Sunday, January 30, 2022

Hankies update

A well overdue  update on my big project of last year, my Covid hankies. A random selection of blog posts from last year can be found here here here and here.  But searching by hankies will find you most of them.

However, here we are one month into 2022, and the hankies are not done.

I need to rewind to August last year when I began to suffer some very weird hand symptoms. Excruciating pain as I tried to turn door knobs, dropping things as sharp pain burst through my hand. I went to see my physio and we had a great yarn about what might be happening and both decided I should go see a hand therapist.

I did that and she was quite clear that I needed to slow down on the stitching; use some anti-inflammatories, wear a pressure glove and really reduce my stitching. I think I said that twice, because she certainly did!

Which left me a bit betwixt and between.  I couldn't really stitch but I knew I wanted to finish the project.  So I chose to stop stitching until I was symptom-free and then do a slow but graduated return with a few modifications to my style.

What happened of course is that I kept on collecting the information, recording it, writing it down, planning for the next months and so on. But I didn't pick up the needle.

I was fearful I guess; as a maker I really really use my hands. As a former physio I know that rest is vital to repair and recovery. I was really concerned about setting up a chronic situation of flares ups, settling, flares up and so on; ending up in the need for surgery (which was discussed as a real possibility). So I behaved. But psychologically I also stayed away from even doing small bits, and then other work took precedence and here we are in the new year without having picked up the hankies  in nearly 6 months. 

Where I left off stitching July.

So I gave myself the task of trying again and seeing how much I could do.  It turns out that baby steps are still needed, but I think I have made some progress.

A half hour here; a half-hour there. An hour one day, another half hour here. 

My mouse mat acts a reminder of the cottage...

Today in the studio I was determined.  I did the second last line in half an hour, took a break for an hour or two then finished the last line in about 45 minutes.

The coffee mug in the background is a gift from a friend - a reminder of our former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's famous misogny speech. Go Girl this video is powerful.

And it looks grand!

The fierce symptoms haven't returned; yet there is swelling and strain up my arm; and a few weird pins and needles things on occasions. The glove helps a lot and I have tried to remember to take arnica beforehand and afterwards.  I think I will be able to finish them, but ever so slowly.

They remain a really important piece of work for me, and a remarkable reminder of all the ups and downs last year with the virus. 

I am not repeating them this year but have another small Covid recording project up my sleeve.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Thursday Thoughts...

“We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive” 

Thich Nhat Hanh

For me, the start of this year has already seen two beautiful souls die and fly free. Mo has said farewell to Rod, her partner in life, music, art and gardens.  And the buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh passed away this week -  a zen master and peace and mindfulness activist.

His words here remind me of the truth. That all we have, all that we can depend upon, know, or rely upon is this moment. 

All those plans and hopes and dreams for later today; or tomorrow or next week, or next birthday or... are not things we have. They are all in the maybe, might be, could be box - and all that we have is now.  

Which is hard, but true.  I think the time around death is the time we know this best. The grieving of our hopes and plans and our future is hard. The grief around the loss of somebody you love is all encompassing.

And so I guess I hope that I can remember to be aware and grateful and pay attention to the many many small moments, and know that each one is precious. 

That rather than get carried away with concern about what might happen, or where will we go or what will we do; that I can be here more; where my feet are, and be ever so grateful.

Namaste. Fly free.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

For the love of Letraset

Pondering this Letraset love thing I have going on and I am not completely sure I’ve got it nailed down. What I have got however, is a lot of little ideas, connections or hints at why I am enjoying the process as much as I am. 

 Part of the attraction is a sense of familiarity. Letraset was something I played with as a young person/child, and yet more importantly for me I think, is that it lies somewhere between the hand setting of traditional type; and the typewriter. There is intimacy in the manual nature of it. 

 I am loving that it is old, quite rare and previously used (pre-loved some might say). Just like an old typewriter; just like our traditional letterpress. Part of the joy is knowing that others have held these things and used their hands to make magic with them. 

