Thursday, 29 December 2011

40C and I'm working on my sketchbook!

It said on the news last night that yesterday, at 39.9C, was the second hottest day of the year.  Well, today feels hotter, apparently because we have cloud cover and this is sealing in the heat, and making it humid into the bargain.  As a redhead with blue eyes, I'm only designed to live in a cold half-light - and I'm finding it hot!

Jim and I virtuously went for a swim this morning - 30 minutes on the bikes to Riverton, 30 minutes swim, then 30 minutes to bike home.  It always makes me feel better, although I scurried into the shade as soon as we arrived back at the flat. 

I've spent a fair amount of time playing with my sketchbook the last couple of days.  I seem to get a lot of my ideas when swimming up and down the 50m pool.  So yesterday, I went to Perth, and bought some Quink ink, and spent the afternoon making up some backgrounds in my sketchbook.  Doing washes of ink and water, tends to make the sketchbook pretty damp, so I can't get on immediately and work into them.  I left the pages overnight to dry (one good thing about the heat here).  I had used various dilutions of ink and bleach, and various brushes.  I have a fan shaped brush which when wet, forms small points, which create rather lovely lines.  At this stage I was planning for the sketchbook to dry completely so I could cut into the pages.  But today I pulled out a couple of pages and stuck them to the edge of other pages, forming a pull-out section.  I really like the effect of the different types of washes, so I worked into them with bleach, and black and white pens. 
Messing about with Banksia Baxterii leaves

Version 1 of the pull out page

Version 2.  It's all a bit too wide to get the detail.

I'm exploring the effect of layering pattern.  It takes some time, especially when I need to wait until each layer has dried before I can work into it again.  Although I dislike black and white as a colour scheme, I've been working with black and white for a couple of reasons. Firstly quink ink is effective, available and cheap.  It handles well with bleach, which gives positive and negative design implications.  Also when working up designs for screen printing, you need to create a black image to use to expose your screen.  I am very pleased with the effects I am getting on the backgrounds with the black ink, so am now wondering if I should go into Jacksons, the art shop in Perth, to get some coloured inks, to expand the scope of what is in my sketchbook.  I did some lovely coloured backgrounds with the inktense pencils, but I can't bleach into them, and this reduces the ability to work freely in positive/negative.

 The idea of bleaching back into ink, has parallels with using discharge solution when hand printing.  You need to be sure the fabric will change colour with the discharge solution, and I wonder about dyeing my own fabric to be able to work up colour versions of my designs.  I like the uneven background where you might choose to discharge back into it, then overprint a positive image so that the image varies in focus and clarity. 

I suspect my hand drawn designs with the fluid coloration of the background, would be easier, and quicker to produce as a digital print.  But I don't want to do this.  I want to develop hand printing skills.  I haven't finished thinking about this yet.  Digital is the way of the future.  Hand printing is best for small print runs, that are or need to be non-standard in some way.  There is something about the mental state that I achieve when I am creating something.  There is a state of peace/ conduciveness / wholeness that I reach when hard work and inspiration, and more hard work and development, and more hard work and creativity come together for a successful outcome.  Digital is not what I want - photoshoping designs pinches a nerve in my neck and is agony.  It's the hand process that gets me to my state of nirvana.

And in Perth, at a humid 40c, Einstein would agree: "Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration".

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Jim has a good day shopping

The plan was to go to Perth to buy a vacuum flask so I could save money this semester by taking my own tea, rather than paying the inflated prices on campus. 

While we were in the outdoor shop, Jim found a new cycle top, a flynet for his hat and a new solar panel.  The new solar panel is meant to need less sunlight for it to be able to charge his various devices, and takes a variety of connections from mobile phones, camera, and Ipad.  It is also more compact than his last solar panel, and will fit on top of the bar bag so he can use it to charge things while cycling.
My hero in new bike top, about to go shopping in 40 degree heat

Then we had a 1km walk to a specialist running shop where Jim was able to try on a new type of running shoe with separate fingers for each toe - Vivram.  He has been reading up on these for at least 6 weeks.  They look very lightweight, but he's hopeful that they will sort out his sore calves, by running more on his toes and increase the cadence.  All very technical.  While he was at it, he also found matching socks that also have fingers for his toes, that fit the shoes.  While debating sore calves, he found a massage stick that is designed to roll up and down your legs (which we tried - and it certainly identifies all the knotty bits) and decided to have one of those as well.
Shoes and socks

So all in all, today Jim found lots of new toys for his running and cycling.  Most of which were in the sale, which pleased his Scottish thrift.  And then we walked back to Perth.  In the heat.  It reached 39.9degrees today.  Once we had taken the bus home, I stayed inside playing with my artwork, while Jim went out on his bike, in his new bike shirt, to get the shopping and enjoy the sun!

Pomegranate blossom and embryo fruits

Pages of wash, created by washing into intense pencil shavings. 

These pencils are so wonderful I'm not wasting any of them.
More exploration of the Baxter's Banksia leaf

This is how the leaves surround the flowerhead.
 This format might be useful once I get to the print stage.
What do I know about Banksia Baxterii?

Monday, 26 December 2011

A more interesting Christmas Day than we've had in years

Jim and I normally have a very quiet Christmas.  But this year it was simply wonderful.  I'd been a bit apprehensive about Christmas in the heat - we are used to the weather being cold and damp - and wearing shorts, t-shirts and factor 50 sunscreen at Christmas seems completely unnatural to me!

