Tuesday, December 28, 2010

First Steps in Crochet and other makings

There are a few memes floating around the internet urging people to share influential books from their childhood or recent reading lives. I've never seen a 'how-to' book mentioned on any of these lists (or a recipe book for that matter) but I was recently reunited with one of the influential books of my life.

Bethwyn picked this up along with a pile of other old books to contribute to our altered book project, Frugal with the Brughel (have you noticed I spell the B word differently every single time I type it?). She had no idea that I would fall upon it with coos of delight and sighs of nostalgic rapture. I had no idea I would either, but every single spread was deeply familiar even though I can't have seen my, or any other, copy of First Steps in Crochet since at least the early 80s.

My first copy would have been well thumbed through the mid-70s, when I taught myself to crochet by laboriously following the excellent diagrams and instructions provided by the 'Editress: Patience Horne of Clackmannashire'. I don't remember actually following any of the patterns to make a 'dashing little bolero' or 'jaunty little hat'.

I suspect that even at a tender age I was more interested using traditional methods to make my own original designs. I do remember working a sky blue wool with the tension too tight, and my frustration at not having the manual dexterity at 8 or ten years to be able to satisfactorily manifest the creation I imagined. Even if all I ever finished was that wobbly-edged scarf I must have studied the whole book very closely to have imprinted it so deeply on my memory.

My first real success with a craft was knitting, which I took up some ten years later, after disappointing dabblings in sewing, embroidery and zine making etc. Penelope started making me a complicated fair isle pullover and then stopped at the sleeves, leaving the body for me to finish. So I was forced to learn to knit but at least I didn't have to cast on until I'd made a whole garment. I became addicted to knitting and didn't stop for about ten years until I'd made everyone I knew a jersey or a hat, and gave myself OOS.

Bethwyn was so thrilled at my delight in reconnecting with First Steps in Crochet, that she withdrew it from our altered book pile (one of our rules is that either of us can withdraw any book from contention for cutting up at any time) and gave it to me as a birthday present.

And then for Christmas Bethwyn gave me this even better gift, a badge made out of an old blanket label (I think it's the label from the blue blanket I used as the ocean background for Ross Island). I love it so much, even though when I wear it, everyone I meet peers at my chest and says 'Hospital? wha?'. The fabric in the background is the excellent bag that Anna sewed for me as a Christmas present. And below are some (just some) of the insane variety of cookies that my mother and I made together last week.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Below the surface

Colour tests for underwater iceberg

I am beginning to make a new iceberg. This one will include the 80% of the iceberg hidden below the water. It's been very difficult to find information on and images of icebergs below water, but after several months of research I finally feel ready to begin.

All the iceberg tips I have made (including the current work in progress) are based on photographs; there are so many beautiful and detailed images of iceberg tips for me to copy. However, my below-surface berg will be based on a composite sketch, pulling together all I have learned, seen and imagined, without having a single reliable image to inspire me.

The Rayleigh effect scatters sunlight so that the further from the surface, the bluer the light that shines through ice. I'm actually basing my underwater ice colours on a description of a deep crevasse in Kim Stanley Robinson's novel, Antarctica where he says

...only the very bluest light made it down here, glowing from out of the ice in an intense creamy-translucent turquoise, or actually an unnamed blue unlike any other she had seen. (...) all of it a blue that could not be described and could scarcely be apprehended, as it seemed to flood and then to overflood the eye.

KSR's novel is the origin of my Antarctic obsession, my most thumbed literary reference (though I do double check my facts in my Reader's Digest encyclopedia of Antarctica). His book can be seen as a framework for the exhibition of Antarctic pieces I will have next August, for he seamlessly brings together the sciences, the human history, the current politics, and potential futures of Antarctica. These are the same themes that I am responding to in my work, and so it is no accident that the next step of my imaginary Antarctic journey is to go below the surface, below the entrancing and accessible tip of the iceberg, to explore the unnamed, the indescribable and the scarcely apprehended.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Snail mail joy

Look what was inside the enormous box of goodies sent by my delightful internet buddy, Helen Lehndorf, a talented poet, crafter, performer, Flickr photo curator, brilliant blogger on sabbatical, now the best Facebook status updater out of all 500 million users.

I knew Helen was planning to mail back to me a DVD and book I'd sent to her and I assumed it was taking so long because she is a busy mother and creative writing tutor, with craft fairs to sew for and poems to write. I had no idea she was filling an huge box with a treasure trove of delightful treats.

