2022: The Road Ahead

It’s been quite some years since I’ve done any serious writing, I’ve even lost my journalling habit, but I’ve been mulling over some book ideas over the last year or so and I’m drafting some new works. Yay! I’ve even got my books back up on Amazon again.

Two are non-fiction, the first I started writing last year and will follow through the seasons in a diary style. The other is a photo book, sharing some of my images and my thoughts behind the artistic choices (I realise I am not an experienced photographer, but I’m claiming my art and writing experience to back me up on this one!). I’m enjoying working on both of them. The garden book is more reflective and slow, the photo book more practical, so they play to different writing moods.

The story for my fiction work still needs nutting out, but the setting will be a place that’s in between realities, a sort of ‘nowhere’, where an immortal being lives. I’m really excited about working on this book!

I’m also really pleased to have started painting again, even though I didn’t finish my 100 Days of Painting last year. I’ve (re)discovered such a joy in painting, and I’m glad I gave myself the opportunity to do so. My plan is to keep a regular art practice and have paintings available for sale throughout the year. I’m also super excited to have a joint exhibition in April this year with my artist friend in Ōtautahi/Christchurch – more info to come 🙂

Photography, of course, has become a passion and a source of zen. It’s so easy to get lost in the moment while I’m trying to capture an image in exactly the right way that I find my brain chatter finally turning off. This is one medium I’m hoping to really push myself in this year.

All in all, I’m feeling quietly optimistic – though I might possibly have said that this time last year as well! But right now, things are looking positive for a little bit of normality and maybe a few adventures along the way.

Sunrise over Puketapu

Lost mojo / the road ahead

My motivation to complete my 100 Days of Painting project has pretty much fizzled to zero. I tried to push through it for a while, but sheer stubbornness doesn’t seem to cut it for me these days.

I’ve learned that if I can understand why something’s happening, it’s easier to deal with. In this case, all the goals that I set out with – creating a painting practice, finding my style, selling my work, improving my skills – had been achieved.

So, I’m allowing myself to fail the 100 Days challenge, and I’m okay with that. I intend to keep making and selling my work, and I’ve got the exhibition (postponed to summer 2022) to work towards as well. There might even be some writing on the horizon, we’ll have to see what the future brings.

100 WEEKLY paintings

A wee update to my 100 Paintings project, and a bit about why I’m making those changes✌️

**I’m switching from daily to weekly for the rest of my 100 Days of Painting project.**

While I made sure I’d have enough time to paint each day (ka pai, past-Zee!), I didn’t factor in time I’d need to percolate over ideas for each piece, or for low energy levels.
This does kind of feel like a cop-out, but I’d much rather switch up the rules than put out work that I’m not really proud of.
It’s also been affecting some of my other commitments (like cleaning the house & working in the garden).
On top of that, I’ve been in and out of depression lately, and I need to make sure I take time out to give myself what I need to stay well (I’m okay, I know what I need, and I’ve started taking those steps).🌒
(Oh and Covid update – my online shop is temporarily closed, until non-essential businesses are allowed to operate again x)

Week One of 100 Days of Painting #100Days2021

It’s been a week or so in to my 100 Days of Painting project, and I’m already behind! I’m not worried because it’s been a big week energy-wise, it’s a totally new routine for me, and I have this weekend to catch up. As it becomes more of a daily habit, it will be easier to commit (link to my Instagram feed here, and my online shop here).

A huge thanks to all of you have bought, shared, commented, and ‘liked’ my work! It has been a real boost to my motivation, and I am appreciative for all of it.

There were many reasons I started this project, the main being that I have an exhibition in November with my friend Anne-Marie ‘Artemis’ Jones (link is to her Instagram account). It’s been a while since I’ve done painting with any serious-ness and I was struggling with creating work for this exhibition, always questioning what I wanted to paint, how I wanted to paint, and whether that was really how I wanted to present myself and my work. I was also becoming increasingly frustrated at my limited skills, being out of practice for so long.

I’ve already learned so much! Gouache is fast becoming my medium of preference, with its vivid colours, ease of use, and ability to layer fantastically well. Wood is becoming my surface of choice, which I hadn’t expected. There’ll still be works on paper, because I like the texture I can get with paper, and that’s good for my more symbolist/self-expressionist pieces. The layers of paint build up and into each other, creating more subtlety in the paint itself, meaning I can be more minimalist with colour and form. I’d like to try painting on fabric, too.

