Sunday, November 8, 2020

COOTS Central Otago Outside the Square

 I had a challenge in doing a return teaching gig with COOTS. What with 'thinking outside the square' being the essence of this group and the fact that they are all such accomplished artists I had to come up with a programme that would cater to their different media interests and satisify them conceptually. As a professional artist I can find it stressful at times to produce work that fits in with a commercial criteria or responds to a specific commission. While I have pride in finishing an artwork I go from one project to another so rapidly that I sometime loose passion for what I am doing. Rather than rant about all the other side effects of this such as turning down work, pulling out of shows, procrastinating. I thought that maybe the COOTS group too would like a break from the pressure of completing work and designed a programme that was based on the idea that participants were 'Closed For Restoration'.

Our accommodation in Bannockurn is located just above this spot, you can see we could have spent the whole 4 days soaking in the atmosphere.  But this was a working retreat! My planning was influenced by some key texts: Alice Fox, Natural Processes in Textile Art; Jason Logan Make Ink: A Forager's Guide to Natural Inkmaking; Helen Parrott, Mark Making Through the Seasons and an old favourite  Roger von Oech, A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative.  These texts inspired me to ask participants to talk a walk or two in the months before the workshop. The walk/s were to be undertaken with intent, such as to focus on looking for one colour or to collect some 'treasures'.  Then came the icebreaker. Due to a lovely donation of old glasses from Daphne Morshuis I asked participants to take a pair of glasses and use them to represent some of their walking.  After initial surprise the results could not have been more fun and insightful.  Embellishments were added, lenses scratched, the shape of glasses used as a way to write a story visually.  Objects took on metaphorical meanings and discarded rubbish drew beautiful squiggly lines.

When I went to art school my husband (a lecturer there at the time) said that students who were open to trying different mediums succeeded the most. He might regret saying that now as my leap frog brain finds it difficult to focus on one medium! So I made working with found materials, paper and inks our main materials, rather than textiles. While there was tension in that participants wanted to work on fabric and kept asking me 'could you wash that?' (a real world constraint that I had to stamp out) eventually the idea that they could do the same or similar techniques on fabric after the course all was good.

In von Oech style we progressed through the course applying mainly 'soft thinking' for the first three days. This meant lots of experimentation and not judging the results. Our eyes nearly popped out with fascination when Robyn and Wendy created a small universes of crystals from copper oxide ink.

Angela took the opportunity to try out something she had long wanted to - dividing off sections with masking tape and working over them. When the tape is removed later the blank spaces frame areas of intense energy. Inadvertently we can respond to the edge of a page and subsequently make more cautions marks. We also studied mark making by analyzing sections of Van Gogh's drawings.  I appropriated and adapted this exercise from Rob Garrett who I used to work with: Discovering Line with Vincent van Gogh, by Rob the Art Teacher.  Well worth checking out. We recorded words to describe some of the marks we were making and then picked some and then identified an opposite word and played with visually expressing both. 

To extend our mark making even more we made paintbrushes from materials found on walks and from unsuspecting horses who donated a few tail hairs.  To be truthful, I'm probably more interested in how beautiful handmade paintbrushes are in their own right - objects of simplicity, character and potential. Not to say that the marks that were made weren't dynamic, stunningly painterly and energetic, art works in their own right, but I think you'll agree these are divine objects.

Gradually some 'hard thinking' came in.  Writing poetically, text under erasure inspired by  as a lead in to collage. 

As an aside one of our favourite 'poems' was found on the side of a gin bottle

While on the aspect of words I took along a lovely book I had just purchased RE:CREATE by Liz Constable (in co with her sister Jo doing the design work because a couple of years back Liz taught the COOTS group and she mentions the retreat in her book.

 Again, because this is an experienced group who exhibits (most recently @ on a regulars basis, I decided a useful exercise would be thinking about alternative ways of presenting and installing work.  A frenzy of selecting, embellishing, stitching and editing work into circles and squares ensued and we finished off the workshop by bringing everyone's work together collaboratively. This group is a tutor's dream, anything you throw at them they make work, this post only shows a sliver of what they achieved. Thank you COOTS, it has been a pleasure. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Bannockburn Retreat with COOTS Group

I have been using Instagram as my social media platform of late, I like the visual nature and speed of it. This year has involved a lot of art projects and travel which has been immensely fulfilling and exciting, so I have had little time to write up a post. 

