Friday, 31 May 2013

In Case You Missed It

I have posted this up on my Facebook page but it seems to have been buried in the dross. One of the purposes of beginning a blog was to push myself on a daily or weekly basis to learn and accomplish something new. Learning new things opens new synaptic paths in your brain, which give you confidence but also make it easier to understand new concepts as they are presented.
Doing things in public is a great way to push yourself even further. I have mentioned a few times that I feel so vulnerable out here on the net as if I am walking around with toilet paper hanging out the back of my pants and being the only one who doesn't know. I know that people come across my blog on a daily basis because I can read the stats provided by Blogger and that keeps me going. Hi to you! Step out of your comfort zone and say hi. It's just us really.
So my little horse video is done with a cheap phone app called Stop Motion Studio.

 I made the little horse in ceramic as an exercise in design class when we had to try to fabricate something in ceramic that already existed as a plastic product. The idea was to try to define what made a ceramic product more valuable and functional compared with a cheap and convenient plastic product. There is as much art and design in the mass produced product, which I discovered when trying to replicate it as a hand built piece. It took me hours. I think it has its own charm, maybe a bit like a netsuke (read The Hare with Amber Eyes). It certainly looks more charming on a shelf than a blue plastic horse and has a weight and feel to it that is satisfying in the hand. But horses for courses. I would not give leave to any little person to take my little horsey out in a sandpit to play, and nor would I put a plastic horse in my display shelf.

After my first venture into stop motion I had another go this time with music. I don't know much about copyright on home videos so this music is recorded from a lovely biscuit tin music box I have.

 I have always liked music boxes for their ingenious primitive method of plucking out any tune on a tiny brass wheel. Being a visual person, seeing the brass roll of a music box as a child was one of those ahha moments in understanding the mechanics of music.
The film is an introduction to a series of beakers that I have made based on masking of faces. I don't offer judgement about this practice because it is something I continue to mull over in many contexts. I for instance like to quietly view the world behind my mask
But revealing inch by inch more of myself on this webpage has opened me up to a fuller world.
Here is my cranky little video.
If you cannot view it properly on this page  go to my facebook page
and have a better look. You might even like to like it!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Pugmill and psoas

I am in the sometimes fortunate position of owning a pugmill. I bought it on ebay from a school that had decided to disband its ceramics department and probably most of its art department in favour of some educational fad or other. It looks like this
There is a square opening in the top middle section where old clay that needs recycling goes.
Inside that grate section there is a large stainless steel screw which slowly grinds around and squeezes all of the air out of the clay while compressing it into a long tube of clay.
It is a very handy piece of equipment to have especially when making sculptures because I need to hollow clay out of forms after they have hardened a bit and by then the clay is too stiff to use. I don't like to waste it so I soak it and drain it and when it is just right it can be fed into the pugmill.
The similarity to bodily functions of this machine is an endless source of amusement to small children and grown men alike. And just like the human body, rubbish in causes problems. My pugmill is unwell and constipated. I pug clay for other people and groups and sometimes things in studios fall into clay buckets. Something is stuck inside and blocking the big screw from turning.
And now after operating on this end
as well as pouring endless bucket loads of water through the top and recycling them, my back is also sore. I will have to wait for  Andrew the magical technician because I can do no more.
But like all potters, backs seem to be a constant source of problems and I decided I need to understand what is always failing.  I found a great site

Saturday, 25 May 2013


It is the time of year when we Victorians really have to admit that the last of the sunny weather has finally gone to the other side of the world and that chilly conditions will be with us for the next few months. The hardiest or most optimistic have eked out every ray of outdoor weather and perhaps left the run a bit late.
Most sensible sailors have moved their boats to safer refuge for the wild winter weather and to undertake the annual maintenance defouling and repairs needed but not all.
One sailor I know is so in love with seeing his pretty little boat bobbing around that he can't bear to make that pilgrimage until the very last minute.

The trouble is these guys.

