Experiments, Paper, Studio practice

The seductive qualities of raw materials

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Dyed mulberry bark

Sometimes (well, frequently actually) I get sucked in to materials. Their various qualities zap onto something in my subconscious and I acquire them, often letting them sit in the studio for a ridiculously long time before knowing what to do with them.

Often it’s a time issue because there are occasions I know exactly what I want to do with a certain material and by the time I do get around to using the thing I’m almost salivating while handling and making with it. This exact thing happened last week with three pieces of Japanese mulberry bark paper I bought late last year.

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Boiling the avocado pieces in muslin

First, I dyed two pieces of the (very white) paper with avocado.  I wrapped about 1 kilogram of chopped avocado pips and skins in muslin and boiled the bundle in my big aluminium dye pot, with about 4 litres of water (enough to cover the bundle) for about an hour and left it overnight. Next day I heated the pot again, popped in the loose paper sheets and left them in for about 45 minutes.

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Post dye pot – Beautiful textures of the bark

The result was a lovely soft, goldy-pink colour with the beautiful surface sheen of the mulberry glowing through. I’m always amazed that you get pink out of avocado but there you have it. Note the beautiful, gnarled spiderwebbiness of the bark.

Looking for deeper colour I tried adding Spanish onion skins that I know can produce a very appealing rosy-pink. I really love the colour of these onions (and beetroot, which I understand is hopeless to dye with) … and purple carrots, by the way. With the uneven openness and quite firm body of the paper I knew the bunding method would be unlikely to work because it couldn’t be tightly rolled. However, I thought the result might be some pretty rosy blotches on the lighter background shown in the picture above.

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Mulberry bark with Spanish onion skins

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Loosely bundled for the dye pot

After bundling with rubber bands (being careful not to break the paper) I put it in the heated avocado dye pot, which now had only about two litres of dye water, simmered it for about 45 minutes, then left it to soak for a while.

The result was a richer, darker, fairly evenly distributed, dusty rose-pink with a lovely unevenness due to the bark’s construction. No rosy blotches, but a happy result nonetheless.

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The lovely deep pinky brown result

I intend to stitch with these pieces, either individually or sewn together into one larger work.

Something sculptural.

Watch this space to see what happens! And whether or not it works…

 

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Artists, Exhibitions, workshops

A workshop with the floral sculpture queen – Tracey Deep

I spent a sublime morning playing around with native flora at Tracey Deep’s floral sculpture workshop at Penrith Regional Gallery recently. Mixing flowers, sticks, bark, foliage, burnt banksias and other fire-branded natural flora we created enormous delicious compositions before having a guided tour of her exhibition Desert Song.

I was keen to do the workshop because of my interest in natural dyeing. The geometry of the compositions and the diverse specimens were a delight, and it was a real treat to be surrounded by so much native bush while we worked. You can see for yourself how abundant it was! The fragrances were so subtle and lovely.

Desert Song runs until 22 November. I highly recommend you catch it before it closes. A beautiful collection of sculptures with natural and found bits and pieces.

Penrith Regional Gallery


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Here are a few of Tracey’s sculptures. The exhibition shows work from the past ten years of her practice. Beautiful, don’t you think?

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