Last week saw the Auckland Writers Festival very much alive in our city. I did not attend many events as the week was already flooded with other activities. I wish to write about one event though, of a discussion between Tracey Morrison (Te Arawa, Ngāi Tahu), a well-known New Zealand broadcaster, and Monty Soutar ONZM (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Awa, Ngā Tai ki Tāmaki, Ngāti Kahungunu). They talked about his latest book Kāwai, a shortlisted novel for the recent Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Monty has received commendations and awards for his scholastic achievements and work to raise the understanding of the history of Māori in many fields, and Kāwai is his first venture into writing fiction. If you are thinking that the discussion about his book might prove a little dry, or boring, you’d be wrong.
Close to Home
This is my second attempt to sketch and write a blog this week, the first effort was not great – more wilting lilies. So, I decided to draw a fantastic tree for which Devonport (where I live) is quite famous – the Moreton Bay Fig. This large evergreen tree of the Mulberry family happens to be native to Eastern Australia. Lucky Devonport has many of these fabulous giants based around our library. They are so big they almost straddle the road, and I always stop and admire the amazing root systems which have tourists clicking their cameras. I became the tourist this day and took a photo while out walking. This will make a nice art project I thought.
I started sketching using a water-soluble graphite pencil, which has a nice thick, soft lead. My idea at first, was to make this a tonal wash sketch, using different techniques. I have tried using a white blockout lumocolor before, when there are considerable white spots in the texture in tree trunks, and would be too fiddly to leave so many bits of white paper showing, as I usually do. The blockout has worked well when I’ve used a straight watercolour wash. However, it doesn’t work that well with the water soluble graphite (for me anyway), as it leaves residual grain. So, I left the work to dry, and then tried to erase the extra pigment which had penetrated the white blockout. So now my work looks grubby, which is not unusual when I try using water! Never mind, the watercolour paper is 33gm Hahnemühle and can cope with heavy treatment.
I was reasonably happy with the top sketch but could see I had missed the proportion somewhat bottom left and top right. I did adjust that, and feel it is better. I also used a clean Staedtler eraser to lift off some of the unwanted tone. Done. But now, my task was to work more texture into the sketch, and to add limited colour. I used an 8B graphite pencil (not a water-soluble one) for the extra texture on the tree, colour pencil for the moss and the smattering of leaves. My conclusion is that maybe it’s okay to enjoy these magnificent trees while out walking, and forgo the urge to draw them – just saying.
An almost Still Life
Again, I have a vase of flowers on my table, lilies this time, which were resplendent for over a week. As the flower heads opened the colour went from a rich yellow to a lighter tone as the petals lost lustre. Yesterday morning I noticed how papery the petal tips were, then, oh no! they began to drop onto the table. A hasty trip to grab a watercolour pad from my art shelves; paint, pencils, brushes, pens and a jar.
Three stages of a drawing
I took some photos of a beautiful native Nikau palm while walking last week, which I felt compelled to draw as the bulb was large and particularly colourful. I needed a break from my writing, and the time to let new ideas gel, so I started the initial sketch yesterday and finished it today. Sometimes I wonder why I write or draw, as it often more difficult that first envisaged, or let’s just say, either art form can be hard work when in progress, but feels great when done. Similarly with the novel. You get an idea, sketch it out and keep going until the work’s finished. It’s just the tools which differ. The tools I used for this sketch are: artist-quality polychromos pencils. The colours: Apple green, permanent green, chrome oxide green, lemon cadmium, dark sepia, brown ochre, van dyke brown, Indian red, sky blue, and light grey.
All Sorts of Lives
Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) would be New Zealand’s best known writer of the short story. Thousands of students would have studied her in university; others would have read her just because she writes so well. I belong to both those camps. Katherine was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp into a prosperous family, who lived in Tinakori Road, Wellington. She was bright, gifted in music and writing from an early age. But she felt a misfit in her family, thought her home ‘dull and claustrophobic’, and once she’d visited London as a teenager, yearned to live a liberated, and bohemian life, preferably abroad. She left for London on her own aged nineteen, became the writer she dreamed of being and never returned home. It is testament to her skill as a writer that we are still reading about her a hundred years after her death, and it is the book written to mark this centenary I especially wish to write about.
Visiting the past
The trip to Wellington last week catered for two needs; to see my friend Jayne, and to gather research for the book I am writing. Jayne and I met when I lived in the area many years ago. We had a lovely couple of days together, one of which involved Jayne offering to drive me around the areas I wished to research. So, we headed across town, through the ‘tooting’ tunnel and towards Lyall Bay – one of the places the protagonist of my novel lived in the 1970s. I’ve called her Marjorie and she is based on a very complex woman I used to know well. Back then she liked to be called Mother.
