Magpie Stories – the prints
Magpies … people seem to either love them or hate them. Quintessentially Australian … an icon associated with many an Australian backyard and many a mad dash on a bicycle to escape the swooping torpedoes during nesting season. I love them – their song, their quirky personalities, their resilience. And with this linocut print series – I wanted to celebrate and honour them.
I lived in my previous home (in Maleny) for 8 years. The longest I’ve ever been in one place. For at least the last 5 of those years I was visited almost daily by a family of magpies … a tiding of magpies.
Morning on week on month on year they came to visit … hunting and picking grubs from my lawn for breakfast. I never fed them, they fed themselves; and they always returned. And each season I was introduced to new members of their extended family. I watched parents teach young how to stalk and hunt for grubs, pouncing on ground vibrations and movement just below to surface of dirt and grass.
They watched me watch them.
I gave them the space they needed, and they grew to trust me.
And they sang for me … and oh that song!
They would wander around my feet as I disturbed the ground. If I sat on the lawn to watch them, they would gather and raise their beaks in harmonious union and sing. Music finer than any instrument could create. 3 birds. 5 birds. Sometimes 8 and 10 birds. Sometimes 1.
Over those 5 years I captured nearly 4000 photos of my friends. All with the idea that I would honour them in some way – and now I have found that way. I have printed 3 reduction linocut prints; and accompanying each is an artist book that tells the story of each print.
Magpie Stories – 3 Reduction Linocut Prints
I’m chuffed with how the prints evolved and came to life, sharing the quirky personalities of each of the birds. I worked from my own reference photos – looking for images that encapsulated the very special and intimate experiences I enjoyed with these birds. Each image tells its own story.
I decided right from the get-go that the 3 prints would work as a series. They were all going to be 9 layer reduction linocut prints. Once paper was trimmed, the registration jig assembled and my first layer carved – I set about printing.
I wanted uniformity in the colours, so I printed each layer of each print together. I handprinted every print – there was no press involved to help me. And I admit that I found these prints the most physically challenging. 30+ years on a computer with not-very-good posture has caused issues with my printing arm; and with these prints I was really feeling it. I had to leave it 3-4 days between layers to let my arm and should recover.
About the colour … these prints were printed with 9 layers meaning there are 9 shade of grey for each print. I rarely use black when mixing my colours, even the darkest shadows … for this print series, black wasn’t introduced to the colour mix until layer 5 or 6 (I don’t remember which). I made my greys with a mix of Prussian Blue, warm red, warm yellow and a lot of white. Using the primary colours to mix greys and blacks creates denser, richer tones – and I definitely wanted those rich grey tones for this print.
I had also decided very early on that I was going to hand-colour the eyes for these prints. I did this with my Watching reduction linocut. It meant I could focus on the bird’s body and demeanour when carving and printing the layers, then address the eyes at the end of the printing. I have to admit that it did make for some rather disturbing moments as I had white-eyes magpies pinned to walls during the printing process!
#1 of 3 REDUCTION LINOCUT SERIES
If you have seen some of my other bird-related prints, you may notice that I love a lot of white space to surround my subject. My birds were going to be the heroes of their own prints, so there is a lot of white space with these fellows.
Of the 3 prints, I found this one the easiest (physically to print)… and I think I my most favourite. I still remember the encounter that I photographed. This cheeky fellow would hop inside the studio, say hello, then hop out again. I find that inquisitive sideways look a strong characteristic of these cheeky birds.
Below are some “in-progress” photos showing a few of the 9 layers …
#2 of 3 REDUCTION LINOCUT SERIES
These two were fun to print … I vividly remember watching these juvenile magpies play and chase and tease each other. One has picked up a leaf and chased the other, hopping around a verandah post teasing and tormenting the other. Siblings, across species, I think are all the same!
I really enjoyed printing the greys in this print … telling to story of their softer ‘downier’ feathers.
And for all greys in these prints, the colour base was predominantly warn red, warm yellow, cool blue and white. I didn’t introduce black to the colour mix until colour/layer 5 or 6.
Here are some ‘in progress’ images …
#3 of 3 REDUCTION LINOCUT SERIES
And then there is their song … the magpie song. It is my hope that when you see this image that you can ‘hear’ the birds singing. If you’re not familiar with their sound, click here to watch and listen to a YouTube video by the Magpie Whisperer.
I admit I was a little nervous about the composition of this print; but I am thrilled with how it came together. I WISH there was a way to embed sound into a flat 2D surface !
The technical Information
Print process – reduction linocut print
Edition Size – Limited Edition of 6 prints for ‘Hello’ and ‘Siblings’ and 7 prints for ‘Family Choir’. There are no aritst proofs for this print. All prints not included in the limited editions was used for making their supporting artist books.
Layers – 9 for each print
Inks – Sakura oil based inks
Paper – 300gsm Arches 88 (delicious!)
Paper size – 38cm x 50cm – bleed print
Tools – Pfeil carving tools
Printed – I printed this print by hand using trusty glass Print Frog barren, and on occasion my bamboo stirring spoon came in handy.
Magpie Stories … Artist Books
When printing these prints, I had the idea to use prints not included in the final limited edition in artist books. One book to tell the story of my encounters with the birds in each print. And I did it. Click here to see how I used each print, and the story about them.
The books combine my reduction linocut prints with letterpress printed words, blind embossing and gelatin plate monoprints; all bought together in a simple accordion structure with a self-wrapping cover.