Come next Monday, I shall be making my way to Barcelona, and embarking on a daily sketching sojourn in several cities. This prospect has made me slightly nervous, as well as excited, as I endeavour to keep my sketching practice up. My aim is to be as fluid as I can with my line, and use of colour. Last week, I attended two workshops; both with live models, but each very different from the other. I knew that we were going to be covering animals in the first class, but expected that we would be working from photographs. I was rather taken aback when a rather large, although handsome tan and white boxer dog (Walter), was led into the room. Continue reading
After doing a recent quick ‘selfie’ portrait, I sifted through some old art folios, in which I found a few very different images of myself. Two were pencil drawings, and the other a quick sketch in acrylic on paper. Over the years I’ve executed many portraits, in pastel, pencil and paint; some done as teaching tools, some commissions, and others as part of children’s book illustration.
With all portraits, and all figures come to that, I have generally used the same techniques to plot the sketch. But the most important technique of all does not involve pencil or paint. To become accurate with any portrait, you must look. Seems obvious? I am talking about really seeing here: the shape of the head, the face; whether it is thin, long, wide, plump. Is the skin tone fair, or dark? All these features need to be observed before a pencil makes a mark. And, then comes the hair. Is it dark, light, thick, wavy, straight? Is it wispy, framing the face? When you are becoming to know the person, it comes the time to select your tools (pencils in this case). It does help if you already know your model too. Continue reading
Monday I was back to the travel sketching class, where the focus was on people. People, faces, bodies, used to be my thing, but not consistently practising these skills has shown a gap in what I know I can achieve and what comes out on the paper. I cannot blame the pen. I have chased another passion (creative writing), too much, and let my art skills languish. By coming to classes, I hoped to renew the passion I’d once held for art.
The first sketch, was fine: a self portrait sketched from a phone ‘selfie’. I’d certainly not done that before, although I had done a few self portraits using the old-style reflection in a mirror. Luckily I happened to have a recent phone selfie, showing off my new glasses, as I could imagine the ten photos I’d have to take in class to get one I remotely liked. Continue reading
This week’s post is far from my usual offerings, as last Friday in New Zealand we were subjected to our worst fears: a right-wing racially-bigoted man shot at and killed fifty of us; among them men, women and children. This twenty-eight year old man went into two mosques in quick succession and opened fire with semi-automatic weapons and mowed worshippers down.
New Zealand is a small country, in size and population and up until last Friday, we had been considered a peaceful, fair-minded and friendly society. We do not have a culture of toting guns (including the general police force), and most of us would never have seen a gun, let alone held one in our hands. Guns, we thought, were the domain of farmers, hunters, special police force, the military, and countries other than ourselves.
We are not however, so naive that we close our eyes to the gun culture within our gangs, or have we been immune from the trauma of other gun-associated deaths; but these happenings, although horrific, are not generally committed by someone with a skewed ideology and an inherent hatred for those different from themselves. The man who walked into the mosques last week, had come to New Zealand intent on carrying out this heinous crime.
As a child, my parents hosted a Hungarian family who were escaping troubled times in their home country. They arrived in New Zealand with little more than the clothes they wore. This family was welcomed in by the small community in which we lived. The local Anglican congregation rallied around to find toys and clothes for the children, help the father find work, and a home. This is what I remember.
We had long welcomed other cultures into New Zealand and I was proud that my father had friends from India, Italy, France and Hong Kong. My mother taught new Dutch immigrants in her classes. This is what I remember.
To say our country is in grief, sums up the collective pall which hangs over us. Many of us have tears in our eyes.
Despite this, our country has rallied together, schools have held concerts, performed haka, sung their hearts out for the families who have lost so much. Others have written messages, left flowers, attended memorials, donated money. It seems we still have a lot more to give. This is what I’ll remember.
The map I began two weeks back has made some progress forward, and although not quite finished, it is fairly much there. I decided to make a legend/key to off-set the Devonport map I’d begun, shown in an earlier blog. See below, the pen and aquarelle pencil icons which I have numbered but still have to name.
