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!

Painting Canada

My painting from a photo taken during the Rocky Mountaineer journey, Vancouver-Kamloops leg. PanPastels on treated board. ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

My painting from a photo taken during the Rocky Mountaineer journey, Vancouver-Kamloops leg. PanPastels on treated board. ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

How does one do justice to the majestic beauty of Canada? My skills with a camera do not approach a level where my photographs could be called art, and my camera itself (just my iPhone) is adequate but limited, compared with the old Canon Eos film camera I used to lug round on vacations.
On my recent two-day journey on the Rocky Mountaineer train, from Vancouver to Banff, I took photos with a view to using them as the inspirations for paintings. Here is the second of them, a scene not far out of Vancouver on the way to Kamloops. Coincidentally, it just happens to fit this week’s A Word A Week Challenge: Bisect, as the line between where the mountains end and their reflection starts neatly bisects the scene.

The Colour of the Mountains

My water colour painting of a scene early in my Rocky Mountaineer train journey from Vancouver to Banff. ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

My water colour painting of a scene early along the Rocky Mountaineer train journey from Vancouver to Banff. ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

I used to take photos constantly as I travelled. I worked as a travel writer for a big newspaper for most of the first decade of this century, and I was always looking on my travels for a picture that would go with a travel story, that was the right shape for the cover and so on. That habit is hard to break, and sometimes I felt as if the travel was all about getting the shot and not so much about the joy of travel for its own sake.
Before digital cameras took over, my camera gear was heavy to lug round everywhere I went, but worth it to get a good photo. Of course, in those days, I took rolls and rolls of film, and we didn’t know what we had until we arrived home and got it developed.
Today, my old film camera is still sitting at home in its case, though I haven’t used it since 2005. I even did a painting of it, which you can view here.
The only camera I use now is the one on my iPhone. It’s good enough for memories of where I’ve been. The other thing I use it for is to take reference photos for my artwork.
A couple of weeks ago, during my three-week trip to the US and Canada, I travelled on the Rocky Mountaineer train on a magnificent two-day journey from Vancouver to Banff.
I had brought along my Winsor & Newton miniature water colour set:

My Winsor & Newton travelling water colour set. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann

My Winsor & Newton travelling water colour set. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

As we travelled along, I completed a small landscape painting of the scenery (you can see the result at the start of this post).
To do this, I took a number of photos with my phone, chose one, then propped it up on the tray table as a reference. As I was painting, we were of course still going past the scenery, which allowed me to really contemplate what I was seeing—the real colours, forms and majesty.
“En plein air” is a term artists use to mean painting a scene outside at its location, rather than working later from photos or sketches. I always admire those artists you see outdoors, easels set up, braving the elements and not too shy to let onlookers pause to watch them work.
While my train trip painting isn’t quite “en plein air”, just being surrounded by the sort of scenery I was painting, being able to see the exact colour of the mountains through the big picture windows of the train,  was a different experience altogether than painting at home at the dining table, perhaps on a dreary winter’s night, from illuminated vacation snaps.
However, that is what I’ll be reduced to now that I’m home. No doubt some of these photos taken on the journey will provide inspiration for a painting or two:

On the Rocky Mountaineer between Vancouver and Kamloops. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

On the Rocky Mountaineer between Vancouver and Kamloops. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

 

Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

This tranquil boat mooring only an hour or so out of Vancouver features a picnic table and chairs.                                       Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

 

©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

View from the Rocky Mountaineer train on the Kamloops-Banff leg.                                     Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

 

Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

On the Rocky Mountaineer train, near the Lake Louise stop just before Banff.                                       Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

 

 

Photo © Caron Eastgate Dann 2013. The Crayon Files

The view from behind our hotel at Banff. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

 

 

All aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, about to leave Kamloops for Banff. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

All aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, about to leave Kamloops for Banff. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

 

My Secret Island

When I was eight or nine, my favourite book was Five on a Treasure Island, the first in the Famous Five series, by the British writer Enid Blyton. It was already an old book, and quite dated, by then, but it captured brilliantly the concept of getting away from adults, of setting up a comfortable camp, and of endless summer days of reading, playing outdoors, and going to sleep under the stars.
As adults, we still need to get away from the adult world every once in a while. It’s why J. M. Barrie’s mythical Neverland still appeals to me.
In my mind, I have a secret island. I’ve painted it to show you what I see. It’s easily accessible by boat, but for some reason, no one else has discovered it yet. There is a simple wooden house round the back of the island: you can’t see it from this viewpoint, because I don’t want anyone else to know it’s there. All the rooms face the sea, and you can open them all up by folding back the walls. There is a large veranda that runs the length of the house.
The house is stocked with the necessary staples, and there is an abundant fruit and vegetable garden and all the seafood you like to catch. There is a deep fresh-water pool nearby with a tiny waterfall.
It’s never very hot or very cold on my island. It rains every few days, but just for an hour or so. When the sun comes out strongly in the afternoon, there is a refreshing sea breeze that blows through the house to provide natural airconditioning.
Miraculously, there is also fast wireless internet, so I can keep in contact with all my friends on social media whenever I like.
At one end of the house, there is an art studio and writing den. This is where I will write my next novel.
Well, in my imagination, at least.
Everyone needs a secret island, even if it exists only on a canvas. This is mine.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgic

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Although New Zealand is still the only citizenship I hold, I haven’t lived there since the late 1980s. In fact, I have spent more of my life outside NZ than in it. However, I still feel very much a New Zealander, and I painted this picture, “Voices from Home”, to convey my nostalgia.
I included some books by authors I admire: Joan Druett and her wonderful Wiki Coffin series, Katherine Mansfield, Keri Hulme, Paula Morris. There are also a traditional flax woven bag called a kete (pronounced kae-tae); a painting bought at Coromandel; a greenstone carved pendant; a paua-shell ring; and an old book my friend Yvette bought me about the All Blacks. She bought this book for me because my great-grandfather, Harold “Bunny” Abbott, is listed in it, having played for “The Originals” in 1905.
A lot of my paintings include items of nostalgia, and I’d like to do more of them while I am learning about creating fine art.
Have you noticed that when you start to think about an old object or event, memories start to come back to you that you didn’t realise you had?

Peacetime at home

Even if you can't afford a trip to a beach like this at Phuket, Thailand, you can still take a vacation at home. Painting in PanPastels on board, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

Even if you can’t afford a trip to a beach like this at Phuket, Thailand, you can still take a vacation at home. Painting in PanPastels on board, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

This post is written in response to Kozo’s June Peace Challenge at Everyday Gurus, to write about maintaining peace at home.

In our hectic lives when every minute of the waking day seems to be filled with work, chores, to-do lists and regrets about so few items on those lists we’ve crossed off,  sometimes we forget that relentlessly, every minute, time is passing us by.

We often neglect relationships with the people closest to us in the pursuit of making those very people’s lives better: trying to make more money to buy them more things, trying to achieve what we suppose are life’s goals.

Yet on our death beds, we will never be glad we made more money, spent more hours working, bought more stuff or cleaned the house more often. We might, however, regret not spending more time on just being with those we love, listening to them and facilitating peace between us.

It’s so important to replenish, rejuvenate and find a sense of joy and peace in our lives, without feeling guilty for taking time out.

I’ve compiled a list of six things I think are important to promote a sense of well being, peace and inner health: I am not saying I follow these things all the time. Too often, I too forget that the world won’t collapse if I don’t meet a deadline.

1. Recycle some stuff you don’t need. There’s something cathartic about de-cluttering your house, and even better if that stuff can go to a good cause and your trash can be someone else’s treasure.

2. Read inspiring novels. Great books teach us empathy, something that is sorely missing in this society that sees angry people constantly tooting horns, pushing in front of each other, and discriminating against their fellow people. Read the classics: anything by Charles Dickens or Elizabeth Gaskell, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; read recent novels—anything by Mitch Albom, for example; read historical novels such as March by Geraldine Brooks.

3. Take a vacation, or holiday, as we call it in Australia. Of course, not everyone can afford to actually go away on vacation to an exotic tropical beach, but you could take a holiday at home, even if it’s only over a weekend. A holiday at home means you vow to do no work—not even housework—on those days; it means the majority of every day is relaxing and enjoyable—read a book, watch a movie with your family, make a picnic lunch, lie in bed reading the newspaper.

4. Be a tourist in your own city, and visit the art galleries, museums, or other places of culture you’ve been meaning to see. Go to a live theatre show, particularly if you’ve never been to one before. Small, independent theatre companies desperately need your support and can often be surprisingly affordable.

5. Contact a friend you’ve been neglecting because you’re always too busy. If we don’t keep working at friendships, they are in danger of fading away. And even if this is the sort of person you know you could pick up with again at any time, it’s sad to get out of touch and miss the events, big and small, that are important in each other’s lives.

6. Go for a walk and get to know your neighbourhood. We spend so much time at our computers, in our cars, sitting in the train or bus, that we forget to walk. I walk most days, and often towards dusk, I pass an elderly Greek couple sitting on the veranda of their neat-as-a-pin house overlooking their carefully tended garden. We nod and chat now, even though our conversations are limited by a language barrier. But no matter, we mean each other well. On another street, there’s an old black and white cat who suns himself every afternoon on the warm concrete path outside the apartment where he lives. Then there’s an old man who looks about 90, who rides an ancient bicycle to and from the shops every day. There are all sorts of modes of transport round our neigbourhood: the other day, I saw a young man casually riding a unicycle along the street. Every day, I notice something I have never seen before.

