Meet the Artist: Kain White Shares his Thoughts on the Celestial Emporium

Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge will be an accordion-style book featuring the 14 realms of the animal kingdom with illustrations capturing the surrealism and humour of Borges’ taxonomy by Australian artist, Kain White.


Kain is currently working to produce the book’s images in linocut and woodblock. Here he talks about how he came to be an artist—and a printmaker specifically—and where he draws inspiration for his work. He also shares his ideas on the Celestial Emporium project, and why it suits his ‘overactive imagination’.

The biggest influence in my artistic work is my love of old art and nature. I have always loved drawing, painting and printmaking. In my late teens, I was trained in drawing under an academic drawing instructor who studied at the Florence Academy of Art. This solidified my love of traditional techniques.


In my childhood, we once had a large watercolour landscape painting stored away in an old frame. The frame was dusty, the glass was dull and in a poor condition but the artwork was preserved. Having noticed something about this piece, my father decided to perform some research, only to discover it was from the mid-1800s and possibly quite valuable due to the artist being involved with the Royal Academy of Arts in England. He immediately had it properly framed, and hung it with pride in our living room. The work itself is a large landscape with a person and a dog walking in the foreground. As a boy, I was captivated by the beauty and realism of the piece and had a hard time comprehending how someone could have painted it with simple brushes and colours. I still have this artwork and look at it every day. 


A love of nature and animals is at the core of my work, but I also search for meaning in life through symbols, allegory, and metaphor. You may notice, I sometimes deal with science-fiction themes like space travel and technology, but this is more of a commentary on modern life than a love of the genre. The search for the meaning of “why are we here?” constantly follows me.

Photo courtesy of Noni Hyett, Bendigo Advertiser
Photo courtesy of Noni Hyett, Bendigo Advertiser


Nowadays, my biggest influence is the continual digitisation of everything and the feeling that we are being engulfed in the digital world more and more. I feel strongly about continuing to build my own art practice and persist with preserving and sharing my love of “analogue” art.

Kain’s initiation into the world of printmaking was prompted by his loved ones and his artistic mentors. In this sense, it is a medium that is close to his heart.

Printmaking has in a way followed me around as opposed to me “getting into” it.


Other than some basic lino printing in school, my first venture into printmaking was when I was around 19 years of age and trying one of the more challenging mediums for a beginner in the form of lithography. At university studying Fine Arts, my drawing teacher Barry—who had already helped me develop my skills over a period of two years—passionately encouraged me to try printmaking and, more specifically, lithography. I loved the process of creating multiple copies using a range of chemicals (some quite hazardous!), inks, metal, rollers and lovely presses onto fine paper.


Many years later, around 2016, a (late) dear artist friend told me to get into printmaking. When he was very ill in hospital he said, with a degree of seriousness, “I am going to leave you my etching press, but you have to use it”. The man was not known for being a serious person, so this stuck with me. I cleaned the press and had a new steel bed made. In the following few years, I learned copper etching and mezzotint. Along with that, I created a variety of relief prints. Later, I ran workshops and was even lucky enough to teach high school students relief printing, which was deeply rewarding.


Kain painting the covers for 'Closer than Breathing, Seven Tales'
Kain painting the covers for 'Closer than Breathing, Seven Tales'



More recently, my partner became focused on creating her fine press handmade collection of short stories Closer than Breathing and required some relief print illustrations! So, we spent the next six years collaborating, discussing, and trialling eight images for her stories. This was a great learning process and I feel very happy with the result.

In June of 2023 Kain White and Beck Sutton (R.I. Sutton) were approached by Tristan Reader of Ampersand Book Studio to collaborate on Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, an Illustrated Taxonomy. Kain shares how the playfulness of Borges’ concept resonates with his own artistic vision.

I’m really thrilled to be working with Tristan and Beck. It’s a huge honor to work with Tristan all the way across the world. His work on Master and Commander is top notch. Beck and Tristan have been a powerhouse of ideas, which is very inspiring. The spirit of the project has been very positive. We all love what we do and I hope it shows in the final product. I really enjoy the gradual emerging of ideas alongside discovering new avenues for expression when collaborating. I had never heard of the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge and was unsure at first, until I looked into it. Gradually I began to realise this is a fascinating piece that is perfect for my overactive imagination.