Jim and I were invited to spend Christmas Day at my cousin Ian's home.  He and his wife Susie had a houseful of guests, and Jim and I brought numbers up to 12.  Jim and I travelled by public transport to get there - this is very unusual for us, as in England there is no public transport on Christmas Day.  The buses and trains ran perfectly for us.  The weather was beautiful - I think it reached about 30 degrees.

We had lunch sitting in a covered courtyard area - shaded by trellissed virginia creeper and wisteria.  It was absolutely wonderful to have lunch outside on Christmas Day!  The meal was much more imaginative than anything I've ever managed for Christmas.  Susie's sister had made a wonderful prawn cocktail for starter, with a fantastic salsa made from watermelon, cucumber and olives.  Yummy.  Then the main meal was roast turkey, roast duck, and roast gammon ham, with roast new potatoes, and some really imaginative vegetable combinations.  The two that stick in my mind, are sweet potato, parsnip and pear; and asparagus, green beans and garlic cloves.  I'm not sure how they were cooked - too much else going on for me to ask.  The sweet potato looked roasted, whereas the parsnip looked steamed and I'm not sure whether the pear was cooked at all, but Jim was a big fan of the combination as they were all lovely sweet things melded together.  The asparagus and beans tasted steamed, and the garlic clove was roasted I think, and this was an exquisite combination.  Yummy!  I could have eaten a plate of this on its own - I love asparagus and it's so expensive in the UK.  The food all made my Christmas dinners look really pedestrian!

Then we had a selection of puddings - again more imaginative than I've done in previous years.  There was a chocolate roulade with strawberries, fresh exotic fruit, Christmas pudding and ice cream.  Jim and I each restricted ourselves to the chocolate roulade and icecream, although sheer piggery meant I wanted to eat large quantities of all of it. 

Then after lunch we had "christingle" presents.  Each person was invited to choose a Christmas present from a selection on the table. But not only could you choose from the wrapped ones on the table, you could also choose one that someone else had already opened!!  The gifts ranged from chocolates, toileteries, garden items, to photo frames.  Jim chose some lovely slate plant name tags with a white pencil (just right for the leek seeds he will plant when he goes home).  Grandma Leila chose a silver photo frame, and we found the perfect photo to go in it.  At their daughter Virginia's recent wedding someone had taken the most brilliant photo of Grandma Leila (aged 102!), her daughter, and granddaughter Virginia in her bridal gown.  Three generations of James women which made a truly delightful shot.  It really was the sort of image that you would keep on your bedside table, and be glad to wake up and look at it.

When it came to my turn to choose my Christingle gift, I chose a box that contained a porcelain mug with a hand drawn owl on it, that had a "keep-warm" drinking lid on it.  It was lovely.  Then it came to Katherine's turn to choose her gift, and she chose mine!!!  So I had to choose another gift and this time had Guide Dog for the Blind bodywash and coral nail varnish.  (When we got up this morning, I discovered we had run out of shower gel, so I think my present was the fastest to be put into use).  And I also have very pretty toe nails now!

We spent some time looking at Virginia's wedding photos.  I have to say I was really taken with the wedding dress.  It looked like white draped silk, with a flowing skirt, and ruched strapless, backless, bodice.  Except the ruched bodice had a cutaway V at the cleavage, cleverly edged, each side, with an inchwide strip of pearl beading, that looked as if it made the dress into a halter neck.  When viewed from the rear, the halter neck had an inchwide strip of pearl beading running right down the spine of the backless gown to the waistline.  Absolutely stunning.  And the sort of dress where you need perfect posture, perfect tan, not a millimetre of excess fat, and toned musculature to carry it off - which Virginia did absolutely faultlessly.  If her father Ian sends me a photo, I'll add it to the blog.

By this time it was approaching 5pm, so Jim and I took our leave and returned to Salter Point, where we had been invited to join our landlords, Richard and Tangea, for Christmas evening.  This was a lovely seafood evening meal, with Tangea's sister Toni and partner.  I'd only had lobster once before, many years ago when something was served in lobster sauce.  On that occasion I found it to be unpalatably rich and I now suspect the sauce had some cheap saturated fat affecting the taste.  But yesterday's meal was an eye-opener.   The lobster was fantastic - a delicate flavour which felt light on the stomach - totally different to my previous experience.  The prawns were their familiar self - light, cool and delicate, delightful when enhanced with yoghurt dressing (again a combination I'd not tried before) and finally, Moreton Bay bugtails - I'd never come across these before.  According to a website, they are a member of the lobster family and have a fairly strong flavour - but I found them to be a delicate palatable taste, with a firm meaty texture.  And all balanced with an imaginative tasty salad.  I've never been so well fed!

Toni and her partner had brought their young West Highland terrier, Robbie.  He is only 9 months old and not quite clued up on how to ask mature chihuahua's to come and play!  Miggie and Zorro, the two resident dogs, were very effective at showing Robbie that he was bottom of the pecking order, mostly by firm use of eye contact, and by sitting on the furniture to be able to look down at him!  I think Robbie, as a more sturdy breed of dog, was also a bit boisterous for the dainty chihuahuas, but they certainly did not let him get the better of them.

The conversation flowed well - I probably told everyone more than they wanted to know about incidents on an operational railway; we talked about different countries each of us had lived in and the places we had travelled to and to which we aspired.

