Layouts and Landscapes

After weeks of testing out materials, exposure times, and half-baked ideas, I'm in the final stretch of my residency here at USM (Universiti Sains Malaysia). Now I'm working on large-scale art that's building on what came before (currently on exhibition at the University's Adiwarna gallery).

These Cyanotypes are printed on many pieces of paper that form large composite images. The silhouettes are cut from an assortment of what people here in Malaysia use every day for life, for work, or for ceremonies (mehndi stencils, Malaysian kerchiefs, Chinese joss papers).


Here I'm laying them out:

layout 1



Then I paint the background with Cyanotype chemicals. For this series – the first time ever – I'm deliberately painting the solution (like watercolor) to form an integral part of the image.


layout painted


Then I print it in the sunlight, where it turns blue:

layout printing


The text in these images are my words: my impressions of Penang over the past year, from personal and public writing. It was written in English, then translated into Malaysia's official languages of Tamil, Traditional Chinese and Bhasa Melayu via Google Translate.


From the exhibition catalog:

"Some places exist most completely in the mind. There, the past, present and future can coexist without constraints or contradiction. The artwork I make is blue and white — the colors of sea and sky. The art hints at possibilities: where the horizon is softened by haze, you will find an illusion of infinity."


layout entire

"Imaginary Landscape of Betel-Nut Island", 3 feet x 5 feet, 2011, Cyaotype print on handmade paper


The spires of a mosque are my favorite part of this piece. Here, text becomes texture:


mosque and text


And a poster for the Mid-Residency exhibition:


mid residency poster




Mid-Residency Exhibition

Artists have a dirty little secret:

Every masterpiece you encounter in a museum was built on top of many failures. And you never see these other works. All that we see is what made the cut. If an artist is a perfectionist, and a ruthless critic of their own work, that means a whole lot gets tossed out.

I believe this is why so many people think they “can’t make art” — they don’t see the imperfections, the works-in-progress, the almost-art that must be destroyed along the way to making “Art”.

So for my mid-residency exhibition here at USM‘s Gallery Adiwarna, I decided to highlight the imperfect, the small studies and tests I’m making as I prepare for much larger works.


Cliche-verre Cyanotypes in situ at Adiwarna Gallery, USM

Temple study 1

Temple study 1 – Cyanotype Photogram on handmade paper

Some are more crooked than I’d like,

two hands

Two Hands – Cyanotype photogram of mehndi stencils

While others are overexposed.


Rolling Terry – Cyanotype contact print on handmade paper. From an artist’s e-story project

At times the installation space leaves a bit to be desired,

Shaman’s book – Cyanotype contact print on handmade paper, 1/15

But at others, when mounted on a sheet of handmade paper, the final print looks even better than before.

These 27 works in the show were selected from over 100 prints that didn’t make the cut. The rest will be recycled into papers for another project. I see a failed print as something to learn from, for a while. I look at the many versions as I work on a series. Afterwards, I get rid of most of them to clear the way for what I make next.

It’s never good to have too many failures staring you in the face as you start something new…

To see the artwork up close, stop by the exhibition at Adiwarna Gallery. It will be up until the end of 2011.

mid residency poster

How to make a Cliche Verre

A cliche-verre is an image made with a drawn or painted negative.

For one of my two series in Penang, I’m using cliche-verre negatives.

I designed it with an ink sketch like this,


Then painted translucent acrylic like this,

Combined it with a photo negative and prepared paper like this:

And ended up with images like this:


Cliche-verre Cyanotype test print for the upcoming series, “Beyond George Town: Visions of Penang”

Some have said these images remind them of the devastation they witnessed in Phnom Penh many years ago. Others see the ghosts of someone they once knew.

For me, I’m intrigued by how our language limits and expands our thinking. We wear it like a set of clothes. It shapes us in ways we often forget. We are made of the words we use.

The final works – large-scale prints on cotton, referencing Malaysia’s long batik tradition – will be shown in January 2012 at ChinaHouse Artspace in George Town, Penang.

Fund-Raising for Creative Projects

Lunchtime Lecture: How to Fund-Raise for Creative Projects

(A talk I gave at USM on Friday 21st October 2011)

The internet is an important tool for reaching a wider audience with your art, and also for finding funding for your projects.

This can be an alternative to – or a supplement to – applying for artist grants, whether for travel, materials, or equipment.

Successful Online Fund-Raising projects have several things in common:

* They are appealing to people outside your field, i.e. the project and language they use is simple, clearly written
* Good for niches where people have passion and will invest in it
* The goals are apparent and appealing

* Rewards range from small to large dollar amounts, and provide a good value for funders

* It is somehow bigger than the person/organization who is asking for money (it’s not ‘Me, Me, Me’)

* They are easy to share online (YouTube, Facebook, Email, Twitter, Blog, Website)

* Giving money makes donors feel good

* The person asking for money has already completed other projects (a good track record)

What to think about:

* How is this project going to help others?
* What will it bring to the world / allow to happen, that couldn’t happen any other way?

