A student’s experience : Liz Macdonald

A student’s experience at Cicada Press

By Liz Macdonald, Student in the M.Art program at COFA UNSW



Custom Printing students work on their group project - artist book

Custom Printing students work on their group project – artist book

Custom Printmaking was recommended by every student I spoke to who had done it, as you have the opportunity to work with highly respected practicing artists making editions at Cicada Press – in the COFA printmaking rooms.

The experience has provided insights that will permanently affect my work – Elizabeth Cummings, whose work I greatly admire, and who is an eminent and expressive artist, came in to share the studio.  Her use of separate plates for different parts within the overall image is fascinating. The seemingly disparate elements become united in the prints – adventurous and assured work the is result.

The student, the artist and the master printer

The student, the artist and the master printer


Euan Macleod was also working there this semester. His paintings have a sense of mystery that I have found compelling. To be able to watch him work at Cicada Press with no references – drawing from memory – was energising. His technique allowed great fluidity and expressiveness and is completely consistent with his painting.

Both these artists – confident and expert in their practice –  were willing for us the students, to learn from them directly.

The print studios were a big attraction for me enrolling at COFA –  the facilities as well as the tangible energy and quality of work on the walls.  I have not been disappointed. The tutors have been outstanding in both their knowledge of the medium and the application of it – they encourage diligence in pursuing better technical results and the realisation of your intention.

I am gaining tremendous insight under Michael Kempson’s direction.  His feedback at each stage of my work and of work we have helped process as a group has given me a much deeper understanding both of professional printing techniques –  and of how to teach.

It can be hard work taking the Custom Printing class - full days of printing

It can be hard work taking the Custom Printing class – full days of printing

The atmosphere in the print rooms is very welcoming and inclusive.  Bound by a shared experience and difficulties as well as triumphs – students exchange ideas, ask questions and support each other. The whole experience is enlivened by shared information and empathy both between the students and between the staff and students.

Further to this the relationships with aboriginal artists both from remote communities and distant townships and the relationships with institutions and artists from overseas that Michael Kempson has initiated, radiate inclusiveness and build broader experience.



Assorted Treats exhibition

In conjunction with Art Month Sydney 2013, Art Est. Gallery hosted Assorted Treats – Works on Paper from Cicada Press.  Art Est.’s Gallery Coordinator Lisa Woolfe discusses the exhibition.

In late 2012, I was tossing around ideas for the Gallery’s Art Month Sydney 2013 exhibition schedule.  I had already decided that I wanted the show to be ‘paper based’.  I had recently been bemoaning (with a few other artists) what I perceive as the lack of interest in works on paper (be it printmaking, drawing or otherwise), so I had decided to make it a mission to bring a paper based show to the gallery.  I have never been able to understand the lack of gravitas works on paper seems to have.  Our major galleries (including the AGNSW) have large collections of works on paper but they rarely seen, squirrelled away in storerooms.  If major galleries do not have a lot of interest then I suppose it follows that commercial galleries would have little interest.   Art Month Sydney brings a large number of visitors to the gallery, so it was a perfect time to start my mission and spread the word about works on paper.



It occurred to me: What a better standard of works on paper than an exhibition with works from printmaking workshop, Cicada Press?  A show with Cicada Press would have the added bonus of promoting printmaking and the unique teaching opportunity this print workshop provides to students of CoFA, UNSW.  And with a few emails, it became so.



My association with Cicada Press is as a CoFA printmaking graduate.  At Cicada Press CoFA students work alongside established artists invited to make work in the print room.  Students go on to help edition the prints.  As a former student, it is a real privilege to work alongside practising artists, and see both these artists in the physical act of making an image, but more importantly ‘see’ the thought processes (and sometimes struggles) involved in the picture making process.



The show included a who’s who of Cicada Press collaborations over the last 10 years, with work by Elisabeth Cummings, Euan Macleod, Fiona Hall, Vernon Ah Kee, Locust Jones, Adam Cullen, Ian Grant, Jenny Orchard, Chris O’Doherty aka Reg Mombassa, Martha MacDonald, Punata Stockman, Michael Kempson, Luke Sciberras, Michael Callaghan, Alfreda Minor, Alison Minor, Valerie Lynch, Laurel Nannup, Gregory O’Brien, Jasper Knight, John Pule, Guy Warren, Locus Jones, John Reynolds, Robin White


We were pleased to have a large crowd attend the Gallery for an artist talk with Michael Kempson and Euan Macleod.   Attendees gained an entertaining insight into Cicada Press and the work and working methods of Michael and Euan who were both generous with their time.


