Welcome

My photo
Hello, and welcome to my art blog from Tasmania, Australia. I've spent time as a painter, glass artist, book illustrator and scientist. This year I'm training as a literacy tutor and teacher's assistant, combined with working in the studio and the lab. If you'd like to see more, please try the links to my folio page or email me at silvergumstudio@yahoo.com.au. Thank you!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Bay of Fires Winter Arts Festival

I picked up a program yesterday for the fifth Bay of Fires Winter Arts Festival (June 10-12).

It sounds like a hoot.  Apart from the annual Bay of Fires Art Prize (a cool $20,000 in prize money), there will be an arts market, workshops (including Rubbish to Art, Plein Air Landscape and Make A Zombie Keychain), open studios and gardens, live music and a BBQ competition.

Actually, there are so many good things on that I can't decide which to do.  Plein Air Landscape is off the agenda.  This is Tasmania in winter, people!  Rubbish to Art is tempting.  The open gardens have potted plants and worm juice for sale.  The Beer Blues BBQ is a must-do.  Barbecuing has become a form of performance art in Tasmania, with slow-cookin', smokin' mobile BBQ artists travelling to championships around the state.  The BBQ prize money is $5,500, which is more than you get for illustrating a book.  The only aggravating thing about BBQ competitions is that you can smell the meat, but you can't eat it.  The judges eat it.  However, apparently there will be catering for the masses at this particular event.

Then there's the flaming torch closing ceremony on the beach at St Helens, culminating in the lighting of a communal fire pot.  Who could resist that?

I didn't do this picture of Bean and Carrot-Top specially for the Bay of Fires Art Prize, but you can see the bay in the background.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Return to painting

After an epic struggle of several years, I have reluctantly pulled the plug on my ill-fated attempt to forge a career as a children's book illustrator.

Two contracts in a row ended in disappointment, and I sat down and tallied up the facts.  I am not an illustrator.  Art directors do not like my work.  To be fair, I don't like theirs, either.  I do not like to work with people who never answer their emails and reserve the right to change their minds repeatedly.  (All this and I don't get paid?)  After a lifetime of wanting to be a children's book author and illustrator, I discovered that even if I could, by working hard for another ten years, somehow transform myself into a successful illustrator, it wouldn't be worth the price.  I just can't go on wanting this any more.

I pottered around for a bit wondering what to do (apart from training as a literacy tutor and teacher's assistant and going back to the lab, all of which are now in train).  I took out library books on bookbinding and eco-dyeing and wondered if I should become a potter.  After all, my glass art practice was extremely satisfying. Then it occurred to me that I could just go back to painting.

As an illustrator you have to work for a year or more to produce a consistent series of artworks that flow.  It's a bit like doing a scientific project where a dozen different strands have to come together, or the whole thing doesn't work.  Experienced scientists know about this pitfall, and build in short-term project goals and small successes along the way to keep them going.  Art should be the same.  There's nothing worse than a two-year project that fails because it didn't all come together at the end, and there were no small successes along the way to encourage you to keep going.


As a painter you can move in any direction and explore any idea.  You can do ten bad paintings, throw them out, then do one good painting and sell it.  You can create a series of paintings around a theme, have an exhibition, show a few works in a mixed exhibition with other painters, change media, change subject matter and change your approach.  You can paint on location and on vacation.  Heck, you can take painting vacations.  What's not to like about all that?

Yesterday these were rejected illustrations from the last two and a half years.  Today I'm promoting them.  Today they're ... drawings and paintings.






Sunday, April 23, 2017

Earth Day eco-dyes

Silk dyed with Tasmanian eucalypts
Yesterday was Earth Day everywhere on the planet.  I went to the March for Science in Hobart.  We didn't actually march, but we showed up to support facts, reason, research, scientific literacy for everyone, funding for science, and the use of scientific evidence to inform political decisions.  We showed up to support using our brains.  We showed up to support thinking and education and objectivity.  These things are not really admired any more.  Still, people showed up in droves, all around the world.  Hallelujah!

While I was at the rally, a scientific experiment was happening in my kitchen.  I wrapped a large piece of silk with some fresh leaves of Eucalyptus morrisbyi, a very rare endemic eucalypt from southern Tasmania, and let it boil in plain water for a couple of hours.  (The leaves were from a planted specimen.)  I wanted to try this species because it is closely related to Eucalyptus cordata, the Tasmanian silver gum.  To my amazement, I learnt recently that Eucalyptus cordata - which is also rare and endemic to southern Tasmania - is renowned globally as a dye plant.  I had no idea of this when I named my blog after it back in 2010.  I've always thought it the most beautiful of eucalypts, but I am a little biased because I did about ten years of genetic research on it, and have seen all of its natural populations, including pure tall stands on cold mountains with shining crowns of silver leaves. 

Eucalyptus morrisbyi print
Turmeric and blackberry dyes
You can see from the top photo that Eucalyptus cordata gives heart-shaped red leaf prints when silk is wrapped around it and boiled in plain water.  Eucalyptus morrisbyi gives much softer, more subtle prints, although with work I may be able to improve this.

