shoals of Caribbean fish

Here’s what I did on the boat, the day we ran away from our house-sit. I had 40+ envelopes to decorate and address…preferably without hand-painting each one (I did this for the last batch of letters…printed the ship, but then painted different colours into each one. It took daaaaays! I had no other life!)

I didn’t have any ideas ready…just the theme of the letter, which is about (among other things) learning how they cook fish in Guyana, South America.

In the studio on ThursdayI took a piece of craft foam and (with scissors) roughly cut out a shape like coral with wavy tendrils. Sprayed some adhesive onto the back of the foam, stuck it down to a piece of cardboard box (it can’t be washed…it doesn’t have to last, I just need it to print these envelopes!) Rolled out a very pale aquamarine acrylic paint, using a foam roller (foam is much better than a printmaker’s rubber brayer, for acrylics.) See “DIY craft foam stamps” for more information…

Using more foam, I cut out the little circles you see here, glued them down to a damaged canvas board (postcard sized) and printed in a stronger sea green.

It needed something sharp and contrast-ey, so I carved a fish in white rubber (like eraser rubber, but you can get it in thick tiles.) I used a rubber brayer to print, and oil paint (to which I added drops of alkyd medium…speeds up the drying of oil paints).In the studio on Thursday

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You start to print, and a rhythm sets in…roll, press, lay aside to dry, roll, press…each print is similar to the others, but slightly different. I delight in the nuances in color, picking up more blue with the roller at times, and then more shamrock green…

I was a terrible student in printmaking class, where the goal was to produce editions of identical prints (we did collagraphs, zinc plate etching, silkscreen and reduction lino) and I flat out rejected the very idea of editions…I wanted to see what my design looked like in different colours. I moved plates around to change the registration. I altered plates after every print. Everything I made was a monotype, one-off and impossible to repeat…I mean, why wouldn’t you want this? It’s awesome! One plate, 50 different prints made from it! Good times.

My instructor gave up on me in the printroom (though he and I continued to drink beer together after class.)

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At first I printed with phthalo turquoise…too transparent, and still not enough contrast. So I added burnt umber. The texture of the envelopes (Crown Mill envelopes from Belgium…how very ooh la la!) looked like ripples of sunlight underwater, and sometimes resembled scales. More interesting.

The fish swam up and down…trying to find the best position in the coral, but bearing in mind that it had to leave space for postage stamps and addresses. In the studio on Thursday
In the studio on Thursday
I went on to add the stamps and addresses, next…

Note to self: get one of those sponge thingies for wetting postage stamps… licking 80-100 stamps in a day is weird. Like stamp gum has become one of the main food groups, making up a hefty percentage of one’s recommended daily allowance of cellulose or who-knows-what. The stamps from the 80’s were a little bit sweet (so thoughtful of the post office, then, no?) Most just tasted like old paper.

 

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Dave’s Desiderata

Desiderata for Dave
Commissioned by a friend.
Don’t look too closely at the writing, it’s all over the place!
I loved doing the watercolour eucalyptus leaves, though.

Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata is still a beautiful piece of writing. It’s funny that almost everyone I know (myself included)remembers reading it behind the bathroom door…what a strange place for such a lofty piece of writing!

Still, when you consider that the bathroom is often the only place in the house where we can be alone and have time to reflect on philosophy, perhaps this is where something like Desiderata can make a real impression. Who would stop to read it, otherwise? It’s worth letting its message sink in…still relevant, perhaps more so, nowadays, than when it was written in 1927…


“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

One foot in sea, and one on shore

We are sitting a really nice house for our friends this month. It’s a nice change from the boat…electricity, running water, modern kitchen, all appliances, spotless and sparkling everything, two pretty cats…not to mention staying here cuts my morning commute by an hour and a half!

But what’s an artist to do in a sleek modern household on her day off, when both lunch and dinner have been made on the touch-operated glass stove top, the dishes are in the dishwasher, the laundry’s in the washing machine (that plays tunes like a calliope), the floors are gleaming, the carpet’s vacuumed, the spa’s been chlorinated, the plants watered, the cats fed…and you’re one of those people that don’t watch television?
Bella


You run away!
Creative mess on the boat

We locked the house and went back to our houseboat up the creek for the day…to drink rainwater, battle sandflies, fry eggs on a camping stove, boil coffee in a blackened pot, and make a creative mess.

Untitled

On the boat, books, art materials, and tools line every shelf, fill every drawer and storage box.


I’m allowed to get paint on the tables, spray paint things on the floor, bang nails into the wood, strew paper and canvases across the bed, tape art to the walls, and play loud music. The place is a disaster area.

