Friday, December 31, 2010

Old year, new year

I have a mixed relationship with New Year's Resolutions. My mother told me that she always wished for happiness on the basis that everything flows from that and it has taken me 30 years to understand what she meant, and will probably take another 30 years of trying to achieve! On that basis why wish for anything more? It makes having more than that single resolution unnecessary. But...

...I do find lists slightly seductive: my life is shaped by setting goals. Having no faith on which to base anything I have to find a reason to do everything and lists become a fall-back on the days when that is difficult. I tend to chop everything up into bite-sized, one-step-at-a-time pieces and then try to out-do myself by achieving more than a single step at a time, storing up all the extra progress for the days when everything is difficult.

Over the last few years I've found it useful to set a few goals for the New Year. In 2008 I started doing a drawing every day; in 2009 I got fed up with being miserable and decided to study being happy over the year which really worked! This year, 2010, was the Year of House-building and I didn't think I'd have enough energy to anything else... but having achieved that, what will be the focus of 2011?

I think it has to be art. I'm a world-class procrastinator and I've been told countless times that I need to be in my studio in order to make anything. So that's my goal for 2011: to spend MUCH more time in my studio, on the assumption that MANY more hours of creative practice will result in A LOT more work, MUCH MORE of which will be saleable thus achieving the other implicit goal of MAKING SOME MONEY. There are other goals implicit in the idea of spending more time in my studio making art, such as: finally learning how to say no to people who ask me to do things that aren't directly related to spending more time in my studio, worrying less (ha!), getting less stressed by life, meditating more, learning to live with less, laughing more, spending more time with friends and family... blah, blah, blah. All of which may come if I manage to make more time for art.

Should I define the goal further? I don't know... I worry about setting unrealistic targets that will set me up for failure. I have got other commitments as well, but looking back at 2010 I think I've let some of them take over. Again.

Over the last few days I've been making bookcloth from various bits of fabric I've been storing up for a while. On the left is a gorgeous cotton sarong fabric from Kuala Lumpur: dearest husband wore the sarong for a while but it ripped too badly for me to be able to fix so it's getting a second life on some new books I'm concocting... On the right is a piece of vintage linen I picked up in Berrima a year or so ago, hand embroidered with the initial "W". I think it will also make a lovely book cover... And in the top right hand corner, partially obscured, is the yellow-ochre cotton fabric that lined the linen monogram, which I've also turned into book cloth using double-sided fusible interlining and very thin Japanese paper.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best Christmas Presents ever...

I had a very lucky Christmas considering how appalling our finances are! Dearest husband has been saying that I'm now the man of the house since I got the power tools and he got an IOU for a Fowlers Vacola once we have any money.

I've wanted a Dremel for years to do, you know, all sorts of things! Most of 'em art-related, too. This one came with no fewer than 40 attachments! I'm still working out what some of them are, but I can tell you that the battery is charged and I'm poised for action. Well actually I'm poised over a keyboard but my inner power-tool-woman is poised for action.

I've also wanted the books for ages although I didn't appreciate I'd have to think hard when reading them! I've started... not sure when I'll finish.

But meanwhile I HAVE to tell you about our best ever Christmas present!

A couple of months' ago I think I mentioned that dearest husband had created a small herb & salad patch in the wasteland out the back of our new house. We have a long-term vision of "proper" beds and a paved sitting area and lots of luscious things in pots creating a sort of jungle out there... but for now besa blocks and trampelled dirt will have to do. The herb & salad patch has been very successful and we've had lettuce, rocket, dill, oregano, garlic chives, sorrel, parsley, basil and celery already with an aubergine, chilli peppers and various other things in progress.

Anyway, the other day I headed off with darling daughter to a friend's house to do some silk painting while dearest husband was called into school to sort out some IT problems. While we were out the elves visited and we found...

the original bed had been extended at either end and...

an entire extra bed had been added to the end! Roughly where the rake is in the photo the spade had been left in the soil next to a sign that said "in emergency dig here" which is a reference to the packet of biscuits I left in our car when we loaned it to Elsbeth and Linda recently with a note saying "in emergency eat me". Under the soil was a small plastic box containing ginger biscuits, tea bags and a note with Elsbeth and Linda's telephone number. I ate the biscuits (no-one else likes them - or at least, that's my excuse).

Consequently the original bed has tripled in size! Huge thanks to Elsbeth and Linda for the idea and the hard work, and to Taja, Ruth and Darren for conspiring to get us all out of the house. Subsequently they turned up for Christmas dinner with pots of seedlings and cuttings and so I've planted up the beds with Lebanese cucumbers, various lettuces, carrots, tomatoes and coriander. We are still slightly overwhelmed by the generosity and thought that went into it - it has certainly been the best Christmas present we've had in a few years. Thank you!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Essentially Christmas is comprised of various parts that may come in different order depending on your family traditions. For example: trees (real or artificial), presents (wrapped, unwrapped, more or less of them), socks and knickers (contained in the aforementioned presents, if you can call packages of underclothes a "present"), decorations (ranging from little bits of tinsel to extravagant electrical installations that require their own power station), etc. etc.

In my family no Christmas was complete without Christmas tree presents (I believe these were a pact between Santa and my parents: tiny things wrapped and hidden in the branches, specially designed to keep recalcitrant children under control until after dinner with the threat that "if you don't behave you won't get your Christmas tree present". Works like a charm.) and Christmas Pudding.

Years ago I bought this cookbook and it's been my indispensible guide to making food ever since, although these days it largely functions as a holder for various scribbled recipes given to me by family and friends or gleaned from the weekend newspapers.