The artist and the wilted bouquet.
Sometimes the days are too filled, don’t you find? The past weeks certainly have been. There was the matter of extra people in the house, followed by my writing critique group Monday, which meant writing new scenes for my novel that I wished others to comment upon. Book Club was on Tuesday, and Wednesday I spent time with my daughter, as it was her penultimate day before departure. First thing today, I dropped her in the city, returned home and spent a number of hours cleaning up the place as tomorrow the plumber is coming early to fix our shower, and, someone is delivering a new bed. They are expected around 7am! And that’s early for a ‘retired’ ( or I should say ‘tired’) person like me.
Living with drama.
I mentioned in my last post that my daughter Lara was staying with me, as she is directing a show for the Auckland Theatre Company – opening night this coming Thursday. That is … if the shocking weather we are currently experiencing here doesn’t put pay to that. I could say, well it won’t be the first time a show has been cancelled, and some of you may even think, so what? I’ll give you some facts here: personal ones. My daughter is an actress and director of stage; whether it be a drama, comedy, or a play with music, as is the current show.
All people associated with theatre in New Zealand have had it exceptionally hard since Covid slipped through our borders. Every show starts way before the curtain goes up, with the programme planned, often years in advance, before the call goes out for auditions. With other careers, during Covid restrictions, many people were able to work from home, thus keeping some consistency of work flowing. For the performing arts sector; face to face auditions could not be held, which meant actors had to video their own audition pieces and send to the director or directors involved. And even if they were accepted for a role, there were no guarantees that the show would go ahead.
Little did we realise
My daughter was staying for a while as she is directing a stage show in Auckland, and suggested that she could mind Ninja, our tabby, should we wish to have a few days away. “Hawkes Bay,” Kerry and I said in unison and set about looking for accommodation. We booked a cottage in Clive, which is equi-distant between three centres; Napier, Hastings and Havelock North. Fabulous beaches, bike trails, wineries and food abound in this region – a five and a half hour drive from Auckland. The cottage was new though named Colonial, as it was built to look like the small wooden homes from the late 1800s. It was delightful, inside and out and the bed super comfy, especially since Ninja wasn’t hugging our space (don’t tell him).
The story behind the bookmark
It began many years back, when I was was helping a ten-year-old with ideas for a story. In a nutshell, her ideas fed mine, and set me thinking of my own story for children. This would of course be an illustrated story, done by yours truly. After writing many drafts, I decided on creating the first illustration; something that might work for the cover. Apart from the grandfather, who features in the story, the drawing above features all the other main characters in The Lost Civilisation. From top left, clockwise; the parrot Herakles, Penelope, Achilles the dog, Helen of Troy, the cat, and Archimedes, the goldfish, all named after figures in Greek mythology.
When you need some passion in your life
I’m still on the botanical track – sorry, if you were thinking I’d written a Mills and Boon style romance – although the passionfruit flower I’ve sketched is as beautiful to look at as its fruit is to eat. This particular plant was thriving a couple of years ago on a wall in my relative’s garden, and thinking it would make a great drawing I took a photo of a flower and the fruit. Alas, the plant shrivelled and died in the heat the following summer. So, I guess my sketch is a kind of memorial to that luscious passionfruit vine which died prematurely. I could have sketched this in one sitting, but decided that I’d like to take it slowly. I sketched it in three short sessions, spread out over three days, as family were visiting.
I continually sharpened my pencils and kept changing from one tone of green, or purple, to achieve the desired effects. While drawing the initial sketch I wondered how I could show the delicate white tendrils so they would show against the darker background of leaves. This was a good time to leave it alone. On return I began fleshing out the foliage and used an olive green, apple green, and a lemon cadmium for highlights. For the stamens, I used dark violet and magenta. Picking out the edges was tricky, as I wished to keep their delicate appearance, yet I needed to add depth of tone in the line, in order to have the stamens show against the green.
I applied more colour to the foliage, yet left the sketch loose around the outside, so the flower would remain the focal interest.