I've just returned from teaching a workshop with the COOTS group. COOTS, what does that stand for I wondered after I was approached by the group to facilitate a workshop. One of the things about teaching different groups is it is good to make the workshop fit the needs of the participants so I like to have communications and a bit of prior knowledge. Google told me that Coots are small American water birds but that didn't help any! No indeed, the acronym stands for Central Otago Outside The Square, hence the meeting place for the retreat being in Bannockburn, a central location for people to travel to. 

Print Paste (CCG), Manutex and dye. Acrylic Paint and
Discharge Paste were all used

I gave the workshop a title/theme of Poetics of Place as this is general enough to provide a focus but allow for projects which individuals may already be working on. My focal lens was not actually needed for this group however, I was excited to discover this group were very versed in art making methodologies of brain storming, keeping visual diaries, researching, linking concept with making. For example Jenny is commenting on the Rural Urban Divide and Ali is poignantly utilising the traditional readings of quilts as a platform to present the multi layered complexities of what home means to different people and groups. 

Technically we worked with process of gelli printing as a drawing process, cyanotype and photostencil screenprinting, primarily on textiles. Quite a swag for a 4 day workshop but we took over the well appointed Bannockburn Hall, created a darkroom and tapped into our  energy reserves. 

Mono screenprint by Pam and Gelli Print drawings by Alison and Lynn

Cyanotype of trees from Robyn's house
Learning and working with three processes in a short time is not for the fainthearted. The creativity of combining the processes however was enormous , with many original and organic results emerging. I enjoy teaching when I cannot answer many questions, when the only way we can see if something will work is by trying it out. Wendy's stencils made out of transparency film got coated in paint and worked deliciously, blocking the light on her fabric cyanotypes. The combination of rust and coating previously dyed fabrics provided other levels of interference that was very successful. 

details of Wendy's textiles
Creating yardage for use in future projects was a goal for many. This fits with my approach of creating freely and editing afterwards. This goal was certainly achieved. Looking forward to seeing some of this work integrated into an upcoming exhibition the group are having at Central Stories Gallery in Alexandra. 

Ali's Home Series

A selection of Jenny's productivity
Janice worked with sheer silks, many eco dyed before over printing

Slivers of beauty from Robyn, Jeanette (know that tree?), Angela
(Stamping with  chopped up gelli plate) and Jeanette
To produce our image screens we coated 43T mesh screens with photostensitive emulsion, dried it and then exposed them under a 500 Watt Mercury Vapour UV Light. (Hanging off Gilbert's ever handy tripod) The imagery was drawn or photocopied onto transparency film and 'secured' onto the screen with a piece of 4mm glass to get good contact. Our little A4 screens fitted well under the lamp and took about a minute to expose. For the larger ones we did a one minute exposure on half and carefully slid the screen along and gave another minute on the other half. After wash out in warm water of the unhardened emulsion the screens were given a post exposure of ten minutes before use. This pop up exposure unit worked very well, I love my light as it is also useful for cyanotypes if the sunshine isn't playing ball. I got mine at and while the light is an ok price the expensive bit is the fitting. :-( 

Angela  had some thermofax screens which proved very popular

Jeanette screening on silk fabrics to achieve overlay

One evening I forced people into an activity, making flowers

Working as an artist and arts facilitator requires a lot of planning and juggling that does not bring financial security but the creative results and friendships are meaningful rewards to me. I have been asked to give an informal talk to students on the way I sustain my career and I believe a lot of this comes down to networking and the sharing nature of people involved in the arts. O
ne workshop can lead to another, in this case I have been invited back to teach a design based workshop with COOTS in the future.  The thing that really sustains my practice is the gifting of resources that comes from my network. From this workshop (ok, ok a big plus was that the group fed me lots of wonderful food, but also...) Robyn gave me some wonderful old hand drawn maps that will be used in a future class. Wendy had a connection with a place I have always wanted to photograph, so getting permission becomes a possibility. Steve, a friend from another project, has 3-d printed me a printing press so I can print almost anywhere!  When I was at art school there was a quote on the wall about how we achieve more as team together than as individuals, so true. Thank you to everyone who has supported me!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Coccolithophores Impressed: Ōku Moana and The Sandpit Collective

