Thursday, February 26, 2009


funny pictures of cats with captions

Padge made me do it.

We're all a bit sad because we thort Bernice was coming to tea last night.

But she dashed in and told us that her car was dying, and she needed to drive home straight away (90 minutes drive) so that she could at least get home before it did die, got us to push start the car and then buzzed off into the evening.

I wouldn't mind, only it's the second time she's done it to us. The first time was admittedly my fault ultimately, for giving her a dying car -- but I can't believe it's happened again!

You owe us some guestpitality, Bernice. We're holding you to it.

In other news, Dr Sista Outlaw is coming to stay this weekend with her baby and her just-out-of infancy squeeze! Yay!

In other other news, I'm sorry, those who have subscribed to me in Twitter. I just can't do it. I can't even update my Facebook 'what are you doing' thingy, so what makes me think I can keep up the twitters? I guess I'll leave it up -- I can see it would be fun for liveblogging something like the Two Fires Festival -- but this blog is about as public as I can make my activities, there's just TOO MUCH to do to reach for the phone/keyboard. Sorry!

Best Beloved has been off tonight learning how to sharpen knives. He's having a learning spurt. Last night he finished his Sausage-making course, and came home with a vast mountain (I'm not exaggerating) of pork & prune sausages (made with internal plum sauce!). They look amazing, and they should have sat long enough for us to try them on the weekend. In a gesture of amazing synchronicity, ALDIs had a special sale of sausage machines TODAY. Wow.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

brown paper packages tied up with sticky tape

Today I got a parcel. Hooray! Doesn't it look exciting?


(Please note the whiteboards in the background. They are the subject of an upcoming post. Promise.)

Mmmmm... wrapped things. Things wrapped in bubblewrap. My favorite.

wood engraving tools
Mmmm... UNwrapped things! At the top is a roll of lovely paper: Maniro Diachi and Kozo Light, ten sheets each. From left to right: an Arkansas sharpening stone; three wood engraving tools: a spitsticker, a scorper and a graver; a roller, and, just to show Fifi, an wooden burnisher that I found recently at Walker Ceramics for the princely sum of $3!

I already have the wood engraving ink (as I use it to mix with offset ink to make nice stiff letterpress blacks), and one block (that I can also engrave the back of). Now I just need a source of good blocks (there is a fabulous one in England, but I'll save him for when I've practiced a bit) and I'll be off! I also have a pack of gummed label paper, because I'd like to make some ex libris plates (I bought it last year and used one sheet to make a whole stack of letterpress ex libris plates for my mother-in-law).

O wot fun!

Daily ritual

Sitting here gobsmackedly reading a wonderfully useful post about plotting when Mr Padge rushes into the study. His way of saying hello is headbutting your leg, hard.

When that doesn't get my attention, he wraps himself around the wheels of my office chair, waiting for me to move even slightly so that he can shriek indignantly about my running him over (even though I haven't).

When I look down in alarm, startled from my plotting reverie, he looks up and wails piteously (WOWWWW) then headbutts my leg again.

WHAT? I stand up. WHAT? SHOW ME.

He walks ahead of me to the door then hesitates and looks up and WOWWWs again. I am never sure whether he wants water (bathroom) or crunchies (laundry). This is the crossroads, so I ask again. WHAT?

He can't seem to make up his mind, so I start. I move down the corridor. If I'm wrong, and he wants water, he'll trip me up and head back to the bathroom. If I'm right, he'll rush past me so fast that there's a good chance I'll stumble anyway. Dangerous places, hallways.

He rushes past me towards the kitchen, fat glossy black cat with pendulous udder wobbling violently from side to side. He pauses a second while he makes sure I'm following then dashes into the laundry and almost slides to a stop in front of his crunchy bowl.

OH! There's already crunchies there.

Every. frickin. day. I'm. working. at. home. Plot? He's lost it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Snap! snap! great big fishy snaps!