When I woke up this morning, it was to a true feeling of being blessed.  Christmas Day was simply lovely - meeting distant family members, seeing different ways of celebrating Christmas, being part of different communities.  Being able to reflect on the interesting jobs I've had over the years (and the stories associated with them) and listening to other people's life experiences.  Being able to reflect on my 6 months here in Australia and the experiences and opportunities so far, and yet to be realised.  I really feel I've got it all!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Jim's conversation at Running Club

Jim went out for a pre-Christmas run with the Running Club this morning at 7am.  He was having a chat with some of the faster runners after the run, and discovered one of the girls is a triathlete.  Jim happened to say that in the UK, we lived quite close to London, and that if they knew anyone who was going to the Olympics and who needed accommodation, we might be able to assist.  We live on the end of a branch line that runs directly into London, and specifically to Stratford where the Olympic village, Aquatic centre and other key sports facilities are located.  The triathlete looked straight at him, and said "actually, I might know someone who needs accommodation".  She knew, presumably through her triathlon activities, a female australian swimmer who has qualified for the Olympics.  The swimmer's parents would be going to support their daughter, and might need accommodation. 

I am delighted with the potential prospect of having a competitor's parents to stay with us.  Particularly as the sport is swimming - one in which both Jim and I participate.  Jim and I have travelled extensively with his triathlon activities - and I have to say - this can only be done if you have considerable funds available.  Most athletes who represent their country are not sponsored, and have to pay their own travel and accommodation costs, until they reach Olympic level.  So if these parents have a daughter who is in the Olympic team, they will have had to shell out considerable funds over the years, if they have wanted to travel with her to be the support team. (I know, I've done it).  So if we are able to provide accommodation to support the family supporters, I'd be really pleased.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Collective noun for policemen on bikes

Jim and I had an interesting discussion with 3 policemen on bicycles today.  I saw them cycling slowly through Perth town centre, and idly wondered what the collective noun for policemen on bikes would be.  They were not busy, so I went up and asked them.  They suggested a flock, but when I suggested a "pedal of bike police" they thought this was quite appropriate.  I was pleasantly surprised they knew what a collective noun was!  We had an enlightening discussion about their bikes (Jim's specialist subject) and were surprised to learn that each PC does not have his own bike.  They just take one from the pool.  The bikes took heavy wear, and wore out - when arresting people, the bikes tend to be thrown on the ground in the activity of the moment, and generally get quite well thrown about.  The bikes were certainly well scratched, although when Jim looked at the rear derailleurs, they had very little wear compared to Jim's bike.  The policemen said they only did about 15k per day, whereas Jim has crossed the USA twice on his bike.  The bikes get changed about every 9 years, and the police were anxiously waiting for new ones.  New bikes had been promised back in July, then delayed until Christmas, and now they were waiting until the New Year.  The police said we had given them the most interesting question that morning, and the "pedal of bike police" went on their way.

I've spent a happy day or so, developing my pomegranate theme in my sketchbook.  I can thoroughly recommend the Strathmore Mixed Media Visual Diary.  The pages have a lovely heavy weight, with a nice texture.  I've used water on the inktense pencils, and the pages don't cockle.  I was thinking about layering pattern and had a very contented day playing with the art materials and concepts from my previous sketchbook.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Struggles with my sketchbook

Over the last couple of weeks I have been struggling with my sketchbook.  I've worked through what I had to say (or portray) about Dad and Australian plants, and have been wondering what inspires me now.  I have completed my first sketchbook, the moleskine, given to me by Lisa, before I left the UK.  I found it difficult to work in something as small as A5, but have come to the conclusion that this is definitely the best size if I want to carry it with me virtually all the time.  I have also struggled with having the confidence to take it out and sketch things at unconventional times, but I'm getting used to just ignoring the strange looks. 

I've been looking at my moleskine sketchbook, and can clearly remember the times, when I sat down and drew things, felt awkward and unsure about why I was choosing to draw the things I did, and whether they were good enough sketches.  But despite being unsure about the validity of what I did, I kept going - that's determination for you.  I was not sure whether the constant black and white sketches were enough.  I often did not have colour with me (too heavy/bulky) so there are lots of line sketches in b/w.  I added notes on colour when I wished I had brought the coloured pencils.

I've been watching the pomegranates flourish on Richard's tree.  I've sketched some in colour - I love the Inktense pencils, because when you add a wash of water, the colours flood in.  I've also been thinking a lot about layering, and I've been obsessed about furnishing fabrics. 

Yesterday, I was sitting at the bus stop, thinking about pomegranates (again!).  I had been in the Perth Art Gallery, looking at Indigeneous art, and wondering about how to utilise the inspiration, without copying their art or using their work without due reference.  (I'm hoping my Indigeneous studies will touch on this).  I sat at the bus stop, took out my sketchbook, and started line drawings of pomegranates.  I managed to ignore the people looking over my shoulder!  I then added linear filling shapes.  Then I started drawing the pomegranate seeds in concentric shapes.  This morning I reviewed my new sketchbook (Strathmore mixed media Visual Diary) with the two sketchs I have completed since returning from our roadtrip. (Two!  In a fortnight!  What a bad student!) Then wondered about applying the b/w linear drawings over the top.  What about different line patterns/drawings on top?  But how many colour versions do I have to draw.  It all takes time.  What about colour photocopies of the pomegranates, with b/w overlays?  What about using the line drawings I've been collecting from the previous sketchbook over the top?  Oh, actually all the stuff I've been observing and drawing can be applied to what I'm doing now!! 

