Viscosity Workshop

Michael very kindly fascilitated my attendance at a workshop in Sydney last weekend, when I should really have been sharing the driving up to Brisbane to collect our son from University! Instead I had the luxury of driving to the local airport, parking in the secure car park (having learned from the painful experience of replacing the front door locks because they’d been broken by a screwdriver that parking in the ordinary car park has attendant security problems…), and catching a plane to Sydney, where I stayed with our friends Chris and Amy in their lovely new house for two nights!

Amy looked after my bag on Friday while I had a lovely day wandering around the Sydney Aquarium and the National Maritime Museum (which might prove a useful hunting ground for my PhD research on a future visit!). Why the aquarium? Well apart from the fact that I just love the fish, it was also interesting and a good discipline to sit and draw them. I’m not very good at seizing the opportunity to draw ‘outside’; in fact these days I tend only to draw for a purpose: sketches of our building plans and their relation to the geography of the house site, or explanations of things, or directions. I no longer put aside the time to sit and draw anything, and I must change that. And it is particularly good discipline – and it was a lot of fun – to draw moving things. I’m not keen on drawing people, perhaps because I’m usually far more interested in the backdrop. I can do it, but I don’t much enjoy it and it takes me ages to get a likeness. But give me horses or people moving around in the background, or fish, and I’m away… so I had a very happy couple of hours sitting down in small spaces so as not to inconvenience the other visitors, looking at beautiful fish. My output wasn’t huge, but it was SUCH FUN!

The main focus of my visit, though, was a workshop with Seraphina Martin on Viscosity Printmaking at Warringah Printmakers in Manly, north Sydney. It was such fun getting there! I love bus journeys (and train journeys) because of the different perspective you get, as opposed to sitting in a much lower, and more cramped, car. I love the pauses as the bus stops, and the flow of people on and off, and on a sunny day it was great meandering over the Harbour Bridge, up through North Sydney, down and over and up past The Spit and into Manly.

I’ve encountered Warringah Printmakers before: a year or so ago one of their committee, Jan Melville, proposed to Spike Island Printmakers in Bristol that the two studios should run an exchange exhibition as part of Warringah Printmakers’ 10th anniversary celebrations. Sadly I wasn’t at Spike for long enough to see the end results, which are currently on show in Sydney at a gallery that I couldn’t get to, but I gather it all went well. Anyway, having met Jan I sometimes browse the studio’s website, which is how I found details of the course.

I’ve actually been using Viscosity Printmaking techniques for several years, having acquired – through exposure to Martyn’s copy – Stanley Hayter’s seminal text. As an exceptionally creative printmaker he developed viscosity printmaking, and I now know from Seraphina that he also developed the soft ground that I am used to. Clever man! A chemist by training, I understand, which provides a partial explanation for his innovations.

I must say that I’m not a particular fan of the brightly coloured ‘1960’s’ style prints that are often the product of using Hayter’s techniques. I admire the technique and production skills, but the colours used are a long way from how I use colour in my own work, and I tend not to be so abstract, either. But it was fun to spend a day consolidating my skills, making notes about where I could improve my technique and exchanging ideas with other students that will probably find their way into new work – and that is what one wants of a workshop!

I also got a chance to make a solar plate because the copper plates I had brought with me weren’t really appropriate in subject matter for the kind of printing we were doing. Susan Baran, who runs the studio, kindly showed me how to make a photopolymer plate in record time using a Printite solar plate and an exposure unit. This was particularly interesting for me because just before I left for Sydney I’d put an order in to Melbourne Etching Supplies for some solar plates, having earlier acquired a book about solar plate etching. I’ve been inspired both by the imagery that I’ve seen exponents get into their prints – text and photographic images – and the apparent ease of the process. Up here in Coffs we get a lot of sunshine, and instead of using a professional exposure unit I should be able to use the midday sun to expose my solar plates and just wash them out in water. No nasty chemicals, no mess, no expensive equipment! So you can see that the opportunity to have a go during the workshop was serendipitous.

Seraphina’s an interesting person. She, too, has grappled with the demands of art versus the demands of a family and appears to make a reasonable living from her work: something I always admire. She’s done a lot of teaching and knows Coffs Harbour as she participates in Camp Creative in Bellingen each year, in January. Sadly I’ve missed the chance to do one of her workshops at Camp Creative next January as the places start filling up in May, and I’ve only just cottoned on… Maybe I’ll make it the following year! But the big draw for me in taking part in Seraphina’s Viscosity Printing workshop this time is that she went to Paris in the mid-80’s, when Hayter was an old man, and worked with him in his studio. How fascinating! So she learned her skills from the master, and it was great that she was able to pass them on to us.

After a weekend away I came back to Coffs Harbour feeling refreshed, and looking forward to getting my studio set up at home again, for the first time since we moved here, and to starting work. I have lots of ideas and once I’ve got printing the Christmas cards out of the way I’ll get moving! Watch this space.

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