Friday, 7 November 2014

blog hop international .....

I think it was my stomach, or at least my taste buds that first drew me into the world of Lisa McGarry from Arzigogolare.  Seriously, who could resist exploring a blog when the temptress offers up such enticing imagery.

That being said, it was not long before I realised how much I connected with all Lisa writes about and shares on her blog.  You should head there if you are not a fan already, and read what Lisa has written on her Blog Hop about her work and thought processes.  I certainly feel as though I have come to know her a little more after reading her story and I like to think that is the idea behind this project .... the ability to read what an artist says about himself or herself, how they see their work and where they are heading.  I believe that art stands quite strongly in its own right with no preconceptions or input from the creator, but there is also an added depth when you hear from the artist themselves.  This surely gives rise to another way of seeing or understanding, be it in their writing or their artwork.

Lisa has great talent in both areas and  it is a hard task to follow on this journey after her.  I confess that I am the stump at the end of this branch - having asked a number of other artists if they would be interested in participating in this blog hop and found no one to whom I could introduce you.  Had Lisa been less eloquent and not caught me on the run, I most likely would have declined her request as well though she did say that although she was reluctant to ask someone else for their time, it seemed worthwhile to consider these questions.  And I agree.

1.     What am I working on?

It is easy to sum this up by writing a list of projects already lined up for me in 2015.

       *   The Burn Book, which is the ninth collaborative book Fiona and I are making.  it is due for 
            completion by the end of January and though I have worked out what I am going to do, it is 
            not yet done, and I need to learn a technique of working with perspex before I can design it 

      *    I am working on three smallish artist's books for an Exhibition of book artists 4 x 4 - meaning 
            four from the Cairns area and four from the Brisbane/Sunshine Coast area.

      *    I hope to take part in a juried Exhibition of artists' books to be held in Manly, Sydney.

      *    As a participant in the Al Mutannabi Project 'Absence and Presence' I must work on an 
            etching which speaks of the bombing of the creative sector of Al Mutannabi Street in Iraq.  
            One image to make an impact.  That will be hard I think.  

      *    And the major focus for 2015 is a six week exhibition at Noosa Regional Gallery in 
            October/November where Fiona and I will be showing our collaborative work, and we will 
            each be showcasing our own work as well.

However this does not really answer the question at all.  This shows what I am working towards but the process of working towards these ideas, is what I am working on.  For the last year in particular I have been busy learning new techniques, making new marks and exploring different ways of making images because I am wanting to tell a rather long story.  The story of 'our place' - the land we live on, not the home, but all the other bits and pieces that are here on this ten acres, either naturally or introduced.  In order to tell this story over approximately 7 metres of work, I have needed to work out how to visually relate this story without too much repetition or overlap. I have already used many of these newly learnt techniques in artwork over the last year or so and I still have a way to go before I am confident I can tell this story.  I am making this for me, for us, though I will exhibit it at Noosa hopefully on the wall and also in a variation, a large book.  It is marvellous to have such an ambitious project to work with because in exploring methods for this book, I am realising that much of this new way of working will enable me to draw together a body of work that has been simmering away in the back (forward, back and forward again) of my mind and that is to do with 'my land'.  This series of works will be a direct response to the amazing trips arounds Australia, through deserts, seen from up high in planes or helicopters, which I have had with Steve over the last eight or nine years.  A long time brewing but I hope that I will be able to realise some of it for Noosa.

Above in the photo collage you will see a few snippets which represent the different ways I have been working and most of these I hope to develop further during the next year ..... this lifetime really.  I have always had a very dark and strong palette and of late have been moderating that.  I am not quite at the point of using colour in a dramatic way (though a part of me would like to introduce that for 'my land') but I have been consciously trying to develop a sense of transparency and lightness in my work.

For those of you who follow my blog it may be hard to believe but in the 80's, when I would have called myself a painter, I used a great deal of colour!

For the present I am completely drawn to the landscape but this was not always so.  I used to love drawing portraits and working with life models, and I used to paint lots of flowers and still life arrangements in my water colour days.  What the future holds, i am not sure.  Next year however I have my ideas about what I want to present at Noosa Regional Gallery, who knows where that will lead.  I may start off with an idea and then head in a different direction.  I have in mind a series of etchings I wish to make which will be quite quirky, and a series of very large drawings based on a series of photographs I took while travelling - neither of these ideas have anything to do with the landscape so that will be fun.  

