Prints


Whewwww I can’t believe it’s been ten whole months since I last wrote a blog post. Life has changed, the world is upside down, and I’m still making little linocuts to soothe the soul, inject humour in the day, and explain to myself what I think is going on.

horro scroll colour

The first few weeks of working alone, isolated in my flat in East London, were a mix of relief at stopping my commute, tinged with fear of the virus. I would spend hours looking at my phone, wading through pages of horror stories, like an unending river of disaster and dread. I couldn’t really do much but worry about my parents.

pray to blossom colour_e

The tree outside the bathroom window became a wall of blossom and I would open the window really wide, and stare out into the breeze, and pray that everyone I know would stay healthy.

Bracken House garden print

Likewise, the communal gardens were bursting into leaf, and it was just so nice to sit under the dappled shade, even though my thoughts were of death and destruction.

blue mood_e

Sometimes I’d make myself extremely sad by wishing hard for a hug. Then I’d think, that as no-one had seen my face for days and days in real life, that perhaps I didn’t have a face anymore, and that I was in effect just a paper bag ghost.

dream lunch colour

My paper bag ghost would still be hungry. I’d think of my dream meal, inspired by mum’s mackerel with belly stuffed full of curry powder and onions, with blistered skin and sweet sticky rice. The sun was shining every day and I would set the table on the balcony and make myself a bowlful of raspberries with sweet vanilla ice cream.

send help in colour

Somedays I didn’t speak out loud all day, and my train of thought would start to crumble, as if my sense of identity, without a listening ear, was optional.

I'm doing fine

Somedays I would start drinking at 4pm to see if it made anything better. Somedays I tried video conferencing parties with friends. It didn’t really help…

covid zoomin_e

There are undoubtable benefits to working from home. I can now attend zoom meetings while sitting on the floor of the bathroom, with no trousers on, if I want to.

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I can go for a jog in the neighbourhood and terrify the locals by infringing on their two metre zone.

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Facebook Live videos of exercise classes have become my favourite moment of the day. With all the isolation, inactivity, stress baking and comfort eating, my bottom is getting bigger, but at least it makes mum laugh.

home studio at night

Anyhow, this series is ongoing: I have many more prints that I would like to make. My tiny desk in the corner of the living room is a lot more than I would have had if I were living in rented accommodation in one room, as I did for the past 20 years. And the best thing about a handmade print (oh! actual ink on actual paper!) is that you can chop it down, scribble on the back, and post it to wonderful people, like an old-fashioned talisman.

I'm doing fine blue

PS.

I gave a talk on my print series a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned some of these prints towards the end. If you are interested, have a watch here (it’s 23 minutes long, and was a seminar hosted by the Centre for Fine Print Research, University of the West of England, Bristol.)

https://vimeo.com/413495704

 

 

 

 

I thought I’d talk a bit about how one of my prints is made, from start to finish…

This is one of my latest prints called Blue Table Porto, which is about a lovely café I visited in the spring.

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For those who know my work, I started the diary-of-a-printmaker project when I was offered a fellowship at the Royal Academy of Art Schools in London, as a print fellow, back in 2016. This series of prints is about places and memories and anecdotal humour, a little bit like making postcards to send home…

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So, how do I make a print from a place? First of all hanging out in beautiful cafés always helps (!)… though I’ve also made my fair share of prints about working at the vets and walking around in gummy suburban cities and the hilarity of communal changing rooms. All these situations have a unique sense of energy, and leave a strong impression on the mind.

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These impressions are full of visual narratives, even though there may be scanty factual details. Sometimes it’s as if the images are from a dream-bank because the stuff that’s there is pared down but the sensation of being there remains.