For more on establishing and maintaining a peaceful home, check out blogger Julianne Victoria’s inspirations at Through the Peacock’s Eyes, and to discover what ducks have to do with peace, see the blog My Little Spacebook.

Old Gadgets

It’s strange to think that something that was made as recently as 2000 could now be a relic of the past, a strange reminder of technology most of us no longer use.

I teach media studies and communications at a university, and I’m interested in the links between creativity and technology. One of my hobbies—ironically, to get away from that world—is painting.  I’ve been doing a series I call “Old Gadgets”.

My latest painting in this series, finished last night, is “Old Gadgets No. 3”, which features my mother’s Panasonic cassette player-recorder. It was state of the art when my parents bought it in 1973 at the Santa Monica mall in Los Angeles, where we were living at the time. At the same time, I got a smaller cassette deck, which I was very proud of but which is long gone. Now I wish I’d kept it!

Old Gadgets #3: Panasonic cassette player-recorder, 1973; Sony Walkman, 2000. Acrylics and Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens on treated board.
Old Gadgets #3: Panasonic cassette player-recorder, 1973; Sony Walkman, 2000. Acrylics and Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens on treated board. © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

The Sony Walkman in the painting was bought by my husband to take on an overseas holiday in 2000. Remember when cassette players used occasionally to “eat” the tape, and you had to carefully unravel it?

Old Gadgets No. 1: my manual typewriter, bought in Bangkok, 1991. On the case is the German version of my novel, The Occidentals (Das Erbst Der Schwestern). I wrote the first draft of this novel many years before it was published, on this typewriter. Acrylics on board.

Old Gadgets No. 1: my manual typewriter, bought in Bangkok, 1991. On the case is the German version of my novel, The Occidentals (Das Erbst Der Schwestern). I wrote the first draft of this novel many years before it was published, on this typewriter. Acrylics on board. © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

“Old Gadgets No. 1” features my manual typewriter, which I then gave to a friend who collects such things. I bought this typewriter in 1991, when I was living in Bangkok, because we had frequent power cuts during the rainy season and I wanted to be able to keep writing. Remember how messy and annoying it was to change the typewriter ribbon?

“Old Gadgets No. 2” is my Canon Eos film camera, bought in 1999, and various accessories. I used it until 2005, but it was already well out of date then. Remember those Kodak print packs you’d pick up and excitedly see what surprise gems you had taken on holiday?

Old Gadgets No. 2: my film-era camera, 1999. Acrylics on board. The prints are from a trip I did to China in 2001. The slides are the only ones I ever took, on a trip to Vietnam in about 1996.

Old Gadgets No. 2: my film-era camera, 1999. Acrylics on board. The prints are from a trip I did to China in 2001. The slides are the only ones I ever took, on a trip to Vietnam in 1996. © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

I have a drawer at home where I keep old gadgets I might want to include in a painting. In the drawer are a purse-size address book, a tiny Motorola cell phone from 2003, 3D glasses that are still current but will be relics within a few years, and a TEAC external floppy disc drive unit in see-through turquoise, which matched my iMac in 1999. Apple had decided, ahead of its time, not to include floppy disc drives in its computers, so we all had to buy these little gadgets.

I wonder what the next thing I relegate to my “old gadgets” drawer will be?

Light of my life

lampDo you have a possession that has been with you a long time and that you’d never part with? Mine is, surprisingly perhaps, this replica French art deco lamp.

I bought it when I moved to Australia as a young journalist in the late-1980s and, for me, it symbolised an exciting new life. I think it was one of the first things I bought in Australia, and it was expensive. But I had to have it, and it’s been with me ever since, to Thailand twice and to many different addresses and styles of house.

I loved art deco style (and still do), but in my 20s, I thought it THE most beautiful style. I’ve since broadened by ideas of what good style is, but art deco is still up there.  It is the reason I love the style of Napier in New Zealand, which is the best preserved art deco-style city in the world. Sadly, this is because there was a major earthquake there in 1931 and virtually the whole town had to be rebuilt.

But back to the lamp. It has been on the mantlepiece of the formal sitting room in an Edwardian house I owned in Kew, Melbourne. It has been on a side table in two marble-floored apartments in Muang Thong Thani and in Bangkok, Thailand. It has been in a flat above a fish and chip shop in the coastal town of Sorrento, Victoria (Australia).

The frosted glass backing has been broken and replaced twice. It wasn’t broken in transit, as you’d expect: you can undo the glass and pack it separately, and when reassembling it, if you do it back up too tightly, the glass breaks. But I haven’t done that for some 15 years now.

