'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.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Garden Art

A couple of years ago I decided to let the wisteria vine grow up strings to the gutter-line in the front of the house. It was a tricky job keeping the tendrils from exploring inside the roof and although it kept the verandah lovely and cool last year, I'd almost resolved to chop it right back this year. And I still might.
But I'm glad I haven't got around to it yet, because this last week it has been a real treat for eyes and nose as the glorious lilac racemes drip like soft bunches of delicate grapes all across the front of the house. Visitors have to almost enter a pale purple cave to come inside! And when we open the back door, the spring breeze wafts the gentle scent all through the house.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


On Saturday my son and I did the tour of the Alexander's farm near Matamata where the
Hobbiton set for the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. I have been there before, almost exactly a year ago, for I remember that the new spring lambs were leaping all over the place then too.

This time there are many changes. Despite the recent news about actors' unions, preparations are in evidence everywhere and 'Hobbiton' is well on the way to being re-created with even more care and attention to detail than ever before. It was really wonderful to see everything in progress, and be given such a marvelous lot of information. And we took about 180 photos. However, as you see by the contract we each had to sign, I am not permitted to show you a single one, nor disclose anything!

So, all I can say is that we both highly recommend the tour to anyone, even if you are not a fan of the movies. It's a magical place already, and going to be even more so.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Pinhole Camera

It is surprisingly easy to take a detailed photographic image using a simple pinhole camera.

The 'camera' I used was a large tin with a tiny hole drilled in half way down one side. The hole needs to be able to be covered completely with a bit of tape; black sticky insulation tape works well. The tin also needs to have a well-fitting lid. A large cleaned and dried coffee 'Milo' tin or one that used to contain baby formula is ideal.

In the darkroom, I affixed a postcard-sized piece of unexposed photographic paper to the inside of the tin opposite the hole, with a few small bits of blu-tack. It was easy with a red filter on the light, but it is possible to do it by feel.

All that remained was to take my tin outside and prop it up somewhere stable with some suitable view in front, and remove the tape. It will depend upon the weather - ie light conditions, and the size of your tin, as to how long the hole should be open. This image below was taken with an exposure time of two and a half minutes. I experimented to get it right and used up three or four other prints that were too dark - too long an exposure, or too light - too short an exposure time.

I then closed up the hole, and developed the print back in the darkroom. This image comes out upside-down and mirrored. There's not much you can do about it being mirrored, but it's a simple matter for most people to turn the print up the other way.

I have just scanned the print into my computer, flipped it horizontally, and 'inverted' it. Hey presto: We have a reasonable image of the trees at the back of the tech, and a view of the fence-top upon which I sat the tin.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Watercolour - Red and Brown Onions

I did a considerable number of watercolour paintings of onions before I felt I had achieved that thin translucency of the papery outside skin and also the shine that I wanted.

Watercolour is a tricky medium and I admire people who master the odd mode in which one has to work: fast, yet relaxed; patient, yet know when to stop before it becomes overworked and looks laboured. I suspect I've forgotten how to achieve it these days.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Happy 20,000 viewers to ME!

To celebrate the fact that very soon I will have passed the 20,000 viewers mark (I'm so pleased!), I'm giving away one of my paintings.

It will be one of my grape paintings.

They are acrylic on unstretched canvas, about 160cm (6 inches) squarish, and you get to choose which one you want. (But be warned, due to the foibles of cameras plus computers, they may not be absolutely true to colour, so if you're wanting to match Auntie Harriet's heirloom bedspread, don't be too disappointed when it arrives in your mailbox.)

All you have to do is comment on this blog between now and oh, this time next week, and mention which grape painting you want. I'll put everyone into a hat and draw out the winner. I'll get hold of the winner somehow... on your blog, or by email, and you will need to give me an address to send my painting to. It will be unframed, and rolled up in a tube all nice and cosy.

Of course, this could be seen by some as simply a cunning plan of mine to lure all my 'lurking viewers' out of the woodwork so I can see you all. And there is a certain amount of truth in that... but mostly, it's just a 'shout' to help me celebrate.