As you can see they can make quite a lot of mess and if one's boat is the last lonely little one left these black faced cormorants have nowhere else to roost to dry their wings after diving for fish all day. They disgorge the contents of their guts as a form of jet propulsion when scared off by angry boaties. Sweet revenge.
So the annual boat migration has been completed today while I have been safely ensconced in warm leisure world of baking, reading and drawing.
And just so he can remember why he should move aforesaid boat earlier I have made him a little reminder.
credit; Screaming Pixels

So now for the next few months the shore recovers from stampeding feet and it's just water and serenity.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Curiosity Mars Rover

On drizzly days when the paths are slick with water it is difficult to become motivated to get out and walk. We turn ourselves inside and breathe warm fuggy air and think inside thoughts that are often not creative. Our ideas come from inside things like Pinterest and Stumble and Facebook- all ideas that are regurgitated like the air we are breathing.

This winter I want to be like Curiosity Mars Rover. I want to explore my planet like a visitor from out of space. I want to sample a bit of everything from every place I go to.
credit NASA
37 years ago I went to Nepal on a trek like hundreds of other lucky uni students. We trekked through villages that probably no longer exist, along ancient pathways that were scented with morning offerings of incense, dung fire smoke, chai and chappatis, mingled with poultry and human excrement softened by the organic smell of mud brick and damp thatching.

All of those sights, sounds and smells are still alive in me even though I only had 120 or so photos. Film was expensive in those days for a poor student and since I had used every cent I had to go on the trip and to buy my hiking boots (Banana Boots were the icon of the day), I had to borrow a camera (an old but brilliant Voigtlander) and carried three rolls of slide film.
credit Wikipedia

I was not a skilful photographer having had no practice before leaving and relied on lessons from other seasoned photographers with me as well as the last minute instructions my father had gleaned from a city photography store. Every photo failure was a personal failure which I didn’t get to experience until some weeks later, after the slides were sent back from the photo lab. I was in essence shooting blind, because there was no digital screen to let me know that I even had the image properly framed.

 I did not waste a single photo on myself to show that I was there. I knew what I looked like and mirrors were for personal images, not expensive film. How different visual images are now with millions of selfies taken every moment of the day and so little intelligence to be gained from the images.


There are discoveries to be made out there and inspiration to be found and added to our human knowledge base in ways we have never had before. But unlike Mars Explorer Curiosity we have the added advantage of human insight which we do not engage enough. If we go out and look at our environment with the eyes of an alien what would we make of what we see?


Large squishy thing washed up on beach.
What would one tiny snapshot of life on earth look like when sent back into space?
In recent years I have discovered that more than half of my friends are aliens in this country. They see the world that I live in with amusement and puzzlement and wonder and I am lucky to have a new perspective on a life I took so much for granted.
So when you think warm, safe and cosy this winter also think stale, blocked and closed and grab an umbrella and sturdy shoes (and maybe a camera) and get out there and shake the cobwebs and shine a torch into some of those unexplored corners of your mind.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Monday Morning Overthinking

As artists we all hope one day that our art will be discovered and showcased and that it will move and inspire people. I think that is one of the reasons we produce art beyond utility. A bit of our soul goes into it and that is disseminated somewhere else in the universe.

I was hooked into this video
and watched mesmerised and delighted as the process unfolded. It was extraordinary. I assume the artists were well remunerated for their astounding efforts and judging by the number of hits on youtube for this, plenty of publicity was generated for a product.
The video is for a product that was released a year ago and which as far as I know has had its fifteen minutes of fame.
I pondered this whole art subsumed by commercialism question after watching this and wondered if it was just a prostitution of talent and have made some observations.

