Just quickly…

….thanks to my darling Cath who sent me this quote from Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files. On receiving her email I took some time to stand still and be astonished. So much. In a post on creating shitty art he says:

Creating art is about growing the world and increasing its reach, and it has more to do with the act of creation itself than what is actually made. Anything that animates us creatively in a positive way — be it the grand design of a great architectural wonder or the Big Bang of a child’s drawing — is a re-enactment of the original creation story. Whether we realise it or not, making art is a religious encounter as it is our attempts to grow beyond ourselves that energise the soul of the universe.

Gosh. Yes. What he said.

And why is this such a short post? Two reasons:

Sometimes I just need to learn to shut up and let others say stuff…even though this is my blog so that won’t happen much;

and I have been having an excellent time doing the courses I mentioned here; truly savouring and learning. Another context for standing still and learning to be astonished!

I attach my reflection on the bark shedding yellowbox trees on Mt. Ainslie and smooth, speckled stones.

Learning to be astonished

I can’t imagine that anyone of a certain age still does New Year’s resolutions. I don’t. Even intentions freak me a out a bit. I have…things that I might do….

But here’s one I REALLY want to do. I was in a bookshop and saw Clive Jame’s Fire of Joy, his final book-a collection of poems to learn by heart and say aloud. Yes! I plan to become that embarrassing relative who recites poems at the dinner table! No. Not quite. Mind you, having been exposed pretty regularly to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as a child, being that embarrassing (but beloved)  old person is in my DNA.

No…I just remembered that there was a time when I learned by heart poems that I loved. And that knowing them might be more helpful and comforting on my death bed (as they were for Clive) than lying there and saying Oh, you know the one. About the woman with the hair. By whatshername. So, each month this year I will might remember and say aloud (to myself unless asked) one poem. And this month’s, remembered from heart, is:

My work is loving the world. Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird – equal seekers of sweetness. Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums. Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young and still not half – perfect. Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished. The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture. Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are there, which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth and the wren, and the sleepy dug up clam, telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever.

Mary Oliver

I love my walks in the hills and I am learning to be astonished. Lately I have been astonished by the bare limbed, bark shed gorgeousness of the yellow boxes…everywhere! And the tiny fringe lilies…hardly anywhere. And dainty mushrooms which I have never seen before but that might be because I’m still learning.

Doing Courses and keeping Calm

Over Christmas, which became disappointingly quiet thanks to the Sydney lockdown,  I compensated by making calm, quiet veneers for some pieces for Trove. Some necklaces to sit calmly in the shop after the frenzy of  the pre Christmas period! But thanks to that frenzy, I am treating myself to some courses!  Strangely enough, I didn’t do many courses last year and apparently that’s what many people did! For an introverted artist, some aspects of lockdown were normal…dare I say enjoyable. I could relate to this!  I know my Victorian friends really suffered though!

One course I did last year was Tracy Holmes’ Breakthrough Colour which continues soon. This is not a specifically polymer course and one of the strengths is the connection with artist from various backgrounds. Tracy turns your basic understanding of colour mixing on its head in a fantastic and practical way. For me anyway. Looking forward to a deeper dive!

I am also doing a course with  Christine Dumont who is, fortunately for me (whose High School French would not cut the moutarde), offering her online Materiality course in English!  It has only just started and already I am buzzing. This is one of the many things I love about this medium. I have been working in it for 30 years and am constantly surprised by how it can be used/ pushed/ treated/ combined. This course is taking me way outside my familiar places and I am loving it!

I am also virtually doing Signals, a Clayathon workshop with Anke Humpert!  I am intrigued to learn how to make a necklace that uses polymer clay for ALL the components. Anke is a master at exploring this kind of constructional stuff!! No need for generic chain, cords or ties! Or even my beloved coloured O rings! I love the ones in the necklaces photographed here. Just so….calm.

Anyway, enough for now. My own classes will start again soon and I have, in a burst of somewhat uncharacteristic organisation drawn up a 6 month program. I know. Incredible. Let me know if you want me to email it to you!!

It’s a wrap…absolutely nothing to do with reviewing 2020!!

This post is so NOT a looking back and reflecting on the year that was one! I think there have already been rather a lot of them.

This is about my return to an old love…lino cut printing. I’ve been flirting for months…subscribing to linocut blogs like this and following a lady called Deb on IG. But I hadn’t committed. Even the IG encouragement to carve an image a day for December wasn’t enough to overcome my fear (let’s call it what it was) of having to start again. Again.

