stuff i've made, bookbinding

Released in the morning

released in the morning

This small handful of journals and watercolour books that I put together yesterday spent the night tightly clamped between smooth, hard boards…like unruly winos locked up for their own safety.

A favourite way to start the day is to pour a cup of coffee and sit in the breeze on deck as the sun comes lancing over the tops of the mangroves, and release the previous day’s work—what was a loose and motley collection of disparate pieces held together with runny glue and faith in the powers of synthesis—from the grip of the press, to find that everything has come together with a grace and finesse that still takes my breath away.

kidskin and marbling watercolour book

Yesterday: paper, thread, fabric and leather scraps, glue, grey-coloured board.
This morning: a dense, well-made, glowingly beautiful book that feels precious as it sits in my hand.

tea journals

Magic. I will NEVER become blasé about the transformation.

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bookbinding, Online Shops, stuff i've made

Spirograph journals are out (after a little spell of self-doubt)

I showed you this fabric I designed and printed with Spoonflower aaaages ago, right?

Well, I was chuffed when it first arrived, but then I got cold feet about actually making journals from the fabric and it has lain all this time, unused, in a drawer. I let my self-destructive superego get the better of me. I started to find fault with the design: too busy, too many colors, too immature, the subject was too simplistic, not enough thought had been given to composition, to balance, not enough care was taken in painting it, blah, blah, blah…. In the end I convinced myself that I should be ashamed to show this design to people, or put it on my journals and offer them for sale at craft markets or online. It was just SO UNSOPHISTICATED!

But my ETSY shop was empty last week, so I took the fabric out, looked at it again, and (in a gentler and more accepting mood) found myself thinking “It’s okay for a first time fabric journal design…and there is something uninhibited, psychedelic and childlike about the intense colors, the clashing patterns, the higgledy-piggledy arrangement of elements. All of which, I realised, I’m actually grateful had happened to this journal cover design, and not some other. At least these qualities fit the subject, no? So I have been lucky, really.

1969 Spirograph : : a handbound journal

Inspired by a Spirograph toy from 1969—that I always wanted but never got—which Kris bought for me on ebay a year ago, on Valentine’s Day. The original design was worked in inks, paints, and colored pencils on linen; with additional textures, overlays of other paintings of mine, and some floral patterns added in Picmonkey. The actual book covering fabric is linen-cotton canvas printed by Spoonflower (this is an awesome fabric to cover books with…the more I use it, the more I like it). There are two cover designs (because I printed the cover as a mirrored repeat) so you can choose to have a greeny-blue cover, or a mostly warm reds-and-yellows cover.

I have 7 of each cover version, now available on ETSY. Details about the paper and binding are in the item’s description there, too.

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paints and pens, stuff i've made

The Pocket Alpaca

pocket alpacaCouldn’t resist sharing this funny guy with you…he’s one of 9 strange-ified animals I’ve done, so far, for a group show in the middle of the year. Other characters are a Spangled Jerboa, a Scaly Marmoset, an Arctic Salmon, an Omniscient Raven, an Elizabethan-Ruffed Lemur, a Panzer Wombat, a Wooly Armadillo, and a Firehaas (or Firestarter Hare). They all began life as a left-handed drawing, which I wrote about in the post Sinister drawings. (They were painted with my right hand, though.)

A playful bunch, and so much fun to make!

So it hasn’t been all family drama and birthday cake…I’m chugging along steadily, making things, doing things…just not blogging about things, much, because we’re still having problems with our solar power on the boat. If you see the sun, tell him we miss him in Darwin.

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paints and pens, stuff i've made

Sinister drawings

sinister |ˈsɪnɪstə|
2) of, on, or toward the left-hand side. The opposite of dexter. From Old French sinistre or Latin sinister ‘left.’

Drawing with your non-dominant, usually left, hand. Have you tried it? You’ve probably heard about it…there’s even a book, Drawing on The Right Side of The Brain, that explains how the left hand is controlled by the right brain and so on.

