Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I don't want to gloat or anything, especially to apartment and northern hemisphere dwellers, but today I went out into the sunny garden, picked a handful of raspberries and ate them: warm, sweet, juicy and flavourful.

As soon as the birdnet went on, they started to redden (well, were able to continue to redden without molestation from thrushes and starlings). The birds are still getting a few that are too close to the net for safety and a few birds get under the net and alternate panic with gorging until they find there way out. But most of the raspberries are going to make it. And I am going to make raspberry jam.

What happens to shelves after the books are gone

Monday, November 28, 2005

Books away

It's amazing how easy, and enjoyable, it was to finish organising my studio once I decided to pack away my reading books. Letting go of my desire to have all my books visible on shelves was the most difficult bit! That set me to thinking about the nature of books as a preferred interior decorating accessory.

Artist's books, of the kind I make, are generally designed to be viewed as works of art. But most books, other than large format 'coffee table' books, are designed to attract bookstore browsers but not really for display at home, where once read, will be seen only as a spine. Yet I, like so many people I know, really like the look of a row of book spines.

My favourite looking kind of bookshelves are actually:
  • a couple of shelves build over a doorway, or above the stairs
  • glass fronted wooden book cases (perfect for displaying artist's books)
  • an entire wall of floor to ceiling shelves
  • shelves made out of books
NB None of the above are currently in my life.

There are people who's decorators will buy books by the foot just so they can look literary without having to go to all the trouble of reading. Then there are people who compulsively buy books, read them (or plan to), and obsessively keep them forever on view so that they and their guests never forget how well-read they are.

Books make wonderful insulation, if you get enough of them lined up against a wall. But despite this I don't own many books, compared to:
  • how many I read (2-6 per week, almost all borrowed)
  • how many I have owned (I rarely buy books except on sale or second hand, but I gladly receive book gifts and handmedowns and one way and another I have temporarily owned hundreds more than now)
  • many of my most dearly beloved friends and family
  • most bibiophiles.
Why such restraint?
1. I sell them because despite my best efforts, I have led a transient life, and even four or five cartons of books is a heavy load to schlep around.
2. I sell them because a really good second hand book shop will give you double the credit that they offer in cash, and that's credit you can spend buying more books at a ratio of about 4 old ones to 1 new one, which still means a 75% reduction in the number of books to be schlepped.
3. I give them away. The books I love most and know I will want to read again soon or often I keep. Books that I love second-most and want to share make great presents that don't require me coming up with fresh cash.

Thus my remaining collection of books contains no dross. Every book I own has been assessed for potential discarding once or twice a year, and so remains with me through positive choice, not inertia. I love my books. I love my collections of favourite SF novelists (Lois McMaster Bujold, Kim Stanley Robinson, Mary Doria Russell), my ancient, tattered poetry books, my few large format art books and my many Judaica and spirituality books which are added to on every trip to New York.

These books tell you more about what kind of person I am than the clothes I wear or the house I live in or the car I drive. They, and perhaps my CD collection, are the consumer purchases most congruent with my self-perception and the image I want to project.

With my books packed in boxes how will you know who I am? How will I know?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

It's a hard life, I tell you

Right now the hardest thing about making books is that outside the sun is shining, the birds are singing and the garden is beckoning (particularly the raspberries and gooseberries under their romantic shrouds of bird net). Inside my new studio it is cold and dark and chaotic and crowded. I haven't finished unpacking from moving my Paekakariki studio, mostly because I ran out of places to put things, so that right now every flat surface including the floor, my work table, and the daybed is covered with boxes, which I have to shuffle about if I want to do yoga, make books or lie down.

I have been avoiding dealing with this problem for most of the past week, instead just moving the boxes around as necessary, but it is disheartening, and I have stalled on four projects (including the increasingly overdue anniversary present). But here's the plan. Right now I'm going to go outside and open the glasshouse so the tomatoes can breathe. Then I am going to plant flowers and corn. In the late afternoon, when this room gets a slither of sun, I will come back inside and spend the duration of the sun-slither's passage Sorting Out This Mess. I fear this may require packing away most of my reading books (all the novels, art and spiritual books) leaving only necessary reference books. But doing so will free up two whole shelves which I can then fill with tools and materials and works in progress.

