From The Archives: Mail Art

A letter to Katmail art bundle for KatMy superwoman friend Kat, she of the creative-dream-enabling website, Zero the One, got married and moved to Rome. We exchanged a few letters. This is the pamphlet-bound notebook full of random painting, drawing, collage and writing that I sent to her. The cat photo in the upper right is from Souther Salazar, featuring his family’s tiny kitty, Popcorn (RIP Popcorn)

The Agony Artist"I send you my ear..."I wrote to a friend and fellow artist on the back of this gory drawing…a grumbling, neurotic, self-pitying letter full of inner-critic stuff. I re-read it when I was done, and was so ashamed that I never sent it. Still, this picture made the rounds when it appeared on the internet…everyone loved that bloody ear, attached by a staple.

The Garden Isle pageNaNoJouMo - 010Actually not a letter, but a page in my journal. The paper is an old sailing chart, and so the “isle” drawn here was an actual bit of land on the chart. I filled it with trees and a character inspired by my favorite childhood book, The Girl Who Loved The Wind, illustrated by Ed Young.

Tea bags and Sugar CubesTea bags and sugar cubes :: a postcard for MariaI rented a studio in the city, for a while, and the Greek girl in the room next to mine became my loyal tea-time visitor and craziness collaborator. We balanced teacups on tiny saucers, made up strange dance steps, and uttered complete nonsense in theatrical British accents. Our conversations could have been written by Lewis Carroll. She moved back to Melbourne at the end of the year, and for a while we exchanged letters. I lost of track of her, eventually.

Letter to Ingridpeanut butter & banana smoothieSent to Ingrid from Guatemala, where a peanut butter & banana smoothie felt like a religious experience (I love peanut butter. I love bananas. I love cold smoothies. Natural epiphany!)

Envelope to M in Germany

mail art MKAn envelope full of my printed postcards, for my god-daughter in Germany (and her mum, one of my life’s best friends). The face of the envelope seemed so big and empty, I did a quick sketch of the ashtray that was (probably) in front of me. She and I were both smokers in the years we knew each other.

Letter to Ingridan old fashioned letterThe same letter, on the back, I think. The paper was a big watercolour sheet, so I broke up the expanses o white with colourful blobs of pattern like this.

6 from the Archives

Worked the original design using blackwork embroidery on paper. Letter paper was made by scanning the embroidery, putting elements together in Photoshop, and then  laser printing to make “stationery”.The Self-sufficient Love Letter

The Self-Sufficient Love Letter.

Mixed-media on a heavy, used sailing chart. This one went missing from the art room at Charles Darwin University ( I was doing a semester of Visual Arts).

Love Letters to a Sailor (detail)

Love Letter to A Sailor

Embroidery onto hand-marbled fabric.

pondwaterPond Water.

A frying pan full of marbled Flying Fish (before I attached their wings). Marbling on cotton canvas. Tails were hand-painted canvas.

catch of the day(Frying) Flying Fish.

Paint on canvas, stitched into with Wonky Cross Stitch and bullion knots.


Made this for a group exhibition of altered cigar tins. Inside, I stretched a piece of tulle across the top of the tin, and embroidered a key into it, so that it seems to float in the space, and casts a shadow onto the bottom of the tin, as well.

the key to the door in the mountain

The piece was accompanied by this poem, Door in The Mountain, by Jean Valentine:

Never ran this hard through the valley
never ate so many stars

I was carrying a dead deer
tied on to my neck and shoulders

deer legs hanging in front of me
heavy on my chest

People are not wanting
to let me in

Door in the mountain
let me in

the key to the door in the mountainThe Key to The Door in The Mountain

A bright and shiny New Year to you

pumped up kicksPumped Up Kicks. December 3rd, 2017.

 “This may not be much, but it is something. Tomorrow we die; but at least we danced in silver shoes.”
— Stella Gibbons, Nightingale Wood

2018 already looks like it’s going to be a challenging year for me.

Still no news from Kris (it’s been 3 months and a bit since I last heard from him). He’s a few weeks behind schedule.