In association with the show, Art Est. Art School also ran printmaking workshops for kids.  During the workshops, kids were introduced to printmaking techniques including drypoint and monotypes.  They all created fantastic works and got a kick out of seeing their work framed and on display in part of the gallery space.

On behalf of the Gallery, I thank Sally Marks and Michael Kempson for curating the show.  Also thanks to COFA printmaking graduates David Quoy, Qianwen Xie and Rachael Helmore for ably assisting during the Kids Art Month printmaking workshops.


Guangzhou & Xi’an

By Angela Butler

Sydney based printmaker and writer angebutler.tumblr.com

China. In my imagination it had been, for some time, the Ultimate Printmakers’ Paradise. A place where tradition allowed for the depth of experience needed for exquisite execution of print in a contemporary context.

Have you seen the work coming out of this place? I had to get there.

So when I was invited by Michael Kempson to exhibit as part of COFA’s contribution to the 11th Annual Print Works Exhibition of Institutions of Higher Education, I jumped at the chance to go along. We would also be travelling to Xi’an for the opening of the Australia/China “Personal Space” exhibition. Teho Ropeyarn, a graduate of COFA and current exhibitor in the MCA’s Primavera, also had a print in the show and made the trip along with Michael and myself. The 2012 exhibition and symposium was held in Guangzhou, China, and it was the first year that international Fine Arts institutions had been invited to participate.

Teho Ange MK Guangzhou

Angela Butler standing by her work with Teyo Ropeyarn and Michael Kempson

It was called “Begin with Printmaking: the Practice of Mixmedia and Transboundary”. The two day event started with an opening of the exhibition, which was held in a huge gallery on the grounds of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, and featured over 800 works by students, graduates, lecturers and professors of the major Fine Arts Academies in China, as well as University of the Arts, London (Camberwell), and UNSW College of Fine Arts, Sydney.

Guangzhou AFA Art Museum

Gallery shot at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art Museum

My excitement at the prospect of finally seeing all this quality work was high, yet my excitement for seeing student works and meeting other printmakers overtook this long-standing expectation and I found myself engaged beyond my wildest dreams. These printmakers were just like us. The works were diverse, used a range of mediums along with printmaking, and were essentially dealing with the same concerns. Life, the universe and everything.

Guangzhou Academy Art Museum

Outside the museum

I interviewed a couple of students to find out about their lives as art students in China, and found that they have very similar challenges and opportunities as I do. I asked one student if she thought it was going to be difficult to find work after graduation. It was going to be no problem, she said, “…people who are smart and can work will always find work, but it won’t be doing something they like.”

I laughed at this, empathising with the realities of slim pickings for future gainful employment in art.

Xian art museum

The Cicada Press envoy outside the Xi’an Art Museum


After two days in Guangzhou, we headed north to Xi’an, where the latest exhibition of “Personal Space” was opening at the Xi’an Art Museum. This exhibition was curated by Michael Kempson, Director of Cicada Press, and features print works by 25 Australian artists and 25 Chinese artists. It has been touring Australia since 2011 and recently arrived in China where it will tour over the coming months.

MK and Jasmine

Michael Kempson about to give a speech at the opening of Personal Space at the Xi’an Art Museum

The Xi’an Art Museum was a colossal space which had threatened to be too big for the works that were on show, but which turned out to be perfect. There was a quality of space, light and sound which allowed us to properly spend time with each work without disruption. Furthermore, the exhibition was opened by way of several formal speeches, including two vice presidents of Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts, COFA’s Head of the School of Art, Sylvia Ross, and the exhibition curator, Michael Kempson. A fitting venue and opening for works which so expertly exemplify the heart and the skill of printmaking.


Gallery shot of Personal Space exhibition at the Xi’an Art Museum

I had seen this show when it opened at Manly Art Gallery and Museum in 2011. At that time, I had been studying printmaking for about five minutes and felt every bit the novice – in the art world, in printmaking, in being a student again. My experiences since then, and particularly since having time in Guangzhou and Xi’an, the works in the Personal Space show have peeled back some of their delicate layers of meaning. It was a meaningful and inspiring experience to see this work in a new context: talking with fellow students from China about Chinese and Australian prints in a Chinese art museum. All of a sudden, the whole thing was very real. And I loved it.

I think meeting students and artists in China and getting a glimpse of how everyone works has opened a new door. The feeling of belonging to this community, this community of Australian and Chinese printmakers –  students, teachers and artists alike – has strengthened my passion and dedication to taking part in the discourse.

