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

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

A few new journals, and Kris’ books, in my ETSY shop

I’ve been trying to photograph and write the listings for some new journal designs to post to my ETSY shop this past week, but there have been so many social commitments, lately…I can’t believe the number of my friends with their birthdays in September, there sure was a lot of baby-making going on during the Christmas holidays! Oh, curious thought: Maybe Santa’s your real dad?

Here are four new journal designs in my ETSY shop…these are made with Spoonflower fabric designs by other talented designers, not me. Sometimes it’s nice to see someone else’s ideas on a journal cover, I get tired of my own style.

Clicking on the image will take you to my ETSY shop. If you want to purchase the fabric, instead, click on the designer’s name under the picture.

Hither & Tither journal. Fabric is “Time Travel” by nadiahassan
Little Mothers journal. Fabric design is “Matryoshka Russian Dolls” by LittleSmileMakers
Tweet Forest journal. Fabric design is “Fun Trees” by Bethan_janine on Spoonflower
Der Deer Party journal. Fabric design is “Oatmeal Spice Deer” by scrummy on Spoonflower

I only bought a fat quarter of each design, so there are only four journals of each. This is pretty much the last bit of bookbinding that I will be doing for a while, so if you’ve had your eye on something in my shop, best grab it now! I can’t take these with me when I leave Darwin (too heavy!) and I will have to put my shop in stasis until I manage to make something new on my travels. I know this all sounds so vague, but I feel as though I am standing at the edge of my known world, about to hurl myself into an abyss! I don’t know any more than you do about what is coming…only that I’ll be with my love, again, and that makes up for everything else!

Speaking of Kris, he left me some of his self-published books, and I have decided to put them up for sale on ETSY, as well! They were printed by small presses in the Philippines, but Kris bound them all by hand (very roughly, but the point of these books is the story, not the binding), so they can legitimately go on ETSY. (As of this listing, Kris is in Africa, cycling through Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.)

I am selling his two best books:

Monsoon Dervish by Kris Larsen

“Dream. The day you stop dreaming, you are as good as dead.” —the Monsoon Dervish motto.

On a home-built Chinese junk that had no engine, electricity, radio, GPS, not even a compass, my partner, Kris Larsen—a carpenter by trade, an adventurer at heart—crisscrossed the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific for seven years, from Australia to Madagascar and Japan, covering a total of 45 000 miles.

Forever broke, dodging officials and flying by the seat of his pants, Kris found himself trading spices in Zanzibar, collecting sea-cucumbers on a deserted island, and entertaining gangsters in a Japanese night-club. In Sri Lanka he was arrested as a suspected Tamil terrorist; in Comoros he was chased out of the harbour by gun-waving policemen. He survived a 360º rollover in a typhoon off Taiwan, finally stopping on a beach in the Philippines to write this book.

For the next seven years he tried to find a publisher for his work: anywhere, anyone. Nobody was interested. Frustrated, he typed the text onto a CD and on the next trip to the Philippines he paid a printing press in Davao to run 200 copies of the book. Each book has been bound by hand and covered with old sailing charts, and every copy is different. The first printing sold out in 4 months around the Darwin waterfront. Roughly bound and roughly written in Kris’ pronounced Russian-English, this book is surprisingly funny, entertaining, and inspiring, too…it’s gathered a small following of readers from around the world.

Out of Census by Kris Larsen

“If I could choose one thing to take with me on a round the world trip, I would take a warm sleeping bag. If I was allowed two things, I would add a good passport. In that order.” — opening lines of Out of Census

This is the first volume of an autobiography by my partner and belovéd—a mad adventurer and prolific writer— Kris Larsen. It follows Kris’s growing up in Eastern Europe under communist rule, his days as a tramp and a rock climber, his brazen escape into the West, going half way around the world as an illegal alien with dodgy papers, over-landing to India and beyond.

It’s a humorous take on the life of a would-be refugee that nobody wanted, showing how little you really need in order to do the things you always dreamed about. You want to go on an expedition? Put on your boots and go.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr.

An old seedbook of embroidery ideas has resurfaced…

yellow medallion seedbook

Something I found while reorganising my bookshelves this morning: an old seedbook, with some projects and ideas that I had been toying with or working on at the time. Not sure what year I started this, but it was sometime between 2000 and 2005. Kris painted the covers for me…based on a kilim design from Daghestan, although the use of so much yellow makes the pattern look Chinese.

I’ve posted about seedbooks on here before; I keep them distinct from written journals and separate, again, from visual diaries/art journals where I just play and explore, visually, how I’m feeling or what’s going on in my life. A seedbook is really where I plant the seeds of creative ideas, refining or figuring them out, planning their construction with diagrams and technical drawings, or just a place to keep them ‘safe’ so that I can go back to them someday. The seeds may or may not actually grow into something, but at least they are there and I can evaluate, use, build upon, or discard them as the need arises. I have quite a few of these idea collections…

It’s so strange to go over old writings and designs…what a different sort of person I was then! Like this painstaking catalog of beads and other bits that I had purchased—no doubt intending to make who-knows-what costume jewelry or beaded and embellished book covers—complete with the price of each and a code for where I had bought them. I am happy to report that I am no longer this fussy; I have learned to work with the substantial stash of materials that I already have, and no longer suffer from anxiety attacks that I may run out of something and not be able to find it again. It allows me to discover new things to use, rather than repeat myself or my ideas by using the same materials.