A significant sketch
The significance is that the Pōhutukawa (Metrosideros), with its showy scarlet flowers around Christmas, has since shed those beautiful blooms to the wind. The Pōhutukawa comes in many forms and sizes, and it was the shrub I came across in my relatives’ garden which took my fancy on Boxing Day. This was the Pōhutukawa (Metrosideros ‘Tahiti’), a compact shrub approximately 1m x 1m with its yellow flower stalks and the soft sage green of the young leaves I thought delightful. Well, to this artist’s eyes at least. I had an immediate desire to draw it, and trimmed off a piece of branch with a pair of secateurs (with permission from said relatives).
Ninja’s take on Christmas
Apologies for my lack of posting recently. Not yet back to my old self, although I have aged a year since I last wrote. So, maybe that should read, I am now my older self. I would like to introduce you to another family member – Ninja. My tabby Ninja is a delightful, and self-willed cat, but a great subject to help me out at this moment. I imagined that I could set up a great photo shoot where he meets Father Christmas and here is his reaction! Gee, thanks Ninja.
Despite Ninja’s disdain for this festive chap, I would still like to send you my very best wishes for the Christmas period. Here, in New Zealand we begin December 25th before anyone else, and shall be welcoming in the day approximately twelve hours from now! I hope that Christmas finds you in good health. And happy sketching to all those artists out there. Vivienne.
Have you ever sketched a stone?
Last post, I talked about the Heide art museum and Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture. One piece, sculpted from stone had instant appeal to me. While examining it from all sides, and peering into the carved out holes, I decided I would like to draw it once I was back home. Why draw a stone? I hear you ask, and the answer for me is simple. I love drawing texture. I would have liked to sketch in the museum, but that was not possible, so, the next best thing was to take a photograph, knowing I could work from it later. Little did I realise at the time, that I was going to be stuck indoors as Covid came to visit, and thus my promise to draw the Hepworth came to pass.
Travelling, and art in Melbourne
I feel a bit guilty, not having posted for some time, but not having the sanctity of my study nearby did that to me. And travel. I’ve been back a couple of days from a trip to Tasmania and Melbourne, Australia. Tasmania was new to Kerry and I, but not Melbourne, as we have visited often because of family and friends who call it home. The whole trip was eclectic, including the changes in weather and temperatures. Looking at different land forms, buildings, creatures and art. I still feel a little unsettled, but let me begin with some art that we saw.
On the road again
I’ve been biking in Central Otago again, undoubtably one of the most picturesque areas in New Zealand. It has a multitude of walking and biking tracks, if that’s your thing. And biking is a thing for my in-laws and me (to a lesser extent). Or, maybe I should rephrase that to the less brave. I was down here almost two years back with Kerry, to ride part of three tracks: the Rail Trail, The Roxburgh Gorge and The Dunstan Track, some of which we were about to repeat, but rather differently as it turned out. That’s me above, on the Roxburgh Gorge Trail last week.
Keeping a promise
Some months back, when writing about my newly published short story collection, l promised to post any good reviews. I did receive a very good one last month, but it was in a newspaper and difficult to copy clearly. However, much to my surprise, another very positive review appeared last Friday in a website Booklovers. Chris Reed reviewed the collection, and what he said brought tears to my eyes – of joy. So, I would love to write about something joyous, when often there seems little to be joyous about (I’m talking World News here). I had to trim the page for a screen shot, but have included the link for the full read below.
The Last Post (on life studies)
Nine weeks of life-drawing sessions have gone by in a flash and mostly my experiences were happy ones. I had hoped that we would repeat the charcoal (outside in) method of shaping the figure (see August 4 post), but no. I’m showing a few sketches I quite like from the last two classes. There are always reservations to what could have been done better, or differently, and the five images below show different mediums and time taken for various poses.
This seated pose came after a raft of fast ink sketches using a thick brush on newsprint, which I DO NOT enjoy doing. I was pleased when the longer poses came, and I switched to a lovely cream 140g Hahnemuhle paper, which works well with many drawing mediums and handles a light wash well.
If at first you don’t succeed …
I am talking about art classes and my sketches again. The previous week, I didn’t enjoy sketching using a paintbrush loaded with black ink on A1 sheets of newsprint.
I had, in the past only used paint with a brush that size on board, or heavy paper. Normally I would have sketched using a dry-brush effect. But that day, and many sheets of newsprint later, I knew that the combination of thick brush, ink and heavy application didn’t like me. Or, maybe it was me that was thick?
This week, we had the same model. Fortunately we began with charcoal. Ye ha! As stated before, I think charcoal works well on newsprint and its ease of use is perfect for fast poses. In fact, it glides across the page.
Better luck today I thought.