Ceramic Designs

I was inspired by old 50's post-deco plates to design some 'kitcheny' fruit patterns. I think these would make good designs for serving platters. I imagine a set of plain contrasting-coloured oval platters, each with one of the designs repeating around the edge. I especially like the pomegranate. I thought it would look interesting in black for a change. It would look great on a matt white or yellow glaze. They'd look good on coffee mugs too.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

An Acrylic art exercise using layers

I began by drawing the three fish and then carefully painting in a rich olive green/ variable background. I wanted a gradient of colour across the painting to give a sense of movement and add interest.

Once I'd painted the fish (using mostly thin washes and layers,) the green looked too contrasting - too different from the fish colours and I realised it needed warming up.

I washed over the green with a magenta and the result was this interesting mix of browns and an appealing 'deep-sea' atmosphere.

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish...

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Spring Cleaning

Today is the last Wednesday of the last week of term. Today is the deadline for the Funding Application Exercise that we have to have completed. Friday is the big critique day for our movies. (Remember mine?) And then one more short term that will mean one more art piece, and the Diploma is finished. In the meantime I have two weeks off and a million things that I've left undone for too long. It's spring and outside the weeds are sprouting along with the bulbs, the lawns haven't been mowed for yonks and inside there are dust bunnies under all the furniture and cobwebs everywhere. My house looks like the Sherry Dole illustration above. Where to start? But I feel like Mole in Wind in the Willows:
"...he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said 'Bother!' and O blow!' and also 'Hang spring-cleaning!' and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat."

My river is calling me to come and paddle.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Heart

If Damien Hirst's animals are considered art, then is this huge preserved heart of racehorse Phar Lap's also art?

Monday, 20 September 2010

My Trusty Nikon FM

I took these (with my digital camera) on my recent fabulous wet media photography course. At the same time I took the same or similar photos with my dear old Nikon FM. I've yet to develop the film (next post perhaps), but what I noticed was that the discipline I imposed on myself to take only 'great shots' on the film camera because of the very few number of exposures I had, made me look far more carefully, and compose far better images. These above are 5 out of 6 consecutive shots I took, and I modestly consider them among the best pics I've taken for years.
I think I've become quite lazy since getting my digital camera.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Phar Lap

One of New Zealand's favourite pastimes is the horse races. And one of the most famous NZ-born race-horses was Phar Lap (1926 -1932).

This warty, gangly, chestnut horse had an unusual life and you can read about it here if you wish. He died suddenly under mysterious circumstances, possibly arsenic poisoning by an American gangster mob, but had also also been shot at (and missed) one time earlier in his career. Later that same day he won the Melbourne Stakes, and three days later the Melbourne Cup, so it can't have worried him much.

He had a huge heart, literally. An average horse's heart is about 3.2 kg, but Phar Lap's weighed a massive 6.2 kg. It now resides in the National Museum of Australia, and is the most inquired-after exhibit there, according to Wikipedia. His hide has been stuffed and is on display at the Melbourne Museum, and his skeleton is usually on display at Te Papa in Wellington, NZ. And that is where I saw it and was quite intrigued by the whole story.

I have produced a four-colour limited edition print series in honour of this wonderful old creature. But I wonder if sometimes he thinks ' Oh I wish I could pull myself together!'

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Coffee, Chocolate and Cigarettes

Despite the advent of photography around 1839, it has taken us a while to realise we can now capture images of art works made from what could be broadly termed 'temporary media'. There are many and diverse examples from land, plant and water works like those of Reynolds, Goldsworthy and Smithson, to street art of chalk or temporary materials like paper or humans, to lighting displays like those of Waltraut Cooper... The list goes on.

Here's a more conventional piece, butt made from traditional morning tea ingredients.
Mike Oncley has created an art work with the feel of the traditional Pop Art genre, but with a contemporary approach - and smell!

You can see a short clip of how he made it here.

This brings to mind Vik Muniz's intriguing portrait of Jackson Pollock, made of dribbled chocolate.

No, not like this,

... like this:

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Mark 6 movie.