yellow medallion seedbook
yellow medallion seedbook

Clearly, beads were an obsession at this time…and a kind of colorful, store-bought African tribal look that I thought was pretty hot *LOL* I do remember that I started collecting cowrie shells off the beach where we lived (I actually came to Darwin with two shopping bags full of ground down cowrie shells that I was going to decorate chthonic and primitive embroideries with…I ended up returning them, still full of dried salt and sand, to the sea) as well as clean pieces of bone, teeth, and feathers. The hunter-gatherer look. 😉

yellow medallion seedbook

yellow medallion seedbook
These scrupulous hand-drawn diagrams for working tubular peyote stitch are testaments to a younger me, when I had all the time in the world to muck around like this. These days I skip the meticulous notes and try to get into the actual making as quickly as possible…

yellow medallion seedbook

This design still delights me, and I think I will finally do something about it and turn the plan into an embroidery:

yellow medallion seedbook

And this Polynesian design actually made it into the world of form! It ended up as a rich satin-stitch-filled embroidery, on the cover of a journal:

yellow medallion seedbook
I almost felt like a voyeur, looking through this seedbook and finding a handful of ideas that I had completely forgotten about.

Major art crush : : Fiona Rae

We go in search of our Dream…..  oil and acrylic on canvas, 2007 84 x 69 in / 213.4 x 175.3 cm © Fiona Rae
We go in search of our Dream….. oil and acrylic on canvas, 2007 84 x 69 in / 213.4 x 175.3 cm © Fiona Rae

Young British Artist Fiona Rae. She takes my breath away…her use of color, the varied tones and forms in her paintings, they are totally unexpected, surprising, and yet absolutely seductive.

She’s got such a lovely personality, too…seems both very honest and very sweet. Guileless, I’m tempted to say…at peace with what she does, and she obviously has fun creating her paintings, too (rather unlike the leathery, hawkish, postured and somewhat malevolent figure of art critic Rachel Spence—get that maybe-I’ll-get-lucky neckline—in the second video… 😉 )

So did I paint something?

Yeah, I did actually get up the next morning and start a painting. I was all revved up and hungry to create!

What I craved was a HUGE canvas…a meter wide, a meter and a half tall, that sort of thing…a wall that I could walk up to and engage, throw myself at, mano a mano…arms moving in great sweeping arcs of brushstrokes. Looked everywhere on the boat…was so sure I had some huge canvases left over from my last show. Nothing.


What I found were scores of tiny little canvases…mostly the size of a paperback book…and one, just one, tall, skinny canvas—30 cm wide, and 60 cm. high. (1′ x 2′). Oh, that’s right…instead of buying one wonderful, epic canvas for $30, I thought I’d be clever and buy 10 dinky little ones for the same price. Fool. So much for my grand date with creative destiny. I felt so restricted and cramped with this small canvas! My sweeping gestures were reduced to finger-daubing and dabbing with medium-sized brushes.


And the process? Hrrm. Well. I started out the way Downey did in her video…all energetic abstract doodles and splodges of color. I even hit a few spots with water in a spray bottle to make the paint run. Drips. Very outré, drips in paintings, oh my. Yes, yes, everything was feeling very loose, very spontaneous, very earth goddess, moon mother, loose caftans and jangly earrings. There were lots of fantastic body gestures…it was almost a modern interpretive dance. I even played the one song I own that is by Loreena McKennit, can you imagine? Instead of my usual Radiohead, The White Stripes, The Commodores, and One Love Sonic Boom mixes.

Great. Then I started painting in some simple motifs…leaves (ovals with one pointy end) and flowers (ovals with pointy one end), birds (ovals with one pointy end and a tail like a platypus bill), sprinkles of dots and organic shapes sort of thing. Get this, I even flicked runny paint at the canvas, a la angry young men in movies about artists (then “Eep!” Wiped most of it off again.) Art? Who said anything about making art? I was acting out the artist stereotype. I was being ‘creative’. To anyone who may have been watching, I was also being a wanker.

No actual attempts to draw anything or produce something skillfully. No attempts to find a symbol or a subject that actually meant something. It occurred to me that the motifs that came easily to mind were very hackneyed. (That must be why they came so easily to mind, Einstein.) At this point I started to feel like a fraud. Lotus flowers, are you fucking kidding me? Lily pads? What has this painting got to do with me? Do I sound like a Southeast Asian Buddhist to you?

And the painting, ye gods. Did I really channel the aesthetics of the entire Balinese Airport Artists Cooperative? This looks like the stuff they churn out in Thailand to decorate restaurants with. I’m amazed there aren’t any koi in the pond under the lily pads, or bare-breasted women in those pointy golden pagoda hats. “WHAT, NO KOI? Can’t be a proper Asian restaurant painting without the koi! People need something to look at while they’re slurping their tom yums and pad thais!”

Traditional Thai art paintings
Traditional Thai art paintings

But I have chosen to leave the painting alone. May it serve as a lesson to me…what works for others may does not work for me, and shame on me for letting someone else’s style bear too heavily upon my own.

The result may look okay to you, reading this, but believe me, the painting is empty, devoid of soul or self. It’s a lie. Just because it’s an okay-looking lie doesn’t make it right. The paintings of a large molar and two chairs were more honest than this. At least they came from my own head, and weren’t trying to please anybody. I’m going to let Donna Downey’s wonderful video cool off in my head for a while, then I’m looking forward to another session—I’m still inspired by her video!—this time just being myself…don’t matter if it’s fugly. At least it’ll be my own. Kinda like having an ugly child, I guess. 😀