Stage 2: Elian and the Vortex

Plate 2:

Solar Plate

This plate will be printed underneath the previous zinc plate.  That was made first to enable me to assess correct placement of the components that will be etched into this layer.

running-away-72-x-175The aim is to have Elian running towards a vortex, so the plate will show his back view.  I tried drawing him in various positions, quickly realised that my artistry wasn’t up to the challenge, so I downloaded some pictures from the net.

Drawing isn’t my number one skill, so to help me understand how to portray movement I first traced the outline of my internet photo.  This enabled my hand and eye to concentrate on the detail of the shape, the angles of legs and arms when running, the movement of clothing and creasing.  I find this a great learning exercise.  After this I copied my tracing by hand and added detail.  The outcome wasn’t too bad, and usable.v6

I placed him and the vortex onto several photocopies of the first plate to get correct sizing and placement.  Happy with the result shown here because, even in black and white, it has some depth.  I’ve successfully started to create back, mid and foreground.

The next step was to isolate the imagery, draw it very accurately, with all detail, on to clean white paper and then transfer to acetate.

Due to time constraints, the hazard of too much sunlight on my solar plate and the process of washing the plate after exposure I was unable to photograph the process of etching the plate (my hands and mind were otherwise very occupied!).

solar-plate-exampleHere’s a quick rundown of how it works and a sample etched plate to the left:

  • The solar plate is made in two parts.  The underside is a very thin sheet of steel.  On top of this is fused a photosensitive polymer with a clean plastic coating for protection.  The plate is kept in the dark until ready for use.
  • Imagery is transferred to acetate ready for etching. Highly contrasting (light/dark) images work well and extensive detail can be achieved.
  • The clear film is removed from the polymer plate and the acetate is set in place.  The acetate is first lightly coated with talcum powder to avoid it sticking.  This is ‘sandwiched’ and clamped between sheets of glass to remain stable.
  • The whole sandwich is placed under a UV light in an enclosed area – a tented box shape works well – but beware of the heat!
  • Depending on the image type and the depth of etching required the plate is left for a fixed amount of time.  In my case, 3 1/2 minutes.
  • If required, an aquatint sheet (aka solar plate screen) can be put over the sandwich for a further 3 1/2 minutes etching.  Note: the use of these sheets will be further explained in detail in a later post as it can be rather involved.
  • I used the aquatint sheet, then removed the sandwich from the light and separated the components.
  • The plate was then rinsed in a warm water bath for 5 minutes, lightly brushing with cotton wool.  It was dried with a hairdryer (to avoid water drops remaining), and cured in the sun before use.

Note: There are some variables in this type of etching and it can be done by leaving the plates to etch in the sun instead of using a UV light.  Some of the details of how and why the plates etch will be explained in future posts.

Preparing the plate the way I did – using the aquatint sheet for the second part of the etching – ensured that my plate ‘grabbed’ the ink right across the surface very easily.  So my results, I feel, are quite dramatic.

v7v8It was then time for one last trial.

Could I add colour to selected areas only without getting a sharp outline to the inked sections?  Could I blend my colours out to nothing across the plate?

And here it is.  A great plate.  The imagery I wanted and good colour placement.

Now all I have to do is prepare both plates, get the chine collé ready and register them exactly.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

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Stage 1: Elian and the Vortex

Plate 1:

Zinc plate, hard-ground etched from pencil transfer drawing.

My start point for this project was a bunch of native flowers given to me by my husband, and some plants I recently photographed whilst out walking..  Australian natives are weird and wonderful and often produce amazing pods and seeds.

v1I’d been mulling this project over for a while and had a fairly good idea of what I was aiming for so I started some random drawing.

v2Once I had the final design traced to size it was time for the hard-ground etching process as previously described in my posts of 4 Sept and 18 Sept.

The acid/water solution used to bite into the zinc plates loses its effectiveness over time.  It can ‘run out of power’ so to speak.  My plate was in and out of the bath (checking for bite) over a period of around 30 minutes but still didn’t give me the etching I needed.  This acid bath had been used and used by others until it was exhausted.  So a new solution was mixed, the plate was immersed and, using a feather to lightly brush away any air bubbles, I could see the process quickly taking effect.

v3Above left: the tracing in reverse, ready to be applied to the hard-ground wax before etching. Right: the first proof print.

