Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Basking in the light

Guess what I've been doing tonight?

PRINTING THE LAST POSTER. Well, not the last print of the last poster, but I'm now editioning the last of the seven images. And then I have to print the title page and colophon, so there's still over 250 pages to pull, but YAY nonetheless. I'm aiming to pull the last wet print on Sunday, maybe Monday at the latest, because we want them snug inside their folios and ready to launch by the Thursday afternoon at the Otakou Press wayzgoose.

The second-last one was tricky. Each poet had sent me a choice of poems, and I selected them not only by whether I liked them (because, I have to say, I liked all of them in different ways) but also by whether they would work on a wall. Because some poems are better in the hand, or in the heart, but not on your office/bedroom/loungeroom wall.

Michael Harlow is a local poet -- he doesn't live in Dunedin, but they claim him as theirs, especially when he comes second-up in the NZ Post Book Awards (it was won by Brian Turner, who is also local, and is a past Otakou Press poet). He's also a practicing Jungian psychotherapist, which, when I was told, put the fear of Ceiling Cat into me. The pressure to understand! To make the poster MEAN something! ARGHHH!

I kept putting his poem, The Piano's Birthday, aside; then I thought that I'd better not leave it for last, so tackled it after I finished Sarah Holland-Batt's poem. The few poems that MH had sent me were lovely, but not WALL, except this one, which at least had some visual triggers in terms of colour. Bear with me, I will show you the poem, but I just want to talk about the process for a mo before I show you the outcome.

I looked at it, and looked at it, and felt lost. It seemed dense and loaded, but accessible if I could find an 'in'. I decided to google the term 'marjatta tree' as it seemed to be the most obvious clue.

Lo, there is no such thing as a Marjatta tree, but there is a Marjatta, who is the heroine of a Finnish legend. She was a virgin who became pregnant after swallowing a mysterious talking whortleberry [!!!] and she gave birth in a stable to a God-like child who went on to achieve Finnish world dominance. So, a Finnish Christmas tale, I guess. SYMBOLIC!

And that's when my brain imploded and the poem opened up to me. I don't claim to understand it completely, but it became clear that it was a piece about inspiration and creation, and that there was two completely separate parts to the poem: the first, which is about raw KA-BOOM creative energy, leaping out of foreheads and fighting out of wombs using whortleberries and so forth. The second part is much quieter, and more about inspiration, about hearing and seeing and thinking and being moved, ever so gently, so write a Poem.

Then I was thinking about the colours he'd given me: green and red, and I was thinking about adding some blue somewhere, when Donald-the-Special-Collections-Librarian, seeing me fiddling and leaping and fistpumping and puzzling, offered to show me the facsimile copy of Jung's Red Book that Michael Harlow had donated to the library. Oh OH OH! That's when it all fell into place.

Jung made this incredible dream diary, and decorated it like a medieval illuminated manuscript, and the text is black, with three dominant colours for the decorative elements: red, green and blue.


Harlow print

Goodness me, it was a finicky print to edition. I was printing four colours in each pull of the press, and if I vagued out at any point, I'd miss a bit and stuff up the print. Like this:

printing boo boo 2

when I forgot to ink up the green bit. And this:

printing boo boo 1

when I forgot to ink up the bottom black block. GAH.

This is when music is very important. You need to be in the moment, following a routine, not thinking about anything except the print and whatever music is playing. The music needs to be familiar, but not so much so that it puts you in a trance. If there's nothing to think about, you go into a trance. There needs to be a lyric or two to chew over while you check your work. On this vein, I'd like to thank Laura Cantrell for her newish album Trains and Boats and Planes, especially her most excellent cover of Gordon Lightfoot's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It did very well in the role of editioning aid.

It took all weekend to get the print printed. I did some other things: on Friday night we had the opening of Donald-TSCL's marvellous exhibition of Pulp Fiction, where we were all asked to nominate our favorite titles from the show. I'm torn between Slay-ride for Sandra and Tall, Dark and Dead. The covers are amazing, and Donald-TSCL has managed to source a few process pieces, where you can see the photo of the nude model, the drawings of her, and then the finished cover. This is going to be a very popular exhibition, more so than the ALL ABOARD Railway collection exhibition that just came down...

