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.


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.


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!

spontaneous pinboard

the changing weather
There was some spare work for me at the vegetarian takeaway in the mall, so I’ve been busy rousting up a few dollars, and too tired to blog. But I got to stay home today, and what a lovely day it has been! Windy, exhilarating, and everything around me sporting some vivid shade of Beyond Blue.

The household has been a bit neglected for a couple of days, so I started the day by tidying up. When everything on deck had been scrubbed and spiffied, the old kitchen pinboard caught my eye—grotty, grey, riddled with pinholes and spattered with old paint. I figured it’d only take a minute to clean it up, so I spackled the pinholes, sanded it lightly, and rolled three coats of matte ivory house paint on.

Now it resembled a new canvas so strongly that I couldn’t resist pulling out a few pots of paint and daubing big fat flowers, in simple shapes and bright colors, up one side of the pinboard. Shortly after lunch I finished (i.e. restrained myself and left some white space), and the board is back in use.

kitchen pinboard

I dunno…it just makes me happy. The boat needs a splash of color, really…no reason why it should look like a fishing trawler, just because it used to be a fishing trawler. We have done very little nothing to decorate or display art on our boat…it’s ridiculous, when I think of how much we make, and of the many pieces we own that are by other artists. I have only two small square paintings (by Lisa Wolfgramm and Jenni Hall) hanging on the side of a bookshelf (and now Marita’s stuffed Kitty, sharing shelf space with my books,) while Kris has a single framed photograph atop his filing cabinet. And that’s it. Of our paintings, alone, there must be at least fifty, wrapped and stored in the unused engine room. Ridiculous.

Display space is hard to come by on the boat, admittedly…but I’m sure that if I really looked for dead spaces where art could be hung, or our beautiful things put to good use, I would find a fair bit. I started by pulling this large wooden salad bowl—carved from a single block of ebony by a tribal craftsman in Northern Luzon—out of the bilges, and putting my fruits in it. It’s so nice just to be able to rest my eyes on the old thing, again.
kitchen pinboard-2

To have gold on your back deck and not know it…


To have gold in your back yard and not know it. . .

I woke this morning before your dream had shredded

And found a curious thing: flowers made of gold,

Six-sided—more than that—broken on flagstones,

Petals the color of a wedding band.

You are sleeping. The morning comes up gold.

Perhaps I made those flowers in my head,

For I have counted snowflakes in July

Blowing across my eyes like bits of calcium,

And I have stepped into your dream at night,

A stranger there, my body steeped in moonlight.

I watched you tremble, washed in all that silver.

Love, the stars have fallen into the garden

And turned to frost. They have opened like a hand.

It is the color that breaks out of the bedsheets.

This morning the garden is littered with dry petals

As yellow as the page of an old book.

I step among them. They are brittle as bone china.

—Thomas James, “Tom O’Bedlam Among the Sunflowers”

from Letters to a Stranger. Copyright © 2008 by Thomas James.


bookbinding : : pink hippies

Pink hippies is my 904th handbound journal; an original and one of a kind book inspired by pink lillies, Hippeastrum puniceum,…I used to have hundreds growing in my garden in El Nido, Palawan, and they were a favorite subject for my drawings and paintings.

This is a flat back, case-bound book that opens flat at any point. It measures H6 5/8″ x W4 3/4″ x 1 1/2″ (170mm x 120mm x 40mm)

Paper is Edición avorio 110gsm, acid-free, in ivory, unlined. It is a beautiful paper for writing, sketching, drawing, and other dry media. There are 200 leaves (400 pages) so it is a chunky book, but will fit in your shoulder bag. Endpages are handmade paste paper sheets made using old sailing charts.

The cover is of acrylic paints on artist’s canvas. It has been protected with Soluvar artist’s varnish, which waterprooofs it and protects it from stains.

Pink hippies has a stripey handsewn headband in variegated shades of yellow-orange and coral-pink.

Available in my ETSY and Madeit online craft shops.

bookbinding : : conjuring the sun with color

Twenty-two consecutive days of rain! Was starting to feel a bit soggy around the edges. Thankfully, yesterday brought us some real sun, and that has cheered me up no end.

