Over 10 years ago I worked on an Australia Fauna Alphabet but over the years my artwork, style & designs have developed & so a few years ago I decided to revisit the idea of producing a new Australian Wildlife Alphabet.
Alongside this I wanted to also develop an Australian Wildflower Alphabet.
When I produced the original alphabet & exhibited it I had a lot of feedback about how it would be great for posters or friezes.
My artwork has always had a focus on Australian wildflowers & wildlife – growing up in Sydney surrounded by the bush was a defining aspect of my life & it is my love of the bushland – both its flora & fauna – that has underpinned my artwork. I have always been drawn to exploring representations of wildflowers & wildlife whether that be drawings, illustration, photography or relief printing all my life. I love to draw others into this world through my artwork to explore the colour & vibrancy of the natural world that surrounds us in Australia.
So about 5 years ago I started to develop these projects, starting in my usual way of working – the idea/concept with small thumbnail sketches of ideas.
I am constantly taking photos & although I have always loved photography – recording events, including family – but I also underpin all my artwork with my photography. I like to look at everything that I draw & to take photos that capture all different aspects including not only the ‘structures’ of the objects/wildflower etc, but also light, colour & design possibilities. I have thousands of photos both digital & printed – and filed!
This image incorporates kind of how I think in this phase of working from the idea into more concrete images.
Photos, sketches, notes contribute to working through all my different ideas.
I have lots of these small sketchbooks – I usually carry one with me so if I get an idea for something I can quickly note it down.
I began my first designs with the wildlife alphabet & explored ways to represent both the particular species & the alphabet.
I finally settled on the underlying idea of rather than using the actual letter, I would take the basic shape of the letter & explore how I could represent the particular species around this construct. I also made the decision to create 26 individual 10cm x 10cm printed images with both a header & a footer.
The next step was to look at each ‘letter’ & particular species that could be used. Sometimes I would work on a couple of different drawings for a letter & some like these caterpillars never made it to the final artwork but who knows where or if they will be revisited for something later.
I really enjoy this phase of experimenting with ideas & concepts & just the process of drawing is always lovely.
In choosing which images I would use I needed to look at not only the individual designs but also the whole end product – trying to get a cross-section of birds, insects, mammals, marsupials etc alongside colour & design considerations.
Once I had the basic drawings & designs worked out I again inked in each ‘letter’ & looked at the alphabet as a whole. Again changes in individual designs as well as the overall piece as a whole was worked on & developed.
Here are a couple of quick ‘timelines’ showing the evolution of the Hercules Moth & the Echidna.
Then to the carving, printing & finally the handcolouring.
For the Australian Wildflower Alphabet – I decided to simply represent each wildflower within the 10cm x 10cm format I had chosen rather than use the alphabet lettering shapes I had started with for the wildlife.
In between all of this I have been a Carer for my elderly family members & my sons for about the past 10 years in particular, but at the beginning of this year we became ’empty nesters’ which meant I had a lot more time to actually spend getting back to my artwork!
Over this time I had also developed real difficulties with my shoulder/neck that was significantly impacting my capacity to not only carve Lino but to work generally. In July 2012 I finally had shoulder surgery & set about the slow & steady recovery.
When I was invited by Ingrid Hedgcock to exhibit at the Northern Rivers Community Gallery early this year, it provided the impetus to not only restart my arts practice which had been limping along for the last few years, but to finally complete some of the projects I have had on the very slow burn. This included this long-standing project of the set of Australian Alphabets.
Although I had completed all the individual linocuts for these posters some time ago, I had become stuck on how to develop these onto a poster format & to find funding to actually complete the project.
After discussing a couple of different ideas that I was thinking about – you can see a couple of these below, Joanna worked on the final concept design & completed all the pre-press work for production printers.
The linocut ‘Blue Mountains Wildflowers’ is really a step back in time for me on many levels from the design inspirations to my memories of this region. As I’ve spoken about before I love the Blue Mountains region west of Sydney, it has such a rugged beauty & the flora & fauna is integral to the whole region. The Blue Mountains has a strong Art Deco influence in architecture and design & examples of that can found throughout the small villages along the ridges leading all the way to Katoomba & beyond. The area really had its ‘heyday’ in the 1900-1960’s and in particular the 1930’s. This linocut art piece is also grounded in family experiences & an inheritance of sorts.
I guess this artwork had its beginnings with family. Both my family & my husband’s family have been keen visitors to the Blue Mountains for many years. When thinking about the Blue Mountains region I found I had so many stories & photos of that time from my mother-in-law & her family in particular, many of whom still live in the Blue Mountains. From honeymoons to day trips and in fact, it is where my husband & I had our honeymoon. It was also somewhere we took our kids for day trips, holidays & to visit family & friends as well.