The picture of the Christmas pudding is a decoy because the important thing in this photo is the collection of pieces of card showing my grandmother's original recipe and my attempts to work out different quantities for different sized pudding basins!

Mama's Christmas Pudding recipe


NB: there are 3 quantities given: the first and largest quantity makes several Christmas puddings i.e. 3 x 2lb (3 x 1kg) puddings plus 2 x 1ilb (2 x 500gm) puddings. The second quantity given makes 2 x 2lb (2 x 1kg) puddings or 4 x 1lb (4 x 500gm) puddings. The third quantity makes 1 x 2lb (1 x 1kg) pudding or 2 x 1lb (2 x 500gm) puddings. Personally I make the largest quantity and then freeze them: we've just eaten the last pudding from 2008!

1lb (450gm) each of sultanas, raisins, currants and sugar (or 1/2lb /225gm each or 4oz / 115gm each)
4oz (115gm) each mixed peel OR chopped apple, and ground almonds (or 2oz / 55gm each or 1oz/30gm each)
1lb 12oz (795gm) breadcrumbs (or 14oz / 400gm or 7oz / 200gm)
1lb (450gm) butter (or 1/2lb /225gm or 4oz / 115gm)
large pinch salt
5 eggs, beaten (or 3 eggs or 1 big egg + 2 small ones)
teaspoon mixed spice
brandy (optional)

silver coins or charms (optional)


Mix the dried fruit, ground almonds/chopped apple, salt, sugar and breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a pan and add to dried ingredients, mixing well. Add the beaten eggs and a good slosh of brandy (how much is up to you!) and mix well. Grease your pudding basin. I use various different sorts, from glass bowls with no lids to plastic ones with lids to metal ones with clip-on lids. It doesn't really matter...

At this point you need to add the silver coins or charms, if you're using them. This tradition is an old one in England: a silver coin or charm was wrapped in buttered paper and hidden in the pudding, and whoever found it in their helping was King or Queen for the day! In my family I use several coins or charms so that most helpings have one... it's just a fun thing to do, it doesn't confer any favours, and if you find it you show everyone proudly and then give it back to me to use in next year's pudding!

Fill the basin to close to the top edge, dropping in your charms or coins, wrapped in greased or buttered paper. Top the basin with two sheets of greaseproof paper, greasing the bottom one where it will come into contact with the pudding. Pleat the sheets together across the middle. Then lay a sheet of foil much larger than the basin over the top. Mould the foil around the edge of the basin and tie around the basin tightly with several rounds of string. If you've made the foil large enough you should be able to turn it back up and over the string and scrunch it into a handle that you can use to lift the pudding basin in and out of the saucepan.

Even if you intend to freeze some of the puddings now is the time to cook them first: find a saucepan into which you can put a trivet (to stop the pudding basin from touching the bottom of the pan directly - I use a cookie cutter!), then the basin and still be able to fit the saucepan lid snugly. Fill the saucepan with water from a hot kettle to about half way up the basin and put the lid on. Simmer the pudding for about 2 hours then remove from the saucepan, remove the foil and the greaseproof paper and leave to sit for a little while. Put a plate of the top of the basin and turn it over, and with luck the pudding will come out whole!

If you want to freeze the puddings, leave the foil and the greaseproof paper on the basin, leave it to get completely cold and then seal in a freezer bag and freeze. When you want to use it, take it out of the freezer the day before you want to use it, and then reheat by steaming for one hour as described above.

No Christmas pudding experience is complete without Brandy Butter and custard. I'm afraid the custard is usually shop-bought (although I buy the good stuff with eggs and milk rather than lots of E numbers!), but the Brandy Butter is easy: beat together a quantity of softened butter with some raw castor sugar and add a good slosh (or three) of brandy, depending on your taste. This gives me plenty of opportunity to taste it as I go... then chill until you're ready to serve the pudding.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

One, Two, Three, "Oooohhhh!"

My friend Sally has a job at at the moment which involves going out at dusk with a torch so that she and her colleagues can spot native wildlife living in an area which is about to have a 4-lane highway built through the middle. Sally and her colleagues then relocate the wildlife to a safe area not far away. Sometimes, though, attempts to relocate animals are only partially successful.

This little critter is a 'puggle', which is the word for a baby echidna. Sally estimates she's about 4 months old now and she weighs just over 500gm. Sally found her mother on one of her twilight outings, with the puggle safe in her pouch but as sometimes happens, when the mother was disturbed she ejected the baby and subsequent attempts at reuniting them failed.

Sally has since been hand-rearing the baby (she has a licence to do so, just in case any of you are worried!), and yesterday I was privileged to be part of the evening feeding rituals. The photo quality isn't great because it was dim light and I couldn't use a flash...

The puggle currently eats about half a cup of warm milk with "native rodent food" mixed in, which I think is basically crushed dried ants/beetles/worms which reconstitutes itself from a coarse powder into a sludge in the milk! They don't have teeth, as such, but a series of bony plates and ridges inside their mouths against which I guess they grind up their food.

I have to say it was a very cute baby: very sleepy to begin with and it wouldn't uncurl but eventually one back leg appeared and did some scratching, followed by the other back leg for a scratch on the other side. Finally a nose appeared, some very mole-like front feet and a tiny tongue. It had a little walk on the grass outside, went to the toilet, and then got on with dinner before curling itself back into a spiny ball and going to sleep.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

On the 18th day of Christmas

My true love said to me, "Why is it that the bigger my customer the less likely it is that they will pay my invoices on time, or even at all?"

