Zee’s Photo Challenge #1


I’ve been listening to some photography podcasts, and watching some YouTube videos. There’s a lot about settings you can change on a DSLRs that simply don’t apply to me, so I’ve been trying to pick out the information that does (mostly composition). With both my painting and my writing, the point (other than creative satisfaction) is to encourage the viewer to feel something, which is what I’m leaning towards with my photography. There’s also something Jane Thorne said in her interview for I Am An Artist, that she notices things that other people don’t necessarily see interest or beauty in (to quote, like “a gorgeous brick wall”). I hope that my photos can bring attention to some things that are otherwise overlooked.

Crit #1a: Drosera binata

1a: Drosera binata

I took this photo after a re-potting, as documentation of my sundew (Latin: Drosera) collection. They are very small plants, but the close up and focus tries to show how delicate the ‘dew’ (mucilage) is on the plant.

I think this could have benefited from an even closer shot, with a darker, simpler background. I am not sure how effectively I can do this when I eventually swap to my point-and-shoot camera.



Crit #1b: Ponsonbyย sapling

1b: Ponsonby sapling

I was sitting on a bench getting my earphones out when this little green thing caught my eye. This was actually the second of two shots – the first had too much debris close to the sapling, which drowned it out completely.

I like this shot. Slightly off-centre seems to work, even though it’s not quite rule-of thirds (Ro3) either. I think because the green is such a juxtaposition against the grey/brown, it doesn’t need to be in the centre / Ro3 to show that it is the subject.


Crit #1c: Hunua Falls

1c: Hunua Falls

This was about the third shot. I first took one over the railing off the falls, and thought that it’s no different to any other photo of the falls, so what’s the point? I already have some good photos from the last time I visited.

I remembered something I’d heard about giving context with foreground, so I tried keeping the railing in the shot, and was pleased with the outcome. When I look at this shot, I feel like I could be back at the balcony right there in the photo. I’m not sure if a flash illuminating the railing would have worked better – it does seem a bit dark.

Why a picture book on leatherback sea turtles? +augmented reality announcement

Children's Non-Fiction

When I look at my backlist (yes, it’s exciting to be able to refer to my ‘backlist’) I see a diversity of work. There’s children’s fantasy fiction, collaborative children’s non-fiction, anthologies, zines, photography, illustration, and painting.

Since it’s pretty clear I’ve given up on the idea of being consistent, why not chuck a picture book into the mix?

There are several reasons why I write, illustrate, edit, and publish. I love the challenge, and I love trying new things out and seeing where they lead me. It’s rewarding to publish other people’s work, especially people who may not otherwise be published. Most of all I enjoy the process of making, of problem solving: I work towards that moment where the idea in my head aligns with the product in front of me (I have no qualms about calling my finished pieces ‘products’).

I try to choose the medium that the story, or topic, tells me it wants to be. Reading Into the White, by Joanna Grochowicz, inspired me to write narrative non-fiction. I did some research, and had a few potentials to write about. But as I was researching, something else caught my interest – native New Zealand plants. We know so much about our birds, but what about our threatened plants? Or other native animals?

The more I researched, the more I found. I was also keen to do more collage, so I listened to an artist talk by Jeannie Baker as I worked – who better to turn to for inspiration on nature-inspired books? She got me thinking about what I’d really like to share with people. What do I love that I want to celebrate?

I had a turtle for a while, a red eared slider, who we’d rescued from the beach. She had probably been dumped (or escaped) from a previous owner. When I moved out of my parents’ home, I gave her to a friend who bred them. I’d love to have a turtle as a pet again. I simply like them.

Turtles have been used as a subject in children’s books before. My favourtiesย are The Smallest Turtle by Lynley Dodd, I’ll Follow the Moon by Stephanie Lisa Tara,ย and One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies, though there are others. Primarily, they’re about the dangerous race of the turtle hatchlings from the nest to the water.

There are already many creative non-fiction picture books, so I wanted to ensure I was adding something to the landscape. Thus, I ruled out a book about hatchlings getting to the sea. Many creative non-fiction books start at birth and follow the life cycle of the animal they’ve chosen to focus on. So I wasn’t going to do that either.

