Sunday, October 14, 2012

Missing inside the action

The problem with not writing on the blog for AGES and AGES and AGES -- but I don't need to tell you how long it's been -- is that I don't know what to do next. Do I try to make up for lost time? Or do I just blithely go on?  Hmmm.

Maybe a little of both.

I finished Henry Lawson (to be published 2013) and this afternoon I came out of the bubble of trying to keep my head in a state of Deep Thinking while I wrote a PhD application. It's all over now bar pressing the button that says SUBMIT because I'm waiting on one letter from an ex-teacher and employer to upload and then I can press SUBMIT. Right now I have given myself permission to not think too deeply again until I get a message saying that my application has been successful. If it hasn't, I will try again next year and just keep those thoughts ticking along in the background a bit. I won't cry too much, there's so much on my list of alternative options.

So let's decompress a bit:

Here I am, covered in cats. This happens nearly every morning unless I have to jump up early to get to the university to teach. I would like to think that I am reading something about bibliographic notions of textual activity, but odds are that I'm reading Georgette Heyer, which is all I had space in my brain to read for the last month or so.

Let's catch up.

I had my exhibition at UNSW Canberra (aka ADFA) which seemed to go well, everyone who popped into it had good things to say, including a few really wonderful comments about how poetry really comes alive when it's actively engaged typographically and up on the wall in front of your eyes.

Then I went to Western Australia, ostensibly wearing my Print Council of Australia committee member hat but also working in bit of a holiday, taking Bumblebee and Colonel Duck with me. We hired a car and did the Epic Nostalgia/Rediscovery/Discovery (depending on your generation) Driving Tour of South-Western WA. From the Saturday to the next Thursday we drove from Perth to Kalgoorlie, then down to Esperence, across to Ravensthorpe and up to Lake King, then wobbled across to Bunbury and then up again to Perth where I donned my PCA hat and got to work.

We stayed in Kalgoorlie a few days and went to the Kalgoorlie Cup (or was it the Coolgardie Cup?) which was cancelled five minutes before the first race but because we were in the Members' Stand (thanks to my Auntie & Uncle) we stayed & partied and afternoon tea'd and had a lovely time with no horses. No end of scandal though, and we did meet a couple of horses at a big fry-up breakfast at one of the stables next day, so that was nice.

If I show you a few snaps you'll get the drift:

The saddest part for Colonel Duck, even though he'd been there before, was thinking about how much of his youth was erased by the Superpit. It covers the whole of what used to be the Golden Mile of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

Because I was heading that way, and one of my official duties would be to attend the opening of the Fremantle Arts Centre Print Awards (supported by Little Creatures Brewing), I thought it would be jolly to enter a print, in case it was selected for hanging. Then it would be extra fun to be there. So I entered Discontent, the print I made for the Transit of Venus show earlier in the year.

Well, guess what. It won second prize. And I was told two weeks before we left, and I had to keep it secret (apart from my family, of course). What a task! So going to the opening was even more fun, even thought it was crappy, crappy weather, the worst weather of our whole trip.

Here I am, clutching my Big Bunch of Flowers, next to winner Lucas Ihlein of Big Fag Press with his Big Big Cheque (photo from Lucas's Flickr site). You can see more photos, mostly with me cropped out, at the Fremantle Arts Centre site. I was stoked to see Lucas (and his collaborator Ian Milless) win, because he uses a four-plate litho offset press (the Big Fag), which is only a couple of steps forward from letterpress, so as we both joked on the night, the winner was Obsolete Technology!

First prize is $15,000 and it was acquisitional, and second prize is $5,000 non-acquisitional, but they bought the work anyway, which is marvellous. I have bought myself an iPad with some of the money, and the rest goes back into the Press Pit.

It was wonderful to catch up with family that I haven't seen for years, especially new members who were born or wooed since my last visit. I don't know when I'll get back again, but when I do it will hopefully be the same time of year, which is so much nicer than Summer, with all the roadside wildflowers to boot.

I had a birthday, and a wee party to reconnect with live bodies, and forgot to write 'no presents' on the invite, so I got some lovely presents. You all know who you are, I think you're wonderful.

I've been teaching a bit, not just my art school class, but some childrens' workshops. One was at Canberra Museum & Gallery, for Book Week, and the other was at Belconnen Art Centre, for the school holidays.

These are two of the books made in the latter class, called 'Hey, don't fall into that tunnel... book!', where we made tunnel books and puppets to go with them. Aren't they cool?

OK, I have to pack up now because Best Beloved is cooking a huge curry fest and he needs me to clean up all my gumph. Some of the gumph involves an exhibition I'm helping to curate for the Canberra Bookbinders' Guild that opens on Friday. Here's the invite in case you're interested:

If you can't read it, or access any images, it says Handwritten, Handbound: Canberra Bookbinders and the Canberra Calligraphers Society exhibition, opening Friday night 19 Octoberat 6pm at the Belconnen Art Centre Gallery. It runs to the 11th of November. I'm on the local ABC radio station (666am) that same Friday talking about it at about 4:20 if you want to tune in.

 Can you feel the busy? Boring, isn't it. More cats, that's what we need.

Naughty little muffins, you see the kinds of ways they struggle to get my attention?

Ta ta for now, hopefully not for so long this time.

P.S., a reminder that if you want me to send you one of my e-newsletters, which should come out more regularly than these blogposts, subscribe by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hand Set at UNSW Canberra

I just realised that I haven't put this up here:

This is my exhibition, up until the 10th of September at the UNSW Canberra Library (aka ADFA) and I'm also giving an artist's talk this Saturday (25th) at 2pm if you're around and interested in hearing (as opposed to reading) the stories behind the work.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hello, it's been a while hasn't it?