The 1931 Napier earthquake

Recently thoughts of mine and others in New Zealand, have been drifting back over the years to our school lessons about the two and a half-minute, 7.8-sized earthquake that had such a huge impact in the Hawkes Bay area back in 1931. As a school-child, I was especially able to relate to the fact that it was the first day back at school after the summer holidays. I knew all the parents would be worried not being able to check if their children were ok.
Today I discovered a remarkable NZ National Library website called 'PapersPast'. On it I have been reading the news of that day, February 3, 1931, just as others in New Zealand did on that same day when the first information came through about the huge damage to Napier and Hastings. The news of the quake got to other parts of NZ via the ships that were offshore of Napier, for all telegraph links with Napier were cut. The naval sloop 'Veronica' was run aground due to the sea floor heaving upwards. This land and sea-bed rising was to have a profound effect on the area, allowing more land area for the development of the port of Napier, and promoting its population growth over that of nearby Hastings.
But in the short term, everyone was concentrating on the widespread destruction in Napier and Hastings, raging fires and 256 dead, not to mention other damage in other areas from that big jolt that was felt all over the North Island, and the after-shocks.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

So, do you know what you like?

Part 3.

This is not to deny that individuals can use art works as aesthetic objects intelligently or stupidly. It would, for example, be silly for someone to attend to art works with no other intention than of satisfying only one kind of pleasurable impulse. Fortunately, most of us learn from our experiences of life by threading into each new experience something of previous experiences of a similar kind. So it is that when we have a 'moving', 'joyous' or merely 'pleasurable' experience of art works, we tend to use that experience in a way that will enhance and intensify the pleasure we gain from our subsequent encounters with them. In other words, it is perfectly appropriate to say, 'I don't know much about art but I know what I like' if that amounts to what we do when we seek out art works that give us pleasure and when we thread the pleasurable experiences of our past encounters with art works into each new one. People who approach art in this way may not increase their knowledge of art works as art works, but there is no question that they take an intelligent approach to the quest for an enhancement of the pleasure to be gained from art works, and that, in doing so, they are acquiring knowledge of how to attend to art works aesthetically.

Cartoon by Ronald Searle.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Knowing Art

Part 2.

This notion, in asserting a hierarchy in our aesthetic transactions with art works, clearly smacks of elitism. The view taken here is that the distinction the Smiths make between the pure and immediate sensual pleasure we can often gain during our untutored attention to art works from what is claimed to be the deeper and more profound joy we can gain from a more knowledgable attention, is illusionary. It is no more than the difference between the immediate pleasure we get from 'the shock of the new' on the one hand, and the more attenuated pleasure to be gained from long familiarity on the other. In short, there are no grounds for claiming that the more we know about art works, the more significant will be our enjoyment of them.

What do you think of this argument?

Tomorrow: The final Part 3

Monday, 13 September 2010

Knowing how to use art works as aesthetic objects

The following extract is from "What does it mean to know art? An institutional account" by Ted Bracey. 2001. P. 59 in 'On Knowing. Art and Visual Culture.' Eds. Duncum P. and Bracey T. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch, New Zealand 2001.

Part 1.

Most 'ordinary consumers of art' would tend to share the aesthetic educationists' view that the point of art works is to provide us with meaningful aesthetic experiences, but when art works fail to provide them with such an experience they become distressed. In the view of the aesthetic educationist, this distress is caused by failure of the ordinary folk to acquire those 'skills of aesthetic appreciation' that would enable them to gain genuine aesthetic gratification from their attention to art works. Smith and Smith (1977), for example, distinguish what they call 'aesthetic gratification' from the 'pure sensual pleasure' that can be gained from art works, on the grounds that the former 'presupposes a skill', and the latter does not. While the latter may provide a greater degree of 'immediacy', the former provides 'more joy' (p.309).

Do you have a reaction to this? Arguments for? Or against?

Tomorrow: Part 2.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

White Herons and Wild Rabbits.

Sketch (n). A simply or hastily executed drawing or painting, esp. a preliminary one, giving the essential features without the details.

