Toni Hartill is an Auckland based artist who uses printmaking as a tool for creating 2D and 3D works. Her first solo show Artful Narratives showcases an impressive collection of her artist books, driven by historical and personal narratives with a strong underlying theme of environmental protection.
I caught up with Auckland based artist Celia Walker about her upcoming show Weathered at Arthaus Contemporary, Orakei where she’ll be showing new work alongside and in collaboration with Toni Mosley, 9 – 27 February 2022. (read here)
I’ve been wanting to participate in this for a few years now as I love printing on wash paper and when you register they send you a sample pack, which was very useful in learning more about the different types of washi. Printing a single woodblock by hand I found the Okawara Select and Inbe thin to give the best results in terms of surface texture.
This exhibition is also a truly global retrospective and embodies with truly international community of printmakers with over 1,800 prints from 58 countries. You can view a video of the exhibition on the Awagami Factory Facebook page
This woodblock was carved in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic when I thought COVID-19 was just a storm in a teacup. Shortly after I had to flee from Florence back to Aotearoa, where I’m still weathering the storm!
I had the pleasure of being invited to show alongside a group of artists working in different media (including my sister and mentor Leela Bhai!). Curated by Tatiana Harper and Carlos Toalii, the idea behind the show was to celebrate the diversity and consecutiveness of Upstairs Gallery Titirangi, hence the title – 6 Degrees of Separation.
It was a great opportunity to exhibit two of my etchings created during my time at Il Bisonte in Florence and share the process visitors during an artist talk on the Saturday. These two etchings – Datura Moon and The Apothecary, are part of a larger body of work exploring the historical use and interpretation of plant species as they move between continents and ideologies.
I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the weekend with tutor Kathy Boyle alongside other talented printmakers to learn about this interesting alternative to traditional lithography. We experimented with a range of mark making using drawing materials from sharpie markers to crayola washable markers and create some wonderful organic “washy effects” using the toner from used print cartridges and Indian ink. This is also a wonderful way to incorporate photographic images into your work, which were first printed onto acetate using a printer before being transferred onto the plate. And it can be used like a gelliplate – pressing leaves and other textures onto the plate to make an impression. Once we had several plates, we could have fun experimenting with layering and using different colours.
What I really loved about this technique, was not only the endless possibilities, but also that it is something that can easily be done from home with minimal materials. Preparing and processing the plate was quick and simple, although if you’re impatient you’ll need to cure the plate in an oven and to transfer photographic images you need an iron (needs to be quite powerful, as we discovered the lower watt one was ineffective). When cleaning the plate you need acetone for some materials so will need a ventilated area, unless that smell doesn’t bother you!
At the beginning of lockdown I embarked on this ambitious project which I knew could keep me busy in isolation for the unpredictable weeks ahead of me. This triptych is comprised of three A4 woodblock panels, starting with the key block and then creating three more blocks to add colours. The style references Japanese woodblocks, known as ukiyo-e, where three blocks were frequently used to depict a narrative, often including animals, birds and landscapes.
This narrative piece is inspired by the female leopard escaped Auckland Zoo in 1925. For three weeks the public feared for their lives, locking themselves inside and even taking up arms in case they came face-to-face with the “spotted fury”. Her reign of terror ended when she was found by a group of fishermen, drowned and floating at the mouth of the Tamaki river near Karaka Bay.
This work speaks to the fragility of the ecosystems that make up our natural environment and the responsibility society has to take action to protect them. The Tamaki Estuary gives food and shelter to thousands of endemic and international migratory birds. Many of these species, including the banded dotterel, Eastern bar-tailed godwit, royal spoonbill and pied shag, are under threat due to increased human activity. The fact that little is done when the detriment of our actions is clear as day, raises the question of whether it’s in our human nature to make drastic change in the face of danger that doesn’t affect us directly. Or can a leopard indeed change it’s spots?
This is a unique single edition print. Contact me if you are interested in purchasing it.