 Or simply type a letter, make a sign or print a newspaper… 

 The way in which the old Letraset sheets are like cultural artefacts. They bear the biro marks of enthusiastic youngsters rubbing off their letters. 

 Part of the deep affection is that working with vintage Letraset, I am once again forced to work within its limitations. Just as we are oftentimes limited to what we can say or print with our traditional letterpress because there just aren’t enough of, for example, an ‘o’; I am also limited to how many letters of a certain kind have been left on the sheet. If I am doing calligraphy I can create as many ‘o’s as I want; when using a computer the well of letters never runs dry. 

From lower case q to o

 In conjunction with not enough letters, I have to contend with the poor transfer of a letter; I have to see if I can add a bit; I have to modify a $ and make a capital S out of it; I have to sacrifice another letter to fill in a part that didn’t transfer and so on, and this problem solving is something that I really enjoy. Always pondering “Can I make this work?”. 

The arch of the r was lost; then replaced.

From $ to S

 Like calligraphy with ink and nib; I have to commit. No time for sketching, edging my way into something and no rubbing things out. I just have to decide and go. Put it down and rub the letter off. Once I am committed that is pretty much it. The spontaneity of it is followed by almost immediate reward. It can be fast! 

 I adore both the crispness of letters that transfer perfectly and the fractured disrepair of those that don’t. I also love the accidental appearance of random elements like guidelines or serifs from the letter below or behind the letter I am transferring when my rubbing gets a bit enthusiastic. The gift of the unexpected. 

 The playful exploratory part brings delight too. The ease of changing the direction of a letter; just turn the sheet to the right position and transfer. The placement of the ligatures and connections between letters – just place the sheet down exactly where you want it, or go for a random point or juncture. 

 There is an element of instinct and intuition to it which also appeals. Each letter goes down with part reference to what has gone before; but this positioning is sometimes obscured by other yet-to-be -transferred letters – so much depends on the eye. Placement can be a bit by chance, and whilst I might choose, the Letraset letters determine what happens. There is a constant twinning of ease and difficulty; of control and letting go. 

 When layering letters onto previous letters; sometimes the first letters down lose parts of themselves as I apply the letter on top – this dance of happenstance and hazard is part of the attraction I am sure. 

 So, in summary, I think it’s because it is old; that it is tricky and a little bit fickle; that it forces me work within limitations and problem solve every step of the way; and that it is such a combination of ease and difficulty; planning and serendipity; control and letting go. And I also think it is the haptic nature of it all; as ever, the joy of making words with my hands.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Turning Point

 It took me quite a while to come up with the title for this book.

Its working title had been "Silent no more", reflecting on the year that was 2021.

I thought about how Grace Tame, a child sexual abuse survivor, was named Australian of the Year and how she used that platform as an opportunity to change forever how we thought about and spoke about abuse of women.

I thought of how Brittany Higgins another young woman, who was allegedly raped in a Minister's office in Parliament House after hours, came forward and spoke her truth and told her story and how the stories and stands these two women took gave confidence to so many older women who had simply "put up with it" and borne the shame of abuse and assault as the victims, to also stand up and speak out.

I thought about how Saxon Mullin's persistence in her pursuit to have consent laws in NSW changed to reflect positive consent; not simply the lack of the word "no" and the joy when those laws passed last year.

I thought about the anger of women as they marched en masse to say enough is enough. And I felt that women would be silent no more.

The shame was not and is not ours. The shame rests solely with the perpetrators of assaults and abuse.

Silence helps no one, except the perpetrators.

The book is actually three small books.

The pages are all glassine paper.  I didn't want this book to be quiet; every time you turn a page you hear the crinkle noise. The book itself is not silent.

All the lettering is vintage letraset.

I started with a white on white version - the quiet mouse that roared.

The pages start with a single word, building to a crescendo, a cacophony, of the call to be silent no more. The transparent nature of the glassine enabling a look ahead and a reminder of what has been.

