Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Christmas poem

I've been reading and re-reading the BookArtObject set text by Rosemary Dobson as I assemble boxes over Christmas because I've pasted the poem in full in the bottom of each box. It has made me think about poems and the fact I don't often read them, and I thought you might like a poem I saw in Lesley's Printed Material blog... Lesley, I hope you don't mind me quoting you!

Feet that could be clawed but are not...
Arms that might have flown but did not...
No-one said 'Let there be angels' but the birds

Whose choirs fling alleluias over the sea,
Herring gulls, black backs carolling raucously
While cormorants dry their wings on a rocky stable.

Plovers that stoop to sanctify the land
And scoop small, roundy mangers in the sand,
Swaddle a saviour each in a speckled shell.

A chaffinchy fife unreeling in the marsh
Accompanies the tune a solo thrush
Half sings, half talks in riffs of wordless words.

As hymns flare up from tiny muscled throats,
Robins and hidden wrens whose shiny notes
Tinsel the precincts of the winter sun.

What loftier organs than these pipes of beech,
Pillars resounding with the jackdaws' speech,
And poplars swayed with light like shaken bells?

Wings that could be hands, but are not...
Cries that might be pleas but cannot
Question or disinvent the stalker's gun,

Be your own hammerbeam angels of the air
Before, in a maze of space, you disappear,
Stilled by our dazzling anthrocentric mills.
Carol of the Birds by Anne Stevenson
From 'Light Unlocked' Christmas Card Poems published by Enitharmon

I suppose it means something to me partly because the birds are Northern European ones with which I'm familiary, as is the landscape. But anyway, I liked it! It's not quite the same looking out of my windows and seeing parrots and honey eaters feasting on grevilleas in the sunshine, but that's the magic of Christmas in Australia in the summertime - something totally different.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ye gods and little fishes

I may have mentioned the rain here before, non? Yesterday - Christmas Day - was lovely in and around Coffs Harbour: about 28 degrees C, sunny with just a few clouds intervening between my delicate English skin and the UV rays. We went to Arrawarra Beach after a later breakfast (smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. Yum), walked the dog, collected shells and had an altogether leisurely day. Things weren't all quite as anticipated as the oven in our rented house gave out half way through cooking the Christmas Duck which was a bit of a pain, but essentially we had a great day.

This was a good thing because today is the day we start packing and moving, and with this in mind we loaded the trailer, hitched up the 4W drive, and sauntered off to our block with the idea we'd start unloading some stuff into the shed. Ho ho ho.

The rain started, the clay turned to mud, the 4W drive couldn't get up the steepest, claggiest slope on the 'goat track' up to our block... the engine started straining, the car started slipping back down the slope, the trailer jackknifed, the car didn't want to stop...

It looks nice in the sunshine... it looks damned nasty when shiny with a lick of rain!

Dearest husband managed to bring the car to a precarious halt, darling daughter got out and sat on her backpack on a safe bit of grass, while I packed stones under the rear wheels of the 4W drive. Luckily husband had packed a 4lb lump hammer which came in useful trying to prise the trailer off the tow-bar... and luckily the connecting mechanism wasn't damaged, despite the dodgy angles and the potential for the metal bits to have bent. The trailer then had to be manhandled as far as possible before we all crossed our fingers and had to let it go, chuntering down the hill under its own steam! And luckily it managed to swing round and front itself into a patch of long grass near the bottom of the slope, leaving enough room on the 'road' for dearest husband to be able to slide the car back down the slope, engage the engine and do a 6-point turn. Then I slid into the driving seat and was directed backwards to meet the trailer and we managed to hitch it all up again and drive home, tails between our legs. So much for unloading in the shed! However, I do think we were very lucky indeed: it could all have been so much worse.

And the moral of the story? Um, not sure if there is one, but it probably goes something along the lines of "don't buy a rural block and expect to be able to get up there in the rain" or perhaps, "there's no point in thinking about doing fancy things in your new house until you've spent several thousand dollars hiring a grader and buying loads of gravel to improve the road"! Merry Christmas, everybody.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Peace and Good Will

I've sent precisely one card so far this Christmas, not because I'm a bah humbug sort of person (no, I'm not, REALLY!) but because we have to move house soon and I've not got a lot of energy...

Inspite of my failings in the festivities department we wish you well over the holidays and hope that the end of this year and the start of a new year bring you happiness, contentment and peace. We're wishing for the same things ourselves.

Monday, December 07, 2009


Ah yes, ticks! They are one of the hazards of life on the North coast of New South Wales... and on Saturday night it seems I was visited by one in bed. I have over 70 bites on my left arm, plus the ones up my back, chest and the side of my neck... I haven't found the culprit but everyone tells me these look just like "grass" tick bites.

Of course grass ticks aren't actually a species of grass-dwelling tick - they're the larval stage of some types of tick. There's no specialist treatment, just endurance of the agonising itching, albeit with the help of anti-histamine tablets (day and night), hydracortisone creams and - I've been recommended - 1 cup of Bicarbonate of Soda in a hot bath, which is next on my agenda!

