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Embedding personal stories in art


I’m on the far left in this photo, with my brother and cousins on a family fishing trip


Artists embed their personal experiences, memories and perceptions into the things they create.  It’s how artists express themselves and share their stories.

And for their audiences, it’s a chance to see things from someone else’s point of view and perhaps enrich their own understanding of the world.


This month’s blog post highlights a recent example of personal storytelling in my own art practice.  I’ll take you through from first concept to completed artist book.


The theme

I was participating in an artist book challenge with the theme of “Pearl”.   A first response to this theme may be to do a literal interpretation – oyster pearls, pearls of wisdom, jewellery etc.  But I took my time thinking about the theme and how I would respond to it through my own lens of memories and experiences.  I think of it as taking the theme ‘Pearl’ into my art practice and seeing what resonated with me and the ideas I currently explore through my art.

My artist statement includes the words “…My personal experiences within natural environments are integral to my practice…”.   My personal experiences include memories of Sundays spent with my Mum and Dad on our half-cabin boat, fishing in Moreton Bay.  These childhood experiences have influenced my love of coastal habitats which imbue my art practice today.


This is my late Dad’s fishing diary – a starting point for my Pearl artist book project. Reading his fishing notes connects me to him and his stories, even though the entries are from before I was born.


My Concept

So for this project, I decided to specifically work with ideas relating to memories of family fishing trips.  This led to a vague recollection about a species of fish called the ‘Pearl Perch’.   I quickly dug out a book on my bookshelf called ‘Australian Fishes‘. which confirmed my thoughts about the existence of a ‘Pearl Perch’ and the helpful text also included a wonderful illustration by Walter Stackpool.  I had found my link to the Pearl theme!


The Artist Book

My next step was to find an artist book structure that suited my Pearl Perch theme.

Recently I’ve been playing with a winged book structure featured in ‘Making Handmade Books‘ by Alisa Golden, another book on my bookshelf.  (Isn’t it lucky that I love buying books!).  I’m currently a bit obsessed with the winged book format so I knew I wanted to use for this project.


Putting my concept into the Artist Book

My next challenge was how to incorporate the Pearl Perch imagery and story into the Winged book structure. I had thought of circles (Pearl!) so I cut some out and played around, but soon discovered that it didn’t work.  This stage of the project is a lot about ‘gut feeling’ more the logical thinking.  After a bit of playing and experimenting, including failures and dead ends, I decided on having geometric pages representing the ocean waves and the Pearl Perch swimming ‘out of the pages’. Multiple fish would give a schooling effect.

Akua inks


Artist Book by Sandra Pearce

This is my Foamex plate during the inking process. I’ve used a drypoint process with minor collagraph additions to get some interesting effects to represent fish scales and textures.


Printing multiples is easy using Akua inks because they are so easy to wipe off the plate. The Foamex plates create a lovely plate tone which I can manipulate using wiping tools such as cotton ear buds and paper towel.


I cut out the fish prints, ready to be collaged into the book.


Bringing it all together

The pages of the book are squares of 200gsm printmaking paper, monoprinted on both sides using my etching press and Akua inks.  For mark making, I used talcum powder and thread.  I kept it simple, just enough movement in the prints to create the feeling of being underwater.

The pages were folded, glued together on the side triangle flap, and then the fish glued onto the flaps.

Covers were made with mat board, gelli printed with acrylic paints.


The completed book


The concertina structure works well to give the effect of a school of Pearl Perch


The completed book covers – text was added with rub-on letraset. The fish drypoint was glued on.


I’m happy with how the book turned out.  I also made a simple slip-on band to keep the book closed, as it does have a tendency to want to pop open – perhaps its the school of Pearl Perch trying to swim away!


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hello Sandra
Your Perch Pearl book is beautiful and I loved reading about your process.

best wishes
Cathy from UK

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