JUST ME :: and a stack of blank pages

:: Living creatively ::

About me

This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realise it is play. The only thing that is ultimately real about your journey is the step that you are taking at this moment. That’s all there ever is. I’m here to tell you that the path to peace is right there, when you want to get away. When you are present, you can allow the mind to be as it is without getting entangled in it. If you miss the present moment, you miss your appointment with life. That is very serious!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The true meaning of life...

The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
~Nelson Henderson

A daily practice of sketching and painting gives you a chance to exercise the big three P's - practice, practice, practice!

The above quote came to mind as I was doing this sketch in my Moleskine 200gsm Folio (A4) watercolour sketch-book at Hartebeespoort Dam last year - two beautiful trees at the edge of the dam and I wondered if anybody has ever sat in their shade....

Sunday, November 27, 2011

White-browed Sparrow Weaver

W&N Watercolour on Bockingford 300gsm

A Bird
A bird came down the walk,
He did not know I saw;
He bit an angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw.
And then he drank a dew
From a convenient grass,
And then hopped sidewise to the wall
To let a beetle pass.
- by Emily Dickinson

These White-browed Sparrow Weavers used to be regular visitors to my old garden here in Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa and, sad to say, I've not spotted them at all since moving to our new smallholding many years ago. My last sighting was in May 1996. I see their environmental status is listed as LC "Least Concern", so I cannot understand the reason at all as to why I have not noticed them lately. They have a general, harsh 'chik'chik' call when they're flocking, as well as a loud, liquid 'cheeoop-preeoo-chop' whistle, which I really miss...

The White-browed Sparrow-Weaver is found in greatest numbers in north-central southern Africa. While this species most densely populates at dry regions with woodland or wooded grassland in northern South Africa, its range includes Botswana, the North-west Province and Western Gauteng, northern and central Namibia, and western Zimbabwe. It is seen very often in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia and southern Malawi. Populations may be found as far north as Ethiopia.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Umbrella Thorn

Should a tree write its autobiography, it would not be unlike the history of a race.
- Khalil Gibran

A daily practice of sketching and painting gives you a chance to exercise the big three P's - practice, practice, practice!

Thorn tree - watercolour on Ashrad 300gsm
Umbrella Thorn {Acacia tortilis}

There are few more striking symbols of Africa than a thorn tree - its gnarled branches, graceful form, jagged thorns and abundant blooms, in many ways reflecting the paradoxes of the continent.

This Umbrella Thorn (Acacia tortilis) stands in one corner of my garden and offers a safe haven for many birds who seek a safe place to nest.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Song sings itself

In summer, the song sings itself.
- William Carlos Williams

A daily practice of sketching and painting gives you a chance to exercise the big three P's - practice, practice, practice!

W&N watercolours on Amedeo 200gsm

My Swallows (Greater-striped Swallow) have returned and it always amazes me that they've come thousands of miles back to their nest on MY little piece of soil here in Tarlton (Gauteng, South Africa! How great is that!

They've already got their first brood and this sketch started off as one of the youngsters perching in my peach tree, and although they do have a glint of blue on their heads and wings, I got carried away with the blue and now it looks more like a Blue Bird (which we DON'T have here in S.A.! lol!) But I have managed to capture the likeness in his cute little face, so it will have to do for now!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Gone to seed

Pleasure is the carrot dangled to lead the ass to market; or the precipice.
- Robinson Jeffers

A daily practice of sketching and painting gives you a chance to exercise the big three P's - practice, practice, practice!

Watercolour in Moleskine 200gsm Watercolour Sketch-book - 5" x 8"

A farmer friend's carrots have all gone to seed and have formed these gorgeous flowers, not unlike Queen Anne's Lace. Did you know that Carrots are from the Parsley family?