The wildflowers of this region are truly spectacular. The waratahs & flannel flowers are two of the iconic Australian wildflowers found here & of course I could not go past the ‘Mountain Devils’ – Lambertia formosa – which I have childhood memories of the seedpods dressed up with tulle on sticks like cupie dolls but there are some more vivid examples of these dolls in this newspaper article! I actually still have a couple of my mother-in-law’s tulle simple versions in an old china cabinet from her ‘nic-nacs’ which I just haven’t been able to part with. So the central panel of this work for me just had to be these three wildflowers.
A lot of research goes into investigating the species of an area, then I always take my own photographs & drawings of each of the species. This helps me to understand the structure of each plant & flower & increases the draftsmanship & design of the piece. There are usually so many I then have plenty to choose for the design.
So a little gallery in of inspirational wildflowers for Blue Mountains Wildflowers.
When my mother in law passed away a few years ago we inherited an old Art Deco style mirror. Looking a little shabby & worse for wear it does however have such an interesting shape. So I started with the mirror’s shape then developed that to create the overall structure of the design. It is then a matter of putting together all the research & developing that into the design. I spend a lot of time drawing, I think it is one of my favourite parts of the process. I have always loved drawing.
I see the linocuts as an extension of that & a way to push my vision & drawing further – the art of creative-art thinking. There is the ‘practical’ aspect of what can actually be carved out of lino but then there is the creative side of shapes & patterns. After I have finished the drawing of the design I then photocopy it several times & start to work on the actual linocut design. I use black felt pens to work on the designs, often photocopying, pasting & then using white out to work on this side of the designing. I guess I am still ‘old school’ in that I love to work with the physicality of paper, pen, pencil & ink but I do sometimes ‘dabble’ with computers & photoshop. I can spend weeks refining the images into exactly what I am happy with in the design & which I am able to produce in the medium.
Then to the carving of the design in lino. I have talked about different type of lino previously but I am pretty settled with the grey Silkcut & even managed to visit their gallery & workshop in Melbourne when I was there last time. I love my new Pfeil linocutting tools as they have made the carving just so much easier reducing the strain on my shoulder. There are actually 12 different blades in my set & I think so far I have only used half of them! Like a painter may use different brushes a Fine Art linocut artist uses their carving tools to create different effect within the surface of the lino. Some use it to create rough textural pieces but mine is a more methodical approach. I see my linocuts as botanical in nature so I try to represent the wildflowers as close to their essence as I can and this includes within the carving to create the images.
An interesting aspect to my work is the ‘uneven’ edges. I do not feel limited by the square or rectangular shapes that lino is usually presented to us from the art shop. I have always sought to move outside these shop bought restrictions. In order to do that I need to carefully cut back the edges. I start by making several strong cuts into the from surface of the lino. I then very carefully split the lino edge I want to remove & fold it towards the hessian back. Then I turn the lino over & cut along the hessian backing with a sharp bladed knife.
Often there can be a rough edge which is not something I want to be on my print. So I carefully remove the rough edges until I have a clean smooth cut. You need to take care especially around pieces with more ‘organic’ lines rather than the straight edges within this particular design.
Then to the printing of the linoblock. I have talked printing previously so here is just a little gallery for ‘Blue Mountains Wildflowers’
Then the handcolouring. I print with oil-based ink & handcolour with watercolour. I like that I can sue multiple layers & colours within each section to create the overall vibrancy of the wildflowers. You will see on the first ‘handcolour proof’ patches of colour & notes on which colour mixes I used. Although the aim is to paint each one the same you can appreciate that each one is actually individually painted & there are always variations.
Here is a little video from photos about this whole process of creating Blue Mountains Wildflowers. For those who don’t want to read explanations & learn better through images rather than words, you can now watch it in a little video format.
The centrepiece artwork for an exhibition at the Northern Rivers Art Gallery was a new linocut – Seaside Wildflowers.
Back in February I was approached by the Northern Rivers Art Gallery Director Ingrid Hedgcock, to exhibit alongside an exhibition of the Master Woods Craftsman & his students. For me it came at a time when recently becoming an ’empty nester’ & my shoulder was looking like it was going to recover after surgery & allow me to work – carve – again. It was also when I really need to get my arts practice back on track after a few years of life being too hectic to gain a consistent approach to my work.
I made the decision that I would work on finally completing many works I had been developing over many years as well as creating the centrepiece for the exhibition a work based around the Wildflowers synonymous with Ballina.
I will talk more about the other works in the exhibition in future posts but will start with the Seaside Wildflowers & where it all began.