The artwork could probably not have existed without the patronage of the advertising company/product agent.
The artwork persists after the superseded product has died a natural death.
The artist may have believed in the product.
The artist may regret the proliferation of such high turnover in products of this nature.
The art work may generate other artistic projects that may be better.
The artwork has been designed to persist and be archived in the digital age long after its ephemeral life is over.
How much cheaper would products be if these vast amounts of promotional money were not incorporated into their design?
Does good art work give credibility to a product?
As artists and designers do we stand a chance of having our products persist in a positive way in the universe without the backing of wealthy patrons?
All my questions are filtered through the lens of my beliefs, and Web Surfin'Sam probably sucks it up and squirts it back out into the ether after saying "cool" or "awesome" and that's the end of that.

Sometimes you just have to stop thinking and get back to doing what you can't help!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Portents of Creatives in the Burbs

Lets face it, Not everyone can live in the cool and hip places in Melbourne like Collingwood , Brunswick and St Kilda. In fact the migration of cool and trendy people to these areas is what is cannibalising them out of existence.

On Thursday night we took an excursion into our old stamping ground at Collingwood to view Sarah Masson’s first painting exhibition Femme Fatale.
Cover Photo
It was at the Union Club in Gore St Fitzroy, and the place was abuzz with warmth and excitement. There was a happy neighbourly buzz in the downstairs (pokies free) bar which was obviously a great place for locals to meet. The paintings were all of strong beautiful women, some drawing on myths and legends.  Undertones of recycled paintings  as well as contrast of textured and flat surfaces added another dimension of interest to the images. It was great to see that a modern young woman’s idea of a strong independent woman also incorporates natural beauty. We may finally be breaking the old stereotype of strong women having no beauty or sexuality. Very optimistic and heartening.
As we wandered Smith St for a coffee afterwards I lamented the loss of buildings and businesses that were there only 5 or 6 years ago when we had our family business in there.

Apartments are going up at a rapid rate and soon Smith Street will look like Chapel Street. The only visitors will be the boyz in carz that go doof doof and a Village or Hoyts cinema will be jammed in to accommodate mindless milling population of visitors there for their weekend excursion of discount clothing. It happens everywhere around the world. Soho to Tribeca to Dumbo in New York.
Artists bring fun and excitement and eventually everyone wants to move there and transpose all their previous needs onto a place until it no longer exists in its previous form.

I really hope the aboriginal meeting area under the big tree  in Smith Street never gets changed. I think it should be declared a part of our National Heritage and a sacred and protected area.

Artists have always needed to live in low cost areas because income as an artist, is a spasmodic joy, drip fed like tiny lottery winnings. Artists need to live in community because most artists are about exploring ideas and having conversations. Alcohol, food music and coffee are the lubricants of such conversation and interaction.  The energy that comes from groups of creatives living and networking together is like a magnet that draws other people to want to share some of that goodness but at the same time they do not want it to impact on their lives unbidden.

How many times at Manningham Arts (M2)
 have we been chastised for being too noisy? What in the world did they expect when they put a bunch of artists in adjoining rooms?

It is just a pity that town planners, local government, and economic planners do not seem to understand this basic stimulus to economies.
 I would gladly have not driven our car into Smith St last Thursday night and added to the congestion but on a rainy cold Melbourne night 10 kilometres is a long distance to cover if you have to try and do it by public transport.
Last weekend we cycled 10km into the city along the Gardiners Creek Trail to Fed Square to see the Top Arts Exhibition

 and the Kenneth Hood Bequest Ceramics exhibiton THROWN.

It was an adventure and we were fortunate with the weather, but it is not a sustainable way to visit all that is on offer. I was quite frankly a write off the following day. If we had jumped in our car, we could have been there in 20 minutes, paid some exorbitant price for parking and been able to take in several other galleries. A tram trip would have been 1 hour in and another hour out. 

Maybe as a part of development in Melbourne, it should be compulsory for giant shopping centres such as Chadstone to fund public spaces such as galleries for outreach exhibitions by the NGV.
Imagine having an exhibition in 4 parts at Chadstone, Doncaster, Highpoint and Knox with a bus shuttle excursion for its duration. Visit the gallery at one shopping centre, with its  local cultural emphasis hop on the express bus tour to the next venue and so on. Then we would also be able to exhibit more artists and have conversations with more people and help them to have conversations, breaking down barriers at the same time. School of Life for the burbs.

