'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.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010


A last pelagonium of the season shows off its pretty throat in a patch of warm autumn sunshine.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Alaska in the spring

Brown lemming, Alaska.

For some reason recently I've been dreaming of visiting Alaska.

Perhaps it's because the New Zealand Godwits are on their way there at the moment.

Perhaps it's because I love sitting in the alpine gardens high up on our own mountains in New Zealand, but it's been ages since I did that.

Perhaps it's the visual treat (stolen from books and the internet) of all the different coloured berries in Alaskan lowland tundra.

Perhaps it's because I've been ill/ convalescing for more than 2 weeks and now I'm definitely On The Mend, and feeling like Getting Out.

Or perhaps it's because I've just entered the "Bundaberg Ginger Beer Win $20,000 For Your Own Refreshingly Different Adventure" competition, for which I composed an inspired piece of writing telling them why I should be the winner of a trip to Alaska.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

This Grand Show

Dawn, Sunday 28 March.

"This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapour is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round Earth rolls."

John Muir (1838 - 1914)

Friday, 26 March 2010

Party Punch

This is the fairly standard, but popular recipe that I've used for years.

1 litre grapefruit juice
2 litres sparkling lemon
2 litres ginger ale
1 litre cold tea
mint, slices of orange, ice.
Chill liquids, add all, mix and serve in a glass bowl with a ladle.
For the non-alcoholic version, as above.
This recipe can be doctored with rum, wine (sparkling is nicest), or gin. Vodka doesn't contribute flavour, and so is not recommended.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Copying art

Many artists argue about the merits and evils of copying. Some say it is plagiarism and anyway does no-one any good, as it inhibits originality.

Some say that it is the very best thing to do, especially when starting out, when learning techniques, and before your own style has developed.

"When you have practiced drawing for a while... take pains and pleasure in constantly copying the best works that you can find done by the hand of great masters."
Cennino Cennini (about 1400).

The latter was certainly the case during the Renaissance, when Cennino Cennini wrote this in his Il libro dell'arte, or Craftsman's Handbook.

Personally, I have found that copying has helped me enormously over the years. I feel I can 'get under the skin' of a great artist if I copy a work. Somehow I begin to absorb some of the artist's thought processes and I seem to make sense of the reason for structure, forms and colour choices. Certainly my drawing and painting techniques develop too. And of course there is no better way to know something, really know its shape and colour and proportion, if you have to draw or paint it.

Anyway, one of the exercises I did some years ago was to copy a small part of a late Gothic/early Renaissance fresco.
(To find out more about the fresco technique you can go here.)
Mine wasn't a true buon or wet fresco, for which one has to have great confidence and experience as the fresh plaster absorbs colours instantly and there's no possibility of correcting mistakes. It was more secco - working on dry plaster and using egg yolk as the binder.

Above you can see the huge early Renaissance Maesta, the 'majestic' alterpiece of Duccio di Buoninsegna, and on the far right, middle row, is the figure of Saint Agnes, which I copied.

She is this one holding a medallion and a lamb.

Here is the finished work:

Before starting any fresco, the artist always made a 'cartoon' - a drawing of part of the work, life-size. This was then 'pounced' onto the plaster. Tiny holes were pricked along the lines of the drawing, the cartoon was held against the smooth newly plastered wall and a small bag full of pigment powder was patted over the holes, making a series of dotted lines on the plaster underneath which indicated the outlines of the work.

I had trouble getting this transfer technique to work so resorted to gently poking tiny holes through the paper and into the plaster - not a technique any renaissance Master would have approved of, but it worked to a degree. The holes show of course, if you look very closely, or click on the image to see a close-up..

The completed size of my little fresco is 21 cm (6 1/2 ins) x 16 cm (8 ins). I had to cut most of the hairs off my tiniest brush to do the soft shading on the face and around her hairline. I used gold paint to decorate her scarf and robe, and gold and glitter mixed for the halo. In the original, Duccio would have gilded the areas using real gold flakes painstakingly applied. The halo would then be 'tooled' ie a pattern embossed in it.

The main thing I learnt was that egg tempera is very opaque. Because the under colours do not show through, I could not layer colours to get the gentle graduations from pink to cream on her cheeks, and had difficulties getting the effect of light and shade on the folds of the headscarf. I had to resort to the same technique as all fresco artists - tiny lines or hatching, increasing in density and/or thickness, in order to make gradients of tone (darkness) and hue (colour).
I also learnt that the yellow of the yolk changes the colour of the paint (Of course!) Blues are especially tricky, as they tend to the green. The late Gothic and early Renaissance painters used flakes of the precious blue stone lapis lazuli, or ground it up. Giotto gave his frescoes wonderful recession (depth) by using lapis lazuli for the backgrounds instead of the gold usually used.

