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.
I wrote recently of being in a slump, where I wasn’t feeling like writing or sketching. Weeks of Covid Lockdown have done that to me, to some degree. Then one day I felt like continuing the novel I’d deserted, just a few pages in. With any genre of writing, but especially with a longer piece, it is necessary to write then leave it alone for a while, returning with fresh eyes, as one can become too close to the work. I read through those pages, adding something here, and removing something elsewhere. I was happy to be writing again.
If it hadn’t been for Kerry sending me the photo above through to my phone today, it probably wouldn’t occurred to me to write about Van Gogh. The photograph was taken in April this year at the touring Van Gogh Alive exhibition in Auckland. The clever little scene, where I am perched on a chair, is a 3D recreation of Van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles, France. He lived in Arles for little more than a year, yet his output of work from February 1888 until May 1889, was prodigious. Yet this post isn’t just about the famous Dutch artist; quite likely the most well-known artist of our times, but what his paintings conjure; in my memory, and imagination.
While out walking around the mangrove estuary the other day we passed an area which accommodates several of Navy buildings. Devonport has been the Navy’s base for a good deal of years, and this area is just one part of it. It is a tranquil place, settled beside the mangroves and looking across water to a peninsula, and to the harbour bridge to the south. The glare was harsh on the water, when I took this shot, just a few steps on from the navy marae, Te tau Moana marae.(This tab will give you a sample of simple greetings, if you were to introduce yourself in te reo Māori. Example here is from an NZIE meeting at the marae). Kerry and I skirted around the wharenui (large house in the centre of the marae, meeting ground).
We were thrust into level 4 Covid lockdown and I found myself without a book to read, and, libraries were closed. The thought of it! Thank goodness for Gabby, who said she would swap books with me. I put The Midnight Library (recently read) into a wee bag and walked (mask on) the few blocks to her letterbox and popped it inside. That afternoon, she did the same for me, and left The Elegance of the Hedgehog at my front door.
The title was intriguing. The setting was Paris, a favourite city. It didn’t take me long to start reading. Except the ruminating on Marx at the start almost made my head spin. But when the protagonist Renée introduced herself on page 15, I was hooked.
While walking, on the lookout for something I could sketch, I looked no further than the sky. It was both fantastic and rather terrifying, as the brooding clouds looked ready to empty their heavy load on me. So, before the anticipated deluge I took a photo, and continued on my walk, expecting to find myself racing for cover at any moment. Weirdly, those clouds kept on brooding and finally wreaked havoc in the middle of the night. Wind thrashed the trees, streets, and whipped up the sea, but our region was relatively unscathed, fortunately. Not so, further out west where floods drowned cars and wrecked homes and businesses.Continue reading
Usually I am up reasonably early, take off for a walk once I’ve finished my chores, returning refreshed and ready for ‘work’. But, lately, I have been staying in bed longer, reading, not wishing to face the world. I do go out eventually, masked while walking, and steer clear of others coming too close. I look at at the clouds, the sea, and the trees still in blossom, to help lift my spirits like they usually do. But my heart is heavy, as the Delta strain of Covid has hit New Zealand and we are in lockdown again. I miss my family terribly. One week has become two, and I have done little artwork or writing. I knew I had to shake myself out of this slump, and gave myself a little drawing project to complete.
It all began with me couriering an artwork to Melbourne, as three of my son’s planned trips to New Zealand were cancelled through Covid, and I had intended to pass this over to him when he came. The artwork was intended as a gift when they’d finished house renovations, a year or so back, but I have been a bit slack. You see, I had promised him that I’d do an artwork as a house-warming gift. I did get as far as sketching the idea, but then I just didn’t get around to doing it. That dratted procrastination thing again. But, when I spotted a print in an art store window, by an old tutor of mine, I knew it was the perfect present, and I brought it immediately. I packed it securely for travel, and sent it off to Melbourne last Monday, anxious about it surviving the trip. I was thrilled when Duncan phoned to say that it had arrived safely and he and Harriet just loved it. I got to talk with my granddaughters too, which was great, as It has been a long time since I’ve seen any of them. Then, Beatrix the eight year old said, “Can you draw a sloth for me, NaniViv?”
As I shall be in Wellington for the week, I was aware that I’d not find the time to post a comprehensive blog. I thought, I know, I’ll do a sketch, and sorted through photos from my recent trip. Nothing there that beckoned me, but wait? I’d taken a photo some time back of the lovely white orchid which sits on my desk, blooming beautifully. Okay. I quickly uploaded the image and sketched it. Hmm. As I’ve stated many times before, sketches always work best if one keeps up regular practice. I haven’t been sketching lately, in spite of all my promises to do so. Yet, I have decided to show this ‘something’ rather than nothing. I sketched quickly in pencil first, on 140lb, Canson watercolour paper, adding some aquarelle pencil for colour, before grabbing an 0.5 pigment liner to provide a loose outline for the white on white flowers. Perhaps I’ll take my sketchbook with me?? No excuses with some free time up my sleeve… Maybe I’ll find the inspiration I need.
I was thrilled when my brother phoned a few weeks back to ask If I would like a painting of our Dad’s. It is an oil of the Hutt River looking towards the far hills and had hung on various walls of houses my mother had lived in since my father’s early death. When she died ten years ago, the painting came into my brother’s possession, and now, it has found its way to me. There is mention of this painting in my recent book The (almost) True Story of a Man Called Jack.