This lovely pelican is not just a wistful reminder of more relaxed days, but is also going to be a living virtual trophy (if that makes sense) that I will present to people who practice random acts of kindness to or near my life. I want you to imagine the pelican snapping its glorious beak in appreciation.

Today's pelican snaps are to the nice girl with a big tennis bag who scraped my sobbing son off the wet bike path after he skidded on some gravel and crashed his bike into a (short) cement pole, wiped his tears away and told him he'd be ok, then fished the last bandaid out of her bag to patch up his bloody knee. Thank you very much for not passing him by like others did. He's very grateful, and so am I, as I wasn't there. If he ever points to you on the path, I promise to thank you in person.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Remember to Breathe



It's O-week, and I wish I'd bought shares in instant noodle stocks. The poor young fellow next to me at Woollies today had a basket full of instant noodle pots, in a wide variety of flavours. I almost felt like giving him a dollar to buy an apple, if I didn't think he'd just use it for more noodle pots. I guess with that diet, the only kitchen stuff you need is a kettle and a fork...

I've been dusting off my art school hat, researching an application for a Churchill Fellowship, and trying to get my tax together, so nobody's seen very much of me this week. Art school isn't rich enough to have a whole O-week, they only have an O-day -- tomorrow -- and I'm going in to represent my studio complex and give a little powerpoint talk. Then I'm going back to the studio for the first time in DAYS to do some intensive cover-glueing.

Right now, though, I'm about to get changed into something loose and comfortable for my weekly Tai Chi class. I'm supposed to do some every day... I'm doing at least one or two exercises daily, but I've only managed the whole shebang a couple of times a week. Still, it's a start, and I refuse to beat myself up about it, as there are so many other things to take the punches for. Like the fact that I haven't clapped eyes on Zoe for at least three weeks, and we only live 200 frigging metres away from each other. And I haven't got the excuse of small children tugging at me for attention...

On the contrary, Bumblebee has started a whole new regime of independence, riding to and from school by himself! I have discovered that 3pm is TEH BEST time to do any banking or postal chores...

Ooh, BB has arrived home, damn, forgot to wrap myself in cling wrap to greet him at the door again. Dang. But I should at least go and greet him. Ciao!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

woody goodness (2)

I woke up feeling a bit seedy this morning. The boys had run away to the country for the weekend, and I'd decided to ride the bike in to Dendy to catch a film from their European Film Festival: Klimt. I braved Civic with its hoards of gooey couples clutching red satin teddybears and earnestly discussing the pitfalls of their horoscope combinations, tempted to the movie by the promise of John Malkovich playing a dying syphilitic painter of some great talent. A load of tosh later, I rode home cranky at the use of revolving camera angles and naked nymphettes covered in endless snowstorms plus really boring and obscure fisticuff scenes. Lots of cats couldn't even redeem the boredom. Save your pennies.

Anyhoo, that bike ride, combined with a day of exciting energy-expending artmaking, made me wake up stiff and sore with two cranky black cats penning me into strange parts of the bed, complaining that they would have liked to see lots of cats on screen, especially one the spitting image of Mr Pooter and could you get up and feed us now please. Sigh. I ran a long hot bath full of epsom salts and made a big hot breakfast, and got on with the day.

So: Day two of wood engraving at at Megalo.

I got in there and finished the block, and this is almost how it ended up:

block day 2
After this I did a bit more cutting on the front leg, but then didn't take a good close-up of it. Sorry. Still, you can see it more below.

Patsy took us through ways of sharpening the tools as you work:

This is wet&dry sandpaper taped to the glass slab, with some simple machine oil poured on. Then you can use an Arkansas stone to polish the blades. It's easier than it sounds.

rolling ink
Then she showed us how to roll a slab of ink that looks and sounds like silk. This is probably the trickiest part of the whole shebang.

OK. I will walk you through the printing process (in a very brief way!)

You take your block to the ink, after making sure that you have cleaned it of dust and teeny chunks or cut parings.

masking tape
If you look closely at that last photo, you'll notice a little roll of masking tape. Here is a close-up. Essential for holding your block still while you ink up!

rolling ink
Rolling the block with ink. Roll it one way,

rolling ink 2
roll it the other way. You're trying to avoid roller marks on the block, and are building up a nice silky layer of ink.