I brought some colour and light into my studio yesterday by making these two journals:

Another embroidered allium, my first time to use a color other than green for the stencilled background. Went with shades of lavender and purple for this one. With the orange/red shades from the flowers, and the spring green of the stems, the colours seem to work. It’s cheerful, anyway. This one’s in my shops.

Note: I have had to re-open my account with Paypal, as furious as that makes me. I have tried using the alternatives suggested by, but an order last week had me tearing my hair in frustration. Good thing the customer is an old friend, used to my bumbling ways, and so very patient with me! But to have to go through all that with some stranger who is used to snapping things up easily? I realised that it would be too much to ask of the average fairweather shopper—who has never heard of Wikileaks, or doesn’t grasp its relevance, at any rate. So I’ve resolved to donate a small bit of my Paypal sales to Wikileaks, instead, to somehow grapple with the conflicted way I feel about using them to sell my handmade journals. Frustrated. 😦

And another owl journal…this one’s for Danielle (aka Miss Hurro Kitty), who just asked me for “an owl” and got this little Tasmanian Masked Owl, riding his own cloud of shampoo bubbles up a staircase to the sky. With bunting, and Words of Wisdom (I have since completed the broken-off sentence, using Danielle’s chosen word).

And danged if it isn’t the weirdest thing, but I really loved painting these little owls…their white, heart-shaped faces, their mottled feather patterns…why is it so much fun?

It baffles me a bit, because everyone is doing owls…EVERYONE…and I worry that I am merely caught up and being swept away by the current of faddish subjects that seem to be the same on every craft blog, in every ETSY shop. It does no harm, but at some point I can’t tell where the influences end and my own vision begins. I hate to think I am nothing but a mirror, repeating what I see. Scary. I don’t seem to have the guts to draw something that comes solely from my own head…

The End, part 2 : : Gallimaufry

gallimaufry |ˌgaləˈmôfrē| noun a confused jumble or medley of things, a dish made of leftovers. ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from archaic French galimafrée ‘unappetizing dish,’ perhaps from Old French galer ‘have fun’ + Picard mafrer ‘eat copious quantities.’

One last mixed bag of pictures from this year, because I didn’t post to my blog as often as I should have/could have—a pity because some of these deserve at least a cursory look, and I wouldn’t feel right posting or writing about these pictures any time in 2011…there is bound to be so much new material to work with and digest next year, why serve up leftovers?

The Year in Embroidery…

Left to right, from the top: 1)Faster, Pussycat! Movie-based embroidery for the Phat Quarter swap; 2)The Key To The Door In The Mountain embroidery on tulle in a cigar tin, inspired by a poem by Jean Valentine, for the Darwin Visual Arts Association’s Annual Member’s Show; 3)Allium Flora journal (Book 876); my first attempt at the technique in soandso’s book The Embroiderer’s Floral 4)The Sorceress of Serendip, 3D art doll on a journal cover; 5)Red brocade Spool Bird, red cotton floss on linen. My take on the bird softie pattern available on’s site; 6)Nightmare, blackwork on black Moleskine cahier for The Sketchbook Project 2011 in Brooklyn, NY; 7)okay, you’re sick of these felt cookies. So am I! 8.) Book 879, appliquéd, quilted and embroidered journal, now the property of Mademoiselle Dassenoy, who went home to Belgium; 9)my first Spool bird, done in regular fabrics…eventually went on a journey by bicycle through the Tanami Desert, as my Belovéd’s mascot.

A Daytrip to Kakadu National Park…

Left to right, from the top: 1)My Beloved’s rough and rather unlovely toes serve as a background to some amazingly small works of wild beauty; 2) & 3) local flora; 4)bushfire in the mulga; 5)a prehistoric penthouse with amazing views, at the top of Ubirri; 6) & 7)more nature shots… 8)the ubiquitous sun-bleached beer can tells you two things: Aussies love their beer, and some people are filthy swine; 9) & 10)views of the floodlands and sky, from the top of Ubirri; 11)an aboriginal rock painting of Namarrgon, the Lightning Man, at 12)a rosella flower, taken at Bukbukluk