I love the way you can move charcoal on the paper, and get very grubby fingertips in the process. It helps that we were using large easels and A1 paper, as it gives the arm room to move fast to catch the pose. It’s important to gauge the shape of the model and the spaces created with the pose. For example; the triangular shape between the stride, and the negative spaces created around the figure too. Using the paper’s edge as a guideline helps, as you visually judge the distance between the shape and the straight edges. Then it’s look/sketch/look/sketch… until the time is up.
It was suggested we lie our charcoal stick on its side for the next sketches, and I did attempt one of two with varying degrees of success. But that is to be expected, when the pace is fast and you are presented with doing something in a different way from usual.
It is my natural inclination to sketch line before moulding the figure, and these were a combination of the two.
I didn’t think you needed to see the bottom half of the page. Nor the drawing which followed, where the proportions were off.
And then, it was into line again!
Gosh, I was spinning, as next we were onto ink sketches, using our implement of choice for a fifteen minute pose. Ha!I I chose my trusty pen with a long refill cartridge and sketched wildly. I decided to add colour wash near the end and duly applied it with a size 7 brush. Oh no. I hadn’t realised I had the soluble ink refill in my pen, so I quickly left that sketch alone, knowing I could work on it at home. Onto another fast pose to get at least one ink sketch done…
I like using this ink, if I’ve remembered it’s in the pen! The line is more forgiving, as it is made movable by the water brushed on. The water does need to be used sparingly for best results.
All in all I had a very enjoyable morning. Next week, I hope we’ll get to use some colour again, as it is the penultimate life drawing session.
Back to the written word
The heading is a double entendre, I believe, although I didn’t realise the link until later. After viewing the sketches from last week’s art class, there was no way I was going to advertise them, and with my novel now back on track, I thought a post about its progress might be more inspiring than looking at the worst drawings I have done in some time. The old learning curve at work again! However, I am pleased to be making progress on the novel, coming on the heels of readers’ praise for my recent short story collection.
Another life drawing experience
Wednesday was art class day, and I really should have stayed home. Not because I did bad work, which was surprising as I’d hurt my back and felt very under par. But, since I had been enjoying the classes so much, I headed down to the ferry at 9am. It was on time, which meant I could easily make the early bus from the waterfront up to the art school. That bus never came, and I arrived late to class. The studio door was shut and a notice said KNOCK BEFORE ENTERING. My tutor greeted me grumpily, and then, I needed his help to erect the large easel (grovel, grovel). It took me ages, to collect paper, peg it to the board, and get out my drawing gear, which meant there were just a few seconds left to sketch the first pose. “Try and capture the model’s emotion,” the tutor said. I think I captured my own splendidly.
I used willow charcoal stick here.
Life Class Week Two
This week, the group were asked to focus on line rather than form for the quick sketches. I was working on A1 newsprint, pinned to board on a painting easel. This was a rather different approach from the previous class, where I sat straddled on a wooden artist’s Donkey. In that situation I could rest my arm when I chose. With all the poses for this week’s work, I was standing, using the arm and fingers stretched and moving the mediums quickly on the page. The first sketch is in the middle, superimposed by the blue pastel sketch, and last, the pencil sketch of the seated model. We did several more quick poses, using charcoal until the break.
Back to class!
Today I began my first Life Drawing class for some time: one of nine. I guessed that I’d be somewhat rusty; but when the stick charcoal began to side across the newsprint paper, I was in my happy place. I have always loved sketching the human form, and with a very good model it is about as good as it gets. This morning I chose a ‘Donkey’ bench to use, which for the non-arty is a narrow bench, with a stand at one end where aboard rests, and where one clips on paper to use. The user sits astride. Mm, some years have passed since this was may preferred seat for such sketching purposes. Next time, I’ll grab an easel to stand at, and have a Donkey nearby as back-up.
Our tutor guided what mediums we should use for the session, and was I pleased he’d selected stick (willow) charcoal for most of the poses. Charcoal is my favourite drawing medium when it comes to figure studies, and I was pretty happy with these first quick sketches after some absence from the drawing board. Several years back, figure drawing, tutoring and exhibiting was almost a full-time occupation for me. I used to engage models when readying for an exhibition, and grew to know just how vital the connection between model and artist is, to have a successful association. This takes in the models’comfort, giving the model space, and ensuring plenty of breaks throughout. The model needs to feel part of the group, to be shown respect, and not be left feeling ‘it is just a job’. Without the model there would be no life drawing – and for one, I wouldn’t be happy with that scenario.