When I paint on wood, the paint seems to sit on the surface, so the layers don’t blend in with each other. I love this for an impressionist/post-impressionist style of painting, as it allows me to fit so much colour into a small space. I can be a lot more creative with my brushwork, and in some ways more expressive.

Detail from day seven’s painting, showing layers of colour and varied brush strokes.

I have always tended to pour a lot of feeling into my painting, and I’m finding that I really only have one painting in me each day. This might change over time, but it’s a struggle for me to get into the mindset of one work and then switch over into a different one. There’s so much emotion – and even narrative – in each piece that I need some kind of palette cleanser in between (e.g. housework, gardening, or a good night’s sleep!). So my lesson going forward is not to get behind again! Although I will allow myself to paint extra pieces on days where I’m in the mood for it, to help me out on days when I’m creatively exhausted.

Work in progress showing one of my strategies for composition.

Alongside this project, I am chipping away at painting plans for the November exhibition. The theme is ‘Empty Vessels’ with work being around isolation and loneliness, and I have plenty of ideas floating about! The 100 days project is serving perfectly in helping to refine these ideas and be selective in the style of work I want to make for the show. It’s allowing me a space to develop my work, even if the works are not cohesive, before creating an intentional collection of pieces around a single theme. Sometimes I see my paintings for the 100 days project as practice for the ‘real thing’ at the end of the year.

I am looking forward to seeing how my work evolves, and to sharing my ideas & paintings with you. It’s been a joy to be creating again, and to be hearing such positive feedback around my work. Kia ora – thank you!

An older painting, acrylic on canvas, showing expressive brushwork and layering.

It’s all about the garden

I tweeted a little while ago about how my teen self would roll her eyes at me painting flowers. So un-original. So shallow. So pretty. I also remember my mum watching something on TV, featuring an artist who would take gorgeous close up photographs of flowers, crank up the contrast, and print them out large scale in black and white. She then painted over the top of them (effectively a hand-coloured photograph). At the time, Mum said to me, “I know you’ll think this is cheating, but isn’t she clever?”

Fast forward to 2021. The natural landscape, and imagery from my garden, have become what I want to paint most. And I’m really glad that my mum shared that documentary with me, because I love the idea now and it’s something I will probably try during my 100 Days of Painting.

But I’ve been thinking about how this change happened, and I think it’s because my life and environment are so much more… botanical, now. I still miss the peacefulness of being enveloped in ngāhere/forest in Auckland, but now I can lose myself in my own garden.

Sketching at Trotter’s Gorge, East Otago

Our garden is very much a work in progress. I’m building it – so to speak – from the ground up, and I am closely observing its growth. I also bought my first ‘real’ camera last year, just before lockdown, so when I learned photography my garden was the easiest place to start. I have come to see beauty so easily in the wild mess, and to appreciate the roles each critter and plant has in the ecosystem that is our backyard.

Admiral butterfly caterpillar on its host plant, stinging nettle

To create this garden, we have to do a lot of planning, which of course continues to evolve as we go. I have had to learn the difference between a weed seedling and the seedling of a plant we want – and when they may be one & the same! I’ve met new animals that would never have graced my presence in suburban Auckland, and discovered many new plants. I’ve learned more about how plants grow, and the excitement of watching a seed grow into a flowering plant. I’m still experimenting with the windows of time that each plant needs to be sown or planted out, and this is something almost constantly on my mind (right now, I have a pot-bound magnolia that desperately needs to get in the ground, our native trees really need to be planted this winter, and if I don’t prep the ground soon then our wildflower meadow will continue to be but a pipe dream).

Our flower garden in mid-autumn

Is it really any wonder that my creative work revolves around the garden?

Some of the modern artists whose work I admire have works with gardens and flowers – Monet, van Gogh, Klimt, Georgia O’Keefe – and indeed were considered radical for their time. Flowers continue to be beautiful, and I continue to be enamoured by my garden. Perhaps that is enough justification to make “pretty” art.

Sketchbook: practising a meadow of flowers in gouache

100 Days, 100 Paintings

This year, on June 1st, I’ll be starting a new 100 Days Project.

For 100 days, I will be making a painting every day.