I’ve been aware of left-handed drawing for ages, but didn’t seriously consider it a tool for producing the drawings I wanted to do. It was like a funny psychology exercise, right? Like writing while looking at your mirrored hand instead of your actual hand…it was something you did to prove some abstruse theory about the way the mind works, to make yourself feel uncomfortable, and to shake up your rigid ideas about how to do things…but after a few amazed comments and some laughter, you’re meant to go back to your good ol’ right hand drawings, because that’s the hand you really get important work done with, right?
barn swallow (RH)

Except that I tried to draw a simple swallow (using an old Reader’s Digest animal book for reference) two weeks ago, with my right hand, and the drawing was crap. This is not unusual, this is actually pretty much the norm with me. Most of my drawings are crap. They’re messy, overworked, spider-webbed things that don’t look quite right. Sometimes, after a laborious and geeky process of using grids and picture plane glass and all the gadgets and tools to help with drawing, I’ll have something I can use. Usually, though, I’ll end up taking a photograph (I try to use my own, so at least that bit is original), doing a line-drawing (often via drawing grids and things, sometimes by tracing the photo) then enlarging the line drawing using a pantograph. By this time, I feel disgusted with myself, for having to use these tools and ‘cheats’ to lay the foundation of my painting. By this time, I hate the painting I am making, because all it signifies to me is that drawing doesn’t come naturally and I have had to get around my inability to draw by using tracing paper and a photocopier.

Some artists talk about the immediacy, a connection, a current of living energy that flows from what the eye sees to what the hand draws, the joy of drawing. For me, arriving at the finished thing has always been a pain in the arse, and the finished work is always disappointing. Whatever I make this way feels false. Like a lie I am ashamed of and try to hide from others. For years I have agonised over the fact that I never seem to have a connection with the subject I am drawing—it’s like I’ve used math and measuring sticks to transfer the image, seen by my eyes, to the paper. It’s mechanical and lifeless. Most of my paintings are based on this kind of drawing…no wonder I seem to hate everything I paint! If the foundation is a lie, how can the painting that goes over it be anything but a continuation of that lie?

I drew my crappy barn swallow, then thought I’d try using my left hand…what could I lose? If the results were even more hopeless, I would just have to do the old ‘trace, enlarge and transfer’ rigmarole again for my upcoming Menagerie-themed group show. No grids, no rulers, no measuring, I just put the pencil down on the canvas, and started.

barn swallow (LH)A second of stunned silence when I had finished. Certainly, the left-handed swallow looked much better than the right-handed one. There were none of those hesitant, spidery lines that I usually use to ‘stroke’ a drawing into existence. There were no huge malformed parts to erase and correct. My lines were more assertive, they started and ended strongly, and I didn’t have to go back a squillion times or rub out huge parts as I usually do. Also, the bird positioned itself perfectly on the square canvas…there was nothing to change. It just sat there, with great negative spaces around it, using up the square shape in an interesting way.

I had, maybe for the first time in my life, been PRESENT at the event, instead of trying to draw while the mind tried to measure the distance between this wing and that tail feather, or rattled off the qualities of birdness and what it was ‘supposed’ to look like, or tore the drawing apart with criticism and loathing as I went. What you can’t see in this photo is how wonderful it had felt to do the drawing…how simple, how easy it suddenly seemed, and how perfectly content I was to just draw; how quiet and meek my (usually merciless) critical mind was, and how satisfying it was to reach the end of the bird drawing and find that I liked it, basic line drawing that it was. It was pure Joy. The joy of drawing. At long last. And I realised with a start that there are two parts to drawing…the action, and the thing you get at the end, and that the action was, by far, the more rewarding and precious of the two. I understand, now, how some people can draw countless exercises and sketches, and never show them to anybody or even keep them…because the point wasn’t the piece of paper at the end, the addicting, ecstatic feeling comes from the doing. It was a revelation to me.

So, back to the swallow…I was very surprised. Is it just a fluke, because I’ve already had some practice drawing this bird with my right hand? I tried again…an atlantic salmon, then a marmoset, then a wombat (which I later crossed with a Galapagos giant tortoise) and *amazement growing* the magic held…each drawing was extremely simple, but nevertheless was confident, proportioned, perfectly positioned on the canvas (without me doing any measuring at all!) and looked great.

menagerie paintings in progressI’m still in awe. Now I stare at my left hand, sometimes, like it’s a separate entity from myself. All this time I was fighting to control the process with my right-hand-left-brain autocrat, and you’ve been sitting there quietly all along?

Well, better late than never…what if I had never given my left hand a try? I might never have discovered my left-hand’s aptitude for drawing. And now my left hand and I must make up for lost time…what else can we do together? So far I’ve done 14 drawings of animals with my my non-dominant hand, but did all the painting with my right hand. What would happen if I painted with my left? I can’t wait to try and find out!

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embroidery and textiles, paints and pens, stuff i've made

Mermaid (a handmade gift)

Be a Mermaid design

Taking UPPERCASE magazine’s advice to heart, I threw myself at some new projects on Monday: making Christmas presents for the people I work with (our informal Jacksons holiday party is in four days’ time).

