Friday, December 31, 2010

A letter a week 50,51 & 52 - in the nick of time!

I have been intermittently finishing my letters for alphabet 2 and it struck me yesterday that today being the last day of the year, I should probably post on them!

There is a quiet sense of achievement to have actually been able to stick with this wee challenge and to complete a letter every week for 2010. Sometimes it was two or three in a week if I fell behind; but generally speaking I did focus on a letter a week.

So to finish we have X, Y & Z.

With X I simply did lead pencil dot marks around the white areas in rusted braille paper background.

For Y I popped a couple of silver 'xs' in the background, to kind of mark the beginning and end of the journey

I loved the swirls in the background of Z and simply outlined them in silver.

Whilst I haven't completed the final piece for the alphabet yet - that isn't really due until early next year - I have been progressing it as I go and here are some images of the book in the making.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thursday Thoughts...

The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.
Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett puts it so beautifully - that sense of connection we get when we come across somebody who has managed to crystallise and express our own thoughts in a wonderful way. I am often awed by how perfectly some people can express themselves; they capture the essence of the thing, or find a way into something that suddenly illuminates it and allows you to understand or comprehend it more fully.

I think he also reinforces for me the idea (that seems to keep repeating in these book-y Th Ths) that books and writing help you to know that you are not alone.

One of our favourite book group reads this year was Alan Bennett's "The Uncommon Reader" and throughout our discussions we kept focusing on how beautifully he wrote. We kept reading out to each other favourite lines or passages that were exquisite in their simplicity or their ability to elegantly skewer somebody!

I think his idea that it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours is a beautiful way of thinking about an author's attempts to reach their audience.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Some Christmas cheer

I just quickly wanted to share one of my favourite Christmas things from this year.

My brother's partner Lorraine does fabulous things with paper and I was thrilled and amazed to see my card decorated in this 3-D way. Just gorgeous! It made me smile and still does - I kept it of course.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A calligraphy project and ponderings

I was recently asked to create a small calligraphic piece as a gift for Christmas. It was a simple quote, I was given some broad brush ideas about - elegant, simple, silver, touch of red, nothing fussy, not too big and off I went.

It was not a difficult commission and I enjoyed exploring a few design ideas and just getting some lettering done. Nonetheless, I have found that many folk are quite surprised or shocked when they see how much preparation goes into a final piece.  I think a lot of folk think that we simply pick up a pen and do some nice writing!

There are a lot of steps and a lot of decisions to be made, followed by a few practice layouts and paper/ink tests, then the final piece might have a chance of emerging. Unless you make a spelling mistake or blob some ink on it. All of which is possible!

I start by choosing a style of writing (a 'hand') that I think will suit the piece, and then work out what size nib is needed and how tall or big the letters should be - a few practices needed with different heights. I then write out the quote quickly and simply and cut up the words to see how the layout might look.

The layout is all about reading and breathing and how it looks. Does the layout let you read it with the right emphasis? Does it allow breaks for breaths that make sense? Does it look balanced ?

Then it's time to do some practices - and hope that the blobs appear now and not later! Here I am checking if the lines are far enough apart to let the words 'breathe' yet close enough together to make the words feel connected and flowing.

All the tools of the trade are used - from traditional 'cut and paste' scissors and glue to pencils and rulers and tissues to absorb excess ink from the nib.

When it's done, I then try to work out how much space to leave around the words when its framed. I knew we didn't want this to be a big and imposing piece, so it was important to leave enough white space, but not too much.

The final lay out piece ready to take to the framer. I used a very broad brush to give a hint of silver as a background. The little red diamonds were placed to counterbalance some of the blank spaces. And a little bit of the southern cross appeared in a way...

This angle shows the silver brush work better.

In typical fashion I didn't photograph it when it came back from the framer - but got it into the post quick smart! So maybe another time I'll actually take you through all the steps in a more logical and sequential manner...but this is a bit of a view into how a piece emerges from a brief conversation.

In the end, I think I didn't quite get the balance of the layout right - I would have preferred to have a right justified piece, but I went over a bit. The red diamonds help balance it out though.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Peace and joy

As we pause, take a breath and stop for just a wee moment, I wanted to wish all my fellow blogging travellers and all those who take the time to read and comment on my blog, a peaceful, joyful and safe Christmas time.

Wherever you are and however you spend the time, may you enjoy it, be safe as you travel and find moments of stillness.