A treasure box

You may remember that when we got back from Europe in October (oh how long ago that seems now!) darling daughter and I went away on her Class Two camp to Woody Head. When we got back, weighed down with various collections of shells, seedpods, bits of rock, ochre and leaves, I set about thinking of a treasure box I could make for the class. I thought it would be nice if they had something in the classroom that reminded them of the fabulous time they had, both visually in terms of photos, but also through touch and smell and their own retelling of the story of the camp. This is what I came up with:

The box is made from A3 grey board, although naturally it is larger than A3 and the cardboard needed to be laminated in order to get the right size...

Each piece - walls, floor, lid, partitions - had to be cut twice, glued, weighted, sandpapered smooth, filled and painted white before being covered in thin Thai banana paper with wild grasses in the mix too.

Class Two wrote accounts of their trip on thick drawing paper, with illustrations on both sides but words on only one side. The paper was folded along one edge so that I would have a margin I could use to stitch the stories together in two accordian books.

The inside of the box base was painted with natural ochres I ground up from the rocks I collected on the beach and mixed with an acrylic medium, then the whole box was varnished, ochre paint and paper, in order to make it a bit more durable under the stresses of 22 pairs of hands!

This is the finished box before I inserted the two accordian books, which I secured to either side so that they sit flat on top of the collection beneath. The 'handle' on the lid is a twig I picked up on one of our walks, sewn on with sage green linen thread to match the leaves in the paper, and varnished as well so that it feels smooth to the touch. Today I presented it to Ruth, their class teacher, so I hope they like it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A first on Double Elephant

I just want to say here that I rarely watch any clips people send to me and I've always been a snob about YouTube, but my friend Jan over at Snippety Gibbet put this up on her blog, courtesy of a friend, and I love it...

I love papercutting, despite being a complete novice at it myself, and I find this video clip amazing. And how great that New Zealand has a national 'Book Council'...

ps. adding a video was MUCH easier than I thought it was going to be!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Yes, yes, yeeeeeeeeeees, I am a great big softie under the apparently scary exterior (that's what my family says, anyway). These are the two latest additions to the family:


and Squeak

So far as we are able to tell at this stage, Bubbles is female and Squeak is male. They come from our friends Adam and Adrienne, who ended up with a litter of 9 guinea squeaks, 7 of which were albino 'Himalayans' with creepy red eyes so we chose the 2 coloured ones instead.

Darling daughter managed to keep her hands off them for 2 days after they came to live with us, which was a truly heroic effort on her part! The result is that they were able to get used to their deluxe guinea squeak accommodation and then slowly get used to us. Squeak lives up to his name and chirrups and snuffles and squeaks when you visit him or pick him up. Bubbles is a cool kid, seemingly very calm and happy to be picked up (which is just as well since darling daughter swoops on the poor things rather alarmingly...). They have a daily routine: clean food and water before DD goes to school in the mornings, a squeeze from me mid-morning as I transfer them to their holiday home on the grass for a happy day munching, and then we play with them when DD gets home from school before putting them in their hutch for the night with a gourmet salad to keep them going until morning. Oh to be a guinea squeak!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More paper lust

It's paper pornography, but since I was busy unrolling them and putting them in a big flat case for storage I thought I should photograph them as I go! Except for the beautiful French paper with the flowery inclusions in the final photograph which I bought in London, all the papers were picked up in Italy.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Rain, rain, go away

Have I mentioned that it rains quite a lot in Coffs Harbour? Apparently we usually get 125mm in November, and 13 days of rain in the month. Not too bad. Well according to the Bureau of Meteorology we've had 464mm (almost half a metre) of rain in the last 2 days, with 354mm in the space of 6hrs on Friday evening alone. And it's only November 8th.

We haven't been badly affected: darling daughter's school remained open, as did local shops, and so although driving has been hazardous it hasn't been that bad. About 45 families in central Coffs Harbour have been evacuated due to flooding but it isn't as bad overall as the March 31st floods, thank goodness. We don't yet know what's happened on our block. We were up there on Thursday morning, before the rain started, and the building work was coming on apace. We were there with the electrician, placing power points and a TV point around the walls of the office/studio building, and watching the roof joists going up on the main house. But on Friday the builders weren't able to get up there and I'm not yet sure if that is because the road was blocked, covered in water or washed away again... fingers crossed it's not the 'washed away' scenario, because that will be a huge financial headache as well as delaying the building, which isn't good news!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Then it got ugly

Sometimes life is a complete pile of poo and I wonder why I bother to get up in the morning. Today is definitely one of those I-am-totally-fed-up-with-coping sort of days. I trundled off to see our lettings agent because she wanted to speak to me and discovered that we have a choice: either we sign up for a full year's lease on this place (with penalties for breaking the lease) or we have to move out on January 9th 2010. Obviously we can't sign up for another year because at some point next year we hope to move into our own place, so we will have to move. AGAIN.

Since arriving in Australia just over 3 years ago we've already lived in 3 different houses, so this will be our 4th... and we'll be moving at the hottest time of year, when Coffs Harbour is full of holiday-makers and short on accommodation, and we have to find somewhere that will take our dog. Did I also mention that I'll have to pack up my studio for the umpteenth time and kiss goodbye to any chance of doing any meaningful work...?

Just for the rest of today I'm going to pretend it isn't happening, because I really feel that I can't cope right now. I'm going to give myself some time off, and then I'm going to get angry (I'm quite looking forward to that bit), which will delay the necessity to DOooo something about it for a few hours longer. No use thinking about it now because I've got to take darling daughter to her piano lesson. In the rain. Grrrrr.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Then the good stuff

Which is the Class 2 camp I went on with darling daughter last week! Three blissful days at Woody Head, which is near Iluka on the northern coast of New South Wales. Practically Queensland, in fact.