I also tried my hand at wrapping fabric in the Japanese shibori method and dyeing with powdered turmeric and wild blackberry.  The turmeric is very easy to use and gives a bright yellow within 20 minutes on cotton muslin.  Blackberry (with a dash of vinegar) is a little more challenging, but the fabric can be soaked in the dye in a glass jar in the sun for a few days to take up the colour.




Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Kitty Hawk

My view of the Wright flyer
I've just visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina, right in the wake of Hurricane Matthew (see pics below).  The locals were cheerful and unfazed by the fact that sand dunes had been rearranged, low lying areas flooded and power cut.  The Banks are beautiful with wild Atlantic beaches inhabited by horses, a rich history and a series of stunning light houses.  On my must-see list was the site at Kitty Hawk where the Wright brothers made history on December 17, 1903.  Anyone trying to do anything new or difficult should enjoy reading about Orville and Wilbur Wright and just how they managed to achieve the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered aircraft at a time when other inventors were chasing significantly different ideas for powered flight.

Cleaning up after Hurricane Matthew
First of all, they had each other and belonged to a family that valued their endeavours.  Their mother was the original mechanical genius of the clan, and the Wrights built bicycles and other machines, which gave them the confidence to pursue their own concepts.  Between 1900 and 1903, the brothers thoroughly enjoyed spending their spare time camping in wooden shacks among the sand dunes at Kill Devil Hills.  The location gave them open space and plenty of wind power, as well as friendship with a local family.

Flights of stairs washed up on the Outer Banks
I bought two of these books!
First they built a glider and flew it as a kite.  Next, they progressed to manned glider flights.  They built their own wind tunnel to work with drag and lift.  By 1902 they had a new glider design and had learnt how to control its flight.  In 1903 they worked with their shop mechanic to produce a lightweight engine and finally, after numerous disappointments, they achieved sustained flight at Big Kill Devil Hill.  Seeing the monument built there, I finally understood why their plane had no wheels: because they were on soft sand, it was launched from a rail.

It was a big thrill to visit the site, but the Outer Banks were full of other surprises for me.  Among them - this hand-painted mural on the wall of the local supermarket, advertising books by local author Charles Harry Whedbee, who had a very popular TV talk show in the 1960's.  I went straight in and bought two of them.  The first has been reprinted twenty times!  Legends around the lost colony of Roanoke, Blackbeard the pirate and more were collected by Charles during his years of the talk show and compiled into these testaments.  The books are a ripping read, but on top of that, I love the whole concept of that mural advertisement and am determined to have one myself!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The blossoming plum

My illustration today is for a haiku by Issa (1763 - 1827).


The blossoming plum!
Today all the fires of hell remain empty.

Hobart today is the embodiment of this gorgeous haiku.  Pink and white plum and almond blossom everywhere, and magnolias bowed down with enormous flowers.  I'm off to the Botanical Gardens!!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Proudly presenting ...


This is Tarremah Steiner School student Tara Sharman, for whom I acted as a mentor this term.  Along with other Year 8 students at Tarremah, Tara was asked to design and complete an independent project to develop her skills and gain experience in any area she chose.  Each student was expected to find a mentor (through cold calling if necessary), plan and pace a project to completion, keep a journal and give a three-minute presentation about the process and results.  Projects were many and varied - song writing, cheese making, building a gypsy caravan, working in a chef's kitchen, and building a pendulum-operated drawing machine, among others.  Tara, a keen writer, decided that her project would be to write and illustrate a picture book.

It was a real joy meeting Tara, discussing ideas for the book she finally chose to develop - A Day With The Dinosaurs - and working out how to capture those ideas on paper.  Tara wrote a lovely flowing text, which we broke down into page spreads.  Here's her blurb for the back cover:  There were spiky dinosaurs and loud dinosaurs and dinosaurs as tall as the highest trees.  There were dinosaurs for Bruce and dinosaurs for Bailey and dinosaurs for everyone else.  But there wasn't one for me...

In the end, Tara's hero Henry gets his dinosaur, but not without trials.  Planning the page-by-page artwork, practising drawing techniques and finishing the book were also not without trials - a common experience for all the Year 8 students, judging by their talks which I attended last Thursday night.  Most spoke of last-minute dramas and the helping efforts of heroic parents.  Tara talked of how she had seriously under-estimated the difficulties of making a picture book.  I can relate to that experience, and although Tara thought she was receiving inspiration from me, I was equally inspired by her.  Listening to the talks, for the first time I realised that several of my friends were also mentors for Tarremah students - scientific friend Cherie had taught cheese making; glass artists Ruth and Merinda had taught kilnworking techniques; animator Rex had helped with computer animation.  I would really recommend doing this to anyone who is asked.  Tara's great enthusiasm and fresh ideas brought a lot of fun to my studio, and I am very proud to have my own signed-by-the-author copy of 'A Day With The Dinosaurs'.

Well done Tara!!