Minnie Pwerle - Awelye and bush melon dreamings (detail) ©Fiona Dempster 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday Thoughts...

Creativity doesn’t ask permission. It comes when it wants, leaves when it likes. In another life creativity must have been a cat.
Quinn McDonald

Life feels a bit like this today - we have had a whirlwind week with no time to get into the studio or even think a creative thought it seems.

I think I like this one because of the reference to a cat.  I love cats even tho we don't have one at the moment.  I do like the independent nature of cats; their self containedness and their general sense of being able to look after themselves.  And to be affectionate and calming and soothing as well.

But I digress. I think that somedays I just get in the groove, the creativity flows, bits go here there and everywhere and magic happens. On other days, it seems as if I couldn't buy a piece of successful creativity if I tried.

Life can be so very distracting with other demands (like work and house and garden and family and friends and community and ...), I find that by regularly making time to be in the studio, on most days some sort of inspiration appears and I get to be creative, if only for a fleeting moment after several episodes of being uninspired. I figure if I'm there, I have far more chance of being available for creativity when it appears, than if I'm not, but its an ongoing challenge to find the ways and places that make it really happen.

'Create' dreamboat ©Fiona Dempster 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Publications Plus!

I was very excited this week. On Tuesday I received a copy of the Australian Society of Calligraphers' journal Colophon where there was a four-page, colour spread and back cover profiling the A Letter a Week challenge we have been hosting.  It was a great-looking article and really made me smile - you can see some images of it here.

On top of that, on Thursday, I received my copy of Words Work - another publication by the ASC - and another high quality publication.

This book promotes and displays the state of contemporary calligraphy in Australia and New Zealand. It's a visual feast inside for those who love letters and beautiful writing and a wonderful addition to the record of what is being done 'down under'.

The book available for $25.00 plus p&p here and is a wonderful gift for lettering lovers.

I chose to enter those pieces of mine where I didn't work on traditional surfaces. In these pieces I used ink on timber; engraved perspex and engraved copper. A nice little mix!

It's very exciting to see your work in print and in such venerable company - it felt like Christmas had come early.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thursday Thoughts...

Once, in my father’s bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Shadow of the Wind)

We all have them - those books that have played an important part in our lives; that comforted us; helped us understand we weren't alone; guided us; opened our minds to new ways of thinking or being; gave us the ah-ha moment or flash of insight that suddenly made something make sense. That made their way into our heart.

We recall these books - we may have underlined them, or written passages down in a notebook; we might have quoted them to friends or to lovers; we might have tagged them with sticky notes; and we often carry them with us across relationships and cities. And still we find meaning in them.

I recall giving the graduation speech at my College and including a quote from Richard Bach's Illusions

" You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true.
     You may have to work for it, however".

I read that again now and realise I still believe in it. I have somehow entwined that thought into the framework of my life and have carried that sense of believing in something and believing I/you/we can make it happen.

There was power in that thought and without being silly about it; I was able to take the sense of it and use it as a positive in my life - it prepared me to do hard work; to accept that nothing comes for nothing; and it gave me a sense that in part, I could control my destiny. Powerful thoughts and understandings for a 17 year old about to head off to University.

I have enjoyed this reflection, this pondering, and confirmation that some books do "sculpt a palace in our memory to which...we will return".

Image courtesy of teachingliteracy

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas cheer

It's beginning to feel a bit like Christmas - food and wine are flowing; presents being bought and wrapped; friends and families are gathering in different combinations and even the weather is momentarily warming up.

We have put our very minimalist Christmas tree up and chosen a very minimalist colour scheme this year. Each year the Dempster-Smith household colour co-ordinates Christmas and after last year's vibrant purple and azure blue; we have gone for neutrals. I say 'we' but this year, poor Barry just got told after the event - but luckily he likes it!

The wrapping is plain old brown paper and the ribbon is a nice chocolate brown and beige. It's a really strong ribbon and feels rich.  I made origami peace cranes out of the brown paper (not very good for folding or holding creases I discovered) and have dangled them from the tree.

It's beginning to feel a bit like Christmas indeed!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Letter a Week 49

I am slowing getting back on is "W".

Lucky for me, an outline letter only so a bit quicker to do.  I used a silver gel pen to do some running stitch curves on the background.

And just to show I really am doing my letters each week and not all at once - here are preparations underway for the last 3!  

