Sunday, March 28, 2010


Having been ill for a week and recovered for a week I find myself panicking about my up-coming show. I have 7 pieces of work complete, one in progress, one in the planning stage - and that doesn't seem like very many and I've only got 6 weeks to go! I am a shockingly slow worker...

Things haven't been helped by the delays with building our house, lots of Board stuff to do at school and all the usual end of term activities. We had a lovely evening at school on Friday, actually, celebrating the Japanese Autumn Moon festival (not quite on the full moon but close enough!) with Japanese singing, music and a play followed by miso soup and rice dumplings. We took along our big telescope and dearest husband spent a happy hour guiding a hundred children through tracking the moon across the sky and finding the rabbit: the Japanese equivalent of the European 'man in the moon'.

Anyway, I recently showed you pictures of that box full of blocks I received in the post (I've had lots of interesting post recently, including the latest BookArtObject book from Ida Musidora, which is fab) and I've spent a while mullling over what I want to do with it. The upshot is that it's going to be another book about family and I've been putting together the images on paper: inkjet prints of old letters, old text, hand written family trees and drawings... Each book will be slightly different; I'm only making 4 but I think that will be enough. (For me, that is, putting it all together!)

Actually none of the above made it to the final cut of images but were an important part of the process. I'm not sure what it will look like when I've finished, but that's part of the fun.

I found out yesterday that I've had a piece accepted into the annual Creative Arts Workshop show in Connecticut, USA, that was juried by none other than Hedi Kyle (she of the fabulous book art structures - I think she formalised the structure of the flag book and invented the blizzard book, among others). She seems to be an incredibly modest person but she has undoubtedly had a huge influence on artists' books in the last 30 years and her role in the exhibition is the main reason I wanted to enter. I'm so pleased she selected my work! In fact it is Learned Absence, which I made for BookArtObject, that has been selected so my last remaining book will soon be winging its way across the sea to New Haven with my hopes and prayers that it doesn't get lost en route and a hefty price tag so that if anyone does buy it, I won't grieve too much about selling it! I'm regretting now that I didn't make a larger edition, because every number will have been used up together with an 'artists' proof' and I can't - of course - make any more...

What else? Well I've had my Nature Detective hat on too this week, working out which bird it is that we've seen running across the dirt track in front of our car. It's a large-ish bird and if I was in Europe I'd describe it as being like a pheasant with stripey feathers and that looooooong tail. In fact it's called a Pheasant Coucal and you can find some great pictures of it (albeit in a totally different landscape) on Australian bird life photographer Graeme Chapman's website. I looked it up in my 'Handbook of Australian Birds' which had thus far been no help at all, and found out lots of interesting things. For example, it's actually a member of the cuckoo family and is found all up the East coast of Australia from Sydney north and thence into Indonesia and Malaysia. What's more, it's the only member of the cuckoo family not to parasitise other birds' nests: it actually builds its own, lined with eucalyptus leaves, in the bottom of big clumps of tall grasses. But what made my day was to discover that the Pheasant Coucal is the originator of the most peculiar bird call that I've been listening to at dawn and dusk for the last couple of months! The Handbook described it perfectly: a series of 'whoop, whoop' sounds, starting with two, then a pause, then an ascending series of whoops until.... silence... and then it starts again. It's such a fun sound to listen to, and now I know where it comes from.

Last but not least, I have to leave you with a giant squid!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Oh cr*p

Hmm, not sure of the chain of blame or shame here: you can look at it in so many ways! Was it my fault because I asked Pete the excavator driver to smooth out the ridge so that we make the grade with the Rural Fire Service? Was it Pete's fault that he didn't see the pipe? Or... was it the sewerage contractors' fault that they neither dug the pipe in at the usual 600mm below ground level nor marked it with coloured tape so that any excavator would be alerted to the pipe's presence in the hole?

Well who cares - the whole thing stinks (ha, ha). What I do know is that the ridge is beautifully smooth, the pipe wasn't marked, Pete inadvertantly drove a large piece of machinery through it and the end of the pipe was obscured by dirt and only made apparent in the recent rain and... every drop of water (clean, 'grey' or 'black') expelled down the drain has been neatly by-passing the Biolytix sewage system and instead trickling its way slowly down the hill.