I am posting just two sketches today, as I have yet to pack my bag for a trip to Christchurch to spend time with my sister. Don’t worry, I’ll be back in time for my class next week, and I shall be posting each week, all going well. I’ll mix the media up over the weeks, and that will be fun. Until then, stay well and keep posting. Vivienne.
Two weeks ago I took myself to see the film Caravaggio: The Soul and the Blood, which was part of the Italian film festival showing in our local cinema. I am a big fan of Caravaggio, and three works in particular, which appear in the movie. To think that I almost missed seeing these works in the flesh when visiting Rome some years back. The accidental way this came about is quite funny, I think, and why I’m reposting the story I wrote in 2018 about this experience.
The sketch that almost wasn’t.
Before I got caught up in the book hype, I had begun a sketch of two granddaughters that I wished to give as a gift. Luckily I had planned this well in advance of the birthday for the intended recipient. This sketch, like his birthday, is a surprise, but by the time this post goes out, my son should know that his parents and sister from New Zealand are part of that surprise. We have waited two and a half years to get back to Melbourne, and as you read this, that’s where we’ll be, celebrating my son’s birthday. But, back to the sketch… This is the initial sketch of the two girls, where I messed up the younger child. Soon after I started a second sketch of the girls. But instead of completing it quickly, I kept drawing a little then leaving it alone.
Hundertwasser in New Zealand
Most art lovers will already know of Hundertwasser (1928-2000), an Austrian artist who lived in Vienna for many years of his life, and many will have visited the Hundertwasser House and museum opened in Vienna in the 1980s. But fewer will know of his link to New Zealand. In 1973 he travelled to New Zealand for the first time at the invitation of the Auckland City Art Gallery, where Hertha Dabbert had organised a travelling exhibition of his works. He visited the Bay of Islands during this time, and was so affected by the area that he returned a few years later and bought a farm. An impassioned environmentalist, he lived simply, off the grid if he could, returning from trips abroad, planting thousands of trees, establishing solar systems, and recycling as much material as he was able.
I may be able to write about more than books soon!
Saturday evening was the local launch of my recently released book Pocket Money and Other Stories. As this is the only decent photo taken on the evening, I can’t show you the audience listening to my readings, or me signing my books for the said people, so you’ll just have to take my word that the event occurred. It took place in the Devonport Returned Services Association rooms, in case you’re wondering about the Commonwealth flags and the photograph of HRH Queen Elizabeth 2nd on the wall behind me. On reflection, I was pleased that my first reading included mention of the grandfather who’d been killed during WW1, as it befitted my surroundings. A great venue for introducing my book to local people.
On the shelves!
Well, I had wanted to write all about my trip to the Hundertwasser Art centre I visited recently, but something caught my eye in my local bookstore. My book on the shelves already, which was sooner than I expected it to be! So, people, another blog about my jolly book. Or rather the bits and pieces which go into publicly announcing it on New Zealand media which is on-going. Reviews can take ages to come out, so I was told today, and I won’t always know when that will appear in the media. Do I need to have someone who will read the daily papers and check whether one story which was selected for an on-line source has occurred? It would be terrible to miss the very opportunities that might make me even a little bit famous.
Honestly, I have been so busy, filling out Q & A requests from media, taking calls from my publicist and mulling over all of this during the night when I’m supposed to be asleep! Tomorrow I am going to be pre-recorded for a national radio arts show, and have been checking through the salient points that I am most likely to be asked. I am actually not as anxious as I may sound, and think that the twenty minute interview will go well. I have listened to Lynn Freeman’s interviews many times on her Standing Room Only show, and she does have a nice approach, and comes across as well informed. Not being live, makes it easier, so I guess if there too many mumblings and um’s on my part, they can be edited.
Time for a lie-down.
The (frustrating) last lap…
Although Pocket Money & Other Stories won’t be released until June, at least the marketing is getting underway. It has been rather strange, sitting back, and letting the publicist take over the reins. With the last book, in 2020, I did all the marketing and promotional work, and over the past few weeks I’ve basically been fluffing around. But this week, I decided I must secure a venue for the June launch. One place had been mucking me about, and so, I visited a couple of others, which were unsuitable, and then? I found a very convenient venue, just down the road from my apartment. And now, I need to put the invitations and posters together, and get them ‘out there’.
The last from the back of the cupboard.
Yes, a continuation of the sea creatures I illustrated for the Save Our Seas book I wrote about three posts back. To recap, I was asked to sketch cartoon characters, paint small scenes, draw a myriad of sea creatures, and a few coastal scenes.I have chosen not to put all the remaining images in here, as it would make the post too long, but I hope you like the cross-section of artwork I’ve selected for this one.