I’m surrounded by things that my friends have made.
Creative mess on the boat
There are pages cut from magazines, stashes of fabric and paper, sketchbooks, poetry books, Plasticine clay, half-finished paintings, pompoms, glitter, sharks’ teeth, fish skins, skulls, the wing bones of sea birds, all sorts of curious objects on the ledges…
Creative mess on the boat
…the sort of stuff that sparks ideas, makes you hungry to work with your hands, and sets the imagination off and running.
Creative mess on the boat

We left Sonofagun, happy and our creative appetites satisfied, at sunset. Back at the unit, the cats were eager to be let in; hot showers, cold beer, and a fiery vindaloo were waiting; also, the first truly crisp, cold Dry Season night had moved into Darwin.

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
    Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
    To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
    And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
    Into hey nonny, nonny.

It’s the best of both worlds, really.

Monsoon Dervish on ETSY

It only took a month and a half of pleading, nagging, cajoling…

Kris finally opened his own ETSY shop.

Can you believe it?! Oh, he still grumbles about it, but hey, at least it’s up, and you can now purchase physical copies of his four books, as well as the PDF file of his Manual of Sextant Navigation, directly from him.

www.MonsoonDervishBooks.ETSY.com

 

Launched: The Haitian Armada

Haitian Armada...outgoing mail

At last! Some outgoing mail! This is hopelessly late, thanks in part to a cyclone, but also because…guess who’s back in Australia?! So happy, and so busy, catching up on the 16 months we were apart, that I haven’t been able to do anything else!

image

A letter about a year on an island, and living by the sea. The Haitian vevé of a ship, rubber linoprint with hand colouring, gold and white inks, artistamps, and a wax seal (not shown…coming on the reverse, when I seal these babies up) adorn the envelopes.
Haitian Armada
You can still start your subscription to my monthly letters of art, calligraphy, postal porn, and stories, with this one…please visit my Etsy shop for more details.

Wild weekend

Tropical cyclone Marcus paid Darwin a special visit last Saturday. It was called a Category 2 cyclone; though the damage it caused has many people questioning that classification. Hundreds of trees down, power lines bursting into flames, some suburbs still without power three days later.

Everyone assumed I would stay at a friend’s place…the way I do, two or three days out of every week, already.

But Sonofagun is my home. She’s all we’ve got. And in a cyclone, you stay with your boat because your presence can make the difference between a boat that makes it, or sinks. She’s also one of the biggest boats up the creek…the bigger the boat, the bigger the responsibility. Can you imagine how I’d feel if I was safely ashore when my monster boat breaks her ropes and goes smashing the smaller boats around me at the height of the cyclone?

As it was, I did have to crawl out front once, with the maelstrom howling overhead, because the rubber guard that protects my rope from chafing against sharp steel had come undone; also, my crazy fig and morinda trees were catching the wind too well, and very close to pitching overboard, so I finally just lay them down on the deck.

All in all, I am glad I stayed with Sonofagun, though I didn’t sit down until the sun emerged and weather maps announced that Marcus was finally past Darwin, some four hours after it started. I had two candles lit the entire time, my little nod to The Powers That Be, and chain-smoked while standing on the bridge, like a third candle.

For me, Tropical Cyclone Marcus ended as soon as it had moved away. I sort of assumed that the cyclone was over for the rest of Darwin, too. It wasn’t until the next day, Sunday, that I heard there was no electricity throughout Darwin…friends were cooking on barbecues, or had to go in search of gas camping stoves. Roads were blocked off by fallen trees. For 48 hours everyone was advised to boil their water before drinking. All the food in freezers and fridges had to be cooked on the spot, or moved into cool boxes with bags of ice. Candles and camping lights were being used inside houses at night, and those sleek modern apartment buildings without windows were unbearably hot and airless. My friends disappeared from social media…the batteries in their phones were dying. The city was so quiet at night, and there were no lights in the distance when I looked in the direction of the CBD. It was like being the last human on earth.

It’s times like these that living off the grid shows its real mettle.  By Saturday night, life on Sonofagun was back to the way it has always been…cool and fresh, thanks to sea breezes and all the rain we’d had; the solar panels had kept phones, the internet thingamajig, my laptop, Bluetooth speakers, camera, even the vacuum cleaner, charged. I was soon playing music and painting  and reading and looking things up on the web. My kitchen was stocked with the canned and dry food that I normally keep—not in case of emergencies but, simply, because I do not own a fridge. There were 800 litres of clear rain water in my tanks. My lights blazed all night. The only inconvenience (pure coincidence) was that my LPG tank was nearly empty, and would run out by Monday morning. So I looked up cold brewing on the internet, and made a primitive version of coffee in a jug with water, and left it standing overnight. It was okay.

More importantly, we’re okay, Sonofagun and I. Made it through another storm. It does not mean more, nor less, than just that. It’s not bravery, it’s not heroic. Stood and watched until something needed to be done, did the thing, and then went back to stand some more. When it was over, forgot about it, and found something else to do. Lucky this time. That’s all. That’s enough.