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.

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