Then, I think, I hope, I must, find it easier to over come the sun's siren song and stay inside to work.

Friday, November 25, 2005


Brad McGann is a New Zealand film maker best known for the feature, In My Father's Den. This dark and brooding film is about a man returning to his hometown and encountering friends and family he has not seen since he was a teenager, including his ex-girlfriend who now has a teenaged daughter of her own.

Brad and I were friends as teenagers, then lost touch after I became a young mother and he went away to Melbourne and film school. We found each other again a few years ago with a chance meeting on the streets of Wellington. Brad was in the middle of the long process of writing the script for In My Father's Den. We picked up our friendship and Brad spent some quality time with me and my teenage daughter over the next year or two, mostly reading and talking about the draft script (he is very single minded). The demands of directing, post production and then promoting the film have meant we haven't seen so much of Brad lately.

I was saddened to hear this week that he is battling secondary cancer (ie the cancer has spread from the original site). But I am very happy that his friends in the film world are rallying round to raise money for the treatment he needs (and which cannot be publicly funded). Brad is one of the most sweet, gentle, ethereal men I have ever met. He is hugely talented, as his films to date show. He should have the chance to live a long and healthy life making great films. If you are in Auckland on 2 December please consider attending Bradlands, the fundraiser (which sounds like a fantastic evening of movies- and the incredible list of items on auction includes an unlimited free pass the the Auckland Film Festival for 20 years!). If you can't attend, but want to support this good cause, the link includes information about making a donation.

Happy Ruby Anniversary Martha and Norman

In this day and age it is a rare couple who not only persist with 40 years of marriage but still genuinely love and respect each other. I am very proud to be one of the children of such a marriage.

On Thanksgiving Day 1965 Martha and Norman were married in St Louis, Missouri. Martha wore a white silk pseudo-double-breasted mini dress with rhinestone buttons, a satin bow with small veil and satin kitten-heeled slingback shoes. Norman wore a suit. Both look radiantly happy in the black and white photographs.

By their first anniversary, they had moved to Winnepeg, Mannitoba, Canada, and were awaiting my immanent birth. Martha wore an orange knit dress for Halloween, and I poked her bellybutton out like the stem of a giant pumpkin. No one remembers what Norman wore. (Before my mother's influence Norman was apparently reknowned for his startling dress 'sense' and unusual colour combinations but thankfully by the time I attained fashion consciousness he was more or less under colour-control).

My brother followed 18 months later (he had some cute clothes including a mini-baseball suit), and another international emigration to New Zealand soon after, and over the years mum and dad celebrated their anniversary in many different countries. Today they are lunching at the Willowglen in the Waikato. If you see them there, please offer your congratulations.

PS As today is not only this auspicious anniversary, but also International Buy Nothing Day, I am not buying them a gift, though I believe they deserve no less than their weight in rubies. Instead I am making a very special custom-made gift, which is still in production and thus will arrive late, in the grand family tradition of Very Belated Gift Giving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Body Books

I've been making more copies of two old favourites: B**b Book and C*ck Book. Both use a playful tumbling block structure which means the books move unconventionally in your hands. They are fun to play with...not only for the structure but also because the B**b Book contains 39 synonyms for bre@sts and line drawings of many different pairs of them. The C*ck Book contains as many synonyms for pen!s and line drawings of diverse sets of tackle.

These books are not pornographic, or even very erotic, though I fear just describing them here may mean my blog is banned from some people's work computers (hence the funky spelling). They are a celebration of the diverse beauty of our human bodies. The B**b Book was originally created in response to an outbreak of fear and loathing directed towards breasts as toxic or unsightly unless perky and globular. I made the C*ck Book as a companion piece to celebrate an organ which is rarely seen in art ...especially en masse and looking as soft and cute as in this work.

