Monday, May 06, 2024

The Painted Orchestra

New book! 
The Painted Orchestra tells the story of an artist’s journey paintings musicians from Sydney to Maribor, Slovenia, to Wellington, New Zealand. 

It is full to the brim with illustrations showing how sketches translate into portraits. Read more about it: 

Tuesday, April 30, 2024


Early morning on the day after full moon I looked back during my morning walk and saw the moon balancing on the pole behind me. 

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Season's Greetings and Courage to you

It doesn't seem fitting to wish anyone merry at the moment, despite the season. I wish you peace and fulfillment and the courage to carry on in the face of a difficult world.  

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Aotearoa New Zealand Watercolour Journey

Last month I posted about my New Zealand Sketchbook.  I made it primarily for my European friends, none of whom had been to my homeland, but when I received my copy I was disappointed with it, because although it was for my friends, there was nothing personal in it. I had included information about each place I had painted, but it seemed bland without the personal touch. 

So I decided to have another try and added personal information about why I was in the place I was painting and with whom. The paintings are the same but this time there is a story accompanying the pictures.  I posted copies to my EU friends and they tell me the personal stories made the book special for them. 
Perhaps even tourists wanting a momento of their travels would prefer the Watercolour Journey version as well, I'm not sure. 

It's available through your local online bookseller or through Amazon.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Life drawing in 2002

A 2002 story from my pre-blog days: 

Community art courses are/were held in Grafton for a week every year and in 2002 a Life Drawing course was advertised as 'not for beginners'. I had been attending a Sunday life drawing group for some years and had already done the watercolour courses on offer, so I registered. 

Normally you have a single model for life drawing but we had an extraordinary couple, man and wife, who had were able to hold poses for long periods.  In the breaks they did stretching exercises and yoga to help their weary muscles. 

Our teacher was the gifted Michael Taylor, originally from the UK but by then living in northern NSW. 
I soon discovered why the class had been advertised as not forbeginners. The participants were experienced and committed. They worked like Trojans from the beginning, getting to the class early to set up their gear and working until late before retiring exhausted to the pub. I had never attended a class like it. We all knew that having two models who could maintain poses over long periods was a seldom gift. 

Michael started gently each morning with poetry, easing us into the day.  We worked mainly in pastel and charcoal on paper. Once I got my hand in, by about day three, I changed to watercolour. 
'Oh yes, use what you prefer,' said Michael.

I was staying in an old wooden hotel in town, one of those two storied period buidings with a veranda around the top floor. Early each morning I would take my cup of tea out onto the veranda and sit outside for a while preparing for the day. As the days went by I was joined for a chat by Michael who happened to be staying at the same hotel. I discovered a charming and thoughtful man. 

One morning late in the course Michael asked me if I had noticed anything about the work being produced. The 15 participants were all women as I recall, and they were producing very diverse work. We did a 'show and tell' each day, turning our easels towards the centre so we could discuss the work as a group with Michael providing commentary, nudging us into broadening our scope. I couldn't think of anything that stood out about the work. 

'Well, have a look today and you will see that only you and one other participant are producing work that is not aggressive,' said Michael. 

I had heard one participant complaining that her drawings always looked as if the man was raping the woman but I hadn't thought much about it. That day I looked with fresh eyes and discovered Michael's observation was correct. A distinct feeling of threat was a common thread amongst  the flailing arms and legs. Our models were unfailingly gentle with each other and seeing the drawings through this new lens was thought provoking.

By day five I was using full sheets of paper, 56 X 76 cm. Doing life drawings in watercolour is rewarding but difficult because you can't change anything so you have to get it right the first time. Using a large format increases the pressure because the paper is made from 100 percent cotton and is expensive. By the time the course finished I was exhausted. 

I drove away tired, thoughtful and elated, with lots of work packed in the back of the car. Most of it has been discarded over the years, but I hung a large picture of the backs of our two standing models which I thought successful and which reminded me of those five rewarding days.  
I put a couple of front views into storage to work on 'some day'. They seemed dominated by explicit male genitalia and I wasn't sure what I'd do with them but last weekend when the world seemed even more than usually crazy and I needed a break from social media, I remembered them and finally retrieved them from the folder in the garage. 

