Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday Thoughts...

Let my doing nothing
When I have nothing to do
Become untroubled in its depth
Of peace like the evening in the seashore
When the water is silent.
Rabindranath Tagore

I was attracted to this thought today as I find myself attached to the keyboard, dashing between this document and that, checking bank accounts and payments, researching things and formatting yet more reports. So many 'shoulds'. So many 'musts'. So many things to keep every second of every moment occupied.

I think we (I) can get caught up in the nature of being busy - of feeling the need to fill each moment with industry of some sort; of occupying blank spaces with effort and chores. Of trying to make each and every part of the day purposeful.

And yet we need to remember the counterpoints, those moments which are the opposite of drive and purpose and effort.

I love these lines, as I read them I feel my body and my mind easing, softening, letting go; hearing a whisper of what it feels like to relax and stop and be. A tantalising hint of how good it can be.

To sit. And be. Simply that. Letting noises, work, demands and expectations wash past me, letting me simply be. In that moment. Perfect as it is. Without guilt.

These are the sorts of moments that replenish me; that fill me up and energise me; that nurture and comfort me and in the end, enable me to do the things I do. Here's to many more moments of doing nothing. And simply being.

©2011 Fiona Dempster - early morning Umbakumba lagoon

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tumblring along 2...

It was good to hear how others feel about Tumblr and what it offers and how they use it. I definitely agree that it's not all that intuitive if you just land there and can't understand how it works - it takes a while and trial and error; and we don't all have that much time or energy to expend on yet another interwebby platform.

I promised to talk some more about the good the bad and the ugly of Tumblr as experienced by my friendly questionees and to also consider the vexed question of 'photo/picture pilfering' and the like.

In response to what they like most about tumblr, Ronnie mentioned that she might stumble over stuff that she wouldn't ordinarliy find and each questionee spoke about the opportunities tumblr offers to come across interesting things and to discover artists unknown to them; and a couple mentioned how easy it was - no pressure, no writing.

Leslie said "It's where I swoon. It's where I collect art" which I loved - that sense of a personal digital art collection.  Robyn spoke about getting lost in her own world and how much she loves her archive page - "a huge mosaic of ... whatever makes me feel alive".

And both Robyn and Leslie mentioned how it is still about connecting with other artists who are on your wavelength; and that tumblr offers an opportunity to learn more about those artists, what moves them and speaks to them.

The idea of learning about what we each respond to, and of learning about how other artists see their world were benefits of the almost totally visual format of Tumblr, and in addition Ann mentioned how useful it was to see  how other people respond to our own art when we post it.

The top of my Tumblr page earlier today
When asked what they like least about Tumblr, there were a couple of issues about the admin of the platform (it overloads sometimes, and they send you emails when somebody re-blogs your photo or starts following you which can clutter up an inbox and be annoying). For a few of us, the fact that sexually explicit sites are available without warning around their content has been a bit of a concern, as is when these sites start following you. You have to be vigilant to check new followers and block them if you don't want these sorts of folk to appear on your blog.

Sloppy referencing and not linking or acknowledging information properly was a real concern for Ronnie and a few of us noted how easy it is to spend a lot of time tumblring along.  For Leslie - the fact that there is no dialogue or conversation has been interesting; meaning Tumblr blogs tend to lack the depth of our other blogs.
My Tumblr archive so far for June
I also asked folk how they handled the permission to post or posting of images with links or references. This is one of the areas I have never felt totally comfortable with over at Tumblr, and I was so pleased the questionees shared their thoughts.

Everybody agreed that it was about each of us behaving with respect, honesty and integrity; and that we should all treat people as we would wish to be treated ourselves.

Always link to the person and give credit to the artist were agreed by everybody. For a few of us, if we see an image by an artist we know that is not credited, we go in and make the link and credit.

The way Tumblr usually allows for an automatic link is a real positive of the site; but some tricky people circumvent this by posting the photograph somewhere else first, then link to that intermediate posting; leaving the real artist's credit way back where...not good form.

An informal set of rules kind of appeared:

For most of us if we are re-blogging an image, we simply re-blog it;
If we are posting an image from the public domain we post it with correct links and credits; and
If we are posting from a personal blog however, we ask permission first.

Thank you again to Robyn, Leslie, Ronnie and Ann, and to others who have joined in the conversation; I've enjoyed pondering and learning alongside you.

My Tumblr archive for a quieter couple of months

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Paper folding and fiddling

I spent a wonderful day on Friday with my friend Susan as we chatted and talked and flipped thru books and looked at things in her studio and folded paper.