It was good to see however that there are some creative  active in our local suburban areas. Yarn bombers have hit Burwood and Blackburn and I shall keep my eyes open for other signs of subversive art acts.
Brightening up drab cold conditions in a dreary streetscape.
I am not sure how this art stands up to doggy visits.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Blessing of the Colours

I was a weird little kid I suppose, but there are little habits I had then that I still get pleasure from now in the same childish way.
One of the exciting  excursions we used to take in our 2 tone blue Holden would be a trip into town, maybe to see a visiting ballet such as the Bolshoi. We would be dressed in our best scratchy lace and satin prettiness and impossibly uncomfortable pretty shoes (Is that where we learn it from?) and then because the treat was so expensive and only we 3 girls could participate , my mother would  park down near St Patrick’s cathedral and we would walk the rest of the way into the theatre area for the matinee session.  It would require the obligatory ducking into the cathedral to give thanks for our extreme good fortune.

The most pleasurable part of this was the not the funky  ghost smell of hundreds of people’s body odours clinging forever into the stonework, ( I thought it was the holy dignitaries in their resting places!) but the walk under the flickering light glinting through  the stain glass windows.

To have a stamp of rainbow concentrated on my bare arm or on my face felt like a very powerful and special blessing. It was not a religious zeal or even anything I think would have been countenanced in conversation about that holy place and so I kept the magic feeling to myself.


I keep a crystal  prism on my eastern window and it casts its spectrum in varying stamps across my wall and down the stairwell.

It just makes me happy! It heightens the sense of awareness about a beautiful moment into an extraordinary moment if just for a fleeting time and sometimes I just stand there and get  a rainbow stamp for fun.


And sometimes it helps to cast a positive light on something from the kiln that at first seems to be a bit disappointing!
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Sunday, 12 May 2013

This bag is AWESOME

It was a festival of celebrations in my family over the weekend. 

An anniversary , Mother’s Day and Mr B the Anarchist’s birthday.
Here he is  a wise old man at one day old.
It’s actually the beginning of our family celebration season which we sensibly planned to fall into the boring cold months of the year after most of the public holidays are over.
Every few weeks until the end of winter we celebrate another birthday , and have another get together.
And at every birthday for 25 years , this bag has reappeared. It is a part of our family!
It was a special part of Mr B’s third birthday which due to unforseen circumstances we were forced to celebrate in China. We had brought no presents with us and tried to make do with an abacus and  a set of wooden blocks which formed some game to which we just couldn’t make any fun rules. We went a little overboard with the compensatory celebrations on our return and spoiled him with presents. However there was no way I was going to wrap all those little components to have him tear them apart in two seconds, so we started a little game where he closed his eyes and magically the bag would be refilled with goodies.
 It wouldn’t have mattered whether we filled it up with dirty washing or all his own toys! He was drunk with excitement and demanded all manner of silliness and so three weeks later Jacque Cousteau wanted the same game and the same magic. The game grew sillier and longer, extending the pleasure and the next birthday was the baby, Mr D the Brewstar so his brothers took it upon themselves to be the entertainment squad with the magical Batman bag. With a 1 year old anything goes as long as you get the heartiest laugh.
 And so the magical powers of the Batman Bag grew to legendary proportions , and when our family increased to include Fairy Floss, she too became inducted into the rites of the Batman Bag.
It's a bit worse for wear now but we all had a sigh of affection for it when it made its appearance last night.
I know it’s just a bag, but humans everywhere have a natural tendency to create ritual at and around significant moments and to impart the holding power to a container of magic. In this case just a sturdy bag full of invisible stories. 
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY BATMAN BAG! 25 years is a pretty good innings and we hope to see you around for many more.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Happy Mother's Day

I hope you have a memorable experience of blind love from your offspring today. I was 7 months pregnant when I received this. Priceless!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

What Was I Thinking?

