Look what we grew in our courtyard garden!

©Caron Eastgate Dann, The Crayon Files, 2017

We don’t have a garden as such, but there is a small L-shaped area through sliding doors, big enough for a collapsible washing line, a table and four chairs, one long narrow garden bed and some pots. The horizontal stroke of the “L” is what we call “the badlands”: a few small trees for privacy and just enough of a “jungle” for our cat to believe she is wild and free (when really, she’s an indoor cat who has the run only of a very small suburban courtyard).

But oh what we can grow in this tiny space. I decided to do a quick sketch of some of our autumn produce: three types of tomatoes, red and green capsicums and chillies.

We have so many tomatoes, I’ve been making our own tomato sauce to freeze; so many chillies, they’ve also been picked and frozen for use all winter; and a few luscious capsicums so crisp and dense they seem like a different species to the spongy articles found in supermarkets. Our potatoes are coming on, and we hope to have a bumper crop by winter.

In addition, the courtyard is packed with herbs: rosemary, basil, thyme, curry leaves, mint, parsley, and an olive herb with spiked green leaves that truly does have the aroma and taste of actual olives.

If anyone can tell us how to grow coriander, please advise. We’ve failed dismally!

By the way, the sketch is done on Ampersand Clayboard with Prismacolour pencils. I wanted to do a simple picture that reminded me of some 1980s cook books I have.

When the world’s gone mad, there’s always art…

Recently, a friend and I went to the David Hockney exhibition ‘Current’ in Melbourne. Known as the UK’s greatest living artist, Hockney, who turns 80 this year, is a master at embracing the new while still acknowledging the past. His digital art is inspirational, but so are his acrylic portraits. One informs the other, it seems.

Anyway, my friend and I were talking about how we felt overwhelmed by the current political situation at home and abroad, poor treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in many countries, erosion of women’s rights and the disintegration of fair work practices.

Although we believe in fighting against these things, it is also worth noting that you can’t fight all the time. It is still important to take time out to create: paint, write, cook, or whatever your idea of creativity is.

To this end, here is my latest attempt at creativity: a painting done with Copic markers and fine-line pens, inspired by a photo of an old building I saw when I visited relatives in Oamaru, New Zealand. Oamaru is a peaceful South Island coastal town of grand historical buildings and a centre of ‘steampunk’ culture. Unlike the perfectly renovated buildings in the nearby tourist precinct, this one was yet to be ‘done’. I kind-of like it this way, though.

Oamaru

A grand design

Grand Palace, Bangkok, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2016.

Here is my latest art work, based on a photo I took at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. I’ve been to the Grand Palace at least 20 times, and it never ceases to amaze me with its vibrant colour, myriad sculptures, designs, gold figures, wall murals, gold and inlaid gems, temples and more.

I’ve used Copic markers, Prismacolour coloured pencils, and a Copic multi-liner pen in an 0.03 thickness, on A4-size Arttec bleed-proof paper.

The selfie you make yourself

"Selfie in oil pastels", by Caron Eastgate Dann

“Selfie in oil pastels”, by Caron Eastgate Dann

Taking a photo of oneself used to be a) difficult and b) considered distastefully vain (à la that great Aussie saying, “she’s got tickets on herself”).

These days, however, it’s a selfie world.

I don’t paint many portraits, but my new oil pastels seemed to be crying out for a face to settle themselves upon and become just that. So who better to sit for me than… me?

Actually, I used a photo as a reference. Isn’t it strange how we know ourselves better than anyone else in the world, have looked at ourselves in the mirror virtually every day for *ahem* years, and yet…few of us could paint ourselves from memory.

So it’s a bit like painting a stranger, in a way. There’s the temptation, too, to fix things—make the eyes a little bigger, the face a little thinner, the skin a little smoother.
But then, I wouldn’t want to be accused of vanity. In fact, earlier in the painting my husband commented that I was making my face “a bit too fat”. Happy to sort that out, I was!

Felix, that wonderful cat with his bag of tricks

There are some animated characters that stay with you all your life. I was never much of a Mickey Mouse fan. My favourite character was always Felix the Cat.