For the last 10 years or so, it has been my bedside lamp. Every night when I turn on my lamp, I find a source of comfort, like a dear old friend. If I wake in the night with a bad dream or a worry, I turn on my lamp. It’s bright enough to read by, but low enough to go to sleep by if you want.

Chances are, I will have this lamp forever.

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About-face

This post is part of A Word A Week Challenge: Face, run by A Word In Your Ear.

Akha hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep, Thailand, 1991, by © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2011. Acrylics on canvas board.

Akha hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep, Thailand, 1991, by © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2011. Acrylics on canvas board.

I met and photographed this Akha hilltribe woman at a village on Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, in April 1991. Twenty years later, when I first took up art as a hobby, I decided to paint her portrait.

She always stuck in my mind, because she was the only Akha living in a Lisu village. Through the guide, she told me she was aged 39 and had three children.

I had been living in Nonthaburi, central Thailand, since December 1990 and we had taken advantage of the songkran (Thai new year) holiday to travel up north for a few days.

The Lisu village we visited was a set-up for tourists really. I still have my journal from that time, in which I’ve written that the Lisus usually live in isolated villages high in the mountains, but this village had been persuaded by an elephant training centre to relocate within a half-hour trek of them so they could bring in tourists to buy their arts and crafts.

In those days, the village had no electricity, no running water, no TVs or even radio. In the past, the hilltribes relied on opium as their cash crop, but the Thai government had banned its sale, so they had to find other ways to make a living.

Lisu hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep, 1991. Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann 1991.

Lisu hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep. Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann 1991.

This woman was also at the Lisu village, sitting in the same hut as the Akha woman. They were both doing some sort of needlework.

Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann, 1991.

Merchants at a Hmong village, Doi Suthep, Thailand. Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann, 1991.

The next day, we went to a Hmong village that was not so far up the mountain and that we could drive into. This husband and wife were among the stall-holders there. All the adults then wore traditional dress and—even though there was an element of showmanship for tourists—I found the images unforgettable. Children at the more isolated village we had visited also wore traditional dress—at least for the cameras—but at the Hmong village, many were wearing T-shirts and track pants.

In my journal from that time, I’ve written about the Hmong village: “There was no road to the village until 12 or 13 years ago, and villagers once went to Chiang Mai only around once a year. Now they go more often, but still they resist development, although we did notice a pick-up truck in one garage.”

They resist “development” no longer, it seems. In November 2012, more than 21 years later, I returned to the Hmong village. These days, there are no traditional costumes to be seen, just jeans, T-shirts with marketing logos and other ordinary Western clothes. There are pick-up trucks everywhere. Most people speak English as well as Thai.

The village market today is full of the same “hand-made” crafts you can buy in Bangkok, Phuket, or anywhere else. There are still people assembling these goods, but they seem to come ready-made in large batches, to be quickly pieced together on site. Someone is making  a fortune, and it’s surely not the hilltribe people.

Thailand: kaleidoscope of patterns

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok

Like Sara Rosso at The Daily Post, I am always inspired by the colourful, highly detailed and often surprising patterns of Thailand. This is the subject of my entry in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern.

My parents and brother visited me in 1999 when I was living in Thailand, and I always remember Mum said that when they returned to Melbourne, she missed the colours and shapes of the temples and other buildings of Thailand.

When I was there in November last year, I took many photos of the intricate patterns I saw all round me, both man-made and natural. I intend to use them to inspire abstract paintings.

Here are some of my photos from our trip, which took in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen, and a painting to finish, of a temple wall mosaic at the Grand Palace, Bangkok.

Chair detail, in-room at Dusit D2, Chiang Mai

Chair detail, in-room at Dusit D2, Chiang Mai

Basket detail, Thai Farmer House, Chiang Mai

Basket detail, Thai Farmer House, Chiang Mai

Floor tiles at Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

Floor tiles at Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

At the lush gardens of Queen Sirikit's Bhubing Palace, Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai.

At the lush gardens of Queen Sirikit’s Bhubing Palace, Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai.

 

Temple Wall detail, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Temple Wall detail, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Temple tile details, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Temple tile details, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Detail, temple wall, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Detail, temple wall, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Wooden carving at Wat Doi Suthep

Wooden carving at Wat Doi Suthep

Golden umbrella with intricate lacework at Wat Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai

Golden umbrella with intricate lacework at Wat Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai

Photo ©Caron Dann, 2012

The Serene Hotel at the Golden Triangle, near Chiang Saen, with views across the river to Laos and Myanmar.

My painting of tile detail at the Grand Palace, Bangkok. Pastel on board.

My painting of tile detail at the Grand Palace, Bangkok. Pastel on board.