These books make great gifts for that hard-to-buy-for chap or chappess in your life. They seem to provoke universal laughter, facination and a desire to share the fun. They can be purchased separately for the special blog-reader's price of $25 (inc postage in NZ*) or as a bargain-rate pair ($45 inc NZ post). Send me an email thru the website or post a comment here, and before you know it, you'll be expanding your vocabulary.

*International readers, you can also get a great deal which will be individually negotiated, based on today's exchange rate and postage costs.

Dusk at Te Horo: moon and clouds

Monday, November 21, 2005

Walking on Sky

Dark, heavy clouds
disperse in urgent drifts

and a clear bright sky falls
into a sea roiling like liquid sun

the cold wind drops to a saunter across
the water's surface stirring diamonds in glycerin.

The tide retreats, levaing a mirror on the sand
so that we walk on the sky,

following the edge of the ocean out
a long way towards the sinking sun

to ankle depth water shining
dimly cobalt and turquoise.

(c) Meliors Simms 2005

Friday, November 18, 2005

Stamp Collection

This is a miniature cabinet containing 9 tiny stamp albums. The cabinet is covered in a unique map of Europe (National Geographic oriented North to the bottom of the page). It is 12.5 cm high, including its little brass feet. The door swings open to reveal the neatly shelved albums. Each album is open spine sewn to hard covers of Italian marbled paper. The pages are dark green mulberry with gold foil spatters, torn not cut so the edges are soft and almost fluffy. Seven of the albums have stamps already in them, organised by theme: flowers, transport, people etc, mostly one stamp per page.

None of the albums are full, so they can be considered a work in progress for the future owner to complete. About half of the stamps are from Israel, Sri Lanka, Solomon Islands and Romania- the rest from a variety of other countries.

We tend to treat stamps as (a) utiliarian then disposable or (b) a special kind of investment or (c) a specialist hobby. This special artist's book was inspired by the beauty of stamps as miniature art prints.

(price on application)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Another Treasure Hunt

Here is the latest in the Treasure Hunt series. It's the best one yet, and decptively delicate in appearance thanks to the kina spines (on the left in the photo) and the leaf skeleton (on the right). There's also charred driftwood, tiny pumice stones, brown sea glass and a pink shell. The cover map is a topographical map of the East Cape coast north of Gisbourne. Let me know if you want it, I think this one will go quick!

Dream camera

Last night I dreamt that I was visiting a friend who seemed to be a combination of several longtime and newer friends from my waking life (Fiona, Sharkey, Joellen, Greta) rolled into one wonderfully eccentric woman.

Her city apartment, shared with husband and two children, was a messy punk wonderland, with interesting tableaux of artifacts in various niches, paintings on the ceiling, an aquarium full of junk instead of fish... all facinating. I made a point of sleeping in every room while I was staying there and I took photographs with my camera. Before I left for the big festival I was on my way to, I vacuumed their house, enjoying that lovely crackling sound as the vacuum draws up dirt of real substance.

When I woke up I remembered the dream well enough to write it down and then I forgot about it until this afternoon, when I was loading some new book photos onto the computer. These dreamy pictures came too.

I'm leaving the beautiful studio/fairytale turret in Paekakariki in a couple of days, and had impulsively taken these pictures today to farewell this lovely resting place on my soul's journey.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Teeny tiny pop-up book!

My latest fad is including stamps in my books. I was given a huge bag of stamps by my generous father. Included in amongst the many pretty, colourful interesting stamps (more on their fate in another post soon) were some of the drabbest stamps you can imagine.

This photo is one of a new edition of three books featuring these dull stamps. Postmarked in sheets of twenty or so, these Indian stamps are poorly printed on bad paper and en masse just look like a dirty maroon blur. However, when you inspect them closely, the design is of some kind statue of a three headed lion on a plinth, under an ornately decorated archway.

So I was inspired to make them into a tiny little popup book only 4cm high, which comes with its own little slipcase and ribbon tie. If I say so myself it is cute as a button, and brings out the latent beauty of the stamps very nicely. At $15 (inc p&p in NZ) it's the perfect stocking stuffer, or gift to slip into an long distance card or parcel for a stamp lover, or India-phile.