I visited the DoC website and looked at turtles they featured. It told me the most common sea turtle in New Zealand waters is the Leatherback. I hadn’t heard of it, so I searched it up and found out more. They are fascinating! I had found my topic ๐Ÿ™‚

We are still learning about these creatures, as they were primarily studied when they came on land, which was annually at most. One of the ways scientists are learning more is by tagging them, or placing video cameras on their backs, when they surface for air. This became my starting point.

Now that my topic had been firmly chosen, and I was learning more about these intriguing turtles, I decided that there were three things I wanted to achieve with this book:

  1. There are many threats this species is facing.
  2. People are taking action to save them.
  3. Leatherback turtles are fascinating!

I have been thoroughly enjoying making these illustrations. It is my goal to complete one spread each week, so all of them are done by the end of 2017. In particular, gathering natural resources (dry leaves, shells, sand etc.) has been a fun task in creativity and problem solving. This will probably be the first in a series on NZ nature – I’m thinking ‘Wild New Zealand’ for the series name, with the next one being about a native plant.

And now for the announcement! This book will be getting Augmented Reality (AR) treatment (AR isย tech that superimposes a computer-generated image over the pages of the book). Mark Southcombe, my brother, is a programmer / game designer and expressed an interest in taking on this project. I met with himย earlier this week, and we discussed what each page might be. We’ve included some animation and interactivity, though we’re being flexible with how things might turn out – this is his first go at AR.

The idea with doing AR is to further build on what I want to achieve with this book – it’s to excite people about leatherback turtles, and to really get the reader involved. Leatherbacks are beautiful, ancient, and fascinating creatures – and many people don’t even know they exist! I just hope that we can do them justice.

The leatherback turtle has returned to her migration after a setback – this is my first complete spread!

Spending time on creativity


In some ways, everything I do is creative – but in some ways it’s really not. Writing a book, drawing an illustration, painting a picture… these allย sound creative, and by all means there is creativity in the process, but a lot of it is just doing the work (and supporting the work with admin and sales).

I’ve realised that my artist dates are like the days that I actually get to be creative. They’re one day in the week when I give myself permission to do whatever I want. I’m allowed to spend the day walking around a garden and ‘waiting for inspiration’, following that shiny new idea that’s been trying to distract me all week, or sitting in a cafe and writing about things that I might do someday. Or, if I feel like it, I can just let my feet (and mind) wander all day.

It’s a bit like that 20% rule of Google’s (that may or may not exist, but I like it in theory). Or in some schools, where they’re allowed one block a week to work on a ‘passion project’ or learn a new skill. I’m committing this time to myself on a weekly basis (though there’s bound to be the occasional day where I’ll choose to work instead, and that’s okay too).

zr southcombe zee eden garden artist date winter

At Eden Gardens, an exotic garden in the middle of suburban Auckland.


The Joy Diet, Wild Creative Life, The 100 Days Project & Nature

Mindfulness & Mental Health

I had the last couple of weeks (mostly) off my dayjob, and took the opportunity to spend a few days away from home as a personal writing retreat. I spent it in the most wonderful cabin, nestled in native bush and kept company by the birds (or at least the sound of the birds, tui and fantail during the day; ruru and kiwi at night).

I got a fair bit of writing done, but mostly just spent time sitting, enjoying the sounds and smells of the forest, and the warmth of the fire. I felt at home.

A perfect little writing desk in a perfect little New Zealand forest.

This year I’m participating in two year-long community groups. One is Wild Creative Life and the other is The Joy Diet. Both of these are coming together in a way I hadn’t expected, and are pointing me towards the natural world.

In The Joy Diet, April’s theme was Truth. Truth is the quality of being true; true means in accordance with fact or reality. The takeaway from my time away was being reminded what my truth is: a connection with nature; reality. Wild Creative Life is about making art in nature, inspired by nature, and with natural tools.

Writing in the cabin.

I’m also doing the 100 Days Project this year, and my project of choice is nature journalling. It begins on May 22nd and I feel like it will be a life-changing project for me – not to put too much pressure on it! But I have no doubt that taking time every day to observe, reflect on, and immerse myself in nature will make a change for better.

Shameless self-promotion time:

  • If you’re interested in my more nature-inspired art, have a look at these prints on Felt. Your purchase will also be supporting the Mental Health Foundation of NZ via my half-marathon run.
  • To kick-start your own creativity, check out my ever-popular DIY Zine Kit.
  • And to catch up with me in person, my next event is the Hamilton Zinefest on Sat, May 13th. See details and other events on my events page.