In the process of creating this work I took some video footage & sill photographs with the idea of creating an education video showing my process from the inspiration through to the completion of the artwork.
I have always loved the seaside – the beach, the rock formations, the sea, the wildlife & of course the Wildflowers or flora. Even though I grew up in Sydney we spent every holidays by the sea at my grandparents in Yamba. Woody Head was another favourite place where my great uncle & Aunt lived, it is a truly beautiful natural place. We also spent a lot of time over where I now live on the ‘plateau’ region behind Ballina with my other grandparents – not that far from the seaside. As kids we would spend many hours going to the beach but also exploring the surrounding landscapes. So I know this region really well.
I start this particular genre of my work with research – some of this is ‘formal’ – flora studies of regions, plant identification lists but also I go & spend some time wherever possible wandering around the region taking photos. I like to see the flora/Wildflowers I am going to be drawing & document that in my own photos. By taking my own photos it also give me the opportunity to explore the process of visualising each wildflower or plant & how & where that might be represented within the initial concept of the artwork exploring different images of the particular plant. I look at things like the structure, colour & overall impression of each.
As I have talked about before, my work starts with ‘flashes’ of ideas scribbled into small sketchbooks, on post it notes or on scraps of paper.
For Seaside Wildflowers it began as a quick sketch on a post it note which I have now stuck into one of my small sketchbooks with additional notes & ideas. For this artwork I have drawn on the flora lists of the region, the council guides for flora in the Ballina Shire, books of flora of the region, my own explorations of the Ballina seaside region, my own photographs of specific species & finally my memories of childhood holidays alongside living in this region for over 20 years.
One of my abiding memories of the flora or Wildflowers of this area is the stunning Pandanus – Pandanus tectorius or Screwpine.
These strong ‘structural’ small trees are integral to my childhood memories & they are such a strong presence along the seaside of this region. The fruit which starts as a small green ‘ball-like’ structure & slowly moves to yellow tones & finally a vibrant orange colour is the aspect most people would recognise. For me the depiction of the pandanus would need to include the fruit. Less obvious for many people are the flowers – many would not be aware of the flowers. So I made the decision to make the ‘wildflower’ front & centre for this piece. The flower starts as cream bracts inside which the flower heads develop but the slowly the whole long spike of flowers emerge with the female flowers ending in long spikes of cream flowers & bracts.
The long strap like leaves emerge in a spiral from a central point & form a cluster on the end of the rather tortuous trunk & limbs. I think the pandanus reflects the very nature of growing by the season it’s tough ‘wildness’ & so it was for me to become the pivotal image for this artwork.
I started with many possible flora species I could incorporate into the piece, more than I could actually use & so this is where after setting out the pandanus I explore the size, structure, colours etc of all the possibilities. I see this is the fine art aspect of developing my Linocuts – this is where my training, skill & inspiration as an artist rather than a craftsperson comes into being. I bring my drawing & compositional skills to this process & it can be both the most frustrating as well as enjoyable part of the developing of my artwork.
Once I finish the detailed drawing I work through further developing this drawing into a form that can be carved in Lino which is my chosen medium for this piece.
For me this involves inking the design into shape & spaces.
I then carve this into Lino to be printed. For me these two further processes again involve choices & changes in the translations from drawing to final artwork.
Once the Lino is finished being carved I then print it in black ink & handcolour with watercolour the final artwork.
The hand colouring is not simply a ‘fill in the spaces’ it involves again skill & training in watercolour as a medium including colour, contrast, tone etc alongside the application of the paint.
I have taken some video footage of the processes which is a quick look at the whole process and it is now on youtube.
Music – ‘The Temperature of the Air on the Bow of the Kaleetan’
by Chris Zabriskie
Used with Permission
I grew up in Sydney surrounded by the Australian bush – the Royal National Park and those amazing displays of the sandstone Australian flora that Sydney seems to be steeped in. Even the buildings in Sydney reflect the legacy of all this sandstone.
I loved the bush – disappearing either by myself or with others and exploring the caves, bush tracks and creeks. Surrounded by blandly named streets – First Avenue, Second Avenue right up to Tenth Avenue, National Avenue…but I grew up in Primrose Place.
Primrose Place was a cul–de–sac nestled in amongst all these streets going somewhere – an enclosed street and neighbourhood community with a hill for billy cart racing, bike riding, skateboarding and roller skating with the other kids from this street, some of whom are still my friends.
Our house started out as a small 2 bedroom one bathroom fibro place right down the bottom, round the corner of the hill at the bottom end of the cul–de–sac.