I'm still alive, thrashing my way through jungles of Henry Lawson, deserts of proposal-writing and bogs of tax.

Just thought I'd give you something to look at while I finish it all up.

Best. Link. Eva.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Branching out

I've got a few things to promote at the moment, and I've been asked by many many people if I have a group mailing list.

Up to now, I haven't.

But now I have!

funny pictures of cats with captions

I have a hard-copy newsletter which sort-of comes out twice a year, but it isn't a very quick thing to do when I want to promote a class or something.

So I'm starting a Chimpmail e-newsletter, which will be used whenever I have an event or class to promote.

If you'd like to receive such emails, THIS IS THE PLACE TO GO. Even if we know each other well and I should be emailing you anyway, pop yourself on it because I can't just upload my address book, I need your full permission (which is how it should be, eh).

I solemnly promise to use my contact powers for good and not for evil.

Don't worry, I'll still be adding things here, but some people just aren't good at checking back to a blog, especially when it's updated as erratically as it has been. *sorry*, I'm still a bit snowed under...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Vale Aged Poet

The Spirit to the Body
So – you have served me well and we have been
Comrades in action.
Together took we keen and sharp delight
In racing limbs and outstretched arms and hands,
In every cell obedient to command.
The sudden thrill and ecstasy of head
Thrown backwards to the buffeting of the wind.
I have seen Nature through your eyes,
Its beauty – wind and fire and sun and rain,
Heard by your ears and spoke through your lips.
And now regretting it we two shall go
Splendid into the darkness, naked, free,
But for a little while; then you shall be
Dust blown about the windways of the world,
And I a sigh in all Eternity.

Rosemary Dobson

My Aged Poet died on Wednesday. It was very gentle, very peaceful, and I have no doubt that she had a very good death, with caring people around her. I saw her a few hours beforehand, so I had a chance to say goodbye, and she looked like a little bird curled in the bed, breathing with her eyes closed.

She had turned 92 just the week before, and because she was almost completely blind, I'd taken her the smelliest bunch of flowers I could find: jonquils, sweet peas, freesias and hyacinths. Thank goodness for florists who can access spring flowers in winter! I wanted her to dream of flower-filled meadows, to wake up to glorious scents. It was a good present for someone who had everything and needed nothing.

The poem above was written in her teens, and published in a small book that she set and printed herself at her school, also making the linocut that graced the cover. She always joked that the book should be called Smeop, because she forgot to reverse the title text in her initial attempt. It was published in 1937, when she was 17. That's over 75 years of poetry, peoples, that's a pretty good innings.

Not only had she got past her birthday, she'd also seen her complete Collected updated and republished by UQP this year, released in April. After that, it's no wonder she let go. It was time to catch up with her husband, Alec Bolton, who died in 1996. He ran his own private press, Brindabella Press, which produced over 23 fine press books, and it was through his printing and design sense that I got to know him, and consequently her.

I can't believe it's been 15 years since I started helping Rosemary sort Alec's papers, and then her papers, a weekly session that moved away from literary help to more simple things like going shopping, sitting out in the sun and reading aloud, and finally holding her hand at the bedside and telling her about the world outside, persistently moving on as she slowed down. I learned a hell of a lot from her: about poetry, poets, the 1940s, art, discipline, dignity and also about Standards, among other things. We didn't always see eye to eye, but those struggles are always the interesting parts of friendship.

I can't think of her passing as a tragedy; she lived long and well and was loved, it's as much as anyone can ask for. My thoughts are with her family right now: she will leave a large hole.

There is a wonderful obituary here. The photo was taken by her son, Rob; It's lovely and informal.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Fytte VI: Potters' Clay

[An Allegorical Interlude]

'Nec propter vitam vivendi perdere causas.'

THOUGH the pitcher that goes to the sparkling rill

Too oft gets broken at last,

There are scores of others its place to fill

When its earth to the earth is cast ;

Keep that pitcher at home, let it never roam,

But lie like a useless clod,

Yet sooner or later the hour will come

When its chips are thrown to the sod.

Is it wise, then, say, in the waning day,

When the vessel is crack'd and old,

To cherish the battered potter's clay,

As though it were virgin gold ?

Take care of yourself, dull, boorish elf,

Though prudent and safe you seem,

Your pitcher will break on the musty shelf,

And mine by the dazzling stream.

Published in 'Sea Spray and Smoke Drift' (1867).

I just broke a casserole/pudding bowl that my grandfather made. Not broke, smashed. I knew it would happen sometime, because we use it all the time. But I believe in using, not putting on the shelf and treating things as precious. My father quoted this poem to me as a teenager and I've loved the sentiment ever since.

So I cried, hard, and now I'm thinking about grinding a piece down into a pendant, at the kind advice of friends. I have plenty of other things he made; they aren't decorative apart from a good solid sense of workable style, but this piece was constantly in my hands, and it would be nice to remember it.

Other things feel fragile at the moment, too. I'm overworked and trying to hold my head and equilibrium together. Small things are helping, like walks and hanging out with Bumblebee, plus the cats are such simple, faithful pleasures. I hope I can manage a break soon, but it looks like things won't calm down until August!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

My goodness

Forgive me lovelies, it's been far too long since my last confession post. I do think about posting, but then I get back to whatever I was doing and vow to catch up later. The last few weeks have been so busy. And then yesterday the whole 'busy' excuse got ramped up to 'emergency panic' status as a number of projects that had been ticking along in the 'one day I'll get it to you' category all landed on my doorstep to be done ASAP. So here I am, writing to you while my Book class do their own projects, between helping them with their problems, because once I get home there will be NO time to blog.