I discovered the result this afternoon as husband and I struggled down the hill laden with two trees, two buckets of liquid seaweed solution, six recycled plastic stakes, two 'green' water-reservoirs to keep the trees suitably irrigated, compost, a large shovel and a wheelbarrow. Yes, folks, I trod in it before I quite realised what "it" was. In fact I was so oblivious to the totality of the situation that I merely commented on the ground being surprisingly boggy in the area... Dearest Husband had to point out what was really going on.


Anyway, all thoughts of toilets firmly out of our heads we are celebrating the planting of the first tree: a Seville Orange that should keep me in marmalade for decades once it starts bearing fruit, and has been named in honour of my mother, "Sylvia's Orange Tree". Hoorah.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

*cough* *hack* *splutter*

Darling daughter hasn't been very well for the last couple of weeks: there's a nasty chest cold going round the school and we've been fortunate enough to host it in our home, complete with all-night coughing fits and riotous temperatures. Now, sadly, it had the bad grace to infect me and I've got it worse than Darling Daughter which doesn't seem fair at all.

Needless to say we've taken the approach that if Darling Daughter is well enough she should go to school, not malinger around the house especially since we're all crammed together in two rooms and there's nowhere peaceful for her to rest here. But lest that seem unduly careless I should say that her teacher is very sanguine about it and there would have been hell to pay if Daughter had missed last Friday's Crazy Hair day.

There must have been a run on sprayable hair products in Coffs Harbour in honour of the occasion but knowing how much Darling Daughter hates washing her hair (especially when she's got a bad cold) I went for the non-spray option: I divided her hair up into five bunches, plaited each bunch around two hefty pipecleaners and tied the whole lot up in coloured ribbon and plonked fake roses and butterflies on top. I gather her class had lots of fun bending her plaits in passing, although I'm not sure she was enjoying it by the end of the day... but instead of having to wash it all out we simply had to take off the elastics, pull out the pipe cleaners et voila!

I put the plaits back in over the weekend on the basis that it would keep her hair away from the coughing... and this was sweetened by the thought of having marvellous waves in her hair when we did get around to taking out the plaits on Sunday. This made it a lot easier to have her face painted on Saturday when we went to the annual Bellingen Plant Fair.

It was such a wet and miserable day that we almost didn't go, and we had to stop off first and buy wellies for everyone, but I'm glad we went. For the last couple of weeks we've been living in a land of thick, oozy red mud thanks to the work of Pete and his excavator and the rain. Pete's been carving drainage benches into the hillside behind the studio/office building, putting in culverts and creating a new dam half way down one of the gullies. It's all been great work and very necessary but the mud has been a real problem. Walking down the slope between the house (where we park the cars) and the office/studio (where we live) has involved acquiring an extra two inches in height thanks to the mud sticking to the bottom of our shoes!

A side-effect of all the excavation work is that Pete has cleared a lot of land of its covering of noxious weeds such as lantana and tobacco bush. This saves us from having to do the work by hand, but now it's been cleared we need to replant it with ground cover plants before it reverts back to weeds. We had a good chat to a bush regeneration specialist at the Bellingen Plant Fair who approved our methodology: we're going to put down lawn grass seed and individual ground cover plants which will give good coverage quickly, and the ground cover plants will eventually smother out the grass. We're also getting rid of our Camphor Laurels by planting native strangler figs on them up in a fork in their branches. The strangler figs will - surprise, surprise - strangle the Camphor Laurels, but it will take time; meanwhile we don't lose the laurel's soil-retaining usefulness. Chopping them down, while quicker, would destabilise some of the slopes. We're going to prevent the laurels from seeding, however, by ring-barking them now: it won't kill them but it will wound them and prevent them from flowering while the strangler figs become established.

I was thrilled to find a Seville orange tree at the plant fair: my mother loved marmalade and I think she would have been delighted to think of me harvesting my own marmalade oranges. Can't wait... meanwhile we have lots of citrus for our citrus orchard: Meyer lemons, Imperial mandarins, a blood orange, a kumquat, a kafir lime tree and a native finger lime. Yum!