Today is a new day. Here are some little studies I did recently at Miranda. I used HB and 2B pencils and this pad is a Bockingford 'zeta'. It's very smooth and the paper is a bit thin (80 gsm) for watercolour, but with my white subject, I wasn't using much water, so got away with it. I find it useful to do drawings on it, because it's nice and smooth if I want to go them over again with a fine-nibbed pen.

I find it fascinating all the different shapes the white heron can put its neck. There was the stretched out ready to stab positions, the look around at the countryside position, and the stalking along the drains position. When it started to rain, it squashed it down and hunched its shoulders and looked just like someone who'd forgotten their umbrella, resignedly waiting at a bus-stop, trying to stop rain from running down the back of their neck. Bunnies of course do stretched out flat, bunched up ball, and everything in between, including the old 'scratch the eye and lick the foot at the same time'.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Lamb 4

Well, sadly, Lamb has died. Without her mother's colostrum in the first day of life, and the rain yesterday, the odds were always against her, but I did my best. I really thought she had a good chance the way she was drinking last night and this morning. I tried to make sure she didn't get too much too quickly, and she had the dog's heated pad to keep her warm. Perhaps I should have made sure she couldn't get out of her box. She may have slept some of the night on the lino ... perhaps if I'd put the dog-coat on her ... I could have slept on the stretcher in the kitchen, then I would have heard if she'd got up ...

Well, it's all academic now anyway.

Funny how one gets attached to little critter-babies so easily.

Lamb 3

I'm sorry to have to tell you that Lamb is not well. She has pneumonia. I took her to the vet and she has been given a long-acting antibiotic injection (3 day's worth) and I have made up some electrolyte liquid and I have a syringe so she can get it while she's too weak to suck. The vet said that if she can make it through the next 24 hours she'll almost certainly be fine. I'm keeping her warm and I have my fingers crossed. She's in the bottom of the hot water cupboard. Shelly is having a sleep as she is so exhausted from watching over the lamb all last night. I might have to re-name her Florence.
If the lamb lives I will have to call her Expensive.

Lamb 2


No not a recipe. Quite the opposite, in fact. I nearly skittled this one coming down the Kaimais at 9.30 last night. Luckily I spotted the tiny form in the headlights in time. It was just standing there weakly bleating with its tail all tucked up. It doesn't look as though it's even had one feed. What's a seething mass of maternal instinct to do? Luckily when I got into town the Countdown on Cameron Road was still open so I bought some baby formula and a trio of "Tommee Tippee" bottles and she had 70 mls last night and another 70 mls this morning. Shelly adores her and can hardly leave her side. Don't laugh, but I bought disposable nappies (diapers) too, but I've no idea where the tail should go. Duh. So there were some healthy dollops of myconium on the lino this morning. Easily wiped and sprayed sterile again. (My kitchen floor is cleaner than it's ever been before with all this wiping!)
I'm a little concerned with her breathing 'though. It's a bit rattly. I suppose I'll take her to the vet's this morning. Although it's Saturday, he opens between 9 and 12. And I can pick up some proper lamb's teats from Farmlands on the way home.
I'll keep you posted.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Give a Hoot

Yesterday late afternoon I decided I wanted to get a photo of some 'critter' in my garden to go on a post.
As I walked out the back door armed with my camera I noted that it was an early dusk due to the thick cloud. Should I check out the compost bin for worms or centipedes? Or maybe I'd find one of those iridescent blue-green ladybirds on the orange tree. Or ... I paused ... what was that noise? Ah. There it was again. The sound of my childhood early spring nights: "more-pork, more-pork". I craned my head to look up into the thick foliage of the strawberry tree and just as I did a silent object landed and I saw the characteristic squat shape silhouetted against the sky. I fumbled to turn on the camera and hesitated, then decided to take the risk and use the flash. At least I'd get one shot. To my amazement this dear little New Zealand owl merely regarded me calmly and allowed me to change lenses and even take two more shots. I think it was looking forward to a good night's hunting as it kept looking over its shoulder with that wonderful swivel neck. I'm sure I can't have done its night vision any good, but I'm very grateful for its forbearance.