After 3 glasses of exquisite Otago white, I stumbled into town with my Australian librarian friend Allison and we caught the latest cinematic offering from Flight of the Conchords' Jermaine Clement, Predicament. It won't be a smash hit, but I can see it getting a gentle cult following, and has some very good moments of hilarity.

I also had another couple of hours playing European board games with Allison and other librarian types on Saturday, flexing the skills I'd picked up a few weeks before to come equal second in Alhambra. w00t!

Now I'm working on the final piece bar the title and colophon pages: Robert Adamson's poem The Sibyl's Avenue, chosen because it has a cat in it, which makes the folio complete. You can't have a print folio without a cat, peoples!

sibyl print

I wanted to use some of the fabulous ornamental blocks that they have in abundance here, and found one that suits bird chitter:

bird chitter 2

It's a lovely calligraphic flourish (guaranteed to make Ronnie moan more than usual in the comments :) ).

And the cat chitter? Check this out:

cat chitter

I've never seen anything like it; most ornaments have confident design lines, but this one is deliciously wobbly and warbling. It just looks like the noise my cats make when they're trying to talk bird. Wonderful.

blue finger

And this print definitely holds the touch of the maker, as I'm using my finger to ink up the bird 'footprints', as it's the only way to get them fading out as they're supposed to.

Goodness. I also entertained a posse of schoolboys with their teacher this afternoon, from Otago Boys High. At least one of them was fully engaged, which made it fun.

Tomorrow I'm doing a live interview on Channel 9, the local television station! It's a show called Dunedin Diary, and the producer said today that I'm only being interviewed for 5 and a half minutes, so feel free to talk as fast as I like... I don't think she realises the speeds at which I can reach when I'm excited and nervous.

It's funny, standing not quite at the end of the tunnel but clearly seeing the light. Best Beloved and Bumblebee are flying over on Saturday night, and taking their time to get to me, arriving in Dunedin on Tuesday to hang out for a while before we start travelling around the south island for a couple of weeks.

I haven't mentioned them much... Best Beloved has been living up to his name, doing a fantastic job as a single parent. He's wrangled Bumblebee through a load of accelerated homework (so that he can take 3 weeks off school) and kept the cats from fretting too much. I can't thank him enough for holding things together while I came here. I couldn't have done this without him.

OK, time to turn off the radio -- I listen to it as a break from my personal playlist, and I've kept it on the position on the dial at which I found it, which is a local commercial station I've lately dubbed INXS FM because they play at least 4 INXS tracks a day, consciously or not -- and head back to my digs to flake out on the couch with my feet high in the air. I've just finished reading Jude the Obscure on my iPhone (which almost made me break out weeping in the dining room of the college over my bowl of fruit and yogurt), and am halfway through Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave (something I dug out of the college library, which is a weird mix of donated Classics and abandoned airport novels). Life is tough...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rolling along

So. Week four, and I'm on schedule, I think. I've printed 5 posters, and two of those have been double layer printings, so that's at least 700 pulls of the press already.


The folio cases are being made at the University Bindery this week. I've been overprinting all the poster images on a few sheets and they're going to be cut into strips and inlaid on the front of the cases. That's another reason why I love this place... they still have a university bindery.

I'm lying on the couch in my flat, listening to the wind howling outside my window. We had a couple of beautiful days, quite warm with no rain, and then today the rain came back, the temperature dropped, and the wind started up. There might be snow, who knows? It doesn't bother me, I'm in t-shirts in the warm studio, looking out at the world through the big glass window. Last week I watched a line of children leaving the museum carrying sleeping bags, having just had a sleepover there. On Sunday I glanced out from my work and witnessed a Haka ritual:

window surprises

Why do I need to go anywhere? But I do get out. I got some crazy op shop bargains, two colourful light merino jumpers (one red, one purple) for $8... one was $5, and the other was half price for $3! My feet have been killing me, so I went looking for some Crocs (fabulous for all-day standing on concrete, as I may have mentioned before, and much safer for clumsy sorts like me than tripping on rubber mats) and I found a pair for $6! Happy feet, happy Duck. Within half a day of wearing them, my feet stopped complaining. Bliss. I do only wear them in the studio, though.