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So sometimes I take photos, other times I draw directly onto the lino from memory, and then go home and think about what it is that it felt like to be in that moment of time, surrounded by that space. What was the most enduring sensation? For this café in Porto, the pale blue expanse of weather-beaten table-top plus a skylight bringing light into a dark cave of a room, plus the battered Turkish carpet were the most significant for me. The feeling I wanted to convey was of being engrossed in drawing and being marooned in a sea of carpet, the table as a raft.

blue table porto the two blocks side by side

After one colour is printed, I transfer the still-fresh ink onto a second block and start to plan what I want to make. In this case, I wanted the carpet to be full of swirls and detail and the light to be the focal point. I knew that one block had to be pale blue. The drawing on the second block was partly copied from the drawing on the first block. It’s hard to explain what or how I carve the second colour in factual terms, but I think of removing every area in terms of the process of revealing the first colour, allowing the first colour (plus any areas which were already carved away and which would be white) to shine on its own.

colour trial prooof sheet for porto table_e

Then comes colour trial proof printing time… I try out different colour combinations and try to maintain a sense of rigour to the experiments, making notes of ink recipes and how much ink is on the slab in order to achieve my preferred effects. I’m always using the same brand of ink: Sakura Oil based Relief inks, because I love the way I can wipe the ink off the block and apply thin layers in places to achieve a graded look. I write notes to myself about what I’d like to differently on the next print.

printing slab for porto table_e

So, taking the proof above, I decided to start editioning but with the addition of orange to the red mix, in order to move away a bit from the candy colours that the pure red and blue were creating.

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The red still appeared red, but was mixed 50% with orange in the centre, and cut with green on the edges. When I put the blue layer on top, I was very happy with how the edges of the print appear to recede into darkness, a kind of black has formed from the combination of red/ orange/ green and blue on the sides.

blue table porto_e

The magic of ink is maybe why I keep making prints…

 

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Back in November, Marc Donaldson of The&Partnership agency got in touch with me about an exciting project for the Japanese car manufacturers, Lexus.

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The brief was to highlight the deep beauty of making something by hand, looking at the physical knowledge and near super-human skills honed over a lifetime of practice, and link it to the use of AI and digital manufacture. Essentially, it was a reminder that despite the inexorable increase in the digital world, ultimately it is humans who have a lifetime of knowledge who are still in charge.

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They had already commissioned a gorgeous film on the subject, called Takumi. This film follows several artisan makers talking about their craft and displaying their skills. Takumi is the Japanese word for artisan, a term earned for exceptional skill achieved after 60,000 hours on the job.

Marc’s vision was to create a Japanese woodblock poster from cherry wood that would use hand printing to embed traditional pigments into hand made paper, based on a design which he had created in the computer.

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I have to say that while I trained in Japan in Japanese woodblock, and printed large prints for several years, I found this commission extremely challenging…

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Japanese woodblock technique relies on a harmonious combination of humidity, speed and response to simple changes in the basic materials. The wood absorbs paint, and then releases it to damp paper. Too much ink, too wet paper, too much pressure, and the paper bleeds; too little, too slow, too much glue and the paper is patchy.

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Photo by Feng Ho

However, the air pressure, sunlight, temperature, the number of previous printings, the absorbency of the wood, how much glue is used, the number of brushstrokes and humidity in the brushes, the consistency of paint, the speed of brushing, the precise way the paint sits in or on the wood, all these factors vary second by second, hour by hour.

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Photo by Eoin O’Flynn

The colour had to be coaxed onto the page, like a dance of wills.

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Photo by Feng Ho

I have to admit, my first 50 prints were a disaster. It took a lot of determination to keep going, as each print took an hour, so it was days and weeks before I’d made a passable layer of colour. Having made linocuts for the past few years, it was a shock to be a beginner at a technique again.

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I had to learn how to ink up generously on the block with an almost foamy layer of ink, without leaving a drop of ink anywhere near my table, in order to keep the edges of the paper clean when they were placed face down.

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I made my own homemade recipe for ink, combining gum arabic with nikawa and pure pigment, a blend of graphtol red and ruby red, and added a tiny drop of sumi ink to help the colour depth.

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I learned to hold my elbows out a certain way to fix the edges of the paper on the registration marks accurately, and how to trust that registration mark when each poster needed two or three printings to achieve the required depth of colour. Every now and then, the registration would be out by a fraction of a millimetre, and the print would fail.

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Photo by Feng Ho

I learned that a lovely intense colour field would leak through the damp paper in the last stage and mark other areas, so I developed a way of protecting the paper with a spare sheet of newsprint to stop this from happening for the final layer of ink.

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As this technique needed solid day light and it was during the winter months that I was printing, I’d skip lunches to maximise the hours of printing. I rigged up the ceiling light to a scaffolding to give myself a bit of light boost. There were no short cuts. I didn’t get faster. I had to keep moving, at a slow pace, and enjoy the process.