The Parsley Family includes some wonderful edible plants like the carrot and parsnip, plus more aromatic spices found in your spice cabinet, such as anise, celery, chervil, coriander, caraway, cumin, dill, fennel and of course, parsley. But unlike the Mustard or Mint families, the Parsleys are not all safe for picking and eating. In fact, the Parsley family is among the most important families of plants to learn, since it includes the deadliest plants in North America: poison hemlock and water hemlock. Note that the hemlock tree is totally unrelated. The wild carrot is the same species, but a different variety than the carrots we grow and eat.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An Artist's Sketchbook to make

A (really!) Quick & Easy sketch-book to make

An Artist's Sketchbook - front cover

Here in South Africa there aren't many choices of journals or sketch-books for artists to choose from in our book stores or art supply shops. I would imagine one of the few choices is the Moleskine range - they offer sketching and watercolour notebooks in various sizes, and they are really great to use - I have a full range - but that's about the extent of it. If you would like to make your own, personalised sketch-book, here's a really fun, quick and easy way to do it.

Artist's Journal Open

For this project I used an A4 Bockingford 300gsm watercolour pad (containing 10 sheets of paper) cut in half to form an A5 size (5.5" x 7.5" - approx. 14 x 19cm), giving me 20 pages. You can use any paper you like, but less than 140gsm doesn't give a good surface for painting on. You can also fold and tear the paper in stead of cutting it for an interesting effect on the edges, or use different colour papers.

For the front and back covers I used the backing card of the A4 watercolour pad (cut in half), but you can use any stiff board cut to size, even covers from old books.

Artist's Journal Inside

The next step is to mark where you want your holes and punch the holes into your paper and stiff board covers. You can use ribbon to hold the book together like I have done here, or you can use binder rings found at most craft shops. Two should do the job. I used a leather hole punch to do 2 or 3 pages of paper together, as 300gsm is quite thick. Or you could use the standard office 2-hole punch with the holes in the centre of the paper, but I have found that top and bottom works best to keep the book stable.

Binder rings

Leather hole punch

I punched 6 holes into the pages of this journal as I was going to put it into a leather-bound ring binder I already have, but when the pages proved to be too big, and I didn't want to cut them smaller, I changed my mind and decided to use the ribbon.

And here's the enjoyable part - designing your front and back covers. I have used plain brown paper to cover the stiff boards and glued on some Hessian cut into an interesting shape, using ordinary Pritt Project glue (Ponal or Alcolin wood glue does the same job). You can, of course, use any pretty paper or gift wrap you have lying around as well.

Journal Back cover - you can leave it plain as above or embellish it further with items of your choice, below.

Journal - last page and inside back cover

Optionally, for the inside back cover, I cut a piece of Hessian, glued all along the top, right-hand side and bottom edges, leaving the uneven edge open, to form a pocket for some notes (money or other-wise!). Always comes in handy when you've been out sketching in the heat and you need to buy a cold drink.

Enjoy and happy sketching!

List of supplies :
- 10 Sheets A4 watercolour paper, cut in half
- 1 sheet A4 board, cut in half
- 2 binder rings or ribbon, string, cord of your choice,
- Office or leather hole punch
- Gift, wrapping or any paper to cover front and back covers
- Scissors
- Craft glue

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Country Diary - The Art of Reverence

“Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance.”
- Yoko Ono

A daily practice of sketching and painting gives you a chance to exercise the big three P's - practice, practice, practice!

Ink, wash and collage in a hand-made sketch-book with satin-finish Linen paper.

This satin-finish linen paper has the most wonderful quality of allowing the watercolours to flow beautifully just where you want it to go. The only drawback is that you can't change anything once you've put colour - trying to lift anything results in the paper almost disintegrating and coming of in chunks. You've got one shot at it, and it better be good! lol!

This is the fifth in the series Country Diary, which consists of paintings, sketches and collages depicting nature, rural and farm life.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Country Diary - Pay it Forward

A daily practice of sketching and painting gives you a chance to exercise the big three P's - practice, practice, practice!

Ink, wash and collage in my Moleskine 200gsm "Country Diary"

When we open ourselves to the natural world, we escape the fast-paced bustle of our daily lives. That experience, not only reduces our stress, it also grounds us, reaffirming our connection to the Earth and all its creatures.

We need the tonic of wildness… We can never have enough of nature… We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.
- Henry David Thoreau

This is the third in the series Country Diary, which consists of paintings, sketches and collages depicting nature, rural and farm life.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Rhinos unscathed

The only way to save a rhinoceros is to save the environment in which it lives, because there's a mutual dependency between it and millions of other species of both animals and plants.
- David Attenborough

A daily practice of sketching and painting gives you a chance to exercise the big three P's - practice, practice, practice!