In the meantime, I've had a few little adventures, like the day my iPhone fell out of my bag while cycling in a tipsy manner and I found it a few hours later by retracing my route, only to discover that it had fallen on the road and had been repeatedly run over by cars. It was lying in a little pool of glass, as sprayed as blood, and would quite obviously never work again. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO was my first reaction, and panic as I thought of how much information was on it, and how I hadn't backed up for (thankfully only) a day or so.

But then I went to my phone provider and did a new contract that involved slightly more money and a much newer iPhone, and now I'm all 'that old thing, tuh'. No grief, just wonder at how much technology has improved since the iPhone 3. Yay!

Bumblebee found a beautiful flower to hang around with, and they are now like Siamese twins, connected at the hip when in each other's presence, and by non-stop telephonery when not. He's discovering what it's like when someone REALLY digs you, rather than just merely likes you, and he's totally hooked.

I have been busy in my studio, printing and planning and making, plus teaching at Megalo. This weekend I'll be taking the final week of the class promoted in my last post, showing the children how to sew their books together and make covers.

I think I've finally shaken the cold that has been bugging me since Easter, although it's still lingering a little bit. I'm seeing the doctor this week, just to make sure everything is hunky-dory.

Gym and I broke up, which is probably why I keep getting snotty, but he just put too much pressure on me, and he had weird friends that stared at inappropriate bits of my body. Now I go for hour-long fast morning walks around the border of our suburb, which takes me up around the base of Mt Majura, complete with rabbits, kangaroos and lots of birds. If I miss my walk, I don't think 'damn, I'm wasting money', which is much nicer than when I skipped gym. The walk makes me very happy, and my brain gets all juicy and creative, so that when I get back I'm raring to get into the studio.

I've seen a few movies, one of which was 'Iron Sky', a film so silly it's genuinely hilarious, about Nazis living on the dark side of the moon and trying to re-invade the Earth. It was made on a very low budget, and has to be seen with absolutely no expectations of quality. The piss-take of Sarah Palin is worth the price of admission alone. Bumblebee just didn't get it; I think you have to be an adult to understand the humour. I think it will be a cult movie eventually, it'll grow on people.

What else has been happening? My mind is a blank. All I can see is the print I'm working on at the moment back at my house, awaiting me. It's for a little show coming up in the Photospace Gallery at the ANU Art School to mark the Transit of Venus happening on 6 June. I had a simple idea, but it's turned into a complex process that's taken a lot more time than it should... and will look like a simple print. *sigh*

OK, I'll leave it there, but I will return soon, I hope. If not, imagine me buried under a pile of marked-up pages as I lay out the definitive scholarly edition of Henry Lawson's 'While the Billy Boils', which is what landed on my desk yesterday...

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

children making books

A bit last-minute, but there's still time to book your creative youngster into a totally awesome class every Saturday afternoon in May, learning how to write, storyboard and draw your own illustrated book.

Featuring the amazing talents of burgeoning illustrator Annika Romeyn (you will know that name in a few years) and roping in my kid-wrangling bookbinding skillz, the class will use the SLV's travelling exhibition LOOK! The Art of Australian Picture Books Today (showing at CMAG right now) as a resource and make their own incredible works.

Your child will learn SO MUCH from Annika. Get thee hence to the CMAG website and at the very least put yourself on their mailing list, because they offer so much to the ACT community. Please pass on this info to anyone who might be interested.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

hungrybum internet

Oh, my poor neglected blog. I'm so sorry.

I spent a couple of weeks -- which, of course, were my uni term break -- being horribly ill alongside of Best Beloved who was also horribly ill. Our colds, using the same delightful germs, maybe picked up from the Folk Festival, maybe picked up from my plague-rat students, who knows, mutated in completely different directions. I spent the worst part of BB's grumpiness down in the studio trying to ignore my streaming snot, and by the time it really hit me with a cloudy head and painful throat and chest, he was back at work. Best possible outcome, really.

Then I've spent the last few days deeply immersed in the labyrinthine wastes of Wordpress, updating my work bloggy websitey thing. Why on earth? Because I have been published in The Blue Notebook (thank you Sarah) and am having an article written about me for Matrix journal, and I thought I'd better clean out my cupboards a bit, so to speak.

Of course, I've emerged from that today feeling like I've had just about enough of internet interaction, and then in the shower I realised that it's been weeks since I blogged. *sigh*. It's not you, it's me.

While I collect my thoughts, here are the cats for some light entertainment.

Boyz on da hood. They do this a lot, it's very cute.

We had Easter a week late, and thoroughly enjoyed our cheap easter eggs. Padge even laid one for us, he was so excited about all the festivities.

He especially likes the authentic 1960s mohair cardigan I bought at the festival.

We also hosted Bumblebee's 15th birthday party, which was an evening filled with exquisitely unknowingly beautiful teenagers who had intelligent airs of wisdom and the sweetest innocence. They spent most of the time playing Truth and Dare, refusing to eat BB's too-fancy homemade pizza but wolfing down sausages and bread (some things never change) and cake. The T&D was hilarious, ranging from icecubes down the pants to licking the cat (Padge didn't mind, really) and various forms of kissing. We roamed discreetly between the kitchen and the loungeroom, trying hard to keep straight faces and occasionally biting our knuckles in glee.

Pooter made friends with a balloon, although it took a little while for him to warm to the idea:

We found the balloon, days later, looking sadly neglected and small, so perhaps it wasn't a lasting thing.

All the kids young people went home flushed and happy and B's heart seemed healed (oh yes, first love broke up) and now he's got his eye (and, after yesterday's drama camp) lips on another girlie. He blushes at the mention of her name, so lovely.

