Archive for the ‘ Inspiration ’ Category

Behind The Scenes

…or should that be ‘Behind The Zines’.

So instead of joining Instagram or something equally 21st century, I decided to make a few copies of a zine recently. I had been looking back through photos and design ideas that while good in my opinion had for whatever reason been discarded or were not right for the chosen project. From there I got to thinking about the long road that leads to any artistic outcome.  The so-called ‘behind the scenes’ that I see every day but is never visible in a finished print or album cover.

I collected up what photos I had of woodblocks in progress, ideas, designs, thoughts and whatever else seemed still appealing to me. Made some small books out of them and then placed them in a larger folder cover. Sure it’s not done on the photocopier or with sticky tape and glue but for me it still has the zine aesthetic of something you want to communicate whipped up in a short amount of time with little fuss. Also wrapped up in the visual ideas is a long winding train of thought that I often find myself thinking through while I work away at a woodcut. You know how your mind wanders sometimes from the small things to bigger how and why questions – well I thought I’d share some of that in there because my woodblocks are also my thinking time.




I’ve made them available through my Etsy Shop should you want to have a closer look. I’ve also put some more new and old prints I have in there as well.


As someone who is devoted to printmaking as much as I am to music. I find that a lot of the people who inspire me don’t necessarily come from the standard cannon of historically successful artists. Sure I can look at Hiroshige or Durer and appreciate what they helped create but in this day and age it’s the hands on artists that I love the most. Mix into that the DIY aesthetic that fuels punk rock music and you get people like Tom Hazelmyer from Minneapolis in the US – quite easily the person who’s artistic perspective I admire above anyone else. Everyone needs people to look up to so they can say to themselves “I can do that” and “I want to be as good as them” – and that’s not coming from a style perspective but from one of attitude.

Here’s a really cool clip I just watched on Tom that showcases his printmaking endevours. You don’t need to like the music to like where he’s taking art but it certainly helps…

and here’s a linocut poster that Tom made that hangs above my stereo.


Because Being Punk Is Too Hard

So two weeks ago my good friend Luke called me and asked if I’d be interested in doing the illustration for a t-shirt for his band Violent Soho. I’ll tell you what, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I love Violent Soho. Their music is great and even better with the volume and energy of their live show. It just so happens that all four members of Soho are top notch dudes. I quickly decided that I’d better not stuff this up!

So they gave me an outline of what they were looking for and their idea had a great tongue in cheek vibe to it. Taking the early east coast and west coast punk signposts and mixing it with some Australian references and giving it a bit of a Pettibon flavour but all through my woodcut filter left me with something I was really proud of making.

That’s the T-shirt. Below is the initial block and print that was the first part of the image. One thing that was really unual for me is that I was able to do this woodcut in 48hrs (while going to work and such). That’s the fastest woodcut I’ve done in many many months.

This is the fourth woodcut that’s ended up on a t-shirt this year. It’s been a real good year!

Harmony & Heartache

Some good friends of mine from Melbourne have a band called Harmony and I think they’re pretty damn good. The bees knees as a matter of fact! Thing is that there are six of them. This is good when it comes to the music and the singing and such but bad when it comes to affordable independent touring!

This Friday and Saturday they’re playing here in Brisbane as part of their national ‘Heartache’ tour.

Friday night: X&Y Bar (Ann St in the Valley)
Saturday night: The Waiting Room (Browning St in West End)

Because we’re lucky enough to get two shows, I initially though of doing a poster for it all. This however, in my usual way of getting carried away with things, meant that I ended up carving out a special woodcut and hand printing 20 prints instead.

I figured if I make 10 prints for each show and the band sell them for a few bob, then it may help them with the petrol money and get all six of them safely home to Melbourne (instead of leaving one or two on the side of the road half way home). That (joke) aside, I’m sure they will sell out both shows, be great to watch and these prints will make wonderful mementos of it all.

All of the prints have the same illustration but are printed in a unique fashion…

There’s definitely a lot happening this coming weekend. On Friday night I for one am having an art exhibition opening a few blocks down the street at the White Canvas Gallery which is where I will be before X&Y.

If you don’t have Harmony’s debut album yet, bring a few extra bucks to the show and get it!