And finally it's all come together.  I've not been drawing in vain.  And I can use the photos that Jim and I took during the roadtrip as well.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Lazy yet virtuous

It's been a lazy few days since we got back from our roadtrip.  I can't say we've done much, except that we went for our second swim this week at the Riverton pool.  (So much for swimming three times a week). It's a lovely 50m pool, and once again, Jim and I had a lane to ourselves, at 0815 in the morning.  We decided to get the 10 entry pass, which gives a discount. With my student discount as well this came to about $72 for both of us, for 10 swims each.  About $3.60 per swim.  Equivalent to c£2.40 each.  This is good value, and given we cycle 30 minutes each way to the pool, you can see why it makes me feel virtuous.  90 minutes exercise for $3.60. 

Also in the last couple of days, I've been back to Fremantle Prison Museum, this time to do the Great Escapes tour.  This had some good stories about the ingenuity of the escapes that have taken place.  I think the guide said there had been 130,000 people imprisoned at Fremantle Prison but only 28 escapes.  One escape was done by a trusty prisoner building a rickety ladder and hiding it underneath the prison hospital which was located between the inner and outer walls.  Then he waited until winter when it was cold at daybreak, saved some soup from the evening meal, and just before dawn, offered hot soup (with stolen sleeping pills) to the guard in the guntower. The guard drank it, went to sleep and the prisoner hopped it over the wall.  The guard took 12 hours to awaken, and was disciplined and downgraded to the lowest staff grade.  All the successful escapes have names, and this one was the "Sleeping Beauty" escape.

I have been drawing the pomegranates that are growing on the tree where we live.  The blossoms are bright orange, and the set seedheads are bright orange or yellow.  Yet once the fruit starts to swell it is a bright lime green, and gets darker as it grows.  The fruit takes a long time to ripen, and must go through a range of colours before it is red or apricot/pink and fully ripe.  I have drawings at each stage, and will have a lot more before I go home.

Jim goes home on 1 May.  So this means I will have about 7 weeks on my own here, until I complete the semester.  After 7 weeks without Jim, I know I'm going to be fed up with my own company.  Yet I don't know exactly what date my final assessment will be.  Most of my modules have continual assessment, but the textile module, Cloth & Habitable Space, has a final review during Examination Weeks, some time between 4 and 15 June, precise date to be advised.  The tutor has said to book my flight as it suits me, and I can have an early assessment if required.  Because final review is tutor and peer assessed, I don't want to be evaluated outside of the class assessment. I'm not even sure whether a decision will have been made about our assessment date by the time university restarts on 28 February (!)  The last date that my changeable air ticket is valid is 26 June 2012.  It is a one year ticket, but if you choose your return journey in the last month of its validity, there is an extra charge (I accepted when I booked it, and it was still the best deal available).  Unfortunately I did not realise that it would be so long before I knew when my studies would be complete.  So do I take a chance, choose a date and book it now, to get my seat confirmed?  If my assessment ends up being on Monday 4 June, I'm going to want to go home on Wednesday 6 June, but if the assessment ends up on 15 June, I'd probably wait until Monday 18 June to travel.

I think weekend flights are very busy, so I'm going to avoid them.  My flights out here were on a Monday, and I was really lucky to be able to have vacant seats next to me on both flights so I could lie down and sleep.  Is this because Monday flights to/from Australia are less popular at that time of year?  Or was I just very lucky? 

I think by June, I will just want to be going home to Jim.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Problems with Telstra

We have our wifi access with Telstra.  Telstra closed down their network on Saturday morning, apparently because there was a  major problem with computer hacking, which was publicised on the news. Jim and I missed this, but friends told us.  There has been no further publicity that we have seen.  I could accept no service for one day, but we are now on day 4 and Jim and I still can't get back on-line on our own access.  I've had to come into Curtin to access the library service.  I'm off to the Telstra shop next to see how it can be resolved.

However I'm determined not to be a sad person who can't cope without daily IT access.  So we have occupied ourselves by finding the local swimming pool and commencing a get-fit campaign.  It takes half a hour to cycle to the south side of Canning River to the Riverton pool.  Yesterday we swam for half an hour - 800m for me, 1100 for Jim, and then cycled home.  So we did a total of 10 miles cycling (one hour) and 30 minutes swimming.  I'm planning to do this 3 times a week until the end of Feb, when I start full time uni again.  Jim has also started running again, after 4 weeks of non-exercise on the roadtrip.  He has been reading a book about Chi Running which is meant to make you run in tune with your body.  For Jim, he has applied to principle by leaning slightly more forward into his stride.  He returned from his run, stating he had run 10k, which is further than he has done for 6 months, and attained a better time than he expected. 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Back in Perth after a month touring Australia

I enjoyed our month away, but it is good to come back to base.

Jim and I got our delayed flight home yesterday, with no problems at all.  One interesting fact shared with us by the pilot on take-off, was that although we had been delayed 24 hours, at least we were in hotel accommodation.  Whereas, people had landed at Perth on the incoming flight, but because the landing bays were still occupied by outgoing (but grounded) flights, the incoming passengers could not disembark - for about 5 hours!  This is similar to the railway industry where if you run out of platform space, the trains simply have to wait outside the station (usually in a tunnel) until the platform space becomes available.  Until the train (or plane) ahead moves, there is simply nothing staff can do about it.  And on a plane, you can't simply jump to ground level to get out - you need the staircase - and if there is an electrical storm, nothing will be moving on the airside of the terminal - they won't move either planes or disembarking kit.  There were some snotty remarks on the Jetstar website to the effect that the writer hoped the air crews had distributed free drinks and meals while people were cooped up, unable to disembark.  This is a potentially worthy thought, except that on a budget airline, they will be flying with the minimum of extra weight, and will not be carrying extensive stocks of food and beverages.  In this situation, it is always the front line staff who get it in the neck, when they have no control over decisions taken regarding on-board stock levels. 