Anyhoo, I was going to show you some work. Here goes:

When I last left you (apart from the last post, which jumped forward a bit), I'd printed the first layer of the Vincent O'Sullivan river poem


and perhaps the first layer of the Stephen Edgar poem, Sight Reading...

sight reading first layer

With the Edgar poem, I'd found boxes of a fabulous outline font, very carnivalesque (is that a word?), with solid letters and outline letters that could overprint, and I knew I had to find a way to use them.

wood type: outline & fill

Edgar's poem is all about potential, and ability, and confidence, and strangeness, and... lots of things, but the visual image he provides is one of floating text, and the keyword for me was sunset. So my first layer was in pinky red, and then I added a second layer of orange and black:

Second layer, inked

to make:

Sight Reading finished

I kept thinking about whether to use found text, or to just randomly pull letters from the box and arrange them, but in the end, after wandering around holding the poem loosely in my head (which is something I do a lot, because I have a dreadful memory for words, but the sense of things lingers, especially visually), I hit upon the phrase YOU WILL ALWAYS WONDER, and I used it all through the print. I like to think that people will discover it in the print at some point, and it will extend the reading slightly.

That print wasn't a hard one to set up and print, but it was laborious, especially with the two print runs.

The next one, Vincent O'Sullivan's river poem (it has no title), but excruciatingly tricky. For one thing, getting the second layer of colour to work with the first was hard, as I have no scales, and can't mix colour accurately. Took me over an hour to get the colour right. And then there was the layout:

fresh start

river, starting

river, ongoing

river, getting there

It was like doing a jigsaw puzzle. And even once I'd got it all set up, a lot of it wasn't working properly because the wood type I was using was so old and worn, it needed to be packed up a lot.

I'd hoped to get it all printed by Sunday night, but I spent Saturday faffing with it, and then I went to see the bands, and I spent the rest of the night dreaming about rolling it up. I woke up on Sunday determined to resolve it. So I mixed a stiffer ink for the text (silver and black, to make a dark silver), and I changed the layout a bit to make rolling easier, and then I rolled up my sleeves and got stuck into it.

I did finish it on Sunday night. Late Sunday night.

river edition

river print, side

river print, top

I'm happy with it. I wanted watery, I wanted elegant, plus churchy and bridal without being saccharine. I think I got there. It's very subtle, and a lot of its printing is embossed as well as inked, so you have to hold it and shift it around to get the full effect.

Then it was time to pull it all apart, make another frisket,

frisket change

and start on another one. I gave a little taster of it this morning, because my last big post about printing was reposted on Spike the Meanjin blog, and I thought I'd better have something printy online at the top of my posts.

This poem, by Sarah Holland-Batt, has a dark, dreamy mood to it, which I wanted to convey visually. I decided to try some more freehand rolling, straight on to the paper, which gives a very velvety feel to the colour, a plum colour meant to evoke squid inkiness.

But! first I had to adjust the platen of the Columbian, which was listing rather badly to one end... I asked the magical Library Custodian (that's what they call the helping background staff: the tea ladies {yes, they also still have those}, the maintenance and cleaning people) if he had any WD-40, and lo! he did, even though no-one else, including Donald-the-Special-Collections-Librarian, knew what I was talking about.

Have tools, can wrangle bolts.


I have a wonderful book, belonging to the library, about printing with the iron handpress, and it goes into a long and complicated explanation about making the platen straight that involves pressure tests with little tags of mylar etc. I don't have time for that, so I used a spirit level. It's now not perfect, but it's close to perfect and it took ten minutes.

Back to Night Sonnet.