2.     How does my work differ from others in its genre?

We all love to think of ourselves as unique don't we.  Every now and then my work will run along  in a new and exciting direction and I think how clever this thought of mine is, when WHAM - reality hits.  You see an image of another's work and realise you are not so original after all.  I think what is important is to have an integrity about your own work and be genuine about your intentions with the work you are doing.  Having said that, you will always find those areas of overlapping with other artists.  I have noticed though, that no matter what interests you, what marks you like to put on a page  or what you draw or paint, you may find there are similarities in an others work but your style, if you have maintained that integrity, is always your own.  Inimitably your own way of seeing and doing will translate differently onto a page.

I like to think I push printmaking in a number of different directions but I doubt that is true.  I think I have developed a few of my own techniques but am fairly certain that is only because I am not familiar with a huge number of printmakers. The advent of my becoming a printmaker, an intaglio printmaker, meant that I learnt about plate tone, and those gorgeously serendipitous marks that happen on the plate.  From there I was able to 'see' different marks and different ways of expressing myself and this led to a change in the way I wanted to work. Again, I think the seeing came first and then learning the techniques which would let me make my work the way I saw it in my head.

Is it complacent to say that I think the way one works differently in any visual genre is to see differently?  So I guess if I was trying to work differently from others in my genre, it is that I will try and see things differently.

This actually leads me directly into question 3 .....

3.     Why do I create what I do?

I think what I create is an inevitable response to changing the way I see things. 

My artistic life began at a very early age when I seemed be be able to draw with ease - draw what I saw.  I could not understand why people found that odd because I just drew what I saw and imagined that everyone saw the same way I did.  I instinctively saw line and tone, shape and negative space and so forth.  I do actually believe that what Betty Edwards wrote in her book 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain' is correct.  If you teach people to see, then they will be able to draw.  I don't actually think that everyone who can draw is an artist though. 

For me until the 80's, that was mostly drawing and designing, during the 80's it was mostly directed towards painting and since the late 90's, I have shifted away from being the person who can draw or paint what she sees, into a person who tries to reduce that complexity into simple and expressive lines, trying hard to see what is below the surface of things to what is the 'soul' or what is important about those things.  About stripping back layers and then actually in the process of working, bringing back those ideas in layers.

At this point I should add that there was an actual turning point in my life in the way I wanted to both 'see' and work. I can't remember if it was late in 1998 or 1999 but I remember the experience profoundly of walking into one the lower rooms in the Queensland Art Gallery and being absolutely swept upwards by a work by Cai Guo Qiang - The Dragon Serpent.  At that time I was in the room alone with this huge work suspended from the ceiling.  Never had I seen work like that before, or marks like that and all I wanted from that moment on was to make similar marks.  My efforts fall far short but it was one of those 'turning point' moments.  (you can google Cai Guo Qiang and look at his gunpowder drawings.)

Upon reflection, I think one of the most important discoveries I have made about the way I now work, is the influence that being a book artist has had on me and subsequently my work.  One of the things that drew me into the world of the artist's book was its intimacy, the slow reveal, the attention to details or the fragments of stories being told.  As a person this was a good fit as I love to know the details of things, to get my nose up close.  I love that in a book things are held back, hidden away until another page is turned - that you cannot see everything at once.  As a person I am intrigued by what lies behind closed doors, the things that are out of sight.

I find now, that this act of storytelling, even if not explicitly but in fragments, has flowed over into my larger work.  I will work in multiples of images, telling stories even though the work is not part of a book.  I try not to reveal everything into the one image but leave enough for the viewer to draw their own conclusions.

Furthermore, the advent of my becoming a printmaker, an intaglio printmaker, meant that I learnt about plate tone, and those gorgeously serendipitous marks that happen on the plate.  From there I was able to 'see' different marks and different ways of expressing myself and this led to a change in the way I wanted to work. Again, I think the seeing came first,and then learning the techniques which would let me make my work the way I saw it in my head.

4.      How does my creative process work?

This question is a little tougher as I don't really have a definite process when working.  I wish I could write that I am disciplined and head to the studio on a regular basis from 6am till early afternoon or some such thing, but it would be a terrible untruth.  A more likely scenario is that work just boils up inside me until I just have to head to the studio or burst ..... but I think somewhere in-between all this is the right answer.  