Meanderings and accidental photos
Last week I took a short break to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, and my old home town. I went specifically to stay with a friend I’ve known most of my life, and now that she lives alone, I try and visit often. Jayne is Wellington-born like me and lives in an apartment high up on The Terrace which affords marvellous views out over the harbour. It’s a great place to see the breadth of changing cloud with each shift of the weather, and I could spend hours watching its passing moods.
More from the back of the cupboard
This week thought I’d show you some illustrations from the other book I mentioned last week – Eco-Rangers Save The Planet: Earth-friendly missions for green kiwis, written by children’s author Maria Gill. This book is A5 size, and could be slipped into a back pocket. It’s full of ways young people can think about the their environment and finds ways to keep it healthy. I was asked to draw the two main characters first, and make the boy and girl a bit funky. The book was aimed at young teens, so I looked through a great Taschen book on recent illustrations to get an idea of styles. My work would be grades of back on white, with green and blue being the background print colours.
From the back of a cupboard …
Some years back, and before writing took hold of me, I illustrated several children books. One was Save Our Seas, by author Maria Gill, who tells a story about the marine environment in New Zealand, based on logbooks from Sir Peter Blake’s New Zealand voyages. I was especially pleased to be asked to illustrate this book, as I love wildlife. And I had around fifty separate illustrations to do.
A book cover and an unfinished sketch
I did start a sketch for this blog, but it seemed some weird force was against me completing it. I knew that sketching two people, as opposed to one for a portrait was difficult (as I have completed several like this in the past), but I was keen to sketch this image of my granddaughters together. And, guess what? I have one looking fine, my proportions spot on, but the younger girl? I just couldn’t get her right. But, I haven’t given up on that project, yet.
It won’t be long before the book comes out but…
I’m really happy to report that my book is now at the printers; I have managed a couple of days doing absolutely nothing except walking and being a slothful version of myself. Oh yes, there was the slightly stressful ‘having my photo taken’ exercise for publicity purposes. I had an idea of how I’d like the scene to be, but do not like having my picture taken. Thanks to my photographer daughter, who knows just what to say to relax the shoulders and get that grim mouth show a slight smile, worked her magic. I really do like the end result. Thank you Lara.
It’s been a while since I sketched
I have wanted to do some sketching for weeks, but my time has been taken up with producing my new book. I am so pleased to report that all the components of the short story collection are with the printers now, and most of the hard slog is over – until the promotion begins. Yesterday I knew I must have a break, and drawing has always been a great antidote for me, whatever is causing the stress. And so, I began a portrait of a dear friend, to whom I had promised the drawing several weeks ago.
Elizabeth and I met at High School, and have been friends ever since, and I am very pleased to be telling you about her recipe book Capers, not just because she is an exceptional cook, but because this recipe book is different from the usual. It is a kind of memoir, with each recipe marking a particular time, and meals shared with family and friends, in settings that span the globe.
She writes so well. For example, when describing the ‘casually impressive starter’, Bruschetta, Red Peppers and Cannellini Beans, as ‘Minimal, like a Paul Klee painting, with clean flavours and interesting textures’. We follow Elizabeth as she takes us to Jerusalem, and we walk down Salah al-Din Street to Damascus Gate where the village women gather with their wares and we breath in the fresh scents of mint, basil, tomatoes, cardamom… Yum.
That’s just the first recipe. With a story on one page and the recipe nearby, I turned the pages, enjoying the stories and the recipes created from my friend’s memories. In one, she observes her mother gorgeously dressed for a special party, holding aloft a tray of Choux savouries, her skirt, a field of poppies swirling. I’ve never made Choux savouries, but now I shall – using Elizabeth’s recipe, of course.
Why does it have to be so hard?
The reasons I haven’t been posting are not because I was away on another sojourn enjoying the sights, quite the opposite. I wrote a post some weeks back (Sept) about the time it takes in this writing lark to hear back from people. In that post I wrote that I had sent off a pitch to an agent regarding my short story collection. I waited the 6 – 7weeks indicated when I should have heard back. Seven weeks turned into twelve and I decided to chase this up. No response. Last week (16 weeks from original submission), I wrote a longer message. A reply, saying: “Oh, so sorry, your work must have been sent to So and So’s scam folder and been deleted, for all the work from that month has been seen to, and your file is nowhere to be found.” And then the bit that said – “sorry about this, you can resend if you wish, but we understand if you want to send it elsewhere.”