SBH forme

Having straightened the platen, I then try to print a forme that has an extra amount of pressure in one corner... doh. I was embossing the title and the wooden O (to make a moon) so that I could hand-roll ink over the top and make the embossing POP. Unfortunately, if I embossed hard enough to make the moon pop, everything couldn't print clearly. So I compromised, and made it a dark moon, with outlines only, which works with the surreal musing of the poem.

SBH proofs

Excuse the tatty header on that example... it's what happens if the roller hasn't got enough ink on it: it gets sticky and pulls the fluffy paper apart rather than depositing ink. You only do it once (or twice).

It was such a gloriously easy print to do once I got the pressure working: one colour, good easy rolling with no overlaps on the press, a couple of strokes with the roller on the bench, and done. I got the whole edition done at a leisurely pace today, and now I'm onto poster 6.

I'll leave you with a photo and a link.

Hardie Boys
I can't believe this man could get to GG with a name like that. I wonder if he collects Hardy Boys novels?

Also: you have to see this. It's the best LOLcat link EVER.


Here's a quick peek at what I'm working on today.

sketch SHB

inking stations

rolling ink

rolled by hand

SBH proofs

Yes, I know I've missed out on two whole posters, but I'll try to sit down tonight and write coherently about this latest batch of three...

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Ms Inky

Oh poo bum, it's all messy, isn't it? The election, I mean. I checked into the ABC last night before bedtime (oh, how I miss Aunty!) and decided not to stay up late. This morning is no better.

So I've brought my breakfast into my flat, probably illegally, since there's all sorts of rules around this college, and one of them is no wearing hats in the dining room -- I was told off for wearing a beret whilst eating the other day -- and I'm going to write about lots of things to cheer myself up a bit while my washing washes.

Phew, that was a long sentence, wasn't it? Lord knows if it's correct or not, I'm not in the mood to check. I'm eating jam on fruit toast, and drinking hot chocolate. They have a beverage machine here, so I can have endless hot chocs if I like, and they have an icecream machine, too, but I haven't lurked in that direction yet.

Yesterday was just a weird day, from go to whoa. Full of things going wrong, and bad decisions. I tripped in the carpark of the New World supermarket, and although I didn't fall, I banged my knee on a car, and there's nothing like a nagging scrape on the knee under your jeans and a slight lingering shakiness to make you feel a long way from home.

On the way home from the markets I met a very friendly cat, black & white with a wide jolly face, who, when I clucked at him with my most non-threatening cat hello, came right up to me, chatting to me. He (I'm assuming himdom, because he looked male) and I had a lovely chat and pat and then I realised that he had a hole in his side, not fresh but roughly healed, and then looked harder at him and noticed his general scragginess. We lingered a bit longer until some other people walked past us and he ran off. I wish I could have taken him somewhere, but with no car and no place to bring him etc, it would have been very difficult. But he haunts me, and If I see him again, and he still looks scraggy, I will act. I'm presuming he was part of a student group house and was dumped, or ran away when they changed houses or something. I've been told since that there are a lot of abandoned ex-group house pets in the university area.

So I was already feeling a bit rattled when I got to the Print Room studio. My plan had been to proof the next poster and launch straight into printing it, with a view to finishing it by the end of the weekend. But it just wasn't working, and I fiddled and fiddled, and proofed and mixed ink, and fiddled, and suddenly it was 5.30 and I had a pub date with some librarians. Sigh.

I have to say, however, that there were bright spots in the day. The crepe filled with gooseberry and pear jam for breakfast was excellent, as was the lemon brioche I had for morning tea. The Evansdale Karitane Mellow Blue cheese I bought and started last night while checking on the hanging of Australian politics is superb (and NZ$6 for an enormous chunk). Yay for the markets!

I met my two new friends, Allison and Lorraine (apologies if I misspell) at the pub, when we scoffed hot thick wedges of potato and drank alcohol, and then went to the uni bar, Refuel, for the 5th birthday party of, an all-day event that was just warming up its evening session as we arrived.

Of course, all day I kept forgetting to take my camera, but Allison gave me hers to take photos of the gigs, and I'll post them when she sends them to me. The first couple of bands were ok, but we were settling into a booth and having fun observing the slowly growing crowd.

