Sunday, November 29, 2009

Delicacy and Destruction!

Inspired (again) by the wonderful artwork of Rima Staines , I went back to my graphite pencils and produced a little drawing of a strange and mysterious lady.  These drawings are so difficult to photograph, the camera doesn't seem to quite capture the softness or the detail of graphite.  Of course, it could always be the photographer!  This is returning to an old and familiar love for me, graphite and colour pencils were my medium of choice as a child, and if I look through my old high school folio (because of course, I still have it) almost all the work is in pencil.  There is something lovely and delicate about it, and of course, total control...pencil is very forgiving.  I love building up layer upon layer of light strokes, creating different textures and depths of tone.  And very good for teaching patience...something I think I have lost a little.  I'm not sure I could spend weeks and weeks on the same piece as I used to in my school art class.  Another thing about my high school many of the pieces never quite got finished, often a drawing contains a beautifully detailed bottom right-hand corner, and the rest of the page just a vague sketched outline.

So I have been working in tiny, delicate pencil strokes while all the while there were hammerings and bangings and sawings and all manner of loud kaffoofle coming from our bedroom which is having a major make-over in the (mostly) expert hands of my beloved.  An old steel-framed window that faced onto the garage is out and bricked up, and a lovely new jarrah casement window (made by the aforementioned almost-expert) facing the east and the morning sun is in.  Ceiling out and roof-line changed, a new loft bed will go in, and all to be finished by Christmas, he promises me!  We shall see.  But it will be wonderful when it's finished.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Inspired by...

There are so many things that inspire's finding time to create something that's the problem.  So here are a couple of recent(ish) pieces inspired by books I love.  The first is called Greenwitch, inspired by Susan Cooper's book...but also (well, mostly) by the delicious imagery the words themselves generate.  A green silk hat for a green-thumbed witch, with a nice wide brim for keeping the sun off the back of her neck when she's digging in the herb patch.  And me wearing it.  Not that I'm particularly witchy, or green-thumbed (I try) but I do like green.

And then this piece, which is unfinished simply because I didn't quite know where to go from here...always better to put it aside for a while and have a ponder, rather than press on through sheer pig-headedness, especially if it's been going well up to that point.  It was an experiment in a watercoloury (I'm not sure that's actually a word) style, but using diluted acrylics simply because watercolour scares the willies out of me because it's so easy to end up with a muddy mess if you don't know what you're doing.  It's called Blackwoodwife, which is a little odd, but it's because it's inspired by two things.  Firstly, Terri Windling's lovely novel The Wood Wife , which is a favourite of mine.  And secondly, by the stories my mum used to invent when I was small about the faeries who lived near a favourite family camping spot by the Blackwood River, which curls its way through the south west of Western Australia.  So I couldn't decide whether she should be a Black Woodwife...or a Blackwood Wife...or a Black Wood Wife.  So I settled on Blackwoodwife, and will let people make their own distinctions.  I'm still not sure what to do with her though...perhaps some more pondering is needed.

Monday, November 23, 2009

An early morning walk...

It's warming up now, summer is on it's way and I'm becoming enamored of imperfect leaves.  I used to look out for the most perfect I could find, but now it's the slightly tatty ones that I'm drawn to.  It's the colours that do it, when I see one caught in a shaft of morning sunlight and it seems to glow, I just can't help myself and I have to pick it up.  I'm a terrible picker-upper, I spend a lot of my time during walks with my head down, eyes to the leaves, rocks, feathers, or shells and bits of driftwood at the beach, invariably get picked up and brought home.  I was very tempted a couple years ago to bring home a completely dehydrated Leather Jacket (a type of fish, not an article of clothing!) I found on the beach.  My beloved put his foot down on that one, probably just as well, seeing as the previous beach finds, a bunch of sponges that I'd brought home, had somehow been forgotten and spent the next couple of weeks stuck under one of the car seats.  It took him a while to find where the smell was coming from...and a while longer for the smell to dissipate!  So I drew a picture of it instead.  It was rather fun, one of those pieces that you start but you don't know where it's going till you get there.  It began as a series of bits of paper torn from an unmemorable book and glued to a larger sheet, which were then covered in a kind of scribbled journal entry, and then the fish over the top.  On reflection, probably a much better memento to bring home than the fish itself.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Faeries at the bottom of the garden...

When I was quite young, I used to stare very hard at my wardrobe doors, then whip them open as fast as I could, hoping against hope that I might catch a glimpse of that otherworld beyond.  I waited expectantly for my 13th birthday believing against all logical judgement, that something wonderful would happen, that I would discover my TRUE destiny, and I would finally be initiated into the mysteries of some magical land beyond reality as I knew it.  I'm still waiting.  The world of magic and faerytales found me early on and never let go.  My favourite books as a child were the Chronicles of Narnia (of course), Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising  series, and just about anything by Alan Garner, or Rosemary Sutcliffe.  And of course, introduced to me by an art teacher who may well have been part Fae herself, the wonderful, wonderful Faeries  by Alan Lee and Brian Froud.  This book was so popular in my high school library that you had to put in a request form for it, to stop people renewing it over and over again.  As I grew up, I discovered more and more of the fabulous world of myths and legends, reading anything I could find about Celtic mythology in particular, but magic and faery of any brand would do.  At 15 I sat mesmerised through a screening of John Boorman's Excalibur, and to this day, Nicol Williamson is the ONLY Merlin for me.  Listening to a folk music program one evening at age 16, I heard, in its entirety, Robin Williamson's incredible song/poem Five Denials on Merlin's Grave and it has been an enormous influence on me.

