Tropical Paradise – or more correctly, sub-tropical paradise.
Here in the Far North of New Zealand, summers can be hot and steamy, and winter days unexpectedly chilly. The title of this piece of art was inspired by a builder friend I’d hired to do some work on my cottage almost 2 years ago – July 2017 in fact (our winter).
I’d heard Paul’s ute come up the drive about 9am on a cold but sunny morning, and went out to have a chat with him about the great progress he was making on the repair work.
“Lovely morning in Paradise!” he called out, pouring himself a warm mug of coffee from his thermos. That made me smile, and led to a bit of a discussion about how pleased I was with my decision to stay put on this place.
It’s always especially heartwarming when friends voice their approval of one’s decisions, and as it happened, Paul had been one of the first locals to hear the news that I’d decided to stay instead of flitting off down south.
Apart from their obvious relevance to the ‘Tropical’ theme, all the elements in this image relate to this property.
The cockatoo belonged to friends who had a contracting business and came up here to do some trench digging work while my mom was still alive. I’ve got great photos of him hopping around on a Jacaranda tree as we sat talking during a break from work. Paradise indeed!
The Strelitzia reginae bird of paradise flowers are favorites – first encountered when we moved from the north of Scotland to Central Africa – what a change in lifestyle and surroundings THAT was!
Our new town’s botanical gardens were full of new wonders, like Cannas, Strelitzias, Bougainvilleas, Golden Chalice Vines, Aloes and palm trees of all kinds. I have 2 Strelitzias in my back garden that from time to time come under attack from my sheep (would you believe!). They are very deep-rooted, so as they can’t be moved I plan to plant a couple more in the safe zone that I now call my ‘plant retreat’.
The Fruit Salad plants (Monstera deliciosa) flourish here. My parents planted numbers of them when they first bought this place in 1970, so now I have several growing 30′ or more high in my native Totara trees. Quite spectacular! They really prefer to have their feet in the shade, and not too much full sun on their leaves.
As for the palm leaves, they represent the unlimited numbers of NZ Nikau palms (Rhopalostylis sapida) that multiply to the point where I have to cut them out at times like weeds, or I would be overgrown, They flourish especially under trees, where the birds have sat above and dropped seeds into the leaf mould below. Nature is an unstoppable force!
Hope you enjoy this work, For more details, click on the image. Vector.
The Tui is one of New Zealand’s most iconic birds. Sharp, smart and vocal, he can be found in forest, open coppice country, parks and gardens. He is the largest of our honey eaters, his long, curving beak ideal for reaching into the throats of flowers of all kinds.
The Tui has 2 voice boxes – one attached to each lung – and he can produce an amazing variety of sounds in fast succession and overlapping one another. These sounds include carillion calls, sneezes, bursts of song and explosive ejaculations that are completely beyond description.
He is a mimic, and can be taught to talk, as the Maori soon discovered. His flight is fast and he flies in short, energetic bursts, punctuated by a drumming sound produced by a notch in the front of the 8th flight feather of each wing. You can certainly hear him coming!
The use of the term ‘friends’ here is euphemistic. The Tui is a dominant bird, highly protective of his nesting sites and food sources. Because at this stage I have no bird feeders here, I don’t know what the pecking order is between the Tui and the imported Indian Mynah (a rather forceful bird), but I suspect the Tui has the edge.
This is part of one of the 36 illustrations I painted for the book Taketakerau The Millennium Tree published in 2012. The whole picture shows a Maori and his young son exploring the forest on arrival in Aotearoa.
The birds shown here are completely fearless of the strange beings invading their world. But since birds soon became a major source of food for the Maori immigrants, that situation did not last for long!
The birds in the picture are – Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) in the centre and around him, anticlockwise from the top right, Fantail, piwakawaka (Rhipidura fulginosa); Grey warbler, riroriro (Gerygone igata); Tit, miromiro (Petroica macrocephala); North Island Robin, toutouwai (Petroica australis).
The tree is the Shining Broadleaf (Griselinia lucida), often found as an epiphyte on larger forest trees.
For more details about this picture, c;lick on the image – and check out the remainder of the book illustrations at Taketakerau.com .
This is the story of a bird drama I had a few years back.
I had made a ‘Cat Garden’ at the end of the house, using 6′ netting and long 4″x4″ posts concreted into the ground. It was quite an effort to construct.
The main aim was to contain cats – chiefly my ex-stray Fluffy, who used to wander off over the road until he got hit by a car and lost a back leg (a cool $500 worth of operation I might add). Given his wandering nature, and my worries about the safety of my 2 Birmans also, I decided to make this garden. It’s about 45′ long by 35′ deep on a steep grassy, ferny bank. Basically, it worked well and though my 2 silver tabbies soon demonstrated their contempt by getting out of it, they didn’t do so very often.
