'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Bunny Tails

No, not this type of bunny tail.
...nor this.
These types! Lagurus ovatus - the lovely, soft, tactile seaside plant that as children we used to collect and bring into the tent on our camping holidays. I spotted this patch near Kaiaua as I was doing research into the habitats of the Godwit, for my exhibition. I'm sure I can weave it into a painting somehow.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Poetic Thoughts of Autumn

Here about the park I wander'd, walking a dog sublime
With the dog lead of polycarbonate, with one eye on the Time;

When the summer behind me like a fruitful land reposed;
When I thought about the present, of the winter that would froze;

In the Autumn a fuller orange comes upon Redwood and Birch;
In the Autumn the silent Heron gets himself another perch;

In the Autumn a livelier yellow changes on the spurwing'd plover;
In the Autumn a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of rugger.

With apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Locksley Hall.

Friday, 28 May 2010

The Eucalyptus Tree on Wellesley Street

I don't go to cities very often, so when we went to Auckland recently I was a bit like a kid. Unlike all the workers and regulars who trot along from A to B with their heads fixed on straight and their gaze inward, I look around all the time, gawping at all the 90 degree edges, metal and shine, steel and glass and concrete all around. It amazes me how very unrelentingly fabricated humans can make their environment. Almost everywhere one looks there is only hard inorganic surfaces, and yet the people still survive.

So it was almost with unreasonable joy I spotted this gum tree in the heart of the city. Isn't it so informal, so wonderfully curved, so deliciously disorganised and patchy ? I especially loved the armpit! And I don't care that people were looking at me as I pressed my front to the tree to take the shot straight up the trunk. Perhaps they even remembered the next day as they hurried past on their habitual track, and looked at it, and gave themselves a little dose of healthy natural.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Life Drawing - Learning to see.

This is the kind of thing I am producing at Life Drawing class. I am accustomed to working on a fairly small scale and these pieces of paper are about a metre long, so forcing me to make my movements from the shoulder, instead of from the elbow or the wrist. The model also holds each pose for only one minute, so I have to work fast too! All very good for me, I am sure.

After a number of these brief warm-up poses, our tutor takes pity on us and instructs the model to do 2 and 5 minute poses. And later still we get some 15- and 30-minute ones too. The model generally reclines on pillows for these longer ones (keeping still is much harder work than you'd imagine), and, with the heaters on and the concentrated silence in the room as we sweat over our work, she or he often falls asleep. We smile to each other as tiny snores come from the curves and angles and graduations of light in front of us (for that's all the model becomes), and pretend we didn't see if it suddenly awakens with a little jerk and snort.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Two Hobbits?

Katie Stone, Matamata Chronicle

There has been some significant digging and planting going on on a farm near Matamata.
Contractors are making underground houses, moving hedges and planting apple and pear trees.
Visitors to the farm have to sign a contract stating they will not sell any of the photos they take while there. It might all seem very odd if you weren't a LOTR* fan.

These two men (and MGM) are at the heart of it:

Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro.

Sometime towards the end of this year**, filming is scheduled to begin on the two part film The Hobbit. There's a rumour that it will be filmed in 3D. (I hope they do it better than Alice).

So far all I can find out about the cast is that Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Andy Serkis (Gollum) and Hugo Weaving (Elrond) are possibly returning in their previous roles. Christopher Lee (Saruman) feels he is not able to make the journey to New Zealand at his age.
Release is estimated late 2012. Our family are looking forward to this with great pleasure.

*Lord of The Rings
** Andy Serkis May 18 mtv.co.uk

Monday, 24 May 2010


Fretkiller: The anonymous guitarist. For some reason this YouTube/ internet phenomenon was 'unplugged' from YouTube.  Luckily someone had copied all his videos and has re-posted them on YouTube. I love his guitar and his voice, and so here, just because I can, is one of his clips. Up a Lazy River is a special favourite of mine because I've lived beside a river for 35 out of my fifty-mumble years, and rivers feel like home to me.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Polishing the Apple core

This is how Apple rolls

Like other products, the iPad will start small, but grow large

This is how the designers and engineers at Apple roll: They roll.

