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.


The flowering inferno

the flowering inferno

Abandoned an onion on the chopping board, halfway through cooking lunch yesterday, to spend an hour sketching because I haven’t been doing much drawing lately, and I have missed it so much that, suddenly, it was the only thing I wanted to do.

For a subject, I picked this pair of Dragon Lady high heels (because I always knew I would draw them.) These shoes hang from the corner of a bookshelf at home…I didn’t buy them to wear (they’re so high that they’re ridiculous) but as decoration. I treat them the way you’d treat a painted pair of wooden clogs, or a bark skirt from Papua New Guinea, or an antique kimono…a kind of textiles and costumes branch of anthropology.

I love that these cheap, mass-produced contemporary shoes—made in China, ironically—are now merely playing to the sort of Hollywood stereotypes of Oriental exoticism and sensuality that the image of a cheongsam (or qipao) from Shanghai in the 1920s also evokes…and that they are being marketed on shopping sites for Western women who want to dress the part. It’s a funny “retail culture meets cultural appropriation” where Chinese manufacturers are peddling Chinese stereotypes to non-Chinese.

They’re fun and quick to draw, though…the cheap brocade, all that silky, glossy red, the 5 inch slope from toe to heel…

Good days

“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.”

—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life


I spent last payday’s wages on books…I went a little crazy, online.

I ordered back issues of the literary journal Granta, collected works by Graham Greene and a novel by William Faulkner. I snapped up some short story collections of Latin American writers, in Spanish. I took out two literary magazine subscriptions: Overland, and The Lifted Brow. I impulsively put Taschen’s massive full-colour art books of Egon Schiele and of Peter Beard, in my shopping cart, and paid for them with my eyes half-shut, and without looking at what the total came to. Then I ordered Dan Eldon’s The Journey Is The Destination, because he was influenced by Peter Beard.

Finally, and already made extremely uncomfortable by this binge of book-buying, I threw the last of my sensibility (and money) to the wind and bought the out-of-print, hard-to-find monograph produced in Germany of the works of Expressionist artist Jeanne Mammen. She was an amazing painter, and so little is known of her…apart from this one monograph of her work, there are no books, illustrated or otherwise, about her.

I know what you’re thinking: did I rob a bank…or am I printing the money at home? This sounds like the online shopping spree of a person with lots of disposable income, but I’m actually just a salesgirl in a shop, I work three days a week, and I send a third of my income to help an elderly parent.

The decision to enrich my life with books means that I give up other things. For the last four days I have lived on pots of coffee and boiled spaghetti with salt and garlic—which is the only thing that I have on my boat— because I can’t afford to go grocery shopping for a week or two.

Do I care? Not really. I love elaborate cooking, and among my friends I am known as a bit of a foodie. Just a bit. But I love books. I love them first. I love them more. If I were to be completely practical and honest about things, food is ultimately just fuel for the body to run on. (My foodie friends will have heart attacks when they read this blasphemy). I could have a whole Instagram account dedicated to what I eat, but can I tell the difference between a five dollar meat pie and a 70 dollar three-course dinner, in the…um…at the…end? LOL

Besides, we all eat too much, these days, so that a few days off food won’t hurt. I don’t mind eating salted chickpeas out of the can with a spoon as my one meal of the day, if it’s because I have just bought some fabulous books on art, or literature.

I found that I didn’t really want to eat, these past four days, anyway. I was lost between the pages of my books—some of which have started to arrive from the booksellers—and wasn’t hungry for anything but beautiful prose and inspiration.


Lynne Chapman has expanded my sandbox

Accordion sketchbook 180° view
Week 4 on Sketchbook Skool put us in the able, chirpy hands of Lynne Chapman, an Urban Sketcher and professional illustrator. We went on a walk to watch her sketch on the pavement, and we spent a lot of time in her gorgeous, custom-built studio, hearing her talk about art materials, the tricks she plays to get past creative blocks, or to make something good about a sketch gone…not ‘bad’, but just not quite the way she wanted it to. She shares all of the good Sketchbook Skool tips, plus much more, on her website, An Illustrator’s Life For Me

But what really delighted me the most was her use of the accordion sketchbook. Now, as a bookbinder, I make the accordion format quite often. I teach it to my students, and have even made a diagram for how to fold a strip into 8 parts without measuring each section, here.

But it was a “slap-your-forehead- and-holler” moment when I saw her use the full potential of the accordion sketchbook by recording on its unfurling pages such things as the passage of time. A story. A process. A journey, or a long panoramic view.

Accordion sketchbook 180° viewWHY DID I NEVER THINK TO USE THEM THIS WAY? I’m flabbergasted by my lack of imagination. I might fold a strip of paper, fully 1 metre long, down into a book with 14 pages (8 on the front, 6 if you count the back and add covers), and then I will boringly see each page separately, as one does a regular book…thereby squandering all the delicious potential that lies in a 1 metre long picture that collapes down to a compact size. Good grief.
Accordion sketchbook 180° view
So our homework for Lynne’s class was to construct an accordion book, and fill it. I did a 180° view of the inside of my room on the boat. The perspectives just about did my head in, because the roof of the wheelhouse slopes to either side, and the walls lean inward. I got as far as 6 pages of the 8, then gave up, because I’d added colour and realised that I liked the drawing better when it was just orange linework. I might finish the drawing this weekend, but won’t colour the last two pages in (because I don’t keep a sketchbook in order to slog through chores, what would be the point?)

I can see all sorts of projects, now, that I would love to make as accordion books. The invitation to PLAY on a river of paper that just keeps going and going is SO EXCITING! Lynne shared a lot of things with us in the week, but for me this one was the keeper.

If The Caribbean were a mini golf course

My favorite place as a mini-golf course...In the second part of our homework for Sketchbook Skool under Brian Butler, we had to use the same “one from column A, one from column B” way of generating interesting images, but this time using iconic symbols/images from “My Favorite Place”.

He encouraged us to imagine a mini-golf course.

I decided on a still life of the usual things on my desk (a shout out to being back in Oz, at home) and paired each object up with something from one of the countries visited between 2014-2016. By the time I got to the end, things had moved around a bit, I added bits…it took on a life of its own, which is always a good thing (and a relief).

My favorite place as a mini-golf course...

My favorite place as a mini-golf course...

My favorite place as a mini-golf course...Thus ends Week 3 of Sketchbook Skool. Every Monday I get online hoping that we’ll have Felix Scheinberger, next. I wonder if he’ll be next week’s teacher? So exciting!

hybrid vigour

Brewster & Cappuchicken

Last week in Sketchbook Skool, Brian Butler took us along to rock concerts to watch him sketch on the dance floor, and then we went for a walk around the neighbourhood to generate site-specific ideas for a mural in downtown Los Angeles.

His system for generating ideas by writing a list of adjectives in one column, a list of nouns in the other column—and then randomly combining a word from each column—called to mind my own exercises in imagination by drawing two or three slips of paper from a cup, and then creating a hybrid image from the words.

CHICKEN FEET + POTS was my first attempt to do the homework Brian gave us. PERFUME + FOOD was the second.
Eau de Habañero