 Coccolithophores are a group of microscopic phytoplankton found living in earth's sunlit oceans. These single-celled algae are surrounded by armoured plates ('coccoliths') made from calcium carbonate (limestone). They are vulnerable to ocean acidification; coccolithophores will be threatened in future ocean phytoplankton communities, with potentially dramatic consequences for the global carbon cycle.

Scanning electron microscopy image (x17.000 magnification) of
the cosmopolitan coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi  (Ro Allen)

 During New Zealand International Science Festival (6 – 15 July) The Sandpit Collective (Dr Jenny Rock and Lynn Taylor) combined with Ro Allen, a candidate in Science Communication at the University of Otago whose PhD research focuses on coccolithophores.   

To share concern regarding the projected increase in ocean acidity due to climate change and to highlight the significant challenges for coccolithophores we designed a SciArt experience as part of the Ōku Moana exhibition at the Community Gallery in Dunedin.

The Sandpit Collective believe that engaging people in art and aesthetics can be a way to raise awareness and share scientific knowledge.  

Under 12's worked on texture rubbings of healthy and unhealthy coccoliths. After revealing various stages of disorganisintion in coccolith formation due to the effects of ocean acidification they cut out and attached their rubbings to the corresponding giant healthy and unhealthy coccolithophore models. 

Texture Rubbing table with laser cut coccoliths

Close up of texture rubbing healthy coccoliths

Healthy coccolithophore model with it's
armour on: texture rubbings of liths
 by exhibition visitors
Coccolith necklaces worn by
The Sandpit
Participants could also make their
own 'microscope slide' of
 rubbings and drawings

 Visitors aged 12+ (and for the occasional younger person who persuaded us) were invited to make their own blind emboss prints of healthy and unhealthy coccoliths. Working around a press is  a communal activity and provided a great opportunity to discuss the role and importance of coccolithophores in trapping our carbon emissions.

Bella and Emma working at the printing press 

Prints were taken away in an information pamphlet that Ro published so people could follow up on scientific specifics after the experiences.

Pamphlet which provided protection and information to go
 with the prints

Alongside participants making emboss prints to take home most contributed a print to the community art work which built up over the course of the exhibition. We had over 100 participants with in excess of 400 blind emboss prints made.  Thank you to everyone who participated and helpers: Pam, Jesse,Trevor, Sara, Becky, James and Scarlet to name a few. 

Installing emboss prints on the community exhibit.
 Unhealthy on the left, healthy on the right.
 (Not applicable to the participants!)

Laid out in a grid the prints become like a survival blanket - a way of visibly seeing the importance of this phytoplankton that is too small to see with the naked eye. 

A selection of blind emboss prints 
created by Ōku Moana visitors

The paper we used was off cuts from a business associated with the University of OtagoThe prints, when stacked resemble the sea and ocean floor which lead to the inspiration to photograph the prints back in the habitat of the coccolithophore, the sea.

Stack of prints showing deckled edges of the paper

It's the middle of winter in Dunedin, in fact the exhibition was aligned with Matariki celebrations and my feet went numb in the sea whilst retrieving the prints. 

Coccolith prints thinking about home

Releasing coccolith prints back to the sea under 
the watchful eyes of seagulls
In a poetic happenstance prints that tumbled back to shore with the waves were added to with a layer of sand. Beautiful incidental drawing that felt like an appropriate closure to a week of appreciating our oceans.

Sea and Sand drawings
Interested groups are welcome to use these texture rubbing and solar plates as a starter kit for their own SciArt activity if you contact us and organise courier of the items. 
Other items of interest at:

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Upcoming Mixed Media class

This info will be in the catalogue - see website for more details.

This print based mixed media class explores a variety of interventions on paper and fabric towards creating a collection of layered surfaces, textures and experimental samples.
The course of the week is structured with some time each day allocated to introductions to various print media, demonstrations and some short activities to help identify artistic individuality.  Participants then expend from this base working on their own projects and goals with support.