I then chose to do a black version

And the finale is a red, black and white version.

The three are small but mighty. I like their understatedness and the strength they demonstrate as you make your way through them.

My first book of 2022.

2021 was a turning point for Australian women. 

Thank you Grace, Brittany and Saxon.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Thursday Thoughts...

“But your solitude will be your home and haven even in the midst of very strange conditions, and from there you will discover all your paths.” 

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

As I move between pondering art, life and books in my Thursday Thoughts, today I am pondering art. This quote could be pondered in quite a few directions I think but it resonated in an artistic way today.

In part because at this time of year I tend to slow and consider what the year might have in store for my artistic and making life.  I stop and reflect, and then give space for all my random thoughts, dreams and desires, no matter how wild or unrealistic they might be, to be jotted down.  

I have found over the years that this openness to ideas lets me spark or ignite new directions or new possibilities.

So often, I do my internal pondering; drifting this way and that in my head. In my solitude, my home and my haven.

The way that Rilke describes 'even in the midst of very strange conditions' seems so pertinent to the years we are living through as well.  Previously artistic plans oftentimes involved planning to visit exhibitions, to travel here or there to attend a course; to send work overseas for shows and the like; whereas now things become far more localised and web-based.

For me however; after the solitude comes the chance to give voice to my ideas in discussion with Barry.  I love sitting at the end of a day, perhaps a glass of wine and yarning about how this goes with that; how maybe trying this could lead to that and so on.

In doing so I discover all my paths, and more...

The path to the observation tower at Forsinard Flow... 

Oh to return and wander the paths amongst the blanket bog once more.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Updating 3

 The third and final of my updating posts.  

This one catches something I missed along the way as I moved my website from one platform to another.  It didn't require much reflecting or introspection; but in the end it did require a lot of research.

On my previous website, somewhere on the About page, I had listed which of my books were in which collection across the world.  

For some reason this information appeared absolutely nowhere else on my computer or on any of my inter web places.  Sadly, when we moved, I hadn't paid attention and this information was lost.

I still had the collections listed, on my new website, but I had little (if any) recall of which of my books were in which collection. Not great and a real trap for young players when migrating information and updating websites.

Fortunately for me, a lot of my books at the State Library of Queensland are searchable. If I type my name into the catalogue search, they have done the grand job of listing them all properly - lucky me.  

More good fortune shone upon me as many of the books that have made their way to the U.S. were sold through 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland, Oregon and the marvellous owner at the time Laura Russell was a  meticulous record keeper and always advised me which books had sold and to whom.

I also knew that Beyond Books and Burning had gone to the National Library of Iraq, and even now as I type I am thinking one of my Subversive Stitch books is in some collection in the UK and I am not sure which one; so clearly the job is not yet done!

So one day I set about painstakingly tracking each book down, recording where it was, what year it was made etc. Except for my (very!) recent  remembering about the UK and A Subversive Stitch, I felt confident that I had got them all.

Having done such a big job I thought I would organise them several ways. First up, if people want to visit an Institution - they can see which books it holds. I only screen shotted the first page of each of the records.

If somebody professed interest in seeing a particular book; I would be able to point them in the right direction, or give them options, by having the books organised this way.

And then finally, more for my own purposes, I listed the books by year of production so I could find them more easily in photographic records, or on the blog.

And so now, I truly have an excellent record of whereabouts in the world my books are!

Having said that, I am yet to put the information on the website, but that's not far away.

A nice discovery was serendipitously made along the way. At first I put my name into the search engine on the State Library of Queensland's website (rather than the catalogue search) and got a ping.

I expected more pings!  However when I looked closely I realised that the mention was in their Annual Report.

Intrigued, I went looking into the Annual Report and found this lovely wee mention:

So there I was, being rewarded, with discovering a mention, for my bad behaviour of not cataloguing my books. I feel very very fortunate that I was able to track them all down.