I made a beach scene out of them, splashing blue with abandon and collaging one of the figures in twice. It was a good distraction, though I'm not sure about the final result. Anyway, I put it in a frame so when I next retrieve it from the garage I can view it with a dispassionate eye and decide if it is worth keeping. 
In the meantime I am considering adding some blue to the picture I particularly like, but I'd be more careful with that one. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

New Zealand Sketchbook

Woo hoo, new book out! 

If I haven't blogged for a while it's because I've been busy creating this book, watercolours from the North to the South of New Zealand, from north of Auckland to the South of Dunedin via some unlikely painting spots such as Turangi and Castlepoint. 

Some information about the places I painted has been added to give the paintings context. 
The Rangitikei features strongly as I have visited so often.  On my visits to her place my mother would lend me her car and insist I went off painting. It was a very fruitful time. 
Available from Amazon at the moment but eventually from your local online store. 

Friday, June 02, 2023

Roses on winter's second day

Lioness, the rose I bought last year, has  produced a last flower before winter dormancy.   She has not flowered a lot, but the flowers she has produced are beautiful and they last wonderfully well in a vase. 

Yesterday the climbing roses I ordered in March arrived. Last year I was too late ordering and all the climbing roses adapted to more tropical climates were sold out. I am obviously not the only person trying to grow roses in a less than ideal environment. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Tackling climate change

NSW had elections last weekend. The vote has not been completely finalised but there has been a change of government. Labor has the most seats,  replacing the Liberal/National coalition. However Labor does not have enough seats to form majority government, most likely falling one or two seats short. 

They will be relying on the Greens (3) and Independents (7) to get their legislation passed, a result that will please everyone concerned with climate change as Labor has difficulty divorcing itself from its fossil fuel friends. 

Above: Go the Greens! Acrylic on Canvas. 

Monday, March 06, 2023

Changing colours

Roses don't last long in Sydney's hot humid  weather so I've been picking them when they flower and  painting small canvases of roses in vases. I've discovered that some varieties that are lovely in the garden or a vase don't look so good in a painting. 
One of my roses is called Afrikaans (above). It is hot orange and lights up the garden when it is in flower. A few weeks ago I put Afrikaans in a vase with a lemony rose called Sunny Skies and painted the pair. I found the resulting painting somewhat garish and last night when I was heading off to sleep my irritation with the painting got the better of me. I took it off the wall, picked up tubes of Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna and painted out the orange. Then I added ochre to the lemony Sunny Skies as well. I put it aside to dry and went to bed. 

I've just retrieved the painting and I like the result. If I'm going to paint Akrikaans in future I will have to choose its surrounds more carefully. 

Friday, March 03, 2023

Window sills of memories

Bathroom shelves are often a place where we keep collected memories. A friend just posted a picture of her bathroom window sill with collection of shells, stones with markings, dried flowers and a painting. 

In response I've just take a photos of my bathroom shelf. It is up high and has a collection of glass objects collected over the years that look best with light behind them. Each reminds me of a person or place, all except the first item on the left which is a small dark blue glass bottle that I find hard to throw away because it is so pretty. 
These glass bottles are still sold by the German organic cosmetics company Weleda filled with various lotions and potions. Next to it is a silver and green koru stuck in a piece of pumice made by friend and artist Jo who lives in Dunedin; a coloured glass bottle with stopper bought in Hamburg; a glass squirrel with nut that I bought my mother from a glassworks in Belgium when I lived there 50 (!) years ago; a little bottle of shells that actually belongs to my youngest grandchild; a glass stand with lighthouse which used to be part of a candle holder bought in Hamburg-Rissen, home of the Rissen lighthouse on the River Elbe. 

Then there is a little green scent bottle with old paper lable and firmly-stuck stopper. It belonged to my mother. Next is a ceramic bird-whistle bought from a craftsman in Maribor, Slovenia. You fill it with water, blow in it and suddenly the air is full of bird chirping. Then there is a piece of glass from a Napier NZ artist given me by my elder sister and a little bottle found on the beach in Umina by my son's ex-girlfriend which is propping up a colourful kimono bookmark given me by my younger sister. 

I'm sure my friend and I are among many people with bathroom window sills full of memories. I love mine. 