Bits & Pieces Of Life…

Just a few of the reasons why I loved 2010 (left to right, starting at the top):

  1. a new bicycle! Ruby Belle…white-walled tires, chain guard, wicker basket…she’s just the cutest little thing! I love my treadlie…I never learned to drive a car, and a few years ago I realized that I no longer want to learn. Bikes are Better, in Every Way.
  2. fun photo shoots with my friend Melanie, and my honorary godchild, Charlotte. They went back to Germany for good just a few weeks ago. I will miss them both. Charlotte was my favorite photo subject…spontaneous and full of life, a delightful little girl.
  3. moulding and casting workshop with Ewan Wood…I have always wanted to know how to cast little things, and Ewan gave us a great little introduction to the craft. Ewan himself does amazing work for museums and such, producing life-like reproductions of anything, from potatoes to crocodiles; he was my studio neighbor at the Darwin Visual Arts Association, and whenever he was painting one of his crocodiles I would hang around to watch and just be a general pest…
  4. homegrown tomatoes! Our first crop on the boat…they were really sweet, lusscious and YUMMY!
  5. the iSmoke, my hubby’s piece for the DVAA Annual Member’s Show, makes fun of Apple products, geeks, smokers, and consumers, with his gadget in a cigar tin.
  6. I drew my life! Well, for a few days, anyway, just small parts of my life. Inspired by Michael Nobbs’s Start to Draw Your Life e-book, and the rest of his Sustainably Creative blog.
  7. Kris made a few sculptures this year…my favorite is his snail-powered recumbent bicycle. This was meant to go into the Sculpture in The Park, but that show didn’t go ahead this year, due to administrative and bureaucratic difficulties. We did a fun photo shoot for the piece at the Holmes Jungle.
  8. I got the 750 Words habit…and then fell off the wagon a few days before I hit the 100 day mark and 100,000 words. Lost all my badges, and never even got a glimpse of that Pheonix. Too funny, dropping the ball like that, just when you think “it’s all sweet downhill coasting from here”…LOL I will crawl back on the wagon, as an effing ignominious egg, tonight. In the meantime, here’s a curious screenshot from the thoughts/emotions stats on one of my stranger days: Feeling mostly: HAPPY. Concerned mostly about: DEATH. wtf?
  9. Kris, on the recumbent bicycle he built at home, in the middle of his Old Tanami Track journey. He rode Some folks in 4-wheel drives stopped to take the pics, and were nice enough to e-mail them to us. All part of Kris’s love affair with solitude, big open spaces, adventure, the Outback, and bicycles The new book he has just finished writing, Bicycle Dreaming, launches in late January next year.

Q: What about the list, though, hmm?

A: List? what list?

Q: That one with all those things you said you were going to do…

A: Oh. That list. *sigh* I didn’t do too well with that list.

1. Fill a sketchbook with drawings (FAIL)

2. Join a group and complete a 365 photo challenge (FAIL)

3. grow a lovely veggie and flower garden on the boat …yeesh! (FAIL)(Note: I have tomatoes and basil, so not a total failure. But not the self-reliant gardening I initially wanted.)

4. “Random Acts of Crewelty” : Have An Exhibit in 2011 (okay, not technically over yet, there’s hope for this one!)

5. The Phat Quarter Swap: Movies!

6. Sew a Spool Bird: “Red Brocade Bird”

7. Sew at least one item with each of the patterns in my collection (FAIL)

8. Make a group of 15 journals using the Allium flower technique (Note: I have made 3 journals with Allium flowers on them.)

9. Framed, embroidered pendants and jewelry (FAIL)

10. Read 10 books before the end of the year

11. Use up all my small canvases…paint lots of small paintings! (FAIL)

12. Write 4 poems (FAIL…no, make that SPECTACULAR FAIL!)

13. Craft a series of patchworked journals and mini quilts (20) (FAIL, FAIL, FAIL)

14. Craft 12 Bijou (miniature) books using existing materials (FAIL)

15. Complete the August Challenge on

Who gives a rat’s ass, anyway? *laughs out loud*

Meh, better luck next year!

Happy New Year, everybody!