It is always interesting how one idea can trigger off others, and writing about travel diaries got me to thinking about the major unfinished travelogue of mine, which is idling on my computer. I have salved my conscience a little, by uplifting some passages from the longer story and posting them in various blogs. This post is adding to that list, and shall focus on a single day in Villefranche-sur-mer and a fleeting look at some of its art.
I am to be visiting Spain in April, for a second time. Last time I went with an old friend to attend a month’s teaching course in Barcelona. I loved Barcelona and had always contemplated a return. When I learned late last year of a 2019 Sketch Spain trip, I didn’t need any persuasion to add my name to the list. My husband is coming with me this time, with his camera, while I shall join a small group of sketchers. To build some impetus, and ideas for how I’d approach my travel diary, I joined Tony McNeight’s class for a map-drawing exercise as he thought this a good way to familiarise oneself with a new place. We were to emulate a schematic drawing of Devonport, using any style we wished, though keeping to the preferred mediums of watercolour and ink (see at end of blog). Continue reading
As I wrote a recent post about trekking on Stewart Island, I mentioned my old boots, which brought up memories of the time I had worn them trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas, over twenty years earlier! That got me thinking of that month in Nepal. It was my first journey to a country far from home; a country where I would be the foreigner speaking a different tongue. I had dreamed of such a journey since childhood. As an adult, I wished to challenge my status quo, and when the opportunity presented itself to visit this eastern kingdom, I knew I couldn’t turn it down. Continue reading
The weather changed to wild winds and rain on our last day on Stewart Island. Foveaux Strait was difficult even in fine weather; but foul? There was nothing to do but wait. So, I sat for a while sketching the view out the window, hoping the small plane would not be grounded come morning. My husband and I were continuing on to The Catlins, a stunning coastal region, with wildlife, native bush, and splendid beaches we were itching to explore. Continue reading
It was my first trip to our most southern coast and to Stewart Island, a place as famous for the straits which lay between the departure point of Invercargill and the island. The trip over in small plane, however, was superb. To be able to see from a bird’s perspective – just amazing. Stewart Island was everything I thought it would be, from its beaches, bush, Oban’s iconic hotel, the hospitality and the superb fresh blue cod. Then there was the visit to Ulva Island, the three day Rakiura walk, a free day and the return flight to Invercargill. Plus, we had four days outside this in The Catlins. How could I fit all of my stories in just one blog? Continue reading
After writing my last blog about Japanese author Murakami, I was taken back to memories of my time living in Japan. One outstanding memory for me is the time I spent with Japanese friends during the important New Year festival of Shogatsu. This occasion is shared equally between Japan’s two most common religions; Buddhism and Shinto. I was very fortunate to be invited to stay with these friends in order to experience first-hand some of the most revered and long-lasting rituals which take place at Japanese New Year. Continue reading
I have begun the year reading through the backlog of books which has been accumulating beside my bed. One I was keen to get to was the hefty tome of Haruki Murakami’s recent book, Killing Commendatore. But I let it sit, while I read one of his I’d been given earlier as a birthday present; Men without women. This book features seven short stories, plucked from various collections. It contained the wonderful prose and wit, which I’d come to love from this great Japanese author. I have read a number of his novels and have kept all the titles I’ve read. However, If I hadn’t been given a publication of his as a present years ago, I doubt that I’d have plucked one from a shelf. I like reality, the known; whereas Murakami is unafraid of having his characters venture into very different realms, and he has managed to entice me into those worlds, through his mesmerising prose.