Woody Head camping ground is slap in the middle of Bundjalong National Park, and has kilometres of pristine beaches, safe swimming areas and shallow snorkelling so it's perfect for kids. There's also a fabulous rock platform with deeeeeep rock pools, places to fish, a kiosk that serves decent coffee and it's clean. It's so good, in fact, that I've picked up the brochure and plan to spend some time up there with my family.

The whole thing was new to me: I am unfamiliar with Australia's National Parks, know nothing about that part of the coastline, have never been to a formal camping ground and I've never taken 20 children (5 of whom have special needs of one sort or another) away for three days before... on Tuesday evening before we left I was seriously asking myself WHAT WAS I THINKING? I mean, I'd only got off a plane a few days beforehand!

In fact it was really good fun, if very hard work. Ruth, the class teacher, is amazing: calm, well-prepared, doesn't need to raise her voice, and completely organised. Also, we weren't in tents but were staying in the conference centre which is two huts with bunk rooms for the children and private rooms for most of the adults, plus a fire pit, a barbeque and a fully-equipped kitchen so we weren't roughing it at all. Some of you may sneer and say it wasn't really a camping experience, but for this lot it was enough. The children rose to the occasion magnificently: the tears on the first night (many of them had never spent time away from both parents before and missed their mummies and daddies dreadfully, so I got to give out LOTS of cuddles, which was nice) gave way to unadulterated enthusiasm by the next morning. Ruth had organised teams with one adult and several "helpers' each to do various tasks: prepare breakfast/morning tea/lunch/afternoon tea/dinner, clear it up, do the cleaning on the way out, serve food, make food... and they did it all with very few complications. I was really impressed actually: 8 year olds aren't renowned for their organisational skills, patience or dexterity but they completed their tasks and were able to take responsibility for things like having a shower after swimming in the sea, cleaning their rooms, packing and unpacking and keeping things tidy.

Tomorrow it's back to school and they will spend a few days de-briefing and learning from their experiences and each doing a page in a book I'm going to make for them. I'll make a box with compartments for treasure we found on the trip, and I'll turn all the drawings and writing into concertina books to go into the box. The class will be able to keep it as a permanent reminder of their adventures.

It was a lovely break from reality! Now I have to get back to the real world and focus on things like the accounts, business cashflow, getting the car serviced, the house-building project, Board stuff for the school, oh... and also doing some of my work! I'm finding shuttling between two houses very tiring as it adds a good 2 hours of driving each day, and I'll be glad to get back into our Korora house, hopefully next weekend. It will be a filthy pit but at least we'd be sleeping in the same place as our belongings.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First the bad news

I didn't realise that my darling daughter thought that the following scenes of devastation were her fault until we got home from our European tour on Friday, when actually she is the heroine of the piece!

Can't remember what I've said before (jetlag is my excuse, as if I needed one) but the potted version goes like this: just before she and dearest hubby came out to join me in the UK, darling daughter was in her downstairs bedroom, watching with fascination as a large water-filled bubble appeared under the window... After Daddy had been summoned, who called the agent, who called the emergency plumber it was established that copper water pipes buried in the concrete floor of the upstairs bathroom had finally burst.

The escaping water did what it does and found various escape routes, mostly in between the waterproof membrane that covers the concrete floors and the lovely wooden floor boards laid on top, but some flowed into the cavity in the external walls and into her bedroom where it seeped everywhere, very quietly!

Prior to their departure they had to endure holes being cut in interior walls and drilled into the exterior walls, but it was only once they'd left that the full extent of the damage became apparent: every wooden floor in the house (and there are many!) will have to be replaced, and our en-suite bathroom has to be ripped out and replaced...

So when darling daughter and I landed in Coffs Harbour on Friday after over 30 hours travel back to Australia we went to a hotel for the weekend, and as of yesterday we are the less-than-impressed inhabitants of a slightly damp, roach-infested holiday "cottage" in Sawtell. Jim, the builder, assures me that we only have to endure it for 2 weeks. Fingers crossed; that would be great, but the landlord's agent rang me earlier to ask me to come in for a 'quiet chat' early next week and so I'm not entirely sure what's going on!

Sunday, October 11, 2009


You're quite right, I have been RUBBISH at posting anything while away, but there are several reasons for that: I've been too busy eating/drinking/seeing the sights/relaxing/reading books oh, and did I mention we've had the best part of two weeks with no internet connection? It's a curiously liberating experience although after a while one begins to get the fidgets and wonder how everyone else in the Blogsphere is getting on...

I'm not trying to make you jealous, but I should tell you that I'm typing this sitting in the bar area of Antica Casa Coppo, our home-from-home in Venice. We're down to the last few days of our holiday and by this time next week Darling Daughter and I will be at home and may even have managed some sleep.

Talking of home, a new complication has arisen in our lives that I'm going to have DEAL with once I get back to Oz... just before Darling Daughter and Dearest Husband departed Coffs Harbour to join me in Europe they discovered a bad water leak coming from our en-suite bathroom and manifesting itself in Daughter's bedroom. Further exploration on the part of our managing agent and landlady have revealed serious problems in the first floor plumbing that will require a complete tear-out and re-build of our en-suite bathroom and Daughter's bedroom, plus other associated areas. Why do renovating builders not realise that sealing water pipes in concrete is a recipe for disaster...?