My large workshop has windows looking out onto this garden at ground level – the house is dug into the bank at the back and side – and the cats used to get into the garden off the top of a big bench I have standing in the workshop under the windows. They were able to step straight off the windowsill onto the ground.
I say “used to” because as the result of a tragedy involving my young Black Lab and a couple of my ducks, I moved the remaining 3 female ducks into the Cat Garden instead. In a sense it was an inspired move, because they did an excellent job of clearing out the weeds and wandering jew (Tradescantia fluminensis), which had grown rampant in there.
So the ducks were a blessing to the Cat Garden. How come I never got the cats to do a lick of work around that garden? Didn’t I build it for them? Ungrateful, lazy felines!
One day about lunchtime I heard the ducks making an infernal racket – it wasn’t their normal “where’s the grub?” chant. So I went into the workshop to look and got a huge shock. Standing on a stone in the garden about 4′ away from the window was an Australasian Harrier Hawk (Circus approximans) – now called the Swamp Harrier. He was standing side-on to me at eye level and though we see them flying round here on a daily basis, I had never been as close to one as this.
He was bigger than I thought. It was one of those unforgettable moments when I could have wished my eyes were a camera. The size and presence of him was something else. He looked calmly across at me for a moment or two, then spread his great wings and took off. The vision has stayed with me ever since.
Harrier Hawk / Swamp Harrier – Vector.
Obviously this called for action. I was surprised he had come down into the small garden, because it’s overhung on one side by the lower branches of a Norfolk Island Pine, has the wall of our 2 story house on another side, ti-tree scrub on the two other sides, and a couple of tree ferns growing in it, so it doesn’t offer a smooth flight path. But raptors are the masters of the air waves. And since I didn’t have any doubts about why he was there, I went out with a roll of electric fence tape and laced it back and forth across the airspace.
I hoped it would serve its purpose of protecting my ducks because – funny, comical characters that they were, I loved them, and I didn’t want any more disasters to happen in my duck world.
So this artwork is an attempt to reconstruct what I saw and felt in that magical moment before he departed.
Note: The Swamp Harrier is recorded as being 50-60cm long. Males weigh 650gm and females 850gm. This makes them larger than Rooks at 45cm and Magpies at 41 cm long.
For more details, click on the images.
My first thought, judging by the dark blue-green of the wings, was that this must be a young kingfisher. It also had copper around the wingtips and lower rump. Then when I turned it over, I saw the white breast barred with black and immediately realized it was a Shining Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus).
Some books identify this as of ‘sparrow size’ and I can state absolutely that the shining cuckoo is definitely bigger than a sparrow (16cm + I’d say). This bird had a long split down the front of its chest, so I don’t think it was killed by my cat (now 20 yrs of age) – more likely blown into my cottage.
Shining cuckoos migrate down to New Zealand from the Bismarck Archipelago (New Guinea) and Solomon Islands in the summer to breed, using nests of the Grey Warbler (Gerygone igata) to lay their eggs – one per nest – and they leave the tiny warblers to raise their kids. Fortunately, by the time the shining cuckoos are ready to lay, the warblers have already raised one litter, so all is not lost (isn’t nature wonderful?). But the young shining cuckoo definitely puts paid to the warblers’ second litter.
I had never seen a shining cuckoo ‘in real life’ before, and didn’t know I had them here, though I’ve always known we had grey warblers, because I heard them. I used a pair of shining cuckoos as part of the wildlife interest in one of the 36 paintings I did for the book ‘Taketakerau The Millennium Tree’, which I illustrated in 2011. Here’s the painting:
‘Fallen Giants’ – click on the image for more details.
I’ve now heard the shining cuckoo’s call on New Zealand Birds Online, and identified it as a call I’d been hearing lately. Was listening to the call outside this morning when I saw a fast flash of green wings across the grass to the trees where the sound was coming from, so I feel happy to know that the mate of the bird that lost its life (which was a female, I think) is not alone.
They are very fast fliers and spend much of their time hidden in the trees. So often one just doesn’t see these birds !
As you’ll see from my previous post, this is ‘Home’, and the painting – acrylic on canvas card – has been nagging me for several years to get completed.
With all of these things, it doesn’t do to rush if the inspiration isn’t forthcoming. When the right thing isn’t suggesting itself, it’s best to leave well alone, because you can guarantee that in due course, it will.
Come to think of it, that’s a really good piece of advice for life generally – in other words, “Don’t Force It!”
The parakeets in the picture are kakariki – NZ red-crested parakeets, and putting them here is somewhat anachronistic, because we no longer have them up in the north. We do have Australian Rosella parakeets though, very brightly colored, noisy and not endemic. So I thought I’d use a bit of artistic licence…
The larger birds are one of my favorites – the kereru or NZ Native Pigeon. These had become rather scarce in the Far North due to human predation (even though they ARE protected) and the fact that a pair produces only one offspring a year – but I’m glad to say that since I’ve been letting the bush come back on my top paddocks, birdlife is increasing, and I’m seeing and hearing more kereru on the place all the time.