The local art scene has been rocked by a few blows…we lost one contemporary art space, another has been moved to less accessible premises, yet another finds itself at the centre of scandal and uproar (again! LOL) It’s hard to tell what will be left to all the artists in Darwin who aren’t the right skin colour (i.e. indigenous, Aboriginal) Well, I’m sure something will rise from the ashes—where there’s demand someone will step up to supply, and we have some capable, go-getting, clear-headed artists in this town—but right now Darwin isn’t looking like a great place to be an artist or maker.

Also, I could be looking for another livelihood next year…my hours at the art shop are getting chopped down to less than half what they were.

Beggars, they say, can’t be choosy, and when I was younger I might have timidly accepted this manhandling of my time as a necessary evil, but squandering that sort of time seems sacrilegious to me now that I’m in my forties. On the other hand, I don’t want to go looking for another casual 8-hour job as a cleaner or kitchen hand…I probably wouldn’t get accepted, anyway.

I’m determined to come up with something that is entirely my own. 2018 could be a blessing in disguise…the ‘push’ out of my comfort zone that might be what I need to finally do my own thing and stop working for any firm or boss. I’m going to choose to look at it that way, anyhow. Still, it’s scary.

This last handful of days in 2017, however, are going to be lovely and I am going to enjoy them.

I’m house-sitting a friend’s place while she visits family in the South. There’s a little bubbling spa in the palm-shaded garden, an etching press in the corner, art on the walls and books on the shelves (and no television); a well-equipped kitchen, an ice cube maker, air-conditioning (effing marvelous in the humidity and heat of Darwin’s summer), and it’s a few minutes to wide sandy beaches (there are no beaches on my side of Darwin…we have mud and mangroves). Asian groceries, farmer’s markets, parks and cafés are all short bike rides away.

It’s going to be a welcome break from sweating in the baking-hot steel walls of the boat, from agonising over Kris’s whereabouts and feeling so unspeakably alone, from being under house arrest because of the tides, from the sandflies (that are the official tormentors of my personal hell), from the solar electricity that conks out after a succession of grey days, from rumours of a 4-metre (13-foot) crocodile in the creek, from the low spirits that I have been carrying around for a year—the plodding through, the putting up with, and the slowly drowning under.

My friend left yesterday afternoon. At midnight I walked blindly through the garden, toward the sound of the spa bubbling away in the dark, shedding clothes as I went. I slipped into the cold water and watched the stars peek through the gaps in the palm fronds for half an hour. Shivered at first, and then cried a little. It did me a world of good.

May you find a little parcel of time this New Year’s to dream, to recharge, to examine, to reflect. Best wishes for 2018. It may not be much, but it is something.


6 from the ‘archives’

January 15 :: Green ManAnother six from deep within my flickr albums. It was fun to see some of these again, I’d forgotten I ever made them.

journal pagesNoodle doodles, and an embroidered postcard from my impulsive foodie trip to Malaysia, 2012.

Noodles are actually really good to doodle…
Happiness is Laksa...
journal pageMini eco’s pixel pop-up valentine card, given a rustic look with some brown drawing pen on Japanese wood-grain paper…

Hunk of wood-burning love

cut paper GypsyAn assemblage of cut patterned papers. From a drawing of he great Nijinsky, actually, by maybe Erté? I forget the artist. My bad.

IcarusIcarus, a collagraph made in a printmaking class at the Charles Darwin University, ca. 2009…

Mining a past self

Carpet page

self-reliance noun Reliance on one’s own powers and resources rather than on those of others

Creative blocks have a way of rendering the past worthless, negating every worthy thing I’ve ever done and leaving a dusty vacancy in my mind…there, where my bright ideas and little a-ha! moments used to live and proliferate in joyful, wild fecundity.

I wake up in the morning on my day off; a breeze is blowing, the air is light-flooded and the hours are pillowy as fresh clay, just waiting to be molded in my hands.  I clear some space at the desk, have (almost) all my art materials neatly grouped and within reach, and make a big pot of coffee to sustain me through a whole day of Making & Doing. I set out to make a little something, exercise a bit of creativity; I essay a few tentative marks with one material—no, that’s turned out wrong. I try another—Eek! Then another—Now that looks really crap! What a mess! What the hell is going on?!