I've got another 2 sheets of stamps from Sri Lanka featuring a "Kandyan Drummer" some in pink and some in purple. These don't have quite the same drab low-tech charm of the Indian stamps, but I think they will be just as much fun in the pop up format.

Treasure Hunt

These are some of my new series of Treasure Hunt books. The pages and covers are hand sewn clear vinyl pouches in which I have inserted an assortment of treasures. Each book is a unique combination of shells, driftwood, feathers, stones and other little treasures I have collected on my travels. The covers are sections of maps e.g. Northland to the west of Whangarei; Raglan and its surrounding West coast; Otaki and the West coast to the South; Negev Desert in Israel.

I've finished four of these little (8cmx10cm) books so far, and have plenty of treasures to fill more books. Each book has six pages/pouches filled with a different treasure or collection of treasures. They sit nicely in the palm of your hand, with a slightly floppy quality that reminds me of cloth books (and now I'm planning one of those too!).

I am happy to customise with a map or theme of your choice and if you have a treasure trove of small flat(ish) objects that you would like made into a book, I can do that too.

Treasure Hunt books in stock are $30.00 including postage and packaging. Customised books start at $35 and cost will depend on what you want. Post a comment or contact me via my website.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Academy, Australia and Auckland- All Good

Remember the Street Stories book/altered map I was showing off a couple of weeks ago? I just found out that it has been selected for the Award's Exhibition, so if you are in Wellington over the next few weeks, check it out live! The exhibition is associated with the Heritage Award and it's at the Academy of Fine Arts at Queens Wharf between 18 November and 11 December. The Awards Function is on Thursday this week, so I'll let you know how that part goes.

Some of my work was included in another exhibition which I forgot to tell you about (mostly because I actually forgot all about it until they sent the books back when it was all over). At the Noosa Regional Gallery in Queensland, they had several events for the book arts this spring. I had two books (How to Talk and Wind Talk) in their exhibition, "Works of Imagination: imageastextasimage". But now that I've remembered, I can say I have exhibited "internationally"! Woo hoo.

And while I am blowing my own horn ... remember the exhibition at the Auckland City Libraries a month or two ago? Well, from that event, the Library has acquired three of my books for their Special Collections (formerly known as the Rare Books Department). It's a huge honour. Auckland readers are encouraged to visit the library and ask to see my books (Wind Talk, Karori Sanctuary: Interleaving, and Waipoua Forest- but you won't find them on the shelves for borrowing).

And finally, a word from my first international blog-reading customer to whom I am not related by blood. On receiving her copy of Karori Sanctuary she wrote...
It's gorgeous - my mail has just come - what a fabulous end to the day!

I love it - the words, the structure, the colours, the leaves - it will be a
treasured book.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Parallel Play Planned

Tonight one of my book buddies is coming over to my studio so we can work on our book projects companionably. I'm going to try and remember, and pass on, a technique I learned in a workshop about a year ago and have modified (i.e. been unable to replicate exactly) for the edition of Wind Talk (pictured). She's making me a journal to replace the one I made in the workshop, used heavily, adored madly and then left in a plane seat pocket. Don't ever leave a handmade leather bound journal filled with sketches and notes and an expensive pen behind on the plane, because the cleaners will treat it as trash and you will never ever see it again. I've been too heartbroken and lazy/busy with other things to make a replacement, but my friend wants to learn the technique so has offered to do it for me. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A somewhat satisfactory substitute for chocolate

It takes up more time than inhaling half a packet of toffee pops but you don't feel sick afterwards.

I'm talking about a leisurely circuit of all my favourite blogs including Finsippy, One Good Thing, I Blame the Patriarchy, Laid-Off Dad, and Zydeco Fish. These are all generally good for a laugh or sometimes a cry, and as long as I remember the date-line difference and don't go looking on a Monday when these North-Americano's are still on their weekend, there's usually something new to see.

On the kind of afternoon when the second half of the biscuit packet is under threat, I circle around checking less frequently updated blogs of interest, that I hope are going to have something new since last month... such as Eleanor Lefever, Frum Dad, Now I'm Pissed.