Monday, July 18, 2016

What I did in Fiji


Dawn at Navutu Bay in the Yasawas
Bula! Bula!

I've just blown in on the gale after two sun-soaked weeks in the former Cannibal Isles, now surely the most friendly and welcoming archipelago in the world ... Fiji.  I've never visited there before, but I hope to go back soon and often.  It's a ravishing, extravagantly lovely place, even five months after Cyclone Winston.  Most of the places we visited had suffered damage to homes, vegetation and the reef, even loss of life or livelihood.  Trees were stripped bare and uprooted, and extensive areas of reef were destroyed.  But the trees are in fresh leaf, new outcrops of colourful coral are blooming on dead grey shelves, and the Fijian spirit seems unstoppable.  One local explained to us how lucky it was that the cyclone had only devastated half of Fiji, so that the other half could help them.
Taiwai weaves a palm leaf basket at Navutu

Placing palm leaf baskets filled with fish and other meats on the lovo
Community spirit is very strong in Fiji, and much of our pleasure in going there came from meeting the locals and other travellers from Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the US.  Although some of the places we visited were very remote, others had an astonishing traffic of ferries, sea-planes, cruise ships, dive boats and dinghies.  Fijians clearly enjoy life and their own identity immensely, love to celebrate, and will play the guitar and sing to you at the drop of a hat.  The arts are a natural part of community life and everybody's birthright.  It costs nothing to arrange hibiscus flowers or weave a palm leaf mat, so why not decorate?  As for the food, their perfectly cooked meals of fresh fish, chicken, and pork with root vegetables, fruit and coconuts - sometimes cooked in the lovo, a bed of hot coals on which food is laid in palm leaf baskets, covered and buried in sand - are only too huge and delicious, and I came back 2.5 kg heavier.
Walu for dinner!

In the Yasawas, we witnessed the arrival of a newly acquired dive boat.  As it appeared in the passage between islands, all the men from the resort leapt into tinnies and roared out to escort it in.  The women lined the shore, laughing, clapping, singing sonorously and waving banners.  As the decorated fleet approached, we saw standing in the prows of two beaten-up tinnies a pair of stern Fijian warriors with folded arms, wearing nothing but body paint and grass skirts.  Much hilarity from the women.  Suddenly and dramatically all the men dived into the water, rushed up the beach and chased the women, who fled screaming delightedly.  Then they all returned, the women piled into the new boat singing, and off it went for a maiden voyage around the island.  (In fact the boat was so heavily laden we feared its maiden voyage might also be its last, but all went well.)  The kava bowl stood ready on the mat for all and sundry, and drums were beaten.  I'm thinking of developing a similar ritual in Australia for when we get a new family car... minus the water, of course.

I admit to being very relaxed but I did put in some effort and, as well as helping Taiwai with the palm leaf basket above, with Mark's help I constructed 'Birdie', a sculpture made entirely from found beach materials on the island of Ono:
'Birdie' at Mai Dive on Ono
Birdie was quite popular with the staff and guests, many of whom wanted to know what kind of bird she was.  People variously guessed her to be a chicken, a heron and a roadrunner.  Personally I hadn't thought quite so concretely, but thought she was rather stylish and clearly knew a thing or two.

We were in the water every day and visited some superb coral gardens replete with smartly dressed fish.  In the Yasawas we went for a night snorkel to check out the reef night life.  It seemed to be mainly jellyfish.  'Don't worry,' said the guide airily, 'they don't sting.'  This proved approximate: they didn't sting much, or perhaps they didn't sting by local standards.

Shallow reef at Paradise Cove in the Yasawas
Getting an overview of our next snorkelling site



Sunset on the reef
Leaving the Mamanucas
When you leave Fiji, the locals sing you a song called 'Isa Lei'.  As explained to us by a Fijian, 'Isa Lei' means many things including good-bye, love, happiness and sadness.  Here is an English translation given to us of the version they sang to us when we left Navutu Bay.


Isa, Isa you are my only treasure;
Must you leave me, so lonely and forsaken?
As the roses will miss the sun at dawning,
Every moment my heart for you is yearning.

Isa Lei, the purple shadow falling,
Sad the morrow will dawn upon my sorrow;
O, forget not, when you're far away
Precious moments beside dear Navutu Bay.

Isa, Isa, my heart was filled with pleasure,
From the moment I heard your tender greeting;
'Mid the sunshine, we spent the hours together,
Now so swiftly those happy hours are fleeting.

Isa Lei, the purple shadow falling,
Sad the morrow will dawn upon my sorrow;
O, forget not, when you're far away
Precious moments beside dear Navutu Bay.


Farewell, Navutu Bay
O'er the ocean your island home is calling,
Happy country where roses bloom in splendour;
O, if I could but journey there beside you,
Then forever my heart would sing in rapture.

Isa Lei, the purple shadow falling,
Sad the morrow will dawn upon my sorrow;
O, forget not, when you're far away
Precious moments beside dear Navutu Bay.

 Farewell and vinaka, dear Fiji.. we'll be back.