An unexpected gig

imageSo here’s a little story that I forgot to say anything about, back in April when it happened…

The phone rang at work, one afternoon, and a lady asked me if we (Jackson’s Drawing Supplies, an art materials shop) knew anybody who would do some calligraphy in a hurry. It’s been a long time since any calligrapher left a business card with us, so I told her “Sorry, no active calligraphers that we know of…except maybe…”

“Except?”

I assumed it was for a wedding, and that she wanted someone to address the envelopes in a curly copperplate-style script. I can do that, surely, I’ve been writing envelopes all month…

“Well, I sort of do it…only…I don’t know whether my work is good enough…I’ve never done it for a client before, you see…”

“Please send me a sample of your calligraphy work today.”

What? Today? I took a photo of some amateurish sign I’d made for the shop’s calligraphy section (“Clearance Sale— Calligraphy Nibs”), added a nicer shot of outgoing Scarlet Letterbox envelopes I’d written in gold on black, and e-mailed them to her.

“We would love for you to do the job for us,” she wrote back the next day. And so they sent me the project specifications.


“What the F*(#”

It turned out that I’d been speaking to a representative of Darwin’s Government House—a historical building in the city—and that the gig was a page in their huge visitor’s book, to commemorate a visit from Prince Charles in less than two weeks’ time.UntitledThe lettering wasn’t in copperplate at all…they wanted Gothic blackletter, or at least batarde. I would have to learn to write an entirely new lettering style. Nothing could stand more opposite to the swashy “cupcake shop” script I had been practicing. Also, they wanted an heraldic badge, the Prince of Wales’ feathers, at the top…in colours and gold. One page had been marked in the book…I would have just one shot at it, and there were less than 10 days to do it.

Holy ostrich feathers, Batman, what had I gotten myself into? When I told friends, via facebook, what I had been asked to do, most made very strange comments like “Congrats! They picked the best person for the job,” or “They should be honored that you have consented to do the art work.”

I reeled in confusion…who were these glib and cheering people that seemed to know me so very little, after all these years? Only Helen grasped the utter weirdness of a job like this winding up in the reluctant, sweaty palms of a royaltyoblivious troglodyte like me, and she alone said something I could actually relate to:

Screen shot 2018-06-29 at 7.28.19 PM


imageThe story ends happily. I managed the heraldic badge admirably (I think so, anyway), and although the letters are a bit ho-hum—no virtuoso gothic writer, me—they are readable, and clean, and centered.

I only spent 19 hours agonising over this simple page—most calligraphers would have dashed it off between breakfast and tea time—but it was delivered on schedule, in one piece, and Bonny Prince Charlie signed the recto page…probably without glancing at my verso page, because the poor man only has to appear at dreary official engagements—ribbon cutting, guestbook signing, niceties-mumbling, tea slurping and biscuit nibbling—about 12 times a week (he is described as “the hardest-working member of the royal family”) and he’s actually a deeply intelligent and compassionate person with serious philanthropic, philosophical and environmental interests, so that it really seems he had the tougher gig between the two of us, and who can blame him for being blind to visitor’s books?

His Royal Highness Prince of WalesThe ladies of Government House very kindly sent me photos of the signed guest book, afterwards. This is the closest I will ever be to royalty…but a hand’s breadth between my writing and his, is pretty close.

I was more deeply honoured by this incongruous juxtaposition of our scribbles than I let on because, while I don’t give a rat’s ass about the titles one inherits at birth from one’s forebears, I respect the man: the way he has chosen to spend his time on earth, the efforts he has made to understand the issues, to help others, perform his duties, and still be himself. He cops a lot of flak for some of these things, but any person who believes passionately in anything, and does something about his convictions, will have critics, no?

His Royal Highness Prince of WalesAll ends well!

Except that I am still waiting to be paid for this job that I did in early April; but I rang my clients yesterday and they seemed surprised to hear that I haven’t received my fees, so maybe something will happen.

Any day now.

Any.
Day.
Now.

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More vevé paintings

Vevé wooden spoons
I painted a few vevés onto wooden spoons last year for a group exhibition. You find vevés drawn in powdered pigments (flour, gunpowder, ochres) on the streets of Haiti…they represent a loa (or lwa…spirits or gods of Haitian vodou) and are used in rituals. I really enjoyed adding colour and texture to these—normally monochromatic—designs; but the wooden spoon format proved a bit unpopular.

So I always meant to do them again, featuring a greater variety of the sigils, on canvas. Another group show coming up in August of this year, Tropical Gothic, has given me the opportunity to do this.

#erzuliedantor #lwa #loa #veve #haiti #vodou #tropicalgothic

A post shared by Nat Quintos Uhing (@natquintosuhing) on

I’m also learning to shoot time-lapse videos, with my phone wedged into a can filled with short pencils (thank you, Linda Joy, for this punk-rock DIY solution!) so bear with me.

Corrugated Iron Youth

Corros Boab tree

PHOTO, VIDEOS, ARTWORK AND CONCEPT BY LINDA JOY

WOODWORK ON BOAB NUTS AND LEAVES BY SONIA MARTIGNON

The freehand text around the mural’s perimeter was my small contribution to Linda Joy’s mural, commissioned by the Corrugated Iron Youth Arts Organisation, an open and empowering performing arts organisation that has taken many young people into its camps and workshops over the past 34 years, made a place for them in an extended family of passionate circus and theatre performers, given them confidence, training, and an outlet for their tremendous energy. It has nurtured their creative fires, applauded their eccentricities, loved them up, and then sent them into the world as well-adjusted, personable and responsible individuals.

It was a huge privilege to play this small part as a sign-writer of Corro’s foyer mural.
And what an experience it was to be invited into the artist Linda Joy’s practice! Four days and two nights with this Aquarian rock star diva, artist of the Outback’s soul, made me feel like I was 17 again…it’s been decades since I last worried that the cops would come knocking on the door and tell us to turn the music down.  😆

*Thank you, Gorgeous, linda mujer, for the wine, the attitude, the Nick Cave 101, the agony and ecstasy, the no-bullshit business advice, and for passing some work my way!

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.

 

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.