Parker pen and black ink sketch and colourwash in my Moleskine A4 Folio Nature Journal

When taking my grand-children to airport, we are blessed to be driving through the country-side in stead of traffic, and these two Rhino were grazing right by the fence, so I stopped and did a quick sketch. They didn't seem bothered by me at all, I was just on the other side of a rather rickety looking game fence, which I'm sure they could demolish with a step or two, should they so wish! And I was thrilled to see that they still have their horns, so many are being removed to thwart poachers in a conservation effort of these magnificent animals.

Sometimes we're lucky enough to see the Lions close-by the fence, but I've never left my car to try and sketch them!

The park’s setting amongst the hills is stunning. The range of plains game is impressive and includes species like Eland and Gemsbuck that are not often seen in the Gauteng province. The park is not ‘natural’ in the sense that predators aren’t 100% free to roam and hunt. Lions, cheetahs, and wild dogs are segregated and fed; but their sizeable, savannah-like enclosures are far closer to a safari experience than visiting a zoo.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Birches & Maples

Alone with myself
The trees bend to caress me
The shade hugs my heart.
~Candy Polgar

A daily practice of sketching and painting gives you a chance to exercise the big three P's - practice, practice, practice!

W&N watercolour in small hand-made sketch-book with hand-crafted satin-finish Linen paper

Birch trees and Maples, two of my favourites, which I rarely plant, firstly because they are not indigenous to South Africa and secondly, both the Birches and Maples require enormous amounts of water. Another reason for not planting a Birch, is that, on a healthy birch, the roots will spread to a distance of at least twice the tree's height. This means that the roots of a mature tree may cover an area about one third the size of a football field. I found the roots very invasive, easily penetrating sewerage and water pipes, often causing great damage to our septic tanks, as it is a great source of moisture.

I read on the internet, "To properly water a birch, place a soaker hose upside down around the perimeter of the canopy or drip line of the tree and let the water run very slowly for several hours. The water should be applied slowly enough to filter into the soil and not run off. Once the soil is moist do a depth of 60 to 100 centimeters enough water has been provided. A birch tree should be watered in this way every two or three weeks, and more frequently during hot dry windy weather."

That's definitely not going to happen around here, water is much too precious to spend so much on just one tree. My friend, in whose garden these trees are, has an elaborate automatic sprinkling system, every gardener's dream, but they have Municipal water and are not reliant on a borehole like we are out in the country.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Red Bishop 2

A daily practice of sketching and painting gives you a chance to exercise the big three P's - practice, practice, practice!

W&N watercolours on Visual 200gsm

My Red Bishops have just come into their breeding colours and some of the juveniles are a decidedly mottled lot! There's a lot of fighting and chattering going on, trying to establish dominance and vying for the best spots in the garden (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa).

This little chap obligingly sat for a session while I did a quick outline sketch and then hurriedly added some colour before he flitted off again on some serious business or another.

What a cunning mixture of sentiment, pity, tenderness, irony surrounds adolescence, what knowing watchfulness! Young birds on their first flight are hardly so hovered around!
- Georges Bernanos

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Coffee with a conscience

A daily practice of sketching and painting gives you a chance to exercise the big three P's - practice, practice, practice!

W&N watercolours on Visual 200gsm

The next time you're ordering your favourite morning cuppaccino, spare a thought for the planet. Here's why.

Most of us are aware of climate change, but don’t always understand its far-reaching effects. Woolworths set out to change this when it undertook an expedition to Kilimanjaro in January.

"Climate change is one of the four pillars of our Good Business Journey," explains Woolworths Good Business Journey manager, Justin Smith. "Global warming results in increasing average air and ocean temperatures, and melting snow and ice. In Africa, Kilimanjaro’s melting ice cap is one of the most visible indicators of global warming."

The aim of the expedition, which was led and filmed by respected guide Sean Wisedale, was to raise awareness of climate change and its effect on coffee farmers in Tanzania – the farmers who grow the organic coffee Woolworths sells in its cafés.