Because of my transport background, I made a point of thanking all the staff I spoke to, for excellent service given.  And we did indeed receive excellent customer service.

So this morning it was back to the domestics - shopping, cooking, washing.  I spent a happy hour or so doing the filing.  I usually record musuem and art gallery visits by sticking tickets and postcards into a scrapbook and making a nice display from each page.  Because I don't want to be carrying home the weight of a scrapbook, at the moment, all the ephemera is being filed in plastic sleeves in a ring binder.  My filing session certainly made the point that over the last month, I've been to a lot of museums and galleries!  This must mean Jim has sat in a lot of tea shops, drinking tea, eating cake, and reading the newspaper, while waiting for me! 

Jim has just come in from his bike ride to the library to get a new supply of books.  The librarian asked him whether he had lost a pair of cycling gloves, and showed the lost property to him.  These were not Jim's.  She said Jim was the only person who she thought might own them, because Jim is the only person who comes in, wearing cycling kit.  There's always something different about Jim and me, that makes people remember us!

It has been a wonderful month.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Back to Cairns Art Gallery

Jim and I have been informed that we will be collected from the hotel at 3pm, so we had a morning to fill.  Jim walked round town in the heat, and I sought refuge in the air conditioned art gallery, looking at the postcard competition again.  About 20 of the postcards had been bid up to $100, with the rest remaining below.

I went upstairs and looked at the new print exhibition.  There were some lovely linocut prints as well as silkscreen prints on paper.  I'm now at the knowledge level where I look at them and try to work out in what order the colours were printed.  I also looked at the work by students from the local TAFE (Technical & Further Education) college.  Some of my fellow students at University of Herts may be interested in this.

Jennifer Arthur "Botanical Dimensions"

Hand drawn transfers on folded porcelain slip (I think? - I'm not a ceramicist)

Jennifer Arthur again - "Duplicates".  Hand drawing and stonecast slipware pears.

Rose Rigley "Floyd Recalls I-XV"  Mixed media on canvas
Close up of "Floyd recalls"
One for my friend Lisa.  Floyd Recalls detail.

Also there was another exhibition in the process of being staged.  I noted the style of art was that of raw wood mosiac - very like my favourite postcard in the downstairs gallery.  The artist was putting final touches to the work, and I asked him if it was his work downstairs.  It was.  He was Ben Trupperbaumer.  I said I thought his work was best in show.  He was pleased and said he would be interested in how much it raised at auction, and that there would be a bidding frenzy at the end on Sunday.  We had quite a discussion about art, the differences between degrees in England and Australia and, portraiture.  He recommended I look at Euan McLeod, a friend of his, who changed the way portraiture was done in Australia when he won the Archibold prize in c1995.  BT said at the time, portraiture needed to be shaken up.  I will read up on Euan McLeod, and no doubt will comment in a later post.  It was wonderful to have a chat with a top exhibiting artist.  I said I had been attending the National Portrait Gallery Portrait competition for about 20 years and had noticed how styles had changed over the time I had been viewing them.  I think the NPG competition has been running for about 30 years. I also noted that the early winners of the Archibold Prize in the 1920s had been portraying military leaders and now it was much more varied.

I'd be interested to see what the postcards eventually sell for. I will look up the Cairns Art Gallery online next week to see if they publish results.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Jetstar cancel flight due to storms in Perth

We are sitting in bed writing this. 

We arrived very early as usual at the airport for our 1810 flight.  Having booked in, and queuing at the departure gate, we were informed our departure was cancelled because the incoming flight was stuck at Perth, unable to take off due to huge storms.  Within 15 minutes of this, we were told we would be accommodated in a hotel overnight, with meals supplied, and given a letter confirming this, and also the entitlement to $100 each off our next Jetstar flight. It also confirmed we would depart at the same time tomorrow, once the flight had arrived from Perth. A coach was supplied within 45 minutes and we were taken to the Novotel Hotel in Cairns. 

For Jim and me, this was wonderful.  Another day or two in Cairns is no problem to us. We've spent the last month in campervans, trains and backpackers hostels, and to be given a free night in 4 star luxury was lovely.  We had a lovely meal, then returned to our room (two double beds!) and had the luxury of a bath!!  I've not had a bath since I've been in Australia!  Maybe I'm old fashioned but I prefer a bath to a shower.  A shower is refreshing and a  bath is relaxing.  There is one final luxury - egyptian cotton sheets - I love high quality cotton bedding and this is only the second time we've experienced it in Aus.  This is when you know you have really have it all!  It was wonderful. 

I have to say, I have been really impressed with how Jetstar have treated us.  It is a budget airline, and you don't usually get this sort of treatment with low cost companies.  Jim thinks it is because Jetstar is a subsidiary of Qantas, and with all the negative publicity about Qantas industrial disputes, management have deemed it appropriate to look after Jetstar customers as highly as Qantas.  But whatever the reason, I have found their customer service to us to be truly excellent. 

Our joy knows no bounds.  I wonder whether the storms will have cleared up by tomorrow?

Mooching about Cairns

We fly back to Perth later today.  We spent the whole day mooching about Cairns, with me feeling oppressed by the humidity.  Although I infinitely prefer the feel of the old town, I now undertand why the shopping malls are so much busier - it is completely air conditioned inside.