The cartoons were very old when I was a child, being made in the 1920s, long before even my mother was born, but great animation always remains so. The song was what got me, too, and the idea of having a bag of tricks that you could reach into whenever you got “in a fix”.

I went to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) at Melbourne’s Federation Square recently. Having an interest in the history of film and TV, I kept meaning to go, and never quite got there. Fortuitously, this outing was part of a class trip I had to take some students on.

ACM’s permanent exhibition, Screen Worlds, is free, and it is packed with films, sound, interactive opportunities and memorabilia. How delighted I was to come across this little fella, then. Yes, it’s Felix, and it reminded me that it was an Australian cartoonist and silent film maker, Pat Sullivan, who was one of the originators of Felix.

Felix

This is controversial: although Sullivan (c1887-1933) was the owner of the character and the producer, he always said he had originated Felix.  US critics have usually credited his American employee, Otto Messmer as the original animator, but an Australian Broadcasting Corporation show, Rewind, in 2004 seems to have confirmed Sullivan as the originator. Whatever, Messmer and Sullivan drew the comic strip, which started in 1923, with another American animator, Joe Oriolo, later replacing Messmer. It was Oriolo who gave Felix his famous bag of tricks.

Felix started out as a character in the silent film short Feline Follies (1919), before being adapted for print and syndicated in hundreds of newspapers. He was around long before Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse. Ironically, a mouse often being the target of a cat, it was the popularity of Mickey Mouse that led to Felix’s demise in the 1930s, before he was reinvigorated by Oriolo for US TV in the 1950s and given that magic bag of tricks.

Some trivia: the original voice of Felix in the 1930s was performed by Mae Kwestel (1908-1998), who also did the voices of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. She appears to be the only woman to have voiced Felix, with at least eight male actors to have played Felix over the decades.

Interestingly, DreamWorks Animation acquired the rights to the character this month (June 2014), with CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg quoted as saying his company will make Felix into ‘one of the most desired fashion brands in the world.” Oh no! I was hoping for a new Felix cartoon series also starring Felix’s nephews Inky and Winky.

For the record, Felix the Cat was ranked number 28 in TV Guide’s list of the “50 greatest cartoon characters of all time” in 2002. Well, Felix is still number one for me.

 

Sources:

ABC http://www.abc.net.au/tv/rewind/txt/s1229985.htm

ACMI http://www.acmi.net.au/screen_worlds.aspx

Felix the Cat official website http://www.felixthecat.com/history.html

The Wrap http://www.thewrap.com/dreamworks-animation-acquires-felix-the-cat/

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_the_Cat

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Sullivan_%28film_producer%29

 

The secrets of great cooking

Timing is the most essential element of successful cooking, according to my husband, Gordon, and I agree with him. But there’s another: ingredients. What to cook, what to combine, how to make something of seemingly nothing, what is best cooked fresh and when you can make do with frozen or canned ingredients are some of the necessary decisions.

I notice that famous TV chefs such as Jamie Oliver and that competitors in TV cooking competitions such as My Kitchen Rules all use packets of frozen peas in recipes, for example. Not that this would affect me, since frozen peas are one of the few foods I detest, and have done since, as a toddler, I stole a packet from the freezer and ate the lot.

I was reminded of how important ingredients are to cooking by today’s topic for the Daily Post At WordPress.com’s Daily Prompt, which is “Ingredients” (you can access the many interesting posts on this topic here). I’m fascinated by this subject, and since I took up painting three years ago, ingredients for recipes have featured in a number of my paintings. Some of them you’ve seen before, but I thought I’d gather my ingredients-based paintings together and present them on this one page.