Some of these may be painted drawings, others may include elements of collage or found materials. Most, I imagine, will be on paper, with some perhaps on wood, canvas, or cardboard. When looking up ideas and inspiration for keeping myself accountable to this project, I found an artist who sold her 100 works at prices increasing by $1, and loved the idea.

And so, as part of this project, I will be putting my work up for sale in my Etsy shop.

The painting I make on day one will be priced at $1, the second day’s painting will be $2, and so forth.

This will be a good way to keep me accountable to my commitment, help me get used to selling my paintings, and a good chance for you to get a bargain.

You can follow me online, or subscribe to this blog, to hear first when these paintings are listed:

Alternatively, you can ‘favourite’ my shop on Etsy, which is where the paintings will be sold. The first will be listed on June 2nd, at $1.

I am so looking forward to this project! I am painting most evenings at the moment, and found that I have been strongly drawn to patterns and garden imagery. I can’t wait to see how this practice of painting unfolds.

100 Days Projects

The basic premise is to do A Thing every day for 100 days. I’ve started a few of these and so far the ones I’ve completed have been photo-a-day projects. I’ve found that it’s one thing to complete the task – and another altogether to complete it, take a photograph, upload it to social media, AND think of something to say about it.

I’m nearing the end of my “100 Days of Palmerston“. At the start of the project I said there was a real chance it would end up being 100 photographs of my garden and that’s what it is slowly becoming! This is in part due to being home so much more so going out to take a photo is more of an effort. I’ve skipped days (and weeks, occasionally) but I’m determined to finish the 100 photographs, even if they weren’t on consecutive days – there’s about 20 days left for me to make 100.

One of the early photos from my #100DaysOfPalmerston project

We used to have an official 100 Days Project run by New Zealander Emma Rogan (see TedTalk below), but now we have a more informal Facebook group (100 Days Project 2021 – We’re in this together! | Facebook).

You can, of course, choose to start your own project at any time (like I did with my 100 Days of Palmerston), but the group is starting on June 1st and there’s a different kind of momentum, accountability, and motivation when you’re working on a project alongside others doing the same. If you want to follow along, the hashtag for the group is #100days2021.

This year I’m being more ambitious, because I have rediscovered painting with new gusto (thanks to working through an unhelpful belief that making art is selfish). I will write a bit more on this in a following post, but I will be making a painting (or drawing, or collage, or mixed media) every day for 100 days, beginning on the 1st of June.

It’s a little more ambitious than on the surface, because I have a joint painting exhibition in Christchurch at the end of the year, too (more on this later!) But, I am loving painting with this new freedom and I know have a lot to gain from the daily practice of art making.

My writing projects are still on the go, with a couple of picture books that want to be birthed, and my gardening memoir. I’m also writing a small piece for a collaborative book on low waste living. The two picture books are percolating away in the background, and once I have a firmer hold on what the end product will look like they’ll come to the foreground.

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Hashtag quaran-zine

When our country went into a strict lockdown last year I, like many people, had grand plans of productivity. I thought I’d finally get making art again and I just… couldn’t. It felt pointless, when the world had been turned upside down, to keep making things like I did when life was normal.

And then came #quaranzine. It was an online celebration of zines, and I had a couple of ideas forming into a zine concept:

1. A children’s diary workbook to record their experience of lockdown.

2. Our staff newsletter, sharing tidbits from different members of staff.

The original six, made in the early weeks of lockdown in Aotearoa.

I combined the two, creating a newsletter-style perzine, and made the first one on a Facebook live video as part of the “Quaranzinefest”. It reflected what I love so much about making zines – a low pressure art form that’s personal and expressive. There’s now seven, made at different “alert levels” (that’s our traffic light system for how strict the lockdown is). I want the last one to be at Level Zero, though right now I don’t know if we’ll ever get there!

I’m hopping on a plane soon, so perhaps there’ll be another issue up my sleeve before then.

I’m back!

I’m sitting at my dining table with a fire at my back and a cup of tea by my side. Bell’s Kenya Bold, loose leaf, strong, milky. There’s a weekend’s worth of dishes to be washed, but they can wait. The sunrise was a stunner earlier this morning but now the light has a hazy, lazy feeling to it.

It is hard to know exactly how to start writing this post; where exactly to begin. So, let’s start at the beginning (you might need a cup of tea, too, goodness knows I can ramble on for ages).