Last weekend I forced myself to stick to plan and go up to the Blue Mountains to visit the Wayzgoose Press again. I'm so glad I did, they are such fun and full of good conversation about letterpress and production and libraries and design and whatever else. Plus, when I did get to bed (about 3am, they are nocturnal creatures), I slept with Dr Sista Outlaw's new kitten, Pip, on my head. Afterwards I felt strangely better, so maybe Pip has healing purrs.

He'd like to think so.

And now, if you'll excuse me, nice peoples, I'm going to go for a walk up the mountain with my boys as a nod to the public holiday we've been given. We haven't spent much time around each other lately!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dear ACT Greens

Letter mailed to each of the four ACT Greens MLA on Tuesday 17 April 2012.

Dear Ms Hunter/ Ms Bresnan/ Ms Le Couteur/ Mr Rattenbury

On the weekend I received an email from Christine Milne requesting that all Greens supporters band together in the face of Bob Brown’s resignation and show the rest of Australia that ‘we are greater than the sum of our parts’.

As a Megalo supporter and frequent user, I would very much like the ACT Greens to prove this. A vague decision has been announced today about the Fitters Workshop, condemning it to be a barely-used community hall. This is a weak and spineless decision that will come back to haunt the Greens if it is implemented. The Fitters Workshop is only fit for a few kinds of music, and any attempt at speech in front of a group is completely lost in a baffle of noise. The government will pour money into its fit-out, only to have it under-used and eating up valuable resources. Is this sustainable? Is this sensible?

Alison Alder, Director of Megalo, has always made clear that once Megalo is in the space, they will always welcome interactions in the gallery area between themselves and the kinds of small music groups that want to use the acoustics (which will still exist). That is surely a very good way to use the space to its best advantage?

I am one of two Canberra representatives on the Print Council of Australia; I am an artist and I teach at Megalo and the ANU School of Art. Quite often during classes we talk politics and the issue of Megalo arises. Many of my students are young and will be voting for the first or second time in the next elections, both ACT and Federal. These young people are ripe for the Greens to pick, but they are shocked when my colleagues and I mention that this Megalo issue is not just a Liberal Party action but also a Greens action.

You are doing your party and your national reputation great damage through this intervention into Megalo’s future and the use of the Fitter’s Workshop. I urge you to reconsider your stance and support Megalo’s use of the space – well before the next election. This would make the Fitters Workshop into a community-spirited printmaking hub that will be the jewel of the Kingston Arts Precinct, and also prevent the acute embarrassment that will revisit whoever is in power in a few years when it is realized that the ‘multi-arts Fitters Workshop’ is a big useless resource-draining space.

I think the Greens have done good work in the ACT but your actions regarding Megalo are very disappointing. Please, as Milne requests, do show us that you are a party worth voting for.


This is the response.

Dear Caren

Thank you for your correspondence regarding the Fitters Workshop, as ACT Greens spokesperson on the Arts I am responding on behalf of the Greens MLAs.

As you may be aware, the Assembly Committee inquiring into the future use of the Fitters Workshop tabled its report on Monday 16 April. You can see the report at

The report recommended:

· that the Government re-consider its decision to install Megalo in the Fitters Workshop;

· that the Fitters Workshop be used as a multi-use arts and performance venue;

· that the money previously appropriated for Megalo’s move to the Fitters Workshop be used to provide alternative accommodation for Megalo within the Kingston Arts Precinct.

The ACT Greens fully support the recommendations of the Committee. As we have said repeatedly on the public record, the ACT Greens believe the Government failed to perform due diligence or adequate public consultation with regard to this project, and that the Assembly inquiry has provided the level of scrutiny and public debate that had been denied the project earlier.

As the Kingston Arts Precinct Master plan is still being considered, the ACT Greens believe now is the time to deliver a better development that accommodates more Canberrans’ visions for the area.

Thank you again for your correspondence on this matter.

Caroline Le Couteur MLA

There you go. Well, this post is my public prediction if they go ahead with the multi-arts space: it will be a major embarrassment for ALL the ACT political parties because it will prove totally unsuitable for multi-arts use. And BTW, it's bullshit about the 'inadequate public consultation'. There was the normal amount of advertising and public calls for suggestions, and both the music groups and Megalo had followed all the proper tendering applications. Humph.

For a REALLY GOOD angle on the situation, go to iconophilia.

Monday, April 02, 2012

art attacks

I've been trying to write a blogpost since Saturday, but my weekend and early week just keep going and going faster and faster until here I am, and it's lunchtime on Wednesday. My art attacks, let me share you them.

Friday: Robert Guth at CCAS
Saturday: Material World at ANCA, plus some jazz
Sunday: Guerrilla printing day with Angela
Monday: Edible Books & farewell Lynda
Tuesday: Running away with ourselves
Wednesday: Remember to breathe

I'm actually not much of a one to go out on a friday night except to the movies but my ukulele group was invited to play towards the end of an end of a PhD event at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space. Plus it was a chance to catch up with lots of friends from art skool. So we went and won some odd things at the auction (and lost some wanted things that were outbid) and ate the yummy kangaroo doner kebabs and the endless hot fresh sugary donuts that kept pumping out of the donut machine and eventually the uke group found each other, dragged some chairs into a circle and had a play. We're not a very forward group, we fly under the radar a bit. No leaders, lots of attitude, unable to finish a song at the same time, but happy and jolly and with good taste in music. Well, we think we have. We played some Billy Bragg, Lou Reed, the Breeders, the Cure, Johnny Cash... you get the idea. Fairly Gen X, us. Most of the crowd had gone home by the time we started, but we played for the cleaner-uppers.