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I learned to relax and enjoy the meditative brush strokes and listened to quite a few absorbing but calming podcasts to keep my mind occupied and body in the flow.

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Photo by Feng Ho

After a mere 100 hours on the job, I cannot call myself a Takumi by any stretch of the imagination, but have a renewed respect for the masters of the field!

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My mum’s from Malaysia and dad’s from Singapore, so I love visiting these countries even if they are relatively foreign places to me. My niece invited me to her wedding in May, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to catch up with family.

Study in Millenial Pink

The wedding was in a “Six” star hotel, called the St. Regis. We lounged around in the gap between official ceremony and evening fun, getting ourselves pampered and primped. It did amuse me to see that the epitome of luxury was a chilly air conditioning bordering on UK winter temperatures, and that the fruit bowl contained northern hemisphere waxy green apples.

Mellower Coffee

I spent some time hanging out with my brother and sister in law. They took me to a fancy cafe called Mellower Coffee, whose top hit menu item was a black coffee with a ball of candy floss suspended above. As the steam rose, the floss melted, looking like pretty rain. We tried the cake, which looked much better than it tasted. I was so happy lurking in the noisy buzz of this popular place, spending time in companionable silence.

Belly Fire

My sister in law was kind enough to let me come to her acupuncture session one afternoon. I was amazed by the number of needles that the doctor put in, and how calm she said she felt afterwards.

Teh Tarik and Mahathir in the Midnight café

After a long bus journey I arrived in Malaysia to see my mum’s side of the family. We ended up drinking Teh Tarik in the midnight cafe, and reading about the shock victory of Mahathir, who had just won a second term in office at the ripe age of 92. In hot countries like Malaysia, the night time is peaceful and cool, it’s a good time to get snacks once the appetite returns. I love the way people enjoy this time of the night together.

Hungry cat café

Malaysian food, even breakfast, is the best. Every now and then I long for a bowl of fresh slippery salty noodles in gloriously bright purple plastic bowls, lit by the flicker of neon cut by a whirring fan. My cousin and I had a quick bowl before we set off for Singapore together in the car. The cafe had a little scrawny cat who poked around under my table; I wanted to take him home.

I’m still working on some more of these prints, and they have brought back good memories of fun times with family. I know that taking pictures would have been more immediate, and accurate, but these slower images bring back the sounds and smells and heat of the place… for me, at least.

 

Oh! I’m so happy to be included in the Tokyo Mini Print Triennial!

She Dreams of Flowers

She Dreams of Flowers (2017) by Wuon-Gean Ho. Linocut, 15 x 20 cm

Have a look here to see the prizewinning works and here to see a list of the artists selected (yes, it’s loads of people, but I am still pleased to be in it!)

Tama Art University Museum

Date: (Sat.) Oct. 27, 2018 – (Sun.) Dec. 2, 2018

Open Hours:10:00 – 18:00 (last admission at 17:30)
Closed:Tuesdays
Admission free
1-33-1 Ochiai, Tama-city, Tokyo, Japan
Tel. +81-(0)42-357-1251
Access:7 minutes from Tama Center Station (Keio Sagamihara Line, Odakyu Tama Line, Tama-monorail)

I’m very tempted to go over and see the show, as they will have a full programme of printmaking events running alongside…

The Novosibirsk International Triennial of Contemporary Graphic Arts in Russia: Oh, What a fancy sounding show! I’ve seen some technical and graphic excellence from Russian and former Soviet Union artists, and imagine the show will be full of excellent work.

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I’ve been invited to take part by a curator of the digital section, Derek Besant.

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For those who know my work, it’s resolutely analogue, except I do make many of my prints into animations! So, the use of digital software qualifies me to take part.

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I’ve submitted Shadow Boy and Shadow Girl, as two sets of still frames (nine frames per panel) and the animation on a flash drive. Fingers crossed the film works over there!

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The Novosibirsk International Triennial of Contemporary Graphic Arts runs from 14 Sept to 4 Nov.