This bowl has been sitting as a looming presence in my studio for a l.o.n.g....time.
I made it in a great fervour of activity nearly 3 years ago, while on holidays 100km away. It is made of paper porcelain in which I had placed all my hopes because of its amazing structural properties. It is about 300mm wide and 190mm high but only .5mm thick. Now amazingly this has travelled the hundred km back to Melbourne in a seatbelt on the backseat without having been fired at all. While I was making it it had some little disasters and stuck to the board I was making it on. The bottom fell out and so it had a new base put on many weeks after I had started it. It has been treated very roughly and so even though I couldn't face the thought of smashing it up and recycling the clay again I couldn't bring myself to bisque it either. It has just been a niggling worry that I have wasted precious energy on and so last week I bit the bullet and bisqued it in the gas kiln.
I don't believe it! It hasn't got a smidgeon of cracking and is as light as can be with a lovely ring to it when you ping it with your finger.
But, I have completely lost my vision of what it was going to look like on completion and don't know where to go now. I think I was going to cover it with detailed drawings but I am not sure if I trust the structure enough to invest that much time and emotional energy into it. What to do what to do??

Monday, 6 May 2013

Free Recipe

If you have ever cleaned rice or cereal off a dish several hours after a meal has finished, you will know how hard it gets. I always thought I would do well to make a sculpture out of breakfast cereal or spaghetti because it sets so hard.

I love experimenting with materials and have since I was a little girl making mud pies and mixing the mud with rotten apples and lemons from the backyard tree.  In fact since studying art at teacher’s college I think I learned to love science more than I ever had at school. I am not sure if it was because my painting lecturer tried to shock us by telling us that amongst binders used for pigments, was evidence of egg white and or yolk but also semen. My mind went in all directions! Now I wonder if maybe we can extract DNA of an artist and re create them in a laboratory.

Many household ingredients have been used to create art materials and I think it is the resourcefulness of our early ancestors that keeps me intrigued and experimenting as well as remaining sceptical about every new art material that comes onto the market. We need to keep those old recipes alive. After all we have lost the recipe for the concrete used by the Romans and their buildings have survived centuries , whereas some of our modern buildings have concrete cancer in just a few decades.

There is an aboriginal stone axe in Melbourne Museum with a handle attached to a stone axe head with a powerful  glue made from tree resin and kangaroo poo. It has lasted thousands of years. No modern methods have duplicated the same strength. Who’d have thought?
I read an article recently that the pyramids were not giant rocks dragged miles by slaves but were in fact made of an ancient concrete based on a mixture of lime and calcium silicate. I can’t wait to get out and experiment with that mixture if I can just source the ingredients.
I am going to give a free recipe today which is something I have used in making 3 dimensional work.

My mother told me of a thing called barbola which was used for earrings as well as decorative features on houselhold , ( generally dressing table) items in the pre WW2 years.
I researched and found that it was made of whiting and size .  Then I found that size could be made from anything from gelatine and wallpaper paste to horse glue and rabbit skin. Whiting is not the fish but is derived from limestone, in fact calcium carbonate which just happens to be an ingredient in so many household products from toothpaste to ice cream. Basically it was made from a binder, and a powdery material. Then I found a wonderful recipe which uses modern materials –PVA glue and dried white breadcrumbs. So simple but it makes a long lasting material.

In my opinion it is also the best thing to do with pappy white bread!
Dry out bread and then crumble it into very fine crumbs (don’t include crusts)
 Pour in enough PVA glue to make a  dryish sticky glob.
The next bit is messy but basically you persist with mixing and massaging the ingredients together  until  the gluten in the bread becomes active and the whole thing suddenly becomes smooth and unsticky.
Immediately roll the ball up in some plastic wrap or a recycled plastic bag and keep refrigerated until you are ready to use it (lasts about 1 week to 10 days)
To colour it, flatten out a small amount in your hand and squirt a dot of acrylic colour onto it. Wrap the dough around the colour and once again massage the mixture trying to keep the colour inside so that it doesn’t end up all over your fingers.
You will find yourself fiddling with this lovely material  in no time and will also be surprised at how thin it can be rolled. Colours can be blended as delicately as a watercolour painting. It should be left to air dry. Individual pieces can be glued together  with a dot of PVA.
I decorated a mirror 20 years ago with this material and it is only now showing some signs that something might be eating it. Adding borax to the mix might make it toxic to insects but I don’t know how safe it is to handle.