A lovely visit to the Farmers Markets to buy yummies, into the studio for some Making time, and then my friend Angela Gardner arrived from Brisbane to spend a night and a day with me. Angela is a printmaker and poet, and byrd and I used one of her poems for our Demolition piece at Print Big a few years ago. We nattered for a while, and then it was time to go to ANCA for the opening of Material World, the show I'm in where we all had to make site-specific works with found objects. It as a wonderful opening, one of the best I've been to, mainly because it was low-key, friendly, there was heaps of food & wine and a band, and at 7.30 the lights were turned out for Earth Hour and we sat around the fires and looked at the candle-lit art and talked to each other happily. Narelle Phillips, one of the curators, writes up her experience here. She's an ace chick, and working with her is always a pleasure.

I enjoyed people's reaction to my work, once they found it. All you could see on the way in was the dangling bookmark ribbons, but if you went outside for a glass of wine and a bit of cheese and then walked back in, there it was, obvious as hell. Many people just assumed I'd filled the girder with intact books, because it looked very natural and un-artlike. Another friend came up to me and said that it frustrated him because there seemed to be no logic to the shelf arrangement. When I told him that it wasn't mean to be logical, and that the books were often in conversation with each other, he went back and spent TWENTY minutes looking at it. When he'd finished I asked if he was happier and he just shrugged, which I guess means NO, but... win for me, it engaged him for TWENTY MINUTES. How many other works of art can do that? Bless.

Afterwards we dragged ourselves away and over to a fabulous party close to our place, where some friends were farewelling their son as he flies to Berlin soon to complete a Masters in jazz. So there was more food and more wine and a stage where he and his mates got up and played a storm for us. We left at about 10.30, but apparently it all didn't finish until 3am. Who says Canberra is boring?

Angela and I had a hope that we could have a play in the studio together before she left. She had a 5:15 flight, and in our favour was the change back from daylight saving, which gave us the feeling that we had an extra hour. We left the party at a decent time, despite the good jazz, to give ourselves a fighting chance of a solid day's play. So we awoke, and talked about texts for a while as BB made us a big cooked breakfast. We sat out the back and ate the big cooked breakfast and talked ideas and then hit the studio.

We worked with a new poem that had been brewing for a few weeks. I didn't grasp the meaning at first (sometimes takes a while with poems, don't you think?) which dismayed her, but once we discussed it and I talked about finding and creating a graphic starting point for the meaning, we were off. We set and printed an editioned letterpress broadside in one day! Mind you, the type is still sitting on my press today (I'll dismantle it once I finish typing); it was crazy fun. We're a good team: she arranged the wood type into cloud shapes while I tore up the paper (working out the dimensions as I tore, changing our minds once or twice) then I locked the wood type on the pressbed while she started setting the poem's text. She printed the embossed woodtype while I was her clean-hands assistant, then I set up the metal type while she put away the wood type and mixed the ink. We printed the last layer and finished with time to spare to look at a few other printed things and get to her plane. Phew! Here are a few photos:

Upside-down clouds!

emboss deet
Embossed clouds.

detail, pressbed
If we'd had more time I would have got this curve much smoother, but I did the best I could in a hurry.

swung weight
The final work, drying on the rack.

Angela on the press
Angela, working the press.

Happy, tired ladeez.

Over at Angela's blog you'll see the same photos and similar words from a different angle. I'm glad she liked listening to Dig Music with me. I've become quite addicted to it, and yesterday came home to discover that I've won a double CD of blues & roots music in a small competition they were running. Yay!

As well as teaching my normal class, I'd wrangled the students into making some edible books as part of the annual International Edible Books Festival and bringing them in for a 'lunch'. It was pretty rough and ready, since neither Ingeborg (the other teacher) and I had time to organise plates or tablecloths or such things, but the works themselves were delightful, and the ones that could be eaten (some were hypotheticals) were delicious.

I was very fond of these bananas. Have a look at my flickr site for the full range, many put a lot of effort into it. I loved being able to eat a miniature 'Animal Farm'!

Monday evening was spent, as usual, at my ukulele group, but this time we were farewelling a steadfast member who is moving to Melbourne. She is a beautiful singer, and there was much discussion about who could be 'the voice' now. We made her sing all 'her' songs in the songbook the group has compiled; she does a rendition of Joni Mitchell's 'A Case of You' that is almost better than the original and definitely better than any other cover I've heard. We also played 'Under the Milky Way Tonight' by the Church in honour of Jimmy Little, who'd died that day (or the day before?).

Tuesday I spent some time with a cousin of BB's, down for the Renaissance exhibition and when I dropped her at the bus back to Sydney, I kept going in to the uni and caught up with a dear friend to talk about life, the universe, and doing some work together. We had lunch and started talking about things that got very intense, and I finished by suggesting that we just drop everything for a few hours and go to the uni bar and play some pool. We giggled like schoolchildren as we played, completely invisible to the 20-somethings playing around us, except for the moment when T, a pool shark in her youth, got up on the table to do a particularly impressive backwards shot. That got their attention. It was tremendous fun and I went home afterwards feeling quite revived.


BB's lovely cousin took this photo of Padge.

So here I am, sitting in a quiet moment, ready to get back into the action again. More printing, some Folk Festivalling on Friday and then I'm going to the Blue Mountains for two days to celebrate a 50th birthday and to meet Dr Sister Outlaw's new kitten. I'm looking forward to Monday, pure sleep-in time, and maybe a movie date with my nice cooking man. Did I tell you that while Angela and I were printing, he was in the kitchen making cake, fig & pear paste, something else that I forget and spaghetti for dinner? My, this house buzzed last weekend.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Living in a Material World

Today is installation day for Material World, the show for which I've been preparing work. The exhibition is by a group of artists making site-specific installation works that explore environmentalism through the use of recycled and found materials. My work is using a mass of books donated to me by the Lifeline Book Fair, the books that they just can't sell to anyone despite their best efforts. As you would imagine, a lot of these are Readers Digests (many have never been opened and read) but many are by very famous and popular authors.