If it necessary to procrastinate more, or further distract myself from chocolate temptations, or completely forget about my insignificant sorrows then I'll do a circuit including these nice, but somewhat less compelling blogs... Elbows on the Table, Bitch PhD, Bogbumper.

You may wonder why I don't have all these on a blogroll. The reason is that I waste so much time reading these guys that I don't have time to faff around with figuring out how to do that.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Here I am on Te Horo Beach on a recent cool spring evening, gathering driftwood and pumice in the great mounds that mark high tide on that wild and rocky stretch of Kapiti Coast (that's Kapiti Island under the foggy sun).

I've been spending a lot of time on beaches lately, and unsurprisingly, three of the new editions I'm working on have beachey themes. I am using shells and other beachcombing finds either for the covers, or the contents, of three different new books. Just as soon as I have finished them and borrowed a camera, you will get to see them... and buy if you want. I bet I have just the thing to solve at least some of your seasonal gift-giving dilemmas!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Too Sad

I just heard that Rod Donald died of a heart attack around midnight last night. He is a huge loss for the Green Party, for Parliament, for Aotearoa New Zealand... and most of all for his family.

I was actively involved in the Green Party for nearly four years. In my experience, Rod was unfailingly good humoured, energetic and generous. He was a kind friend to me and my daughter whenever we met. In 2000 Rod nominated me as the Green's representative on a political tour of Australia and afterwards took me to Bellamys to hear about my meetings with Alexander Downer etc.

I might not have agreed with all of Rod's politics, nor his tactics, but I had a huge amount of respect for him as a leader. The brilliance of the Green's co-leadership set-up meant that his strengths and weakenesses complimented Jeanette's. His drive, charisma and intelligence will be a hard act to follow.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Mad with joy

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us. ~Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat

One of the many blisses in my life this spring is being surrounded by flowers. The two pink ones are about the size of the ball of my thumb, and for this photo have been pried open from their usual shy and dull outside appearance. Almost invisible when in bloom on the Port Wine tree, they are one of the strongest scented flowers I know, pumping the smell of bubblegum twenty metres or more. They are in bloom right now, in abundance at the Hamilton Botanical Gardens.

The purple flower plucked from some kind passion-vine is enormous, almost 15cm in diameter. But no smell to speak of. Just a crazy, big, look-at-me flower which is clamouring for attention at Te Horo this month.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Street Stories 2

Another photo of the book, "Street Stories", this time horizontal and only partially unfolded.

Street Stories

Street Stories is my newest book. This is a photo of it hanging, my favourite view because of the lovely shadows created by light shining through the cutouts between the streets on the map. I made this book as an entry for an art competition and exhibition on the theme of "Heritage" organised for the New Zealand Historic Places Trust's 50th anniversary.

I used one of my most favourite maps- I think it was one that came from Dot's grandfather- of Wellington sometime in the 1940s I think. (Maps almost never have a publication year printed on them, so I have to date them by detective work). Anyway, this particular map is quite degraded, being printed in full glorious colour onto acidic paper which disintegrates more each time it is handled. So I handled it just enough to get colour copies made of part of it (the centre strip from Khandallah to Island Bay). Then I carefully cut out most of the blocks leaving a lacey net of streets between blocks and bands of sea and trees. A simple accordian fold, attached to a file-like red cover, allows it to be opened right out for viewing flat or hanging from a cord on the back of the cover.

As I was weilding my scalpel over areas of Thorndon now lost beneath multi-lane highways I was thinking about how sometimes street names survive longer than streets. And as I cut away the tidy grid of the central business district, I thought about how when buildings are torn down and replaced, the configuration of streets remains more or less intact. As I worked on the different suburbs where I have lived, visited friends, shopped or taken my daughter to school, I thought about how streets are a net of memories belonging to the thousands of people who each have our own memories of Adelaide Road or Cockaigne Crescent or Thompson Street.

Streets connect people now in a net as sturdy as human engineering can make, and connect past and present through memories as fragile as lace.