Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Woolsheds and Weed Paintings

Last Wednesday saw a few of my art group heading to Ashley Clinton to paint the Ashcott Station Woolshed. Marie S and her husband collected me and fortunately because the property is on State Highway 50 I didn’t really get us too badly lost. The woolshed was old, dark green and now serving as a slightly tumbledown pigeon residence. After wandering around and taking some photos Marie S and I sat with the sun on our backs, had morning tea, talked a bit and tried to look enthusiastic since it was both our first that way as the building turned out to be tricky to draw. I measured, I erased, I redrew, and by the time lunch had arrived had managed to get a pretty faint outline onto paper.

Like many large stations Ashcott has been broken up and the original homestead is no longer part of a working farm. We were lucky enough to have permission to have lunch in its grounds and saw close up the extensive renovation work taking place on this massive building. The front of the house belies what lies behind. According to Helen a whole wing had been taken down (I assume it was too damaged to repair) but even so the house must be a maze of rooms inside. As I went around snapping I kept finding more bay windows, more hidden balconies and more evidence of all the work the owner is undertaking to try and bring it back to life.

Apparently I am no better sketching homesteads than I am woolsheds. You’d think straight lines would be easier than bodies but apparently not. It’s all I assume a matter of practice. As I remarked to Marie- perhaps it might be easier to start on something simpler like my cottage (or the woodshed).

So I have finally-nearly-almost finished the painted book I have been working on as part of my Learning Connexion course for the past weeks (a friend says it’s months but I try not to think about that). The exercise was meant to be an illustrated poem so I took one of my own as it had floral imagery and edited it into page sized pieces. I prepared the calico with gesso before swirling colour onto it with acrylic but in thin glazes ala watercolour. After that I wrote the poem out with a calligraphy pen (an old fashioned job that you dipped into ink). This took a while as the calico soaked up the ink like Sponge Bob Squarepants so every letter meant a new dip.

I drew the flowers in pencil and then outlined them in ink before wetting each petal with water and swirling colour into it. I even managed to accomplish my first dew drop courtesy of one of the instruction books I bought at the Bookarama a couple of weeks ago. I used to paint flowers a great deal when I was younger until the cost of framing my watercolours drove me into the arms of acrylics and financial considerations meant I had to turn to pet portraiture. Long live flowers with their beautiful vibrant colours. They are so much easier to draw than woolsheds…

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Montreal- City of Culture and Fun

Flights to Montreal arrive in the largest city in Quebec and second largest in Canada. Situated on two large islands on part of the St Lawrence River this cosmopolitan city known for its cold winters and wonderfully hot and sunny summers.

One of the main features of the city is the Casino de Montreal which offers 24 hour gambling, food and drinks. For shoppers The Underground City links major buildings and multi level shopping malls in the downtown area. Sheltered from the weather it offers access to cinemas, food courts, entertainment and a wide range of goods and services. The Notre Dame Basilica, a neogothic church dating from 1829, features beautiful interior with stained glass windows, statues, a Casavant organ and the largest bell on the continent.

Mount Royal is part of Mount Royal park and overlooks downtown Montreal, across the river towards the Monteregian Hills. The top is divided between two cemeteries, the Catholic Notre Dame des Neiges and nondenominational Mount Royal cemetery, and a park. The Olympic Stadium was built for Montreal’s 1976 Summer Olympics and is still used for sports events and concerts. Next door is the Biodome originally used for cycle racing, now an indoor zoo.

Monday, April 19, 2010


After waiting for a year the first day of the Pakareki Lions' Bookarama finally arrived (16th April). Rose and I left here at 8am in the chill and arrived at Waipukurau by 8.25am. There were already a few people there including the ubiquitous dealers sitting along the front doors so that no one else could get near. They had large fadge sized bags into which they would later sweep books off the tables without even looking at the titles. Fortunately only a few people had arrived at that point and I was next to someone I knew from art who was waiting patiently with her three daughters. As the sky began to cloud up and darken more people began to arrive. The polite ones lined up behind us but the cheekier individuals went an alternative route and pushed in front of the line. Eventually there were several well dressed people crowding by the dealers.

At 8.45am it began to rain yet the dealers and other rude buggers wouldn't let us under the overhang of the building. Some of the organisers must have seen our predicament and opened the door to let us shelter in the lobby which is when the nastiness began. Pushing, shoving to get in front, not only was I knocked about but an old lady on a walker was nearly pushed over. We huddled in the lobby until the crush began to get unbearable when the main doors were opened and everyone tried to squeeze through at once. I get claustrophobic at the best of times but this was really frightening although Rose and I got into the hall without being punched. There were tables and tables of books (over 18,000) that had been donated. I couldn't see the art section but someone pointed it out and I rushed over in time to meet a friend (also called Rose) from portraiture who was also keen to get some books. She and I worked together, swapping books and finding titles for each other. I was thrilled to find a copy of Susan Harrison Tustain's "Glorious Flowers In Watercolour" which usually retails at $70 for just $2. Also three large folders of watercolour magazines for just $1 each.

