Friday, May 31, 2013


Musettes - the piccolo oboe

My hand-painted illumination loosely based on the medieval manuscript
the Cantigas de Santa Maria (Canticles of the Holy Mary)
created between 1221 - 1284

This sample was a demonstration for the medieval illumination workshop this weekend just past.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

When something inspires ...

A walk into the Divine Trees forest Qilan (Cilan), Yilan County, Taiwan
revealed an inner peace I had never felt before.

This photo is as I took it - in colour.

 David and I went on this trek as we were staying at the hostel at Mingchi (clear lake) higher up the mountainside.  After driving up the mountain that morning we were picked up by a small van and driven back down the mountain, turned inward then drove a different track back up and into the forest proper. This was where we met our teacher and trekked through the forest for about two hours. Our teacher was distraught that we could not speak Mandarin and he no English ... we got on very well though and managed to allay his fears that it would all come to naught.


Stairways in and out of the forest.

Rest area.

David and I were with this couple and our teacher. Even though we could not understand mandarin we certainly got a feel for the love our teacher had for the forest and the Divine Trees. The lass here knew a spattering of English words but we got by with lots of "okay, okay" and "beautiful".

I felt very safe and at peace with myself in this place.
I am grateful for the experience as I have taken this feeling away with me
all the way to another island in the antipodes.

At each Divine Tree there was an information board.
Each tree is named after a prominent figure from Chinese history.
In this case an ancient Chinese writer Szuma Chien.

Divine Tree No. 5 is 2158 years old.
I cannot explain the feelings we both had walking with trees this old.

Underneath this umbrella which stands about a foot high is this:

What is it? I don't know.

A species of arum lilies, Penny says ... with another name "Jack in the Pulpit" ... I love it!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Medieval illumination workshop

Here are three images from the one-day medieval illumination workshop on the weekend at Artbeat of Tasmania. Even though these are incomplete I was thrilled the participants got as far as they did in just the one day considering this is a workshop that should be much much longer. This first one is mine ... which I hope to finish tomorrow.

 Musette (Oboe)
 This is the sample I was working on
as the participants moved through the stages in their medieval illuminations.

 Participant Leanne
working on the chameleon.

Participant Sandy working on the magpie.

Participant Ali working on the Harz birds.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Beautiful things ... ink-sticks are

David, Jun-Tien Chen & me at Da-You the ink-stick making house in the Sanchong District of New Taipei City.

 This wooden ink-stick mould is one hundred years old. The wet ink lays in the mould until slightly hard then it is turned out to dry, turned every day until fully dry.

The two sides of the same stick.

Ink-sticks drying.

Hanging ink-sticks drying.

Some of the stick I purchased.

This stick bears the hand print of the maker Chen, Jai-De

The story:

While on holiday in Taiwan last week I visited the ink-stick house where a father and son team work to keep the ink-stick making business alive.  Jun-Tien Chen the son, seen here with David and me operates the factory outlet while his father Jia-De Chen strives to keep up with the demand of their main clients on mainland China.

Taiwan is an island off the south east coast of China proper, an hour and a half by plane from Hong Kong.  The island is half the size of Tasmania and holds a population equal to Australia, 24,000,000.

I was very fortunate to have made contact with Miss Ongong Pan prior to my trip and as our hostess Ongong was very generous, kind and giving.  I asked her if she knew of any ink-making places and so she had arranged with Jun-Tien for us to meet.  We had a great day together going to the ink house, the Japanese “old house” and the art supply shops making good use of the MRT to get around.  We have now forged a solid friendship. 

The ink-stick house is in the Sanchong District of New Taipei City. As we were weaving our way through narrow alley-ways hosting all manner of produce and fare (and people) I could smell the ink house Da-You well before we got there. It was that overpowering sensual aroma of ink and Chinese herb.  I wasn’t surprised when Ongong said we were nearly there as it was already in my nostrils … I soaked up the lovely smell … just as I do when I use my ink-sticks.

Two of the sticks held a particular interest to me. One, a short squat block cast from a wooden mould of over one hundred years old.  Here is the mould and the stick showing both sides.  The other was a round stick which bore the hand print of the ink-maker Jia-De, the father.  All sticks carry the maker’s name and are a rich black fine ink when ground, allowing for the finest of fine strokes.

Jun-Tien was delighted ... and I think a little amused, that I was so keen to know everything there was to know about his work.  I was like the proverbial child in a candy shop. I had decided to purchase some precious sticks from Jun-Tien so I bought five and an interestingly carved ink-stone. Jun-Tien then very generously gave me a few more for good measure.  One of which is still drying!

Da-You is the last of the traditional ink making houses in Taiwan … a sign of things to come perhaps.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The road not taken ...

A little piece I did a couple of weeks ago.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fitzwilliam piece in House & Garden UK

Available now in newsagents.


I have finally managed to lay my hands on the House & Garden UK January 2013 issue
in which the editors have used my work as a promotion for the
Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge Exhibition. My work is a piece from 2007.
I must say it is a pretty groovy feeling to see my work in this popular magazine.

Sturt Australian Contemporary Craft & Design


Basketry with Adrienne Kneebone, Booking your Travel with Caren Florance, Botanical Masterclass with Leonie Norton, Calligraphy with Gemma Black, Clay- fast woodfiring with Ray Cavill, Clay - throwing with Janet DeBoos, Drawing the artists' engine room with Nikki Main, Etching with Tony Ameneiro, Wild Knitting with Loani Prior, Marquetry with Katalin Sallai, Metal Forging with Tracey Hopkirk, Painting with Victoria Peel, Weaving with Jenny Jackett & Woodwork with Phoebe Everill.

Visit my website too!

Visit my website too!
In-class illumination demonstration

Something about Gemma

My photo
Blackmans Bay, Tasmania, Australia
I am an Australian, a letter designer & calligrapher. I enjoy working with letters and grounds, teaching and mixing with like-minded people.


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