architecture. They are keeping me on my toes!

I'm going to post all my efforts from the beginning in the hope that it will be a record of my evolving skill.

First of all we tackled monoprints.

The lesson I learned from the last two prints was that if I am going to experiment, it's a good idea to experiment on proper paper. I have a tendency to over-ink my plates, so Rick suggested I make a second print from the same plate. I used a piece of scrap newsprint (notice the text) and, of course, ended up liking this second print best.

I have some more monoprints to post but I have now moved on to drypoint and hardground etching which I think better suits my desire to draw.

The little snail at the top of this post was my first effort at linocut where I've had access to a decent press. I've since made a whole series in different colours.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Casey's Book Flies Home

Detail of pen and wash watercolour sketch

Casey's Flying Pictures Sketchbook Local Colour is in the mail, on its way home to France.

This sketchbook exchange has been an extraordinary experience full of challenges and delights. Casey's is the last of the seven sketchbooks I have contributed to and now the creative part is over for me. When Casey tells me she has received her book I will post my final pages and then I will be bursting with anticipation for my book, Different Strokes to make its way home.

You can follow all the travelling sketchbooks on the Flying Pictures Blog.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Flying Pictures - Local Colour

Casey's Flying Picture Cover (right) with Vivien's 'spine'

Casey's Flying Pictures Sketchbook Local Colour has arrived in Tuscany. It is full of surprises and delights and it really made me smile.

First of all, Casey painted a front and back cover for her book, not realising just how fat these sketchbooks were going to become as two to three new pages were added by each of us taking part in the FP Sketchbook Exchange. By the time Casey's book got to Vivien it had enjoyed itself so much, as is inclined to happen when one is travelling, and that which had previously fitted, no longer fitted!

There was nothing for it but for Vivien to cut Casey's original cover in half and attach a new spine. That's it on the left in the picture above - one of Vivien's beautiful seascapes. It came with a note which I would like to share with you:

Casey - Your cover wouldn't fit any more. I hope it's ok but I've extended it for you with a bit of sea.
I've left it too long so would the last person please trim a bit off it when they know how thick the book will be? Thanks - Vivien.

Okay, 'the last person' happens to be me and if you think I'm going to cut up one of your beautiful seascapes, Vivien, you have another think coming! The way I see it, Casey's got a bonus original Vivien Blackburn!

My next smile came from what was tucked inside an envelope in Casey's cover.

The Art Fairy - Ⓒ Casey Toussaint

Isn't she delightful! I'm really tempted to keep her. This is the first book I've received with paintings by Casey - it's been worth waiting for. You can see the entire contents of Casey's beautiful book with everyone else's contributions at the Flying Pictures Blog.

What nobody has seen yet are Lindsay's beautiful oil pastels in Casey's book. I'm now going to post them on the Flying Pictures Blog HERE. She calls them Lake Michigan Sketches 2008. I call them beautiful little gems.

This is the last book in our exchange - I don't know what I'm going to paint yet - but at least I've got the Art Fairy to help me this time.

I do need to get cracking though because I'm almost mad with delight that my darling daughter and her partner are on their way from Australia to visit. I haven't seen her for almost two and a half years! Art and blogging are going to have to take a back seat for a few weeks.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Watercolour Rio De S. Vidal Venice

The little red house on Rio De S. Vidal - Venice

I have two favourite houses in Venice - houses as opposed to Palaces of which there are many and one really finds it hard to choose. The first of 'my' houses is Peggy Guggenheim's former home (now a museum) on the Grand Canal, the other is the little red house in Campo S. Vidal which one passes on the way to the Accadema Bridge.

I painted the little red house for Nina in her Flying Pictures sketchbook themed Polychromatic Behaviour.

I follow Lindsay in Nina's book.

Nina's book is a beauty. You can see everyone's contribution to date on the Flying Pictures Blog. Casey has the book in France and as she's already finished her pages, it is probably now on it's final journey home to Nina.

Casey's book has arrived in Italy and as soon as I come up with something appropriate for the last entry that will mark the end of the Flying Sketchbook Exchange for me. But it is far from over yet because I still have to post Lindsay's contribution to Casey's book.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tulip Oil Painting

Tulip 18 x 24cm oil on board

Our Wednesday afternoon oil painting group has reconvened after the summer. I'd been working on the tulip painting before the break and it languished in my studio all Summer. I did get bored looking at it. Apart from varnish, it's now finished and I face my usual problem - where to sign it. I always think my signature spoils the painting.

I took the photo of these way back at the beginning of the year and if it looks familiar it's because I did an earlier study in watercolour pencil, posted here.
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