The implications for us are huge: naturally the insurance company is dragging their feet which means that far from completing the repairs while we were conveniently away for 6 weeks, they won't even get started until early November. As water and electricity are being switched off during renovations we are required to move out!!! Our agents are offering us temporary accommodation at a vastly reduced rate in a holiday flat but we have no information yet about whether it will even be suitable... I, for one, cannot just move all my printmaking kit on a whim: it's too heavy and there's too much of it, so I am going to have to continue to work at the 'old' place, wherever we eventually end up sleeping. I'm still trying to clarify what our agent's and landlady's obligations towards us are under the contract: if we chose not to accept the offer of the holiday flat, does that mean they have no further obligation to find us somewhere to live? And as our tenancy agreement is shortly due to expire is there a possibility that they may simply give us notice to quit..? And what about Toby: can we take him with us or...? Lots of questions and currently no answers! Bummer.

Friday, September 18, 2009

My head hurts!

Not because of the copious amounts of wine I've been drinking with friends and family during my stay in Bristol, but because today I was required to think... and quite hard, too. I've attended my first sessions at the IMPACT conference in Bristol and it's been really interesting.

I'm fascinated by what happens when artists and academics get together (and yes, I appreciate that there are artists who are academics as well as academics who are artists and that sort of dualism isn't particularly useful). I've not been to other professional conferences (unless you count the times I used to deliver sessions on the tax advantages of charitable giving, many years ago, but that was when I was a speaker, not in the audience) and so I'm very ignorant but I imagine that if attending a conference on theoretical physics, say, then all the sessions and most of the speakers would be 'on topic'. What struck me today was the diversity of topics in discussion and how difficult it must be to try and corrall speakers into an overall session theme.

The consequence is that topics are so diverse that sometimes the session titles are either misleading or meaningless! My first session on 'Theoretical Approaches to Print' was fine, with erudite discussions on materiality, the interface between art and science in one speaker's art practice and the digital matrix in printmaking.

The second session I attended was titled 'Print in the Social Sphere' and whilst I was impressed by the diversity of speakers I detected a lack of underlying cohesion in the topics discussed. We moved from talking about the paradox of printmaking and the implied production of multiples as an egalitarian art form against the elitism of art collecting and the consequent incongruity of multiple anything in a world awash with multiples, through the necessarily emotive topic of printmaking as activism, as evidenced in the political commentary in apartheid South Africa (with the attendant AWFUL verb-making word "conscientize"! YUK), through to a presentation on lamp posts as a public gallery space in Buenos Aires to a final two-voiced ramming-the-point-home-repeatedly piece about sustainability in printmaking that was a bit like a Fry and Laurie monologue but without the humour or the self-awareness.

At least one person fell asleep, which is not entirely surprising since the Q&A session at the end degenerated into a holier than thou exercise in individual print practices, debating the merits of particular sorts of vegetable oil in post-printmaking cleanup. No-one was satisfied with stating that they use vegetable oil instead of solvents without scoring points about whether ground nut oil is more ecologically acceptable than blended vegetable oil which might contain palm oil or soy bean oil, both of which are intensively farmed in South America, destroying huge swathes of rainforest. I sat there with eyebrows slightly raised as delegates around the room chipped in, only slightly surprised that we didn't extend the conversation to include a debate about the energy embodied in producing plastic oil bottles versus cans...

What's on the schedule for tomorrow? Well, I think I'm going to a morning session about 'Applied Arts', then coming home for a short time to meet up with Dearest Husband and Darling Daughter, who are currently flying over the Indian Ocean on their way to Europe, and then I'm off to the UWE campus at Bower Ashton for a product fair, academic poster event, open portfolio sessions and various exhibitions, which I'm really looking forward to (if I can figure out how to get to the campus without a car). Adios!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ode to Bristol

Once upon a time I used to live in Bristol, which for those who don't know is an historical city about 150km due West of London. I spent 4 years in London and had a great time, but eventually the noise and the traffic and the sheer effort involved in getting anywhere begin to take their toll and I moved on. I'd been to Bristol when I did a 1 year post-grad business course at Bristol University when I left Oxford and had fallen in love with the place. Walking through the city centre you pass remnants of medieval walls, a 14th century church, huge red brick warehouses from the Industrial Revolution and catch glimpses of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's famous Clifton Suspension Bridge over the Avon Gorge. What's not to like? There's opera and world class theatre, a livly arts and music scene, a zoo, children's festivals, the annual balloon fiesta, plenty of wine and food and some of the best restaurants in the UK... and when you get on the bus the driver is likely to ask you, "Where's that to then, lover?" with a Bristolian burr. I love it.

I've been living in Australia for 3 years now (blimey!), and haven't been back to Bristol for two years, so I'm having a strange time of it now I'm here. I've been away long enough for there to have been major building projects completed that were only in the very early stages of demolition and clearance when I left, and yet in other ways I haven't been away for long enough for the smaller things to have changed. For example, Cabot Circus is finished and open and when I left it was mainly a huge headache for Bristol drivers who had to navigate lots of roadworks on a major route in order to skirt around the edge of a mammoth building site.