Being New Year, it is customary to make resolutions. Mine are pretty general; just get those unfinished pieces of sewing, artwork and writing completed. I didn’t need to write a list, I have known for too long what needs to be done. So, I started with the calico doll, which has been in bits since my granddaughter stayed last year. Continue reading
I had thought to summarise the year; my inaugural year of posting blogs on Artistry, but changed my mind when the Pōhutukawa began showing off all over town. The Pōhutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), a tree native to New Zealand, is affectionately named our Christmas Tree, with very good reason. There’s no need for tinsel, baubles or fairy lights if you happen to have one of these in your garden. Continue reading
This week was bookended by attending two different art groups. Monday, I joined the travel-sketching crowd at an end-of-year sketching day on nearby Waiheke Island, just a 30-minute ferry ride from my home. On arrival at Matiatia wharf we were to find a spot to sit and sketch until the bus arrived. It would take us to Casita Miro, a fabulous Spanish winery and cafe. Continue reading
This post began as I was searching for information on artists who used extra long brushes for painting, after a fellow artist-blogger had mentioned Matisse using this method. I knew that several of the old masters painted in this fashion but I drew a blank with finding out whom. The British artist Constable seemed to ring a bell, so I added his name to the search. But I could find nothing about his use of the long paintbrush either. However, I scrolled through many images of his paintings and quite by chance I found something altogether amazing (see above). Continue reading
Last week I had a folder of artwork returned to me from a publisher who was moving premises. It was the first book I had illustrated, and I never expected to see the illustrations again, as royalties were paid in advance, thus becoming the publisher’s property. I had enjoyed drawing the illustrations, which were of a young Vietnamese New Zealand girl. However, I had always held a gripe about the finished cover, showing an image which was not what I actually drew. I had drawn two images of the girl inside the plane, one at the beginning, minus the box, and the other at the end holding the box. Both images I drew with the girl’s eyes shut. So what had happened here? Continue reading
I was pleased to be asked to join another of Tony McNeight‘s sketching classes on the weekend; the topic – cross-hatching, and the medium, ink. It was some time since I’d used the technique but I was keen to give it another go. True, my tools were ancient, but in good form, since I’d recently cleaned my pens out and replaced the ink cartridges. Continue reading
Many years back, I wrote my first children’s story, Toby and the Tuatara, and illustrated several images to accompany it as an example to show potential publishers. My artwork gained mention but my early writing attempt didn’t. However, the drawing of a native tuatara instilled in me the desire to see one in the flesh. Last weekend that dream almost came true.
This is the blog that almost wasn’t as my procrastination had reached levels unsurpassed. However, through a chance meeting with an artist touching up a sign at the community garden and an ensuing conversation, we discovered that we had much in common, from our beginnings in advertising to illustrating and tutoring. Continue reading
I begin with the destination, for there are approximately 650km between Auckland, where I live, and Wellington, the city I drove to last week with my daughter Lara. This was a long-planned road trip to see the phenomenon of the World of Wearable Art show, which so many have seen in its thirty-year history, but has managed to elude my daughter and me. This may have remained the status quo if I hadn’t seen a figurative print in a local gallery earlier in the year that I instantly desired, and wished to hang on my newly-painted studio wall.
