Monday, December 23, 2013

Potato Print Gift Wrap - DIY Tutorial

Potato printing is a simple version of relief printing that anyone can do at home.  Its fun and the results can be really special.  Kids love to help too, and you can involve them in the process for a great holiday craft activity.  

You will need- 
clean potatoes in various sizes
a large kitchen knife
a small kitchen knife or paring knife
optional - lino carving tools
acrylic or waterbased paint
plastic disposable plates or similar
large sheets of newsprint paper or kraft paper and card to print on

I've chosen some of my favourite Australian wildflowers as the motifs for this project but you can print any simple shape you can think of.  If you aren't an accomplished carver, stick to simple shapes like stars (great printed in silver paint) christmas trees or other Christmassy shapes.  Think about what colours you'd like to use too.

In my first design depicting a waratah flower I need to cut two separate potatoes because I'm using two colours - one for the flower and one for the stalk.  Choose a potato that resembles the shape you are wanting to print - theres less cutting that way.  Using the large kitchen knife, slice the potato in half cleanly so that you have a flat even surface to cut into.  It needs to be as flat as possible to print well.

Draw your design onto the cut surface of the potato with a pencil - coloured pencils seem to work best.  Carefully, with the small paring knife or lino carving tools, cut away the areas you don't want to print, leaving your design as a raised area.

Use the plastic picnic plate to put out your paint - a plastic spoon is great for mixing colours if you need to.  Spread the paint out and press your carved potato into it, ensuring you get good coverage over the entire raised area. A clean stamping action works well for a clear print.  You will get two or three stamps before you need to re-ink.  If you get too much paint on the potato, use some paper kitchen towel to remove the excess. 

 Have your newsprint or kraft paper spread out on a flat clear surface and apply the print, thinking about how you would like to repeat the patter.  A simple repeat pattern looks great, but as you go you'll want to try other repeating patterns.  It's all part of the fun.
Once we've done the green stalks of our waratah flower, we print the flower.  You can see that the shape of the potato we've used really suits the shape of the flower - this helps with simplifying the cutting process.  It also means that the potato keeps its shape for longer and you can get more printing done.  We tried our waratah design on different papers and in different patterns.  

Using waterbased paint means your gift wrap will dry quickly.  Hang it up somewhere where it can dry without smudging.

We also made some gift tags using our waratah design.  Simply print your design onto heavy card, leave it to dry, and cut around it for a special one-of-a-kind gift tag.

If you'd like to try different colours with your potato block, you can wash it gently under the tap and pat it dry.  Then try your new colour.

The potato printing process can produce some great rustic results - it teams well with simple jute twine or burlap ribbon and make s for a really special and memorable gift!

This project was created for the Etsy Australia Blog as part of their DIY Advent Calendar 2013.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Get Your Christmas Craft On!

Theres something about Christmas that brings out the craftiness in most of us!  I guess its all the gift-giving and entertaining.  It's a great time of year to stretch your creative legs and get your hands a little dirty!  

I've been asked by the Etsy Australia blog to write a DIY Christmas craft post as part of their advent calendar style Christmas craft frenzy!  Very exciting!  The idea is that every day of December, they are featuring a different craft idea on the blog for us to try at home.  I'll be posting a tutorial for creating your own gift wrap and gift tags using something we all have in our cupboards - the humble potato!  Potato printing is a simple form of relief printing which requires no specialised equipment, and the results are surprisingly pretty and festive.  Because I'm a native flower nut, I've gone with some of my favourite Australian flowers as the motifs.  

I'll be posting a "how-to" here on my own blog as well, early in December.  

So enjoy the countdown to Christmas and get ready to turn your potatoes into prints ...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Christmas Cards

So it's definitely heating up for Christmas Season 2013!  And trees4thewood is getting back to its roots with handmade keepsake Christmas cards.  I've never been a fan of the sort of Christmas card that is mass produced, cheap printed cardboard with an impersonal, off-the-rack greeting inside.  I don't know about you, but I always find it a terrible anti-climax to get a personal letter in the mail (!!! not a bill - hooray!!!) only to find it has "to Grace" and "from so-and-so" acting as parentheses around a generic printed greeting.  Don't get me wrong - I'm still grateful that so-and-so thought of me ... and that its not a bill ... but it seems almost like a waste of a postage stamp.  

Trees4thewood began when I first made some simple lino print Christmas cards for family and friends back in 2011.  I like the idea of sending something more meaningful than the aforementioned cheap chinese import.  Lino prints are a simple form of intaglio printing, making an image able to be reproduced but still retaining its "original" status.  Each lino print card I produce is indiviually hand printed (without a press), assembled and hand painted for colour.  I find the repetitive process really meditative and calming!  

And there is something immensely satisfying about multiples. As a cut flower grower (my family and I run a native cut flower farm in Tasmania called Swallows Nest Farm) I have the same experience.  Buckets and buckets of flowers, all colour co-ordinated, make a visually satisfying display.  It is one of the aspects that I really enjoy about making keepsake cards.