My first painting, acrylics on treated board, in which I had to be brave, load the brush with paint and go! © Caron Eastgate Dann 2011

My first painting, acrylics on treated board, in which I had to be brave, load the brush with paint and go!
© Caron Eastgate Dann 2011

A quick pastel sketch on coloured paper. I don't have a fascination with knives, truly: they are just great subjects to try out new-found painting techniques. © Caron Eastgate Dann 2011

A quick pastel sketch on coloured paper. I don’t have a fascination with knives, truly: they are just great subjects to try out new-found painting techniques. This one has special sentimental value (explained in the last painting, below).                              © Caron Eastgate Dann 2011

"Pear-Shaped", watercolour. I bought these beautiful pears in season and couldn't resist painting them. This was my first attempt at a watercolour painting. © Caron Eastgate Dann 2011

“Pear-Shaped”, watercolour. I bought these beautiful pears in season and couldn’t resist painting them. This was my first attempt at a watercolour painting. © Caron Eastgate Dann 2011

"Only On His Day Off", acrylics on canvas board. © Caron Eastgate Dann 2011

“Only On His Day Off”, only the second painting I did, acrylics on canvas board. © Caron Eastgate Dann 2011

"Waiting For Thai Tonight", acrylics on canvas board  © Caron Eastgate Dann 2011

“Waiting For Thai Tonight”, acrylics on canvas board
© Caron Eastgate Dann 2011

"Making Sangria", Pan Pastels on treated paper © Caron Eastgate Dann 2012

“Making Sangria”, PanPastels on treated paper. For this painting, I sourced all the ingredients, including a bottle of Spanish wine that we went to a specialist shop to buy. The great thing: I got to drink it after, so it was an incentive to finish the painting!
© Caron Eastgate Dann 2012

"Making Salad Niçoise", acrylics on treated board. This picture includes my favourite salad servers, plastic tiki-decorated souvenirs from New Zealand.  ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012 ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

“Making Salad Niçoise”, acrylics on treated board. This picture includes my favourite salad servers, plastic tiki-decorated souvenirs from New Zealand.
©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

"Fruity Still Life", watercolours on paper. This was just a quick sketch, and I'm not very experienced in watercolours, so it's rather wonky: but I don't mind that! ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

“Fruity Still Life”, watercolours on paper. This was just a quick sketch, and I’m not very experienced in watercolours, so it’s rather wonky: but I don’t mind that! ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

"Apple Day", PanPastels on treated paper. The apples were three different varieties I bought for this picture. The willow-pattern china was given to me by my late grandmother.  ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

“Apple Day”, PanPastels on treated paper. The apples were three different varieties I bought for this picture. The willow-pattern china was given to me by my late grandmother. The knife in this picture is very special, as it was given to me decades ago by my late father. It has a permanent place in my kitchen.
©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

Don’t get mad…

Ever heard the missive “Don’t get mad, get even”? I agree with the first half of this statement, because getting mad serves no positive purpose at all. When you get angry, your stress levels go way up, you do and say things you haven’t properly thought out and that you’re usually sorry for later. Also, you make the place unpleasant for those around you.

I’m not talking about a situation in which your safety is threatened—getting angry for survival is different. I’m talking about everyday life: the times we thump the table at a pathetic or biased story on the TV news; that we grimace or gesture at a driver on the road who’s done something stupid; or that we yell at our partner for something trivial.

There was a mega-selling book that came out in 1997 called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”. I never actually read this book, but I loved its title. This is because, much of the time, I DO sweat the small stuff, and know I shouldn’t. My brother once made the comment a few years ago, “Oh, Caron will worry enough for all of us”. Ever since then, I’ve tried to stop worrying so much, because worry can so easily lead to anger. I don’t always succeed, of course.

Think of all that energy we expend on being angry, and how much better placed it would be directed to constructive things. Instead of yelling at poorly constructed stories on trashy current affairs shows, for example, I should paint a picture or go for a walk.

The Crayon Files

“Rays’ Ways”, pastels,  ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2011

Speaking of pictures, surrounding yourself with beautiful art is a great way to help you feel less angry and more peaceful. You can even make your own art using inexpensive materials. Give it a go—you’ll be surprised what you can do, even if you haven’t tried since childhood. The picture on this page of rays under the sea was one of the first I did when I took up art three years ago, and it always makes me feel peaceful.

I’ve written this post in response to Kozo’s monthly challenge over at Bloggers for Peace. The challenge is to write about the one thought you will focus on this year to bring more peace. So, instead of “Don’t get mad, get even”, I would like to change that saying to, “Don’t get mad—get happy”. I think the world would be a much better place if everyone kept this in mind during their everyday lives (with the aforementioned exception, of course). Over at her blog Delightfully Different Life, the writer D. S. Walker also answered this challenge, and explains how happiness can be found in simple ways.