Yes folks, we're talking about one of the biggest banks in Australia - or at least, its insurance division which is part of the same group.

They've had dearest husband's blood, sweat and tears for 18 months, accepted the invoice with the 14-day payment period, and have casually announced that they'll pay it some time next year once their legal department has drawn up a contract that satisfies them.

Another client is in Ireland - yes, that's right, the financial black hole of Europe at the moment. Their accounts people can't read and have sent a useless cheque out, probably to our old address, despite the fact that the (overdue) invoice has payment terms of 14 days and direct deposit written in red ink all over it. They do this every time.

The third of our incompetent trio is in England. Another large insurance company with customers around the world. Don't worry about what these people do with your money folks, because they certainly aren't wasting it paying their suppliers... So to the Heads of their IT departments, their well-paid Board members and CEOs may we wish you a VERY Merry Christmas, apparently paid for by us.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The view from here

We've had two days of sunshine and temperatures of over 30 degrees C, and then the clouds rolled in late this afternoon. I'm not complaining, honest! The temperature's gone down and the air has cleared. Looking out of the window this evening I saw these low clouds with the street lights reflecting off their bottom surfaces and my trusty little Nikon CoolPix P1 managed 2 second exposures again, braced against the top edge of a chair.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Books on books on my shelves

The book meme has been doing the rounds and I was recently asked by someone what books on bookmaking I used, so here are my Top Ten bookbinding books:

Franz Zeier Books, Boxes and Portfolios - I find this book really useful, and he has a great section on proportion and use of colour

Gwen Diehn Books that Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop-up, Twist and Turn - a great resource for working with children making books

Heidi Reimer-Epp and Mary Epp The Encyclopaedia of Papermaking and Bookbinding

Kojiro Ikegami Japanese Bookbinding

Sue Doggett Handmade Books

Keith Smith - well anything, really! His books are not always easy to get to grips with (seen the visual instructions for caterpillar binding, anyone?!) but they are GREAT so I have Bookbinding for Book Artists, The Structure of the Visual Book, Exposed Spine Sewings, Smith's Sewing Single Sheets and Books without Paste or Glue

Pauline Johnson Creative Bookbinding

If you count the Keith Smith volumes separately that's ten books, but I've got some extra titles that I love/find inspirational/look at when I'm feeling a bit lost:

The Penland Book of Handmade Books
Nancy Williams More Paperwork
Gabrielle Falkiner Paper
Tomoko Fuse - well anything really: she does mathematical origami and I LOVE her work
Carol Barton The Complete Paper Engineer, volumes 1 & 2
Peter Randall-Page In Mind of Botany
Jennifer New Drawing from Life: the Journal as Art
Mel Gooding Patrick Heron
Deborah Hart John Olsen
Reed & Shapiro Degas: the Painter as Printmaker

So there you go.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Rhubarb's Top 10 books?

All that adding up of book titles read (see previous post) made me think about books I have read and loved and so I'm posting a "Rhubarb Top 10", all of my very own.

We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (I can hear my entire Bristol book group groaning!)

The Robber Bride by Margaret Attwood

Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge (all my childhood princess dreams in one book)

East of the Mountains by David Gutterson

Top 10's are so hard, aren't they? I just know I'm going to look at that list in a few days' time and want to change it!

ps. I tried my luck with the Australian Top 10 listed on Duck's blog and scored.... TWO which promptly wiped the BBC smile off my face!

Friday, December 03, 2010

A quacking read

Blog friend, artist and generally wonderful person Ampersand Duck alerted me to the BBC's list of 100 books, and because I'm sitting here trying to avoid going off and doing any more bloody boring financial thingummies I'm allowing myself to be diverted by the exercise! I've already cleaned the toilet and both cars so things must be really bad...

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.


Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.

Italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

2. Lord of the Rings – JR Tolkien

3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6. The Bible
(yes, as a child I read the entire thing, cover to cover. Yawn)

7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte (absolutely HATED it)

8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell ('A' level set text) - in 1984!)

9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14. Complete Works of Shakespeare

15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20. Middlemarch – George Eliot

21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
('O' level set text in 1982)

23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens

24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34. Emma – Jane Austen

35. Persuasion – Jane Austen

36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis

37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne

41. Animal Farm – George Orwell

42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
(not in a million years, thank you)

43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving

45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50. Atonement – Ian McEwan

51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52. Dune – Frank Herbert

53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens (I just can't get into Dickens somehow...)

58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov (read it at school, to the great consternation of my teachers!)

63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
(god that was hard going)

70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72. Dracula – Bram Stoker

73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75. Ulysses – James Joyce

76. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78. Germinal – Emile Zola

79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80. Possession – AS Byatt

81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84. The Remains of the Day – Kazu Ishiguro

85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87. Charlotte’s Web – EB White

88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom (hmm, I've read the back cover - does that count?)

89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton (nope, not going to happen)

91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94. Watership Down – Richard Adams

95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
('A' level set text in 1984)

99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

So where does that leave me? If I counted correctly I've read 67 of the 100 books listed and excerpts from a further 3. I think that leaves me with a BIG reading list! Talking of the BBC, I was just looking on their website and found notice of an upcoming programme called "The Beauty of Old Books". I'll have to look out for the podcast...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A bit more sunshine

I am essentially quite lazy with regard to blogging. Whereas some blogs are chock-full of fascinating links, interesting facts or intriguing articles I prefer end up bumbling around expressing vague opinions about *life*, and that's about it. Occasionally I come across something or someone I just have to share with you, and today is one of those days!