Before then you can check them out here: Harmony Bandcamp

Or at these various facebook pages cause that’s where people seem to hang out these days.
Harmony Facebook
Waiting Room Facebook
X&Y Facebook

It’s all just ink anyway…

I like tattoos. I have a couple of them now and have been slowly acquiring them over the last 17 years. One thing that making woodcuts has done has been to shift my impulse of making the transient image permanent, from tattoos to paper. I often see pretty images or have a strong emotional connection to something with a defining visual element and think “that would make a great tattoo here”. Sometime later, It might in fact make a great woodcut – a process I am now familiar with.

But recently I had a moment of life imitating art imitating life where my love of Mexican culture and their unique spiritual beliefs (as well as the brilliant artistic stylings of Mike Giant) morphed into a tattoo that I wanted to get. A few sessions later my friend Tim decorated my forearm with a sugar-skull, some roses in red and black and scroll in Spanish. This is the side of my arm with the sugar-skull…

I love the tattoo and after looking at it for a few weeks I got the idea of trying a woodcut of… well of my new tattoo. I made some adjustments seeing as I was working on flat rectangular surface and not my skinny old arm. I’m real happy with the print. Both colours are off the one block too.

I gave Tim a print today to say thank you for the the great work he did. I’ll now file this one away seeing as I already get to look at it everyday. Looks like my love affair with ink won’t dry up any time soon!

When The Dead Heart Beats: The Epilogue

If you look below on this blog, you’ll see that I had an art show recently. It was a great time and a great experience and a privilege to show with Murdoch. The only problem I had was that with months and months of lead up, making the art, promoting the show, etc, etc… the show itself seemed to be over in a flash. So a few weeks after everything was wrapped up, I thought I should make myself a memento of it all.

So seeing as I’d made artist books for my previous two solo shows, I figured I’d do something like that again.

This is what I’ve been making for the last two days. Seven copies of a small book showcasing all the art that Murdoch and I had on show at Nine Lives Gallery. Everything that was hanging on the walls is here in the book. I’ve constructed and hand-bound the book myself and even cut up two scroll panels to make small fabric pouches that the books will live within.

A fun little project and now something for me to keep. Oh, and I’m sorry but the copies that have been made have already gone to good homes so please don’t ask for one unless you want to give me the cash to personally make you one.

Best Wishes

When it was suggested to me recently to make greeting cards that had my woodcuts on it I thought “sure, why not.” I’d never thought of doing it before but looking at these cards, I have to say that I think they look really good.

There are four different types and they are all blank on the inside and produced on good heavy duty textured card stock. While they are not hand printed from the blocks (which were originally A4 or A3 in size) I’ve been careful to keep the original colours and hues of the prints.

I’ve put them in the Bookstore at the Queensland Art Gallery and in Absolutely Fabulous in the Woolloongabba Antique precinct. The cards are $4.95 each.

I know no one writes letters anymore but when was the last time you sent or received a special card from someone for no reason? That’s what I’d do with them, send them to my friends just to tell them that I think they’re great!

Home Festival this weekend

Back in April I was asked to conduct a workshop on woodcuts and relief printing at an event called the Home Festival. Well a bout of really horrible weather caused that little shindig to be postponed. Good news is that the Home Festival is now happening this weekend and the weather forecast is fine, fine, fine!

So I will be in Raymond Park, Kangaroo Point (behind the Pineapple Hotel) Sunday from around 10am till 3pm. I will be there working away on carving out some bookplates and will be happily taking people through the process of how I make my prints. If you, your kids or frineds feel like it I will happily let people try their hand at making relief prints of their own. Lots of people have inquired about how I make my woodcuts (secretly, it’s not that complicated) and I’m looking forward to doing a little de-mystifying.

As for the Home Festival itself, it looks like a heck of gathering. Their website has this to say about the day…

The Home Festival is a free all-ages event being driven by Kangaroo Point and surrounding communities, who have a passion to celebrate, connect and explore the complex meaning of ‘home’ through music and creativity. All of the people involved in the festival are doing so voluntarily, with the common goal of creating a fun, inclusive and meaningful community gathering.

The festival aims to:
-embrace and connect the local community
-provide a strong platform for up-and-coming performers of all genres to showcase their work
-allow everyone – from children to seniors – to share the joy of creativity through free workshops enliven Brisbane’s precious open spaces
-refocus on the vitality and importance of inner-city festivals.

Go check out their website and all the weird and wonderful things that will be taking place on the day.

So what have you been up to lately?