Then everyone goes back to Cupertino and rolls. As in, they start with a few tightly packed snowballs and then roll them in more snow to pick up mass until they’ve got a snowman. That’s how Apple builds its platforms. It’s a slow and steady process of continuous iterative improvement—so slow, in fact, that the process is easy to overlook if you’re observing it in real time. Only in hindsight is it obvious just how remarkable Apple’s platform development process is.They take something small, simple, and painstakingly well considered. They ruthlessly cut features to derive the absolute minimum core product they can start with. They polish those features to a shiny intensity. At an anticipated media event, Apple reveals this core product as its Next Big Thing, and explains—no, wait, it simplyshows—how painstakingly thoughtful and well designed this core product is. The company releases the product for sale.

One example is Apple’s oldest core product: Mac OS X. It took four difficult years from Apple’s acquisition of NeXT in 1997 until Mac OS X 10.0 was released in March 2001. Needless to say, those four years were… well, let’s just say it was a difficult birth. But from that point forward, Mac OS X’s major releases have appeared regularly (especially by the standards of major commercial PC operating systems), each better than the previous version, but none spectacularly so. Snow Leopard is vastly superior to 10.0 in every conceivable way. It’s faster, better-designed, does more, and looks better. (And it runs exclusively on an entirely different CPU architecture than did 10.0.) But at no point between the two was there a release that was markedly superior to the one that preceded it.

Next, consider the iPod. It debuted in the fall of 2001 as a Mac-only, FireWire-only $399 digital audio player with a tiny black-and-white display and 5 GB hard disk. The iTunes Store didn’t exist until April 2003. The Windows version of iTunes didn’t appear until October 2003—two years after the iPod debuted! Two years before it truly supported Windows! Think about that. If Apple released an iPod today that sold only as many units as the iPod sold in 2002, that product would be considered an enormous flop.

Today you can get an iPod nano for $179 that’s a fraction of the original iPod’s size and weight, with double the storage, a color display, video playback, and a built-in video camera. Apple took the iPod from there to here one step at a time. Every year Apple has announced updated iPods in the fall, and every year the media has weighed in with a collective yawn.

There’s never been one iteration of the click-wheel iPod platform that has completely blown away the previous one, and even the original model was derided by many critics as unimpressive. The iPod shows, too, how Apple’s iterative development process doesn’t just add, it adapts. Remember those third-generation iPods from 2003, with four separate buttons above the click wheel? Turns out that wasn’t a good idea. They were gone a year later. Remember the iPod Mini? It had no new features, and wasn’t even much cheaper— but it was way smaller.

The iPhone is following the same pattern. In 2007 it debuted with no third-party apps, no 3G networking, and a maximum storage capacity of 8GB. One year later, Apple had doubled storage, added 3G and GPS, and opened the App Store. The year after that, Apple swapped in a faster processor, added a compass and an improved camera, and doubled storage again. The pattern repeats. We may never see an iPhone that utterly blows away the prior year’s, but we’ll soon have one that utterly blows away the original iPhone.

That brings us to the iPad. Initial reaction to it has been polarized, as is so often the case with Apple products. Some say it’s a big iPod touch. Others say it’s the beginning of a revolution in personal computing. As a pundit, I’m supposed to explain how the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. But I can’t. The iPad really is The Big One: Apple’s reconception of personal computing.

Apple has released many new products over the last decade. Only a handful have been the start of a new platform. The rest were iterations. The designers and engineers at Apple aren’t magicians; they’re artisans. They achieve spectacular results one year at a time. Rather than expanding the scope of a new product, hoping to impress, they pare it back, leaving a solid foundation upon which to build. In 2001, you couldn’t look at Mac OS X or the original iPod and foresee what they’d become in 2010. But you can look at Snow Leopard and the iPod nanos of today and see what they once were. Apple got the fundamentals right.

So of course this iPad—the one which, a few years from now, we’ll refer to off-handedly as the “original iPad”—does less than we’d hoped. That’s how the people at Apple work. While we’re out here poking and prodding at the iPad, they’re back at work in Cupertino. They’ve got a little gem of a starting point in hand. And they’re beginning to roll.