Take your inked block to the template you prepared earlier. This can be as simple as tracing your block in the spot where you want it on a piece of newsprint the same size as your nice paper. In this case, we had a few sizes, because we had a few paper types to experiment with, so I marked a few dimensions on the same sheet.

3 layers
This is a nice cross-section from Patsy's demo to show the layers of block and paper. 1) template. 2) block. 3)nice (Japanese) paper. 4) drafting film, to protect the nice paper from the tool and the tool from the ink that seeps through the nice paper.

Burnishing the print with a wooden ceramics tool. There is something missing from this image: the fingers of my left hand, holding the paper to the block. I am holding the camera instead.

burnishing tool
This, we all agreed, is the ultimate wooden burnisher. There was only one in the room, and we all fought to have it. My late grandfather would have had one of these for his pottery, but it's probably been chucked long ago. Bugger. I will try to find one.

These are the first three pulls of the penultimate block-cut. The first (top) is faint, as it's the first inking of the block. By the third print, the block has seasoned and is holding the ink nicely.

print run
Here's a sample of the prints I made in the afternoon. We were trying Japanese papers like Gampi (fab), Kozo (ok) and Iwaki (not so good). We also tried pulling some prints on the room's Albion press, using thick printmaking paper.

using the Albion 2

albion print

It's impossible to show the difference between the other prints and this using just a photo; it is printed under (too high) pressure in the Albion press. The blacks are very black and the whites are almost 3D, embossed in the thick printmaking paper.

And there you have it! We have decided to all go away and print an edition of 11, and then come back in a month and make a folio each with one of everyone's prints in it.

I'm hooked. I'm tracking down some tools and finding some more blocks. I'll keep you informed!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

woody goodness

I'm spending the weekend learning how to make and print wood engravings at marvellous Megalo, the local printmaking access studio. It's something I've wanted to do for a while now, ever since I fell in love with the work of Rosalind Atkins and Barbara Hanrahan.

For a really good explanation of how to do wood engraving, go here. I'm being taught by master printmaker Patsy Payne, who hasn't made a wood engraving for ten years, but made lots of gorgeous ones in the 1990s (she works with large scale woodcut and lino images these days).

a table of blocks
She laid lots of her blocks and their corresponding prints out on the table for us to study (and drool).

We learned how about the tools:


tool names

They have wonderful names like 'spitsticker', 'bullsticker', 'scorper'. We also learned how to hold them properly:

I'm gripping a bit tightly with my thumb here, because I'm nervous :)

And how to engrave:

PP cutting
(Patsy's hands, giving a demo.)

And we learned how to put an image on the block if you don't just want to draw or carve directly without planning. We are using pieces of maple, small cubes joined together to make larger pieces. We had to sand them gently to give them a surface polish like glass, to allow us to print a very rich, silky black. Once polished, we gave the printing surface a thin and quick coating of white gouache, rubbing it off so as not to dampen the wood, but allowing it to stain white, to allow us to draw easily on the blocks.

whitened block
This is my block, whitened. It's about 7 x 5cm.

I'll walk you through what I got up to today.

draft design
I'd found an old drawing in a sketchbook from when I was learning to make prints; I was doing a lot of 'body' drawings (I was a life model at the time). This is a sketch of the original sketch, pared down and made the same size as the block.

block drawn up
This is the block after I'd transferred the drawing to tissue paper, redrawn it onto the block (reversed) using carbon paper, and then drawn up again in Indian ink.

dabbing the block
Now we're dabbing printing ink on the surface, and then rubbing it off vigorously to remove as much as possible; the aim is to darken the surface yet still be able to see the ink drawing. Then when I carve, I'll see the light wood through the dark and will get an idea of the print's progress.

darkened block
It's a hard photo to take! But you can see the drawing if you look carefully.

my block so far
And then you carve, and Patsy let us play with marks on a test piece first to get a feel for the tools. Once you sit in front of your own block, things get scary. But I steeled myself (heh, with a tool), and got stuck in, so to speak. This is as far as I've got, and I'll finish the rest tomorrow. I may have to go back into that top leg again once I've proofed it, but I'm fairly happy so far. I love the sound the tools make as they cut through the wood.

More tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Two Fires

That last para of the last post sounded waaaaay jauntier than I meant it to. Sorry if it bothered anyone. I really do send good wishes, and I've backed it up with a donation, and fully intend to do some shopping at Coles on Friday if I get the chance. I'd give blood, too, but I don't think I can this close to an operation. That's one thing I intend to get back into the swing of: I used to give blood as often as possible, because I'm a fairly rare blood type, but the last five years have been a string of miscarriages & operations, so times to donate have been rather rare.

Anyway, I got a chastising phone call from Bernice this morning. Apparently she'd googled the Two Fires Festival and discovered in the process that I was one of the featured speakers. Um, yes, sorry, was all I could say.

I haven't told many people, because I always feel that if I mention these things too early, they end up not happening and then I feel a bit embarrassed. But now I'm on the website and everything, so I guess I can blurt to my heart's content.

Yes! I'm speaking on a literary panel at the Two Fires Festival in Braidwood, NSW, on the weekend of 27-29 March 09. My fellow panellists will be Alice Gage of Ampersand Magazine, Rob Riel of Picaro Press and Stephen Mathews of Ginninderra Press! How excitement! What company! The blurb says

This delightful foursome will discuss the pitfalls of small publishing and of course how much they love what they do.

Goodie! What can I say? No money, lots of love. I guess we'll all be saying the same thing, so I'll have to think about some witty extra bits.

There seems to be lots of other good things happening at the Festival, so if you're geographically able, or so inclined, please join us for what looks like a Fun Time. As long as the fire season is over. Braidwood has had its share of fire proximity this year so far.

Remember to breathe

It's been a bit hard to write anything in the face of all that's happening in Victoria.

I'm making myself a small sketchbook to use during a wood engraving workshop this weekend, and I pulled this red & black paper out of my drawer to use for the cover. It's so fluid yet fiery, isn't it? It made me think of the incredible images on the tv. I wish the tv cameras would back off a bit from the 'human tragedy' coverage, though. We've all been embarrassed by the invasive nature of many journalists.

Anyhoo, we send many thoughts and well wishes for those affected by the fires.


-- Post From My iPhone

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Computers generate so much heat, don't they?

You really think, in these melting times, that I'd be a sensible Duckie and hang out in my cool concrete studio as much as possible, wouldn't you? But no. Stoopid Duckie decides to completely rejig her website. Totally.

There is a good reason for this. I offered to revamp Sarsaparilla, the group blog I belong to. (I won't make a link, because at the moment it won't get you anywhere.) This involves specialist Wordpress knowledge, which I don't have a hell of a lot of, or didn't up to a few weeks ago. But the Sars server melted down, not from heat (although that could be a contributing factor) but because Sars was built a few years ago by Laura from sticks and bits of sealing wax (most cleverly integrating features that weren't standard at the time), and it all fell apart in the face of looming software upgrades.

So while L and I were sorting out what was wrong and what we could do to fix it, I thought I'd practice on my own site, as I realised that I don't like building a website from scratch and Wordpress can do it so much better, and it gives me a chance to blather on like I do here.

Of course, as YOU all know, tweaking a website sucks up time like nobody's business. I've been glued to my computer after dark all week, and also whenever I can manage it during the day. HOT! Anyway, I'm happy with the result. Now I just have to fill the site up a bit more.