* How can I convince people that I am trustworthy (i.e. that I’ll follow through with the rewards and the project)

Here are eight creatives who have raised funds online:

#1. Sarah Lacy is a student who has attended workshops in France, after successfully raising thousands of dollars online.

Find out more on her fundraising page.

She gives 3 ways to donate:
1. Buying artwork
2. $20 to sign up for 6 months of exclusive updates: a way to “hit the road” with her virtually
3. “Want to send me more than $20 but don’t want to buy any artwork? Rock on. The button below is the one you need.”

Why she’s successful:

* She gives 5% back to charity – and the charity helps promote her artwork
* She’s posts flattering photos of herself and her artwork. This makes her message more personal and appealing.
* She uses social media – a LOT!
* Builds up her mailing list — and uses it

#2. Another artist who funds her projects in creative ways is Movana Chen.

In April 2012, she will work on her project Travelling Bookshelf at my studio residency, Studio Sicilia.

She is writing to airlines to sponsor her plane ticket from Hong Kong to Sicily.


For international creatives like us, a good way to raise funds is the website,

Here’s what you need to set it up:

* Website for project (or blog)
** Twitter
** Facebook page
** PaypalHere’s how to open an account in Malaysia.

Some examples of current fundraising projects

#3. Labour of Love and Hate

This is a great project on Southeast Asian punk. Why?

* They have incentives for companies and musicians:
“You can make a donation on behalf of yourself, your company or your band.

* They give credentials for their project:

“We are supported by ALS TDI of North America and the MND Association of Great Britain.

But: They could use more affordable rewards.

Small donations of US $5 to $50 can really add up. Most people using IndieGoGo are from North America or Europe. Because we live outside these zones, it’s a good idea to have electronic rewards like e-books and other downloads available for smaller rewards, then inter-continental postage is not such a factor.

Another good project:

4. STATELESS: A film about Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines

Watch the video here.

Why is this project likely to succeed?

* The video is well put together. Lots of tension. You want to know what happens to the refugees featured in the film.
* The US has a large Vietnamese-American community in California which will be invested in the story, which the director has already tapped into for past films.
* The director has already worked on previous, documented projects
* An excellent reward for just $20 — A copy of “Stateless” work in progress (people really like to feel involved in the production of a work)

5. Successful story:

Villiers Quartet: Haydn & Beyond

Why did they succeed?

* A short video with their goals stated clearly (a simple but effective video!)
* Very good rewards, particularly the $500 sponsorship – excellent idea for a business to be able to advertise
* Very reasonable goal for project
* Philanthropists in this field are typically generous

6. Successful project:

“Road to Hong Kong” – Travel expenses for a filmmaker to go to HK

Why did it succeed?

* Engaging writing
* No video but a fantastic photo of the filmmaker that really showed his personality
* He had already done the legwork and gotten accommodation covered, had lots of contacts to meet, etc.
* Had a track record of success with other projects

7. Success: Painting Kyrgyzstan – An Incredible Journey

Goal: 1,600. Raised: 2,252
Why did it succeed?

* Project appeals to a wide variety of interests (face-painting, murals)
* She gives quick, easy-to-read information about Kyrgyzstan and why it’s a good place for project
* LOTS of updates
* Very reasonably-priced rewards
* She was investing in the project, too: fundraising was just for plane ticket, not all travel expenses and supplies

This is why I would have funded the project, had I found it sooner:
” There are plenty of artists in the largest cities in the world, but not many who are traveling to places that really need and want it.  “

8. Masala Collage:

One to learn from.

It had a great concept, with
* An engaging video (if somewhat low-res)
* Excellent visuals featuring rewards

* perhaps the artist didn’t follow through enough with social media
* didn’t give enough explanation of what the project’s goals were
* should have sought out an English-language proofreader (his English was unclear for online audiences)
* Could have gone bilingual to tap into Spanish-speaking audiences

Next week I’ll introduce my online fundraising project, as soon as it goes live.

Here’s a preview:

Blue Elephant

Blue Elephant. Straightforward Cyanotype print on handmade paper, 29.7 x 21 cm(11.7 x 8.3 in), Number 1 of 15. US $225

Prints from an illustrated travel book on handmade paper, called:

Paper Pilgrimage: Bombs, Bandits, and a Vanishing Art in Southeast Asia, to be released in 2012 by ThingsAsian Press

This elephant is one of many at the Lampang Conservation Center in northern Thailand. One program I visited there transforms elephant dung into biofuel and handmade paper. The special edition of my book includes a sample of the elephant dung paper.

This print is being sold to raise funds for the special edition of my book. It will be printed on handmade Thai paper, hand-bound in golden Vietnamese silk, and have paper samples from 9 people and places featured in the book.

More info coming soon.

Testing, Testing….

Wherever I live, I pick up potential printing materials and test them.