[John Gruber is the author of Daring Fireball. A version of this piece appeared as "Apple's Constant Iterations" in the April 2010 print issue of Macworld.]

Originally published at http://www.macworld.com/article/151235/2010/05/apple_rolls.html

I don't usually post articles. In fact, this one is my first in three years of blogging. I also haven't succumbed to the, at times, great temptation to tell you about my admiration of thing Mac. So you get two firsts in one post today.

Friday, 21 May 2010


This image really appeals to me. Perhaps because I spend all day every Mondays drawing an unclothed human body in life drawing class, and I have been trying to get the proportions correct. I struggle a bit. It seems like each pose I do has only one bit that I am happy with. No, I can't put them all together, but a kind thought, thank you. They are all different poses. It would look really weird.
But back to the image. I suppose I should be glad of the smooth skin of our models. This looks a lot harder to draw.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Hawkes Bay

On one winter trip down to Hawkes Bay the electric blue skies and brilliant sunshine were a joy. Frosty mornings and a bit of mist in valleys just highlighted the later clarity.

On the way home I was pleased to see that the wetlands near the Napier Airport were being conserved. If I had visited Miranda before this I would have taken a lot more notice of the species.

Looking at these Kaweka Range hills below has confirmed to myself I have a lot more landscape paintings in me yet. My mouth is almost watering at the thought of interpreting them on canvas.
You can see the four layers (well, five counting the fence/shrub layer), each showing less detail, lower contrast in the colours, paler, and more blue than the last. That's aerial perspective in operation.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Southern Skies

This is the sun setting as we drove up and over the hill heading north out of Dunedin back in midwinter 2008. It seemed to reflect the odd feeling I had about dropping my son off at Otago University so far away from home. Both exciting and sad at the same time.

This March my last offspring left home. She hasn't gone as far; just over an hour away in Hamilton.

They all come back of course, and bring their friends. And lately, Significant Others. And it's wonderful. My three are like nova in my sky and I love to watch them shine and grow.

Belatedly, I want to mark this event with some special words from a well-known philosopher.

But before his words, I want to reveal a secret to my children. Do you remember the 'Green Eggs and Ham' I used to make for you? Well it was just a ploy to get you to eat silverbeet. I would cook it up, give it a whirl in the vitamiser, and then fold the puree into the cheese scrambled eggs.

You have brains in your head
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.

- Dr Seuss.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Solid Potato Salad

I could hardly take my eyes off the screen with fascination when I watched this performance. But there were elements of the feeling that they wouldn't let this on the telly these days. What do you think? Innocence lost?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Tonal exercises on coloured grounds

The colour of the underpainting or 'ground' can influence the whole atmosphere of a painting. Usually only tiny snippets of the underpainting show through by the end of a completed painting.

But it is a good exercise to prepare a number of sheets with different underpainted colours and use these for simple tonal exercises using charcoal for the darks and wax pencil for the highlights. The ground colour provides the mid-tones.

Here is that frog again, done on an ochre ground and a burnt sienna ground.

These are just on paper stretched and sealed with a couple of coats of gesso and then a wash of the colour in acrylic. It is easy to smudge the charcoal so I periodically sprayed the work with a fixative, allowing it to dry before continuing to work.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Tonal exercise on Black paper

As part of our still life class, we are learning about the technique of chiaroscuro. This is an Italian word that means light-dark, and refers to the use strong tonal contrasts in painting. You may have seen these paintings which look like the subject is brilliantly lit with a flood-light or bright sunshine, yet the background is very dark, almost black. The paintings are full of drama and excitement. Caravaggio and Rembrandt are two painters that spring to my mind who used this technique consummately.

Part of our preparation has been to take a portion of our still-lifes that we set up three weeks ago (yes, they are still there, and yes, the lilies have dripped their petals and the grapes are shriveling day by day), and render it with white wax pencil on black paper. As you can see I chose the frog.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables


Want to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables but need an incentive? Give yourself a dare.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Ik Vil Uitwaaien

We have had weeks and weeks of still, dry weather. But yesterday was one of those warm buffeting, blowy type of days. It was turning all the leaves on the strawberry tree inside-out and giving the french doors a good shake. Lots of autumn leaves have taken the opportunity to let go of their twig-endhomes and scuttle across the road or shelter in twitching drifts in corners of the garden. And the banana palm grove is all tattered and bending over under the lashing of the gusts. I'm feeling all twitchy myself and unsettled. It's a great day for going for a walk just for the fun of being blown and flapped around - what the Dutch call "Uitwaaien". I think it's wonderful to have a word for 'to walk in windy weather for fun.'!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Just Breathe

Here's that collaboratively-produced song again that I posted about recently. You can read the interesting history of it and how it came to be made here.