The World’s Most Romantic Present

Rom1Of these three, which do you think would make the most romantic gift? The French perfume, the diamond and Burmese ruby ring, or the pencil sharpener?

Yes, you’re right: the correct answer is…the pencil sharpener. For me, anyway.

This is pretty much my favourite present this Christmas, given to me by my husband, Gordon. I’ll tell you why it’s romantic.

Nearly three years ago, I took up art as a hobby. I use lots of media, including pastel pencils, and I’m about to start using coloured pencils.

Now, I think doing art is quite romantic in itself. Out of a few tubes, cakes or pencils of colour, a piece of paper or board and some brushes or sponges, you can create pictures that move people to cry or laugh, that remind them of their favourite things, that inspire them to become creators themselves. Potentially, anyway, if you’re Leonardo Da Vinci. In contrast, my paintings are much further down the evolutionary scale and very much those of a novice without wings. But you get the idea.

Anyway, I am always having trouble with my pencils. The leads are always breaking off, new pencil sharpeners quickly become blunt, or aren’t quite the right size, or don’t sharpen to a point. In the last year, I’ve probably bought 10 pencil sharpeners. Gordon has become used to me walking round the house, looking for another sharpener, and muttering about how useless they all are. I have entire conversations with myself about pencil sharpeners. Only artists will understand what I mean. And they do: there are lots of online discussions about pencil sharpeners, I’ve discovered. If you can’t get a sharp point on your pencils, it can seriously affect the quality of your art.

Romance2Furthermore, I recently bought these expensive coloured pencils which are sold unsharpened. To be fair, this set comes with its own little pencil sharpener that is quite good. However, it is laborious using such a small implement: I managed to sharpen three out of 72 before I got sick of it!

Anyway, when I opened my presents at Christmas, the one with the free-standing pencil sharpener was very exciting. All the online forums talk about the X-Acto sharpener, and here was one for me, complete with its vacuum mount and its eight-hole choice for pencil sizes.

This will make my little creations easier and better. More importantly, we will be a more peaceful household minus the mad ravings about the hazards of pencil sharpening.

Thanks, Gordon

The Steampunk Capital of the World: who would have thought?

Steampunk HQ in Oamaru's Victorian precinct.  Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Steampunk HQ in Oamaru’s Victorian precinct.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

There was a surprise waiting for me on my recent trip to Oamaru, a coastal town of 13,350 people in North Otago on New Zealand’s South Island. I’d known before going that it had a “Victorian precinct”, an old part of the town down by the docks that had been restored as a tourist area to show off its handsome 19th century buildings.

What I didn’t know is it had also become steampunk territory: in fact, it is the declared “steam punk capital of the world”.

What is steampunk? It’s basically an art and aesthetic movement inspired by the industrial revolution and Victorian times, with an added science fiction element: think Jules Verne and H. G Wells originally, and more recently, Phillip Pullman. There are also films, TV shows, plays and music that are considered “steampunk”, including, for example, Rock ‘N’ Roll Train by the Australian band AC/DC and—wait for it—Justin Bieber’s version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, as seen in the 2011 film Arthur Christmas.

This was a brilliant marketing idea for Oamaru, and people come from all over the world to see the precinct. I went to Oamaru this month during a week spent in Dunedin (where I was born but spent only the first three weeks of my life).

There is an annual  Steampunk NZ Festival here too, the next from May 30 to June 2, complete with an “absinthe night” and penny-farthing lessons. Tickets are pretty reasonably priced—$200 for an adult passport to everything, including food, for example. Read more on this here.

I have a few relatives in and around Oamaru, so after morning tea with my first cousin-once-removed, Ella, who has lived in the town for all of her 80 years, I took a 10-minute stroll down the hill to visit the Victorian precinct. Here’s what it looked like as I was walking towards it:

Approaching Oamaru's Victorian precinct from ??? St.  Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Approaching Oamaru’s Victorian precinct (starting with the last building on the left) from Wansbeck St.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

The precinct is very busy on weekends, but I visited on a weekday, when it was quiet and when the shopkeepers had time to chat to each other and me. Steampunk here seems to be, for many, a way of life rather than just a style.