She had recently done a paper folding course with Paul Johnson and wanted to show me some of the things that she thought we could both use in our arts practice. Neither of us is likely to work as boldy or as brightly as Paul does; but some of the techniques and structures seem to have pretty universal application.

I don't really have an engineering bent; but did manage to spend some time this weekend making up examples of some of the things she showed me. There were moments of great hilarity when my intuition came up against some logic and idea that made no sense to me - but between us (the two sides of my brain that is) we got there!

This is the lectern book - pretty funky.

This is a concertina book in a paper 'box' with cut outs on one side of the 'box'. It is neat, simple and will have many applications I think.

This is a box folded from a single A4 piece of paper, it has double-strength sides and tops and as a result you can do cut-outs and show something underneath... I also made a tab to tuck in.

I love having prototypes around the place to remind me how I did something, or how I could modify or improve something and these are a good little set to sit on my shelf as reminders when I wish to make something proper. Speaking of prototypes (cue distraction), Barry made the most amazing feathers this weekend - well worth a look; I am the number 1 fan!

Speaking of prototypes for the last time, I must confess that there was one box Susan loaned me as a guide and for the life of me I can't put it back together properly! That will be my challenge for the week, fingers crossed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Photo mosaics

I have been wondering about how to make mosaic-tile type photographs as I have seen so many bloggers using them to such a good effect. Some kind folk offered to helped me out with photoshop templates and so on, but I tried and failed and felt a bit inept (thanks for trying Liz!).

So I took some late night moments this week to see if I could discover an easier way of doing them and this is what I found...

My first trial was a mosaic of a few of the finished 'black and white and a touch of ...' alphabets over at alaw2011. I already put all the finished alphabets  into a slideshow on the blog, but I thought it might also be nice to have a 'group photo' as some point and post it as a blog post.  I used a 2 x 2 grid here so didn't collect all of the finished ones yet (it was a trial after all). Having kind of sort of mastered the process, I will definitely go back and do a couple of group photos for that blog.

Liz had already used a grid in her final shot and it added an interesting design element to the layout. From L to R, top to bottom: Heather Courtis, Liz Davidson, Anna Mavromatis, Laurence Bucourt.

This next set uses a different layout - one large shot of Cartography I and II with a detailed close-up of each.

Another variation - a single major shot with three smaller detail shots of my final ALAW2010 piece.

Another way of playing - four vertical strips. This time showing snippets of 'Within, Without' by James Turrell.

I found it pretty easy to use - altho you have to play for a bit to familiarise yourself with it. I also had to sign up - but there don't seem to be any negatives associated with that.  You get to choose from about 7 different layouts; can use up to 36 images in some of them; and also make choices about the colour of the frame and the width of the separators. You don't seem to have much control over the cropping; but I think that's the sort of price you pay for going with a "we-do-it-all-for-you" kind of approach.

I think I can live with it for now!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thursday Thoughts...

I can’t paint, I can’t draw and I can’t weld, but I can see an empty space and I know what to put in it.
Rosalie Gascoigne

It's as simple as that really isn't it?  And she did know what to put in it.

I don't know if all artist types struggle with the "what they can't do" thing or if that is just a female thing or just a Fiona thing.  I often say and then try to retract, "I can't draw". I can actually draw - often detailed and finely, but I don't like to draw, and I don't experience the world in a way where I carry a sketchbook with me and have to get things down with a scribble or a sketch.

I am much more likely to write down a quote or a passage from a book; a phrase or expression which is painfully eloquent or stunningly beautiful.

Its those thoughts and ideas which inspire me - which trigger thoughts and emotions, and which form the basis for my expression. I often have to let go of the negative thoughts about you're not really an artist if you don't draw.

I like that Rosalie worked out what it was she was good at - she knew her inspiration and she did what she did well and left the other stuff to those people who were good at it; really good at it.

I guess there is part of every artist's journey that is finding out about what we are good at; about letting go of preconceptions and expectations and finally understanding the art we make; what we do best and what is unique about us and our view of the world.

I often hear of folk who attend art school with the strong drive or passion to paint - and come out the other end a ceramicist. Or who are fabulous photographers who become silversmiths... and I think its wonderful that exposure to other ways of being in the world clicks with them and helps them find their own true voice.

It's a great journey to be on.

Rosalie Gascoigne, 1994-95, But mostly air...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tumblring along...