See also my earlier post and artwork ‘Flight of The Kukupa‘.
This is a painting of a NZ native pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae), the Kereru, or as they’re called up here the Kukupa, soaring above the volcanic outcrop where I live.
They are quite a large bird, with very distinctive and beautiful coloring, the breast pure white, the head, neck, back and wings green of varying hues with purple and grey intermingled. They have quite a heavy flight, although their nuptual flights in spring are quite spectacular. A pair produces only one chick a year, so it it doesn’t take much brain to see how easily numbers become depleted.
Sadly, this bird is becoming scarce here because although they are protected, certain people think they have the right to take them for food.
When my parents moved in here about 40 years ago, and for many years after, the kukupa native woodpigeon could be seen in numbers swooping and soaring over the thermals from the warm rock face.
Nowadays, thanks to attention from some people, they are so depleted in numbers that I rarely see one in the bush, let alone up on the rock. The irony of it is that according to Maori tradition, the area behind this rock, known as ‘Kukuparere’ was fabled to be the place where ALL the Kereru birds in New Zealand originated from. So much for respecting our treasured legends! Where are the kaitiaki?
Click on the image for larger size and more details.
So I’m simply adding a few more illustrations from the Elleston Trevor books to supplement the pictures in my last post “Elleston Trevor – Spies, Badgers, Kites and Miniature Cars“.
As I mentioned there, these books open up a wonderful world of pioneering, ‘do it yourself’ innovation that’s rapidly being lost in today’s world. Children’s toys these days are ‘plastic fantastic’ and they come with everything supplied – minimum imagination and minimum inventiveness required. And for that reason, they soon pall. So parents have to look round for something else. And the cash register rings again. What a waste!
It’s sad, because kids are missing out on developing one of the most important faculties a human being can acquire – CREATIVITY.
In New Zealand we call it the “Number 8 Wire Mindset”, harking back to the days when it used to be said that a NZ farmer could mend or create just about anything with a piece of Number 8 fencing wire. Here at least, we still put a premium on ingenuity.
These books bring to light for kids who’ve never had the experience, just what it means to be self-reliant, resourceful and handy with one’s hands (paws, wing-tips or whatever). The stories are full of activity, sharing, goodwill and the creative spirit.
W A Ward illustrations for “By A Silver Stream”:
David Williams illustrations for “Heather Hill”:
Dust Jacket images for these children’s books on the net are not the best, and of course it’s rare for old titles to come with dust jackets now, anyway. But I’ve worked on what I could get, tidied up scuffs and torn edges and hopefully improved on what’s out there. The “Heather Hill” dust jacket illustration in my last post was the worst – there’s a limit to what you can do even with Photoshop. Maybe a better “Heather Hill” dust jacket image will surface over time.
Check out the only available Reviews of Elleston Trevor’s Children’s books.
He was a versatile writer, his most popular works being “The Flight of the Phoenix”, and the Quillar and Hugo Bishop series, both under the pseudonym Alex Hall. He was born Trevor Dudley-Smith.
When he died in Arizona in 1995, his obituary in The Independent described the Quillar novels as “best-selling, tough and suspenseful spy thrillers with a distinctly noir-ish edge, featuring an ice-cold killing-machine, or “shadow executive”, called Quiller”. Furthermore –
“During the 1950s Trevor was one of Heinemann’s star popular authors. Along with Nevil Shute, the Americans Erle Stanley Gardner, Erskine Caldwell and Frank Yerby, the Australian Arthur Upfield … and the incomparable Georgette Heyer. At one stage a short Authors At Home promotional film was shot at Trevor’s home in Roedean, near Brighton, where he was glimpsed at his typewriter, and flying kites and racing miniature cars, both hobbies he followed with enthusiasm.”
Children’s Books Too
It’s hard to believe that at the same time this man was also writing delightful children’s books -about 25 kids’ books in all. And along with many other youngsters I loved and read them. “By A Silver Stream” and “Heather Hill” are two I’ve managed to get hold of again so far. But prices are high:
These were akin to “The Wind in the Willows“, based around themes of humanized small animals, but with a kind of pioneering twist. There are no psychological ‘Toad’ dramas here (thank goodness) – no Toad in fact, although there ARE venerable badgers, wise owls, excitable field mice, frogs, rabbits and peaceable moles. There are challenges though, of the kind that would appeal to any child with a practical bent – resettling a community deeper in the forest to avoid confrontation with man, building suitable houses, laying on water pipes, finding resources and transporting them home, making boats and gathering supplies for any job on hand. And above all, these stories are told with a wonderful, dry humor that brings the characters and amusing events to life.