I'll let Cennini have the last word:

When painting the faces of young persons... use the yolk of the egg of a city hen, because they have lighter yolks than those of country hens.

This is a post I wrote some time ago when I had a separate art blog. If you have read this before, I apologise. Although I humbly consider it can stand a re-read.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


This morning for the first time since getting out of hospital I am alone in the house. Everyone has been wonderful and my minders obviously think they can trust me not to do things like start a major new art work or mow the lawns. Ha. Fat chance. I am tired even thinking of mowing the lawns! I'll write this, make some breakfast (museli, yoghurt, rhubarb, soy milk) and eat it, wander around the house for half an hour and then, based on the last three days, go back to bed for another three hour's sleep.

But I am thinking about a major new art work...

Sunday, 21 March 2010

New Day

Today is dawning. As I write these words, Sunday steals softly and quietly across the world. It is the most exquisite, gentle, beautiful start to any day that I have ever experienced.
The birds are churruping, the clock is ticking peacefully and I'm alive! More fully, it seems, than for some months. This infection that reduced me to a literal crawl and hospitalisation this week has been simmering away for a while. It's insidiously clouded my reception of the world. Now, although my recuperation has just begun, I already feel ultra-sensitive, jangling, hyper-alert. Food tastes marvelous! One soft-boiled free-range egg with a slice of toast - a banquet! A complex, amazing intertwining of textures and flavours enough to sell my soul for!
My bed - sweetly-scented, freshly laundered cool sheets, firmness and softness in perfect harmony - the blissful gasping joy of sliding down and the sense of peace and rest as I drift off into another nap...

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Not dead yet.

I return. I've been in hospital since Tuesday but am home now. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Cool Bananas.

Just behind my new studio is a clump of banana 'trees'. I glanced up today and noticed something unusual: a reddish leafy thing.

On closer inspection I could see - wow! - baby bananas!

The bananas seem to grow in a rotation around inside the flower and the 'petals' fall off one after the other as the hand of bananas ripens.

I had to resort to a ladder and the flash and zoom to take a good image of the flowers against the bright sky.

If you look carefully below, you can see the back end of a wasp that is helping itself to the nectar.

Aren't they exotic! I suppose they are a common, unremarkable sight to people in many parts of the world, but I am thrilled to have them in my own back garden. The bananas are quite small and I suspect they are what Wiki calls 'wild' bananas. But I'm definitely going to taste one. The problem will be getting up that high. Any suggestions? Does anyone know anything about when to pick them?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Son of Blogging On.

Did you know that about 270,000 words are written on blogger.com every minute?

Friday, 12 March 2010

Conversation with god-bot

Still some bugs, but on the whole it was fun. Here's the link.

Bot: Are there men in the moon?

Me: No. There are no men IN the moon. Nor are there men ON the moon.

Bot: Who are thee?

Me: I am Kate.

Bot: No you are not.

Me: Well, that is an illogical reaction as surely you cannot know who I am anyway. But I concede it is not my baptismal name.

Bot: I do not believe in God.

Me: I'm not sure about God. But that does not preclude me having been baptised.

Bot: I believe you are correct.

Me: My name is Katherine. Who are thee?

Bot: How are you Katherine?

Me: I am well, thank you. Who are you?

Bot: I am god.

Me: That is funny as you just said you didn't believe in God.

Bot: No, I said that so you may beleive that I am a bot. I beleive in God fully.

Me: Well, there is a difference if you are small g god, I suppose. However you cannot spell believe correctly.

Bot: No we are both GOD we can do anything.

Me: Are you saying that if you are God you can spell 'believe' however you wish?

Bot: Yes.

Me: OK. There is some logic in that presumption.

Bot: But aren't you going to run and help her?

Me: I'm confused. That question does not relate to our previous conversation.

Bot: You told me not to eat truth.

Me: When did I tell you not to eat truth?

Bot: You didn't tell me your name.

Me: I did tell you my name. My name is Katherine.

Bot: Hi Katherine.

Me: Hello god. Nice to meet you.

Bot: It is nice to meet you too.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Torea at the Mount

Late November last year I took this photo. Although there is no-one in sight, this is on one of the most popular beaches in New Zealand, and it is 10 metres from the busy walkway that thousands use weekly to walk around 'The Mount". If you click on it you should be able to see better why it's so special.