Here's a shot of the process of putting the books up into the central girder of the gallery. I was worried that the various things I've been playing with would get a bit lost so high up, but now that the work exists in entirety, I'm very happy. It has a few layers: there's the instant 'oh, books in a girder, that's cool' effect, and then there are lots of little things happening to amuse and interest people stopping to have a harder look.

The title of the work is 'Shelf Life'. The premise is a work about books that are unloved and left unnoticed and untouched for long periods of time. It's very whimsical and at one point a little bit creepy, which is something I love in other people's art, so I'm glad when I can make it happen too.

It's also such a rich idea that I've decided to use the books afterwards for a series of photos. I've taken some practice versions with my dodgy digicam, but I'll do them properly later.

Shelf Life (Practice)

Shelf Life (Crisis)

O wot fun.

The exhibition opens tomorrow (Wednesday 28 March) at 12pm, but the formal opening event is on Saturday at 6pm, in conjunction with Earth Hour. There will be artist's talks, food, music, fun. At 7.30pm they will switch off all the lights, and there will be candles and fires and more music and food. It should be wonderful, and you're ALL welcome.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Getting around to doing

Do you remember my open letter to Jemal Sharah, asking permission to print her poem, 'Revelation'? It took me ages to track her down and then I submitted my broadside idea to the Print Council of Australia's Commissioned Prints scheme. It wasn't selected, for various reasons, one of which I think is that letterpress isn't really considered printmaking, even though it's been printed in the same way that a print is. *sigh* No matter, no grudges, especially because since then I've become a member of the PCA's board, and they are all lovely, lovely people.

The broadside proof -- here it is

-- sat around for a while, and I'd look at it and think 'I have to get on to that'. Then I printed all the text, and shifted the colour, which was originally a deep blue-black to a colder blue-grey. I did that late last year, and then all I needed to do was the image circle on top of the embossed text.

But sometimes you don't feel like doing the thing that you have to do. Every few days I would freshen up my never-ending To-Do list and every time the list would be topped with 'Finish Revelation'. It would just sit there, staring at me accusingly.

On Sunday, I woke up and thought: today's the day. No particular reason, just a weird surge in confidence like someone had just handed me a Dumbo feather in my sleep. I got up, went down to the studio, and finished the print. My hands didn't tremble, my confidence didn't fail me. Here's a little photo-essay:

Oh, the relief. It's a weight off my mind, and of course once it was done I was mentally whipping myself for not having done it sooner. I mean, the colophon on the bottom says 2011. But... but, things that you do with your hands and your heart and your eye aren't always things that flow, and I honestly think that if I'd forced myself, I would have botched part of the edition. Tomorrow I will count the prints and check for mistakes and sign and emboss them with my chop, but I'm certain that there are very few dodgy ones. Yay.

Also, for those who are interested, my lovely son has started his own blog. I heart the URL, which he entered in frustration as Blogger rejected all of his earlier suggestions, and now he's stuck with it, LOL. I have to restrain myself from going in & correcting his spelling mistakes and grammar; it's a hard habit to break, but I know that this is a little snapshot of him at this age and therefore very precious.

Finally, Padge, looking vaguely peaceful in his new fez, bought from here. He actually hates wearing it, but that's no reason to stop putting it on his head.

Friday, March 16, 2012


I don't know if you have been following the kerfuffle over Doonesbury and the anti-abortion campaigning in Texas, but it's ramping up, daily.

Here's the link to the start of the Doonesbury strips. They're still in play, and of course a day behind us, so the last one (he usually works in weekly sequences) is yet to be released.

Here's a link to a bunch of photos that I keep turning to that helps me feel better, because young people are fighting back. It's good to know that even if they think feminism is a dirty, hairy word, many young women (and men) still want to fight the good fight in their own way, and all hail to them.

It doesn't matter which side of the fence you stand on with this issue, the crux of it is CHOICE. If you think someone should/will go to hell for their choice, that's your decision, but it's still their choice, so please let them make it.

I know this looks like an American fight, but government intervention in issues of the body happens all the time in Australia, in many ways. There are often one or two people outside the ACT Health Dept picketing against abortion. It seems to be members of one family. It's sad, the woman always looks so grim. I wonder what her story is, but I'm too scared to approach, which is My Bad.

Anyhoo, have a nice day y'all.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dawn, in full glory

I just received an e-newsletter from the National Library of Australia which among other things announced that they now have a full archive of the Dawn newspaper digitised and freely accessible. You can even download it as PDF files. Slightly after International Women's day, but in the same month, so HUZZAR!

I have a casual interest in Dawn, mainly because of its printing history. It was the first Australian paper written totally for women, by women, established by Louisa Lawson, who also happened to be Henry Lawson's mother (and so much more than that).

If you want a really good read about Louisa, find a copy of Pat Clarke's Pen Portraits (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1988). It's well out of print, but I'm sure there are secondhand copies to be found, and good libraries should have it. There are chapters on all sorts of women of the pen, and a very good chapter on Louisa.