Fair enough question when you think about it. One friends ask friends all the time. To be honest I feel like I’ve been saying the same answer for a long time now. This isn’t a bad thing because next week I get to show not only my friends but other people exactly what I’ve been up to.

It was June last year when my good friend Murdoch sent me his ideas for a collaborative piece he’d titled ‘When The Demon Knife Weeps’. Murdoch did the initial illustration and the idea was that I would adapt it to a woodcut. I really like Murdoch’s skills at drawing and illustration and so I was looking forward to the challenge. I was also looking to try something I had not done before with this medium, I wanted to see what would happen if I tried my hand at a large scale woodcut.

At the very start I didn’t really know what I was doing and almost every part of the process of making this woodcut has included me having to research and problem solve to get the desired outcome. Firstly, I have taught myself to make woodcut prints from hardwood. Hardwood doesn’t come large so I had to try a different timber source and many people on lots of different blogs were saying they used plywood. So off I went to the hardware store to buy some plywood sheets. I found the largest piece I could fit into the car (around 85cm by 120cm) and literally stood there in the store for an hour carefully inspecting every sheet they had for imperfections – all while tradesmen and handymen gave me strange looks.

Finally after some scaling issues and a week of drawing, I got Murdoch’s image onto the first sheet and started carving

Plywood is much more fragile than hardwood and required a careful and steady hand. I found myself spending around two or three hours a day, most days of the week working on the block and slowly the weeks went by. In fact almost three months went by (as work and life kept interrupting me) until I finally finished what was to be part one of a three part image.

Now I only have a small book press in my printing room. Most of the time I make prints by hand. I did try this with a test print of this block but that ended badly so I knew I needed help. I called, emailed and finally was put in touch with a wonderful Polish man named Jacek (phonetically pronounced: Yart-zeek). He had a printing workshop called ‘Under The House Of Art’ and he was in possession of the largest, manual etching press in the southern hemisphere. It just so happens that he was 15 minutes drive from my house – a lucky break in no uncertain terms!

In the weeks leading up to finishing the first part of my woodcut, I started to get quotes on paper to print on and what it might cost to frame such large woodcut prints. Needless to say, these aspects of the project were going to cost me much more money than I had and so I needed to rethink how this was going to work. Thinking specifically about the subject matter of the prints and some of the oldest forms of Japanese Ukiyo-e, I decided that the answer lie in making scrolls. It was my girlfriend however that suggested I use linen cloth instead of fragile cotton rag paper. And so then it was a trip to the fabric store to by around 20 meters of finely woven linen cloth.

So, arriving at Under The House Of Art with my plywood woodcut and my roll of cloth, I set about using the smaller of the two presses Jacek owned. I tested my first panel and breather a huge sigh of relief when, by the second print got a great looking relief print.

The woodblock itself looked pretty impressive too!

So by now it’s mid September and I’m starting to wonder if I can get this finished by the end of 2010. Filled with more confidence the second time round, I started on the next panel of my collaborative triptych image. This one was the same as the first and the days and the weeks slowly ticked by. Days off were spent not leaving the house. Weekends were spent bent over with fine carving tools giving me callused hands and all the while I learned new techniques to shade areas, how to use my tools for specific effects and generally enjoyed the meditative task of carving out the images characters.

Soon November came to a close and I contacted Jacek (that’s him in the corner of the photo) to organise another printing session and in early December, I made final prints of the first two parts of ‘When The Demon Knife Weeps’.

During this printing session it would take around one to two hours to get a good print. Much fussing had to be done and checking and rechecking and inking and aligning so as not to waste the fabric. Truth be known… about half the fabric I bought ended up on the reject pile (now hidden in the back of my wardrobe). After two days of printing the downstairs area of my house looked like an overcrowded laundry and I had locked in two artists proofs and an edition of one for display/sale. I was now two thirds of the way through this piece.

2011 didn’t start the way most of us in Brisbane had planned. On the 11th January I was sent home from work as the Brisbane river rose an rose and eventually flooded my workplace. After a week of helping my friends and others with the aftermath of the flood, I was told that I wouldn’t be going back to work anytime soon. A problem on one hand and gift on the other as I sat down and decided to start the final part of my triptych. Where as the first two had taken a few hours a day over several months. I shut out the world and in a workman like way, sat down from 9-5 every day for three weeks and carved. My forefinger and thumb bruised in the first week and by the second the indent from the tools became an easy groove to sit them within. Either way, by February I sat at my kitchen table with the completed woodcut in front of me. I felt happy but manly I think I just felt relief at, seven months later, not screwing it up but in some small way I was really proud of having the perseverance to complete what was becoming the most remarkable piece of art I have attempted to create to date.