As I write this I am wondering about etiquette again.  What's the etiquette of writing about one blogging platform on another blogging platform? Sigh. Too much for me so I'll go ahead and do it anyway.

I have enjoyed having a tumblr blog for quite a few months now and have managed to overcome the addicted-ness that came with early use.  I continue to enjoy exploring the images and links that are there and in my own time and own way.  Nonetheless I got to wondering how and why other folk use tumblr blogs and I asked a few of my favourites some questions which they were kind enough to answer.

My questionees were:

When asked why they had a Tumblr blog they spoke about being able to discover and share images and quotes that they loved; as well as having a place where they could easily store inspiring images in one place. Rhonda (Ronnie) got into tumblr when she discovered an image of one of her works had gone semi-viral and she wondered what it meant to be popular when you had nothing at all to do with the posting of the work! For me, I like being able to explore lots of beautiful images, without having to engage with anybody, or get emails or notifications. I choose when and how I interact.

In thinking about how they use tumblr and what they use it for, Ronnie indicated she is experimenting with it, to see what information related to her current art research she might come across or stumble-upon. For Leslie, it's her on-line inspiration notebook, whilst Robyn finds scrolling thru it in the morning is a good way to get into work mode, and that it's also a means of unwinding after working all day. Ann uses it as an on-line scrapbook and reference book. I use it as means of collecting inspiring images and quotes - visions that calm me and that I respond to. I also do a little self-education thing where I then ask myself questions about what it is I am responding to - why does that piece appeal? etc as I try to learn more about art and myself.

©2010 Fiona Dempster - a dash of hope and courage
I think there is more than enough text here to digest, so I will finish up for the day here. The next blog post on tumblr will look at what the lovely questionees like most about tumblr, what they like least about tumblr and how they manage the posting and permission part of sharing all those images.

It would be great to hear from others what they think about tumblr and/or how they use it...feel free to add comments, drop me a line ... it's good to get the conversation going!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Australian Book Arts Journal

I received another nice piece of publication news this week when our copies of the Australian Book Arts Journal appeared in the PO Box.

Editor Linda Douglas has included a brief article on me and my work in this bumper edition themed "Paper: the Connecting thread". My article is titled "In praise of paper and thread" and I wrote about how much I love and admire paper - it's paradoxes of strength and fragility - and its multiplicity of uses. The article also gave me the chance to talk about my embroidery on paper and how it has become a favourite way of bringing two things I love (hand stitching and paper) together - "Embroidering on paper transforms the paper, and makes it even more tactile as the threads sit upon its surface".

Three of my books are featured, with a colour shot of the embroidered heartbeat sampler book I made for A Letter a Week last year on the inside front cover. Each book brings thread together with paper as a key design element and not simply as part of the binding.

Thank you Linda for producing an Australian book arts journal and providing Australian artists with the opportunity to tell their story...

The journal appears every four months and a subscription is a great way to stay connected to the book arts world in Australia, and to get to hold and feel a REAL book is such a good thing to do (not just view it in part on line). For subscriptions head here.

©2011 Linda Douglas - ABAJ Issue 5
©2011 Linda Douglas - ABAJ Fiona Dempster  In Praise of Paper and Thread
©2011 Linda Douglas - ABAJ inside front cover

Friday, June 17, 2011

Opening party...

Well we had a fun night at the opening of Marking Moments last night at the UpFront Club. Good friends and local artists (often one and the same) gathered for a nice meal, a few drinks and a look at the art works on the wall.

Some wonderful folk also purchased some art - two of Barry's shrines have new homes which is lovely news!

Here are images of friends at play - lots of catching up and solving of the world's problems in the funky little Club...

©2011 Fiona Dempster - UpFront Club exhibition space
©Fiona Dempster - Marking Moments, Barry's shrines
©Fiona Dempster - the music stage plus some of Fiona's small pieces
©2011 - Good friends, awesome artists Christine and Noela
©2011 - Fabulous artist friend Kim and Barry in the background
©2011 - a table of talent Wendy, Ken and Sonja

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thursday Thoughts...

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.
Franz Kafka

I hadn't thought I would choose this quote today - but in the end it grabbed me by the throat and dared me not to! It's quite a challenging thought and so passionately expressed I figured in the end I'd best spend some time with it and think it through.

I can kind of understand where he is coming from here - but it's not necessarily a place I find myself in with him.  I think the best books do shake you up; do challenge you; do introduce you to new ways of being or seeing, but I don't believe they have to tear you apart in the process. Nor do I think the process has to be as painful as Kafka suggests.