Steampunk Oamaru's main street.  Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Steampunk Oamaru’s main street.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

There are loads of extraordinary galleries here, including the most famous, owned by Donna Demente, a top NZ artist who has settled in Oamaru. She is attributed with driving much of the fine-arts revival in the town, including the annual mask festival. I visited her wonderful Grainstore Gallery, which even allows visitors to take photos, so here are mine:

Donna Demente's Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente’s Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente's Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente’s Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente's Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente’s Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

There are several other steam punk-themed events through the year. If you want to know more about Oamaru’s steampunk revolution, take a look at this fabulous video I found on by Anna Repp:

The first book I bought

The first hardback book I remember buying myself was A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, for the princely sum of $3.25 in 1975. I remember seeing this book in the window display of a children’s bookshop in Mission Bay, Auckland.

I was living with my grandparents for a year while my parents were overseas, and they had sent me some money for Christmas. I spent the bulk of it on this book, and it still sits in my book case today. I thought the cover quite the most beautiful I’d seen. I had first been entranced by this story when I saw on TV the Shirley Temple movie adaptation from 1939.

My edition of The Little Princess was published by Platt & Munk in 1967, though I didn't buy it until 1975. The dust jacket says the artist is Stewart Sherwood, a 24-year-old Canadian, who despite his youth had already won many awards for advertising art and had been published in books and magazines across the US and Europe. (Googling Sherwood reveals he is still an artist, painting designs for books, cards and collectable plates. You can see more of his artwork here). This is why I always like books with dust jackets: they contain information not elsewhere in the book. One library I frequent infuriates me by removing all the dust jackets, instead of covering them and leaving them with the book.

My edition of The Little Princess was published by Platt & Munk in 1967, though I didn’t buy it until 1975. The dust jacket says the artist is Stewart Sherwood, a 24-year-old Canadian, who despite his youth had already won many awards for advertising art and had been published in books and magazines across the US and Europe. (Googling Sherwood reveals he is still an artist, painting designs for books, cards and collectable plates. You can see more of his artwork here). This is why I always like books with dust jackets: they contain information not elsewhere in the book. One library I frequent infuriates me by removing all the dust jackets, instead of covering them and leaving them with the book.

I saved my pocket money to buy books from the age of seven. Dad gave me 10c a week, pitiful even in those days. My parents didn’t really believe in the concept of pocket money, but conceded this miserly amount when I insisted. I then made a case that, because I was older than my brother, I should receive more than him. Dad reluctantly gave me 11c a week, provided I never divulged the raise to my brother. How I wanted to gloat to my brother…but couldn’t, lest the extra 1c be removed.

This edition, published in 1970 by Green Knight (but first published in 1942 by Hodder & Stoughton) has a list of prices for different countries of the British commonwealth on the back: UK 3/- (shillings) or 15p, Australia and New Zealand 45c, South Africa 40c, Canada 65c.

This edition, published in 1970 by Green Knight (but first published in 1942 by Hodder & Stoughton) has a list of prices for different countries of the British commonwealth on the back: UK 3/- (shillings) or 15p, Australia and New Zealand 45c, South Africa 40c, Canada 65c. The book was illustrated by Eileen Soper (1905-1990), who was also a writer and illustrator of children’s books in her own right, and a founding member of the Society of Wildlife Artists in the UK.

My favourite paperbacks were the Famous Five and Secret Seven series, written by Enid Blyton in the 1940s. I loved the idea in them that children could make a difference, could have a whole world beyond the realm of their parents, and could go on exciting adventures without the presence of adults.

I always keep price tags on the books I buy, and have done since I was a child, because I find pricing very interesting years later.

I still have one of the first books I bought, Five on a Treasure Island, which the back cover tells me cost 45c in the early 1970s. I had to save my pocket money for five weeks to buy one of these (with enough change to buy several 3c lemonade ice-blocks in the summer). I would read the book in a day, then read the best bits again, and prepare for the almost interminable wait of five weeks between purchases. It was always worth the wait!