Eventually the siren call of standing in the shed with the mossies while my husband cut glass was too loud to ignore and I got out some old stamps and inks from 25 years ago for a no obligations linocut fling. This was enough and now I am re-hooked. I had no Christmas gifts to speak of but oodles of wrapping paper. I was thrilled that my cheap old Speedball carving set was good enough! And a few of the old jars of ink were usable. This had me satisfied-for a while. A day or so. Then I got more inks and discovered the magic of Ezy Carve. Oh dear Lord what an invention!!!!! The joy of carving this stuff is hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t gouged out flesh when cutting lino!  I was wary of committing myself to one a day for #carvedecember but in the end I have carved a stamp for each day in my own fits and startsy way.

And OBVIOUSLY I have stamped some polymer. These are very preliminary efforts and I am keen to avoid a plastic look but have got lots of ideas simmering. Stay posted.

Red and Green but it’s not Christmas…it’s my Tingri necklace

Hello you gorgeous, patient people and welcome to any of you who followed me from Instagram . I have a complex relationship with IG but that is very boring to read about so I won’t burble on! Suffice it to say this is a trial break that I may not return from.

I have completed a third necklace in the Tibet range. Regular (incredibly patient!!) readers will know the I have been creating some jewellery based on a trip we did to Tibet 20 years ago. You can read about the other pieces here and here. This one is the most traditionally Tibetan looking one in that it incorporates faux turquoise, coral and bone/ ivory.  I used faux techniques that are a mish-mash of those by darling Tory Hughes * and Irene Semachuk Dean.

One indelible image I have from the trip is arriving in a dusty highway town called Tingri. The road had been rough and we were all tired and suffering with varying degrees of altitude sickness.  We were craving a wash of any sort** and the sense of surreal that marked much of the trip pervaded. There was a moment of stillness when no Chinese trucks grumbled along the road and into that bizarre stillness, a rider on a horse suddenly thundered. A long turquoise earring dangled from one ear. One hand held the reins of the horse and the other was raised and out to the side in what seemed a caricature of Tibetan rider. He was so self assured. So effortlessly cool. and quite probably thinking about being neither of those things! He was most likely just wanting to get the shop before closing time!

I toyed with the idea of making myself a single long turquoise earring (and looking effortlessly cool and self assured) but how practical (or realistic) was that? There is still a potential necklace lurking in my brain but the necklace pictured is what emerged from lurking!  I wanted to incorporate a cloud motif…these Tibetan clouds are characteristic of the thangkas (religious paintings). It is a motif I use repeatedly. Clouds pass, sometimes we love them, sometimes we want them to disappear…but they just are. In meditation practice, clouds are often used as the image fro thoughts that pass through our mind as we sit. If we let them pass, they will.

I also wanted to include faux versions of coral and turquoise. I was inspired by the faux bone decoration of Kathleen Dustin and Luann Udell . I had a lot of fun making this one. I actually made 5 decorated hollow bone beads but decided three were enough for this piece. And I have worn it (and the matching earrings) quite a bit!! Hope you like it.

*Tory was a dear friend who died much too young. Read a little about her here.

**As it turned out, we had a suitably bizarre washing experience sharing a warm shower (the bliss) in a concrete box lined with pink fabric with the surprisingly clean looking Frank and Rachel from the Netherlands. They told us that Golden Earring was still popular. Listen to Radar Love and know why!

Karo La…where the crystals come from wherever you want them to

This wasn’t actually the next piece I planned to make. A piece inspired by ivory shards, a trumpets made from thigh bones and chunks of coral is half made up. And rattling around my head is something inspired by the long turquoise and coral earring of the fabulous single earringed horseman who galloped down the main street of Tsingri. It is an impressive earring when you can see it on a rapidly galloping man!!! These pieces will emerge in time. One thing I am learning about creativity is the importance of patient gestation.

Regular readers, bless you, will know that I am reflecting on our journey to Tibet 20 years ago.  I am rereading my journal and all my collected Tibet books. My camera died on the trip so I don’t have many photos. It’s good that I go on in tedious great detail in my journal. (Did I mention all the fabulous browns? So many browns).

Karo La is a pass that is 5045m high. I wrote about the breathlessness,  snow capped peaks, the reds and oranges and greens…and the browns. Nomads rushed out to sell breathless travellers rock hard cheese and rock like crystals (which were more of a rocky than a crystal kind) and when one asked where they from, the answer was tailor made to where you wanted then to be from. Mt. Kailash?…then yes! They were from Kailash. Up the nearby Nojin Kangsten glacier? Yes. It is from there too.  The crystallish rocks (from a bead shop) in one of the photos are my nod to the memory.  We didn’t buy “crystals” from the nomads…too smart to be sucked in… and now I wish we had.