Other Chez Duck news: Bumblebee started school this week, and two days in stepped on a tack. Not at school, at home, and it wasn't just a thumbtack, it was a long-pinned upholstery tack, the kind we've used to attach shadecloth to the front of our house to keep us cool (I'm can't tell you how posh we look now, with chicken-wire fences and hastily-tacked shadecloth). We thought we'd cleaned up the dropped pins, but obviously we missed one. Poor boy, it went right into his heel, and it REALLY hurt. Lots of ice, lots of love, notes to get out of sport, and the ability to wear soft spongy crocs helped a lot. His foot's pretty good now.

And now our plums are perfect, so poor old BB is attempting to make plum sauce today. I've told him he is mad, but he thinks he'll make a batch and then go to a movie while the house cools down. He'll be a puddle of sweat. I plan to fill our fridge with plums. How e.e. cummings...

I'm orf to the cool concrete: it will be too hot to use glue (dry before it hits the surface), so I think I'll do some folding. The hardest part about working with paper in weather like this is keeping your hands clean and dry. Sweat stains aren't very attractive on pages.

I hope you're all staying cool somehow, or at least moving very slowly. Think tortoise. I certainly intend to.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


My mother (a youthful 76) complains as soon as Adelaide's temp reaches 28C. But when presented with these extremes she's like a Londoner in the Blitz. She adopts a near-gleeful stoicism: its little old lady vs the elements, where parsimony & determination ultimately trump the forces of nature....

Thus said one of Pav's commenters recently.

It struck a chord with me, because I am usually the first to whinge when I'm hot. A couple of years ago, as regular readers will remember, I whinged mid-Woodford to Best Beloved that if he REALLY loved me, he'd take me south instead of north at the hottest time of the year. He did, he does, he took me to Tasmania last year (where I had a meek little whinge in the middle of the night at Cradle Mountain when we were freezing in a tent in January and the airbed had just gone down, but nothing major: I loved and appreciated the cold).

But this heatwave has brought out the same qualities as TFA's mother: I am rallying and being the soothing voice that jollies along a VERY grumpy BB as he rails fruitlessly against the heat, c**ksucking meteorologists and our lack of aircon. I find myself getting cheerier and chirpier in the face of his bad mood. It's one of the weirdnesses of our marriage... if I'm grumpy, he'll get grumpy and join in. If he's grumpy, I'll cheer up and try to jolly him out of it. I wish he could play my way, then we'd have fewer fights, as I'm very easy to pull out of a bad mood.

So I have sent a cranky BB off to the movies today while I try to wrangle a couple of websites. He has gone to two movies in a row -- we are working our Club Dendy cards hard, so he's getting one movie free. I think he's gone to see The Wrestler and Valkyrie. I'm surprised at the latter choice; I guess his personal ban against all things Cruise has been overcome by his fascination for all things Nazi.

Yesterday we went to see Milk. I ran into Crit on the way in, and got to stroke the gorgeous soft head of her baby as she sat next to me in the movie foyer, trying desperately not to have to go out in the heat again with him. We had to line up a bit to get a good seat, because despite it being the first week of such an excellent film in a city with a very strong gay community, Dendy put the movie in one of its little theatres, and of course it was sold out. Tuh.

I highly recommend Milk. Julie Rigg said on this week's RN Movie Time that she's never seen him play such a personable character, but she'd obviously never seen I am Sam. It's true, though; Penn's Harvey Milk is adorable: compassionate, intelligent, strategic, and everything you want a politician to be. If the real man was half as nice, it makes what happened to him twice as tragic.

One of the things I loved as well was the typography in Milk's campaign ephemera. I'm sure it's wonderfully accurate (I'm sure many San Francisco households still have their Harvey Milk souvenirs), and the use of stark, sans serif wood type on the posters was stark yet stylish. Touches like that make movies really enjoyable for me.

I came away from the movie sad and cranky (as I always am when I am reminded of The Twinkie Defense) but highly energised. It's a fabulous movie, now my second favorite next to Slumdog Millionaire.

I'm counting down the hours: we get Bumblebee back tonight! He has one full day at home before school starts on Tuesday. I think he's going to want to spend at least some of it in my studio with his Warhammer gear...

I'm going to leave you with wishful thinking about somewhere cold:

humorous pictures