We looked at some wonderful stained glass windows in St Monicas Church.  These are the biggest themed stained glass windows in Australia (maybe the world) and were truly beautiful.  It was the story of the 7 days of creation, and the different things created by God on the different days, but with some specifically Australian animals (kangaroo, cassowary, gallah etc).  There was some interesting phraseology about the subject matter outside the church. "The windows depict the Creation according to the book of Genesis". Looks like there is now acceptance that different cultures have varying interpretations of what and how creation took place, and it is now deemed appropriate to describe which version of Creation is being depicted.  Particularly in Australia, Creation would be different from an aboriginal perspective, and from our travels in other places, such as Canada, the First Peoples had stories about the role of Raven in Creation.
God has separated sky from earth, and started to populate the sea

God has put plants and animals upon the earth

This is an Australian Creation - note the cassowary and aboriginal features in the rocks

Kangaroos are represented in the Australian Creation.  I think the details must be painted.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Day trip to Green Island

Ready for departure

Jim and I have had a lovely day out to Green Island.  This was a boat trip that took about 75 minutes, when the sky was overcast, and became clear blue sky as we got away from land.  Green Island is a tiny sandy outcrop between land and the Barrier Reef. 

On arriving at Green Island we went for a short walk, and read the notices that said you were not allowed to take away or touch any of the items on the beach.  This was a pity as I would have liked to sit and draw some of the natural debris on the island, but this would have meant moving it to a position where I could sit in the shade.  So I took photographs instead.  Like all good eco-tourists, we took only photographs and left only footprints.

Weathered sea urchin casing

Dead sea urchin starting to break up

Coconut with part of its husk still attached

We spent some time snorkelling (unsuccessfully).  I struggled with the mask filling up with water, which was very frustrating.  I wanted to look at all the fish and coral underwater, and the visual part of the experience was important to me.  I wanted to look in sufficient detail to be able to draw what I had seen afterward, but the leakage prevented this.  I think the problem was the way the snorkel fitted inside the mouth.  I could get the mask to seal when I put it on, but because the mouth grip was quite small, I had to use my lips to grip it.  And because I don't often use a snorkel, my lips would tire, and I would keep moving them.  This affected the seal of the mask around my top lip, and the mask would leak and fill up with water. I needed a snorkel that had a bigger fitting to go in front of the top and bottom teeth. After about half an hour I gave up. 

After lunch, Jim and I went on the glass bottomed boat  which was very interesting.  The fish obviously know there will be fish food supplied, and as soon as people start getting on, the fish congregate under the boat.  There were big round fish, the size of a dinner plate, and longer fish about 4 feet long.  Lots of smaller fish too.  We saw a turtle, and I wanted to draw him, but he was moving too fast.
Fish seen through glass bottomed boat

Fish under the water's surface

After this, we were tired, so sat on the boat, while Jim had a little snooze and I took my sketchbook out, and drew an osprey's nest.  Ospreys normally build a new nest every year, but this nest has been used for 4 consecutive years, with chicks surviving to adulthood each time. The nest has been built on the lookout post that supports one of the green lights for the harbour on Green Island.  Ospreys are protected birds, so cannot be disturbed.   The nest is very close to where the tourist boats moor, and where the fish are fed every day!  It must be like living near a take-away restaurant - plenty of fresh food on the doorstep, with the fish frequenting the surface of the water making selecting the next meal very easy!

Osprey nest at Green Island

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Cairns Art Gallery

While Jim spent time looking at the fishing boats in the harbour, I went to the Art Gallery.  There was a very interesting postcard competition, which was culminating in silent auction.  The format of the postcards was that of a diptych - two art surfaces, hinged together.  In the 13/14th century, affluent people had religious iconography painted onto two pieces of hinged wood, so they could carry art around for personal devotional purposes.  The hinging prevented the surface of the art being worn down. 

This postcard competition had about 100 entries, from lay artists to known personalities.  There were 3 sizes to which artists worked - 2 x A5; 2 x 15cm square, and 2 x 20cm x 8cm rectangles.  The hinges could be on the long or short side.  There were a variety of applied art techniques on display - oil paint, fine liner, glass, ceramic, stitch, 3d jewellery.  The pieces I liked were by Mollie Bosworth, who had done a hinged pair of ceramic tiles, with fine line drawings of seeds, overlaid and multi-layered.  And Ben Trupperbaumer who had done two pieces of selected worn wood cuts, emphasising the wood grain and lichen, with a fractured line running across them "Arriving at a fork in the road".  His work is about fragility/strength, symmetry/disorder and balance/chaos.  This gave me another set of contrasts to consider. 

Each entry had a card beside it which noted the bidder number and amount bid for each postcard so far.  The event opened yesterday, and all entries had an opening bid of at least $40.  Some had further bids.  Bidding closes in about a week, and the 5 top priced items then go on to a silent auction.  There seemed to be a threshold between $80 and $100 where most entries remained below $80 but there were about half a dozen that had reached from $100-$400.  The $400 entry did not appeal to me at all. 

There was also a concealed post card awaiting bids.  This had a description of the artist - a Queensland woman, who worked in impasto technique, collected across Europe and the English speaking world, and was the 1986 winner of the Archibold Prize - an Australian portrait competition that has run since the 1920s.  I looked it up online, and the postcard must be by Davida Allen, who does portraits with a strong sexual/feminist element.  Once again, not to my taste but I spent a happy hour looking at the Archibold Prize website, noting how portraiture has changed over the last  90 years, from portraying military leaders to impasto sexual frenzy!