The bloom section of the design is loosely based on the orange/red Leucospermum flower shown at the top of this post.  The fronds, made from bones, provide a variety of scale, whilst maintaining the elongated close-up feel needed to unify the composition.  It was important to keep in mind that this will eventually be the second plate to be printed, being the foreground, as Elian and the vortex will sit in the background creating depth and distance.

Chine Collé was applied.  In my mind I visualised yellow plants but thought pale blue may go with the deep green linework and background.  I also cut a pink set but decided against it.

v4Above left: Unryu paper with an inclusion.  Too bright and uneven looking. Middle: A type of Japanese washi tissue paper.  Very effective but creates a cool tone to the piece.  Not what I’m aiming for. Right: The same washi tissue paper in pale yellow with an excellent outcome.

The final print for this stage of the project:


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Elian and his world of fantasy

(aka The Boy and his Dream)


Elian, c. 2005

Elian and I first became acquainted in 2005 when I created him as a forest elf for a promotional piece of wall-art for a ‘fictitious’ children’s book – part of my Visual Arts Diploma work at the time.

Whilst I squirm slightly now at the work I produced at the time (although I passed the course with the school Award for Excellence) I realise that we all have to go through various stages to progress and find a creative path to follow.

Note: If only I knew 30 years ago how much I was going to fall in love with printmaking (which I only discovered about 3 years ago) I would be so much further down this road now.  On the up-side, I still have masses to explore and plenty of time.

Elian has always remained in my thoughts and as an avid reader, an ex-modelmaker and a lover of fantasy it is time to resurrect him.

In this incarnation he is a young boy, around 8 years old, living close to the edge of a forest with his parents.  As a loner and dreamer he weaves his adventures, imagines impossible scenarios and relishes the close escapes from ‘danger’ he creates in his dreams and forest wanderings.

Elian will be appearing in a series of prints, using numerous techniques.  Sometimes there may be a short narrative, sometimes not.  The viewer will be left to interpret the images as they wish and put together their own story to explain the predicaments in which Elian finds himself.

I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I, while these art pieces emerge and evolve as they will.

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Angus Fisher: Fine Artist & Printmaker

I first came across Angus Fisher through the National Art School website and was enthralled when I followed their links and came to his website and youtube channel.

Having recently completed a basic hard ground etched design myself, I sat, mouth agape, watching his video Copper Plate Etching ‘The Pied Cormorant’.  So impressed am I by the detail and progression of the piece, the later hand-colouring and the design and composition that I’m showcasing it on my site for the enjoyment of my printmaker followers.  It runs for a little over 9 minutes (which is a problem for modern youth who seem to have an attention span of about a nano-second) and  covers conception through to finished art work.  Enjoy!

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Exhibition Review: Ebb and Flow

This is the second year the group Untethered have exhibited together.  The group has lost a few members since their last showing and now has 23 active contributors who are producing quality art pieces

From my personal point of view, comparing their 2015 exhibition ‘Out of Hand’ against this year ‘Ebb and Flow’ I feel the group has become more cohesive over the last 12 months.  I understand that they run a private on-line group where they discuss work progress, critique, encourage and provide a supportive foundation for each other.  In my opinion this has enabled many of them to evolve their art practice and produce new pieces with a more professional outcome.

Whilst I believe art, in whatever medium, is a very personal thing there is something to be said for exhibited pieces being attractive/appealing to the public viewing them.  They may evoke any of a range of emotions or visual sensations but achieving some reaction has to be a consideration.  Many of the works have personal messages or social comments attached to them which comes through strongly in some cases.

Below I’m showcasing a few pieces that particularly drew my eye – for whatever reason:

Robyn McGrath

Fortune, Sculpture: Drill cores, cylindrical pieces, 8-10cm diameter, max 52cm (h). Hand-dyed & commercial fabrics, machine stitching & quilting, hand embroidery.

Fortune, Sculpture: Drill cores, cylindrical pieces, 8-10cm diameter, max 52cm (h).
Hand-dyed & commercial fabrics, machine stitching & quilting, hand embroidery.