If you’d like to see the animation, it’s here:  https://vimeo.com/208883758

 

 

Buckingham Palace is beautiful, golden, sparkling, opulent, baroque, rich. If it were a dish it would be molten duck egg yolks, velvety on the tongue… However, I was thinking how even though it’s filled with life-like marble statues, their ghostly pallor and illusion of softness might make one yearn for the reality of a living, breathing, messy, optimistic dog.

throne_e

So I made this print, which is of my friend’s ornate chair in her living room, one that kind of resembles a throne, and her happy dog, Lily. It was a lovely experience to sit in such a grand chair, and have Lily leaning on my legs. In way she was half mascot, and half protector, fully present.

I sent one of these prints to The Queen to thank her for inviting me over. I hope she didn’t think I was being blasphemous…

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She Dreams of Flowers

I’m very happy to be one of the 30 shortlisted artists for this printmaking prize in Belgium 2018 http://award.renecarcan.be/

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RA Schools, Lick the Moon

The works I submitted are selected from the diary prints: little linos that I’ve been making, more or less every 10-14 days, ever since I started the fellowship at the Royal Academy Schools in October 2016.

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Green block for This Granny Can

I set myself some rules: all the prints would be made from blocks which measure 15 x 20 cm, and that there would only be two of them.

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This Granny Can

If I wanted more colours, I could make blends of ink and print them on top of each other.

Rainbow Room

Rainbow Room

In many of the prints, I used selective inking and wiping to achieve the effects that I wanted. So on the print above, the face and arms have only one coat of ink, whereas the rest of the block has been inked up four times.

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My ink!

Deciding which colours would work best has been a huge learning curve for me.

CTP Made of Earth, We Are

Colour Trial Proofs for Made of Earth, We Are

Sometimes the colour trial proofing has resulted in more questions than answers!

CTP Eight to One

Colour trial proofs for Eight to One

Actually, I would have loved to submit all the prints, in one big panel, because this project has recorded what’s on my mind, as well as being a kind of postcard home: I made these to make my dad smile.

Aberystwyth Printmakers

Work displayed in Aberystwyth Printmakers

Sometimes they were a record of the absurdity of swimming pools

Lino Block for She Doesn't Care

Block for She Doesn’t Care

Sometimes I was poking fun at our obsession with phones and selfies, even when in the presence of amazing things, like the terracotta army

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Xian Selfie

However, although I’ve plastered the walls of the care home where is is staying, he doesn’t show me that they interest him in any way at all. They have more effect on my mum, who snorts with laughter whenever she sees the mirror print, and tells me to keep on going…

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Mirror Mirror

The show opens 15 Feb and runs til 15 May in the Bibliotheca Wittockiana– 23 rue de Bemel -B 1150 Brussels http://www.wittockiana.org Apparently this is a museum devoted to book arts and bookbinding. I’m looking forward to going along.

Work laid out for framing at ELP

If you would like to see all the prints in the show, you can visit the online site http://award.renecarcan.be/current_edition where you can also vote for your favourite work…

 

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Update! on 15th February, I went to the opening of the show!

After the excitement of going to Wrexham, and then Buckingham Palace, I hopped on a train to Brussels for the Rene Carcan Print show… But I was soooooooo tired!

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Hahaha! After Wrexham and the Palace, I was knackered…

The show was in the Bibliotheca Wittockiana, located in the far east of the city, a good twenty minute march from the nearest dark metro stop alongside a motorway…

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This haven of a library is a real treasure trove of old equipment, beautiful hand-bound books and reportedly the biggest collection of children’s rattles in the world.

Anna looking at rattles

It was a huge crowd of people, there to see the art, and eat some sumptuous food.

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Important question: why do we just have drinks at private views in the UK, when we could be having dumplings…?

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Isabel, Rory and Anna Brooke, my friends who came all the way from the UK to see the show

I was thrilled to see Elisabeth Matthieu, who had been so kind and welcoming during my stay in Canada, and who chaired the 10th Biennial d’Estampe de Trois Rivieres (BIECTR) last year, along with her friend Aline.

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Also, fellow Canadian Jo-Ann Lanneville was there, as another shortlisted artist, and Catherine Gillet, who makes beautiful engravings (if it were me, I would have given her the prize for sure)…

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My work was displayed in a cabinet which was quite sweet. Mirror mirror print was not there: guess they didn’t have enough space…

_MG_2155mg_2158.jpgI’m ashamed to say I got lost en-route, missed the prize ceremony, and didn’t figure out who were printmakers amongst the guests: after all there was a feast to be had!