Here's a small selection of highlights, for example...

A couple of sweet badges which I started wearing straight away: one handmade flower and one bird print . The fish is on a Frankie poster I have hung next to my desk at work. (Another Frankie poster was given to a young workmate who needed cheering up).

From left: cubes of exotic herbal teas, Helen's collaged cards some of which have already been dispatched to lucky friends; CDs of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, and the Crimson Club; and the DVD I sent Helen a while back called The Winter of the Beard. If anyone else wants to borrow my copy, you are welcome even if it's not returned in such lavish fashion!

Beautiful embroidered and beaded flower appliques- I have come back from Melbourne determined to wear more flowers (à la Frida Kahlo), an idea reinforced by reading Carol Kaesuk Yoon's wonderful book about the umwelt called Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science. (I should say that nowhere in the book does Yoon offer any fashion advice, but rather she explains why humans love (representations of) the natural world and why it is so important to our psyche).

One of Helen's handmade bunnies in a cross stitched vintage fabric, now making friends with my Peter Rabbit bedspread. A stash of mostly orange fabrics. In my life of the past few years it seems to be the colour associated with creative transformation and so I have learned to welcome its arrival. Also a swatch of embroidery flosses, which I will make good use of you can be sure. I try and do all my experimental and casual embroidery with second-hand floss, though I end up buying new for the final works, to get the colours consistent.

A couple of paperbacks I look forward to reading this summer. Plus the return of Response (with the green on white letterpress cover), the collaborative travelling journal project I launched nearly two years ago. There are a couple of blank spreads left to be filled, if you are interested let me know. It's fascinating to look at how the contributors in three countries so far have responded to the challenge of the blank page. It's a beautiful book, and I look forward to sharing it on this blog when its finished.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Open Studio 2010

Welcome to my Open Studio.

My Open Studio was a great success. Plenty of people came along, and most of them weren't even friends or family! Seeing strangers walking up the driveway clutching a clipping from the local paper gave me such a thrill. It was wonderful to meet some folks who have been following my art for years but not made personal contact before.

Some of the artist's books that I made between 2003-2009

The Open Studio was a chance to pull out a pile of older work which hasn't been seen for a while. I hung Membranes on the clothes line, and enjoyed watching it dance in the breeze- far more dynamic than it's ever looked inside a gallery. The Optimistic Heart remains a perennial best seller, and I'm down to the last dozen or so of the original edition of 400 (it was to be and edition of 1000, but water damage destroyed some of the stock, along with many of my personal possessions, in 2006).

The main attraction of the Open Studio was My Antarctica on its first public outing. My Antarctica is stored off-site so not even I get to see it very often. Spending a day in its company was a pleasure. Visitors stopped and stared when they walked in and saw it dominating the room, even just resting on the floor nestled in its dust sheet. I have recently confirmed a solo exhibition of Antarctic-themed work at ArtsPost in Hamilton, August 2011 so My Antarctica will finally get to hang on a big white wall where it really belongs.

Assorted wall art, book art, and embossed fossil tags displayed on my book press.

Two of the three Coral Portraits sold. They don't photograph terribly well, so I haven't put them on Etsy but if anyone is interested in the remaining portrait (the one on the right in this photo) email me for more information. The first of the embroidered fossils that were in my Punctuated Equilibrium installation sold as well (Sea Stars). The remaining three are still available in my Etsy Shop (or contact me directly).

A box of crocheted coral pins, a pile of painted paper scrolls and some recent artist's books

After looking (and touching with gloves) to their hearts' content, visitors were treated to chocolate cupcakes (recipe here) and homemade lemonade. On Saturday I had taken up a Freecycle invitation to pick lemons from an overburdened tree and they turned out to be the juiciest, sweetest lemons ever: making delicious lemonade. Some visitors lingered to chat in the shade outside the studio. A couple people departed only to return with mother or husband, whom they guided around the studio pointing out their favourite pieces.

It was a relaxed, sociable and profitable afternoon of sharing my work with interested visitors. Thank you so much to everyone who helped me get ready for it. The many days spent preparing and following up were worthwhile and I think I'll do it again next December. See you then.

Bethwyn Littler, with arms akimbo, my collaborator on the altered books project- we had a selection of works in progress for people to leaf through..