Here's my favorite part:

The production of the paper was a saga in itself. Years later Louisa Lawson described how she got a printing machine* and some type and with her female employees started to print a paper:

"How did we learn to set type and lock up formes**? Goodness knows! Just worked at it till we puzzled it out! And how the men used to come and patronise us, and try to get something out of us! I remember one day a man from the CHRISTIAN WORLD came around to borrow a block -- a picture. I wouldn't lend it to him; I said we had paid a pound for it, and couldn't afford to go and buy blocks for other papers. Then he stood by the stone*** and sneered at the girls locking up the formes. We were just going to press, and you know how locking up isn't always an easy matter -- particularly for new chums like we were.
Well, he stood there and said nasty things, and poor Miss Greig -- she's my forewoman -- and the girls, they got as white as chalk; the tears were in their eyes. I asked him three times to go, and he wouldn't, so I took a watering pot full of water that we had for sweeping the floor, and I let him have it."****

Two weeks after founding the Dawn, she decided that there was nothing peculiarly masculine about the skill involved in typesetting so she sacked her two male employees and employed girls for this work also. [p. 164]

Of course, the trade unions balked at this, and there were campaigns mounted to boycott the paper and its advertisers. Louisa Lawson fought back as hard as she could, but the fact that she wholeheartedly supported trade unionism made it a tricky process. She exhorted her readers to support unionism and also to support her advertisers so that they wouldn't stop supporting the paper. BOOYA! In Pat Clarke's words, "All this provided the Dawn with great copy" and the paper lasted seventeen years.

One of my academic friends, Paul Eggert, once showed me one of Louisa's side projects, a volume of Henry's poetry printed very early in his -- and her -- career. It was dreadfully printed, with the quality of the printing varying from too heavy to so light that lots of letters were missing. Paul asked my opinion as a printer, and what I could remember of my readings about Louisa seemed to bear out in this physical evidence: that when she started her press, she went around to other printers and asked them for contributions of type and other bits & pieces. They obviously gave her their oldest and most worn typefaces, not taking her seriously.

She showed them, didn't she?

* I guess she means 'a press'
** Not a big stone, but a metal-slab-topped table that was used as the place to put your type as you lock it up. Also called a 'printer's stone'.
*** The forme is the complete type set-up blocked into a chase (metal frame) with metal or wooden furniture and locked up with quoins, ready to put on the press to print.
**** Good for her.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Time and concentration in Melbourne

Phew, it took me three full days to start feeling 'normal' again after my Melbourne trip. So tired! And a weird fuzziness like I'd had a migraine, without the migraine. Maybe I do have something lurking in my system, or maybe I'm getting old and just pushed myself too hard after the gastro. Either way, ageing sucks, doesn't it?

Anyway, I spent those three days submerged in Lev Grossman's The Magicians and The Magician King (not finished that one yet). AWESOME! Hipsters with magic using heavy and playful references to Narnia, Potter, Earthsea, LOTR, and other fantasy novels. Fabulous way to flop around.

So: Melbourne. I'm off the tram (obviously), had a lovely time. I always wish I could split myself into parts when I'm travelling on public transport in Melbourne, so that I could jump off at different spots and do all the things I see, and then meet up that evening and compare notes. It didn't help that it was Moomba weekend, lots going on between Carlton and St Kilda on that particular trip.

Adventure and Art was a fantastic afternoon, organised by the Baillieu Library's Susan Millard and her team. The exhibition lingers until May, so do go and have a look if you're hanging around the Uni of Melbourne. You won't see any of my work in the exhibition; in fact the only woman in the show is (rightfully, if there had to only be one) Carolyn Fraser of Idlewild Press. A shame, but there you go. As compensation, I suspect, I was given a whole half an hour to talk about myself, how I got into printing, and how the fine press book fits into all of my other activities, such as teaching book arts, etc.

I managed to fill the time easily, talking about my Summer School class and the various reasons why people, in my experience, want to play with letterpress these days. I also talked about my journey into printing, which gave me the chance to sing the praises of Alec Bolton (Brindabella Press) and Petr Herel (Graphic Investigations Workshop, Canberra School of Art) and talk about the way one was a fine printer who focused on Australian art & writing and the other was an artist who taught fine printing in his curriculum. Alec, unfortunately, is dead, but Petr is very much alive and was in the audience and was very happy to be remembered.

As far as the last bit goes, I unpacked the 'etc' a bit and bluntly stated that for most people (including me for the last few years) the fine press book doesn't fit into their activities, because fine printing in book form takes time and concentration, which is a luxury in a working life, and this is why I've been printing broadsides and making less intense books. While I was saying these things, though, I walked them through the pages of the one fine press book I've made that I really, really love (because it was totally mine to design and produce, without outside pressures): Transmigration.

It seemed to go down well. Peter Vangioni from the Kowhai Press in Christchurch was the only other speaker with 30 minutes up his sleeve, and he said wonderful things and tragic things about being a printer, and being a printer and gallery curator in an earthquake zone.

There was also a panel made up of Carolyn Fraser, Andrew Schuller and Alan Loney. I'd been to visit Carolyn and her studio that morning, and we'd had a fantastic catch-up, talking about life, the universe and letterpress. When she stood up and gave her ten minute's worth of opinion, it was sharp and pointy and dense with things that I hope the audience took away to mull over and digest, including the notion that Melbourne needs a public access printing space, based on the model of the NY Centre for the book. Not like the Melbourne Museum of Printing, where the facilities are barely held together with string and chewing gum, but a solid, well-organised, supported space where people can do courses to gain competency and then can use the space on a time-share basis to produce their own work. Come to think of it, we have a role model in Australia already : Megalo, here in Canberra. So let's get that thought in action: Melbourne Centre for Printing & the Book (or something like). Pity the Wheeler Centre missed the ball in that respect.

Andrew, an ex-Oxford University Press man, discussed the blurred margins of fine press printing: that it's hard to distinguish is something is finely printed as a fine press book or as an artist's book, but it's easy to tell when something isn't. And perhaps that's the only distinction that should be made? Why do we need lines drawn in sand? The artists in the room nodded.