In an era when old fashioned card writing is becoming ... well ... old fashioned, I think that sending a card can be so much more meaningful than it used to be.  I just love the idea that these cards may end up being used as bookmarks, or put in the back of a sock draw, only to be rediscovered and enjoyed years later.  I love the idea that people put them in little frames.  I imagine in the future they are taken out and the message they contained is rediscovered and remembered.  I love the idea that they accompany peoples declarations and thoughts of love.  It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling!  I think if you want to let someone know you are thinking of them, it's worth doing it on a card that is worth keeping.  

This years new design is based on a Scarlet Robin, an Australian native bird that is a resident on our property.  It is such a strikingly coloured bird with crisp black and white parts highlighted with scarlet red that fades down to pink and soft grey.  When they flit about,  you catch splashes of bright white and intense red.  I decided the best way to express the intensity of colour was to create a card where everything but the bird was neutral.  The 2013 Christmas robin is printed on recycled kraft paper which takes the ink well and has a lovely rich natural tone.  The card is 275 gsm recycled kraft card.  The envelopes are kraft paper too, but ribbed which I particularly like.  I think the little fellow looks suitably festive!

I also have some of the 2012 Christmas card design available again.  They were based on a the Tasmanian Waratah, a flower endemic to Tasmania and one we grow commercially on our flower farm.  They are such a stunning flower that blooms in spring in the lead up to Christmas.  The come with green envelopes in A6 size.  You can find them in single cards or packs of 5.  

I also have some smaller cards which were really popular last year - the Merry Robin design.  They don't fold, but have a fancy die-cut edge.  They can be used as special gift tags, but are still large enough to send through the post.  The come with kraft envelopes.

All trees4thewood Christmas cards use 100% recycled card.  The waratah and merry robin designs are printed on the pages of old books, sourced from my local op shop.  Old book paper is often made with a higher rag content and makes printing on it a treat - not to mention that I love the "patterned" look that the printed words create as a background.  

If you are considering posting Christmas cards this year, can I suggest you look for an alternative to the cheap mass produced pieces of cardboard that are everywhere.  Seek out some locally made or designed cards.  There are plenty available online, or at your local maker's market.  It's worth sending something really special!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

marking the spot

My latest lot of printing was to finish off an idea for some bookmarks.  It takes time, and a bit of planning to get anything done around our house at the moment.  We seem to have so many projects on and then there are all the usual things of just doing life with 5 kids. 

I was all set up to print on my first free day for a while, and after doing the first one, I realised that something was up with my trusty baren.  This little piece of equipment, for those who don't know, is a cheap but important piece of lino printing equipment for those without the luxury of a press.  (that's me!)  It is a traditional Japanese hand printing tool that is used to press the paper onto the inked lino block evenly to make the print.  The epitome of low-tech!  I think its bamboo leaf or similar that provides the perfect surface to burnish the ink off the block and onto the paper.  I love the timelessness of simple tools!

I've had my trusty baren for over 4 years.  I can't even imagine how many prints it has helped me produce in that time.  But whatever the number it marks the life-span of my baron.  The leaf began to disintegrate and I was left to tape it up and cut my printing day short.  

It's good to have these little bookmarks done though - there are now three in the series and they make great little gifts to mail to loved ones far away.  That's what I'll be doing with them!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

trees for the wood

My first exhibition in Tasmania is underway.  Its been a big job getting all the work together in just a couple of months, but its done!  I have had quite a few solo exhibitions on the mainland, but this is my first in Tasmania.  We moved here nearly 5 years ago and the time has flown by.  I have found it difficult to make contacts in the arts industry here.  It could be because I live in a regional area.  It could be because I have been busy raising kids and running a farm!  But I have my online shop  to thank for initiating this show.  Lee from Killiecrankie Farm was a customer of mine and that's where it all began.  Lee's sister owns a beautiful cafe on the banks of the Tamar river, just north of Launceston, where she is the curator of the wallspace.  She approached me to see if I'd be interested and I jumped at it! The venue is called Ilk Cafe and Gallery and can be found at 146 Rosevears Drive, Rosevears.

I've named the show "trees for the wood", the name of my online shop.  All the works are either lino prints or incorporating lino prints in some way.  I hand colour the lino prints with water colour.  They are all inspired by the Tasmanian landscape and its feathered inhabitants.  Here are just of few of the pieces included.

New Holland Honeyeater

Sommers Bay Shack

Kookaburra (Farm Gate Breakfast)

Scarlet Robin

Some of the new work will be available in my online store in the next few weeks.  In the meantime, if you live in Tassie and are up that end of the island, drop in for a great feed and a look at the show!

Friday, May 24, 2013


Life is too busy sometimes.  Now is one of those times!  I'm busy getting ready for this ...

