paints and pens, stuff i've made

The Pocket Alpaca

pocket alpacaCouldn’t resist sharing this funny guy with you…he’s one of 9 strange-ified animals I’ve done, so far, for a group show in the middle of the year. Other characters are a Spangled Jerboa, a Scaly Marmoset, an Arctic Salmon, an Omniscient Raven, an Elizabethan-Ruffed Lemur, a Panzer Wombat, a Wooly Armadillo, and a Firehaas (or Firestarter Hare). They all began life as a left-handed drawing, which I wrote about in the post Sinister drawings. (They were painted with my right hand, though.)

A playful bunch, and so much fun to make!

So it hasn’t been all family drama and birthday cake…I’m chugging along steadily, making things, doing things…just not blogging about things, much, because we’re still having problems with our solar power on the boat. If you see the sun, tell him we miss him in Darwin.

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embroidery and textiles, paints and pens, philosophy, stuff i've made

A few more…

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Whatever is happening is the path to enlightenment. —Pema Chödrön

More feathers, because it’s what I happen to be doing at the moment. A path lined with feathers is not a bad path to be on!

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Getting a bit bolder with the color combinations…orange thread over yellow green paint, complementaries, that sort of thing.

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May have over done it with the red-violet feather on emerald green…that one looks a bit muddy. Too many different kinds of thread. Too many colors.

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When the work starts to get slick, polished, ornate, precise, or needlessly intricate, it’s time to step back and empty the mind of what it knows, again: time to dig up the real feather that started all this, and really look at it.

Starting from zero, studying the feather as if for the first time, and proceeding with attention and praise for it as an individual and miraculous thing. Which, of course, it is.

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paints and pens, stuff i've made

Don’t ask. I don’t know what it means, either.

trio

I just had a hankering for a color palette of mustard, white, and mauve. Weird little set. “Ode to A Dentist”?

Oh well, at least I painted something today…

(Crams both a chocolate seashell AND a chocolate seahorse into her mouth…)

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paints and pens, stuff i've made

The Flowery Cake Shoppe of Compromise

A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece.

 — Ludwig Erhard

for Mick's mum
I talked myself into an ambiguous state in my last post. See, although it is just a painting in exchange for some canvas that Mick probably would have thrown away if I didn’t take it, I have to admit that I wanted Mick & Mother to really love the painting. I wanted him to feel that the debt had not only been repaid, but had been handsomely recompensed. I wanted to give him something that was a little better than what he was expecting.

When I sat down with a resigned sigh to start the painting, I knew that I would do my best to produce something that ticked all the conventional “Still Life With Flowers” boxes.

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As it turned out, I managed to strike a compromise between those conventions, my technical limitations, and my abhorrence of a certain kind of impasto oil painting with soft-edged, ruffle-daubed, faintly muddy-colored and impressionistic flowers. I was so out of my depth, tackling this subject matter, that I really thought long and hard about what I wanted, and how it should look.

When I am unsure of myself, I tend to splat a lot of gunky paint on, every color I have, aiming for “texture” and “interesting” messes, hoping that I will manage to “save” it all at the end by some well-placed motifs and a bit of stitching; these are leftover bad habits from the scrapbooking/mixed-media school of art that was such a rage for a few years. My approach is usually very heavy-handed and, yes, why not say it?…lazy. I’m too lazy to think things through, to pay attention to composition, values, line, and order; and the rare times when I do, I drop them all by the time I have the brush in my hand—and then spend as many hours trying to cover my mistakes up with yet more paint, ending with a really hopeless sludge of splatters and childish shapes, the color of mud.

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I was so determined to steer clear of this approach, here, and so I very atypically kept to a strict palette of about 5 colors. I took three separate photographs—two of flowers growing around the yacht club, one of an empty olive oil bottle in my kitchen—and used them to sketch an arrangement. I decided on liquid acrylics with some gloss medium for glazing, and aimed for a painting that evoked watercolours rather than oil paints, leaving areas of white canvas exposed to serve as the highlights, rather than painting them in later (which never quite works)…I wanted the whole painting to be simple, almost graphic, in its shapes and colors. I wanted clean hues, with lots of transparency and the illusion of light through glass and water. At the last minute I rejected the idea of patterned tablecloth or lace-curtain backgrounds, and I am so glad that I put a very pale, neutral background in, instead, as it doesn’t compete with the rest and the feeling of the painting remains one of clean spaces and light.

*breathes out in relief* Surprisingly (to me) the time I devoted to really thinking very hard about what I wanted, until I could see it in my head, and what I woud have to do to get that look, paid off in the end…because the washes were kept thin, translucent and minimal, the actual working time of this painting was about 6 hours, not counting drying time…and no time spent covering up, scraping back, or trying to right any wrongs with cheap tricks.

This experience has been another valuable lesson to me! I am pretty sure that Mick will be happy with it, and I am happy with the way it turned out, myself. Many big wobbling slices of pink and white cake for everyone!

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embroidery and textiles

The Sulking Chair

The sulking place

I can’t keep calling it “the painting”; it’s nearly done, and I’ve started a second, so this one really needs a name.

Boudoir is a historical-cum-humorous term for a woman’s bedroom or personal space. It literally means “sulking place”…one can imagine French ladies of the 1700s spending a good deal of time in their private rooms—throwing tantrums or having their little crying fits amongst the plump pillows, refusing to get dressed or come down to dinner—while the menfolk made exasperated hand gestures, and rolled their eyes.

Making a connection between the horrendously pink and black chair and a boudoir, in yesterday’s post, I think I’ve accidentally named the painting already (but I’ve toned down the chair a little, since!) “The Sulking Chair” it is.

