Sky Dancers … for Field Notes

 In About My Work, Exhibitions

I have watched the crackle grow from 6 to over 50 birds over the past 3.5 years. They are a sight to behold and sound to savour as the fly up the valley and over my studio and home. I can hear them coming from down the valley … squawking and crying and chattering. They don’t fly in formation, but they do fly together. Or rather … they float, buoyant in the air currents with distinctive postures, then an effortless movement of their wings to lift or dive their bodies through the sky.

It is this sky dancing crackle of yellow-tailed black cockatoos that are the subject of my latest work to be shown in the upcoming FIELD NOTES exhibition at The Zone Gallery in Maleny.

I first introduced my sky dancers in a book late last year.

And it is with this body of work that I continue my exploration of working with blind embossing and debossing. I focussed embossing explorations with my pieces in the Vessel exhibition a couple of months ago. It is something that I have wanted to play with for some time … and I can feel some fun as I continue to explore its possibilities with a new body of work in the new year.

Sky Dancers … the artworks and inspiration

These birds help solidify for me a sense of place and of being home when I see and hear them. These prints explore that – using elements to anchor the birds to where I enjoy them most – at my home, and my parent’s home.

In flight, the birds striking silhouettes in the sky as they fly overhead. Depending on your viewing angle, you can see the yellow in their tails as they fly overhead. Sometimes every encounter experiences the birds sync with each other’s gliding and wing-flapping, other times every bird is in a different posture.

It was their postures in the sky that I wanted to articulate with these works.

But as you get closer to investigate each piece, you see the blind embossing – more birds of the crackle and geographical elements that anchor them to home.

Each bird is referenced from one of my squillion photos. Each posture is unique. And the groups of birds in each print all relate to each other in the crackle they were flying with at the time I captured their photos in my field notes.

Blind embossing is damn-near impossible to photograph well. I’ve placed below a photo of each print, and if you keep reading you’ll see more photos sharing the embossing detail of each. The embossing completes the story of each print.

Sky Dancers … the process

It took quite a bit of thinking and experimentation then planning to come to where I got with these pieces. What felt like a luxury, I now know to be a necessity – giving myself the gift of time to bask in the creative development stage of the process for new work.

I played and explored and investigated a few “what if …” situations.

I arrived at a plan to cut paper plates to emboss and deboss into the papers, relief printing the birds from paper plates. And I did that all in one pass on the press.

Sky dancers over Curlew 1

This was where I began my Sky dancers series. It relates to the encounter I enjoyed a few years ago when the cockatoos were devouring the banksia trees at my parent’s home. Their posture here is my favourite when in flight – their long tail and wing movements take on very distinctive shapes when you can see their flight in profile. The 5 birds take your attention, then as you look closer you can see the embossed and debossed elements – the Obi Obi River, meandering its way through the valleys from Baroon Pocket Dam, and the leaves of the banksia trees that were enjoying. The yellow-tailed black cockatoos love banksia pods.

I have used several different paper plates for the embossing/debossing in this print. And each of the 5 birds are a different inked-up paper plate. Every bird in the series is its own paper plate. I now have an extensive collection of inked and printed black cockatoos that have made their way to being placed on my walls, flying down the hallway.

Sky dancers over Curlew 2

And this piece is the last I printed in the series. It shows the birds landing in the tree for their feed of banksia pods; and take off in flight back toward to Baroon Pocket Dam.

I really like the contract is Nadi 1 and Nadi 2 … one very quiet, the other very loud. Much like the birds themselves as you hear them coming up the valley, with the sound building to a unique cry and chatter.

Sky dancers over Nadi 1 & Sky dancers over Nadi 2

These are the birds that I observe from my home. I can hear them down the valley, leaving the macadamia farm, then they fly directly overhead in any number form 3 to 50. Not in formation but together.

You can see the Obi Obi debossed into Nadi 1, with other birds.

In Nadi 2 you can see both embossed and debossed birds.

Sky dancers over Nadi 3

The birds don’t stop at my place very often, rather fly over. But they will on ocassion stop in the eucalyptus tress I have out front, or the rainforest trees out back. When they do, it gives me a much greater appreciation as to how big they are. And their chatter sounds like a conversation between friends and family.

Sky dancers for FIELD NOTES

My 5 prints are printed, editioned, framed and ready to hang at the FIELD NOTES exhibition, opening Friday 25 November 2022.

The theme for the FIELD NOTES exhibition is to reveal field notes and resources created and referenced when developing these artworks.

Notes created by the researcher during the act of conducting a field study to remember and record the behaviours, activities, events and other features of an observation.

Working on the pieces for this show, and putting focused attention into the concept of ‘field notes’, gave me the unique opportunity to understand how I “remember and record the behaviours, activities, events and other features of an observation”.

For the most part, it is with photography. I don’t carry a sketch book with me – but rather capture moments on my phone or camera that become later reference sources. I have shared some of the photos above. I have a few thousand photos of my yellow-tailed black cockatoos. None of them particularly special by way of a quality photograph, but all important reference for me for their flight postures and movements.

I do, however, carry a notebook with me.

You’ll find the odd scribble in my notebooks.

But more often than not there are words … my writing questions to ponder, observations, poems. Something I’ve not shared before with my work is the words I write, taking the form of short poems about an encounter or experience. A photo can’t capture everything, so the words help me recall a memory or a moment.

It’s these photos (and maybe 1000 more) and scribbles and words that I referred when working on the pieces for the FIELD NOTES exhibition.

The Maleny Printmakers 7th annual Collectables exhibition opens on the same weekend as FIELD NOTES. I’ve taken my play with paper plates a little further – and am excited to expand on this work with some new ideas in the new year.

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Field Notes ... art exhibition