Then a band came on that just forced me to get up and closer to the stage. At first the drawcard was the lead singer, who was a cross between Cindy Lauper and Madonna and someone else who I can't think of but has a shit-hot operatic voice. She was dressed in a hot-pink bra and corset, with breasts that almost poured out of the whole shebang, and as she leaned forward to play the organ keyboard, every person in the audience leaned further in to her, and her voice would wave over you in rills. It was absolutely hypnotic. And then, once I got used to her spectacle, I noticed the rest. It was only a drummer (excellent drumming) and a bass player, whose fingers just never stopped moving. The music was hot, the stagecraft was wild, and their name is easy to remember: CULT DISNEY. I tried to get a recording, but they are currently in recording, so I have Allison on standby to get me their CD when it comes out. But I think it will be tame compared to the live experience.

This was followed by The Chills, reincarnated and in fine form, playing a small (they only had half an hour) selection of their songs, including a wonderful cover of the Cat Stevens number Matthew & Son. Bliss! Then I just couldn't stand any more, because I've been standing all day every day for three weeks straight, and I needed to get horizontal. So the concert went on for hours afterwards, and I hope everyone involved had fun, because the small bit I saw was ACE.

Almost time for the library to open and for me to get working. Donald-the-Special-Collections-Library has been very busy lately, as he is changing exhibitions in his lovely gallery space. He's taking down a show about their Railway holdings, and putting up what promises to be a fab show about Pulp Fiction. He was in the paper yesterday with a photo of him surrounded by lurid book covers. I'll share more of that with you when it's all installed.

He took time out the other day to share with me a couple of his treasures, and one of my side-loves: examples of foreedge painting. Sometimes books aren't just guilded on their page-edges, they also have secret paintings. Often these are quite innocent, and merely book-enhancing, like this copy of Virgil:


Virgil's foreedge

But occasionally (and probably more often than private library owners will reveal), you come across something that just makes you laugh out loud:

prayerbook cover

Prayerbook title

Naughty foreedge

Isn't she gorgeous?

Hi ho, hi ho, off to work I go.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Welcome to my blog, if you've come here after reading about me in the Otago Daily Times. (That's a direct link to the article.)

OTD Arts Section

This is the personal section of Ampersand Duck, and you'll find a mixture of things, ranging from printing adventures through to things that might be a bit hard to read, and even further down to absolute fluff, like this:

funny pictures of cats with captions

The 'real' or more formal writing about my work is at my website. I quite often direct people there if they have more refined sensibilities.

Otherwise, enjoy, hang around, leave a comment or two.

Postscript: and my goodness, I've been made into an instructional video by some earnest Bibliography students!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dunedins must have calves like watermelons

I'm still alive... I've been printing up a storm, plus planning and setting. I'm now working on two posters simultaneously, letting one layer dry while I print the other, and vice versa.

Donald-the-Special-Collections-Librarian has been contacting lots of people and telling them about me and my work, so I thought it would be a good idea to put a more formal post about my project up on my website. That way, he can send them that link and they don't have to trawl through my personal shite to read about my printing.

Like this:


That's a happy used massage table, taken by a happy massaged me. An hour for NZ$30! Never underestimate the goodness of student masseurs. I'm going back again next week.

Also, this is the view from the 6th floor of the Dunedin Polytechnic (like our TAFE):

Dunedin from the Polytech

Note the low-lying cloud. This was a day that was supposed to be 18 degrees, but never got there. Being a smallish island, and being a coastal city, this area gets the most variable weather, and at the moment it seems to rain nearly every day. Isn't it pretty, though? This is looking back at the uni, and you can probably see the back of my college, next to the two high buildings on the left. Nearly all the houses you can see are student 'flats' (they don't call them group houses).

Speaking of views, check out this one:

up the hill

When Dunedin people say 'I live just up the hill', they say 'just' to get you up there. Sue Wootton invited me to a night of pizza and wine at her place, but I had to walk there because her car is bung. She lives up past this amazing-looking boy's school, up and up and up. It nearly killed me, because while I've been walking all over the place, I've only been walking, I realise, on the flat bits. Dun is like a big cone, hills all around funnelling down to the flat city area, which is why the Waters of Leith rise so fast when it rains. So I walked up and got there very hot and sweaty and damp, because of course it was raining. Thank goodness for my new raincoat!