Decided on a mermaid-themed present for the first project, because my manager collects mermaids (and doesn’t surf the internet, so I think this post is relatively safe to put up) and is pretty much a mermaid, herself.

I picked that ubiquitous craft and design saying: Always be yourself. Unless you can be a mermaid, etc… You’ll probably groan and argue that there are too many versions of this “Always be yourself” saying floating around, and that it’s shallow and twee. And I would agree with you. But I am pretty sure my recipient hasn’t heard it yet, and it fits her perfectly. So that’s what it’s going to be. I promised her a handmade gift; I never said it would be urbane.

The finished piece measures 36 x 46 cm (14″ x 18″). It took me nearly two days to make the whole thing, but I dawdled a lot, and did other things, besides. The drawing/painting took up the whole Monday, but all the embroidery was done before lunchtime the following day.

I used a pre-stretched and pre-primed canvas. Made the letters and doodles in acrylics using brushes and a mapping pen. The font I used (just as a guide…freehanding, and then painting the letters, has changed it a lot) is Le bain au milieu de la fin d’apres-midi vers by T N 2. Used only yellow greens, turquoise, and blue paints and inks.

ink detail

All those greeny-blues and lime colors needed a little bit of red-violet for punch, so on a scrap of pink marbled fabric (our recent marbling show has left our home littered with bits of marbling everywhere) stretched in my smallest hoop, I painted in the dots and squiggles of a sea urchin.

painting urchin

While waiting for the paint to dry, I stitched a small starfish straight on the drawing’s canvas, just weaving back and forth between two laid threads that formed each arm.

stitching starfish

The urchin was ready to be embroidered. I used stranded cotton embroidery floss, working buttonhole circles, eyelet stitch (when I got tired of buttonholes), french knots, and backstitch.

stitching urchin

Not shown are the steps where I cut the urchin out and placed it over a thin circle of card with some pillow stuffing, gathering the edges of the urchin fabric at the back using running stitches and pulling tight (sort of the way I finished the back of this embroidery in a hoop…) I was too excited to see the thing made. I stitched a button to the center of the urchin…again, pulling tight to form a dimple in the puffy shape. I stitched the base of the urchin to the canvas.

And these are just close-ups of the embroidery on the finished piece:

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starfish detail

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Darwin, Australia, Exhibits

wrap up

Throwing Stones opening

A big thanks to everyone who dropped in last Friday night (and the following Saturday, as well) to see our marbling show, Throwing Stones for Fun and Profit.

It turned out to be a huge weekend…we never expected so many visitors over the two days, nor such an enthusiastic response to the things we made. I left Kris to handle the sales (less confusing if just one person does the accounting) and it seemed to me as the night wore on, and I stood talking to visitors and pulling on my drinks, that the walls around me were breaking out in a severe case of Yayoi Kusama red dots!

Yayoi Kusama's "I pray with all of my love for tulips."

Yayoi Kusama’s “I pray with all of my love for tulips.” photo by Samuel Mark Thompson, 2012, in Osaka.

Of a dozen marbled Bananafish there is one left…ditto one handmade card out of 60, and one embroidery out of the six I managed to finish in time for the show. The mind reels!

Still incredulous at the success of the exhibition, and glowing all over from contact with all the lovely people who came and showered us with love, friendship, and affirmed the belief that when one does what one loves and enjoys, others can feel and appreciate it.

Throwing Stones openingThese few desultory pics are from Wednesday, when we set up…I didn’t take my camera to the opening, because neglecting friends who’ve made the effort to drop in while you are busily trying to get good photos is just plain rude, and distances you, besides, from the special environment of art and artists that is unfolding all around you.

Throwing Stones opening

That was so much fun, and turned out to be profitable, too, so Kris’s title for our show worked like a self-fulfilling prophecy! I have a couple of group shows locked in for next year, but other than those, this was the last exhibition Kris and I planned to mount before leaving Darwin next year…though we’ll be back after we’ve re-stocked our creative wells with some travel and new experiences!

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Inspirations, journaling + mail art, paints and pens, stuff i've made, travel

Islands

wind rose
I have been making small paintings that look like collages of torn postcards and mail art…although the only real paper in these are the postage stamps…everything else is done with paint (including the “Air Mail” labels. This is a backup project for the Tactile Arts’ “Text” members’ exhibition, since there is a slight possibility that my original embroidered piece may garner disapproval for the word ‘fucking‘ that I have used in it. Fair enough, it’s a craft organization and not an art organization, and self-expression takes a back seat to tradition and execution in the world of craft. I’m going to make it, anyway, because I want it for our own boat.