The development is a huge shopping complex that has revitalised a slightly seedy-looking part of town called Broadmead. Bristol was heavily bombed during WWII and the medieval centre was destroyed. In the brave new world of the 1960s Broadmead was turned into a purely commercial area with no residential accommodation, but by the 1990s it was failing, really, and the big stores had mostly moved to an out-of-town complex called The Mall on the edge of the motorway. Broadmead was full of second-string shops, the odd department store and a lot of empty buildings. And it wasn't pretty.

You could argue that Cabot Circus isn't pretty either, and I wonder what it will look like in 20 years' time, but for now it's quite a thrusting sort of development, covered in a paned roof to keep out the British weather.

The developers have at least tried to beautify the development... Walking along the outer walls on my way to the bus stop, and feeling a little disoriented because it didn't come out quite where I'd expected, I found the above wall of what looks like etched slate. The imagery comes from something like a medieval herbal and is based, I presume, on what would have been woodcut illustrations. Printmaking is everywhere!

Do I like Cabot Circus? Hmmm, hard to say. It's difficult to navigate around and a bit brutal in its architecture so I'd say 'not really', at least in an aesthetic sense. What I really did like was the appearance of Harvey Nichols in Bristol! If you don't know the store, perhaps you remember Joanna Lumley forever meeting people for lunch at 'Harvey Nicks' in Absolutely Fabulous? It's synonymous with designer labels and ladies-who-lunch, and it's definitely NOT the sort of place I usually go into. However, despite appearances to the contrary I am a fashion fiend. Yes, I know, this does sound highly unlikely, but since my youth I have in fact read Vogue assiduously and lusted after certain designers. I even have a few choice pieces in my wardrobe, believe it or not, and I can certainly spot Moschino, Commes des Garcons or Dianne von Furstenburg at 100 paces. So it was delightful to spend half an hour in the designer ladieswear department at Harvey Nicks in Bristol with friendly, helpful assistants who didn't mind me drooling all over the clothes! Ahh, the enjoyment.

Anyway, I've had my fix now of Georgian houses, early Victorian terraces, small-but-imaginative front gardens, uneven pavements and lots of greenery, mixed with wonderful views from the hilly streets out over the Mendip hills or West towards Wales. There's been sunshine and scudding clouds in a brisk wind, and plenty of early Autumn leaves to kick through. It's been fun being in Bristol again.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Yes folks, this is (reverential whisper....) the bag. I felt you needed to see pictures. Now as I'm blogging on the move and my tiny little laptop isn't the fastest machine on the planet, it's possible that the photos aren't the best representations of the gorgeousness that is my new not-a-rucksack-bag, but they'll have to do.

I've been having a little competition (with whom?) to see how much stuff that I used to carry around in my rucksack I can fit into the bag, and the answer is... quite a lot, actually! So far I've managed my wallet, my camera, my laptop (in its bag, with its mouse and charger), my sketchbook, pens, lippie, keys, tickets, friend's housekeys (oops!), water bottle and cardigan. Wow! Really the hardest part is getting used to the lack of dangling adjustable strappy bits (and lets face it, these are what rucksacks mainly contribute to the impression that you scale mountain peaks in your spare time), and the fact that I can only carry it on one shoulder. I'm trying not to stress out about how quickly the beautifully striped interior will get dirty and the fact that I can't throw it in the washing machine!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Greetings from sunny London

In fact I’ve been here for 36+ hours now and the jetlag is beginning to kick in.  I arrived early at Heathrow yesterday morning and ended up on my friend Helen’s doorstep at the unsociably early hour of 06:25 and she, much to her and her family’s credit, was apparently still delighted to see me!  I sailed through yesterday on an adrenalin high and have only come down to earth this evening, feeling a bit nauseous and insulated from the world…

Once Helen and Simon had taken their children to school yesterday and gone to work I went into London (on the basis that if I didn’t move I might fall over and sleep…).  How strange it is to be back!  It’s like fitting into a well-loved glove; everything is familiar and yet strange.  It’s a slightly unbalancing feeling but (perhaps my jetlag is manifesting itself here) I’m not expressing myself very well.

I went first to the British Library and renewed my reader ticket which makes me very happy.  As a child growing up the attainment of a reader’s ticket was, for some strange reason, a longed-for pinnacle of achievement.  I have no idea why I was so set on the idea but having caught onto it I was delighted that my PhD research meant I was allowed to have one!  I think I was a strange child… and no, that isn’t a cue for anyone who knew me to make sarcastic comments.  Anyway, renewing the ticket was easy and allowed me time to shop. 

First stop was Falkiners to buy paper, and you would have been proud of me.  Instead of blowing my holiday money on the first day by purchasing half a shop full of cumbrous, heavy paper I managed to restrain myself and purchased only a dozen sheets!  That done, I was able to take the tube from Holborn to Bond Street and visit John Lewis.  I failed dismally to find a tie for my dearly beloved husband but I was – and this is a triumph – able to buy a handbag.  If you know me well you will have observed that I have spent the last 25 years welded to a rucksack, on the grounds of laziness, practicality and the unreasonable opinion that carrying one makes me look capable and energetic, or something.  However, people (friends and that husband I mentioned) have recently commented that I’m now old enough to graduate to a proper bag.  I, naturally, insisted that if I had to part with my latest rucksack (which, I realised, is 4 years old) it would have to be for some sort of trophy bag that justified the attendant mental upheaval and so it’s become something of a joke amongst friends.  But there I was, in John Lewis’s, when I spotted a display stand of ‘Radley’ bags, which are very English, and a large sign proclaiming an extra 20% off the listed price just for that day.  I ask you, what reasonable person could have failed to take advantage of the offer?