Like anything in life - if we simply read those things we are comfortable with and feel safe with; then we are likely to become complacent and/or narrow in our worldview. So I do think broad reading is good, as I think challenging reading is good; but I also think there's a place for pleasurable and delightful reading -especially curled up in winter!

©2007 Fiona Dempster - Coastline in Aceh two years post tsunami
I searched for some images of dark places, disasters, wounds and the like and thought to myself, well our visit to our friend Jeff in Aceh in 2007 still tells the story of the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami. 2 years on, so much damage remained so much flotsam and jetsam. People's shoes still floating. So this one's for Kafka.

This one's for me...a winter tree in Canberra; perfect reading weather inside!

©2010 Fiona Dempster - Crisp clear winter day in Canberra

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Letter a Week - almost there....

I have been amazed to see all the wonders that are appearing over at aletteraweek 2011 as folk finish their first alphabets, and over the weekend I decided I had to get mine finished (or at least almost, just about, finished).

I have completed all the letters and done all the folds. I decided to try and make three little books - each with 9 pages. The mathematicians amongst us will realise that's 27 pages not 26 -  I added a little cover page.

I made some light covers and covered them with gold-leafed paper a friend had bought back for me from America and then attached the bouncy little books to their covers.

Bouncy indeed!  I think I erred perhaps by putting so many pages into a single book; but they are kind of quirky.

I am currently working on a box to house and contain them - they spill exuberantly all over the place when they are released. Very jack-in-the-box like I must say, and I really love all the different poses and forms they take.

Once they final piece is done I'll post it here and over at aletteraweek 2011. Enjoy!

©2011 Fiona Dempster - alaw2011 cover page
©2011 Fiona Dempster - alaw2011 star shapes
©2011 Fiona Dempster - alaw2011 detail
©2011 Fiona Dempster - alaw2011 bundled
©2011 Fiona Dempster - alaw2011 single book fan

Monday, June 13, 2011


In a funny way this exhibition/show has crept up on us.  We had arranged very casually, as you do here in Maleny, to take up some exhibition space at the UpFront Club during June. The Club (as it is known locally) is a cooperative cafe which is a huge supporter of music in the town and also artists. Each month they hang local artists work on their walls and several nights a week have live music.

Barry had thought that his shrines would work well on the walls - and that the local clientele might enjoy them.  Somehow I got talked into; or talked myself into; being a part of it as well - hanging some of the works from earlier in the year.

So tomorrow (Tuesday) we hang and at 6.00pm on Thursday night we have a fun opening dinner and drinks to which you are ALL invited!

I still think it would be great if we could tele-port ourselves across the world to each other's events; and then just pop home.

©2011 Fiona Dempster - Cartography I
©2011 Barry Smith - Connected

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sweet Surrender

We got some good news here in the Dempster-Smith household during the week. We had both entered the East Gippsland Artist Book Award 2011  Books... beyond words - evolution and this week BOTH received the happy email saying our books had been accepted!

It's always nice to be included - and a bit sad when you're not.  It's also good to still be in the mix where there are a couple of good prizes going!

Barry's lovely "Spiral" book will be heading south as will my metal book "Surrender".

After a wickedly cold afternoon yesterday; the sun shone a bit today so I took a couple of photos before both the sun and the book disappear.

The cover is engraved freehand using a Dremel (done with last year's broken finger); and the internal words are punched or stamped into the metal. What I love about these images is that they make the stamped letters look more as if they are embossed; coming out of the page towards you rather than having been pushed into page. Intriguing.

The book speaks of surrendering to the elements and to time; letting them do what they will as we submit to their forces...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thursday Thoughts...

You teach best what you most need to learn.
Richard Bach, Illusions

I read this book as a teenager, and it made an impression on me as I was shaping my thinking about self-determination; will; destiny; personal responsibility; choices and so on.

Over the past few weeks I have come to once again recognise the truth in this little quote.  From my experience, as I start to think about and prepare to teach something; it often becomes clear that what I know at a superficial level is not enough; and that I need to go deeper or broader in my understanding in order to be an effective teacher.

It sometimes also means that something I am unclear about or uncertain about in my own practice needs to be taught and repeated for me to lose that uncertainty.

The single page binding was an example of this. I don't bind often enough to have actually laid down in my memory bank perfectly, all the steps. So I remind myself each time I sit down to stitch by glancing at my notes and refreshing my thinking.  Teaching people means I have to be sure of what I am doing and know what I am doing, and be confident!