Enjoy experimenting with this mixture and if you have old recipes for art materials you would like to share , I am sure there are plenty of others who would like to share them too.

oops another angel!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Bird Brain Pt 2

In the 1960’s Robin Boyd wrote a book called the Great Australian Ugliness. It was a flaming critique of Australian architecture. His most strident criticism was for prettiness and “Featurism”  which took precedence over response to the  actual  environment that a building sat in. He mocked the English village replica house, the artificial representation of any culture which was plonked in a barren environment devoid of its natural vegetation.  His friend Barry Humphries continued the mocking through his characters of Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson.   His influence in architecture and Australian culture was widespread and his public discussions lead to an awakening of consciousness around what it meant to live in Australia and to be an Australian. We are more used now to seeing  environmentally responsive buildings , although repeating these conceptual  designs  ad infinitum after decimating the landscape is obtuse logic and harks back to Boyd’s original criticism.

I wonder though whether Boyd actually didn’t like women and didn’t like the work that women did around the home. I am pretty sure he would hate the current fad of scrapbooking! I am not offering my opinion on this point. Having looked at some of Boyd’s drawings and images of buildings they did not seem particularly suited to the life of a woman at home all day with children which was the norm during his time of practice. Rough hewn beams-warm looking yes, spider webs splinters and dust ,no. That is a shallow response I know, but I still think that his influence in architecture was to masculinise the practice even more and for a long period. It seems no surprise that architecture is still the realm of more men and interior design is the realm of more women. It is the difference between a house and a home. Having recently gone through the process of building a house in the last few years , it was an uphill battle to have a voice in any part of the building process to ensure my part of the design would be respected.
This piece is a response to Robin Boyd.
It came about through my experiments with paper clay as a body. The extra fibre in the clay imparts an incredible structural strength and I have since employed it in a number of other experiments. I was testing to see what the ratio of clay and fibre needed to be. The fibre burns away in the kiln and just leaves a scaffold of clay which can then be glazed and refired. At this stage it is extremely fragile but once glazed it is light and strong.
What I did was to crochet various fibres into bowl shapes which after a few experiments I realised were nest like. I used hemp fibre which was extremely unpleasant to crochet with but held a good amount of clayslip, strips of Chux washcloths because they are designed to hold liquid, and chunky acrylic yarn. At this point I realised that the stuff that was burning out was nasty smelling and not too healthy so I looked for natural fibre that was easier to use than hemp and found bamboo fibre. It was absolute bliss to crochet with and started up one of my other favourite winter past times and it wasn’t long before I had a hundred nests to fire.

 I overcame the problem of fragile bisque pieces by glazing the raw clay (greenware) and firing once slowly through to stoneware)

 See where the fibre has burned away.
At the time in Melbourne we were facing a housing shortage as 100,000 migrants came into Victoria each year. The housing solutions were high rise and just seem to be emulating the conditions that people had left behind. I had also been reading some research on aggression in rats when over crowded and our housing situation seemed to be creating an environment that would spawn violence or at least serious aggression. At the same time there was an outcry about battery hens and everything came together about Robin Boyd and “pretty” handcrafts, high density housing, pecking order and the arrangement to look like a bakers display to imply that things needed cooling off. Hence “Robin Boidies and the Great Australian Ugly Nests”.  It was exhibited at Yarra Sculpture Gallery.

The other accompanying pieces were also an exploration of housing –one enormous nest representing a McMansion and this one of nest components which could be reassembled and transported anywhere, another past time of Australians and overseas visitors.