I have some ideas for most of the images, but some are yet to reveal themselves. I want to approach it with a sense of playfulness but also make reference to some of the historic elements here and there. The idea of categorising animals has always been a strange concept to me, so this will be my earnest attempt at that futile endeavour. As far as style goes, I am very interested in capturing an aesthetic of those early flora and fauna illustrations from the late 1700s early 1800s.

Kain's works in progress for the Celestial Emporium project

I am experimenting with some less traditional styles with the engravings in order to capture something a little quirky. The whole idea is strange and odd, so why not embrace that? We will hopefully be able to incorporate several layers of images and textures to make a book that is visually stimulating while being true to the source material. We are using moveable type for the categories so I want to compliment that in the images too. Although there will be humour and play, I am striving to do my best work ever by using a process of design via gathering source material, creating conceptual sketches, transferring images onto lino/wood, then engraving in a unique style that has attention to detail in the subject while keeping with the overall theme.

Kain's image creation process from conceptual drawing to finished print


Kain has a specific working method which centers upon anatomical accuracy and detail. To render these qualities in relief print, he relies on source material and drawing studies as well as a reliable transfer technique.

For the images, I plan on working in a way that will allow me to capture a lot of detail by placing my drawings onto lino using a transfer process. This process is fairly simple and allows me to have a very detailed outline on the lino block to work with. I combine this process with some unorthodox mark-making techniques to create an interesting, stippled look that could be described as having a mezzotint effect.


First, I find source images to work from—let’s say a picture of a dog. I begin by completing a series of sketches of that specific dog breed, mainly to gather ideas but also to learn the proportions, tones and textures of the animal. Fur has a very different set of aesthetic qualities to say, fish scales. This early stage is important so I can figure out what I a plan to do before the lino cutting begins.


Once I have a completed drawing, I scan it into my PC and resize and flip (if required) to fit the exact size of the transfer. When I am happy with the image, I then use my laser printer and a sheet of blank sticker paper to print the transfer image onto. The twist is, I don’t print onto the blank stickers, but actually onto the backing paper with the stickers removed. The shiny and slippery surface of the backing paper is required for the next step.

Now it is time to make the transfer. For this I use a liquid medium called Mod Podge. It is designed for this purpose and looks a little like tacky PVA glue. I cover the entire area of the lino, onto which I want to transfer the image, and make sure it’s thin and even. I carefully lie the image onto the lino and squeeze out the excess liquid without damaging the paper. Once the image is in place, I let it dry. Then, I simply peel off the backing paper to reveal a very clear image. Now I can start engraving.

Kain's lino image transfer method


Kain feels that playfulness is at the heart of the Celestial Emporium project. It is this spirit that he hopes to realise by striking a balance between a decisive interpretation of Borges’ categories and the opportunity to ‘go wild’.

I hope to all walk away from the project feeling that I (and Beck and Tristan) paid homage to a very interesting piece of literature but also added something of our own subjective life experience to it. I want to really push myself to do some great work that will stand up alongside the quality that Beck and Tristan bring to the table. There really are no right or wrong answers or interpretations to each of the categories, which can pose a challenge, but also an opportunity to go wild. I want to draw animals I have never drawn before. I think this playfulness is the core spirit of the Celestial Emporium and what we should take away.

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Comments: 5
  • #1

    Cheryl Cadzow (Friday, 01 December 2023 17:12)

    This is really interesting. I love the way you are approaching this new challenge. So proud of what you and Beck achieve. The reference to Hugh brought a lump to my throat. ❤️

  • #2

    Marg MacGillivray (Friday, 01 December 2023 17:20)

    Loved reading your artistic journey Kain and where you are right now with this project.
    I look forward to seeing more of the images you come up with, love the ones you have already created, especially your unique interpretations of each character incorporating the idea of playfulness. The Whippet astride a Penny Farthing I found both nonsensical and hilarious. Keep them coming!

  • #3

    Beck Sutton (Friday, 01 December 2023 18:15)

    Thanks, Cheryl and Marg, for your support! We're so happy that you're joining us on the journey. Xx

  • #4

    Sally Nansen (Saturday, 02 December 2023 11:28)

    This is a beautiful inspiring account about Kain's creative journey, life intention and process. Thank you for sharing. The drawings are stunning and the emerging engravings are wonderful works of art. A beautiful mind and a talented hand, Kain. All the best to the three of you (and your menagerie of creatures) : )

  • #5

    Beck Sutton (Saturday, 02 December 2023 15:40)

    We're so pleased that the images strike a chord with you, Sally. Thank you for your kind words.