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.

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.


Recreationist Theory


This post is written in response to Kozo’s monthly peace challenge at everyday gurus

When I was about 10 and living in Los Angeles, my parents took me and my brother to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. Though we came from New Zealand, a land of majestic and awesome scenery, we were aghast at the sheer size of the canyon. When I first got out of the car, for some reason I thought that in front of me was a giant billboard painting, it looked so surreal. “No, it isn’t a painting,” my mother replied. “It’s real.”

I now live in Australia, but I went back to see the Grand Canyon in 2009. You know how when you’re a child, things look enormous, and then when you revisit as an adult, they look so much smaller? This was NOT one of those moments. The big GC was every bit as magnificent as I remembered.

More recently, I saw a remarkable documentary series on America’s national parks, then I found the photos I had taken on the last trip, and I was inspired to try to paint the Grand Canyon as I’d seen it in my mind’s eye as a child.

I am a novice painter and the Grand Canyon is notoriously difficult to paint, but whether the painting is any good or not is irrelevant, really. The point is, the Grand Canyon reminds us of the great beauty in nature that we should be celebrating every day. Painting the Grand Canyon was a creative challenge that I set myself and which took concentration and effort, and trying some bits again and again.

This, I believe, is how creativity can help make a more peaceful world. When you are trying to create or recreate something beautiful, whether it be in an image or in words, whether a piece of writing, a painting, a photo, a sculpture, a garden or a hundred other things, your mind becomes peaceful and focused on the task.

Perhaps it is something to do with that idiom, “Idle hands make the devil’s work”.

Living in Tomorrowland

I have a long time to work before I could consider retirement—around 20 years—and I probably won’t be able to afford to retire then anyway. I’ve always hated the word “retirement”, and thought it would never apply to me.

Instead, I’ve decided that I’m not going to wait until I retire to do the stuff a lot of people take up at that time. I’m going to somehow find the time to do it now.

Two years ago, I took up painting. Instead of sitting in front of the TV in the early evening, I now get out my easel and paints, or whatever other medium I’m using. I’ve just started an online art course from the London Art College, and I hope this will help me improve.

In the two years since I started my new hobby , I have completed more than 40 paintings. Except for the last month, when long work hours have had to take precedence, I’ve painted on about five nights a week. You can see lots of my work on other posts of this blog tagged “art”. The pictures at the top of my blog pages are all detail from paintings I’ve done, too. Here’s a charcoal drawing I did recently:

© Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

Charcoal drawing by Caron Eastgate Dann, featuring the first native-American ballerina, Maria Tallchief, as Firebird for the New York City Ballet in 1949. The reference was a black & white photograph in the 1987 book Ballerina, by Mary Clarke & Clement Crisp.

The Retiring Sort, a blogger I follow who has just celebrated her first anniversary free of work, has issued Future Challenge – Enjoying the Fun Stuff to ask bloggers to consider what they would like to do in the future or in retirement, no matter what age they are now. I think it’s a worthy topic to think about, whether you’re 20, 40, 60, 80 or older.

I say that the future is here and you shouldn’t put off these things to some far-off time when you will be “retired”. I’ve known people who have then missed out on their greatest desires, because in the meantime they’ve become ill or even died, or their circumstances have changed (such as having to become carers for grandchildren, for example).

The thing is, we never know what we’ll be able to do in future and how long we’ll be able to do it for.

One of my other ambitions was to write a blog. I had been introduced to this world by my friend Kenny at Consider the Sauce, and I wanted to try it. Despite being paid to write all my adult life, I shook off the shackles of professionalism and jumped in to the blogosphere…and here I am.

Of course, we are all time poor, and it’s hard to find time to do the basics, such as cleaning and maintenance, let alone the fancy stuff. It’s amazing though, how it is possible to find this time if you have to. Here are some ideas for clawing back some time:

*Cook in a more simple way. Not every meal has to be a “recipe”. Even if you have guests, as a friend of mine advises: “Throw some steaks on the barbecue, make a salad and bake some potatoes in the oven. They all love it”. Provided they’re not vegetarians, of course. I have lots of simple but wholesome meals I can do in a jiffy. Here’s another: slice some zucchini and fry gently in olive oil until brown on both sides; throw in some garlic and chopped fresh chilli (optional) towards the end of frying; meanwhile, boil some pasta until al dente. Combine the two, season with salt and pepper, and serve with parmesan and parsley. Sometimes I add low-fat salami to the zucchini.

*Watch less TV. I even stopped watching the news closely on some nights, though it is still on in the background. I found that the TV news wasn’t telling me anything new that I hadn’t read on line already.

*When you are watching TV, get up EVERY ad break and do something. I often paint in the ad breaks. It’s amazing how a dabble here and a dabble there can turn into a painting eventually.

*Get off line. Limit your Facebook and other internet access to certain times of the day. I do not always practise what I preach here.