Steeped in magic and faery as I was, I always found it odd that other people didn't seem to know the first thing about it.  And rather sad too, because faery stories and myths are the teaching tales of our culture, the life lessons disguised as entertainment to wile away the cold winter evenings, history and anecdotes and important survival information all rolled into one package.  What do they teach in schools these days?!  While a uni student studying literature, I wrote an assignment on John Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci.  I'm not particularly fond of Keats, too flowery for me, but I love the Belle Dame...she seems older, archaic, and somehow more genuine that his other poems.  Picture me in my class, discussing with several fellow students and our tutor, the lore of faery/human interaction, particularly the important rules to follow if you ever meet a faery (which the knight in the poem should have known...I thought).  Specifically the rules about faery food.  Now I thought this was common knowledge, I mean, it's common sense isn't it?  Don't accept lollies from friendly but mysterious strangers?  But no, faced with much head-shaking and eye-rolling, I think they all believed I'd made it up entirely.  So imagine my great relief when a fellow classmate, a friend and fellow faery-aficionado, rushed into the class rather late, flushed and out of breath, books falling out of her hands.  Before the poor girl had time to put down her bag, I pounced.  "What's the MOST important thing to remember if you ever find yourself in Faeryland?!"  She looked at me blankly for a moment, cheeks pink and hair askew...and then caught my drift and answered breathlessly "Don't EVER eat the food or you'll be stuck there forever!"  I'm not sure my classmates were convinced but I felt vindicated anyway.

But it seems that faery today means an animated, Disneyfied version of Tinkerbell and her newly invented friends, backed by a massive merchandising machine.  I want my children (and I have two of them so this is not hypothetical) to know that there are OTHER faeries out there, much more interesting, exciting, and sometimes even scary, but never trite.  And they would NEVER tell you to buy a whole lot of plastic stuff packaged up in pink cardboard (with wire ties that take 3 hours for an adult to disentangle)!  So imagine my delight when I discovered the Chagford Filmmaking Group , a group in the UK engaging with and involving the local community while making films of old fairytales, rescuing them from obscurity and bringing them to a new audience.  For more information, here is a lovely article from the BBC about them.  (and no, I'm not getting a commission, I just think they're doing something great).  I'm looking forward to receiving my copy of their first DVD, and seeing my children discover that the world of Faery is so much more, such a rich and varied world, than Disney cartoons.  Of course, I'm also looking forward to seeing it myself.  And in case you'd forgotten about her, here is the Belle Dame  herself, as I see her.

A curly tree on a windy hill...

A little sketch, a doodle really, in diluted sepia ink.  I'm enjoying the subtlety of this quiet medium.  So much of my work is like an explosion of colour, but every now and then I like to rein it all back in, and keep it delicate and simple and soft.  Perhaps it's those times when I feel inclined to draw within anyway, becoming introspective and focussed on inner workings.  And then cheeky colour comes tap tapping at my door and drags me out into the bright sunshine again.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Does that make me an 'attict'?  One of the advantages of being a hoarder (and there are so many DISadvantages) is that I can think "Hmmm, I seem to remember writing a poem about an attic when I was about 11...well, it must be here somewhere!"  And it was.  And here it is.

Now it makes me smile to see that I clearly understood back then that the most important thing a poem had to do was RHYME.  Meaning was secondary, as was, well...poetry.  Although the little rebel in me did throw in a final UNrhyming line.  I also find it strange to think that I was painting a picture in words of something I'd never seen or experienced.  There is nothing in this poem that came from my actual china elf, no stained glass windows...and I've never owned a cat (truth to be told I'm more of a dog person, but obviously dogs and attics didn't quite work in my juvenile poetic vision).  Reading it again, I can still feel my way into the idea I had, I can still see this place in my head as I imagined it then.  I still 'know' that the little chair, for example, was a gift from some far-off adventure seeking relative (an uncle perhaps) who travelled the world and sent home exotic presents for birthdays and Christmas.  An uncle I never actually had, though it's fairly clear I would have liked one.  Not that I was bereft of uncles, I had the cream of the crop of funny, loving, wonderful uncles, but they were not on the whole an adventurous lot.  So this post is not really about anything at all, except to further illustrate that my obsession with attics started at an early age, and is probably therefore quite incurable.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Attics and garrets and starving artists...

