'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.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Bird Barn

We had only just begun our journey back from Miranda when I spotted a flock of starlings in some trees and on a corrugated barn roof.  

I didn't want to make them all fly away so I did a U-turn, and went back, did another U and came up on them slowly, clicking as I went.

I've had a play around with the contrast, color and shape...and finally settled on a black and white version, closely cropped, and with some of the grass blurred, as I felt the sharp detail in the lower corners distracted from the birds.  

Starlings on a barn, Waitakaruru.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Blue Ram and Yellow Lab.

Apart from a name (and I'll probably do the latin one as well), and a signature, 'tis done!

Now, on to the next one:  First I did a pencil sketch outline to get the proportions and shapes looking ok...A propelling pencil conveniently shows up as silver on the black paper.

Then I made a little start on a fin as a small child had been watching me very patiently and had asked when I was going to 'use colours'.

This is a cichlid called Electric Yellow Lab or Labidochromis caeruleus; an aggressive little meat-eating fish from Lake Malawi in Africa.  It's that one that I have watched raising its top fin and revealing the black stripe as a warning to other fish.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

It's All About Me!

Last Friday I climbed into some odd-looking regalia, was herded with a flock of other graduands into lines and then shown to our seats and finally climbed up onto the stage at the Aotea Centre in Auckland at my graduation ceremony, where I was 'capped' and presented with a nice embossed and signed bit of paper that says I have achieved a Post-Graduate Diploma in Art and Design.

We had a lovely celebration with family on Friday evening, and then did it all over again on Saturday evening and half of Sunday with most of the same people and well as a bunch of friends.  It has been a terrific weekend!

But now I want to send a big thank everyone out there in blogland who helped me through.  You know who you are!

You commented about my insects art last year, contributed to a 'what critters I like or don't like' questionnaire, and even helped me arrange the final work on a mock-up gallery wall.  Your support and input was very much appreciated.   Thank you!

Up on the stage.

With my 'kids'.

Post-ceremony headgear.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Spoilt for choice.

I need to narrow things down a bit in this pet shop art malarky.
I thought I had done that by saying to myself at the start 'Fish Only!'  No gorgeous fluffy guinea pigs or soft-eyed, lop-eared rabbits, no happy, bouncy puppies, tongues lolling, looking at me beseechingly as I walk on past with my chair and fold-up table and paint brushes, tubes and jar of water.  No appealing kittens, no rainbow lorikeets, bright green love-birds, no azure and white budgies looking like a piece of Australian sky come down to earth, and not even the fabulous blue-tongued lizard.
Just fish.

But what a variety of fish there are here!  And of course, like everything, the more I look, the more I learn.  And the more I learn the more I enjoy.  I want to paint them all.  What to do?

Agressive stance - this one raises its top fin
and the black band is suddenly visible.

Quick, she's taking our photo!  

I finally settled on this female Blue Ram (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi) below.  At least, I think she is female because she has a blue haze over her second dark patch.  What gorgeous colors, don't you think? She comes from the Orinoco River basin.

Four hours later...  Just the tail and top fins to do.

Blue Ram. Conte chalk and coloured pencil on black paper.

Blue Ram.  Detail.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A Most Unusual Occurrence

When we lived over in the lush, green, inland valley of the Waikato, many winter nights and mornings were filled with the ephemeral white swirls of mists and fog.
Once I decided to have a hot swim at a spa near Matamata after work.  By the time I emerged the fog had come down, and was so thick it took me two hours to travel the twenty-minute journey home in the car.  An unsettling experience in which I hugged the side of the road, and the only way I made it was to crawl up a number of household drives and back out again.

In the last eighteen years since we have been living here in the Bay of Plenty, a mere 2.7 km (1.7 miles) from the sea, I can recall only two other times when we haven't have crystal-clear air.  Any clear night the only thing stopping us seeing the full array of stars is the streetlights.

It wasn't until the sea fog rolled in last evening that I remembered how much fog can completely change the appearance of the environment.  Looking down the drive, there was no road to be seen, the traffic sounds were muted, and of course the inversion layer had trapped all the city's household chimney smoke which was adding to the fug.
It was strange that something to which I have been previously completely accustomed, could have become so rare, or feel so evocative and bring back so many memories.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Margaret Mahy

I was sorry to hear that a wonderful New Zealand writer died yesterday afternoon.