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Plum jam

My lovely local organic grocery supplier had a special this week. With every box of mixed veges/fruit (that they chose) they'd include a free kilo of plums. I ordered the box. It included about 15 different veges/fruit, but luckily no capsicum which I've read is in short supply and which is about the only vegetable I can't eat. (Thank you Doorstep Organics.)

This morning I made plum jam, my favourite, and as I bottled it I thought of my mother. I was using the same recipe book she would have used, published by the manufacturers of Edmonds Baking Powder. I have a German recipe book also published by a baking powder maker, Dr Oetker, so I assume recipe books were a good advertising tool in years gone by. 

Anyway, the recipe book said to use 6lb of plums and as I bottled I thought of how my mother's generation must have had very large preserving pots to make such quantities. I had half the amount and made more than 7 jars of jam. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

#Robodebt Royal Commission

It has been heartbreaking watching the livestream of the Royal Commission into the 'Robodebt" today. I knew the system was bad, but I had no idea it was intentionally defective. 

Robodebt was/is the system dreamed up by the recent LNP government to recover money from people they accused of committing 'welfare fraud'. They 'streamlined' the process by automating it and removing client service officers from the information collection process. Problem was, the system assumed income was earned all year when clients typically had patchy employment records. 

The result was that debt letters were sent to a great many people who had no debt at all. Not only were they sent letters saying they had $3,000 or $30,000 debt but the letters were threatening, written on AFP (Australian Federal Police) letter head, with  no telephone number which would allow people to ring and query. Many people didn't respond to the letters, either because  people had sent all their records to Centrelink and assumed they would be ok, or for example because they didn't understand the letters or had no access to computers to check records online. A ' no response' would result in more threatening letters and calls from debt collectors who were sent to collect these 'debts'. With such a vulnerable population it is no surprise that recipients suicided when they saw no way out. 

Minister Tudge was being examined today and it is clear that the government was focused on kicking the opposition (by showing they had never followed up 'welfare cheats') they didn't care who was trampled in the process.

Today we heard of a case of a young woman who had left her job because of workplace bullying. She had given correct records to Centrelink but she was issued a debt and even though she rang them, staff were forbidden to look up customer records. She couldn't win.  The system issued another debt letter even though she was identified on the system as vulnerable. She suicided. 

Tudge, a trained lawyer himself, seemed unconcerned by this heartbreaking evidence, only interested in shifting the blame and puffing his chest. 

Such a Kafkaesque system could only operate in an atmosphere where the bosses believe all welfare recipients are cheats. 

I'd put them all in prison for involuntary manslaughter. Let then strutt and blame-shift behind bars.  

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Floods, fires, climate responses.

Our Sydney weatherman loves records and our weather is providing him with plenty to talk about. In late 2022 it was all about rain, how much we've had and how much was still coming.  Now he is talking about temperature and the fact that it is a long time, 140 years, since Sydney, the part of Sydney on the seaboard at least, has had such a long run of below 30⁰C days. Our summer has been very variable so far but also unseasonably cool. Yesterday the run of cool days was broken with a hot humid day, but barely over 30⁰. A cool change and rain deluge swept in from the south last night and today is a moist 23⁰C. 

La Niña is expected to ease over summer but the thought of El Niño doesn't bring much joy. The bushfires in 2019/20 are still vivid in our memories and now we know that their increased ferocity makes it impossible for people to stay and defend their homes we are not nearly as sanguine. 

Floods, fire and our industry-captured governments continue to approve new gas exploration and forest-felling licences while legislating more draconian punishments for people who protest them. Perhaps the only way for the population to save themselves will be to drop tools and simply sit down on the streets, Mahatma Gandhi fashion. 

Monday, December 05, 2022

Painting on board

I have my easel out again after a winter hiatus. This board with sketch of cellist has been waiting patiently since autumn. 

I've only tried painting on board instead of canvas once and it resulted in many over paintings. I'm not sure if it was the beach scene or the board that was the problem, but I will find out with my cellist. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Spring abundance

My garden gets ever more colourful as Spring progresses. It is full of self seeded butterfly flowers and poppies and the cuttings of all the other plants have grown as well so there is a spring abundance. I planted some kale in the middle of all this but I had to harvest it early as it was suddenly full of caterpillars. There was probably not enough air circulation amongst the masses of flowering plamts. 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

COVID ups and downs

My blog has had few posts since Covid  made travel difficult but I just read my post from November last year and realised that I should be post a bit more often, if just to help remember our  progress through this pandemic. Also, Musk has just bought twitter, so who knows what happens to that site if he fires as many people as he has threatened to do. We may all return to blogging.