It's too boring to go through the whole meandering path of how I got to him, but I have found Hiroyuki Hamada's work/blog/website and love it all... His father took him and his family to the USA because of work when he was in his late teens, and he stayed. I have faint memories of perhaps having seen some of his work elsewhere, but I certainly didn't retain much information about him, let alone his name. He has a website, a blog and there is an interview with him in Booooooom which I enjoyed. As much as anything I have enjoyed reading about his process of working: he talks about trials and errors and finding and getting lost. I don't know whether you will feel as much of an affinity with his work as I do, but it generated a great feeling of excitement because brewing inside me is a whole mess of desires relating to 3-dimensional work with paper and I could relate to his interests in both surface and form. Who knows where it will all lead, if I can but clear out a load of rubbish from inside my head, knock a few things off my to do list (essential things like quarterly tax returns, for example - not voluntary and not optional either!), and GET DOWN TO WORK.


Crappy days

You know how sometimes you just have really crappy days? Well today is one of those days. Sometimes I have responsibility for managing someone else - well, I have the responsibility for managing them all the time but I don't always have to get actively involved. Today was unfortunately a "get involved" day, and it wasn't much fun. I don't enjoy giving negative feedback because it makes me feel like a big meanie even when I think that what I'm saying is correct and that I'm doing the right thing.

If you're lucky, the person you're talking to really listens to what you say and takes it as an opportunity to reassess things and move forwards in a positive way, or at least that's how all the "How To..." books on the subject tell you it happens! The reality is usually that the person you're talking to becomes (understandably) defensive, uses their body language to express silently the fact that they think you're a *&^ker, and denies everything, couching it in terms that are meant to convey how petty and mean-minded you really are. And to top it off today I was on the receiving end of some pointy criticism myself about the possibility that everything that's going wrong is going wrong because I'm a control freak. *sigh*

There could be some truth in there: I do like to have a plan in all situations! Of course I reassure myself by thinking of it in terms of being wise, but I guess you could just see it as wanting to be in control. Always.

Ah well. I shall press on. To balance things out I got lots of nice things in the post today: The Art Gallery of New South Wales's magazine Look, with information about their exhibition of terracotta warriors that is starting soon (I can feel a birthday treat in Sydney coming on once term starts in February), a letter from our mortgage company apprising us of an increase in their mortgage interest rates which put the monthly premium up from "jeez, do you want me to starve for the next month?" to "Honey, I think we have to sell the kids" and &Duck's artfully folded response to the latest BookArtObject text by Claire Beynon called Paper Wrestling. Duck, if you're reading this, it's fab!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wet in Wagga

We're down in Wagga Wagga to see my parents-in-law, and of course the Riverina has had rain for the first time in years so Lake Albert is full! I've been coming to Australia for 12 years and this is the first time I've seen it full of water. The bench seat is where I usually sit and draw, but I'm not going to try it this time... We're only here for a day or two: we're starting the drive back tomorrow, and will be home on Monday afternoon. For a European it is all a bit mad! We're driving the equivalent distance to that between London and Venice via the Alps - for a long weekend.

Oh, and did I mention my father-in-law's roses?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Trials and tribulations

By now you've probably noticed that I've revamped my blog. I changed the look at some point last year, when I got to a celebratory number of posts but I was looking at it over the weekend and realised that Blogger had made it MUCH easier to change the format using its default templates, which are now customisable (is that a word?), so I had a bit of a fiddle around, et voila!

Then I realised that I wasn't able to post anything... and my brave new world came crashing down around my ears.

Now for someone who used to be a cryptographic programmer and computer systems engineer for IBM you'd think I'd be happy around technology. You'd be wrong. In many situations when I might be expected to panic I'm cool as a cucumber, and my internal temperature is habitually set to 'blue fingernails and an extra scarf please' regardless of the weather. Once upon a time my doctor actually told me to START smoking and drinking in an effort to raise my blood pressure... He should have told me to sit in front of a laptop and start typing instead! I am reduced to incomprehension when things don't work and "it worked yesterday, why won't it work today?" leaves dearest husband feeling rather distressed. BUT I JUST CAN'T STAND IT WHEN THE DARNED COMPUTER DOESN'T DO WHAT IT'S SUPPOSED TO. Okay?

Never mind. Turns out that when dearest husband loaded Internet Explorer 9 on my darling little machine (which made life a whole load easier in other areas...) it ceased to be compatible with Blogger despite appearances. Luckily Microsoft helpfully included a little "compatibility mode" icon... you just have to know where (and when!) to find it. My own personal view is that IT is God's way of showing s/he has a sense of humour.

100100001011110010100111010011100101010100010100101111 anybody? Yes.............. I'm sure there's an artists' book in there somewhere.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Alas poor Tiny! not with us any more, I'm sad to say. I am of course referring to the mouseling. It was inevitable, and it's been interesting seeing how darling daughter reacted. Much to her credit she insisted that the poor little critter be entombed in the fridge until the weekend, when we buried him under the Poinciana tree we planted outside my studio. Thankfully she didn't insist on a full burial service and was tear-free, so Tiny is making his own unique contribution to our garden and we've had a very positive conversation about recycling!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Small, smaller, smallest

I don't think of myself as being all that sentimental, but I am soppy (in my head at least there is a distinction!). Mice have wrecked havoc on our block for the last 12 months and I have no compunction about setting traps and putting down poison, and I have rejoiced at every critter thus despatched. However, I went down to my studio today and found this little squeak sitting in the middle of the path, clearly lost and lonely. I left it there while I worked but it was still there when I came out again so I scooped it up and took it to show dearest husband, who has had a chuckle at my expense!