I love walking, and while walking around my neighbourhood I got to thinking about why I enjoy it so much. Fitness certainly plays a part, for I am like a caged animal if I can’t get outdoors. But there is more to my walks than mere exercise, and one salient aspect is what I see. More ideas for drawing. Devonport is a lush green suburb at the tail-end of a peninsula. Homes are built on and around several volcanic cones, and nowhere is far from the sea. The views are simply stunning. My walking routes either begin or finish on King Edward Parade which looks across the harbour to Auckland City and to the other townships lining the promontory opposite. Continue reading
There was a talk at the Auckland Art Gallery two weeks ago featuring a small still life study of Picasso’s, Verre et Pichet. The painting reminded me of my art studies at University when I painted a fragment from one of Picasso’s cubist works (long forgotten the name). This in turn set me thinking about the many still life sketches I used to do of simple kitchen objects. At one stage I produced one (at least) per day. Perhaps this talk would be the kick-start I needed to set me on a similar drawing trajectory. I asked a like-minded friend if she’d like to accompany me to the gallery and happily she accepted. We set off in anticipation of what we might gain from the talk that day. Continue reading
I either go biking or walking most mornings and love looking over hedges and fences into people’s gardens to look at the various flowers and plants growing. This pastime has become even more important to me lately, as I now live in an apartment, and no longer have a back or front yard of my own. A couple of days ago, I went walking with my daughter, and took photos of trees full of blossom, and some daffodils against a wall in a garden. This was in anticipation of my next post, where I thought to feature the change in seasons by sketching some blossoms. To achieve what I had in mind, I needed some actual blooms. Procuring live specimens proved harder than I thought. Continue reading
Yesterday I was gazing out my window at the the hill opposite, the gutters overflowing in a downpour and instantly I was thrust back in time, remembering a hilltop village in Tuscany during a thunderstorm. Lying below this mediaeval town was the village of Sansepolcro where I’d stayed for a week with my husband, enjoying the sun, the food, the ambience and the art. I also remembered I’d written a short travel piece after returning home and searched my files to find it. Great – I had my next blog. Continue reading
Last weekend I was down in Christchurch and was invited to see a play at the Court Theatre. I knew the essence of the story from seeing the film in the early ‘nineties. My son insisted I see it, as he thought it time I experienced a horror movie. Misery the play, like the film, was adapted from the book by Stephen King. I wondered whether the play adaptation might seem dated as years had slipped by since the book and the film appeared. However, the reviews for the play were very positive, and I stepped into the theatre on Saturday night looking forward to a second spooky experience. Continue reading
Last week I posted a non-fictional account about my first trip to Rome, which tells about The day I fell over Caravaggio. On returning home from that memorable trip I decided to write a fictional account of that experience. Like any fiction, much is borrowed from fact. The centre of Rome; the streets walked, the sites visited etc. However, it is the events that took place one very hot summer’s day which I have delighted in retelling in a very different way. Continue reading
My first trip to Rome was brief but memorable. It was summer, and stinking hot. Kerry was in Europe already, but I arrived in Rome several hours ahead of him. An astute traveler, I found the airport station, train, city and the hotel with no trouble whatsoever. I changed into a light dress and navigated my way down Via Nazionale. I came across a nice café, drank a ‘flat white’, ate lunch. I wonder what those buildings are further down, I asked myself, and kept walking. I arrived in the middle of the Forum, just by chance. This impressed my husband, that’s for sure, as I had no map, and no idea of the rich legacies which lay within reach. Our motto became – If only we had done our research. Continue reading
Having my granddaughters to stay was as enjoyable as it was interesting. I knew the eldest had an iPhone, but what I didn’t expect to find, was how little interest she showed in using it. I mean, most children I see these days have some kind of device they’re staring at, speaking into, or plugged to their ears; whether out walking, sitting with friends, or eating with their families in cafes. The use of these devices is endemic – or is it? Not as far as Phemie and Beatrix were concerned, for they were more interested in following their creative instincts: they drew, wrote, read, and played their days away. Continue reading
I met Jennifer Beck while tutoring illustration classes some time back, and had long admired her writing for children. When I noticed her latest book in my local bookshop I picked it up, admiring the pencil and watercolour sketch by Robyn Belton on the cover. The Anzac Violin tells the real story of New Zealander Alexander Aitken and the part a violin plays during his time as a soldier in the first world war. Continue reading
The day I posted my last blog, my cat Ninja, as if thinking my Japanese ceramic horse and the Chinese Warrior replica were taking precedence in my affections, managed to break both within a few minutes of each other. He was up on the bookcase and decided to push a glass paperweight off the side (rather like a baby throws a rattle from its cot). Unfortunately, my warrior bore the brunt of this act, with one hand being severed by the heavy glass ball. “I can fix it,” my husband said, “it’s a clean enough break.” Continue reading
‘When did you start writing?’ is a question often posed to authors. I, like many others, started writing in childhood, building on from the stories written for school projects. In my case, I recall writing about girls leaving home; travelling to foreign towns, or countries. The protagonists were always by themselves, managing with little money but finding extraordinary rewards by navigating their journeys alone. Continue reading
It has often been said that everyone has a story to tell and it certainly appears that the adage holds truth. Memoir, or Life writing, is a genre which has flourished in recent years. Mary Karr writer, memoirist and teacher defines the genre in her recent book The Art of Memoir “Novels have intricate plots, verse has musical forms, history and biography enjoy the sheen of objective truth. In memoir, one event follows another. Birth leads to puberty leads to sex. The books are held together by happenstance, theme, and (most powerfully) the sheer, convincing poetry of a single person trying to make sense of the past.”