I can guess what something will look like, but every potential printing object is a wild card. You never know quite how it will look, once sandwiched between iron salts and perspex.

Here in Penang, there are festivals year-round, and plenty of paper to decorate or to burn for Chinese celebrations. Like this one:

paper lace

Once printed, it looks like a doily from my Grandmother’s table. The stripe effect comes from my varied printing times: about 5 minutes for each exposure. This is to determine the ideal printing time for each object.

Cyanotype test: chinese paper circle design

Another eye-catching paper design is this one, in red and gold:

red and gold paper people

Printed and folded, the layers give an illusion of depth. I’m going to play with this one a lot in coming weeks:

Cyanotype test: blue paper people

The printed characters and features come through, particularly in more exposed areas:

Cyanotype test: Blue face angled

A test with paper cut-outs combined with Mehndi stencils (from Little India in George Town, Penang). Varying exposure times combined with gradation of water added make for a complicated image.

Cyanotype test: mehndi hands and chinese paper

Three Mehndi stencils are made of various plastics, so reflect light and print differently:

hand tests

With a long exposure (nearly 30 mins), ink on this Chinese paper begins to print beautifully:

Cyanotype test: chinese paper print

This sharp print on cheap paper

chinese paper goddess red

becomes much softer in blue and white:

Cyanotype test: chinese paper goddesss blue

And the details of this Muslim cloth are incredibly sharp.

Cyanotype test: blue malay cloth

This week I will take these materials, and others – elaborate fly-swatters, children’s knit caps – and begin to make something from them.

Something inspired by Penang.

More images coming soon.

Printing Experiments

You never know who you’ll meet at a printmaking workshop.

Last week while printing, a few visitors were curious about the blueprints, and tried them out.

Here’s Ai Choo, who was once a Chinese teacher. Now she’s going for a degree in Fine Arts. She’s been exploring the many media on offer at USM’s studios.

Ai Choo printing

Ai choo waits patiently as her Cyanotype prints change color in the sun, from green to blue and finally to Prussian White

And this is Eli, who’s doing her Master’s in Papermaking here. She’s an artist, and has been making some unusual papers with the unique flora of Malaysia. More of her work will be featured here soon.

 eli rinsing

Eli rinses a Cyanotype print on a gessoed canvas. This was a two-stage development, both with cut Chinese papers.

rinsing together

Eli and Ai Choo rinse after their printing session.

They’ve gotten a good start, and are already experimenting with new materials and techniques. Any students interested to print, you’re welcome to stop by Terap Ulang printmaking studio next week on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th October, anytime from 10am – 1pm, or my room (above the graduate studios) from 2:30-5pm.

Workshop #1: Intro to Cyanotype

First there was paper drying in the darkroom after I painted it (with Cyanotype chemicals):

darkroom papers

Then there were two students, who were polite but curious as I set up the printmaking studio with a few dozen examples of my Cyanotype work, including a copy of H is for Hong Kong.

And a few more students trickled in, until…

there were many!

student group

At the back wearing a black T-shirt is Saiful, an artist who managed to get us some perspex (plexiglass) just in time for the workshop.

On offer were all sorts of materials for printing I’d found in various Indian and Chinese stores in George Town, Penang: festive papers for funerals, mehndi templates for weddings, paper money to be burned for good fortune.

Here are the last of the prints, baking in the late afternoon sun:

printing in sun

We’d run out of prepared papers by the time this student showed up, but he’ll hopefully make it to the next workshop:


Rinsing prints has an element of magic, as the image appears under the water:

rinsing print 2

rinsing print

Final prints: Chinese cut papers, Indian stencils, greenery from the studio grounds:

final prints

This was one of the last to go out the door:

student print

If you missed the workshop today, or came by after we had run out of papers, you can stop by the studio and print next week. Here are my open studio hours, and what I’ll be up to:

Mon-Weds Oct 17-19th

10AM-1PM:  In Terap Ulang Printmaking studio. Preparing and printing Cyanotype tests and test imagery – students are welcome to stop by and print during this time. I can provide chemicals, brushes, and perspex. Just bring sturdy printing or watercolor paper, or 100% natural fabric (cotton, linen, silk, etc). For other potential printing materials, consult me.

2:30-5:30PM: In room D29/106, above the graduate students’ studios. Admin and an upcoming online project, blog posts, etc. Feel free to stop by with any questions or to peruse Cyanotype examples.


Friday Oct 21st, 12:30-1pm, in Room BT 104 (104 B Block Graha Seni)

Lunchtime Lecture: How to Fund-Raise for Creative Projects

The internet is an important tool for reaching a wider audience with your art, and also for finding funding for your projects.

This will be a 30-minute lecture with examples of creatives who have successfully funded their projects by convincing friends and strangers that their project is worthwhile. This can be an alternative to – or a supplement to – applying for artist grants, whether for travel, materials, or equipment. There will also be plenty of time for questions. I’ll also give the details of my upcoming fundraising project, how I plan to go about it, and why.