This piece considers how the ebb and flow of water may bring fortune, good or bad and especially references the people of inland Australia and the drilling of bore holes that some rely on.

Fiona Hammond


Left – Faded Glories: The Ebbing of Ancient Archaeological Wonders
Tapestry wool, cotton covered rope, metal rings,coiling, blanket stitch
Right – Alternate Viewpoints
Photographic prints, collage, stitch, tapestry wool, art paper

Artist statement (in part): I have long been fascinated by what I perceive as the mystery, beauty and sadness of ruined structures from antiquity. This work gives form to these emotional responses and ruminations on this subject.

Samantha Tannous


Bush Rhythm, 15cm – 22cm(w) x 70cm – 100cm (h)
Wet felted merino, Corriedale fleece, silk tops

Artist statement (in full):

When we think of ‘ebb and flow’ it’s easy to be lulled by the idea of a gentle rhythm, the breath of life.  But while this is sustaining, the extremes of the ebb and flow are sometimes required for rebirth and creation.

The Australian bush is a great example, needing the extremes of heat and fire to off new seeds, to germinate new plants and stimulate new growth.

As humans, we try to avoid extreme situations, but often it’s when we are faced with the catastrophic that we grow, we create.  We dig deep and rise to the occasion.  Like the bush, we can grow from unexpected places: perhaps we regenerate through our root system, or sprout again from our ravaged bark.

Growing up in Sydney’s south, I witnessed catastrophic bush fires and miraculous regeneration up close.  The colours – the stark black trees that are gradually cloaked in green, the charred seed pods opened to reveal bright ochres and rusts, the subtle pinks and oranges and lilacs and limes of fresh young eucalyptus leaves – are uniquely Australian and part of our identity.


I was impressed with many of the artworks and pleased that visitors were allowed to take photographs.  I don’t want to copy any of these above, or the others I saw, but I’d like to be reminded of them, their creators (most of whom I know) and their stories/journeys.

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Out for a walk: Treasures discovered

sl1Every day I brave the bush, climb up and down a rope, navigate fallen trees and boulders and try to avoid being attacked by snakes, water monitors, other people’s dogs and, mostly, mosquitos!  What for?  Well, to ensure my dogs get the best walk they can, of course.

We traipse around for about an hour or more.  They run back and forth, sniffing and snuffling, I stride along thinking about work issues, print concepts, jobs to be done, drawing ideas (that usually don’t materialise!) and what’s for dinner.  It’s my quiet time, a time to chill and regain my equilibrium.

sl2I’m currently mulling over a new series of work, some of which has been started but most of which is still in my head.  It involves a dream, a dream of fantasy plants, trees and lands, a dream of strange creatures and mysterious scenes.

My daily walk provides much stimulation and as I closely observe my surroundings I’m reminded how lucky I am to live here.  The abundance of colour, texture and shape along with huge skies, skittering clouds and birds on every branch singing their own unique songs.


Under the overhang of a wind-hollowed rock I came upon this

Our bushrock steps leading down to the trails

Our bushrock steps leading down to the trails

The beauty of our state emblem, the Waratah

The beauty of our state emblem, the Waratah

Because of the heat in Australia most plants have small leaves. as they try to avoid becoming fried by the harsh summer sun.

My photo folders hold a great many images but there’s a definite pattern coming through over the last few years: lots of flowers, a huge amount of water shots, close-up images of tree bark and many, many photos of algae.  I love algae!

My next step is to consider how some of these items can be simplified (to allow for my lack of drawing skills) and be incorporated into my prints, either as recognisable items or not.

I’m big on stylisation and imagination, so let’s see where I can go using my photos as inspiration for my art.

This fern has leaves like split corrugated iron

This fern has leaves like split corrugated iron

I couldn't resist snapping the kangaroo having a sneaky peek at me!

I couldn’t resist snapping the kangaroo having a sneaky peek at me!

sl8Today, amongst the ground debris I spied a clump of rotting leaves.  Returning home, I cleaned them with a soft brush and laid them out to see what I’d found.



Some rather wonderful skeletonised leaves.