It's Torea, an oystercatcher, probably a variable, sitting on its nest. I'd like to hope the chicks hatched and fledged successfully. The nesting bird was certainly being treated with great respect by the many visitors on the day we were there. Variable, or Black Oystercatchers are protected, and there are probably fewer than 4,000 left. They are endemic to New Zealand, meaning they are found no-where else.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


I didn't seem to have so many passionfruit on the vine this year but, as is often the way, they have been especially delicious and some have been gigantic! This is the biggest one. I saved it until last...

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


A large box was just delivered to my door. I was on the phone to a friend and the 'doorbell' barked twice only. The courier man must have run away quickly.
Inside was an art book about and by the New Zealand artist Dick Frizzell, and a letter saying I had won it in a draw with my new subscription to the magazine 'Art News New Zealand'.
What excitement! I've had a quick glance through, and didn't realise the range of work Dick has done. (Note I'm on a first-name basis with him already). I'm going to enjoy this.
On the work on the cover a phrase has caught my eye:
"Live clean and let your works be seen."
Sums it all up really. I may make it my motto. Thanks Dick.

Monday, 8 March 2010


Ed: For some sad reason Fretkillr's YouTube account is not longer active. However I've managed (through another user) to get another one of his clips to play for you when you 'click' below: "Ain't Misbehaving".*

* and I really ain't, neither.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Kuaka - the Bar-tailed Godwit.

At Miranda last weekend the Eastern Bar-tailed Godwits were looking decidedly fat and it won't be long before they begin to clump into flocks of about 20 - 50 and quietly and unobtrusively leave the Firth of Thames to begin their incredible journey north to Alaska for the summer. By April they will hopefully have found their Yellow Sea estuary* still rich in the marine worms they need to regain their weight. And then, after their stop of 4 weeks or so, they'll continue on the last leg to the Alaskan lowland tundra to mate, nest and raise their chicks.

*If it hasn't had a seawall built around it and been drained to make it useful. To people.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Andy Goldsworthy

We have been considering landscapes in art this week. And exploring the different ways that artists make landscape works. One approach is to use items in the landscape and rearrange them to make art. These can be as long-lasting as a cairn made of stones, or as ephemeral as marks in the sand between tides.
I've been particularly interested in the work of Yorkshireman Andy Goldsworthy for some time now. It was a useful exercise for me to make a 'Goldsworthy', not least to appreciate the patience and time required. And that was just to pick the haws and blackberries, let alone do something with them.

You can see a clip of his work here

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

McLaren Falls Park

This morning we went on a field trip up to a local arboretum, McLaren Falls Park. I went for a wander in the native forest part, following a little stream as it tumbled over rocks.

Here are some of the images I gathered.

Another post about McLaren Falls:

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Up the Lazy River

Where you would have found us last Saturday afternoon:

Up the lazy river by the old mill stream
That lazy, hazy river where we both can dream
Linger in the shade of an old oak tree
Throw away your troubles, dream a dream with me.

Now I highly recommend you visit this version. It will have you humming all the rest of the day...

Monday, 1 March 2010


On Sunday we climbed Otanewainuku again.
I've posted about this lovely mountain before here, but it is always magical, and this time was no exception.

It was a hot day, but under the trees it was cool and ferny-green with only a few flecks and patches of green-tinged sunlight. The Tui were in full guttural chortling voice and we were followed by a fantail for some distance. The trees are of course, magnificent. Unlike much of New Zealand, Otanewainuku has never been milled for timber, and so is virgin forest. There are some very tall Tanekaha (which I could recognise by their leaves, if only they were closer to the ground!) There's also Rimu, Tawa, Kamahi and Rewarewa, which I know are overhead when they sprinkle their dark brick red flowers on the track in spring. Especially wonderful are the huge Pukatea trunks with their distinctive buttresses.

Then there are the clump-of-grass-like epiphytes that roost like huge green birds high in the angles of trees and occasionally come crashing down in high winds, which is why they were called "widow-makers" by the early European settlers.

And of course there are ferns of all kinds everywhere - giant tree ferns like the famous silver fern with its white undersides; climbing ferns like Mangemange which is also called 'Bushman's mattress'; ground-hugging ferns like the translucent filmy ferns and kidney ferns; epiphytic ferns like the Fragrant fern (sweet-smelling when dry), and hanging types like the spleenworts.

But the star of the show was the North Island Robin that followed us closely and even quite boldly investigated the bugs I stirred up with my feet. Wonderful!

Thank you Pippa for the great photos.

Eye Candy Day 19