So there you go: I’ve been here for less than 48 hours and already blown a load of money!

Saturday, September 05, 2009


Time is ticking away! I'm off to Europe on Tuesday morning...

Nelson Ball Clock available from Haus Modern Living

First Bristol, UK, for the IMPACT printmaking conference, then a rail trip from London to Brussels via the Channel Tunnel rail link; Brussels to Paris for a weekend of high culture (and hopefully a rendezvous with my former tutor John Ashton), and finally on to the Veneto region of Italy on the sleeper train (I want to wake up on a moonlit night and see the Alps sliding past the window!), where we're picking up a hire car to spend a glorious 10 days in a farm house we visited two years ago, plus a few days in Venice proper to take in the Biennale.

Gosh, how awful. I apologise in advance for any delays in Tweeting or blogging. I aim to get my tiny brain around the intricacies of mobile blogging and tweeting but who knows how well I will fare, or how frequently I will have internet access? I promise to try my best, but please forgive me if I'm not as good as I could be...

When I get back it will be full steam ahead! with my Etsy shop (I hope), in time for the Christmas shopping run-up plus lots of blogging on our house building site, since Warren reckons he'll have the house to 'lock up' stage by the time I get back.

Baci baci, ci vediamo quando torni !

Monday, August 31, 2009

Australia all let us rejoice!

Yes folks, I'm now an Australian citizen. Hurrah!

Pictures of me with the Mayor, Keith Rhoades

It's a slightly weird feeling, getting citizenship of another country, and it does mean a lot. This is the only way in which I have a legal right to stay in the same country as my children. Although I could doubtless spend a long time to-ing and fro-ing on my UK passport with my Permanent Resident's Visa (and unlimited travel), it's more reassuring to know that I have a legal right to re-enter the country rather than the country graciously allowing me back in each time. And I have a sneaky feeling that in these uncertain times it might be useful to have both UK and Australian citizenship. Who knows. But anyway, after jumping through all the bureaucratic hurdles put in place to keep out the undesirables, it's nice to have finally made the grade. I feel honoured and lucky, and you know me, I don't do things half-heartedly: I live here now and so I want to be able to participate and do things like vote. I don't know if I will ever feel that this is truly my home, but I am glad that I am allowed to stay and have equal rights and priviledges to the people who were lucky enough to be born here.

Thanks Keith, even if I do vote you out of office next time there are Council elections!

After the ceremony we went for a celebration breakfast at the Surf Club. My great thanks to Michael, Patrick, Ella, Carol, Julie, Dene, Bronwyn, Willis, Sharon and Flynn who all turned out to congratulate me! Bronwyn and Julie had a great time last Friday shopping for Aussie souvenirs...

I am the proud recipient of a great big yellow bag of items including, in no particular order, flip-flops (although apparently I now have to call them 'thongs', which is hard after a lifetime of thinking that a thong is a minimalist piece of ladies' underwear), caramello chocolate, 'Milo' (malted milk powder), a pair of salad servers with handles shaped like the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, 'Aeroplane' brand Mango jelly powder, Tim Tams (dark chocolate-coated biscuits with a chocolate creme centre definitely not like Oreos, if you're reading this as an American citizen - more like a dark choc version of a Penguin bar if you're British), a boomerang, a surprisingly tasteful beach towel in dark blue with the Australian flag on one corner, a foam stubby holder with my name on it (anathema to me as I prefer to drink my beer at room temperature, but never mind... admittedly rooms in Coffs Harbour tend to be a bit warm in summer, but I still don't want frostbite on my lips while downing a bottle of Coopers now, do I?), cake mix for Lamingtons (sponge cake with a chocolate icing which you dip into dessicated coconut - not really my cup of tea, but I know other people who will be delighted) and various other offerings. Thank you, girls! In fact, thank you everyone, and thank you Australia for having me.

I had a lot of fun (you can tell).

Friday, August 28, 2009


Wrapping paper from the Royal Sydney Botanic Garden's shop - very sophisticated photographic images on a black background. Yummy.

Is there a 12-steps program for paper addicts? My name is Sara and I am completely addicted to paper: old, new, clean, raggedy-edged, ruled, plain, graph, etching paper, wrapping paper...

I LOVE the crimson passion fruit flowers against that greeny background! And on the facing page in my portfolio a selection of blue & white papers

I thought you might like to see my portfolio case with sheets of the stuff waiting to be turned into something beautiful. It will soon be closed up while I go on my grand European tour...

The left-hand section is a group of hand-blocked papers from Venice, and on the right a lovely black/gold/red reindeer paper that I'm going to use for some Christmas notebooks...

Elizabeth Blackadder's flower watercolours - I love tulips and can't grow them here because it's too warm and humid

But oh dear, I've found myself plenty of paper shops on the way, including Shepherds on Southampton Row in London. This is a picture of their famous "paper wall" (I'm salivating as I type and wondering how I'm going to pack ALL OF THAT into my suitcase!). They have a 'new products blog' and an on-line shop... now that's dangerous.

