'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, 30 January 2013

Aftermas and the Queen

Well, what a wonderful afternoon it was!  The sun shone, and the light breeze kept the temperature down.  Lots of lovely friends-and-relations arrived bringing sunhats and suncream, plates of delicious food and bottles of chilled drinks, and we all had a lovely time in the garden.

Around 4ish the elderly Matamata contingent started making polite noises about being taken home so I went up to the house to collect my car keys and sunglasses, came down the front steps, and ... whoops, halfway down I somehow stepped awkwardly, painfully rolled over on my left ankle, and went down to the ground with a crash and a number of loud exclamations that seemed to spontaneously emanate from me with no control whatsoever!  
Within seconds hundreds of people appeared around me with soothing voices, concerned faces, frozen peas, pillows, glasses of water and finally a fireman's lift to the couch inside. 

Granny and friend were whisked back to Matamata by oldest son and partner, and the consensus by the remaining guests was that I should get the ankle checked out at the emergency doctor.  A short car trip, a gentle but brief examination by the doctor and three ankle x-rays later, I had parted with the usual dosh and was being shown how to put on my 'moonboot'.  (These days you get the choice of plaster or a terminator-style black boot that is encrusted with velcro straps and has the great advantage that you can take it off to shower or sleep, albeit taking 15 minutes.)


So now I sit ensconced on the couch most of the day.  I can get around on the crutches, but as the other leg's a bit sore I am trying to keep off that one too.  It's a bit frustrating not to be able to carry anything in my hands but I had the brilliant idea of using a shoulder-bag for essentials like hairbrush, phone and diary, and son J. has fixed some little wheels to a small side-table so I can 'carry' my laptop to the printer or dishes back to the kitchen. 

As soon as the swelling has gone down I can get off this couch, toddle out to the studio and get back to my usual occupation - painting.  

I had intended to have catch-up visits with lots of old friends this summer, so now that might involve them coming here instead.  However, as it's my left ankle that is broken, and my car's an automatic, I may actually be able to run drive before I can walk!

In the meantime I shall enjoy lying in state and being attended by my menials.  Just call me Queen of Sheba.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Garden Party Weather

I know (from blogs I've been reading) that almost the whole of the rest of the world is thigh-deep in snow.  So I'd thought I'd bring those poor cold souls some of our sunshine.

I live about 10 minutes from the sea in an area which is known throughout New Zealand to have one of the best surf beaches, and some of the most pleasant climate.

 The image below shows the end third of the Mount Maunganui (Mong-ga-noo-ee) peninsula, with the extinct volcano Mauao ('Caught by the Rays of the Sun') and pine-clad Matakana Island behind.

To the left hand side of the peninsula is a sheltered estuary and these waters are popular for yachting and provide the water views from the city of Tauranga.
The right hand side is the open ocean side and obviously has the surf beach.
The narrow bit between the Mauao volcano and Matakana Island has to be dredged and provides the only access into the busy Tauranga harbour and port for all the container vessels, fishing boats, yachts and huge cruise liners.
Large vessels can only come in and out at high tide.

As you can imagine, it is quite an impressive sight to watch a tall cruise liner negotiate the narrow gap.

 Anyway, back to the sunshine...

About a month after Christmas we usually have our 'Aftermas' party.
This is a sort of 'Come Again Christmas'.  We invite friends and relations, sit in the garden (weather permitting) and talk and drink and eat all afternoon.

I thought I should have a look at the long-range forecast to see if this lovely warm weather we've been having for three weeks already will continue.  Looks like it will!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Who Are You, Anyway?

I've just had two minutes great fun.  I've just been over at Jules's blog defining myself in ten steps.  But the fun part is I had to use definitions that are not the usual ones.

Pop over.  She's only a click away here.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Video Projections

Tom Stevenson asks the interesting question - should you have to ask permission to project a video or image onto a building?


Saturday, 19 January 2013

Slow Down

Although this is just an advert from Australia, I think it is brilliant.  It's my philosophy exactly, and, well, if I don't always achieve it, I do try.

And, it's really a matter of necessity when one is an artist.

Speeding through life doesn't find me the Zone.

Slow down, you move too fast,
Got to make the morning last
Just skipping down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feeling groovy.

I've got no deeds to do,
No promises to keep,
I'm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep.
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me.
Life, I love you,
Feeling groovy.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Painting Cherries

It's a tradition, although there is often no obligation, that when an artist is given the opportunity to have a Residency, they leave a painting as a gift to the host that made the residency possible.

With one weekend to go, and my other work having progressed very satisfactorily*, I turned my mind to a suitable subject.  Should I paint a scene from the farm?  An Alpaca?  The Highland cattle?  I looked at the table in front of me... one mug of roibos tea, cold.  A plate with crumbs from lunch.  Salt and pepper ... a plastic pack of cherries.  Hmmmm.

I called for volunteers.

I selected three suitable candidates.  Two were very dark, one redder.  They had good stalks, evenly curved, albeit rather dried-up.  I tried them in a variety of arrangements, and finally settled on one that was interesting, but also had interesting negative spaces - the shapes between the stalks.  

It's going to be a watercolour painting.

Working on 300gsm paper, I carefully and lightly penciled the shapes of the cherries and their stems.  
I made them slightly larger than life size. 

I find it's best to do the lines very lightly first and when I am happy with the position of a line, I do it again slightly darker.  I hardly ever erase.  If I use an eraser it can scuff up the paper surface and then when I lay down the paint, it doesn't go on evenly.  Also, even if I erase the marks, pencil lines can dent the paper, and paint can accumulate darker in the dents (although sometimes this is useful). 

I took my time and looked hard at the colours I could see in the cherries.  The front one was pinker, the back ones a deep, deep maroon, almost black.  I know from experience that purple (blue and pink) with a little orange, will make that plummy maroon.  (If you add too much orange or yellow it goes to the brown).

I very rarely use black.  I find it 'deadens' paintings.  

The patches of gloss are best achieved by allowing white paper to remain.  I have to be careful not to paint over them.  The pink pigment especially, stains the paper and won't come off.

Here was my palette:

 I painted each cherry separately in the pink, then added the orange, then the blue.  

Whoops, forgot to photograph
the stages of the first cherry.

I spent a lot of time looking at the real fruit.

Orange is laid over the pink on both the front cherries

Blue laid over the right cherry.
Have to come back to that one, it's still too pale. 

 The paint must dry completely between layers.  Even when dry, very light brush strokes are still required to avoid 'picking up' the layer underneath.

There, another layer of blue on the right hand cherry.

A layer of blue on the front cherry.
 I must remember that I don't want to go as dark with this one.
More blue on the front cherry.
Putting thin layers of pigment on top of each other keeps the colours bright, and also keeps the control.

Adding a shadow suddenly brings the fruit off the page.
 The stems were each given a dark and a lit side, and some specks of  red/orange/blue mixed (with lots of orange this time to make brown) were dropped onto the ends.

A few tiny specks of blue at the base of each stem anchored them into each cherry.  Shadows are very important to give the illusion of 3D.

More orange and more red brightened up the surface of the blue, without mixing unto it.

I exaggerated the front cherry's redness, to contrast with the others.  Artist's license.

Each cherry reflected onto its neighbour, darkly.
The pale of the table reflected up onto the cherries as a paler stripe.
And below that, the shadow reflected up too, as a dark stripe.

More shadow and careful touches of almost full-strength
prussian blue makes the dark reflections look rich and glossy.

I also spent some time with a tiny brush
 'washing' off colour that had crept onto the white sky patches.


Almost good enough to eat.

The end.

* The commission is a surprise present so I can't divulge it here yet. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Golden Boys

Along with the alpacas, there are also two lovely, diminutive Highland cattle on the farm where I have been staying.  I think they are quite young.

One was more friendly than the other.  But they were both very calm about being approached and photographed, although they weren't quite comfortable going as far as the nose stroking stage.  Even though I offered my nose in a very friendly way.

I am used to the huge, rangy milking Friesian cows that we had on our dairy farm.  These woolly dears looked like soft toys in comparison.

Very photogenic.

I got to this last picture and realised I'd been crouching, the way you do when you are taking photos of children.  So I stood up for this one, to show you how small these darlings actually are.  I'm only about 5 foot 3.

It occurs to me there's a song's chorus they might hum, if they could hum.

Because these green hills are not Highland hills
    Or the Island's hills, they're not my land's hills,
    As fair as these green foreign hills may be
    They are not the hills of home.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Alpacas are Funny Creatures

During my Art Residential on the farm, I have enjoyed watching the alpacas.  For someone used only to horses, cattle, sheep, dogs and cats, they are singular creatures, and some of the things they do show just how far they are from these other quadrupeds.

They are very alert and curious, and will watch and approach rather like a bold foal might.  When I returned from a particularly hot walk and flung myself down on the grass on the side of the drive, it gave me a start to open my eyes (once the red mist had cleared from them and my breathing had stopped sounding like a forge bellows) to see them all silently regarding me from just the other side of the fence.  I expect they had never seen someone so unfit before.

 Alpacas hum gently to each other and to you when they are happy.  It's a kind of Mmmm? Mmmm-mm sound, lovely to hear.  But if they are scared or cross, they'll spit smelly puffs of air and gobs of acidy juice, as my son found out when he assisted with their shearing a few weeks ago.

Alpacas are about half the size of llamas.  Llamas were bred to be pack animals and have two types of hair - soft under wool, and a 'saddle' of coarse hair to protect their backs from rubbing.  But Alpacas were bred (over 5,000 years!) for their fibre and have only one type of soft hair on their bodies.

I read that the Peruvians distinguish 300 shades of natural alpaca fibre colour.

The two on the left have recently been shorn.  
They sit like camels, quite different to cattle or horses.

They roll in the dust like horses ...

... and love to splash their drinking water on a hot day

They will fight each other by biting, kicking and banging their necks together, and can scream something awful when they get really mad, something I'm glad not to have heard.

When they're bothered by flies their short fluffy tails flick and flap, and if they are itchy a delicate deer-like foot or mouth gets to work.

Speaking of tails, if you are approached by an alpaca with its tail up and its head down, it would pay to retreat, as this is a threat display.

The most interesting thing, I think, is that alpaca have communal toilets.  Sometimes only one or two  spots in a paddock are the loos, where all the herd members 'go'.  This certainly makes for a much cleaner paddock, and perhaps is one of the reasons why you can run so many alpaca to the hectare - about as many as sheep.  That and the fact that although fussy eaters, they like to eat a small amount of a variety of plants.

Alpaca spend a lot of their day sitting chewing their cud, like a cow.  I like to think they are enjoying the view of golden distant sea, or the sun slanting through a faraway patch of misty rain and making a rainbow.

'Who, me?'

Thursday, 10 January 2013


Me in my younger days on the way to school
I love cycling and walking.
But from a young age I never liked running.
After all these years, recently I think I've found out why.

At school I'd usually come second-to last in any running race (thank goodness never last because Maree Smith was always behind me).  I never really wondered why, because that was just the way it was.  But when I look back, I was relatively fit, very thin, biked the five mile trip to and from school daily, yet I ran very poorly, would sprain my ankle very easily, and even now I take care to wear boots that support my ankles if I am on uneven ground at all, so people won't have to carry me home.  I just assumed I had 'weak ankles' and rarely ran anywhere once I left school.

Last week I happened upon an article* about pronation - the flexing of your feet when you run (and walk, presumably) - and how the flexibility of your foot affects your running style and the footwear you need.

This is my interpretation of it, although if anyone knows better or more, please comment, as I'm no expert!

 'Normal feet' (medium arch)
 When we take a step, the weight of the body presses down on our foot, and the centre part flexes and takes the strain.  Most people's feet have an arch underneath to flex. There should still be a bit of an arch left when the foot is pressed down.  This is called normal pronation and is a Good Thing.

'Flat feet' (low arch)
If too much of the sole of the foot is on the ground when it is pressed down, it's considered 'over pronation' and is not good, as you are more likely to injure your foot because the foot is moving too much.

'High arch'
If not enough sole is touching the ground when the body weight is over the foot, then you are an underpronator  or a 'supernator'.  The arch isn't collapsing enough and the shock is traveling up the leg, and can cause knee and ankle injuries.

You can test which type of foot you are by getting a piece of brown paper and placing it on the floor.
Fill a sponge roll tin or some pan with a little water and place your foot in it, and then make a footprint on the paper.

You can see which your feet are most like by comparing your footprint to the images above.

Here's mine below.  You can see I have very high arches because there's no wet between the heel and the toe pad place. I guess this is why I sprain my ankles so frequently.  What are your arches like?

(No, there's nothing wrong with your eyes - it's a double print because the first one was drying while I hunted for my camera)

  *The information and images came from an article from runner's world.com here