Australia is at the end of a Covid wave but as the epidemiologist Prof Crab points out, the baseline prevalence of virus is still high. There is a lot out there so I am not the only one with friends suddenly sick. 

In the meantime people are adapting. I bought an air purifier when a trip to the dentist became unavoidable but the reaction of the dental assistant (not the dentist) was to mock me. I went back for a second appointment this week and there was no hint of mocking, so either they have decided they will lose customers if they mock them or they have become better informed. I imagine it is the former because you have to seek out Covid information if you want to know it's prevalence. 

It is extraordinary how we have adapted to a high and continuing death rate and long Covid is not yet getting the attention it deserves. Australia is not dodging it though so one day we will be forced to pay attention to the increasing numbers of Australians who are now too sick to work. Maybe after the coming NSW and Victorian State elections? 

In the meantime spring has sprung and since I have replaced almost all the small lawn patch with flowers, my garden is even more colourful than last year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A visit from the Prince

I have a visitor, a cat called Prince, who was with me while his owner was on holiday for a fortnight and continues to visit while his owner gets rid of a flea infestation. Fleas can last more than a fortnight without a host, and they did. 
Prince is a pretty little animal and very friendly. He is most comfortable when sitting on his human or as near as he can get and is very persistent. Start something on a table (breakfast, painting,sewing) and there he is, wanting to take part. 
I won't be sorry when the flea problem has been dealt with and I can bid a fond farewell to my house guest. 

Friday, October 14, 2022

Sweetpeas, spring 2022

Spring has sprung, though you'd not know it from Sydney temperatures. It is cool and wet, but the sweet peas are happy that there are no hot days to kill them off. These are plants from red and pink seeds I collected last year. I avoid deep maroon flowers as they are barely visible in the garden, but they seem  to predominate in bought seed packets. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Queen's Funeral

I watched the funeral of the Queen on TV yesterday. So much pomp and so many inherited arcane rules but the choreography was wonderful. Not a step out of place in all that ponderous marching. I noticed someone complaining online that there hadn't been a eulogy and that 'it could have been anyone'. I don't think they realised how funny their remark was. 
The chair of the ABC is reported to be a royalist and to have fitted well into the Murdoch newspaper world where she worked for years. I guess the twenty seven (27) ABC reporter in London for the Queen's funeral proves at least the former. I wonder what their brief was though, as the ABC funeral coveral was taken from the BBC.  I was grateful for that, as at least one of the ABC staff has been acting like a swooning teenager in London and I don't think I would have wanted to watch her commentary. The BBC reporter didn't recognise PM Albanese but kept a dignified silence, not like channel 9 reporters mistaking PM Truss for ' Minor royalty'. Oh the pitfalls of live reporting. 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Vale Merran Esson

In memory of Merran Esson who died prematurely last week

When I applied at the National Art School in Sydney in 2010 I was asked to bring work to an interview at the painting department. 
I took my work and showed it to two  interviewing staff who looked very bored and who, after listening to what I had to say, said there weren't any places anyway and they had no idea why I'd been invited. I was dumbfounded but then asked if I could apply for the ceramics department instead. Oh if you want, they said and I went back outside to sit once again in the queue on the benches. Eventually I was asked in to talk to the ceramics staff, one of whom was Merran Esson.  

What a difference. These staff were bright faced, enthusiastic and supportive. They knew of the work of the Dunedin ceramic artist Jim Cooper with whom I had studied at the Otago Art school and invited me to join their student intake. 

I'd really only applied as a way to reintegrate into Sydney life after several years away, but I had a ball in the ceramics department, worked like a beaver and took home all sorts of ceramic objects despite primarily seeing myself as a painter. 

The people in the painting department didn't seem to be very happy, so I was pleased I'd been diverted to the ceramics group. Merran was instrumental in making the department a happy place to be. Thank you Merran. Vale.