Great for those days when nothing seems to go right...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

World Builder

World Builder from BranitVFX on Vimeo.

A lovely vision of the future and a spellbinding movie that took a day to shoot and two years in post-production. By Bruce Branit of Kansas.

Saturday, 8 May 2010


Illustration by Slug Signorino

I read somewhere that there were only a limited number of story plots. Because of my characteristic memory quirk (that is, remembering the general idea but not the essential details) I can't remember if it was seven, or ten, or how many. Anyway, in the belief that this was something that is carved on a stone tablet somewhere as being one of those Well-Known Literary Truths, I asked my friend Google.
I could find plenty of discussion about this, but no consensus on the actual number. The main problem seems to be the definition of how detailed you get with the definition of the story plot.

However, Cecil Adams in The Straight Dope plot article explains it nicely and I do like his final words:

"My point is, never mind the 36, 20, 7, or whatever basic plots--take out sex, violence, and death and you lose 90 percent of literature right there."

But this is all just a preamble to this great little piece of writing I found.
Click on it to read it more easily.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

How to Paint a Still Life. Part 1. Drawing.

Here is a part of that still life I set up. This is what I will develop into a painting.

My brief is to build up the layers with a succession of thin glazes, in the manner of the Dutch masters, so the work has harmony and depth.

I will choose the 'earth' colours for my pallette so as to emulate the dullish, even, characteristic tones of the classical still life.

First I do a series of drawings to familiarise myself with my subject. Deciding to leave out the grapes, in order to make the composition more tidy, I do:
1. blind drawings, only looking at the subject and not the paper. These look funny when they are finished but they are excellent for making me really see what I have in front of me. Blind drawings hone my 'artist's eye'.
2. contour, or outline drawings, so I see the big shapes.
3. negative shape drawing. This is the space between and around objects. These shapes should be interesting and relatively balanced. This is an important part of the composition.
4. Tonal drawings, that help me to focus upon the lightest lights, and the darkest darks.

5. Choosing a light colour wash that will enrich my final work, I paint over my canvas. This is called a tonal ground. The colour chosen is based on experience and has the effect of setting an atmosphere. Cool colours mute and warm colours tend to make the painting look more lively. I have chosen the warm raw sienna.

6. Using one of my line drawings, or 'cartoons', I transfer it to my canvas. I use a square grid to enlarge it accurately. So that my line drawing is able to be consulted later, I overlay it with a grid that I ruled up with felt-pen on a piece of acetate. A heated piece of laminating film is ideal for this. I just use a pencil at this point.

7. Using a thin long soft watercolour brush, I go over the outline again. I use thinned raw umber. When completely dry I rub out the pencil grid.

8. Consulting my tonal drawings and the subject in front of me, and using a thinned wash of burnt sienna, raw umber and prussian blue mixed, I block in the darks. I don't worry too much that this layer doesn't look very even. It will be built up in successive layers and the patchy look will disappear.

Next: Part 2.

Sunset over the boiler-room

This was the view from my car in the car-park yesterday as I was loading up to go home. The nights are drawing in and it's quite nippy some mornings. Time to clear out the ash from last year and hope there's no nest up in the chimney.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Rainbow over the Kaimais

I was driving over the Kaimai Range on Saturday, and the patches of autumn sunshine and patches of light rain made just the right conditions for this rainbow. There's something so alluring about rainbows, isn't there? I found a safe spot and pulled over to snap these images. But I noticed the colours looked brighter through the polarised windscreen of the car, than through the open window. I'll have to look up why that would have been.

But I can't let this opportunity go by without directing you to this clip about rainbows that I have previously posted.