Friday, 2 December 2011

A mentally stimulating day in Cairns

Today has been a lovely day as a tourist.  We started by having an interesting conversation with the dutch receptionist at the backpackers hostel where we are staying.  She was laughing about how she has recently started transposing numbers, and has to be careful when quoting prices.  She said that she is often reading things in English, while talking Dutch to her mother on the phone.  In Dutch, apparently numbers are read from the right to the left.   So on her mother's 65th birthday, she wished her a happy 56th birthday.  This is because in Dutch, she would wish her Mum Happy five and sixtieth birthday.  Except she said it in English, in the Dutch speaking order.  Jim said he would be quite happy for her to think he was 37, rather than 73!  And if you think about it, we write $25 or £25, and read it as twenty five dollars or pounds, so the English language has a precedent to read the numbers before the currency, going from right to left.

Jim and I did our washing this morning and I ended up with a complex about my knickers.  I had seen other backpackers' washing on the line yesteday, and sighed at the miniscule pieces of fabric that constitute the underwear worn by skinny young girls.  I duly washed out mine, and felt really conscious that mine appeared to be scaled to fit an elephant in comparison.  But how to get them dry without advertising the size of my backside!!  So in the end, I pegged them out on the rearmost line of 3, and then closely spaced a row of socks in front of them to conceal them from view.  Ho, hum, you're never too old to get a complex about the size of your backside!

Jim and I then took ourselves off to Cairns town centre.  It has changed a lot since we were last here 5 years ago.  Back then, most buildings were two storey, and many still had the old fashioned wide verandahs, to keep the buildings cool by keeping the sun off.  Now most buildings are modern, with many 6/7 storey blocks of flats, each with a tiny balcony.  It appears as if most office blocks are in the modern international style with glass frontages and air con.  I know progress is inevitable, but I preferred the older, more local style.  There is nothing idiosyncratic about Cairns any more.  It could be any international city.
Helicopter taking off.

I spent about 4 hours in the Wildlife Dome.  This is on top of the Casino (another depressing feature of modern city life).  The Dome was wonderful.  Quite small in area, but was an artificially created tropical zone.  I spent some time there drawing birds, and crocodiles.  At one stage a hand reared wood swallow sat while I drew him, then came and sat on my shoulder for 10 minutes while I drew another bird.  Then I drew a freshwater crocodile, who was about 4 feet long, happily sunbathing in his enclosure.  I was quite pleased with this sketch.  And finally while I waited for the talk about saltwater crocodiles, I drew some of the osteoderms (bony skin lumps) on the head of the saltwater crocodile "Goliath".  Three hours passed in a flash, and it was time to meet Jim, who thankfully brought me a bottle of water, to redydrate after so long in the humidity.

On our way back to the hostel, we passed some trees, and there was a cacophony of sound.  Looking up, we could see bats, or flying foxes, hanging in the mango trees.  I'd never seen these before.  The sign beside the trees said they were a endangered species, and if any baby flying foxes were seen on the ground, to contact the Cairns Wildlife Ranger who would return it in an appropriate manner.  The public were not to touch them as they could carry disease.  Apparently fruit bats are the only bats that do not catch live prey, because they do not have echolocation.  The bats identify their food by sight and smell, and crash into trees, attempting to grasp a branch, so that they can then reach the fruit.  All bats are protected under CITES but the authorities suspect this is poorly enforced and the larger bats are still caught as food in some areas.
Silhouette bats

Considering university terminology

I have mentioned before that there are differences in terminology between UK and Australian universities - sketchbook/visual diary etc.  I have been considering the terms "privileging" and "finessing". 

I found it very difficult to get to grips with privileging on my Visual Inquiry class.  Privileging is where you identify your best work and put it in a prime position when it comes to your display of artwork.  This requires you to have the competence to identify your best work (my best work often was not what the tutor and rest of the class liked) and to have the equipment to display it to greatest effect, whether this is fishing twine, a hollow pole of the exact length and a ladder to hang lengths of fabric, or a tall display mount to show a portfolio.  This is a term that I had not come across in the UK, but will help me display my work to better effect when I return. 

My friend, Sal, was talking about her most recent essay for her studies.  Sal referred to "finessing" her essay.  I had never heard of it, and had to look it up online.  I found a fantastic description. 

"Working through the details, one sentence at a time, until every word serves a purpose.  It is time intensive and terribly hard work but it is what sets a great essay apart from the rest"  (Tricia Fields) 

This is what I have learned to do to improve the quality of my writing during my studies.  My essay results have steadily improved during my degree and it was particularly during my Public Issues, Private Lives class that I really got my head around choosing my words carefully to make best use of the word count required.  Without being told what "finessing" was, I had started to do it in the final stages of my essay writing - checking that at each stage of my essay I had fulfilled my plan to articulate each point, clearly and concisely, but with the right level of detail to back up my conclusions.  It is the detail that I find difficult.  It is certainly time consuming, and fiddling about with the details, which makes me tired and irritable, does make me wonder whether it makes enough difference to be worthwhile, but since I've been doing it, my grades have improved.  (I still think some of the marking is generous, but I choose not to use my powers of argument with the tutors!) 

Finessing takes huge amounts of time.  I suspect it increases my result by one grade.  So because of the amount of time finessing takes - after the body of work is completed - it is essential to start work well before the hand-in date.  Students with poor planning skills lose the opportunity to gain this extra grade, simply because they don't have the time to do this process.  Additionally, for people like me with poor finishing skills, it takes a lot of determination to keep working on an essay to get all the nuances right, because I lose interest once the body of work is complete.  By this stage, I'm bored of what I have to say, and just want to move on to the next interesting subject.  Of which there are many.  I think the only thing I would add to the definition I found, is that it requires personal commitment.