I think there is probably something wrong: it is tiny so perhaps it is a baby and has lost its siblings or maybe it has eaten some of my poison... Either way I don't think it will last long, but it will have a comfortable wait for destiny in a takeaway box on our kitchen bench, so that darling daughter can come home and be amazed. It could curl up quite comfortably on that 50c coin with plenty of room to spare. While I curse the little blighters for their nibbling, I also marvel at the exquisite functionality of something so small.

Monday, November 08, 2010

A day in the garden

We have had SO MUCH rain. It seems indecent to complain when living in one of the dryest continents on earth - when I've seen the effects of 10 years of drought at my brother-in-law's sheep station - when people who read this blog have been suffering for years without decent rainfall! But I have to say that the rain is getting a bit wearing... Our water tanks are beautifully full but the road is beginning to wash away again, and our plants are struggling from soggy soil, overly wet roots and a lack of nutrients (which are flowing out of the soil and gently down the hill).

Rain notwithstanding we have been trying to do the odd spot of gardening on the rare dry days. I'm saying this in the knowledge that this week the forecast is finally for sunshine and higher temperatures so doubtless we'll get out of doors more often, but the last few weeks have been dire!

I've been meaning to tell you about all the wonderful bulbs I planted in our rock wall back in June and never got round to it. Now the poor things have flowered and I must say it was a little disappointing. The daffodils were lovely but the freesias are poor, stunted things (probably lack of sunshine!) and the ranunculus didn't come up at all. The Michelia, however, and the port wine magnolias that I planted at the same time, looks as if it's fine and I hope that next Spring we may have some flowers.

This weekend we managed a morning out in the garden. Dearest husband wielded the biggest crowbar I've ever seen and dug me some more good, deep holes for trees. I planted two Jacarandas and two Firewheel trees (Stenocarpus Sinuatus), and we prepared ground for a Poinceana (Delonix Regia). There's something very satisfying about planting trees!

Now all I need to do is to build an anti-wallaby cage to protect my precious Damsons...

Friday, November 05, 2010

Thunder and Lightning

monotype, about 45 x 45cm

We've had a bit of this recently!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Thank you for your lovely, helpful and supportive comments! Sorry for being a whinging Pom... mind you, I didn't feel very cheerful this morning either when I arrived in the pantry to find that one of our long-suffering fish (remnants and survivors from a former aquatic paradise) had decided to leap out of its tank and commit suicide on the pantry floor. What are the animals trying to tell me? First the ungrateful chicken; now the despairing fish!

A good stint in the studio this afternoon, plus reading the funny and helpful things you sent me, cheered me up a lot, fish not withstanding. And as it was really sunny I was able to take some photos of the sketchbooks I've been binding and (trumpet fanfare, stage left) PUT THEM UP IN MY ETSY SHOP! Yes, it has finally opened with more than one item in it, and I think I have a reasonable understanding now of how the whole Etsy system works. I'm not suggesting for a minute that you should buy them (you can all make your own, after all!), but hopefully hoards of other people will flock to my shop and clear out my stock just as fast as I can make it. Well, I can hope... and in fact I was thrilled to see that there had been 8 views for the one lone book I'd put up there a few days ago - even if 3 of those views were me!

There is of course a blog associated with the shop, called Rhubarb and Ella to go with the shop. Ella is my darling daughter, reincarnated as a little bird with a bright beady eye and I am Rhubarb. I'll leave you to judge whether the 'Rhubarb' in question is a native British fruit with a tart flavour, or something (someone?) kept in the dark and fed on *&^%!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


I am absolutely struggling at the moment.

Part of the trouble is 'new studio syndrome', which I commented on earlier when Willis was nagging me about it. I thought I'd got away with it but it has turned around and bitten me on the backside! When you start doing things like cleaning the toilet because you're afraid of doing some work you KNOW you've been badly bitten... Well my studio is spotless and I'm driving myself nuts wibbling around and being ineffectual.

Various other things (i.e. not directly related to cleaning or art) are also stressing me out: money, builders, the strange damp patch that's appeared in the pantry ceiling, money, failure to be awarded a residency, general sense of uselessness, sudden departure of my new chicken, enormous quantities of weeds and lack of hours in the day to deal with them, yada, yada... I bore even myself when I get like this.

The solution? Well a sudden influx of cash would be nice, but in the meantime I'm reading a wonderful book by Matthieu Ricard called Happiness: A Guide to developing Life's most important Skill, which is attempting to persuade me that the sudden influx of cash idea is a) misleading because it won't actually make me happy and b) that happiness is an inner condition, not a series of external factors and that I can learn to be happy without the cash. Hmm. I'll have to persevere with the exercises, then. I've clearly got a long way to go.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE STUDIO? My other strategy is to START WORK, viz. the photo, which is of a series of painted splotches, droplets and washes in a series of sketchbooks. One of my (many) anxieties concerns the pristine nature of blank sketchbook pages so I'm taking a leaf out of Sue Brown's armoury of techniques and challenging the hegemony of the blank page! OK, Sue does it in style with emulsion paint, ink and bleach... my first tentative experiments in this area are tamely made with dilute acrylic paints but somehow it felt good and rather bold to splash around on the page without any clear idea of what I was doing.

That was yesterday evening, when I managed to pull out the paint, deface three sketchbooks and clean off two copper plates. Today I've been slightly more productive: I've gessoed some hardboard ready for painting (god - I haven't painted in years... * moment of fear*) and pull a single monotype. Actually that did feel good: I suffer from the anxiety that anything I might have racked up in the way of skill or experience will have evaporated in the long gaps in between working; it hadn't. I knew what I was doing and it wasn't bad. I'll look at it properly tomorrow and might try the image again.