As part of my getting to know my new neighbourhood I decided to join a book club. I had shied away from joining one in the past, although my reasons probably weren’t that solid, except to me. Most groups I’d heard of could bring any book they happened to be reading and chat about it. I was after a group that read and discussed one book per month, who actually read the book and were able to discuss why, or why not it held appeal for them, and how they viewed the writing style etc.
Last week I posted Don’t rubbish that first draft, and asked readers to share their thoughts on whether they thought the first draft of the train story I had written some time back, was better than the second draft, which is my post today. Please feel free to comment. Continue reading
While researching for my last post, I opened a file I had not touched in a while. It contained several drafts and assignments for a travel writing paper I had completed through a New Zealand university. I opened each in turn, quite pleased at the diligent student I had been. But something intrigued me about one assignment in particular.
I was scrolling through a number of essays I hadn’t looked at for a while and came across this one, which I wrote after visiting my elderly mother a few years before her death. This is not a series of amusing anecdotes, no embellishments of a personality, or extolling of one’s virtues; just a story of a daughter visiting her mother and the impact of becoming a stranger to the woman who had given her life. Continue reading
In an earlier post I talked about how some stories start; namely the ‘fictional memoir’ as I called it then, a novel-length story about my much-loved father. I so wished to keep going with this project, but I was stuck – call it procrastination, writer’s block, or what you want – but I was desperate to keep the promise to my daughter to write about the grandfather she never knew. So how did I break this writing drought? Continue reading
Setting the scene: The staffroom of an English teaching school in Japan. It is morning. A young Scots teacher is fiddling with papers. It is a matter of minutes before our classes start when an Australian male colleague enters. “You are looking very kempt this morning,” I say, pointing to the tie. This is so far from his usual ruffled appearance, I am shocked – almost to the core.
Whangaparapara Harbour, Great Barrier
In New Zealand we may not be able to provide the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, or the vast wilderness you’d find in Yosemite. We have no bears, coyotes, bison, or alligators, no rattle-snakes, or cobras; in fact no snakes at all. We can hike through our native reserves unworried by strange rustlings or rattles, knowing that the only thing that’ll eat us is a sandfly (and they’re not deadly). Most tourists head south to the ski-fields and fiords, and it is terrific down there, don’t get me wrong, but it is wise not to forget the north, as here you’ll find hundreds of splendid beaches and islands you may never have heard of before. Continue reading
Varenna on Lake Como, is a town I adore, so when my daughter and I began planning a trip to Europe, I booked us into a small apartment there. I had often spoken of my love for the place, and one area in particular. It was day three of our five day stay. We’d taken the ferry to many places, including Bellagio, Cernobbio, Lenno and Tremezzo. We had shopped, eaten, and walked part of the old Roman road. Lake Como is fabulous and I was happy, except we hadn’t yet visited the castle.
If you have been following my blogs you will know that reading and writing take up a fair chunk of my life. My passion for the written word started early, as I was read to as a pre-schooler, and once I could read, I couldn’t stop. I became a keen visitor to the Upper Hutt public library taking home many books at a time. As a teen I was fortunate to read some excellent writers of short fiction. Two that resonate with me today are Janet Frame, one of our (New Zealand’s) most respected authors, and Britain’s Doris Lessing. I have read so many other authors since I have lost count. It is not these lauded authors I wish to speak about however, but what makes a story stand out for me, and why I can remember it, months or even years later.