_MG_2115I managed to say hello to two of the organisers. I think you can see the first mention prize here, a series of works called Clean, by Ann-Kristin Källström, behind Roger Dewint.

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I was thrilled to be there, and be joined by good friends.

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For more info on the show, which runs to 15 May, please see http://award.renecarcan.be/current_edition

I don’t tend to write that much about being a vet, but I did qualify almost 20 years ago and still work part time.

Double Caesar SundayI like the sense that in the hospital we are all part of a complex organism that is working towards one clear goal, to relieve animal suffering. Everything else is extra.

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Every now and then, it goes wrong: I got bitten a few weeks ago, and my finger still feels like it might fall off…

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At the end of the day, I have to remind myself that the first linocut I made was of a cat, and that cats are still complex, intriguing and inspiring animals.

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Having a degree makes me feel responsible for animals: the training comes with a duty of care…

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I’m continuing to make prints that record some spare moments, absurd situations and interesting encounters. It’s like a slowed down version of the instant sharing of selfies with a sanitised/selective commentary on what its really like, over here, in my world. Since March I’ve made another half dozen or so, though some have been abandoned half way: ironically work or life got in the way…

This Granny Can is a print about the grandma I met in China who raises pigs, runs a small vegetable farm, makes home rolled tea, smokes ducks in the kitchen, and has hands hard as sun-bleached wood. She says she can’t read and has never been abroad, with a self-deprecating chuckle. I think of all the things she can do, how we are sitting in the same space, sharing the same tea, but that our lives are completely different.

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My last day in China, my friends Lan and Tang Wei took me to a pottery village in Changsha, where we spent a morning happily browsing ceramic goods, buying cheap shoes and enjoying the sun. The store at the end of the village sold practically everything, from kites to underwear to dried fruit, as well as having a small snack area where we ate chicken feet and drank barley tea on tiny chairs, watching the world go by.

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Since my favourite pool in London, London Fields’ Lido, has been shut all summer for renovations, I’ve been searching for an alternative place to swim. The heated Lido, 50 m long, surrounded by trees and tower blocks, with glittering water and the illusion of the Mediteranean, is hard to compete with. Of course, the Olympic pool in Stratford in a good contender: the air is heated with the crisp smell of a sauna, the water is like silk, and the magnificent Hadid roof makes you feel like you are in the belly of a whale. However, the “village-change” for mixed ages and sexes tests my prudishness each time. Why exactly did they feel they had to put up a sign that reads, ‘These hairdryers are solely to dry your hair. Please do not use to dry your body or other items.”? IS this normal?

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I have to say that York Hall is much smaller, closer and friendlier, and fairly beautiful on a sunny morning, when the light tracks through the water giving off the illusion of the outdoors. It has wooden benches and generous splashy showers that cycle between scalding and lukewarm. The funniest thing is that the main mirror in the changing room is a piece of stretched and polished metal, that shocks everyone who catches a glimpse of themselves. It’s like the reverse of vanity sizing, where people go shopping and buy clothes that tell them they are slim, smart and attractive. This mirror tells you are too far gone to even try.

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So imagine the joy that users felt when a new, normal mirror, with a bank of free hairdryers, popped up in recent months. Imagine the happiness of hanging out in the changing room and seeing your not-too-shabby reflection. She Doesn’t Care (If We Stare) is about that lady who loves to do her face and hair while naked at this new mirror. We all pretended not to, but we did all take a look. I couldn’t work out whether I thought it was empowering and celebratory, or if I thought this was a bit too much showing off…

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Meanwhile, at the vets, I’m always amazed at how people work so seamlessly together. I expected the art world would be creative by nature, but the vet world strikes me as more fluid, adaptable and kind. I admire the clear and honest communication, the humour, the teamwork,  the lack of ego. I particularly like that in the vet world, women speak, and are heard. Women do, and get results. Words have face value: no one second guesses your agenda because everyone has clear goals: the pursuit of truth; reduction of suffering; compassion. How these things are achieved requires plenty of lateral thinking and creativity…

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