The reason I haven’t posted recently is, that I had an unexpected road trip to Wellington with my daughter. She was filming in the city for a couple of weeks, so, I arranged to stay with my friend Jayne for a week. ‘Have you been to Somes Island?’ she asked me that first night, as we talked about what we’d like to do, or see. I originally came from Wellington and worked in the city when young, travelling from the Hutt Valley by train, which skirted the harbour and I came to know Somes Island well. In those days Matiu/Somes was known as a quarantine island. Day-trippers were unheard of, and its status only changed in recent years. The weather was hot and clear when I arrived at my friend’s, but wild winds and brooding skies blew in, and plans quickly changed.
The Christmas Doll
Funny, just when I thought I had nothing to post, I turned my head and saw Rosemary sitting in the corner of my study, my ‘walkie talkie’ doll from childhood. I met Rosemary on a Christmas morning when I was six years old. My sister also received a doll, but there was something different about our parcels. Mine had a note pinned on. It read something like this. “Dear Vivienne, I have an apology, but on the way over one of my reindeer stood on your dolly, and now its ‘Mama’ doesn’t work. I know your parents will have it fixed as soon as they can. My best wishes, Father Christmas.” My reaction?
A very short Christmas message and a weird photograph.
We are in the unique position here in New Zealand of Christmas arriving a day before many other countries in the world. Tomorrow will be Christmas Eve here, and it will be a busy day, so today is my chosen day to forward my good wishes to you all, as I haven’t managed to write the post I had intended. I found this photo of myself, decorated as a Christmas ‘something’. It was taken while I was in Japan, by my lovely arty friend who made these wonderful adornments / ornaments. I remember sending the photo to my daughter who was living in New York at the time. I’m sure she laughed a lot when she saw it, because I certainly did when I viewed the image again the other day. What was I thinking??
To all you lovely WordPress bloggers, and friends. I would like to wish you the very best for the end of a year that has been pretty chaotic for so many. May you enjoy family, friends and good company this Christmas.
New Year Usa, Japan 2002
I met Mutsuko in Nakatsu. She wasn’t part of the art group I wrote about in my last post, but she was an artist all the same. She was years younger than me but we connected right from the start through our love of travel and art. Her family home was in Usa, just a few kilometres from Nakatsu, and I visited often. Mutsuko was a teacher of English, but loved teaching me Japanese. Our classes were weekly, but often shorter than planned as she liked to show me the sights in her wee Toyota. I was introduced to her family, as well as the Sagara family whose girls she taught. And when my husband came to visit, he got to meet them all too. It truly was a special time.
Back to Japan: Nakatsu 2001
I first lived in Nakatsu, in Kyushu Japan, arriving in August 2001. It was a freezing day when I left New Zealand and a sweltering one when I touched down in Japan. On the train down from Osaka, sweat pooled in my boots, after I’d removed my woollen socks to supposedly help cool me down. I was met off the train and taken to my apartment, a short walk away. Everything was close in this old castle town. Some might have called it ‘sleepy’, but I found it a perfect place for finding friends and cycling around.Continue reading
Looking Back: Tuesday 21 May 2002
As we will not to be able to travel widely for some time, this week I have been looking at some mementos to sketch from the times I have been able to travel overseas. I have sketched many items I’ve brought home from places visited in the past, so I needed to find one I had overlooked. Ah ha! The chosen one is a very old (and rather grubby) fabric doll I bought in Japan, when living and teaching in Nara, several years ago. It was a special time, as an old friend from New Zealand had come to stay for a week or so, and we enjoyed tripping about when I had time off work.
Adrienne was a great planner, and this day we were going into Nara from Ikoma (20 minute train ride) then a bus (a stop and start hour), to take us to Hōryū ji, the oldest surviving wooden complex of its type in Japan, founded by Prince Shōtoko in 670. It did have a nasty mishap around that time when it was seriously damaged by lightning. Fortunately the central buildings were reconstructed, some 1,300 or so years back. The kondō (main hall) is recognised as the world’s oldest wooden building. In 1993 the complex was recognised as Japan’s first UNESCO World heritage site under ‘Buddhist Monuments’ in the Hōryū-ji area, and we felt most fortunate to visit such a large and illustrious site.