This is a very typical look for my studio desk...none of it was placed for a photo - I just looked back as I walked away and thought 'that's a shot I could take'.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Letter a Week 47 & 48

I am way out of whack with my letters; somehow I have lost a week or two and am still catching up. Perhaps that is indicative of how this time of year feels for everybody.  I know a lot of folk are just focused on the next thing - they can't plan too far ahead they just have to get thru this week, these few days; this weekend; this party; this final event etc.

Remember to breathe will be my motto for a bit.

So here are 'u' and 'v', quite nice little letters. They are embroidered onto rusted braille paper as ever, with slight mark making and embellishment in the background.

For 'u' I chose to cut and fold little triangles - I love this shape cut like this.

For 'v' I did running stitches in two off-set square/rectangle shapes.

Over at A Letter a Week 2010 some folk have finished their second alphabets and they are gorgeous to look at.  I will soon be posting about next year's adventure if folk want to join in...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thursday Thoughts...

My eyes have become accustomed to viewing, a delicate task of refocusing, of starting to see absence as well as presence, to recognising the slight contrast of a trace. Searching for traces that no longer can be given a name.
Melissa Herrington

Art is such a life of observing, seeing and discovering.  Oftentimes, quite differently from others around us. This capacity to see beauty in the minutiae, to observe the absence of something, the shape or sense left by something not there.

Somehow seeing the shadows, the light filtering and playing, the juxtaposition of vibrant colours.

I think you know kindred art spirits when you look at photographs from their holidays.  Rarely do people and buildings and sights feature - it's the lichen on the stone; or the tumbled down rocks of a wall; the puddles reflecting the buildings or the texture of some fabric.  It can be impossible to tell where they have been from their images; but each image sings to them and reminds them fully of where they were and what they were doing. Each close up transports them to another place and time and reminds them of the beauty in the world that we view, as traces or marks are left behind.

Image from Melissa's website here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Book Art Object - developing ideas

I've mentioned here that I am participating in the Book Art Object project this time around and I am finding time in between all the general madness to think about the book, the poem and how it will all come together.

This is the first time I have had an edition to produce - at least 15 copies of the book.  That will make one for each member of my 'team', a couple to go in joint exhibitions, one to go to the author of the poem and a couple left over for me to hang onto, send to other exhibitions etc.

I have been scribbling down ideas and notes in books here and there whenever I think about it; and today I got the chance to sit and see if any of the ideas might possibly work. I started out with one idea; did a bit of a mock-up and thought no, I didn't like the interruptions between the text. I then did another one which required me to think long and hard about fronts and backs of pages and about each page as divided into 4 and where the different bits appear, and this one has more promise.

I find with both calligraphy and book making so much preparation and planning and trialling and testing go into a piece. At so many points along the way you can discover difficulties! I think both disciplines require patience and a willingness to accept that things can take a bit of time.

Here are a couple of shots of the scribbles today (transcription errors included).

Friday, December 3, 2010

More encaustic explorations

It's been a crazy old week with a work trip to Sydney to prepare for, do, and write up but I have managed in some very in between moments to continue to explore the encaustic part of the world. It seems so many of the folk I connect with in this blogging world are interested in and exploring it at the moment - it's funny how things come together.

I made two attempts here - firstly I bonded the layer of rusted encaustic-ed tissue paper to an underlying piece of heavy written and smoked paper with more wax. I love the feel of the page that resulted; but I lost a bit of the translucency of the marks I had made on the tissue paper.

©Fiona Dempster - encaustic smoked text
©Fiona Dempster - encaustic smoked text 2
I then thought about simply lightly gluing the rusted, encaustic-ed tissue paper with marks onto some more paper that had simply been inked and marked. This approach kept more of the surface marking on the tissue.

The underlying page was torn from an old book. I then ruled through each line with a lovely old nib and ink and then 'wrote' across each line with a funny squiggly hieroglyphic 'script', entirely made up in the moment.

©Fiona Dempster - encaustic tissue-type
©Fiona Dempster - encaustic tissue-type2
I wonder what happens next if I encaustic the text-typed paper with marks and then lightly glue it? Or bond it with wax?  I think next week's experiments have just been laid out for me!

I hope to use pages like these in a book very soon.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday Thoughts...

Second hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.

Virginia Woolf

I have just realised I have quoted Virginia Woolf two weeks in a row - apologies to anybody who doesn't like her.

I think this is a fabulous description of second hand books. Firstly the images she creates in my mind's eye of the books as birds, of different feathers all flocking together is wonderful.  That sense of non-uniformity, of differences all brought together often under one roof (or roost).  I like too the image of them as homeless; not rooted in place, of moving about, being shared, passed from hand to hand, regularly on the move, finding new homes...