When all schools were declared closed on 11 March I had been determined to stay and use the “one month” lockdown to catch up on researching, sketching and carving new woodblocks – why not? the spring blossoms were starting to appear, the days were getting warmer and the wine shop on my street was still open so I decided to hunker down and see it through.
Despite my optimism, I couldn’t ignore the fact that things were getting much more tense, daily I saw police outside my window handing out fines to people without the correct paperwork and everyday something else would be closed – the park, then the cycleway. So on 19 March (my birthday!) when I heard that Il Bisonte would be closed for a further month and possibly longer I took it as my cue to get out, which became a mad dash to Rome to catch what turned out to be the last flight out which wouldn’t have been possible without the NZ embassy who helped me find the flight and send their private driver to collect me at 5am to deliver me safely to airport like in a Bond movie.
Now that I’m in quarantine, its a great time to reflect on everything I’ve learned so far at Il Bisonte and what I want to pursue further when all this madness has passed and I can return once again to that magical studio. As you can see from the print above, I’ve been trying to cram as many techniques as possible onto one plate, which resulted in:
Learning 1 – The more techniques you use on one plate the more difficult it is to ink and print. For this one I only used tartlan to gently clean the plate as the paper removed too much ink.
Learning 2 – Although I love the effect of aquatint, the whole toxic aspect stresses me out resulting in me having to re-do it too many times. The best tip has been to use spray paint (Montana black with soft cap) instead, which I know is still toxic, but feels more managable to me. You can also spray to achieve nice shading and a shadow effect, which would be harder with stop out and a brush.
Learning 3 – Sugar lift (used for the moon) is a very satisfying technique that I’m looking forward to exploring further. I Love the texture and how you can make the blacks darker by applying an aquatint. And the fact you’re just using sugar – how cool is that!?
Learning 4 – Patience is a much needed virtue for etching. I etched most my lines with a porcupine quill, taking about 4 hours to scratch in the image and then another 4 hours in the acid bath. After the first proof I thought I’d add some more of those lovely squiggly lines to build up some depth and scratched away for another 4 hours or so, and into a stronger acid for a shorter time. But because I hadn’t checked that the line had etched before removing the hard ground – none of those millions of littles lines had showed up. Big learning!
Learning 5 – Spit bite (used on the leaves) isn’t a technique for me, not only is it extremely toxic, but the shading is too soft for what I want to achieve. As my professoressa says it’s like a snail trail and not her cup of tea either.
Learning 6 – Drypoint is a great way to create some shading and darker tones to your plate, as well as blend some of the hard lines created by the etching. For me, it really enhanced the image.
The final learning, that applies to all my prints, is not to judge as soon as you print it. After spending close to 25 hours on this plate I pulled the print and immediately felt disappointed, which often happens with me and my work. I think its like when you spend all day preparing a meal, the last thing you want to do is eat it, its like you’ve spent so much time focusing on it you can see all its little imperfections. Some of my classmates said I needed to rework it and others thought I shouldn’t touch it at all. So, I put it away in my draw and a week later came back to it and now I absolutely love it! What do you think?
Happy New Year everyone! So far 2020 has been like a dream, getting to work every morning in the Il Bisonte Printmaking studio in Florence alongside talented print people, technicians and tutors. It’s been such a challenge being completely out of my comfort zone of relief printing and learning all about etching and the many techniques that come under the umbrella of this process, such as aquatint, Gum arabic, chine Cole, dry-point, spit-bite, soft ground……..the list is endless! I’ve got total FOMO and want to try everything all at once.
This print above is my first multi-technique etching using hard ground, gum arabic and aquatint. A lot of work yet to do on it but was thrilled to discover I can achieve similar poetics of bold lines, shapes and patters, which attracts me to woodblock and stencils. There is so much I’m learning everyday and not just technically but how to get the different elements of the image to speak to each other and embody an idea.
And just when I think – hey, that’s quite good, my tutors show me something even more mind-blowingly beautiful that makes me want to try again and keep pushing my boundaries.
So, yeah, probably won’t have heaps of time for updates for the next 6 months while Im on this journey, but I’ll keep you all updated on FB and insta.