I’m wondering if they should be treated in some way to preserve them so I did a google search.  It doesn’t look like it and I hope to add them into my prints.  I did, however, come across a very interesting site detailing how to make your own skeletonised leaves using a variety of fresh leaves.  Click here to see the process yourself.  I think it looks fascinating and definitely worth trying.

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Silk painting: Experimentation

This is something that I have no experience of and, I feel, no real affinity for.  However, someone very kindly ‘donated’ a starter kit for me to play with.  I rang my friend Nola to see if she wanted to have a day of messing about with silk paints, only to find she also had a small stash of relevant goodies to add to the mix.

Seemed like it might be fun – little did I know!

sp1On arrival I found Nola very enthusiastic, very organised and with a supply of silk scarves to keep us going, but better yet with a fabulous gadget I’d not come across before.  For those of you already proficient at hand painting/dyeing long scarves you will probably be aware of this super framing system.  The four struts are fully adjustable, meaning that whatever large piece of silk you want to work on can be accommodated, whether it be long and narrow, square or rectangular.  I’m guessing that you could even remove one strut and make it into a triangular shape.  How cool is that?

My impression is that the struts are purchased in pairs, similar to painters stretcher frames, so you can choose the lengths that most suit your work.  sp2There is a system of small very fine hooks attached to elastic bands which are placed around the frame and carefully pushed through the silk to hold it firm whilst working.

It takes a bit of time to get the scarf in place, and would probably be harder if you were working alone, but once I got the hang of it we moved along quite quickly.

Sorting through our materials we decided to melt some crackle wax and apply it to the fabric.  Neither of us ever having done this before, we weren’t sure how it was supposed to crackle and how thickly to apply it.  Anyhow, we heated and painted, then heated and painted, until we got a grid drawn on each end of the scarf.  We then tried crumpling up the area to get cracks.  It was fun and a bit random, so we then drew some swirls in the spaces.

Nothing like attacking a creative project with absolutely no pre-planning whatsoever.  So unlike me!

sp3We had some clear wax (not the crackle type) so we drew some resist marks along the length and then started painting.

sp4You can see where the paints sit on top of the wax resist.  We spent some time painting this area so the colours would, hopefully, filter through the cracks and give a pattern.

sp5Here is the finished scarf after drying and ironing away all the wax resists.

Overall it’s not bad for a first go and the colour scheme is quite good.  However, the silk has lost some of its floaty quality and stiffened up a little.  I’m guessing that the ironing, which both sets the colours and removes the wax, isn’t sufficient to really take 100% of the wax out.  So I need to wash it a few times to try to soften it.  Obviously this can’t be put in water that is too hot, being silk, but I’m hoping that any residual wax will be removed and it will return to its original state.

We then set-up a scarf that had been previously dyed.  Nola wasn’t happy with it and wanted to add patterning and more colour.  She randomly painted on huge swathes of hot wax and then delicately applied a gold gutta in squiggles.  It took a bit of trial and error to get fine lines but the effects were looking pretty good.

sp6It takes quite a while for the gutta to fully dry, about 24 hours I think, so we couldn’t work any further on this one.  We left it on the frame and put it in the sun to dry.  I haven’t seen the final outcome and need to get a picture to see how it came out.

sp7Still with a bit of time before I had to leave, we laid a scarf out on clingfilm, dampened it with a water spray and started adding colours and encouraging them to mix.  The length was then scattered with rock salt, and some finer sea salt.  I drew some noughts and crosses on the ends to see what would happen.  Of course, without a wax resist they just expand and become very ‘blobby’ – not great, but we were just playing.

More clingfilm was put over the top and the whole thing was tightly rolled, for me to get it home.  Once there, I laid it flat for a couple of day, until dry and the salt had soaked up some of the paint and created patterns.  It was truly a horror trying to brush the salt off at the end.  These items have to be ironed, using a cloth to protect them from the heat, to set the paints and I’m sure I’ve still got salt within the fibres.

So I’ve got to do another good long hot ironing to satisfy myself that the colours are permanent before I start massaging it in water to dissolve the remaining salt.

All up an interesting fun day but not something I want to pursue in any great length.  I prefer dyeing, probably natural dyeing, and printing rather than silk painting.  I find the colours a bit lairy and I definitely haven’t worked out any subtlety of application and colour.

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