Smith explains: "Kilimanjaro's melting ice cap is directly threatening Tanzania's coffee farmers, who are reliant on the glacier melt for water. These organic farmers grow their coffee under the shady forest canopies on the slopes of the mountain, which means that once the ice disappears, there will be less water for their crops."

Climatologist and 50:50 presenter Simon Gear joined the expedition, along with South African Champion Barista, Ishan Natalie, and a team of passionate coffee and environmental enthusiasts. When the team reached the summit, they used water from the melting glacier to make a symbolic iced coffee drink.

The drink – minus the glacier water – was launched in Woolworths Cafés on 18 January 2011. It costs R16.
Taken from "Woolworths TasteMag"

A mystery wrapped in brown,
A fragile enigma,
Enveloping the senses,
With the earthy steam
Of a bean.
The mind wrapped in warmth,
The essence of dark roast,
Heating from within,
The senses thrill,
With every lingering
Sniff of the aroma
In the mug
- by Drew K.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Red-chested Cuckoo

A bird in the hand is a certainty, but a bird in the bush may sing.
~ Bret Harte

A daily practice of sketching and painting gives you a chance to exercise the big three P's - practice, practice, practice!

Align CenterW&N watercolours on Bockingford 300gsm

30th October 8.04 am and I've just heard the Piet-My-Vrou (Red-chested Cuckoo - Cuculus solitarius) for the first time this season! It's rather late, I normally hear them at the beginning of October, but it's as if they've waited for the first rains before being heard! (We had 20mm of rain last night and 15mm the night before, so the world around here in Tarlton (Gauteng, South Africa) is looking and smelling sparkling clean!) They're extremely shy and very hard to spot, but I managed to get a quick (not-so-good!) shot with my camera before he disappeared back into the thick foliage. Had to use my bird book to complete all the colours.

I have held most bird species in my hands at least once, but with the Red-chested Cuckoo I have not had that pleasure...

In Southern Africa, all cuckoos are migratory (the Klaas's and Emerald Cuckoos appear to be resident in the warmer east), arriving from Central or Eastern Africa at the start of the rainy season in late September and October. Upon arrival, the males establish territories and advertise their presence to females (and birdwatchers!) by calling incessantly, sometimes even after dark.

The Red-chested Cuckoo is mainly found in the eastern half of southern Africa, and is quite common in protected areas, living in a wide range of habitats. It feeds mostly on invertebrates, particularly hairy caterpillars but also grasshoppers and beetles, amongst others. It mostly parasitizes members of Muscicapidae (robins, thrushes, flycatchers, etc.), rushing into their nests, and removing the host's eggs before laying one of its own, all in just 5 seconds! Once the chick is 2 days old, it evicts the host's eggs and nestlings. It stays in the nest for 17-21 days, and is dependent on its host parents for 20-25 days more, before becoming fully independent. (Info from Wikipedia)

This Cuckoo occurs throughout Africa south of the Sahara, but avoids arid regions. In southern Africa it is common in eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and eastern and southern South Africa. It generally prefers Afro-montane forest, closed woodland, Miombo woodland, open savannah thickets, stands of trees in human settlements, mature gardens and parks.

Piet-my-vrou [Afrikaans]; Uphezukomkhono [Xhosa]; uPhezukomkhono [Zulu]; Mukuku (generic term for cuckoos and coucals) [Kwangali]; Tlo-nke-tsoho [South Sotho]; Phezukwemkhono [Swazi]; Ngwafalantala [Tsonga]; Heremietkoekoek [Dutch]; Coucou solitaire [French]; Einsiedlerkuckuck [German]; Cuco-de-peito-vermelho [Portuguese]

Jewels from Heaven

Inspired by Elizabeth Kendall's beautiful painting "Abundance", I also dedicate this to the Creator of trees!

Coffee and W&N watercolours on Visual 200gsm - no preliminary sketching

I took a walk down a woodland trail,
without really expecting anything new.
A rustling in the leaves made me pause,
and wonder what was hidden from view.
I kneeled down and spotted a tiny, white flower,
so perfectly formed to bloom for just an hour.
Thank you, Lord, for showing it to me alone,
such a secret I would never have known.
- Extract from a poem by Gina Hatchell

"Abundance" - Elizabeth Kendall