Much of my work is incredibly labour intensive and parts of it are just good old fashioned slog.  Then all of a sudden there is a break through in thought, or result, and the excitement of that will carry me along for a while while I explore that process, push and pull it around.  Another thing that can really trigger a flurry of work in the studio is the impetus a stunning image I have seen or exhibition I have visited which gets inside me and gives me such a charge that I will want to use that drive and energy creating work of my own.

I do not want to plagiarise Lisa but like her, I too think that time is one of the key elements in my creative process, and pressure/commitment.   Too often one is producing work under the constraints of time and for me, there is nothing more sure of stifling creativity that this.  Having just read that sentence, it does not then make sense that I would then go on to say that being put under pressure, self imposed or commitment induced,  often makes me work more diligently and ferociously at times in the studio.  I say it doesn't make sense but in my creative mind those two sentences sit very happily side by side.  Of course if I had the gift of writing, I would have found a way to say all that in a much more convincing manner!  

Perhaps that last paragraph is a perfect illustration of the fact that there is no rhyme or reason to the way I work, but I do have a very strong integrity about and commitment to all aspects of my creative process.  There was a time when I was involved in a ' drawing a day project' and very often the drawing would be as a result of what was going on in my studio.  There was a turning point in that process after a while where the work I did in my drawing a day books, often evolved into larger work.  This is actually not normally a way in which I work - I don't draw up a plan, or sketch out an idea in its entirety and then go through the process of making or creating it or building it up in small stages.  Certainly not with the creative part of my work which usually just comes from within, but there are times when thinking about the making of an artist's book, that I will sketch out an idea and make that a starting point.  

I tried doing that, working up the concept of a book in my mind, when I was working on the birds, eggs, feathers and nest collaboration with Fiona.  The reality of what was in my mind ended up being so far away from the book I wanted to make, and ended up making, that I cut up all my imagery and took it apart in order to tell quite a different story.  This process is quite a valid one I think - the process of taking apart work and re imagining it as something else.  

The more experience we have as artists also helps in our creative process - just as experience in any other vocation helps guide and enable us.

I might end on this note - that if you asked me these same questions in a few years time, my answers may not be the same.  There would be traces of the same thoughts, but as time passes and experience broadens my work or changes its direction,  I imagine my responses to it would have evolved as well.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Susan! While we naturally pick up all sorts of details from the regular posts of artists who blog, it was wonderful to "spend" such a luxurious amount of time with you as you answered the four questions (and offered us so much more). I really liked what you had to say about how becoming a book artist has influenced your work. And after hearing about what 2015 holds for you, I am excited to watch it unfold... I'm so happy you decided to participate in the blog hop, and thank you for sharing so much of yourself here. (I'd also like to thank you for the very generous introduction!)

  2. Thank you for taking the time to write this post. I found it interesting, and most enjoyable.

  3. How fascinating this is. I have followed your blog keenly over the last couple of years, commenting occasionally. I have always been inspired by what I see. After reading this post, the pleasure will be so much enhanced. Thank you for the glimpses into your thoughts and your practice. Like Lisa, I'll be fascinated to see where you go in 2015.

  4. what a great post Susan, love all the insights into your process and history, 2015 looks very exciting!

  5. It is a worthwhile thing to stop and reflect on those questions and I love everything have learned from reading your responses! So many moments that spark a new direction, that pressure that helps us focus, yet at other times stifles us. The rush and the roar when work emerges almost fully formed and those despairing times when it just isn't artistic life and creativity is made up of so many conundrums - yet it is all real! A beautiful insight into your mind and making - thank you for sharing.

  6. You have certainly put much thought and time into your responses... all of it was very interesting and inspirational. And I always love your imagery.

  7. NICE post! Happy Thanksgiving = )

  8. I love the way you Susan. Subtle detail, small marks, combinations, recombined. Your work appears to me to be intuitive, flowing and connected.

  9. Thank you all so much for those lovely comments. It is now January and I have been away from the blog since November - great to be back, and I will spend time over the next months visiting all my friends in their studios to see what I have been missing. x


I appreciate your comments - thank you!