Second hand books have a history too - they are not fresh or newly minted; they have been handled and read and moved about. Other people may have written notes in them; left their dockets in them; turned down page corners to mark a place, or left their mark on them some other way. Sometimes it seems as if they have hardly been touched at all.

I also find second hand book shops quite irresistible places - when you are on the hunt for a particular book you have to drop in and check if they have it; when you are holidaying and reading lots of book they help replace the stash without breaking the bank; for that book you have to read for book group but aren't sure you want to fork out the full amount for; for picking up books in a series you have gotten yourself addicted to; and for dozens more reasons, they are wonderful places to visit. Even if just for the smell!

Photo courtesy of

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Letter a Week 46

It's most unlike me, but I have actually done my "Letter a Week ' on Saturday so I think I should mark the event by posting on Saturday!

Here is the letter 'T'. It is from my 'heartbeat script' and is stitched into rusted braille paper. This time I chose to use one of the woodburning-poker-thingies (technical term!). It has a couple of interchangeable heads and I used the square one. I managed not to set the whole page on fire which was good; nor did I melt the underlying surface.

You can deduce from those two comments that I have successfully managed to achieve both those outcomes in earlier attempts!

I usually go for odd numbers of design elements - but this time, the evens seemed to work so I left them.

In case you are interested, here is the sampler of my heartbeat script that I am using as the basis for this alphabet. Only 6 letters left and I should probably be thinking about next year already!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thursday Thoughts...

For masterpieces are not single and solitary births. They are the outcome of many years of thinking by the body of the people so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.

Virginia Woolf (a room of one's own)

I followed an interesting 'conversation' over at Velma's blog Wake Robin through the last week. It was discussing how some folk attempt to trademark their art or particular techniques.   Somebody added this quote from Virginia Wolf and I thought it captured so much of it for me.

Each piece of art I create is built up from my skills, from the lessons I have learned, from the books that I have read, from my explorations that take things a bit further in a different direction; by some images I may have seen or a piece of art I have responded to; by an email exchange that tests an idea or explains another way of doing something; by adapting or using a favourite tool in a new way; from a fleeting moment of inspired creativity; from a conversation with Barry; or...... the list can go on.

In many ways our personal art is the expression of so many inputs.  That is not to say that we are not producing original works - for we are - but to suggest that we have done it all on our own with nothing learned from anybody else or inspired by anything else seems to me to be a bit on the arrogant side.

On the other hand, never do I think its a good idea to directly lift an idea from somebody else's work and think "I'll do that". And I am never sure if I have a rule in my head when judging art about how many steps away from somebody else's work or inspiration makes for a comfortable sense of originality in the work. I expect I will ponder these issues for a long time yet.

Detail of calligraphy - Tatebayashi City Hall, Japan

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Encaustic - fun with text and paper

I mentioned in my last post that my next step was to explore how to bring text into play with my rusted tissue paper pieces.  I have torn the pages from an old book and painted the encaustic medium onto both sides.

I love the effect created here - where the paper sort of disappears and the inked text on both sides of the paper remains - so you get a fabulous backwards printed shadow effect.  I had drawn some scribbles on one side of the paper in pencil and it was fabulous to see that they also came thru to the wrong/right side after applying the medium.

I am enjoying where this little exploration is taking me, but am still working on how best to bring text and the marks together.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Encaustic - journeys and places

Noela and I attended a one day encaustic workshop in Caloundra earlier this month and explored the fun and joy of working with beeswax combined with damar resin.

We typically headed off in different directions to the rest of the class and each other; but both really enjoyed finding ways to bring this lovely technique and its gorgeous effects into our own work.

In preparation for our exhibition in March next year, I am continuing to build a body of work around "Journeys, places, marks and traces" and was keen to use encaustic in some of the pieces.

I have bought some encaustic medium where the wax and the resin are premixed; probably less trouble for me altho I still have my damar crystals and blocks of wax waiting for me when I want to make my own. I melted the medium in an old frypan I picked up at a garage sale, and then painted it onto some rusted tissue paper. When it was dry, I made marks on the paper with ink and a silver pen. Little traces, here and there.

The next step is to incorporate text somehow.

Here are 3 of the 15 pieces I did - I love the glossy richness the encaustic imparts to the papers, as well as the translucency. It somehow enables the papers to be stronger, and yet still appear fragile.