I loved teaching the binding on the weekend because I found the keys to the stitching - the two or three things people needed to hold onto as principles or guides. Like "Remember the cover always has two stitches on the outside". "Always bring the needle back between the page and the stitches". "As soon as you have two pages to hold in your hand; start linking back" and so on.

Now none of this makes sense in the absence of the book in front of you - but they are like little mantras to hold onto, which will always help you know where to go next and what to do next.  So by teaching and repeating I have created my own "notes to self" which are now embedded in my brain. Yay!

©2011 Fiona Dempster Finding my place (detail)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hearts are trumps

I have really enjoyed my recent burst of teaching and the engagement with fellow calligraphers and bookie folk. It's been great fun, really energising and inspiring, but having been on the road so much beforehand I haven't had much time to do my own work or follow up on all the ideas that have been bubbling away since the classes.

In between teaching I was still trying to do something creative, and I was fortunate enough to come across the work of Heather Eddy who has created a resource for book-folders.  She provides patterns, templates and instructions that help you make some really interesting 3-D book works, and I began with the hearts...

©2011 Fiona Dempster - hearts are trumps, Heather Eddy pattern
©Fiona Dempster - hearts are trumps

©Fiona Dempster - hearts are trumps
©2011 Fiona Dempster - hearts are trumps
Now that I am beginning to understand the principles of folding book pages better, I hope to make a few more from Heather's patterns and then see if I can develop a couple of unique Fiona styles as well!

Here's a corner of our dining room - with the book on display.

©2011 Fiona Dempster - a quiet corner

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day 2 at Buderim

Here we are at the end of a what felt like a whirlwind day. The group worked so hard, concentrated for so long and remained tenacious and persistent to the end!

As a result, they were rewarded with a finished book with their beautiful calligraphy inside. It certainly feels good to have folk going home from a workshop with a beautiful finished piece and I was so proud of what they all achieved.

I was a bit worried last night that some of them were feeling a bit scared or intimidated by the thought of the binding, so quickly printed off a heap of extra Japanese stab binding instructions just in case. But they all took on the challenge and we started by making our covers. Tick, no one was too worried about that part which was good. Then we sat and bound a small square book - made of mat-board pages.  This gave everybody the chance to practice and get a feel for it; without worrying they were going to ruin their pages with their first attempt.

This is my sample book, for each of them, theirs also acts as reminder of what they did/ how they did it as in some cases I expect their final pieces will be given as gifts as they are so beautiful.

We all worked so hard I only managed to get two photos, and I quickly nabbed these towards the end - so not everybody's book is included.

Thanks to John, Jenne, Noreen, Julie, Helen, Freda, Yvonne and Helen for the use of these images.

The stitching on them was exquisite - lined up, regular and beautiful, and the binding made each book seem so precious.

Thanks again to the Calligraphy Group at Buderim Craft Cottage for inviting me to teach; and for being such willing, enthusiastic and persistent participants! I hope you all sleep well tonight and don't dream of linking back and coming out between the pages and the stitches....

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Day 1 at Buderim

We have made it thru day 1 of the Winter School at Buderim Craft Cottage and have come out the other side with lots of lovely things happening. We focused on my heartbeat script today and it was such a delight to teach something I had created myself. We spoke about developing our expression of ourselves and of taking the next steps forward with calligraphy for ourselves.

©2011 Fiona Dempster - heartbeat script, interlinear variations
I really enjoyed watching other folk enjoy my little script - and making it their own. Where people felt a letter form didn't quite work for them - they struggled with it or rebelled against it - I encouraged them to find a way to make a letter that worked for them yet remained true to the spirit and form of the script. As a result, we had some new "q"s appear and the occasional new 't" amongst others, which is nice to see.

I think if people enjoy the rhythm of writing the script; the words will flow and it will be full of life. If they struggle with it; work too hard to make a perfect copy of what I have done; then I think that drains the life out of the work a bit and can make it more stilted and appear sort of lifeless.

I was amazed at how well everybody did with the script, from beginners to experienced calligraphers - there are some fabulous, high quality versions about the place now, and I hope it becomes a script people enjoy using.

Here are some photos of practice sheets, exemplars at work and some proper pages.

Thanks to Julie, Noreen, John, Helen, Greg, and Yvonne for the use of their work here.

Tomorrow we tackle a single page binding - taking the pages we made today and turning them into a beautiful book.