*If you take public transport, get a tablet computer and use part of the commute time to send emails and so on.

*If you drive to work, consider swapping to public transport. I did that this year.  Even though I have to take two trains and a bus to work most days, it takes about the same time all up as driving. The huge benefit, besides being cheaper, is that the time is my own, so I use it to read books—I can get up to 50 pages a day read—and to do my emailing and keep up with social networking.

I really want to finish writing my second novel, too. I don’t like to write at night, so somehow I’m going to have to find the time to do that. I’m thinking that less TV late at night would be the smart thing to do so that I could go to bed earlier, get up earlier on the days I’m not working, and get that novel written.

But I really like staying up late when it’s not a work night. So, I have a decision to make, don’t I?

Here’s to a peaceful New Year: make goals, not rules

Wat Buppharam, Chiang Mai. Pen & wash, by Caron Eastgate Dann.

Wat Buppharam, Chiang Mai. Pen & wash, by Caron Eastgate Dann.

Whenever I am in Thailand, I like to visit several temples. I enjoy wandering around the compounds, and though I no longer call myself a Buddhist, I find an enormous amount of peace within them. This illustration was inspired by a photo I took when I visited Wat Buppharam in Chiang Mai in November. Just looking at it now makes me feel peaceful.

I would like to wish everyone a happy new year—tonight for us here in the Southern Hemisphere and tomorrow for others. Instead of “resolutions”, I’m going to make a list of things I want to achieve this year. That way, I will have goals rather than rules. One of those goals, of course, will be to write one post a month for the Bloggers for Peace cause.

Everything you wanted to know about beginning art…but were afraid to ask (part two): “Old Gadgets”

This post discusses not the techniques of painting, but a reason to paint, other than simply wanting to be creative.

One of the reasons I took up painting was because I wanted to use art to preserve the past. Of course, photography can do this too, and I appreciate fully its importance in documenting our lives and times. But for me, painting a picture of something makes it more personal, almost as if I actually manufactured the subject myself.

I had the idea for my “Old Gadgets” series before I started painting—in fact, it was the catalyst that led to me picking up a paint brush, laden with colour, and gingerly directing it across a canvas.

I’ve completed two paintings so far in the Old Gadgets series, of my manual typewriter and my film-era camera. They have been framed and they will hang on a wall side by side. Here is the first:

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 Erbe Der Schwestern). I wrote the first draft of this novel many years before it was published, on this typewriter. Acrylics on board.

As a young journalist, a manual typewriter and a camera were my tools of trade (as well as a shorthand notebook and a pen, of course). I started at a small newspaper in Waipukurau, New Zealand—the Central Hawke’s Bay Press—for which I was both photographer and reporter. Here’s a photo of me there as a teenage cadet in 1979:

Caron Eastgate as a cadet reporter, Central Hawke's Bay Press, 1979. Note the manual phone. The typewriter is pushed up like that to indicate that I've finished my story and will now work on another. I'm also balancing my cheque book. I had to leave home to come to this job, and when I went to the bank to enquire about a cheque account, they told me I wasn't old enough to have one. When I said I was a reporter, however, they made an exception.

Caron Eastgate as a cadet reporter, Central Hawke’s Bay Press, 1979. Note the manual phone. The typewriter is pushed up like that to indicate that I’ve finished my story and will now work on another. I’m also balancing my cheque book. I had to leave home to come to this job, and when I went to the bank to enquire about a cheque account, they told me I wasn’t old enough to have one. When I said I was a reporter, however, they made an exception.

Note the telephone: Waipukurau was the last  town in New Zealand to operate a manual exchange, which didn’t become automatic until 1980. You would turn the handle in the centre of the phone and tell the operator what number you wanted. Many people were on “party lines”, that is, several houses shared the same phone number, each with a different letter at the end. So, you might ask for “2645E”, for example. We were all convinced the operators listened in to juicy conversations, and they definitely knew what was going on in town. I remember one day asking to be put through to someone I wanted to interview, and the operator said, “I can try for you, but I’ve just seen him go past on his way to town”.

We were still using manual typewriters at metropolitan newspapers in Auckland when I moved to Australia—and computerisation—in 1988. After the move, I thought my days of writing on manual typewriters had gone. I was wrong. When I moved to Nonthaburi, near Bangkok, Thailand, in 1990, I decided to write a novel. I had an electric typewriter with a memory then (I got my first personal computer in 1992). The problem was, the electricity was unreliable and, particularly in the wet season, would frequently drop out, though usually only for half an hour or so. This disrupted my writing, and I decided I would have to buy a manual typewriter again to work efficiently.