This series of Updating posts has formed part of my art life and art work that is not about the making or creating of art.  The work involved in all three (imagery, words and collections) form part of what I think of as Art Extenders - (teaching, writing and promoting). Things that take my art and skills out into the world, beyond the walls of the studio.  

These posts all fit into the promoting part of the extender section.

 I am now thinking a post about the Extenders might be worth doing sometime too...

Sunday, January 16, 2022


 I have been enjoying the beginning of the year and the chance I feel it gives me to play and explore.  Having gotten several commitments out the way; it now feels as if the next commitment is a fair way away so let's play!

For some reason I began to think about nests and eggs and birds and feathers again (I do circle back to them a fair bit).

Which made me think about the words I had written about eggs several years ago...which then made me wonder if I could add words to eggshells; which then made me wonder if I could add Letraset to eggshells and...

Luckily dinner required 4 eggs and a cake required 2, so they were used, then the shells rinsed and cleaned and left to dry.

I thought about how to colour the insides, and played around with some vivid alcohol-based inks.  

The way the alcohol-based gold splits and creates a whole galaxy was particularly pleasing.

Even using white and gold was lovely.

And then I started to try and add letters.

Inside and out.

The words I had written about eggs were:

ovoid solitude
vulnerable protection
time of slow waiting

I think I might be on to something.  The bright colours are beautiful and jewel-like in their own right; but perhaps they were not quite what I was thinking about to go with the words.

So I grabbed a couple of bottles of calligraphy ink and had another play. These colours are much more knocked back.

And once again could not resist the drop of alcohol-based gold in the bottom!

So...the play continues.

I am fairly sure this notion will sound counterintuitive and also polar opposite to what it could be; but I did begin to ponder whether I should try to pop into the schedule 1/2 day play each week?  Wondering what that might look like? Would it keep me committed to the notion of play? Would it feel so forced that it might not work?

It seems to me to be worth a try as I try to bring more play and experimentation into my daily arts life. I am aware that trying to build habits takes persistence and I value play more than I actually do it so...if I commit to some time doing it I wonder if I will? 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Thursday Thoughts...

"Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably". 

CS Lewis

Indeed! Could there be two more enjoyable pastimes?

Not for every meal of course; but there can definitely be companionable silences over breakfast as one reads the newspapers in whatever form they appear.  Sitting by yourself with some coffee and a biscuit as you read is a delightful way to while away some time; by evening a glass of wine and cheese and bikkies and a book seem a near perfect recipe.

Most of my meals tho I do prefer to have a chat, to converse to laugh and talk about the doings of the world and of the day.  To sit and read a book whilst we all ate together would seem a bit odd.  Altho a book makes the perfect companion when eating alone in a restaurant.

That said, my reading and eating can happen almost anywhere - on a train, on a plane, on a couch, in a coffee shop (but rarely, if ever, do I eat in bed!)

Sadly if I am reading and eating chocolate I eat too much chocolate - never paying attention, just the rhythm of repeating - reaching eating reading, reaching eating reading - eyes never leaving the page.  Sigh.

Both food and reading are pleasures indeed, and like all good things, balance seems to be the key!

The kitchen in the cottage - I love that I can be sitting at the table reading, with a cuppa, and still manage to stir the local plums as they stew! Cosy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Updating 2

 I wrote earlier about the process of building new websites for DEP and myself, and the updating of our imagery.

Part of that whole process meant we felt we needed to update the words we write about ourselves.  So we had a go at new artists statements and descriptors.

Two things coalesced as I began to consider what I say.  Firstly,  my old tag line - calligraphic and book artist - no longer felt as true to me as it once did.  I described myself as a calligraphic artist, because I didn't feel I could own the title of calligrapher.  True calligraphers are very specially skilled. 

Of course the subtle differentiation meant something to me; but not necessarily to others. And I also began to realise that book artist often made folk think that I was a book illustrator when nothing could be further from the truth or my skill set!