The thing is, I know that all I really need to do is to get stuck into it - I just get paralysed/sidetracked/diverted away from it - hence the brilliance of the website pointed out to me by LouLou!

Part of the problem is that I'm having a bit of a panic about a big show coming up next year. On the one hand I'm plodding through the practicalities (dates, times, deadlines), and I've even come up with a name for it ("Speaking in Tongues", given my current preoccupation with text and the development of language), and on the other hand I'm having heart-failure about the thought of putting together a coherent body of work that anyone will actually want to see.

All there is to be done is - as ever - to move forwards, building things up as I go.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What you can do for $75, part #2

You know what, my chook's gone! It's always the quiet ones you have to watch... the bloody thing managed to squeeze out of the smallest gap around the top of the cage, and has flown the roost, so to speak. Drat.

I can add that to the litany of bad fortune that has befallen me this week, including (a particular low point...) notification that once again I haven't made it to the cut for the Bundanon Trust residencies. * sigh *

What can you get for $75 these days?

Well to my pleasant surprise it seems you can buy quite a lot for $75. This morning we achieved:

3 pots of pennyroyal
2 pots of French sorrel
2 pots of Corsican mint
1 pot of sweet potato
1 pot of Ceylon spinach
1 pot of Feverfew
1 pot continental flat-leafed parsley
1 Thai green aubergine

1 tube of toothpaste
1 Curly-Wurly
1 packet of Mentos (chewy sweets)
2 sausage sandwiches from the sausage sizzle stall at the markets


3 pullets!

The dark grey one on the right is darling daughter's hen, called Lolly; the brown one is dearest husband's and we've called her Livia as a sort of tribute to Stanley Livingstone the explorer since she has already managed to escape once; and the black-and-ginger one peaking out from under the others is Miss Henny-Penny and she's mine.

Our chook shed isn't built yet, but they're small enough to live in the spare guinea-pig hutch at the moment with daytime forays into our weedy banks, courtesy of the wire pen, pictured above. Toby the dog has taken up residence alongside, for chicken-guarding duties!

Monday, October 25, 2010


What happened?!

I left my kale leaves in the cool room for too long! Aren't the colours lovely?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Golden Book

I've probably made you yawn before with the fact that I'm on the Board of Directors of my daughter's school, and I've probably mentioned that it's a Steiner school. Long-time readers of this blog will also know that I'm not an anthroposophist (i.e. a follower of Steiner Spiritual Science) no, no, no, but that as a family we love the unique character of this particular Steiner school. Recently there's been a small debate about how to motivate children to try hard. I was sitting with a group of women who all contribute their Wednesday mornings to the group effort of making handmade items to sell at various school events as a fundraiser, and we were discussing our school's approach(es) compared to other schools.

There were several different views but one conversation that predominated was about how the constant use of reward-based motivational systems sometimes leads children to expect praise for every single little thing they do, which is counter-productive because it doesn't lead them to try really, really hard to achieve something. I don't want to get into a big debate about it, but it was interesting because recently our new Principal proposed the idea of a Golden Book, a book in which the names of children who have made an exceptional effort (not necessarily in an academic area) are recorded as a way of acknowledging their achievement publically. At first I found it slightly 'off' in that it didn't seem to resonate with the steadfastly non-competitive character of Steiner education, but one of the teachers suggested I looked at it as a balance to the inevitably punitive policies about discipline and welfare. We have plenty of ideas about how to punish unacceptable behaviour, but how do we balance that with publically recognising good behaviour, beyond the obvious praise from teachers? As a parent - and not one with well-thought-out views on these things - I found it interesting.

Even more interesting is the fact that I've been commissioned to make the Golden Book! And I decided to have a little fun with what could otherwise have been a very straightforward case-bound book with ruled page by trying out The Secret Belgian Binding for the first time.

As someone who once lived in Belgium, how could I resist? And it is a gorgeous binding, inside and out.

I've ruined the otherwise ordered and evenly spaced inside cover by making the stitching over the spine irregular, which is mirrored inside.

If you're interested in discovering its secrets you can do no better than to look HERE for very easy-to-follow instructions. I, meanwhile, have been making a pile of sketchbooks to sell using this method of binding and incorporating inlays of polished pebbles and sea glass... In fact, if you're wondering why I'm suddenly showing up on your blog comments as "Rhubarb" rather than "SCB" it will all be revealed shortly, but you can get a sneak peak at things HERE.

I forgot to take photos of the text block in progress but never mind. The process of lacing it into the spine can get a bit tricky but you end up with a lovely robust spine on an intriguing binding. And I had extra fun setting up a jig so that I could slot in each sheet of heavy paper and rule it quickly and easily.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mostly finished

Well here it is, mostly finished! I came back from town today to find that Warren, our builder, had kindly helped dearest husband to move my etching press from its exile in the garden store back to its rightful place in the studio. I gave it a celebratory spray with a restorative rust remover (fortunately the rollers are fine but everything else has been affected by the moist, salt-laden sea air) and will clean it off tomorrow.

I have not one but two tables (Ikea in the UK from years back: trestles with a laminated beech wood top, so strong and height-adjustable) around which I can walk and work, AND carpet, AND my lovely chair to sit on (Sara sighs a happy sigh! ).