I’m confused. Somewhere in my memory bank I seem to recall that I was okay with acrylic paints (Why else would I have 90 tubes of the stuff?) Or colored pencils. Or pen and ink. I was reasonably proficient. They used to respond to my touch. They used to perform tricks at my command. Fun ideas and confident forms used to rise unbidden and splendid, in abundance, under these very fingertips!

Didn’t they? I begin to mistrust my memories. Was I actually ever creative? Did I really make anything worthwhile? Did I really have good ideas of my own, at any time, or have I just imagined them all?

Habagat Garden: title page

Here’s where a ten-year-old Flickr photo account is invaluable.

Don’t go looking to be inspired by Others on the internet. This tactic almost never works when you have a creative block, because the block is caused by a faltering of self-confidence, and seeing the thousands upon thousands of wonderful things that others are making will only make you feel like dog shit. You’ll find yourself believing that it’s all been done before, and better. Worst possible outcome is that you may fall in love with something by someone else so much that you succumb to imitating it. Imitation is an important step in the learning process for artists, but you keep these copies to yourself, as exercises and lessons in technique, palettes, whatever. But you don’t post it on Instagram, hoping to boost your views and harvest a load of praise that was never meant for you, because when people “love” your copy, they are really loving the original artist’s work. Plus there is the strong likelihood that you will be found out, and the public shaming over one little image will damage your integrity so much that following up with 20 genuine works still might not be able to clear the wreckage.

Instead, turn to the one person you can copy, admire, strip-mine, and expand upon without fear of a public shaming or self-loathing: Yourself.

I MISS IT.I was doing precisely this, this morning. Stumped for ideas, paralysed with self-doubt, and feeling as though I had never made a mark or anything good in my life—so alien and disappointing were my attempts at making anything, last week—I browsed through my own Flickr albums of sketchbook pages, visual journals, embroidered work, soft sculptures, clay, hand-bound books, paper art, mail art, paintings, drawings.

Twenty years of photographs…a couple roomfuls of things created, ideas given form, stories documented. Hundreds of thousands of minutes, frozen in time and pinned to a surface or trapped in material.

Peril of The Orient (dimsim)

Just for fun, I’ve embedded half a dozen images, here. I think I will try to do this, at least once a week,  on my blog…just to air the images out a bit. They’ve been sitting, unlooked at, in my sleepy Flickr account, for several years. It’s nice to see them out and about (on my sleepy blog!) again. Every image recalls a time in my life, a story—however small—of who I was at the time, and what was engaging me. It’s good to be reminded that my life has not been a desert…that, although I never really took these ideas further or managed to make them my career or make a living out of them, I have spent a fair bit of my time doing something that brought me joy, making things that made me happy, and quite a few things that went on to make other people happy (as I browsed the images, I asked myself where it had gone to…a surprising number of finished paintings, books, and embroideries, have gone to friends or to delighted new owners who found them in my (also sleepy, dusty) Etsy shop.

the secret flowering of the Italian language

Some of these images may even go on to  inspire new work! Though I am notoriously hostile to the idea of repeating myself.

Even if they don’t serve as springboards for something else, though, they inspire just by showing me that, yes, I have had the ideas and drive to make things before. Yes, some of the things I have made have received such an enthusiastic response from others that I can hardly believe the stats.

And if I managed to do it once, I am reassured by these old images that I can do it, again.

Rapeseed: The nightmare with a gift in its hands, Part I

Jungle Book

Jungle Book

The last of the 10 handmade journals commissioned by my friend Riitta had this on its cover. It was a book and it had jungle plants, hence the name (I’m often stumped what to call each design).

The image is a mishmash of river and island memories…of which there are many, because I have been living in or near water since I decided, at 25, to spend the rest of my life with a salty sailor (who keeps the sea as a mistress).

I was inspired by the limestone islands of El Nido, the jungle surrounding the Essequibo, the tepuys of Venezuela, the birds of the Orinoco and the Rio Dulce, and the green mangrove water of Sadgroves Creek in Darwin, though I kept the design light and simple, no grand or profound truths in this little illustration!