I'm starting to get quite excited about my first exhibition in Tasmania.  I've been printing up a storm (so much so that I've had to take pain killers - 5 hours straight, hand pulling lino prints is not good for your arms, it turns out!)  But I'm happy with the work that's emerged and I'm looking forward to seeing it all together, framed and looking its best.  There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from assembling an exhibition - nearly there!

Last week was a big week too.  After the busyness of Mother's Day (always a big one when you have a flower farm!) we woke on Monday morning to find the little one unconscious.  Very stressful - trip in the ambulance - time in hospital.  She's back to normal (for her!!) and we are almost back to normal.  It certainly wasn't a nice way to start the week.  The Tuesday of that week was the deadline for getting my painting in to the Tasmanian Regional Arts annual Material Girl exhibition and award.   I had been told I was a finalist the Friday before.  The plan was to take it in on Tuesday, but I was in hospital with the baby.  I was prepared to ring and explain that it wouldn't be arriving, but my lovely husband made a huge effort and delivered it for me - with about 10 minutes to spare!! That was the last I thought of it.  Opening night was Friday, and I didn't go - still getting over the huge hospital event!  On Saturday I received a phone call to say that I'd won the Premiers Choice Award! So very exciting!! Thanks so much to my family - especially my husband, for making it actually happen!

You can see the other winners here.

And now, back to the work of getting this exhibition ready.  Here are a few snapshots of the work as it is emerging ...

I'll be sure to share some pics of the finished product!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wattle Bird

Its been another busy few weeks!  Our local community Art and Craft Show, which is usually held in January but was postponed this year due to the chaos after our local bushfire disaster, came on the same weekend as my babies 2nd birthday.  Last year I entered the craft section, with lots of trees4thewood products.  This year, I decided to enter the art section as well.  It gave me an incentive to finish this painting that I started more than 2 years ago.  

I was a little concerned about entering my paintings as they are different from the oils of local landscape scenes and watercolours of historic buildings that are the usual fare at the show, but I decided to brave the strange looks!  And it paid off! To my great surprise, "Wattlebird" won the main prize, as well as the portraiture category!  I was really not expecting this ... I didn't go to the opening/award night and I didn't even know that the award involved a cash prize! 

It was a big weekend, as I mentioned, because we celebrated the 2nd birthday of our miracle baby.  I began this painting before she was born, not knowing that I was about to enter the darkest and most difficult days of my life.  Our number 5 baby was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome before she was born.  It is one of the most severe congenital heart defects and until 20 or so years ago, the babies did not survive.  To cut a long story short I spent more than 4 months in Melbourne, 1000 klms from home, and watched her go through 5 open heart surgeries.  She nearly died 3 times,  and I didn't get to hold her till she was 5 weeks old.  She was on life support for 3 months and ended up with a brain injury as well, resulting in Cerebral Palsy. She is a tough little bird! Despite all of that she loves life and lives it to the full.  Our family is so blessed to have her.  Celebrating her 2nd birthday with friends meant so much to us - probably more than it meant to her!  

There are 2 questions that I've been asked over and over again since the art show - 
How do you get the time to paint?
Why is she wearing a blindfold?
The answer to the first is ...  it took me more than 2 years to finish it!  And I make the time, because making art keeps me mentally healthy.
The answer to the second is ... the blindfold is actually a bandage, and a symbol of healing - I guess since its over her eyes, its a symbol of "healing" the way I see / perceive / understand things.  I think its really nice that it was started before our big adventure, and I can say I certainly have a new outlook on life since our gorgeous girl came along.  Life can be quite poetic at times. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Snip Snip

It doesn't take long to discover that Etsy is more than an online marketplace.  It is a community.  Much like a "real" market, there are many personalities and products.  I really like the treasury making side of Etsy.  I love making treasuries - I think because I am a collector, and making a treasury is rather like arranging pieces in a collection so that they look fabulous.  But I love that every one else makes treasuries too, and its really nice to have my work show up in some of them.  Sometimes I am really delighted by the company that I find myself in.  That was so recently, when a treasury made by an Italian artist called Paolo Beneforti included my work among some other fabulous collage pieces.  Check out Paolo's own beautiful work by clicking the link.

'Cut and paste' by pbeneforti

Art of collage

robot 1, cut paper robot, mi...

Blue Wren Lino Print Collage...

Mixed Media Painting Collage...

Remnant - Collage on Book Co...

Scrolls Series 2 - Collage w...

Papyrus collage with red cro...

Four Piece Collage

Pittsburgh's Gateway Cen...

Antique Birds: Original mixe...

Dots 1, small 5" x 7&qu...

White Dove Torn Paper Collag...

In The Garden Unique Abstrac...

Original Collage Vintage Sty...

BLACK HORSE - Original Mixed...

Water Pitcher - Fornasetti i...

Vintage recycled evergreen b...

Treasury tool supported by the dog house