Writing a book, being an author, had been a secret little dream of mine since childhood. I thought that one day, when I was old and wise, I would try my hand at it. That is, until I met my now-husband. He encouraged me to give it a go, and with his support and a growing circle of writer friends, I started.

At that time, I was reading a lot of middle grade fantasy (that’s fiction for 9-12 year olds, not average-Joe quality writing). So, it made sense to write in this genre, too. I wrote the book that I’d have wanted to read as a child, and then I wrote another.

The first book, The Caretaker of Imagination, was a huge learning process. I wrote, re-wrote, read, edited, took on feedback, edited some more, formatted, proofread, published. The second book, Lucy’s Story: The End of the World, pretty much wrote itself. There was depression, and there was anxiety, but writing gave me something to focus on, and a way to express myself.

By the time book three was due, I’d dug myself into a dark little hole. Self-publishing had cost me more than I’d anticipated, and eBook sales were much less than I’d hoped. I was okay with the hard work – I enjoyed it! – but I was being rocked about by other people’s ideas, and putting a lot of undue pressure on myself. My work ethic was driven by a need to prove myself worthy, which didn’t help much either.

After book three, I ventured into non-fiction. Painting. Illustration. I discovered the world of zines (interestingly, zines are the one thing that I have never lost interest in since I started). I hopped from one thing to another, in the vain hope that one of them would fill my need to feel ‘good enough’.

In retrospect, I had entered the world of writing with eyes wide open, ready to soak up all the opportunities available, but with a thirst to prove myself. While this certainly has its advantages, it also meant that I did not have a firm idea of what I wanted my path to look like. I did well enough (you can see some of my achievements here) but had a deep fear of being found out as unworthy, and allowed myself to be rocked by criticisms. Eventually, I lost the drive and confidence to achieve.

It all culminated when I moved south. Auckland had been my home for 29 years, and I had this naïve idea that I could move to the other end of the country and keep going the way I was. I didn’t account for all the changes, nor did I account for being on my own for such a long time (my husband moved down more than a year after I did). Despite the communication technologies of this day and age, and the wealth of lovely people around me, I felt like I had no one to talk to.

I pushed stubbornly on for a while, until it all became too hard to continue. My accountant helped me wrap things up and I got rid of as much stock as I could. I felt utterly relieved, and got on with being a ‘normal person’. I made art just for me, I discovered photography and re-discovered music, and I loved every second of it.

As time went on, the niggle of failure grew. I’d worked so hard, gotten so far… and then I had given up. The feelings of Imposter Syndrome, and my own deep-set belief that I’d never be good enough, knew it was their time to shine. I found myself spending days in bed, hours crying, because I felt like a failure. Worse, I felt like I had always been destined to be a failure. How could I ever have expected anything different?

I finally confided these feelings to my husband. Saying them out loud was the beginning of working through them. I started plotting some stories again. I made a new zine. I blogged. Slowly, slowly, I clawed up and out of the hole I was hiding in – three steps forward, two steps back.

I realised that I couldn’t escape the fact that I have to create, and I have to share; I have to express myself. It’s been a long journey to accepting that my work has value – I’m not out there saving lives, or giving up my life for others, but perhaps people can see the world with fresh eyes by seeing it through my lens. I reached out to my accountant, who helped me get things going again, and I opened up my Etsy shop, starting with just my zines and some photos.

So now, I am working on a creative non-fiction book, a memoir about me and my garden. I’ll illustrate it, and probably publish it as a chapbook/zine. The leatherback turtle picture book, which I started in 2018, is back on the agenda again, and I have another fantasy story up my sleeve that I am very excited about. And, of course, there are the zines. I’m working on a ukulele-themed edition of my perzine Hubris, and after that it’ll become a larger zine (apparently I really like talking about myself). I have some photography zines planned, too.

Years ago I said to my husband that painting felt like the creative version of coming home. It felt good and I was skilled enough at it to feel comfortable using it as a tool of self-expression. One day, I said, I would love writing to feel like that.

Well, it appears that day arrived. It slipped past me, and I can’t quite put my finger on when it happened, but writing is now a place of comfort. Like painting, it will continue to challenge me and I will continue to learn – I am nothing if not a life-long learner – but I can say without doubt, that I am a writer.