I loved this street, the neighbourhood, the other kids in the street to play with, but central to it all was the closeness of the bush – exploring the sandstone caves, running away from snakes, abseiling with ropes we found in the shed (with no safety gear), the bushfires, and of course the wildflowers and wildlife. To this day I love the blush of pink and red new leaf growth of the eucalypts, the towering Gymea lily flower stalks and the absolute thrill of finding wild waratahs, banksias and flannel flowers.
I absolutely loved growing up there and in a time where we could go off as kids and just explore. Most of all I loved climbing trees. The bush is part of who we are and it is no accident to think that it has always remained with my brother who is involved in Bush Regeneration and Land Management and myself as an artist.
I enjoy living where I do now but I miss the ‘wildness’ and familiarity of the Sydney Bush.
Days where we would go down to The Royal National Park sometimes and visit the Audley Boatshed (it’s still there and you can still hire boats).
For a few years after I got married we lived in Helensburgh and had our own little bushland with a yard with no fences and miles of bush beyond.
I spent 4 years at art college training to be an art teacher but I was really there for the art studio times, I found classroom teaching at high schools difficult.
When I finally started developing my own arts practice and linocuts in about 1998, I worked not only with lino and design but I also went out and did drawing classes, calligraphy and watercolour classes. I learned through workshops, classes and my own arts practice how to work with watercolours, papers, calligraphy, drawing, design, photography and lino. I explored how I could blend all of these interests and worked at developing my own style. It always came back to my main passions – drawing, photography and linocuts.
This is an earlier work from 1998 – the black and white waratah images (including the one above) I had taken years before my first inspiration for this linocut.
I deliberately chose to not research or even look at other linocut artists at this time and what they were doing – I knew a little of the historical linocut artists like Margaret Preston and Noel Counihan but again I put all of their images aside. The only thought I had was that I was not going to develop work based around the still life of wildflowers in vases.
I took lots of photos, did drawings, explored and played with ideas and media.
It was not until I felt comfortable with my own style and where I was at with developed my own voice to express myself through my artwork years later, that I then allowed myself to have a closer look at what others were doing.
Probably it was around the time when I began to have more access to the internet and more information became available online. Living in the country, raising children and looking after elderly relatives my access to the wider arts community and even traveling to larger cities like Brisbane and Sydney has been limited.
Not everyone works this way but it is just how I have chosen to work and developed my own voice as an artist.
It has not been easy being a linocut artist working with more traditional subject matter as I have done. Galleries have found it difficult to fit my work into their collections. Within a traditional gallery paintings can be seen as ‘fine arts’ and linocuts as ‘crafts’, and within a contemporary gallery my more realistic representations and traditional working methods are not seen as ‘cutting edge’ enough. But I have tried to be true to my own vision of the work I am creating. I like beautiful interesting images and I love the Australian bush – wildflowers, birds and wildlife, so this is the work I try to create. I could have chosen to become more contemporary – have a different voice to fit in with the galleries view but it just wouldn’t be me. So I have continued down this path.
My website and business name is Soulsong – may sound a bit ‘out there’ but it isn’t really – the Australian wildflowers and wildlife I see as part of my soul, I can get lost and never lose my capacity to spend time in and around the bush and Australian wildflowers and wildlife. I never get tired of exploring this subject matter – it is embedded in my soul. My arts practice is my song, it is the way I express myself through my artwork – so quite simply my artwork is my soul’s song – Soulsong.
It has been a difficult path at times over the past 10 years and the busy pro-active arts practice I was developing from 1998 to 2002 had to be wound back until recently when I am again trying to re-establish myself as an artist. I have had children to raise who have needed me to be there and I have been a family carer for them and for my elderly relatives who have had no one else willing to step up and help them. I do not regret a day of any of that time, it was what was needed to be done, and I have many joyful experiences and learned a lot along the way about myself and human nature.
So I would encourage artists whether beginners or further down the track to work hard at making your own mark with your artwork, love your subject matter and medium and work hard at having your own voice or style of work.
At the end of 2013 I have relaunched my arts practice back onto a wider stage again with a ‘Wildflowers’ exhibition at the Northern Rivers Community Gallery in Ballina. It is a beautiful old building & space in which to hang work. Even though I had to take a considerable amount of ‘down time’ in caring for my family I was always still working. I continued to draw, take photos, sketch ideas & develop work much of which just needed the impetus of an exhibition deadline to come to fruition and complete. So the lesson you can learn from this is – even when you cannot be producing artwork to its completion still keep seeing possibilities & still continue to take inspiration where you can & sketch ideas or do whatever it takes to keep your arts practice alive even if it is just quietly in the background.
I still have a number of artworks to complete that I started over this time & am exploring different ways of extending my vision – still with the wildflowers I love but in new directions. I am looking forward to exploring this into the future.