In my journal I wrote, The glacier tumbled right down to the road and it was this phrase that needed to be expressed!  Especially the feeling of tumbling, and I have tried to create a piece with a tumbling feeling. And one that evoked the colours (the greeny browns), the roiling angry sky of the day, and the churned, dangerous glacier.  It is a rather different piece for me. I mentioned the browns a lot but don’t often use those browny greens, or the greeny browns, in my art. And churning/tumbling/roiling doesn’t get much of a look in either so this was an adventure in different territory. Just like the trip to Tibet!


Yamdrok Tso, Tibet…the necklaces

It is hard to write a post about looking back 20 years that isn’t a bit cliché ridden!* I will try to dodge this trap!! 20 years ago this month Mal and I took our darling girls, then aged 13 and 14, with our dear friend Cath (Tashi delek you!) to Tibet.  Since our own teens we had been involved with Amnesty and active members of Free Tibet societies; concerned like so many about the impact of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. I had stayed with a family in a Tibetan refugee camp in Nepal and we both were desperately sad about what we knew was happening to Tibetan culture in China.  I had wanted to travel to Tibet for many years and we felt that opportunities to do so were being limited. We knew a train line was being built and we knew the restrictions on travel would increase so we bit the bullet, readied the girls as much as we could and went.

In 2000, you could travel to Tibet in groups of 5 and had to have a government guide.  Back then it was possible to have a Tibetan guide (rather than Chinese) and we were incredibly fortunate to have as our guide an amazing young Tibetan man** who had lived in India and returned to Tibet to act as a guide but also to attempt to keep people IN Tibet informed about what was happening outside. He knew his days as a registered guide were numbered. We were quite clearly being followed on our trip.  The watchers were so obvious that our daughters asked about the men in suits following us.

I could write so much. In my travel journal I kept using the phrase stunningly sad. The trip was stunningly sad. I was in tears A LOT. We met incredible people. We saw astonishing beauty. We saw dreadful destruction. We saw phenomenal courage and resilience. We saw deep brokenness.  In 2020, this strange year of no-one going anywhere, a notion came to me to somehow mark some of my travels with my art. This consolidated and when I realised that our Tibet trip was 20 years ago I decided to start by making some pieces responding to this. These two necklaces are my first efforts.

Yamdrok Tso (Jade Lake) is a beautiful sacred lake which has now been dammed for hydro-electricity. The setting was exquisitely beautiful but sitting on a rock listening to the wind whipping shredded prayer flags and gazing down at the lake was heartbreaking. If the dam broke two towns would be threatened and that the very existence fo the dam was already changing the eco culture of the place. Artemisia (wormwood) grew wild and every time you brushed past it the smell was released. I have grown wormwood in every garden I have had since.  I was guided by the colours, the ambiguity I felt…the textures.  My intention (thanks gorgeous Sage Bray ) was to capture the mood. My mood! Once in Dharan where we lived for 4 years an old Tibetan lady walked down the street wearing necklace of amber beads the size of bantam eggs. She probably wore them every day.  I wanted one necklace to have the sense of those beads. So present and still. The second necklace uses thousands of tiny pote (seed) beads from Kathmandu. I made two long bone-like tubes imprinted with a Tibetan wood block inspired by the bone horns used in Buddhist ceremonies.  I may or may not have made a bead using something that looks very like currency from an occupying country.  Both these necklaces have been made slowly….with lots of listening and dipping into my journal and journalling and thinking and feel very significant. Colleen (the astonishing artist behind African Baroque Textiles) thank you for encouraging me to do more than just talk about this on Instagram!!

Anyway, I have a table littered with sketches for designs and ideas for more Tibet memories so strap yourself down. It is a bit symbolic too that today is 12 months to the day since my little op. This time 12 months ago I was still under then knife, had been for hours and still had hours to go. Feeling very grateful today to be standing upright and not holding a shopping bag full of drains!

*I think I say this because on reflection my dear old journal was a bit cliché ridden!

**Still too scared to write his name. He could have several blog posts devoted to him. I often wonder what happened to him and his brother, a monk we visited.

Green Fingers (and a cochlear update!)