I did my painting on the back deck yesterday, working at the massive (2.5 x 1.3 meters!) new table Kris just made to replace the dinky little round table we’ve been using till now.

Some time in the afternoon I dropped my brush and grabbed my camera to snap this little crocodile that was hovering near our boat. One of our neighbors has been dropping crab traps along these mangroves, and managed to snare a mud crab. Crocodiles love a nice, fresh mud crab!

Our neighbor pulled his traps up this morning, and there was just a pile of cracked crab shell—like broken pottery shards—in one of the traps. What could do that to a crab? He was mystified until I called him over and told him that a small salty had been hanging around all yesterday afternoon. Poor neighbor’s lost a good meal, and was pretty spooked, too, as he lays the traps at night, sometimes stepping onto the muddy banks to tie his trap to a mangrove branch. Eep!

I love crab myself, but we never have any luck catching them. We must be using the wrong bait. *looks over at Dude, laying on his back like a fat otter, in our bed* “Hey, Fatty, c’mere…

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bookbinding, paints and pens, stuff i've made

Postcards from The Archipelago

Deep sea was the wandering,
deep brass the dripping loot,
deep crimson the bloodspill,
lyrics begotten on lush lips
and many a hawser they saw—
rotting rope and rusting chain
and anchors…many lost anchors.

—Carl Sandburg

Finished painting the first of that small batch of journal cases (covers) I made recently. It’s called Postcards from The Archipelago, and this is the second time I’ve painted these designs on a cover; the first time was for a little journal that I gave to my Belovéd.

It’s a very special little pair of paintings I’ve put on here, full of significance, wonderful memories, and love, love, love…so now I don’t want to sell it! I won’t be in a  hurry to sell it, anyway…it must go to someone who really resonates with it…someone who has lived close to the sea, or has lain in the dark at night listening to the ‘bulge and nuzzle’ of the waves, has loved a pirate, has “sailed away for a year and a day”…or someone who has pulled up his/her anchors (or is about to) and is open to the adventure that life can become when you don’t know where you’re going, only that you’ve got to go…

*Is she serious?* Okay, I can hardly insist on these conditions…(can’t you just see me, though, interviewing prospective buyers? *crazy laugh*) I guess all I am trying to say is:     I love this one so much and I hope someone out there will love it, too. You’ll find it in my Etsy and Madeit shops very soon.

The story behind the covers…

There’s a golden compass on the spine, surrounded by curling tendrils of seaweed. The cover paintings both have landscape formats (to look like postcards), so that either side can be the ‘front’ of this journal (and I’ve put ‘headbands’ on both ends of the book, so you can decide which is front for you).

On one cover is my version of an old woodblock print showing a sea monster attacking a ship. I love the old accounts of monsters and terrors of the deep, love the fact that they were made in all seriousness, to illustrate real accounts made by sailors and travelers. When I met Kris he was in the process of compiling an old-fashioned bestiary of fantastic creatures from all over the world. He had stacks of research, and had painstakingly done a painting for every creature on his list. I loved that he would devote so much of his time and energy doing something purely personal, entirely for his own pleasure and of no immediate use to anyone else at all.

Beside the sea monster vignette is a tiny map of the Bacuit Archipelago, which is where Kris and I met, and where we lived in a fisherman’s hut on the beach for many years. That little boat with the Chinese junk rig is Kehaar, Kris’ sailboat. On the bit of land to the right, just under the name El Nido, hic sunt leonis (here there be lions) marks the spot where we lived, with our two fat cats (lions!) ruling that part of the jungle.

On the other cover are fragments of Carl Sandburg’s poem, and a painting of Kehaar on the sea at night. The little portholes glow with the light of candles inside, a fingerail-paring of moon hangs overhead, and the sky is salted with stars.

When Kris decided that he wanted to return to Australia after 13 years being away, we made the trip by sailboat. It took us five weeks to reach East Timor, and another 10 days from Timor to Darwin, Australia. Kris has a lot of respect for the men who crossed the world’s oceans in the days before the engine was invented, and he likes that kind of old-fashioned self-reliance. Hence, Kehaar is just a sailboat. There is no engine on board. There is no GPS, radio, EPIRB, toilet, lights or electricity on board, either, for that matter.

It was Real Sailing: perfectly silent, isolated, and oftentimes, slow. Time opened like origami…we had time…plenty of time. There was no need to hurry…what for? Three days without wind meant we sat on deck in patches of shade, talking or doing some small, intricate chore, just trying to stay busy until the wind picked up again. Kris wrote for his book or drew monsters and patterns in the borders of his sailing charts; I sat embroidering, or reading. We spent hours staring at the horizon, sometimes. At night, when it was my turn to steer, I had conversations with myself, sang every song I knew—a lot of Basia, isn’t that daggy?—wished on shooting stars (there were hundreds) and tried to learn the major constellations. Herds of whales would surface around us and blast smelly water into the air; pods of dolphins raced with us when we were going fast; sea birds—boobies, mainly—hung around for days, resting en route to god-knows-where. We saw turtles the size of picnic tables (before they saw us…another advantage to sailing without an engine!) and lots of sea snakes. Sharks trailed behind us in some seas. One night while I was steering in a strong wind, something big (the size of our boat) swam beside us for half an hour (the sea is pitch dark, but when the tiny bits of plankton are disturbed, they emit a bright glow or phosphoresence that will reveal the outline of larger fish, dolphins, anything moving fast enough to alarm the little guys) and it scared me a bit!

It was a big adventure, and a big move for me, but Kris had given (a somewhat trying) life in the Third World a go, for my sake, so I thought it was only fair that I spend some time in his country. It was difficult at first, took me a year to find my own place in the scheme of things. But I’ve fallen in love with Oz, and Darwin in particular, and there are no plans of sailing away again for a long while!

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