Observant printmakers may have noticed the mezzotint plate lurking on one of the tables... yes folks, it's printmaking for masochists, but there's nothing equal to the velvety blackness of a well-rocked mezzotint plate or the subtlety of the shadows it produces and I wanted to try thunder clouds and lightning and it seemed a good idea at the time! 4 hours in and my biceps are swelling... Luckily my trusty mini hi-fi system is still working after 10 years and a lot of time in a box so I am listening to Philip Pullman's quartet The Ruby in the Smoke, The Shadow in the North , The Tiger in the Well and The Tin Princess which must be at least 30 hours of listening so I've got a fair way to go before I'm bored.

It's wonderful to get stuck into some work! On the to-do list at the moment: getting to grips with the secret Belgian binding and the making of a new line of sketchbooks, of which more anon; a commission for darling daughter's school; Italian prints; finishing the St Mark's Square horse collagraph; and some monotypes. Did I also mention that I've got a big show next year and some work for BookArtObject to do? I'm going to have fun.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The rain came down and the floods came up

I am feeling a trifle damp!

Dearest husband and I are holed up in our house, on our hill, watching the flood waters rise. Darling daughter - luckily - spent last night sleeping over at a friend's house, well away from the flooding, and as we packed an extra pair of undies I've just been on the phone negotiating an extra night's stay! Someone did manage to get through to us this morning in a 4WD but he said he'd driven through water and it was rising; apparently it's due to peak at around 2pm this afternoon which I guess must be high tide. The usual problem is that the local creeks feed into Coffs Creek which in turn feeds into the mangrove flats and thence out to sea, but if there's a high tide the water flowing down the valley gets pushed back into the (wholly inadequate!) storm drains and we all get flooded in.

At this point I could easily get diverted sideways into a rant about the stupidity of local town planners over the years or the corrupt practices of our local council on planning issues, or how about the amazingly short-sighted Local Development Plan that envisages hundreds of extra homes being built up this valley, concreting over the natural drainage and forcing more run-off into the overwhelmed drains? Or how about this: the RTA's plan (although they won't admit it - allegedly it's still for "public consultation") to run a small diversion of the Pacific Highway through the bottom of the valley, despite it's proximity to the (sinking) coastline and the inadequate drainage... but I won't.

Instead I'll point out that as part of our environmentally sensitive response to our piece of land we've put all the flood mitigation/drainage works that we can think of (and afford...) such as culverts, new dams, rocking (i.e. areas of rock in the path of the run-off to slow down the flow of water to reduce erosion), tree planting, swales, rainwater tanks and a choice of porous driveway materials to soak up the rain rather than concrete that would simply move the water off to somewhere else. What we can't do anything about is Coopers' Creek which runs across the dirt access road where it crosses the bottom of the valley: it flows through some lagoons at that point, and through a massive culvert under the road, but the creek drains an entire valley system and with three days of non-stop rain there will be too much water for the culvert so the dirt road will flood, and further down the valley where it joins the Pacific Highway the road is flooded again for exactly the same reason.

In the 24 hours to this morning we officially had 176mm or almost 7"; the previous 24 hours was 150mm or approximately 6" but I can tell you that the orange bucket you can see in the photo is about 14" or 350mm high and it sat out in the open all day yesterday and filled up to the brim during daylight hours! I suspect the discrepancy arises from the fact that the Coffs Harbour weather station isn't situated anywhere near here and I think we got more rain than the official report.

Rain aside, we're doing OK now that the leaks have been sorted out. Our builder came up yesterday and cursed a bit when he saw that the roofers had placed an open-ended down pipe from the upper roof directly on the join between the lower roof and the walls. Not surprisingly considering the volume of water we're talking about, the water found a path around the flashing and started coming through above the windows in our hall, which isn't what you want when your house has been finished for less than two months! Once he'd finished muttering Warren went up on the roof and diverted the down pipe temporarily, which has immediately resolved the problem.

Meanwhile of course the solar system isn't receiving much sunlight, but luckily we did a run to the petrol station yesterday and filled the generator and then refilled the diesel cannisters so we should be OK. Darling daughter's happier at her friend's house than she would be at home today, and we've got enough food, wood and diesel to last us a few days. Hopefully the rain is forecast to ease off by this evening so we're hoping life will return to normal tomorrow.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lightning strike

Guess what I was doing on Tuesday evening? That's right: I was out on the veranda at about 9:00pm, fiddling with my (old) little digital camera, taking photos of the lightning storm out to sea. I don't have anything flashy, certainly nothing which will take consecutive shots in the dark. This photo was a fluke: I had the camera balanced on the edge of our outdoor table and the exposure time was 2 seconds. Luckily the lightning flashed right at the end of the two seconds.

I forgot to tell you that I spent a very nice day with our friend Elsbeth last week, sneaking off to Grafton while dearest husband and darling daughter were away together on the class camp.

There are two routes up to Grafton (pronounced "Gra-a-a-fton", apparently, not "Graff - ton" as I usually say it): one up the Pacific Highway - yuk - and one up the back roads through Coramba, Nana Glen and Glenreagh. This route is MUCH nicer: leafy greeness and straight roads through the hills, so off we toddled after a quick trip into town for money and petrol.

Every year Grafton hosts the Jacaranda festival, a couple of weeks in October when the many Jacaranda trees are in bloom and the town is a sea of mauve petals. It's a bit like the Japanese Cherry Blossom festivals but purple. We were slightly in advance of that but managed a visit to the second hand bookstore and the art shop in South Grafton before arriving at the Regional Gallery for lunch and a look around. Lunch at Grafton Regional Gallery is usually a good bet: Georgie's Cafe Restaurant is in the courtyard and although a shower of rain forced us under the veranda we had half an hour at a central table smelling the jasmine and admiring the gardens as we ordered.