Once I was there the evening was wonderful, all homemade pizza and lovely wine and good people to talk to and amazingly beautiful house and a CAT to stroke. Absolute bliss. And a lift home.

On Saturday night I went to another gorgeous house for dinner, the home of a senior librarian who is a fabulous cook as well. More good people to talk to, and the hint of a cat but she didn't show :(

That was meant to be 'just' a walk up another hill too, and after friday night's experience I was getting a bit nervous about it, but Gillian, Donald-TSCL's best friend, dropped by the library and picked me up at the last minute, and for that she gets my utmost blessings.

So I'm being looked after admirably. I also rang Best Beloved and said

If we sold our crappy shoebox house in Canberra, we could buy a gorgeous Victorian villa in Dunedin and still have change for renovations...

And he said he'd look at the employment pages when he got here! It won't happen (don't have a heart attack, Colonel Duck) but the fact that he said it without hesitation made me fall for him all over again. I'm thinking this is a better place to come when we're old than Tasmania. At least there are good health services here, being a medical university town and all. Sigh.

I keep thinking of things to write but not when I'm writing them. It's time to go to work now, I have to print a sunset-pink underlayer today. I got blisters on my hands on Sunday from doing a grey-green underlayer using one heavy roller at high speed, so I'm going to be kinder on my hands today.

Wow, I can hear a flock of seagulls from my window, the real kind, not the ones who ran. Boom-tish! Also, disconcertingly, I think the student upstairs is having sex with someone, from the sound of the bedsprings through the ceiling. It's 8:40am. Lucky them!

Ok, must go. Things to be getting on with. Ciao.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wrangling Les

So. I'm now editioning my second poster, and if I can finish it on the weekend, I'm well on track. It's a short poem by Les Murray, called At the Opera.

Here's my progress:

Opera start

This is the initial working out of what fonts suit the idea in my head, whether there's enough type, how it all fits together... which eventually turns into this:

Opera forme

Which is actually a lot later in the piece when I remembered to take a photo of the forme.

Here's the initial proofs:

Opera proofs

...and here is the final colour, a bit brighter than my initial mix:

At the Opera

I'm in love with this red, a mix of Warm Red and Rubine Red, and big snaps to the nice UniPrint people down the road who let me look at their Pantone swatch book for ideas, since I left mine at home. I'm also in love with the big wooden M, which is my attempt to evoke a faded but loved red velvet theatre curtain.

inking 2

This is inking from my viewpoint, and this is another:

caught in the act

taken in action by Donald the Special Collections Librarian.

And here are the sexy shots:

At the Opera (another detail)

At the Opera (detail)

Donald thought I might use this block to illustrate the word lorgnette, the central premise of the poem:

eyes in hand

But I decided to keep everything typographical, keep away from the readymade images, and make people do what I suspect Les Murray wanted people to do: go and look up the word.

Also, when I was planning this image, I'd been thinking that the whole series would be portrait orientation, that is, taller than wider. But in the staffroom yesterday having morning tea, it struck me like a thunderclap that it would work much better in landscape. This now means that at least one other of the posters will have to be landscape too, or this one will stick out in the series like a sore thumb.

Speaking of sore thumbs, look what this work does to hands:

battered hand

Broken nails, paper cuts, ripped cuticles, ink stains -- yes, that's the red ink Lady Macbeth look, and I do walk around the library rubbing my hands muttering 'out, damned spot', but I'm rubbing them with baby wipes, which rather undermines the drama.

My feet and legs hurt too, from so much standing. I discovered that there is a massage clinic at the local Polytechnic, and have written an email to them asking about availability. I've also discovered that my college has baths hidden away throughout the building, so I'm going to seek out the closest one and buy some epsom salts. It's hard to sleep from the aching of my muscles, but I'm hopefully toughening up a bit!