However, even with the prints physically made, I still had a lot of work ahead of me. Now I needed to make ready for public viewing. More trips to the hardware ensued and with the help of my Japanese Bookbinding book, I set about turning my large pile of fabric into scrolls. I have to at this point send out immense thanks to Eileen who foolishly said “I’ll help!” and set about pinning and hemming the sides of the cloth and working with me to finish them off. You’ll find her personal textile creations here. Neither of us realised that this task alone would take another two months as no less than 40-metres of sewing occurred. Yep, every part of the process was another lesson learned. Come April however I had this to show for all the hard work and… well to be honest I stopped counting the hours after the first panel hit 100 hours.

The final part of the puzzle was what to store the finished scrolls in? After investing so much into making them, I wanted to make sure the elements, dirty hands or accidents didn’t ruin them. More research ensued and again following the example of traditional scrolls, I enlisted the help of Naut from Naut Cases to custom make me storage/display cases. Made with beautiful birch paneling and a sliding (cigar case-styled) lid – I picked three of these up last week. This week I am spending my nights lining the cases with gold satin-backed shantung and with any luck this weekend the project will come to a close and next week I’ll get to show you in person what Murdoch and I have made.

WHEN THE DEAD HEART BEATS is on at Nine Lives Galley from Thursday 9th June, kicking off from 6pm. It will feature over 20 new works on paper by Alex Gillies & Murdoch Stafford.

When The Dead Heart Beats

That’s the title of the art show that I am a part of in a few weeks. I’ve organised it with my good friend Murdoch and he and I will be both showing our latest creations. It’s going to be at Nine Lives Gallery in Winn St, Fortitude Valley.

While the show has not been a long time in the making, some of the ideas have. Around sometime in October 2009 Murdoch asked if I’d want to work on something together with him. I couldn’t get the words “hell yeah” out of my mouth fast enough. Murdoch is an amazing artist in his own right and has shown overseas as well as several times in Brisbane. His subject matter can often be macabre, though I wouldn’t pigeon hole him to just that. Either way I really admire what he does with a fist full of pens and paper. We spent some time tossing around ideas and in the middle of last year I started the woodcut below. The image originated from Murdoch’s hands and I adapted it as a woodcut. I didn’t tell Murdoch at the time that I was also taking the image from A3 size to what you see below.

Needless to say, It’s taken me seven months of carving the triptych image. Another month of printing and then the last three months of hemming and preparation to get my edition of three finished. As you can see the prints are on linen cloth instead of rag paper. One, because I couldn’t really afford the paper and secondly, I really, really couldn’t afford the framing. I’m happy with how they turned out and I’ve adapted the prints into scrolls so that they can be easily stored when not hung on display (or draped up in my lounge-room).

Murdoch is stoked on the outcome too. It pretty much is the center-piece of our show together and by far the largest woodcut I’ve tried my hand at to date. I put myself in the photo just so there was no confusion on scale.

And so while this was going on last year, I also turned my attention away from the subject matter of birds and animals and antiquated artifacts of technology and created some war-related prints. As with most things, one thing led to another, one Goya book turns into another Otto Dix book, turns into a Sandow Birk series of prints about Iraq and so forth.
I found it really hard last year to sit a table for days and carve out of the block, the face of a murdered person. Someone who I couldn’t know if they were innocent or guilty, right or wrong. From all this the challenge of late has not been the beautification of my work or the level of detail in its execution. My goals have been to articulate the things that troubled my mind. The inspiration that didn’t make sense. I tried not to overthink things but eventually the themes of violence, murder, suicide, nightmares, loss and even just the idea of belief came to encompass the last six months of work.

None of it in my mind is gory or particularly graphic. That’s not where my interest lies. It’s all interpretative to an extent. I have to admit that it has also been rewarding.

And so in a few weeks time Murdoch and I will get to show all our friends what we’ve been up to. The last time I had a show, a lady told the gallery owner that some of my images were repugnant and shouldn’t be hanging on public walls. I liked that, I liked that something I wanted to say illicited such a strong response.