I haven't located any paper merchants in Paris or Brussels on the basis that my lust for paper won't overwhelm me while I'm seeing friends and indulging in chocolate, but I'm remembering all the places I've been to before in Venice and thinking that I'll have to drop in again just to check if they have anything I need!

Hand-made Nepalese kadi paper. The white-on-white flower block print on the bottom with gold-leaf centres I've had for ages but I'm saving it for something special!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More house stuff!

There's more news about our house over at Lookout31.blogspot.com, just so you know. Today we were able to see the size of the office/studio building for the first time as we looked at all the reinforcing that's been laid out ready for the concrete pad to be poured (hopefully tomorrow). My studio is going to be fabulous.

Monday, August 24, 2009

One thing off my list

Wanton product placement - please note, Dell! Yesterday after I'd finished everything else I finished this bag and managed to work it down to the right size, which isn't an exact science in felting.

It's always interesting to see how things turn out because the dyes, the amount of fulling you do to the fibres and the different grades of wool all contribute to how much the colours end up mixing. And to an extent you want them to mix because that indicates how well your felt will hold together! As you can see, the raspberry colours of the background fibres have worked their way through the circles of pre-felt and muted the colours slightly, but I don't mind. This bag is much nicer than the first one I made...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Plenty of room

After ruining my etching plate - and yes, it is completely cactus and so sad that I can't even bring myself to photograph the state it's in - I have found it hard to do any printmaking. However, plans are afoot to start a collograph plate tomorrow.

In the meantime I consoled myself with a second bag for my mini-laptop: I made one with Elaine on Thursday but in a vile shade of yellow! I can't think what possessed me, but I found myself at her house with a bag full of inappropriately coloured wool skeins and no way of changing my selection so had to make the best of it... hopefully there will be someone out there who LOVES pale lemon yellow with turquoise, pink and burnt orange stripes, in which case I will be delighted to let them have the bag for a small fee. Today I redeemed myself. I dutifully made 'pre-felt' (very thin felt in lovely colours, made to be cut up and incorporated into a piece of wet felt), cut it into circles large and small and then managed to use them on a bag that is predominantly a dark raspberry colour. Yum.

Here's what it looked like when I'd just laid out the pre-felt circles. The finished bag is a bit pinker and less purple but I haven't photographed it yet as the light's gone and it's wet...

I've been thinking about the whole Etsy thing and how great it is that there's lots of room for people to set up their virtual shops and sell around the world. When I first thought of setting up shop I was concerned that my friend Jan might feel a little crowded by another book maker/seller in the same town. Amanda's been worrying about it too, as she considers setting up an Etsy shop, and I'm very sympathetic! But no need to worry, I think: we're all selling to different people. The person who likes Jan's gorgeous Gocco printed moleskines and assembled book works won't be debating whether to spend their money on one of her pieces OR one of mine. They'll like one or the other, or they won't know we're both out there anyway, or they might buy a piece of Jan's work on one occasion, and mine on another. In the meantime, hopefully more people putting up quality work raises the bar for everyone which gives us all a certain legitimacy in our efforts and promotes handmade items, which can only be a good thing.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Encore merde

Alas, my plate is thoroughly, utterly, completely ruined... and I did such a nice drawing in the soft ground! Still, after a drink at Bar Fiasco I'm slightly more sanguine about it than I might otherwise be and am considering the possibility of doing a collograph to replace it.


Sometimes I am a complete idiot - not very often, I hasten to add, but today is one of those days.

Softground etching: lovely result, easy process, few golden rules, but one golden rule is to leave it in the acid for a short period of time because the ground is quite fragile and easily degrades. Putting it in the acid, making a phone call, dealing with several emails and then inputting my accounts probably wasn't a good idea, was it? Two hours later I realised my mistake and went back to find a very sad-looking plate. More anon after I've printed it anyway and discovered the extent of my stupidity!

House building

If you want to update yourself about the progress of our house...

... have a look here!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I've been having fun making coptic-bound sketchbooks as stock for when I open my Etsy shop at the end of October. There's something profoundly satisfying about clearing my work space, spreading out beautiful paper, making choices about sizes and threads and fastenings and then cutting everything to size. Shortly followed by sitting with the sun on my back, binding the sections and covers together while sipping coffee and listening to Beethoven string quartets on my little CD player! I feel very calm, very mellow, because the only thing I should be doing is what I am doing: making something.

I made seven sketchbooks, all filled with lovely BFK Rives 250gsm etching paper and bound with acid-free book board covered in different papers with a contrasting lining and sewn with those Danish threads I was lusting after recently. The fastenings range from buttons to beads, and I twisted matching cords from the linen threads so that the books can be tied shut.

All in all it was fun! I'm looking forward to my European trip so that I can collect some more beautiful paper, and also fill the hard-bound sketchbook I made for myself.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Set text!

Thank you everyone who has been in touch about the Artists' Book Club idea. There's always a pause while you try and work out how to kick things off, but while I've been busy with other things (root canal, sorting out our holiday, tearing my hair out about our mortgage...) I've also been reading poetry and I hope you'll like the piece of poetry I've chosen as the piece of text to inspire us for the first book.

