The cats are away, the mice will play

Not only are the rodents running amok, darling daughter and dearest husband are away at the moment, leaving me on my ownsome for a week or so. Husband currently has three jobs: one in the UK, one in Perth and one in Noosa! Luckily the requirements of each make having three jobs possible, and he’s able to work at home some of the time, but after his pre-Christmas trip to the UK and then Perth, he’s currently in Perth again and has been working for his UK client in his hotel room this weekend. He can’t wait to get home on Wednesday, picking up darling daughter on his way through Sydney, and I must say that I’ll be glad to see them too.

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Meanwhile I’ve been very diligent, leaving the house at 07:30am to get to TAFE before 8am, working until late afternoon, coming home and sorting out the chickens, cleaning or whatever else needs doing, and then repairing to the studio for a few hours of late evening art-making.

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Things are coming along slowly, as you can see.  I’m trying to work on the local landscape – here is where I am, after all, and there’s something meaningful to me in starting with what is closest to me and moving slowly outwards.  I think it reflects how I make sense of the world: I start with what I know and try to thread my way along a path away from what is familiar into the unknown.  It’s not exactly revolutionary as working methods go, but I feel a need to be explicit about it in my work for a change.  I don’t quite know where the desire to focus on the view out of my studio window has come from, but it is tugging at me forcefully at the moment, insisting that I look at it carefully and thoroughly before I move on to anything else.

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A friend, Jo, came and played yesterday.  She’s done a bit of printmaking before but not aquatint and since I haven’t been brave enough to do any aquatinting since 2008 it was fun to pull everything out and have another go!  I have a proper aquatint box down in the shed but it hasn’t seen active service since it was cleaned out in preparation for it’s sea trip to Australia back in 2006… instead I’ve been doing it by hand, using powdered rosin in a shaker covered with a double layer of muslin – and my P3 face mask, of course.  Yesterday I checked my blow-torch and we rigged up a hanging system inside the studio (out of the breeze) so that I could fuse the powder to the plate.  Our usual ingenuity made up for the lack of proper equipment: we strung an Ocky strap(a bungee strap, as I would call it, remembering using them to strap my weekend gear to the back of my motorbike many years ago!) between a bookcase and a storage unit (tied at one end with a skipping rope…) and slung two wire coat hangers supporting a baking rack off the strap.  This did excellent service and I was able to blow-torch the rosin on to the plate.  This morning I did my first spit bite and then etched, stopped out and etched the plate again until I felt I should print it this afternoon.

Just before Christmas I bought some Akua water-based intaglio inks and today was the first time I used them for anything other than monotypes.  I’d always been sniffy about water-based inks, believing that the oil-based inks I was taught with are intrinsically better.  I’m not sure if I’ve changed my mind yet, but after borrowing Brigitte’s water-based relief printing inks in Venice and discovering how easy they are to clean up I was keen to try for myself in a different context.  Inking up my half-finished aquatint plate I found the fluidity of the ink quite disconcerting.  None of the effort of wiping with oil-based inks was necessary, but I also felt I wasn’t able to manipulate the plate tone in the way I like.  Stanley Hayter said something about it being better to have the tonal qualities of your image etched onto the plate rather than having to set up the plate tone print by print, but that’s the way I’ve always done it.  I find the resulting image a bit flat – but of course that may be down to the image rather than the ink!  Anyway, I re-inked the plate using my oil-based inks and wasn’t any happier with the print.  It needs re-aquatinting, more spit biting  and some drypoint marks before I’ll be happy to print it again, but it’s coming…


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