I coined the phrase back in 2004 so its probably not a bad thing anyway, to stop for a moment and think if my art journey has led me somewhere different.

The second thing was when I attended the Poetics of Place workshop with Ruth Hadlow in Hobart in late 2019 (ahhh the before times) and I began to consider NOT describing myself as a thing or a name or a category or a role but rather to consider what I DO. This was the most interesting part.

When I began to look around me and think about what I do - I was stitching words; I was letterpress printing posters and booklets; I was not actually doing much calligraphy but I was definitely still hooked on books.

I used to say things like:

"Books have always been important to me, and I love words and telling stories. No matter what I make, text is nearly always present – in beautiful calligraphic words, in letterpress type, or in burnt book pages". 

And I realised that this still held true. That words and text are at the heart of what I do. No matter WHAT I do, words and text are there...

Along the way I realised I preferred the word maker as well.  Again, the word artist leads folk to imagine all sorts of things and so very often they ask do I paint, do I sketch or whatever.  The word maker immediately brings me to the hands. The doing with stuff. The holding, the tearing, the stitching, the writing, the cutting, the setting, and all those things I do with my hands.

And so I now describe myself as "a maker with words".

Part of me simply loves how this enables me to not be categorised and somehow gives me scope to try all manner of things - to make in many ways and still be true.  These words feel true to me, and about me.

My most recent and detailed descriptor of myself can be found on my website. My artist statement can be found here on my website as well. 

As I finish my artist statement, these words also hold real truth for me "making helps me make sense of the world".

All images by Megan Gill Photography.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Finishing, Tidying and ...

It has been a relatively busy start to 2022; with two books due and another book to stitch.  And another commission for the angel pegs!

This one needed 7 angels; and we decided to go with an additional angel in orange, so before Christmas I checked that I had enough leftover thread and found I was able to use a couple of new ones as well. I need 15m for each peg, so its not like I always have that much left on a roll, so always best to check.  I ordered more easels, after the dramas of the last ones, I checked I had enough pegs and all was well, as I had until the second week in January to deliver. Until I didn't.

On Friday morning I learnt that the pegs had to be done by yesterday (Saturday) morning due to a re-jigged flight schedule. Luckily I had planned to work on them on Friday and I sent this image off halfway through Friday to show we were on track.

And they were delivered on Friday afternoon at 4pm. Phew. I am so grateful I keep good notes and document the process so I could check if I was doing this one the same as the others.

So today in the studio was about getting things back to normal; tidying, cleaning, putting back etc after a busy time where things just get dumped or moved.

I was moving some of my scrolls around and putting the cement pieces back (all had been cleared away for a some photos last week) and I thought - what if I tried to combine them?  I like the look of this now.

Then it was off to tidy my desk - quite the challenge.  I slowly worked my way through it and of course got distracted at different points along the way. As I was tidying up scraps and offcuts of paper I thought I should make some notelets to write on and include when we pack up and post out internet sales.  So that was fun!

And I started my reading pile - some of it more focused than others. That Sketchbook Exploration book could well guide my play and experimenting this year...

I emptied boxes and put things away!

Having found a beautiful piece of waxed goyu paper underneath something else, I pondered what to do with it and wondered what if I tried to put Letraset on the beeswax paper? So yet another distraction.

Only to be further distracted as I pulled apart a trial binding for the cover and first page of Hear Me Roar.

This is the proper first page, but on the practice piece the print had not worked well at all. The letters were very light in places.

I started stippling with a black pen; then thought why not try out a time-lapse video of me fixing up this poster??? 

Why not indeed! and oh my goodness I had the fun of Cork as they say and love what it did.  Heaven help us all now - I have a lovely magnetic tripod, and this app so my slow, slow work might now all be recorded! Laugh.

I had one of those delightful days where the chores of cleaning, tidying, sorting and putting away were made so much more enjoyable by the distractions and play.