I am absolutely confident that Sal will be thorough in finessing her essay.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Next roadtrip: Brisbane-Cairns

Day 1 317k Brisbane-Childers

Today we collected the campervan and set off about midday.  It is a better van than last time - newer, and with only half the mileage of the last one.  But this time, rather than having all the kit you could need on board, transfer drivers were charged if you wanted a table and chairs, linen and if you opened the sealed first aid kit.  Needless to say, Jim and I went for the cheapest budget option and had none of them!

Jim with the Cheapa Campa van (do you think he may be scottish?)

Weather forecast - rain all the way, but we saw lots of cloud and fortunately missed nearly all the rain.

Rusty redundant equipment at heritage village.  Humidity makes metal objects rust quicker.

I have decided to spend some time looking at the colours in the landscape as we travel.  I've noticed that the landscape changed from Perth to Sydney, and wish I had noted the colours.  It was very arid and bleached/burnt across the Nullabor and got greener as we entered Southern Australia.  I'm expecting it to get more tropical as we get towards Cairns. 

Palest grey and blue - clouds and sky; dark and light olive green - trees; blue green bulrushes and dark heads; brownish and bleached dried grass.  Orange flowers on bright green trees. 
Interesting patterns in tropical plants

And interesting shapes too.
Wonderful blossom

The buds are the same shape as pomegranate flowers

A single flower

I liked the texture around this fallen pod - so chunky for such a delicate flower

We were following a truck at one stage.  On his right hand side it said "Passing Side", and on the left hand side, "Suicide".   Says it all really!

Day 2 Childers-Bloomsbury 874k

A long drive today.  Set off at 5.30am, once it was light.  We went through lots of roadworks, and apparently the roadworks go on all the way to Cairns.  This is because there are lots of road repairs following bush fires and floods over the past year.  On long stretches there are signs advising drivers to take a break and in known fatigue areas, a roadside quiz.  What is the national flower of Queensland.  A: The Cooktown Orchid. 

Colours today - Grass/leaf green; schored leaf brown, black, grey brown, sky blue and palest grey. 
Jim studying the route

We took a long time to find a free campsite tonight, which is why we drove about 100k more than intended. Jim was driving for about 10 hours of the 12 hours we were on the road.  Either side of a town, the campsites are all charging for facilities and we only want to stop.  We don't need water or power.  At the camp area we found, we parked and started preparing a meal, and saw two wallabies bound out of the vegetation, see us, and bound on into another area of vegetation. 

Day 3 Bloomsbury-Bilyana  500k

Another 5.30 start.  The weather is much more tropical now.  Much more humid.  Threatened to rain several times, but only rained once, and only enough to make the roads greasy.  More roadworks. 

We went past several sugar cane factories, and there was a narrow gauge railway running alongside the road that went through the fields.  We crossed the narrow gauge tracks several times, and all had rusty rails - indicative of non-use.  All the sugar cane factories were defunct, but the sugar cane was still being grown so presumably it is processed elsewhere.  I think it is the start of the harvest, as we saw 2/3 fields being cut.  There were about a dozen hawks flying overhead, behind the cutting machine.  We subsequently went to a wetland wildlife centre, where it said that the hawks benefitted from the sugar cane, as rats and other small rodents lived there, and it was a good living for birds of prey.  As the harvester cut round, you could see the hawks taking it in turns to drop down on to the freshly cut area - presumably this was their gourmet dinner time!

We went through a town called Ayr.  It has a population of about 20,000, half the size of our home town, but had a thriving town centre, and a fantastic large sports shop.  It carried all the equipment for football, rugby, tennis, cricket, fishing, boxing, swimming, and lifesaving.  We had a discussion with the staff, and they said the local population were active sportspeople, which was why they could carry such a large stock of sports equipment, and not just sports fashion.  In particular, we were interested in the all-in-one suits that were for the lifesaving club.  Apparently these were designed to protect from the sun, and stingers - jellyfish.
"Ayr?  Not the one with which I am familiar!"

We went past Shute Harbour and Dingo Beach.  We wondered if this was where Nevil Shute came from.  Jim remembered reading a Nevil Shute book written in the 1950s, where Shute speculated what Britain would be like in the 1980s, and his guess was that it would be a communist country.  Jim thinks Nevil Shute was a British migrant in the 1950s. 

Day 4 - Bilyana- just outside Cairns

Todays colours - brown/grey; bright and dark leaf green; orange blossoms, blue sky, white/grey clouds; honey beige.  And dark brown soil, bright green sugar cane, olive trees, light and dark grey cloud, rusted silos, blackened trees and white trunks.

The staff at the Wetland Centre recommended a campsite for us, and as we got there the rain that had threatened all day, came down.  As it had been very hot, this made the evening and night very humid. As usual we went to bed when it got dark - 7pm.   This was the first night that I have not enjoyed in the campervan.  I woke up, very sweaty and thirsty about midnight, drank a pint of water from the fridge, and slept until daybreak at 5am.

As we only had about 120k to do today, we had a late start - we hit the road at 7am.  It poured with rain all morning.  As we were not in a hurry, whenever it got to torrential proportions, we pulled over and sat in a layby or at McDonalds. Needless to say, not to buy any food, but to use their free wifi.

Cairns is very sunny, hot and humid.  Jim dropped me off at the backpackers, while he returned the van to the depot.  He took about 45 minutes to walk back, and has acquired a distinctive sunburn around his singlet!