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Melbourne Highlights

I like the juxtaposition of beautiful old architecture against the tall shiny buildings. Not so much the murky Yarra.

Some of the best moments of my ten days in Melbourne were the ones where I didn't take any pictures. So the pictures here were mostly taken while waiting for trams or other quiet interludes.

So many lovely architectural details everywhere. Just somebody's house near Brunswick St.

An exhibition of historic lace at NGV didn't so much inspire as intimidate me. It was a reality check on the commitment required to make great lace by hand. Do I really want to strain my eyes, abandon all other media and devote years to learning making lace that is all but indistinguishable from really good machine lace? It was all very beautiful but sobering.

Unnerved: The New Zealand Project. (I didn't go to this exhibition because I figure I can see NZ art at home)

But I didn't stay sober for long because downstairs in the bookshop I found a book on art embroidery that so excited me and filled me with ideas for my next project that I read the whole book right there (too expensive to buy). Then I went to the Contemporary Landscape Photography exhibition at the Ian Potter Centre which was very satisfying- very large format pictures that challenge the scenery.

Multicultural Melbourne

Other great exhibitions in Melbourne last week included Self Portraits at the Ian Potter Centre and the Awards Exhibition for RMIT graduates- some very wonderful things to be see there including a wall sized painting of fountains and an interactive cloud. I went to one opening, at the Australian Print Workshop which was crammed full of beautiful prints and crammed full of people too, on a very humid evening. But I wanted to see their Albion and Columbian printing presses so I kept going back inside.

Cake and crochet in a cafe with Rayna- her first afternoon off without any babies all year.

Hubble 3D at the Imax theatre in the Melbourne Museum was fantastic and really did a good job of giving a visceral sense of the immensity of space. And the natural history wing of the Melbourne Museum was pretty fabulous too. Fossils... I've been so disappointed in my search for fossils in NZ museums but here was everything my heart desired. I also loved the collection of taxidermy animals that was so beautifully curated that it completely changed my thinking on such things.

Window shopping on Smith Street (I liked the irony of the taxidermied birds right next door to the vegan shop)

Who knew vegan shoes could be so seductively elegant? (I took this one for you Sarah and remind me to show you the boots as well)

Most memorable meals in Melbourne: dinner with Louise and Alex at Rice Queen; lunch alone at Don Too, the Japanese noodle bar recommended in a guidebook that I was glad I sought out; dinner on my birthday at Mamasita: we had to queue to get in but the Mexican food was exquisite and the service exemplary; Portuguese pizza with Dutch Rob in a very Euro-feeling laneway; Book Club potluck with Louise's friends on her living room floor (milk cherries!); breakfast on my last morning in the back garden at Mixed Business in Clifton Hill.

Sukiyaki at Don Too on Little Lonsdale

Several meals consisted entirely of fresh, ripe, in-season mangoes: a whole 'nother class of fruit from those we eat as imports. Also, special mention must go to the European cake shops of Ackland Street, St Kilda. I tried to try them all and over a couple of days enjoyed a cherry danish to die for, macaroons too heady to share and a pecan tart piled high with sticky crunchy nuts. Oh, and I mustn't forget M. Truffe and the small, exquisite bar of chocolate so divine I keep tasting smaller and smaller crumbs because I never want it to end.

Rice Queen on Smith Street where the entire staff seems to consist of my daughter's friends and there was a live band on Friday night.

Other things to like about Melbourne. It seems like a lot of people in Melbourne ride bikes like mine, not sporty but stepovers with baskets- very nice. Also lots of car drivers give way to pedestrians.

In St Kilda the dedicated cycle lanes were beyond impressive.

So many, so good, bookshops. I could have spent all my time and all my money in the book shops. But, uncharacteristically, I also spent some time and money on pretty pretty clothes- the best selection was Stella's who was just clearing out her wardrobe with a rack on the street outside her flat.

Window shopping on Gertrude Street (I took this one for you Anna)

I went to Bikram hot yoga sessions three mornings. Whew! I wish we had Bikram in Hamilton. Saturday's flea market at Fitzroy School- although it was sickeningly hot out in the sun, I couldn't tear myself away from the delightful bargains. On my last evening Louise took me up six flights of stairs (no elevator) to the Rooftop Cinema where we sat in deck chairs in the open air and when it got dark watched a movie (Youth in Revolt) against the sparkling lights of the looming skyscrapers.