The alternative project is not a lesser one…these postcard paintings are an old theme of mine, and I always did want to make more of them.

postcards from the equator

The paintings start with some text…often something lifted out of my journals from when Kris and I lived in El Nido, Palawan; sometimes just a story or description that I remember from those days—an image or experience that I treasure. I write/paint the story on the canvas (as much of it as will fit!) and then start to layer ‘torn paper’ effects, images, patterns, stuff related to the story. I pick a complementary postage stamp (I bought a beautiful antique stamp collection, from a dealer in old coins, that I keep for collage work like this), paint on a faux label, add finishing touches like gold leaf, and then varnish the piece.
WIP postcards from the equator
It’s been lovely, nostalgic work…re-reading my journals, resurrecting memories from our time among the islands, looking at our old photos, browsing through the stamp collection, digging up the poetry books that were my constant companions during those years.

Dilumacad Island
Islands
By Yusef Komunyakaa

For Derek Walcott

An island is one great eye
gazing out, a beckoning lighthouse,
searchlight, a wishbone compass,
or counterweight to the stars.
When it comes to outlook & point
of view, a figure stands on a rocky ledge
peering out toward an archipelago
of glass on the mainland, a seagull’s
wings touching the tip of a high wave,
out to where the brain may stumble.

But when a mind climbs down
from its high craggy lookout
we know it is truly a stubborn thing,
& has to leaf through pages of dust
& light, through pre-memory & folklore,
remembering fires roared down there
till they pushed up through the seafloor
& plumes of ash covered the dead
shaken awake worlds away, & silence
filled up with centuries of waiting.

Sea urchin, turtle, & crab
came with earthly know-how,
& one bird arrived with a sprig in its beak,
before everything clouded with cries,
a millennium of small deaths now topsoil
& seasons of blossoms in a single seed.
Light edged along salt-crusted stones,
across a cataract of blue water,
& lost sailors’ parrots spoke of sirens,
the last words of men buried at sea.

Someone could stand here
contemplating the future, leafing
through torn pages of St. Augustine
or the prophecies by fishermen,
translating spore & folly down to taproot.
The dreamy-eyed boy still in the man,
the girl in the woman, a sunny forecast
behind today, but tomorrow’s beyond
words. To behold a body of water
is to know pig iron & mother wit.

Whoever this figure is,
he will soon return to dancing
through the aroma of dagger’s log,
ginger lily, & bougainvillea,
between chants & strings struck
till gourds rally the healing air,
& till the church-steeple birds
fly sweet darkness home.
Whoever this friend or lover is,
he intones redemptive harmonies.

To lie down in remembrance
is to know each of us is a prodigal
son or daughter, looking out beyond land
& sky, the chemical & metaphysical
beyond falling & turning waterwheels
in the colossal brain of damnable gods,
a Eureka held up to the sun’s blinding eye,
born to gaze into fire. After conquering
frontiers, the mind comes back to rest,
stretching out over the white sand.

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Darwin, Australia, Exhibits, Inspirations, music + film, my friends

Sunday

DSC_0065

Last Sunday I sat the gallery at Tactile Arts for Marita Albers’ most recent exhibition, The Last Chance Saloon.

With six hours to kill, I took along a grocery bag of paints and small canvases (just painting backgrounds at this stage) and my camera and tripod, to document Marita’s work (at her request).

Six hours is plenty of time to walk round and round the white walls, getting to know Marita’s paintings intimately. She is one of my favorite painters, and I believe that I would have been a fan of hers regardless of whether I knew her personally or not. Her paintings are both playful and a little bit strange; she also makes the act of painting look so confident and effortless. It’s a lot of work, I’m sure, but looking at paintings from up-close it’s impossible to find signs of a struggle.

She’s also incredibly prolific and I suspect that she lives and breathes this art: I can see her stealing a bit of time to paint a flower or bird onto the canvas during the day’s all-too-few free moments, and then painting more intensely deep into the night when everyone else is asleep. She inspires me so much.

These were my favorites:


Stepped outside for a ciggy break at some point, and heard the loud live-band music coming from the Ski Club across the way. Boy & Bear’s Blood to Gold came on, and I remember thinking “Wow, that’s a really good rendition of the song, that band’s totally nailed it.” Found out later that it had, in fact, been Boy & Bear singing their own song, and tickets to see them at the Ski Club were $70. Wowowow.

Locked the gallery up at four, and went to the Stokes Hill Wharf with my friend (who is also my current boss) for dinner and a few beers. We traded stories of adventure and spirit, and watched other people throw hot chips (er, french fries) to the plump seagulls. I always find myself wondering whether all that starch and saturated fat affects the health of these birds…

gull

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