We will cover printmaking techniques that lend themselves towards abstract and painterly effects through mono, rust and offset printing. Resulting prints can be integrated with solar printmaking which is an accessible process capable of producing detailed graphic and text plates. Further interventions such as hand stitching, piercing, cutting, folding and encaustic wax can then be applied. The results can remain as samples or be taken further: stitched into a book, a ‘quilt’, collaged onto substrates of foam core, mdf and laser cut out shapes or resolved as a three dimensional assemblage like a figurine/puppet (check out ‘bricolage’ for ideas) or jewellery.

There are no prerequisites for this course, it is suitable for beginners to advanced makers. Because mixed media is so flexible it can also become overwhelming, so many choices! The only requirement, to give yourself more clarity, is that you are asked to consider an approach, topic or theme that you would like to focus on over the week and also bring along an image of an art work that inspires you.

A selection of work from the 2017 class.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Island Inspirations Weekend: Cyanotype Workshop

Over the weekend of 3rd and 4th of June Stewart Island locals and visitors came together for a Photography workshop with Graham Dainty and a Cyantoype workshop with me. We also enjoyed a fabulous shared meal and evening talks! 

Little bit of info: The cyanotype process for making prints was invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842 and came from his discovery of the light sensitivity of iron salts. It produces a deep indigo image (known as Prussian Blue), which can be printed onto many surfaces. English Botanist  Anna Atkins used the process for what is considered to be the first work with photographic illustrations, namely her Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843). 

Anna Atkins

A bit of problem solving and a broken window went on in
 order to find a way to print Janet's seaweed

Janet's large kelp print

Cyanotypes are also referred to as sunprints. There are different recipes, we used a traditional mixture using 2 solutions, a combination of Ammonium Ferric citrate (iron), Potassium ferricyanide and water.  The mixed solution was coated onto the paper in the dark with the help of red light torches (which were in abundance as used on the Island for Kiwi spotting), dried quickly with hair dryers, exposed to sunlight and washed to remove the unexposed chemistry. 

Heading off to teach away from home takes
a bit of organising, here's my scruffy list

Experimenting with different materials.

Zane and Sue plotting and planning whilst apparently
drinking meths.

Exposing prints in the sun

Lots of experimentation went on - using different mediums to block the light.

Shona: rubber stamping used as a light blocker,
printed onto silk organza
Tallis experimented with Indian ink on transparency.
 (Also, not shown, water droplets.)
Tallis's result: ink flicks combined
 with pen drawn image
Drawing with Sharpie pen on transparency

Jewellery and the ever popular onion bag

Hand drawn image, cyanotype print toned with tannin.
A dreamy pillowcase made by Annett
Pip's lace

Beautiful broken glass print - Janet.
Painted and exposed wood to show the grain
The remains on our coating boards looked good too
On day two we worked with digital negatives which required more experimentation with timing of exposures.

Digital negative

What a print looks like after exposure before being washed out.
Detail of Megan's work.

I have the cutest of friends.

Same negative, two different exposure times.
Longer in the light creates a darker image.
A side of Shona you might not have expected to see
Zane's photo, manipulated with a Photoshop filter then printed

Jo Learmonth organised some images from the Stewart Island Rakiura Museum for use for this project, applying the Creative Commons License. It was magical for me seeing these images from the past appear after exposure and washing out.

Labels from the Stewart Island Rakiura Museum printed by Pip

Megan, Janet, Shona, Sue, Annett, Pip, Sharon, Zane and Tallis you were an amazing class.

I find this a super useful reference site:

The weekend was made better by significant help from the Photography Department @ Dunedin School of Art, where I  pre-coated some papers and the University of Otago. Thanks to Dave Warren, from the Chemistry Department, fellow cyanotype enthusiast Steve Ting from SciComm (who will be hosting an upcoming workshop at Otago Museum) and Tallis Lentz, our chief chemical mixer from the Chemistry Outreach Programme. 

Stewart Island put on a stunning departure morning.

Thanks to Stewart Island Promotions for organising this creative weekend - I hope there is a repeat next year.