I found a cute German model in a dusty little shop. I think it cost 2000 baht (about $AU100 in those days, but less now). I hadn’t used that typewriter since 1993, however, and it was gathering dust in the spare room. So I asked on Twitter what I should do with it, and a friend of mine who lives round the corner said she’d love to have it (she collects such things). But first, I decided to do a painting of it, so I would always have it, and as you can see above, I did. This picture took me a very long time to do, working on it most nights for a couple of months until it was right. Each key has about 10 coats of paint on it.

In the 1980s and 1990s, I loved photography and used to shoot about 20 rolls of film whenever I went on holiday. When I lived in Bangkok, it was a great hobby, because film processing and printing there were much cheaper than in Australia. I bought my first Canon Eos in 1990, and a new Eos—the subject of Old Gadgets No. 2 (above)—in 1999. I still have the latter camera in its case, with film and all the other things you see in the picture, but I haven’t used it since 2005. Here’s my old camera:

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 about 1996.

I stayed at my mother’s house for a few days this week, and in my room there is a large portable cassette player we bought in the US when we lived there in the early 1970s. I remember when my parents bought it, and it seemed the ultimate in modern sound equipment. I think it will become Old Gadgets No. 3.

Everything you wanted to know about beginning art…but were afraid to ask (part one)

If you’ve always wanted to take up a hobby such as art, but have been too nervous to try, here’s how to dive in. Most “how to” books, blogs and vlogs are by experts, but as a beginner, I wanted to speak directly to other beginning and would-be artists.

 As a child, I loved art. Mostly, I loved the look, feel and smell of the crayons, pencils in every colour, paper, watercolour paints and so on. When I was about 12, my parents gave me a set of oil paints in a beautiful wooden box. Mostly, I just looked at them. Actually doing an oil painting seemed too daunting.

In my teens in New Zealand, I did art for School Certificate, which was a national qualification in the third year of high school, then called Form 5 and now called Year 11 in NZ and Year 10 in Australia. I passed the subject, but only with a C grade. The teacher seemed not to be very interested in me, since I wasn’t deemed to be “good” at art. One of our assignments was to stick dried macaroni and beans on a board to fill in an abstract pattern. It seemed pointless and boring, and a world away from the gorgeous collages I see some of my artist friends producing today. Another project was to do a lino-cut design and make prints from it. Lino was dreadfully hard to cut with the blunt cutters we were given. Probably the most interesting assignment was to design a cup and saucer for NZ Railways. I remember mine as being minimalist but serviceable, and it ended up in my portfolio. I changed schools after that year and I never did bother to pick up the portfolio. It would have been interesting to see it now.

Decades went by, and I still always liked art and occasionally tried to paint something, but never was able to realise on paper the masterpiece I pictured in my mind.  Five or so years ago, I finally gave away all my art equipment to a young person who I thought would appreciate it more than I did.

At the beginning of last year though, something strange happened. I had a sudden strong urge to take up painting and drawing again. Now, I’m an all-in or all-out sort of person. So I bought canvases and sketch books, watercolour paper and boards, pencils and three different types of pastels, a set of oil paints in a wooden box (thanks to my brother), acrylics and water colour paints, brushes, pens and more. My husband bought me a desk-top easel and gave me a voucher for more paints.

I’ve been delighted by this new hobby, 22 months old now, and surprised that I have an aptitude for mixing and using colour, and that some of what I paint is not bad. I’m not saying I am the best painter in the world or that I would even paint well enough to exhibit. It’s not about that. But I can paint well enough to derive great pleasure from  my new interest. I didn’t go to formal art classes, and while I have about 20 magnificent how-to art books, I have used them sparingly. What I really wanted to do was to paint pictures, and to learn by trial and error as I went.

In the next few posts, I’d like to share with you my rediscovery of fine art and a few of my paintings—each one has a story behind it and forms a kind of visual diary of my life and loves.

Brave beginnings

The hardest thing to do in order to start painting was—well, to start. Just to get used to acrylic paints, which I had never used before, I did a couple of practice abstracts first. This was advised by an acrylic painting basics book that I intended to follow from start to finish (but ended up only dipping into for handy hints).

This is one of my efforts. I called it “Australia”, because it was mid-summer, very hot in Melbourne and it was bush-fire season. I still like this as an expression of the joy of colour.

"Australia", acrylics on canvas, 2011

“Australia”, acrylics on canvas, 2011

However, I quickly tired of exercises. I wanted to do a “real” painting. I grabbed a small canvas board (8×10 inches, or 20.3 x 25.4cm) and looked round the kitchen for something simple: three ripe tomatoes, a square white plate and a knife. This is what I painted:


“Cut Me”, acrylics on canvas board, 2011

The best thing about this painting was the reflection of the tomato in the knife. People asked me how I did it. My answer? I just painted it over and over until it looked right. It was a fluke!