Lara and I, and other bag-totting lookalikes, stepped off the water taxi at Venezia Lucia Station. All eyes lifted to the arrivals screen. What! The sleeper train to Paris had been cancelled. “Information Office,” I shouted and a mob ran with us the length of the platform.
“It says cancelled. But it’s not,” the official snorted, making a shooing action as if we were flies. “Keep watching the screen.” And thank you too, I muttered.
Try holding two shoulder bags, nailing a big case with a foot while nibbling pizza from a paper bag and holding your eyes on a screen. “It’s arriving,” a backpacker yelled an hour later, and we stampeded down the platform like fleeing refugees.
Writing hands by Karen [CC-BY 2.0]
Who needs critique groups? Only people who don’t believe they need to learn more about the elements of writing, and think they already know how to create good authentic language. Or, they may think they are experts on grammar, or point of view, pace, structure, etc. Now, it is not as if we go about with the elements of writing as a list to draw down as we write, but when starting out on this writing path, it is good to check on our progress once in a while. Complacency can trip us up.
Art class week three: A personal disaster. I thought one way, the tutor thought another, although I believed I was following the brief; which was to think about a character, an object and a setting, in readiness for a triptych we were about to set in action. First, we would work in monotone, and focus on a character. I hadn’t brought along any images but had an idea of what I’d like to create – something that would fit nicely with the memoir I was writing; the most likely character being my dad, and the object, his wonderful (travelling library) truck.
‘Forget any story, and just draw,’ I was told. A character could be animal, not sure about
vegetable or mineral. As try as I might that morning, I could NOT unstick my ‘story’ from my head, and surprise, surprise, as hard as I tried to sketch other ‘characters’ from varying perspectives, my work became more abysmal by the hour. I produced a sheet of caricatures, which failed to make anyone laugh. The best part of the session, was the cup of coffee. Home James (Vivienne in this case) and don’t let it get you down. Continue reading
Books, books, books. My home is filled with them and so is my head, especially when it comes to writing about my dad. He was surrounded by books; not because he was a scholar, but because he had ingenuity in bucketloads when it came to earning his family’s keep. It was post war; his army service done. So what does a man do for a living, with no job, little education, with a wife and four children to look after? Why, he sets up a lending library service of course. He started small, with a stationary library in Gloucester Street, Silverstream (north of Wellington). And being the entrepreneur he was, the idea of a travelling library soon followed.
I like to take a break late afternoon, and sometimes prop myself on my bed and pick up my latest read. This week I began to re-read a book which was passed on to me in December. On finishing, I passed it onto another friend and regretted doing so, as I had liked the book Charlotte very much indeed.
When I was hunting in our local bookshop, I spotted the book and bought it immediately. I had not read any of novelist David Foenkinos’ books before reading Charlotte. Fortunately the French is translated seamlessly into English by Sam Taylor. It is literally a joy to read.
To many, the theme of generational suicide might persuade readers not to lift the cover; although it was the cover, which first lured me inside. The book seems to come from another era; it is hard-backed and beautifully crafted, with marbled end-papers and simple type on thick cream pages. It is a book to be handled. With Love. Continue reading
By the time my studio was up and running in the new apartment, I was too; anxious to get back to my art, and my writing. I was introduced to my first Life Drawing class at fourteen. I loved that first class, and I continue to love drawing the human form. I looked through my art folders and images of the figurative work I had exhibited, or sold, executed mostly in graphite and charcoal; a medium I like a lot. That was a while back. I have just joined an art class, where I wish to try out new mediums and techniques; open myself to find new ways of working. I hope it works out.
It is often said that moving house tops the list for the most stressful situations in life. I’ve recently experienced that truth; we were moving, to an interim home in the country, just as my husband came out of hospital.
We looked out to lush pastures, Alpacas, ponies, and Shetland cattle. A bucolic setting; good for my husband’s recovery, and mine. Until … my heart decided to change its rhythm; racing at intervals, making me swoon (lovely word) during my daily walks. Continue reading