You'd think that all this malingering with a cough would have given me the time to make some work, wouldn't you, but I have to say that I've been feeling far too ill to work. In fact it's all I can do at the moment to type - and you can't see how many spelling mistakes and grammatical errors I've had to fix up as I've gone along! But anyway, I am thinking about working and the arrival of this box of wooden blocks has helped. Dearest Husband brought home a marvellous cube from a conference sometime last year. The cube is made up of 8 wooden cubes covered in folded paper, and the folding and cutting of the covering paper allows the cube to 'open up' and reconfigure itself, revealing as it does so the inner faces in different formations. It's not the same as the rotating tetrahedron I recently used to make a book in that it isn't endlessly reconfigurable: you unfold the blocks up to a certain point and then you have to fold them all back together again, but the movement is intruiging, nonetheless.

I've had a go using some old prints on thick etching paper and realised quite quickly that I need to use thinner paper: I understand the principal now and just need to use thin paper and more accurate cutting skills to make it work. What's exercising my mind more is a coherent idea behind the imagery... I'm sure I'll get there in the end.

Meanwhile I think I've got to the end of my ability to sit in this chair and type for today. It's time for soup and then bed again! This cold reminds me of being ill as a child (I used to get several episodes of this sort of cold every year and spent weeks off school). I'd be confined to bed in my room on the back-garden side of our house in Bognor Regis, listening to the local chooks pecking around and waiting for Mum to come up occasionally and feed me mashed banana with brown sugar and lemon juice if I had a sore throat. As I remember it I was largely left to myself, and daytime or nightime lost their meaning as I slept when I felt like it and read books the rest of the time... In my memory it was quite peaceful, a bit boring, and I remember spending a lot of time looking out through the small window across the landing at the top of the stairs, which gave me a peek out into wider world.

At the moment my temperature's climbing upwards again and I can feel my pillows calling to me. Fighting with breathing is doing wonders for my meditation skills: I have to concentrate fiercely on the whole of each breath in or out to stop my lungs from closing up and starting another coughing fit...

p.s., (posted Thursday) after a week of spluttering it all got too much: I had a meltdown last night and decided to see the doctor today (everyone wishes I could sleep properly because I'm disturbing them as we're all in the one room at the moment). Contrary to expectations the whole issue was taken seriously so I'm tucking into a good strong dose of Roxithromycin (one tablet with green tea on waking, half an hour before food...) and if my temperature doesn't come down within 48hrs then I get a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia. I don't think it will get that far myself, but I'm looking forward to a better night's sleep tonight and - who knows? - possibly some energy tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Plodding on

Did I mention that I went to see AC/DC in February? It was my 44th birthday present from Dearest Husband and we had great fun although I have to say it's possible that the band is a little past its prime... or could that be me? I last went to see them at Wembley in 1990 although it was a different perspective from the mosh pit all those years ago. This time we had seats, there were safety briefings and a special bus service to take us to and from the hotel in Baulkham Hills. Yes, Baulkham Hills. Sydney CBD has 17,000 hotel beds and they were all booked: Mardi Gras, AC/DC and Chinese New Year all coincided on one slightly damp weekend in February, which meant we hoofed it up the railway lines to Parramatta and thence into a taxi for a further 40-minute ride to the hotel. We were that far out of town.

Needless to say I didn't get the felt flower, the pearl buttons, the embroidered felt purse and the tatting at the AC/DC concert. They are, in fact, the product of the school craft group.

Geeze I love the Craft Group ladeez! I never really had the benefit of a circle of supportive girls/women growing up. By the time I'd ploughed my way through school bullying and adolescence I was firmly of the opinion that the vast majority of females were complete ^%$#@s and that the male of the species had a more straightforward agenda (ironic given the facts of my first marriage, but that's a whole different story). I had no close female friends until I went to university, and I've not really experienced the mythical female sisterhood thing until the last few years.

How is it that relationships and childbearing/rearing have become a competitive sport? I'm too tired to bore on about it and I've got nothing new to say. It's just great now to spend a couple of hours each week with lovely women who are funny and wise, sad sometimes and angry, but also generous, gifted and caring. We sit around for an hour or so drinking coffee (or chai - unless, to Amanda's amusement, you're like me and think chai is an invention of the devil if not imbibed from a food stall outside in India's monsoon heat) and whatever scrummy baking one of us has come up with before we get on with our purpose, which is to produce crafty items to sell in aid of the school.