Then I did a lemon and knife. This one was in pastels and was the first of my works that I got framed: it was actually only meant to be a quick sketch I did to try out my new PanPastels on some cheap pastel paper. It took me less than 30 minutes, which is unusual, since I usually spend a long time—weeks and up to a couple of months—on my paintings.

PanPastels on pastel paper. 2011.

“Lemon and Knife”, PanPastels on pastel paper, 2011.

THE LESSON: Just keep painting and eventually, it will look right. If you’re using acrylics, buy a tub of gesso, a thick white paint you can use to paint out mistakes and do the section over again. Try some simple still-life paintings first. Try not to put the focal point of your painting in the dead centre (an artist friend told me this).

 Be ambitious

About this time, I joined the online art community at This is a great way to get some confidence, although when first I looked at it, I was so impressed with the paintings exhibited that I felt intimidated, and didn’t want to post my own. Anyway, then I decided to do it anyway, and the result was lots of helpful discussion and kind words about my art.

I got an old wooden wine box from a store up the road that recycles them. This is perfect for setting up my still-life subjects (and sometimes, the box appears in my paintings, too). I decided I would do paintings that told a story. They were complicated and very ambitious, given that I was a beginner. I had to learn to paint glass, both opaque and coloured, and fabric patterns, for example. I didn’t worry too much about perspective at this stage, and as you’ll see, I’m sometimes wildly out. But my artist friend says I can call it a “naïve” style. Another writer friend, who has worked as an art critic, says the flattening of perspective in some of the paintings is reminiscent of Cézanne. I’ll take that one!

"Only On His Day Off". Acrylics on canvas board. This one was painted for my husband, Gordon Dann, who works evening shift as a journalist. LESSONS: lines go wiggly when under glass; to paint difficult items, such as crackers, really look at them and paint what you see.

“Only On His Day Off”, acrylics on canvas board, 2011. I painted this for my husband, Gordon, who works evening shift as a journalist. LESSONS: lines go wiggly when under glass; to paint difficult items, such as crackers, really look at them and paint what you see.


“Waiting for Thai Tonight”, acrylics on canvas board, 2011. This features my Thai crockery and cutlery bought in the 1990s, and the condiments I would put on the plates before serving a Thai meal. The place mat was inspired by a Thai silk scarf given to me many years ago by my aunt and uncle, who visited me when I was living in Nonthaburi, Thailand.

Voices From Home

“Voices from Home”, acrylics on canvas board, 2012. This is a recent painting and shows my development as an artist (albeit a beginner). It features possessions of mine from my homeland, New Zealand. There is a kete (woven flax bag), books by authors I admire, a small painting I bought at Coromandel, a greenstone pendant, a paua ring, and a vintage rugby book given to me by a friend and including information about my great-grandfather, Bunny Abbott, who played in the 1905 All Blacks rugby union team known as The Originals.

THE LESSON: Don’t worry too much about technicalities such as perspective at this stage. You can learn these later—and anyway, it’s not a photograph. It’s your own interpretation. Also, try to find an audience, perhaps by joining an online art community.

Try different media

I’ve tried several different types of media, and I’ll look at these in subsequent posts. PanPastels are an unusual media in that they come in small flat pots, like a powder compact, and you brush them on with sponges in a painterly manner. Here’s more about PanPastels. I love them—in fact, they’re becoming my favourite medium. They have a great ability to provide sparkle and life to a painting. Here’s one of my favourite still lifes, a simple painting of three perfumes I have in my bathroom. The green satin is a piece of material I bought from a silk market in Shanghai, China, when I visited 10 years ago (it also features in the “Voices from Home” painting above).

"Chanel, Siren & Precious" PanPastels on Pastel Mat paper, 2012.

“Chanel, Siren & Fragile”, PanPastels on Pastel Mat paper, 2012.

THE LESSON:  when you begin, try a number of different media; you might surprise yourself with something you hadn’t thought of before.

To be continued…

Travel theme: Mystical

This post is in response to this week’s challenge from the blog Where’s my backpack?, which you can link to here.

We woke on the last morning of our stay at the Golden Triangle, near Chiang Saen, Thailand, to find the view from our hotel balcony obscured by thick fog. So thick was it that most river traffic stopped, though a few brave (aka foolhardy?) souls were still plying the waters, sounding their horns as they went. 

The fog gave the place a mystical, otherworldly quality, a totally different view to the one we had woken to at dawn the previous day, which looked like this:

With fog or without, this is an enchanting area to spend a few days. From the delightful and aptly named Serene Hotel, where we stayed, and which seems to be the only hotel on the river in this village about 7km from Chiang Saen. One of my aims while we were away was to do a painting on location, so here is my effort:

I’m relatively new to painting, having taken it up early last year. I loved art as a child, but never quite knew what to do and was never able to get my ideas successfully onto canvas. Now, I paint most nights. I travelled with a miniature art set, including an ingenious and tiny watercolour paint set, which I housed in a pencil case: