'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, 24 December 2014

Just mowed the Lawns

Happy Christmas everyone - from my place to yours.  And wishing you a wonderful 2015

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Granny's Mince and Macaroni

Part of the process of getting a house turned into a gallery is the Compression of Belongings and Throwing out of Stuff.  And this means I sometimes stumble across things I haven't seen for years, sometimes decades.
For example, while doing the digitisation of my recipe book, I found this tiny drawing that son James, now 28 and living in Germany, did 24 years ago, stuck on the bottom of a recipe of Granny's.
The recipe is much older, probably dating back to when I stayed at the homestead after we came back from our OE in '79 (I know this because it was only a few weeks that I didn't realise Phyl was spelled with a 'y').

It's such a neat drawing.  It has the most important bits.
And by the way it is a really easy, comforting and tasty dish too.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Eye Candy Day: TLVD Phenomenon Revisited

On the 1 September of my first year of blogging, I began the blogging series 'Eye Candy Day'.  On the first of the month, each month, for the following four years, without missing a single one, I posted, usually without comment or hint as to who it was, an image of a pretty or handsome human.  In my opinion, of course, and not always a truth universally acknowledged.
They were self-confessedly shallow, and possibly even slightly offensive to some, and justified by the words 'my Eye Candy Day should just be taken with a pinch of ..er.. sugar. I am usually so overly and deeply sensitive to others' feelings, once a month I have to redress the balance. :-)' 
Today I thought I would repost the first one as a tribute to my tenacity in the face of enormous public pressure (actually they often got more jocular comments than other posts, and, once he got used to them, even from Yorkshire Pudding to whom they seemed a direct testosterone-infused glove slap).

So without more ado, here is the face and the link to that first Eye Candy Day.  Many Happy Returns.  Maybe …

Eye Candy Day 1

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Why I've not been Blogging

But wait …. there's more!
Information about the exhibition here
And a walk through the gallery during my last exhibition here
And a free set of steak knives here.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Chimps and Bees

It wasn't all that long ago that Jane Goodall discovered that chimps use tools, thereby ruining what had until then seemed a lovely definition of the uniqueness of Homo sapiens.
So then someone suggested we were unique in the animal kingdom because we could use signs to communicate, and what's more, could  communicate abstract ideas.
But Karl Von Frisch shot both down at one fell swoop, by proving that bees communicate abstract ideas (direction of nearby food source taking into account the change of sun direction during the intervening minutes) using sign (the 'waggle' dance).

Yay bees!  You rule!
The cooler thing is that so far, only chimps have come near bees for these amazing abilities.

And us of course.

There is however one thing bees can't do that we can.  Lie.

Sketching honey bees (Apis melifera) for my upcoming exhibition
"Our Bees" with Yaniv Janson.

Friday, 7 November 2014


There She is.  Opening the Flanders Memorial Garden.  And, out of interest, that's my distant cousin in the black coat.  I bask in the reflected glory shine on his helmet.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Urban Moon Rise

Just a pretty picture for you tonight…
It's a full moon I think, or close to it.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

New Zealand has a New Bee

For my upcoming show, I've been spending a lot of time in two places - in the garden photographing bees (spring!) and at my desk, painting … yes, bees.

Today I was exceedingly puzzled.
There are honey bees on the lemon flowers and the gone-to-flower chinese cabbage.
There are honey bees and bumblebees on the crabapple flowers.
And there are bumblebees on the foxgloves and the lavender.

But there are two very odd bees on the purple toadflax.
They hovered, instead of flying in that swinging, focused way that honey bees and bumbles do.  They were visiting flowers, but also sat in the sun on leaves, which only sick honey bees do.
And they also made a different noise.
They looked like wasps in patterning, but just like a bee in shape and fuzziness.  Unlike honey bees they had lots of cream fur on their legs.

I looked 'em up.  They are the wool carder bee, Anthidium manicatum.  A newish species to invade New Zealand.  They collect fluff off plants like lamb's ear and use it to make a nest to lay and egg or two in.  Aparently some people in North America grow plants in order to encourage them, much as we grow swan plant for Monarch butterflies.
Should we be concerned about them in New Zealand?  I'm not sure.  They are solitary, but in other countries where they are found, the males are very aggressive and will patrol bushes where the females are foraging, and chase off other bees. Jo-Anne Soper is studying their spread here. She seems to think they may be a threat to our solitary native bees, which have actually been thriving well up until now, as they like to make their burrows in open clay, like the sides of roads and farm tracks. They seem to co-exist well with honey bees in Europe.

I am fascinated by the complexity of interactions between environments and species on this Earth.  Tip it one way, even extremely slightly, and the whole boat sometimes rocks.  Or, sometimes, doesn't.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Tant de Forêts Trailer.

A nice wee trailer. Looking forward to the film. It reminds me a little of the lovely art work of Charlie Harper.

Tant de For\'eats - trailer from Burcu & Geoffrey on Vimeo.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Waterfall by Chris McKay

This morning I just had to share this stunning photograph from New Zealand photographer Chris McKay.

He writes:

Alexander Falls is a waterfall on Madeley Creek, a tributary of Callaghan Creek in the Callaghan Valley area of the Sea to Sky Country of southwestern British Columbia, Canada. The falls are located just below a bridge on the access road to Callaghan Lake Provincial Park, at the head of the valley, which lies to the west of the resort town of Whistler.

The falls consist of three drops that total up to 141 feet (43 m) in total. The falls are about 40 feet (12 m) wide.

Canon 5DIII | EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM II | 50mm | f/5.6 | 8 sec | ISO 50 | Lee Big Stopper | -1/3 EV

Feel free to share but no other use without prior written consent.

©Chris McKay Photography 2014

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Last Visible Kiwi?

Contemplating a name change.
Not really.  Just joking.
But, what is not a joke is that, with the exception of only two bird species, every single indigenous bird in New Zealand is mentioned in our Wildlife Act legislation as needing some kind of protection.


Say the word kiwis in the Rest of the World and they seem to think a fruit or shoe polish.
But here, we refer to ourselves as Kiwis, aka, New Zealanders.
The bird we have adopted as our namesake as well as our national bird, is no better off than any other NZ bird.  And a lot worse off than many.  Nocturnal.  Forest-dwelling. Ground-nesting. Flightless. And with a naturally low rate of reproduction (one or maybe two eggs a year), kiwis are under threat from reduction of their natural environment.
But mostly from predation by a long and toothy list of introduced species:
Brush-tailed Possums


There are six types of kiwi in New Zealand.  One is already extinct.
They are found no-where else in the world.
Most Kiwi kids, and most adults too, have never seen a real kiwi.

Monday, 20 October 2014

The verandah

Now that the wisteria has finished flowering the battle begins to maintain ownership of the house by humans.
It was lovely...

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Style and Content

'Style is the consequence of something being described in the way most appropriate to its content. It is not a hemline height or a gratuitous indicative flourish added to modify or embellish an image. Style is the by-product of saying what has to be said in the most appropriate way a maker can say it. Meaningful style emerges from the necessity of description. It is not a product of self-conscious selection.'
- Kit White,  101 Things to Learn in Art School.

Getting stuck, so back to basics. Brain storm of CONTENT for my next exhibition.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Nature Talks

Short, mesmerising talks about different aspects of the world world we live and depend upon.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Spring Rains

Once it found out I really, really wanted to get the lawns mowed today, the weather was given instructions for this morning:
1. Provide an enticing peek of golden sunshine on dawn.
2. Continue a short period of glorious golden morning thereby lulling her into a false sense of security so she wastes an hour on the computer.
3. Commence to rain heavily with very large drops, and with all the appearance of doing this all day.

Friday, 3 October 2014


Exciting news!  After trying for over a year, my girl Natalie has finally been accepted by an airline for a position as flight attendant. In about two months she will put on the Virgin Australia uniform for the first time.
Before that she has almost three weeks' work to complete for the café where she works.  During that time she'll try and find some accommodation not too far from the Auckland airport.  On 28th October she begins a five week training course and when that is complete … off she flies!
She will be based in Auckland and will be on the trans Tasman flights to and from Australian cities.  So if you are ever flying Virgin across 'The Ditch', look out for her!


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Insane in the Membrane

Natalie and I went up to Auckland yesterday.
Ponsonby is a rather delightful suburb with funky little (and some bigger) arty and designer shops, super galleries, and great cafes.
I particularly wanted to check out Whitespace, and also go to Black Asterix to see 'Insane in the Membrane' by Ewan McDougall. It was great to see it in the flesh paint.  So funny, and happy, and crazy.  I love his work, and enjoy the references to ancient cave art. However he can develop some quite dark themes, especially during our recent election.  The work is not as simplistic as the bright colours and repeating smiling imagery would suggest.

'Insane in the Membrane' - Ewan McDougall - Black Asterix, Ponsonby, Auckland.

Then, although it was already about 2pm, we went to see if they had again run out of their heavenly tiramisu at the cafe near the Auckland Museum. Sadly they had.  So I had to make do with the wonderful lemon pie and Nat had something else.
Although the wind was cold, the sun shone.  A Nice Day.
On the way home Natalie drove from almost Ngatea to Paeroa - about 30 kms.  Her driving is coming along very well.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The New Zealand Elections

Today most New Zealanders will vote in the general election.  I have never before felt so invested in an election outcome.  Scotland's majority went with the status quo.  I suspect we will too.  The thought depresses me greatly. But suffice to say that I am nervous to express anything much because it has been revealed this week that, even if not used, our government has for some time had the ability to surveil individual New Zealanders. Now, I'm sure my environmental concerns are not hidden, but also not terribly important to anyone in Wellington, but it's a little bit of a creepy feeling.
And depressing.

If your little sword is broken this time, come back to me, little vote.  And I shall let you free again in another three years.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Whio. Painting for Charity

The Breast Cancer Research Charity auction is on again this year in Tauranga.
I decided to paint the New Zealand Whio (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos), also called the Whistling Duck or Blue Duck.  Apart from the fact there are only a few thousand left in the world (what a precious creature!), I thought they would be a good metaphor for the challenges people face when they receive a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Mostly because the Whio lives in particularly challenging environments. Strong currents and very turbulent waters. They have an odd-shaped bill that has softish side-pieces that are adapted to scraping the algae and tiny organisms that cling to the water-sides of rocks. They also have singularly remarkable bright yellow eyes, and attractive russet speckles on their chest.

The male is the whistler, the female makes a rasping sound like a fingernail run over corrugated cardboard. You can get in the mood for the following sequence of painting images by listening here if you want to.  They are hard to find, and I've never actually seen one, so I approached two well-known New Zealand photographers for reference images.  Both were kind enough to allow me to use their images for the project for free and I'm indebted to them.  I think if you had a moment to click on their respective links, you'd be amazed at the class and clarity of their beautiful images.
Neil Fitzgerald Photography
Tomas Sobek Photography

Okay, off we go a-painting-o.
1. About ten coats of white gesso on a small square stretched canvas.  Then it took me hours to find just the right duck image and a rough yet pristine New Zealand water/ forest image that would go together.  For example, just one consideration was the light direction.  In the end I flipped a duck image horizontally so the light would fall from the right of the picture.

2. Pencil drawing directly onto the canvas.  I have my two reference photos, and my magnifying glass handy.  I already played with the size of the duck and various positions for it in photoshop.  I decided to place it in the lower left, away from the centre of the painting, and almost 'hiding' against a big rock, as I want it to be less important than the rushing water/ challenge metaphor.  I want it to be seen second.

3. Washy undercoats of acrylic.  I am using only three main colours:  red oxide, ultramarine blue, and yellow ochre.  They form my main red, blue and yellow 'primaries'.  All other colours should be able to be made from mixtures of them.  However I rapidly find the green they make is not bright enough so I also find a tube of Sap Green to liven things up for the foliage in the far background and also the mosses that glow in the sunshiny spots.  With plenty of added blue, the red oxide turns into rich 'blacks', and a speck of this plus Ochre, creates all the greens I need with added Sap Green.  I want the Red Oxide to glow through and add interest in the shadowy sides of the rocks.

4.  I get nervous at this stage.  What if I muck up the duck?  Better not to do too much background in case it's all a waste of time because the star of the show is a mess.  So, time to paint the Whio.  I use lots of extender medium and build up the colours in layer after layer.

Tentative grey washes to start the form.

Beginning to create the two main colours -
a browny-grey back and head, and a bluey-grey chest and body.

More and more thin, almost transparent layers finally begin to deepen the colours.

Shadows create form.  Some russet speckles on the chest.
The ones in the shadows have to be brighter and richer, strangely enough.
The ones in the sunshine are bleached.
 The yellow eye needs the tiniest brush and a minute dab of yellow straight from the tube.  The black pupil is felt pen.  It needed to be perfectly round.

5.  The rest of the next week (!) I worked away at the water, the stones and the waterfall, developing detail, adjusting colours and contrasts, constantly referring back to the source images, yet at times simplifying or making up things as the composition required.  For instance, the image only went to just above the big round rock.  So I made up a series of pools and rapids above it and guessed what colours would be reflected in the water.
Also, I wanted the right hand side, including the waterfall, to stop competing for attention, so put a lot of careful darks and shadows there.
I also developed some 'lines' and shapes that would repeat or guide, to try and give the composition structure, movement, harmony and balance.  For example, I reduced the detail on the big round rock so the eye would wander and 'discover' the Whio hiding in its shadow side.

Developed the waterfall and began to explore rock textures.

Developed the shadow behind the duck so it hides better.
(Lost and found edges are interesting).
Added more layers to colours in the water so they are more subtle.

Right hand rocks given more shadow.
Middle far rocks given moss.
Big rock given colour and lichen.
Whio foot done!

 6. Finishing off. It's important not to rush this stage.  I leave the painting propped up in the lounge and 'startle' it in the mornings when my eyes are fresh.  It seems very busy with too much contrast.  I reduce the reds and greens with blue, and worry for a few days.

 7. I colour the pale rock at the bottom left, and the left hand rocks, complete and texture the forest at the back, and darken further the busy rock shadows on the right. It's starting to look nearly finished.
I fluff around trying to sign my name in a good place, change my mind three times, wipe it off, re-do it. I always struggle with the signature.  Maybe next time I'll follow the recent trend and sign the edge and avoid the problem altogether…
Paint the edges black.  Suddenly it looks good.  I'm becoming really happy with it.

Edges black acrylic, and about to even out the glossy and matt parts
with a single coat of  Dammar varnish.  

 8.  Done and dusted. My screen shows the water much brighter blue than in reality.
You can see the size in this first image.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Happy Father's Day Dad

From me… X
(Trousers had 'don't spank' embroidered on the tail, or so I've been told…)