Margaret Mahy not only wrote great children's books, but also went out into the community and read them to children in libraries and schools.  She was an eccentric and zany person, with a wonderful sense of humor.  Both qualities are in abundance in her books.

Two of my kid's favorite books 'A Lion in a Meadow' and 'The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate' were written by Margaret Mahy.  She has been an important part of many New Zealand children's growing up.

Author Margaret Mahy with children, by Phil Reid,
1992. Evening Post Collection,
Alexander Turnbull Library. EPC EP/1992/2237/9

More information here on Stuff.

Update:  Some lovely personal comments and reminiscences from everyday people in New Zealand here.

Monday, 23 July 2012

About the Goggly-Eyed Ones

Of course the most amusing of the goldfish are the pop-eyed ones.  As appealing (or unappealing) as the pop-eyed dog breeds like the pekineses and pugs, whatever we think of them, they are very popular in Japan and China where they were systematically bred from small carp over a thousand years ago.

The short-sighted gang.

There are loads of different pop-eyes, from huge, telescopic ones, to smaller, fluid-filled bubbles.  And they are attached to a wide variety of colors and tail-types too.  My favorites are the black ones (Moors), and I think I may work up some moor (ha) sketches today, with the aim of doing a decent-sized  'portrait'.

Graphite sketch of a Black Moor goldfish.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Tetras and the problems painting them.

The pet shop in which I am Artist in Residence has Neon Tetras.  These were the first fish I ever saw when I was about six, and I immediately fell in love with them.  We were on a class trip to the Napier aquarium.  I could hardly pull myself away from their tank.  The only thing that worked was the shout 'octopus!' from the others.

They are South American tropical fresh water fish, and live in very shady waters overhung with jungle vegetation, and they are genetically adapted to this kind of waters.  I suggest their iridescence is cryptic coloration, very much like the tiny, infrequent  patches and flickers of spots of sunshine that are able to make it down into the water from the canopy high above.  In fact, I read that their eggs will not be viable if exposed to too much light.  They are apparently quite tricky to breed in captivity.
The fish love to move in a school, and sweep away from any movement in front of the tank - like me trying to photograph them!
And there is hardly any light on the tank, so the exposure time needs to be longish...  so they are usually blurred.

And of course, the silvery turquoise is really hard to depict in a painting too!

Neon Tetras - my attempt to photograph. Speedy little critters!
 Using white conte chalk on black paper, and soft colored pencils, my result:
Neon Tetras painting*.
 There are lots of different species named 'tetra'.  These neons are only about 1.5 cm long - an inch or so.

image off the internet...


* I know it's confusing, but in art parlance, using coloured pencil, pastel, etc, is all called 'painting'.  
"Painting is the application of paint, color or other medium to a surface or 'support'"

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

My Friend the Giant Goldfish

When faced with a myriad, a cornucopia, a rainbow, nay a bouquet of fishes, where to begin?

With a gigantic captive goldfish, of a species I think is called a comet, on account of his (of her) long tail.
I was told that this particular one was recently returned to its pet shop 'home', because it outgrew its owners' tank capacity.  I wonder what they fed it.  It really is a beauty.

I observed and drew, and looked and sketched, for three solid hours.

Swimming up ...

... and swimming back again.
Rushing straight in, and trying to draw the whole thing is a big temptation.  Of course, when I looked back, the proportions were all up the boohai.

It's best to start with just bits of the object first.

First attempts
The tail.  Well, tails.  There were dozens of shapes!
Just some of his tails.

I mentally laid it flat and drew it so I could see the way the vein-lines went:
Exploring the vein-lines

The more you look and try, and fail, the more you see how it really goes:
Tails start looking more realistic.

Then I became bolder and tried to draw different angles.
Exploring different orientations.

I'd like to think we have bonded.  I'm sure my comet is pleased to have some company.  Here he is coming up for a nuzzle at the glass.

Reminds me of John's banner hen.