Today we had fun doing more wet felting, making sheets of coloured flat felt that will be made up into all sorts of things. Steiner educational philosophy has spawned a whole industry in making 'Steiner-compatible' toys. I object to the freaky faceless dolls, and I'm too impatient to sew endless stuffed animals so I confess I'm the subversive in the group: coming up with new ideas and refusing to make gnomes. We're cooking up plans to sell new and different things at the Spring Fair, and meanwhile we're planning to form a recorder ensemble: first practice session next week!

OK, enough rambling from my temporary desk. I wanted to work on stuff for my show this evening but I can't because I've set up camp in the bedroom and of course darling daughter has now gone to bed. More about the new work next time...

Ooh, ohh, forgot to make a link. Dearest husband was shaking like a jelly the other day when he should have been working and when I asked him if he was feeling unwell he said no, he was reading a blog called Bad Hostess. Naturally that meant I had to read it too. If you don't find rude words and crabby opinions amusing and you're unfamiliar with Australians and Australian culture then perhaps it won't be your thing, but if that sounds intriguing, read on! She's much funnier than I am.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Uuuurgh. I'm surrounded by the stuff and I'm convinced some of it has migrated up my legs (from my muddy feet, you understand) and into my ears and thence into my brain... Perhaps it's mud, perhaps it's germs, but whatever the reason I am feeling saggy and soggy and very, very tired. All I really want to do is to curl up in a chair and read a book while stuffing my face with the gorgeous dark chocolates with cream centres that I bought last weekend in Sydney (where we went to see AC/DC, did I mention?).

I do not, repeat do NOT, want to do any actual work. Or washing. Or ironing. Or cleaning. Or thinking. About anything.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Forward thinking

The way in which creativity seems to work in me is very circuitous. Occasionally I try to prevent my own worst excesses by doing a little bit of forward planning, and this is one such occasion. When I arrived in Coffs Harbour in October 2006 I visited the Nexus Gallery in Bellingen on one of our very early weekend drives around the local area, and when I found out that I too could exhibit there I put my name on the list. I was warned there was a long lead-time, and it wasn't until the second half of last year that I got a letter in the post (amazing that it found me, given how many times we've moved in the intervening period!) to notify me that my dates are 9th May to 4th June 2010.

No problem, thought I. BookArtObject was getting off the ground (I can't remember the exact timeline for that but if it hadn't actually started it certainly existed in my head) and I'd got a few other things I needed to finish off, plus I knew we'd be going overseas for several weeks, so I allowed myself some room and promised I'd start work at the end of the year. I hadn't banked on moving house again so my good intentions were hijacked and I haven't been able to start anything new until now.

I've been jolted awake recently by a phone message left by the Gallery to tell me that they needed 350 invitations for a mail-out by the end of February and, as I didn't get the message until almost the end of February, I had to do a pretty fast turn-around! Luckily I have a fabulous friend called Anna who is a graphic designer and she took my photo and the details and transformed them into elegant invitations in only a couple of hours, so I was able to deliver the invitations in time. As I had 500 printed I also have enough to plant around town and deliver in person to my favourite people.

Meanwhile, a plan for work is slowly forming in my mind... I have lots of ideas to do with cut paper, and fortunately I do have a few pieces of work that haven't been shown anywhere near here and can legitimately go into the exhibition. I don't think I'm going to have much to sell, but I am hopeful of a good show!

Mmmm... These ants are big, have BIG jaws, and jump!

While I've been cogitating we've been dealing with lots of mud. Recent rain plus the amazing activities of Pete and his digger mean that we are surrounded by thick, oozy clay, necessitating multiple pairs of shoes. I.e. shoes for wearing in the house are carefully carried up the hill while wearing shoes suitable for sticky mud, and I also have 'car' shoes for driving in. More pictures will be posted on my Lookout 31 blog in due course, once I've recovered some energy. I'm fighting hard against the beginnings of a cold, in the knowledge that half the parents at Darling Daughter's school have succumbed to what is a nasty 'flu-like bug and I DON'T WANT IT. Thank you.


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