As for attics, I might well say the same...I like them.  Not that I ever had one, that was part of their mystique.  They were the sort of mysterious place where the heros and heroines in the books I read might find an old wooden chest with a treasure map inside...or a perfect place to create a secret clubhouse...or discover a mysterious dinner service decorated with owls........

But being a child of the Australian suburbs, even a house with a staircase was a novelty.  And so for me, attics have held onto that mystique.  In my first trip to the UK, I spent a night in one, a 'guest bedroom' at the top of an old Kensington terrace house serving as nursing quarters.  A nurse friend was living there (in the basement) and I was sleeping on her floor as is the wont of young Australians who spend all their money on the obscenely expensive plane fare to GET there leaving nothing much else.  I wasn't supposed to be sleeping on her floor of course.  But I spent some weeks there, until in a flurry of panic because of an inspection or some such, I was shunted from bottom to top, to spend an evening upstairs as a 'legitimate' guest.  The room had been prettied up but its delightfully sloping ceiling and little dormer window opening onto the roof betrayed its origins.  It was a balmy summer evening, and I sat in the little open window, looking out at the lights of London and listening as 'Nessun Dorma' floated out of one of the windows across the road.  So perfect it was like a scene from a movie.

But why is the mermaid in the attic now?  Well, I have an attic now.  Almost...a mezzanine floor above the family room.  A little space to create, squeezed in under the sloping roof of my house, up a stair (not quite winding, but it does have a bend in it) with a wrought iron balustrade.  A wooden floor that squeaks when I walk on it.  A little window above my head...though it's a little freaky sometimes seeing the reflections of planes passing overhead also zooming across my glass desk top.  And the walls are painted turquoise, 'like being under the ocean' is how one visitor described it.  So, 'a mermaid in the attic'.  All quite logical really, though my brother did wonder whether it wasn't rather cruel to keep a mermaid that far from her natural habitat.  But this one is happy here.

Mermaids and fishy tales.....

Why a mermaid?  I like them, that's why.  I have been more than a little obsessed with damsels of an aquatic nature for a long time...sirens and selkies and rusalki and nixes and such.  And I know one...personally.  And one of my favourite songs is a gaelic song about a lonely mermaid.  And my middle name means 'sea'...among other things.  And when I was six the boy next door (who was a little older than I was and could swim underwater) grabbed my leg and pulled me under at the local pool...then the world tipped sideways and the light went blue and everything went quiet for what seemed like forever.  And I breathed...and I COULD breath...underwater. 

Well, that's how I remember it. And then I found my feet, stood up and found the air again, spluttering and coughing and crying.  So I know that deep down somewhere inside, I have a mermaid soul. 

Monday, November 16, 2009

Twiddling and learning

Heavens worked! I'm a little bit of a technophobe...not so much because I'm afraid of technology, it's just that I simply don't know how anyone finds the time to learn how to use all of these incredible new things, and have a life too. But if I'm going to venture into the strange and wonderful world of cyberspace, I'll simply have to step through the magic door a little more often.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mermaid fingers

At first it was working, and then it was most definitely NOT working so I threw caution to the winds and just played.  And then suddenly, it seemed to be working again.  This is me, taking my own there's a rare thing!  Using the good watercolour paper and experimenting and not caring if it works or not.  This could become addictive!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bits and bobs...

I haven't done anything BIG for some time...I think I'm percolating.  In the meantime, I'm fulfilling creative urges by small experiments and odd little bits.  I am trying to learn not to strive for perfection, rather to draw/paint/sew and just let it happen...after all, it can never be perfect.  And if I'm afraid to set pen to paper for fear of it 'not working' or of ruining a good piece of paper or canvas, or of producing something that is rubbish or embarrassing, I'll never create anything.  The gum leaves on the old diary page were an attempt to get beyond's a scrap piece of paper so it can't possibly matter if I stuff it up.  And oddly enough, I think they turned out rather nicely and I really like them.  Sometimes not worrying about the outcome brings surprising and fruitful results.  I need to try this more often.

Monday, November 9, 2009

On entering the world of Blogland...

So here I am, wandering a little lost in this strange new world.  Will there be strange creatures offering me delicious temptations that I shouldn't touch (for fear of being trapped here forever)?  Will I meet odd little old ladies, or men dressed in wolfskin telling me riddles or giving me advice that seems impossible to follow?  Every new path has its dangers...and rewards.  But if you never take the first step, how will you ever know?!  As this is a new journey, I thought I would include this painting, one of my first as a 'professional' artist, though I have been drawing and painting most of my life.  "I must not forget how to fly" was a reminder to myself at the time to follow my dreams and remember how I used to feel as a child, daydreaming about the future, about heading off on adventures to who knows where.  I'm not sure where the girl in the boat is going, but she is on a quest, in her trusty ship the "Sir Parsifal", with her loyal dog by her side and a tame pelican (can you guess his name?) to scout ahead for whatever obstacles they might encounter.  So welcome aboard my blog, and we shall hoist the sails and weigh the anchor and go see what's over the horizon. 
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