The continuing Pōhutukawa story
This post has been too long in the making, as I got swept away with novel writing – again. Not that I am personally sorry about adding to that storyline, but regret I didn’t continue the sketching theme of my last pōhutukawa post sooner. The plan changed slightly too, when I finally got around to sketching the pōhutukawa buds, which were pale green with a fluffy outer, yet tightly bunched, when I photographed them. They have since undergone a dramatic transformation.
The Time It Takes
When others discovered I wrote, I was asked many questions beginning with W. When? Why? What? and Why? again. The last why was because I had always been known as an artist, and friends couldn’t understand the shift. I don’t think any of them would have understood that it had started as a game. I was teaching English in Japan, spending a lot of free time on my own and reading a lot of fiction. One evening, I wondered if I was capable of dreaming up a plot for a novel. Well, that was twenty years ago, and the answer is ‘yes’. I have been writing fiction ever since and absolutely love it! But some days, I don’t wonder why I started, but why I continue, as it all takes so long.
The nuance of line
This week I shall show you why it is best to use a knife, not a sharpener for your drawing pencils. I shall use our native pōhutukawa tree for my first example, as they grow in abundance here in Devonport. They love living by the coast (who doesn’t?). But seeing it is too early for their famed scarlet flowers, I’ll show you the branches and bark instead. I went walking yesterday, and took close-up images of some lengthy limbs, as thought these would be great for me to sketch, and show you what I mean by the nuance of line created by one pencil.
The meaning of pencils
I love sharpening pencils, as it reminds me of sitting on the back step as a child, and watching how my father sharpened pencils – always using a knife. He was never without a pencil, which he kept behind one ear, whether for jotting down sales in his bookshop, or sketching a scene for painting. ‘A sharpener doesn’t give nuance to the lead’, he told me, and I only discovered the value of this statement when I became an artist much later in my life.
Why do you stop reading a book?
Recently I struggled to finish a newly published book of short stories, which surprised me, as it had received reasonable reviews. The storylines were okay, but weren’t dynamic, and the characters didn’t draw me in. I just didn’t like all twenty of the stories, apart from one.
I was bewailing my dislike of this book to a writing friend, who told me I’d love Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories, and lent it to me.
O Christmas tree …
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
A little more about the writing side of life
Three weeks ago I was asked to speak alongside author Caroline Barron, at the Auckland branch of New Zealand Society of Authors meeting. I was intending to write a short post on this earlier, but life, again, got in the way. Last week I was frantically writing as much on my novel as possible before visitors arrived, which meant I neglected everything else. And then, this week came around, and suddenly it was ‘all hands on deck’ to clear out our bedrooms as new carpet was due to be laid Thursday. The bedrooms are clean and vacated and the rest of the apartment looks a mess!
Now, here I am finding time to write a few words about the talk I mentioned at the start. Caroline Barron and I have written both memoir and adult fiction, and were asked questions by the chair Maria Gill, as a joint interview, about the similarities and differences in how we approached the process of writing in each of these genres. Maria, posed interesting questions, such as: What’s the relationship between honesty and good storytelling? Often Caroline and I said virtually the same thing, swapping the mic from one to the other to say our piece. With this question, I said “Honesty for me was being authentic; staying true to the ‘character’ in the memoir and presenting facts accurately.” This then led to the discussion of how important research is writing in either genre. We both agreed that research was essential for both.
We were asked if there were differences in the way we structured each form. I start with a timeline, which places scenes, or ‘happenings’ along the line, with the year each takes place. Another question was, how do you approach the task of deciding what to include or leave out in your memoirs or novels? And the ethical implications of writing about real people. With my memoir, I began the narration from the time I could recall events vividly, and ended with the death of the main subject. I stayed as true to all the main characters as was possible, and fiddled more with what occurred when. Again, research is required, such as; what politician was in power, what songs and programmes were popular. Plus the games, foods, sweets…
When writing about real people in memoir, it is necessary to let them know that you are writing something which may include them, but to soften this somewhat, I fictionalised the names of all my characters in the book. My family, which were the main group in my memoir, knew that the children were based on them. I had only two siblings to deal with here, and they were comfortable with my decisions (I believe), as I consulted them throughout. With fiction, I have sometimes based a character on someone I have observed, not actually known, whose characteristics, physicality, hair style or demeanour has taken my attention. But again, the characters; the setting and details of place need to be authentic, down to their mannerisms, quirks, speech patterns, etc. There’s that word again and one I can’t emphasis enough when it comes to writing interesting work which will capture a readers imagination.
It was great to speak alongside Caroline Barron that night. The audience liked what we had to say too; even saying it was a ‘stimulating’ session. Thanks Maria for asking us along.