For me, this was the greatest opportunity possible to learn more about the practice that has begun to fire my heart. Printmaking in China was everything I thought it would be, and so very much more. I look forward to exchanging prints with the students I met there, and creating our own community of transnational student printmakers! I am already incredibly proud to be a part of what is to come.

Interview : Elisabeth Cummings

Interview : Elisabeth Cummings

By Angela Butler

Sydney based printmaker and writer angebutler.tumblr.com

I recently went to the Cicada Press studios at COFA to talk with Elisabeth Cummings, an Australian artist who works predominantly in painting, but who also has a bit of a history with etching. Well, more than a bit. Elisabeth is currently working on several prints with Cicada Press Director, Michael Kempson, and the students of the Custom Printmaking class. The following is based on an interview given at the studio in Paddington.

Elisabeth first worked on etchings with Michael Kempson at Meadowbank TAFE several years ago. Prior to this, she had made prints at art school, and again some years later, however she says back then she hadn’t understood a lot. It was with Michael that she started to understand much more about etching: “He was very in tune with what I was trying to do, and then there was the delight of having them (the prints) editioned for me”.

For myself, as a student in the Custom Printmaking class, it has been great to witness that the skills we are acquiring really can translate into art that exists in the everyday world, beyond the walls of art school. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see the process from the very beginning, from making decisions about the size of an image, all the way through to editioning and exhibiting. Every step along the way presents its own challenges, which can be daunting (even overwhelming) but with practise become less so.  It gives context to the lecturers’ repeated cries during class of wipe your edges clean!

I asked Elisabeth whether she worries about students working with her plates: “It is a collaboration in a lot of ways. I’ve been lucky enough to have students who’ve got stronger wrists than I have to scrape. They might scrape where I wouldn’t scrape but that doesn’t matter at all, I like the chance of what might be, because my work is like that. It isn’t absolutely precise and I’m open to all sorts of things happening.” Elisabeth finds that she learns a lot too from seeing what students are doing. “It’s a very rich experience.”


Cummings was born in Brisbane in 1934. She studied in Sydney at the National Art School from 1953 to 1957. Her early work, in painting and print, was more abstract than her present practice. The paintings she makes today are imbued with a complexity of colour and such a range of marks that they are at once aloof and inviting; layered, concealed and emotive. I wanted to find out about how the important elements of her painting translate into etchings.

“With painting, the change is totally immediate, and with etching it’s not”, which can be frustrating for Elisabeth because of her working method. “With painting, I’m changing things all the time, it’s moveable… it’s all in a state of flux and change. I eliminate all the time and re-paint… adding, subtracting, adding, subtracting.”

However she really enjoys how the result is unlike a painting, which she says is the interesting part. “An etching is an etching, it has quite a different quality to a painting”.

With one of her earlier prints, she had planned out very carefully how the plates would go together and she didn’t like the result at all – she had to go back and change each plate to get what she wanted. She likes what happens when she scrapes, and the adding and subtracting on plates which “can make the process very labour intensive”. This is where students, mindful of the opportunity before them and with strong forelimbs, can come in handy.

The Yard – Etching 2010


When it comes to colour, it feels like it is both a carefully considered decision as well as an intuitive response in Cummings’ work. “It’s a bit of both. You start the painting and then there is that dialogue with the painting, and what the painting dictates… it’s a process of feeling one’s way” .

I wondered how this translates into the process of printmaking, where the physical matrix of the plate holds the composition and mark-making, and colour is only visible when it is printed. “With printmaking, of course, with a three-plate print, the colour is limited. Working out what to do with colour when you’re used to having a huge range, and having to work out how to get what you can out of that limitation is quite a good challenge. But there are ways … of allowing other colour in, doing a la poupee in certain areas – I love to bring in other bits of colour. It enriches things. You might think ‘Oh, I’d love a bit of yellow in this corner, and blue just here, nowhere else on the plane’ which is when Michael will bring in the a la poupee. It’s wonderful, but it makes more work for the printers!” Elisabeth chuckles at this.

Elisabeth CUMMINGSMichael KEMPSONCICADA PRESS, The red table.

The Red Table – Multi-plate etching.  2001


 As a student, my interest in the work of other printmakers is growing in terms of the rhyme and reason for print beyond my own obsession. I asked Elisabeth about other printmakers whose works contained what interested her or revealed something which she enjoyed. Her comments remark on how one marries influence with output: “I really like what Fred Williams did with landscape, with etching. Euan (Macleod) does very interesting things that relate to his painting. That’s always exciting to see, some process that I wouldn’t have thought of using. It’s sometimes interesting to explore that when you see somebody else doing it and you think you’ll explore it yourself. But the thing is, you always make your own mark. The way you scrape through the ground, or what you do with the sugarlift, you’re making your own mark. Of course, one’s influenced by things one sees other printmakers doing, but it becomes changed.”

Elisabeth recently saw Goya’s ‘Los Caprichos’ etchings currently touring in regional Queensland, and described her experience of being in awe:

“They’re amazing, he is such a brilliant draughtsman, he draws like a dream. You can’t believe the brilliance of the drawing. And the control of the medium, he probably did all of that himself. The control of the aquatints, the brilliance of the drawing, and then of course the imagery which is so compelling. You’re absolutely knocked out by it… and that’s hard to emulate! One’s impressed.”

Elisabeth CUMMINGSMichael KEMPSONCICADA PRESS, Arkaroola landscape.

Arkaroola Landscape – Multi-plate etching. 2005



A major subject throughout Elisabeth’s career has been the Australian landscape. I wanted to know about this, her experience in country which is familiar but unknown to me. “They’re all based on landscapes I’ve seen and experienced. Sometimes drawings can stimulate the memory, but then the etching, like a painting, takes its own course.”

When I asked where I could go to experience Australia’s landscape, Elisabeth’s response was enthusiastic: “Just go to Alice Springs and go out from there! The East MacDonnells, the West MacDonnells, it’s fantastic. The Flinders. Anywhere! Just go out to western NSW, Broken Hill. You know COFA has a place out there at Fowler’s Gap. That’s all arid zone, it’s pretty amazing, that country.  It’s the desert, and it’s fascinating to be in.”

I told her that I had never been out there. “You will one day. I always wanted to get to Europe when I was younger and I did, but that’s what I missed, the Australian bush and the Australian land. So I’ve been exploring Australia these last few years, and there’s a lot to see, there’s so much to see.”

Termite Mounds – Multi-plate etching.  2010



Some recent prints by Elisabeth Cummings will be shown in an upcoming exhibition of artists who have worked and printed with Cicada Press: “Master Prints” opening 6 December, 6pm, at MLC School, Burwood.

To see Cicada Press printers inking up a Euan Macleod plate “a la poupee”, watch this youtube clip:


Cicada Press in Imprint Magazine

The recent issue of Imprint magazine featured 2 full page articles about projects we’ve been involved in.

The first article, written by Gregory O’Brien and Michael Kempson, describe a project which saw a group of NZ artists head over to the Kermadec Islands where they went about working on their etching plates.

‘The Well Travelled Etching Plate’ From Imprint Magazine

Click to read ‘The well-travelled etching plate’ from Imprint Magazine

The second article, written by Tess Allas and Michael Kempson, is about the Aboriginal printmaking workshops we’ve been having at Cicada Press over the past years – including artists such as Vernon Ah-Kee, Gordon Hookey, Fiona Foley, Reko Rennie and many more.

‘Aboriginal Printmaking Workshops’ – Imprint Magazine 2012

Click to read ‘Aboriginal Printmaking Workshops’ article from Imprint Magazine

For those of you who don’t know, Imprint Magazine is the official magazine of the Print Council of Australia.  For only $50 a year you can become a member, receive the magazine and support the Australian printmaking community.  Highly recommended, Join NOW!

Matthew Calandra hard ground etching

Last year Matthew Calandra drew up nearly 70 portraits  as part of a Cicada Press residency he was invited to be part of.  The resulting body of works includes portraits of artists such as Ian Grant, Vernon Ah-Kee, Michael Kempson, Elisabeth Cummings and many more.  The entire series was exhibited at Gaffa Gallery to showcase the results of the residency.

Here is a little video that was shot from Matthew’s perspective while he was drawing up a portrait of Rafael Butron.  The camera was mounted to Matt’s head, so it’s a bit shaky at times.

More Euraba

So the workshop with the ladies from the Euraba Paper Company (based up in Boggabilla, NSW) has come to an end with some great results.


The participants of the workshop were Aunty May Hinch, Aunty Joy Duncan, Christine Dumas, Leonie Binge, Lola Binge and Deborah Knox.  Each of the six artists completed several etchings with the support of Michael Kempson, Tess Allas and Angela Butler.

It was a busy and hectic week, but the results were well worth the hard work.



More images to come…