I've gone away from my comfort zone in a sense because I don't often read poetry and I've been so busy recently I haven't read anything challenging at all. But while I was at the Sturt Winter School I picked up Ampersand Duck's beautiful letterpress book of Rosemary Dobson's poems and thought I'd like to read some of her work. Tracking anything down in Coffs Harbour has been a challenge in itself but today, amazingly, our local library had a volume of her collected poems and I chose the following poem:

Learning Absences (1986)

Being alone is also to be learnt
Long time or short time.

Walking the length of the house, shutting
The doors and the windows

No longer calling casually over one's shoulder.
Returning to find no trace

Of the other, companionable living -
Bread smell, the stove still warm,

Clothes on the line like messages,
Or messages written and left on the kitchen table:

"We need to keep watering the cumquat."
Or, "I have paid the milkman."

At night, at this season, lingering at the window
Not being certain where to find Halley's Comet,

And looking a long time at the darkening sky

Text taken from "Rosemary Dobson, Collected Poems", part of the Angus & Robertson series 'Modern Poets'. Published 1991, ISBN 0 207 16864 4. Text copyright © Rosemary Dobson 1991.

I hope you like it: I thought it had lots going on in it, and immediately started thinking of making prints before reminding myself that I'm supposed to be thinking about making a 'book'!

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the following people are guilty of wanting to be involved:
Moreidlethoughts, Ampersand Duck, Jane Aliendi, Art & Etc, Barnacle Goose Paperworks, Precious Little Birdy, Amanda Watson-Will and of course ME, which makes 8 participants, which gives an edition size of 9 books each. We'll all get a complete set and there will be once complete set left over for exhibition.

Now here comes the tricky part... deadlines! I said 'New Year' initially, but you might want to consider this: the Libris awards are on again at Artspace Mackay, as part of the Focus on Artists' Books V forum in April 2010. These are Australia's premier book arts awards and only happen every couple of years so we might want to put the set of books in for the Libris awards - only trouble is, if we want to do that we'd need to enter them by Friday 4th December 2009!

Now I don't think we'd need to send in the completed books at this point, just photos and an application form (I'm not 100% sure because the entry forms aren't yet available, but they'll be out shortly). Usually it's a case of putting together some high-res photos on CD, completing the form and paying an entry fee - the books won't be required until probably March 2010. So what do you reckon, could we be adventurous and see if we could put something in for the Libris awards? It would be a great start!

What do I need from you now? Really just confirmation that you want to take part and an email with your contact details if I don't already have them (Carol and Dinah, I don't think I have email addresses for you so at the moment the only way I can communicate is via blogging!). I've registered a blog called Book Art Object (for no particular reason - just came up with that name - if you hate it you can register a different one and we'll use that) and was going to set up all participants as members of that blog so we can all post entries and pictures. At the moment it's completely blank and could do with some love and inspiration!

Blue sky thinking...

Monday, August 03, 2009

Be still my beating heart

This is perhaps only of interest to bookbinders among you, but look at all those lovely threads! They're Danish dyed linen threads from Amazing Paper in Sydney and they are GORGEOUS. Lurking in my studio I have a pile of newly torn paper and some book board waiting to be covered in beautiful paper. Having SOLD my little STOCK OF BOOKS I need to make some more, so for the rest of the day I'm planning to cover the boards, punch the sewing stations and do Coptic bindings with my new threads. Photos in due course...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Just Fun

I keep a little list in my 'Favourites' of blogs and websites I should share with you on this blog, but I rarely get around to mentioning them which is a bit hopeless. So here are some book/bookbinding related sites I've been looking at recently:

Handbound Weekly is a blog that pulls together all sorts of makers of books and book-y things in the Etsy on-line community. It's a great place to browse and see what other book binders are selling, and it's the work of Cindy Leaders, who has her own blog here.

Paperiarre is a lovely blog about handmade books and things from Kaija in Finland. I'm at once of admiring of her evident style and covetous of her beautiful books! I hope she won't mind me saying that she's put ideas into my head about embedding objects in book covers or, to be more precise, she's shown me how it can be done. She also has an Etsy shop here.

And lastly for this evening, I was blown away by the sheer, mad, single-mindedness of Watarou Itou and his paper Castle on the Ocean... Crazy and beautiful, it apparently took FOUR YEARS to make. I'll never complain about my slow rate of output again!

PS., for all you Australian book artists out there, you may not be aware that Focus on Artists Books V has been announced by Artspace Mackay, for April 2010. There is a forum, workshops and an exhibition and you can find details on the Artspace Mackay website together with information about the Libris awards. I don't know why there hasn't been a bigger effort to publicise the event? It's a big thing in the Australian artists book world and yet I found out about it through a comment on Artist Books 3.0 and even then I had to search the internet to find out the information.

Fun and games on Blogger

In case you're wondering, I took the photo lying on my back at the end of one of my Pilates classes, looking up at the trees. It's the sort of thing you do when you're feeling well-stretched.

Anyway, I've been having fun and games with Blogger this weekend. Looking through the various threads on the Help pages I can see that other people are having the same problems: adding a blog to your "Blogs I'm Following" tabs only for the whole lot to disappear and for you to fall into a malaise because you can't remember all the URLs for them... then they reappear, magically, a bit later on. And discovering that you have a new fan, only to find that when you click on your 'Followers' widget you can't find any fans at all and feel very lonely all of a sudden. This blogging lark isn't for the faint-hearted, I can tell you. Thank you, mystery 9th follower of this blog: I'd love to know who you are but I can't see you so I shall send you anonymous good wishes!


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