I am a Hobart based printmaker and botanical artist, specialising in museum-grade specimen arrangements and Tasmanian native orchid etchings, drawn and printed large in fine detail, root to flower.
My work has direct relevance to the early botanical historical records of Tasmania, particularly the earliest French Explorers who collected and made engravings of the first specimens of many of the plants I work with today.
OBSERVATION & COLLECTION
I collect specimens from private wild land, with permissions, always maintaining a sustainable plant population in the area. Buttongrass plains and heathlands are homes to such a diverse plant community, that I need to tune my eye for the plant that I am collecting; scanning, choosing: no blemishes please.
Suddenly another form catches my eye and I look down and through layer on layer of diversity to the ferns and orchids a few inches high. Macro to micro is dizzying and quite mesmerizing.
I photograph the flower. If there are sufficient numbers, I can pick the plant and either press the specimens there, or carefully carry it back to my studio to draw.
It is an immersive experience, a slow, meditative and very mindful walk, loaded with constant surprise. Sometimes I walk for hours.
This stage is a delightful zone, where I am studying the flower or plant under magnification, using a microscope or illuminated lens. This allows me to really see and understand the plant - its structure, patterns, form and colouring. I get it "into my hand" through drawing with a pencil. By drawing, the form of the plant is imprinted on me through the acute observation involved, and I then become a vehicle for replication at any time.
It feels like a very intimate relationship I form with the plant. Perhaps this is where I am completely lured into the spell of the orchid, it has me in its thrall and I now serve its purpose.
I am a pollinator of sorts.
Here I take my initial drawings and scale them up to fit underneath the etching plate size I have chosen. Initially, I will copy my drawing onto the plate until I have enough information to work freehand. I work by making drypoint engravings onto a transparent perspex plate, scratching with a fine steel etching needle onto the surface to create a burr. This burr will be what holds the ink when it comes to the inking stage of making the print.
The pressure I exert with the needle, and the type of mark, will all lead to different printed outcomes. It is not as fluid a movement as working with pencil; I need to turn the plate to allow for fine and accurate use of directional lines, and to catch the light on the plate to see what I am creating. I then lightly ink the lines to keep track.
Some of my works may involve multiple plates due to the scale of the finished piece, requiring a precision of registration from one plate to another, i.e. root to stem to flower.
I also leave space for purely playing with ink, monoprint style.
This is where the bulk of the work takes place, with many hours invested in this phase.
Here I tear the paper used in the final print process. I use a 320-350gsm fine cotton rag paper - either Hahnemuhle editioning paper, or Stonehenge relief paper. Thick, well made editioning paper needs to be soaked and blotted, so that it will absorb the maximum amount of ink, and also carry the embossing of the burred lines and edge of the etching plate.
I prepare loads of paper beforehand; soaked blotted and wrapped in plastic, ready to print.
The paper is the delight - it carries the mark. So the alchemy of the transferring of ink needs to be on the best paper at the right moisture level to do justice to the work and the time invested in it.
Rich ink pigment, burnt linseed oil... the mixing, swirling and rolling of viscous etching ink in preparation for printing, must be one of the most sensuous processes of all. I usually work with a rich black oil based etching ink, smearing this onto the plate's surface with a small piece of card, using bunched up tarlatan fabric to evenly distribute the ink to the plate.
Then comes the process of wiping off the ink to reveal the marks I have made, working from dark to light, in the inky field. Wiping with a rag and using various tools to remove and reapply ink, I'm working fast, as the ink will be drying, leaving just enough on the surface to be transferrable to the damp paper.
Due to the intricate nature of my work, I also ink the plate under magnified lens to achieve the level of detail I desire.
I love the capacity for fine detail available through the etching process and the gorgeous modulation of tone found in drypoint and monoprint techniques.
Satisfied with the completed inking process, I lay the inked plate on the bed of my printing press (meet Deborah's presses here). Prior to this, I have set the pressure on the press and have drawn up a paper registration sheet with marked locators set under the acetate film on the press bed. This allows me to be able to place the damp paper in exactly the right position on top of the inked plate.
My hands are inky. I take two folded, clean pieces of card to use as tweezers and open the prepared damp paper collection. Carefully ascertaining the correct printable side of the editioning paper, I align the corners of the paper above the registration sheet, and then let the paper lay down on top of the inked plate. Often I find I have been holding my breath for ages in this delicate, but necessarily fast process.
I then smooth the felt blankets over the paper, and slowly wind the handle of the press. This propels the roller, exerting an enormous amount of pressure onto the sandwiched paper, plate and bed of the press. Slowly, evenly, I wind the bed of the press through the rollers.
This is a magical moment! You never really know what you have created. It will be upside down and back to front, having transferred the image onto the paper. Did I leave enough ink? Did I clean the edges? Did it dry out too much?
Slowly I lift a corner of the paper away form the plate; and in one motion, I reveal what I have so painstakingly worked on. Those few minutes are some of the times in my life where I consciously create flow. Time stills... I am held in a heightened, excited, open state of creative anticipation.
The printed work is revealed!