Well can I just say that it was fortunate for you lot that I didn’t write a post a couple of weeks ago when I was composing the post in my head. It would have been a miserable, self pitying rant about what giant mistake I had made getting this surgery done. I would have talked about all this green stuff I made to deal with my intense morosity. Is that a word? Should be.

But…lucky for you, finger never actually got to keyboard and time passed and BLOW ME DOWN if things didn’t improve somewhat. Everyone around me said all the things that I said as a therapist when I worked in brain injury rehabilitation…be kind to yourself, trust the process, be patient, do the homework regularly, same for everyone and it will get better. Thank goodness no one person said al of those things at once or I would possibly have decked them. And all these things were true. Life is still not acoustically rosy but it is much better and I am starting to make sense of the electronica in my brain. I no longer feel like I am living in an MRI machine (Ok, that was a slight whinge but it was such a good description of what it was like it seemed ad shame to waste it!)  The robotic speech I hear is now gendered and sometimes even inflected and I am hearing sounds I never knew were sounds! Like the washing machine coming on, referee’s whistles, car indicators. Who knew? Nearly everyone else but me.

In the midst of this I made green stuff. I used my long neglected extruder and distracted myself from my potentially giant mistake. It may have been significant that I hardly made any earrings (didn’t want to think about ears). I made wild knuckle duster rings and necklaces. And all this was a single hued (but many toned, tinted and shaded) exploration that will be enlarged on in my next post but for now…lets go GREEN!

Mellow Yellow*

Well, I’m on. As I type this, with every strike of the key, a weird buzzing in my left ear confirms that.  Yesterday was staples out and activation day and it was…OK. I was expecting worse. I don’t feel devastated.  I am curious. Maybe even hopeful??? And neurologically exhausted but that is par for the course.

People ask what the sound is like. It is very very hard to explain but go to about the 6 minute mark of this video where Peter Frampton is singing Do You Feel Like I Do and starts using his talk box. That is the closest thing I can think of to explain it. But for me right now, the words are nowhere near a recognisable as in his solo. This takes weeks.

So what does this proliferation of yellow jewellery have to do with ANY of this? I have to confess that I have been very afraid. Afraid this might not work; afraid that I don’t have the energy in me to take on the learning required; afraid that I was not up to another episode of digging deep. Afraid that none of the electrodes that were stuck in my cochlear would take. Afraid that I would  be left worse off than before. And obviously, the way to go…the way any NORMAL person would deal with this…was to explore that fear in jewellery form.  And it is most emphatically not that I associate yellow with cowardice. I LOVE yellow. Yellow is sunshine and confidence and fields of mustard flowers in Nepal and fields of canola in Australia and Vincent Van Gogh and amber and wonderful things! It is the second favourite colour after red of just about every Nepali women I have ever asked!! But…I rarely create with yellow and I even more rarely wear it. I was…afraid of yellow. So working with something I was afraid of, immersing myself in it to the extent that it was the only colour I could use, is kind of a symbol of facing my fear. I mixed many many yellows and just spent hours surrounded by yellow. Really looking at yellow. Feeling more confident abut yellow. Letting yellow seep deep into me. The way I need to do with this buzzing.

Mellow Yellow, Do You Feel….anyone would think I was a child of the 60s!

Hear ye, Hear ye!

Last week on my sporadically frequented social media accounts I posted a photo of some pieces I made to mark the beginning of another journey! Most of you know that I am deaf as a post (diagnostic terminology) and that I could have got a cochlear implant years ago.  I finally got it last week (and can I just say that I had underestimated just a tad how uncomfortable the post surgery period would be).  This is very much the beginning of the journey because an implant doesn’t amplify sound like a hearing aid does, but transmits an electronic sounds. My brain has to be retrained to recognise this sound and this will take time and effort and more of that later. THAT starts with my activation tomorrow.

Back to the post. I decided, as you do, to mark the various stages of this journey with my making and made these pieces over the days before the surgery.  I wanted to incorporate the motifs of shells because the cochlear is a shell shaped structure and the cilia, the nerve endings.  I chose calming, gentle colours because I needed to be calmed and gentled!

I used a ball stylus to hand etch the shell designs then applied layers of the gorgeous Pan pastels. Then I used several ball styluses (stylii?) to make the dot and cilia marks before applying more layers of pastel.  I used Cara Jane’s lovely surfboard templates to make the earrings and a brooch held with a magnet. More to come as I negotiate the slightly daunting road ahead but I know the negotiation will be easier if done creatively!