They are well illustrated, mainly with a single full-page illustration and numerous smaller sketches throughout. “Into A Happy Glade‘, “By A Silver Stream“, “Deep Wood“, “Heather Hill” and the “Wumpus” series stand out in my memory. W A Ward (for “By A Silver Stream”) and David Williams (for “Heather Hill”) were the illustrators whose work is shown above.
These books are hard to come by now, but they still have some ardent followers – especially in the UK. For many youngsters of the era, they formed the basis of a lifetime’s love of animals and nature.
I’ve collected together the only available Reviews of Elleston Trevor’s Children’s books from Amazon.co.uk – because I believe these books have something that’s often lacking in today’s children’s story offerings. Check them out they are all together on one page!
I’d been given four small books in a series published by The Studio in London. One was “How To Draw Farm Animals” by Charles F Tunnicliffe.
There was also “How To Draw Birds” by Raymond Sheppard, “Baby Animals On The Farm” by Vere Temple and another, the name of which escapes me. They were all excellent learning tools by real quality artists – CF Tunnicliffe in particular created an enormous oeuvre of top quality work, illustrating at least 250 books – some written by himself and some authored by others.
From school, Tunnicliffe won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London, and from then on his busy working life began. He was honored by the art establishment, and the Crown. In 1978, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire – a year before he died in 1979. Tunnicliffe was the subject of a 1981 BBC Wales television documentary, True to Nature, produced by Derek Trimby and narrated by Robert Dougall.
I was fortunate. Having these books as an instruction and an example was really good for me, and they also got me closer to appreciating the world of animals and birds in art.
I’m gradually chasing these artists down, thanks to the Internet, and recently bought C F Tunnicliffe’s “Bird Portraiture”, published by The Studio in 1945 with a reprint in 1946. I scanned the pictures below, and don’t think they appear anywhere else on the net:
Though Tunnicliffe’s regular subjects were wildlife and the countryside, whenever he includes humans in any of his works, they take their places naturally in the scene, executed with the same style and authenticity as his landscapes, animals and birds.
He has come to be regarded as arguably one of the greatest wildlife artists of all time.
When my dad ran away from home to join the Guards, he tried to escape the influence of his father’s name on his own career by enlisting in the Coldstreams. Short-lived dream: the enrolling officers in the Coldstream Guards knew the name Howitt all too well and shunted him off to the Scots Guards real fast. It was a tradition that sons should follow in their father’s regiment.
Now my grandfather’s mother, Georgiana Howitt (nee Hewitt – Yes!), ran a cab yard at the top of Normanton Road, Derby, England, where I was born. This involved taxi services, funeral services (all horse-drawn), and a hostelry, or inn. Though she had brothers, it was she who took the business over from her father. So horses run deep in the family.
I used to hear family talk about “the cab yard” from time to time. It was many years before I got to the bottom of what it was all about. Not until of my own volition I started riding horses – and wishing I’d learned earlier in life.
To keep her only son out of trouble – and probably to give herself time to run her business – Georgiana packed him off at an early age to live with relatives in Heanor, a small mining and textiles town about 8 miles north-east of Derby. In that rural environment he labored, did carpentry, found time to paint and sharpened his skills with horses. As a result I believe he became senior riding instructor at Sandhurst for awhile. He was also an outstanding soldier.
My grandfather fought as an NCO with the Scots Guards in the trenches in France in World War l and was severely gassed. His batman saved his life, and he returned home, to be invalided out of the Guards and into the Sherwood Foresters (now part of the Mercian Regiment of the British Army).
Sherwood Forest – now THERE’S a name that rings through family history down the generations – of which, more to follow later.
My grandfather died when I was still a toddler. I can remember he used to call me ‘Poppy’, and I remember his roses, his woodworking shed and the aviaries at the bottom of his garden. I dearly wish I had got to know him. Aside from roses, his love was finches, budgies and canaries. As a sideline, I have bred rare breeds poultry. That kind of came upon me and I didn’t think of the connection when I first got started …
When my aunt, Ena May Howitt (my father’s twin), died in Boston USA in 1983, my mother and I went over to clear up her estate. I hoped above all that I might find some of grandpa’s paintings from the Heanor days. I’d heard about them – especially one of a water mill at Heanor – and I clung to the dream that they might have been in my aunt’s house in the States.
Well, I came home with heaps of family photos and stuff – but no paintings. The only artwork I have of his are a pair of beautifully painted Scots Guards crests – one for each of his twins, with their names hand-lettered underneath. They are very dear to me.
Among my aunt’s belongings I found my grandfather’s Regular Army Certificate of Service – another of those slim red books. It came home with me to join my father’s.
Once again, history repeats itself … The Final Assessment of Conduct & Character, completed personally in the handwriting of his CO, Major A A Sims, was : “Exemplary”.