I only rifled through a few sections before my two bags were so full I couldn't lift them at all. A friend's eldest daughter stood guard over them for me (if you left your books unattended someone would go through them) before I ran out of energy and money> I sat there exhausted, shocked that only half an hour had passed. By the time we left the building it was pouring with rain so there was a mad dash to the car with the stash of goodies. Oh how I wish I'd had more bags and money as I would have come out with double- as it was I bought 33 books (mainly reference- art, history, crafts). But as Rose reminds me there's always next year.

I have begun the Design In Sculpture section of my Learning Connexion course which meant playing with clay. My first exercise was a fantasy creature which I called "Washed Up Mermaid". Rose pointed out that her breasts were too upright considering she's lying down but as I told her she'd just had silicon implants put in by a shady squid doctor which is why she was washed up deceased on the beach. Then made a small rabbit sculpture which was meant to represent a French Angora rabbit although it seemed to be suffering a severe case of gastroenteritis as it was a bit on the skinny side. One exercise consisted of making an abstract sculpture representing an emotion. I chose grief but the resulting piece resembled a urinal with a giant brown jaffa sitting at the bottom...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cosmopolitan Toronto

Toronto began as a small French colony in the 17th Century before the American Revolution saw families loyal to the British fleeing northwards to safety. Many settled beside the north shore of Lake Ontario establishing the town known as York. In 1834 the name was changed to Toronto, the Indian word meaning “Meeting Place”.

In the early 20th century the English nature of the city was changed and enhanced by the cultures brought in by an influx of immigrants. This saw Toronto turn into a city with 80 ethnic groups speaking more than 100 languages.

Also known as Canada’s commercial capital Toronto features “Yonge Street” the longest street in the world and the city’s main north-south artery. Toronto’s main landmarks are the CN tower, the world’s tallest standing structure with glass-fronted elevators rising 1,815ft (553m) to indoor and outdoor observation decks and “Skydome” an entertainment complex with retractable roof. Besides these there are also museums, art galleries, massive shopping complexes, a dynamic stock exchange, cutting edge architecture, first class restaurants and hundreds of parks.

Flights to Toronto have an average flight time of 7 hours and 20 minutes from Dublin with a time zone only 5 hours earlier than GMT.

Saturday, April 03, 2010


My friend Pete died on Tuesday- he was 42 years old. He first wrote to me fifteen years ago just after his brother died of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome when I was setting up the NZ support group. We first met ten years ago when he flew up from Timaru for a conference I'd organized in Napier. After the weekend of lectures we spent a day together, we went to lunch and then spent the afternoon sitting in a park talking, comparing dislocations and flat feet. Since then Pete had kept in constant touch, he remembered my birthdays and Christmas, he rang me every day for a week after my Dad died, he was always there when I needed someone to talk to. Six years ago his bowel perforated and we nearly lost him but against all the odds he survived. Every day was a miracle although he did still have his health scares, bleeds that put him in hospital, sleepy days when he couldn't do much plus times of extreme pain. Just recently however he had a period of good health and was able to go fishing with his friends and do a lot of the things he wanted to do. The fact that his death was caused by medical misadventure by an arrogant doctor who lied and didn't listen to the family when they told him that Pete couldn't be given Warfarin as he had a bleeding problem just adds another layer of pain to an already painful situation. And it will go on as there is to be an inquest into his death.

I wanted to curl up in a ball after hearing the news about Pete. Certainly I had no intention of going to art on Wednesday but then I heard that it had been arranged that we could go and sketch in the garden on "Punawai" a property just off State Highway 50. Gay picked me up on her way and we arrived just after 9.30am. It was a beautiful Autumn morning and the trees were just beginning to turn gold around the dam turned garden pond. A feeling on serenity and peace pervaded the property. I wandered around with a camera ending up taking 80 photos of the English style country garden, the park-like grounds and the many sculptures dotted around. Finally I settled down to sketch near a creek. I was determined to draw some trees in ink and ended up spending nearly two hours scribbling away. After lunch I left with Gay to have afternoon tea at the Onga Onga General Store so didn't get a chance to put a watercolour wash onto the drawing until the next day by which time I had developed a pissy little head cold which I am still trying to shake off. I hope the picture conveys some of the peace of that lovely place.