There were various exhibitions to see but we focused on two: "Prints from Jilamara" and "Form, Fire and Fruition", an exhibition of ceramics by Geoff Crispin. I'd never heard of Jilamara but apparently it is an arts and crafts association of Tiwi artists on Melville Island, north of Darwin. Being a printmaker I was rather fascinated and spent a good hour walking round and dissecting the prints! There were various techniques in evidence but the ones I loved were geometric images using two colour plates and chine colle. The resulting pictures were quite subtle and deceptively simple - like and yet unlike mainland Aboriginal art. Yes, some of the pictures used dots and the colours were sometimes redolent of the ochres and earth tones I'm familiar with, but there was a quite different feel. The printmaking was confident and sophisticated with a rhythmic, fluid energy moving within the constraints of the lines... I don't know that I'm making much sense of the imagery when I can't show you any pictures to help you interpret my words but it was a deeply satisfying show. I always wander around with a small moleskine notebook and a black ink pen, scribbling and drawing away, and I had a lot to look at in a short space of time. The ceramics were also interesting but I think I was more intrigued by the photos of Geoff Crispin building his own kilns than the work, which was great, but I was just fascinated by the DIY approach to it all.

The other thing we was was a small room filled with prints for sale as a fundraiser for the Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award, which is an annual event. If you click on the link it takes you to the 2010 entries and you can fossick around among the weird and the wonderful. I love this award which might seem strange when drawing apparently plays so little part in my practice, but it is there, honest! You just don't get to see it. I should really do more drawing and part of the fantasy of my studio (apart from bookshelves heavy with interesting tomes to read, an empty table to work upon and my special chair with a view) is that I will conjure up the time and head-space to do more drawing. And about bloody time, frankly. Remember I said last time that Willis had rung me up to have a nag? Well the beggar rang me again today - whilst waiting to have an operation at the local hospital, would you believe - to nag, nag, nag all over again. Hmph.

Anyway, back to that room full of prints. I didn't even know it was there or why until Nigel Killalea, a local artist, rang me a few days beforehand to ask me if I was going to Grafton Regional Gallery that evening and if so, could I please give him a lift? I was clueless and had to look it up on the internet, and then felt slightly peeved that I hadn't been asked to contribute a print to the sale since I am a very local artist... This was in fact a question that I asked the woman who unlocked the room for us so that we could look at the remaining unsold prints! The answer was that they had me on their database (somehow) but hadn't identified me as a printmaker, didn't realise I was a professional artist and hadn't got me on their mailing list - despite me having met the gallery director professionally a couple of times, been to openings and, I'm sure, waved my business card around! Oh well. Just goes to show my public profile isn't yet quite as big as my slightly-put-out head... The woman I spoke to was very nice and I suspect that I might get a call when they next do a fundraiser.

The prints, meantime, were a very mixed bag. I love Christine Willcock's work, for example and there was an edition of a digital piece that I've seen before (not, sadly, one of her etchings on card - just HOW does she do them?), as well as people like Bernhardine Mueller, Gosia Wlodarczack and Rachel Newling. Also Alun Leach-Jones, but I'm afraid that despite his high profile I can't warm to his work. Oh well. It turned out that he had been teacher and mentor to the husband of the woman on the front desk so sadly my lack of enthusiasm was noted...

There you go. Enough blethering. I am going to phone the hospital and see if Willis is OK and then it's back to trying to sort out my daughter's holiday social life while quietly cursing all the mums who are playing hard-to-get while darling daughter mournfully plays in her room by herself. Not because she's unpopular, you understand, more because no-one seems to be able to get their heads together enough to arrange anything. Aaargh.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Starting something

Yes I know, I've been very quiet of late. There have been all sorts of reasons: my email software was playing up, dearest husband and darling daughter were away on the school camp, I haven't been at my desk much recently... but in fact the real excuse is that I've been busy doing other things! And primarily the 'other thing' has been getting my studio sufficiently organised that I could - in theory - do some work. Willis came round a week or so ago and had a bit of a nag but in the process dropped me a wise hint: don't get studio block, he said but of course it was too late... I realised I was afraid of getting started, afraid of really getting stuck into some work, afraid I'll be rubbish and everything that comes out of my studio will be rubbish. But eventually I bored myself, realised that half the reason I wasn't doing anything was because a) I was tired and b) it was hard to resolve where to put anything when my poor printing bench was in such a state after being used as a kitchen for eight months! So the first job was to strip the poor thing down, sand it, prime it and paint it. Then I could put stuff on it, unpack some boxes and get going. So I did.

And this is the result: still no press in there yet, no wall taps for the paper bath, and the acid bath is still in the shed. But it's a start.

It's been a dream for the last few years to have a work table that I can walk around. Et voila! There's even the beginnings of a print: a collagraph plate of one of the bronze horses in St Mark's Square in Venice that I've been working on for an unmentionable amount of time, primarily because I haven't been sure what I wanted to do with it. Now I do know what I want to do but it involves carborundum grit and damn it if I haven't lost the stuff...

This is my reading chair. For years and years I've dreamed of a place to sit and read arty books in my arty studio. Et voila! This is a 1950s nursing chair bought by my mother to nurse me, years and years ago, but I've recovered it in a natty raspberry pink tweed (of which she would have thoroughly approved!) and it's sitting in my studio, facing the view with a suitably arty book on the seat that I've already started reading.

Meanwhile, back in the real world... lovely orchids flowering on our verandah!


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