Alan is the curator of the show, a master printer in his own right, and one who is unashamed of drawing those lines, even though many of his own poems have been finely printed as artists' books by other people. He spoke eloquently about his passion for the craft and his hopes for its future.

Afterwards there was time to look at the books, complete with nibbles and drinks before the next batch of words, speeches by Andrew and Alan again (but not repetitive, which was lovely). I got the chance to talk to many, many people about many, many things, and I'm sure a lot of it will return to me in time.

After that those who spoke or organised had dinner together at University House in an amazing room:

Surrounded by faces like these in the wall panels:

Aren't they beautiful? Apparently some man skinned his room in Paris & brought it all over to Australia, where it now resides in this room. Amazing. I should be able give you more details, we were all talking about it, but by that part of the day I wasn't really able to hold any more information. I do know that Peter V and I were sitting with our backs to a Breughel painting, which blew him away. He kept turning around and exclaiming. I was watching the faces, there were a lot of them.

Other things I did during my stay: I spent just under 3 hours with the work of William Kentridge, which was stupendous. I was there on the first morning of the exhibition, so I was maybe the 50th person in? I know that I was never in any room with more than 4 people, and most-times I was by myself in a space, and I know that will never happen again in the run of the exhibition.

I also, on the way to the airport on Saturday, spent time in the State Library's new show, Love & Devotion: From Persia and Beyond, an exhibition of Persian illuminated books and Persian-influenced books sourced from the Bodleian Library and the SLV. It is stunning, absolutely sumptuous.

So now it's (slowly) back to the grind, getting Material World together and making some books. Time and concentration, that's what it's all about.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I am sitting on a tram in Melbourne, going from Carlton to St Kilda, about to stuff as much as I can into today before flying back to Canberra tonight.

I've been here since Thursday -- I almost didn't make it thanks to an intense and horrible bout of gastro that hit me on Monday night. Luckily my system is pretty robust, and it was the 24-hour variety, but I'm still not totally well, probably because I've been pushing my body to get here & participate fully.

I'm here for Adventure & Art, which is not a fist-pumping resolution but an exhibition of fine press books at Melbourne Uni's Ballieu Library, whose opening last night was accompanied by a half-day symposium at which I spoke.

It was fantastic. There was a room packed with the most amazing people: artists, printers, binders, academics, poets, collectors, librarians, and more, and most of them combined many of those roles.

I will write more about it when I am not rocking around on the tram; I am almost at my destination!

Hope you are all well!
(*waves at Tanya*)

Friday, March 02, 2012

altering attitudes about (e)books

I am participating in a group exhibition of site-specific work at the end of this month. It's called Material World, and we've all chosen a part of the ANCA gallery to play with.

I chose one of the girders in the ceiling, partly because I like the thought of making people look up away from the 'normal' eyeline of hung art and partly because they've always made me think of bookshelves. You can never have enough bookshelves in a space.

So I'm making an installation of altered books, literally altered to fit the space. I haven't planned all the details of the installation yet, because it's evolving as the date gets closer and I collect the materials.

This is the exciting thing about site-specific work for me. It's made, as the genre suggests, to fit that space only, and that space has very specific needs. For example, there are three girders in the main space, and they are all different lengths thanks to the shape of the gallery. They all have a lighting rack intersecting them about one metre in from each side. So what I put in one girder wouldn't fit in either of the other girders unless I change the work.

Today I drove (through the rain) to the Lifeline Book Fair Depot to meet up with Cedric Bear (best name ever!!!), a very nice man who is also a member of the Canberra Bookbinders. I had previously flagged with him the possibility of my needing over five metres of hardbacks that I could cut up, and he was happy to donate them, especially if they were books that they just can't shift at the twice-yearly fairs.

This is what I ended up with:

Boxes and boxes of hardback books by writers like Bryce Courtenay, Wilbur Smith, John Grisham, Stephen King, and myriad Reader's Digest volumes, both old and new.

Cedric didn't have to rummage around to find these particular boxes, and the volunteers packing my car offered me more, and said that I could go back & get more if I find I need them. What I took didn't make a dent in the depot's store of these books, and I've seen their shrink-wrapped pallets of the same hardbacks, in multiples of multiples.


It's not that the writers are {ahem} bad, it's that people will buy themselves these huge, badly-produced, cheap-papered volumes, read them once, maybe lend them to a friend, and then throw them away. Or in this case, donate them to Lifeline. Who have gazillions of them. Go into any secondhand bookshop, they have shelves of the buggers. Who wants them? No-one, they've already read them. And these kinds of readers want them to be new/fresh/free of germs/whatever.

If this is a description of your nana/pop/dad/aunt/uncle/friend, BUY THEM A KINDLE. All these books are available as e-texts, and e-readers can be made into large print books. Think of the number of trees we will save!

I've always thought that e-books will not kill books in general, they will just winnow through the chaff and allow good books to be produced well and collected by those who love the form. These crappy books are not loveable, they are the equivalent of Happy Meals with Toys. Don't buy them.

I'm going to have fun with these books. I won't know what I'll do until I go through them and talk to them and think about what they want to, and how they will interact with each other.

So thank you, Lifeline peoples. You rock. I'll make sure you get an invitation to the opening and an acknowledgement for your donation to my work. I'm looking forward to everything about the exhibition except the bit where I have to climb a ladder to install my work. I hate climbing ladders!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

A taste of today

The universe decreed that it was my day for Minding Other People's Children. I did a morning stint of emergency babysitting of sick children, and an evening stint of babysitting some non-sick children at very short notice for a very good reason. I was very proud of myself for the way I got the latter children to bed with only a few gales of tears on their part. It's much easier when they aren't your kids.

In between stints, I planned a small book and did some test prints on the paper I want to use.

Looking at that picture, I can go to bed happy.