This artwork inspired a design for a Dynomighty Mighty Wallet that’s most appropriate for the approaching Northern Hemisphere summer.
The location is on the coast about 20 miles north of here – a very picturesque fishing village where the street runs alongside the retaining wall above the beach.
Mature pohutukawa trees line the roadside, and cars can park in their shade and enjoy the vista of yachts anchored in the harbor and fishing boats going to and fro the adjacent wharf.
For more details about prints, products and the Mighty Wallet, click on the image above.
Have a great summer!
The mountains of the Central North Island Plateau (Tongariro National Park) have had a place in my heart since the mid 1970’s. This majestic wilderness landscape is now part of a Dual Status World Heritage Site – a status that recognises the park’s important Maori spiritual/cultural associations as well as its outstanding volcanic features.
I spent time on the Plateau on several occasions in the 70’s, travelling up from Wellington and staying in one or another of the DOC and Club huts around the mountains. I’ve painted, walked and beginner ski’d up there and the mystery, power and spirituality of the location have never left me in all the years since I moved away from Wellington.
At about 9000′ above sea level, this location is the summit of the North Island. All around, the land falls away, and the quality of light and clarity of the air have a huge spiritual impact, even aside from the wonderful scatter of volcanic peaks and craters that makes up the topography of the plateau itself.
As it happens, in June 2013 I took my first flight in many years from Kerikeri via Auckland to Christchurch to attend the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards ceremony. By some miracle, I managed to get a glimpse of the snow-clad peak of Mt Ngauruhoe standing out from the sea of white cloud, on the other side of the plane as we passed over the Plateau. It was a sad, fleeting moment: I now live at the northernmost end of the North Island, about 450 miles away…
I should state clearly that I love the place where I live now (above) – about 10 acres on a hillside below yet another volcanic outcrop. My parents bought it in 1970, I visited regularly and worked with them on the land, and since 1987 I have lived here. However, the winter of 2014 (June-August) turned out prolonged and very wet, and all of a sudden I realised that the time has come for me to move. I need less land, less humidity and a new adventure.
But where to go? Not just anywhere will do! It wasn’t very long before that answer came.
By chance in September 2014 as I was idly glancing through a travel supplement to the NZ Herald, I saw an article about Ohakune – a small town on the main trunk line about 12 miles south-west of Mt Ruapehu as the crow flies. It services one of Mt Ruapehu’s skifields – Turoa. I visited it years ago, and was intrigued to read how the town has developed since. Some Internet research followed and I am now working through the major task of preparing myself to move. It will probably take a little time for me to pull this off, but the promise of being back near those mountains will ease the regrets I’m likely to have about leaving my present home.
Just a brief post about another antecedent to “The Journey“.
Back when I lived in Hamilton, I painted a very loose watercolor-style acrylic of Mt Ruapehu from those photos I took at Mangaturuturu Hut – and looking at it again, I realise this actually formed an even closer antecedent to the Journey 1 painting in my previous post.
The picture sold very quickly, and I now have only a very small photo of it left, which I’ve had to work on somewhat to make it presentable for the net.
In fact, the last time I exhibited was in 2000, before my mother began to get really sick.
To coincide with Matariki – or the rising of the Pleiades (more later), some really enterprising locals held an art exhibition in our small town in late June 2015 – the first local art show ever, I think.
Having gone through the initial panic of ‘nothing to wear’, which for an artist translates as, “Help! I’ve got nothing that’s ready to be hung” (like: not framed, no fixings, not quite finished etc etc), I managed to dredge up 7 pieces.
One of which was “The Journey 1” – intended as the start of a new series and just recently finished:
The inspiration for this picture goes back to my days in government in Wellington, to a long weekend in 1975 when a friend and I took a workmate up to Mangaturuturu Hut on Mount Ruapehu.
At about 4pm, the mountain (given the right weather conditions) turns a magnificent shade of pink. I took the photos below from the hut and I used them as a reference for this work, along with an old shot of Peter, taken in the Kaimanawas by one of his mates, as an inspiration for the pose of the figure.
Peter, who is still in Wellington, often says he needs to go in the hills from time to time to get ‘grounded’ – which is part of what this painting is about. Maybe I don’t need to ‘connect’ so much now, because I live on the edge of a bush reserve, but I DO miss those mountains.
And the big bag (which you’ll note isn’t a tramping or hiking backpack) is there for a purpose.
Billy Joel’s ‘River Of Dreams’ has relevance here, too:
See also my follow-up post ‘Ruapehu Sunset‘.
It’s based on the New Zealand ‘Kiokio’ fern – one of the Blechnums : Blechnum capense. They often grow on banks, and the fronds can reach quite a size – often 2 or 3 feet long. They look like great green waterfalls.
Where there is plenty of sun falling on them, the tips of the fronds take on an orangey hue.
The interesting thing about this genus is that its fertile, spore-bearing fronds are a distinctly different shape from its normal fronds.
I’ve brought this out in the painting – the fertile frond is shown in white silhouette behind the normal frond unfurling.
Here in New Zealand, any kind of unfolding fern frond or ‘koru’ is regarded as a symbol of new beginnings, development and growth. For me, it is also a symbol of enormous power. A botanical magnifying glass reveals some mighty wonders!
Click on image for more details.
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.
This was inspired by New Zealand’s magnificent Central North Island Plateau (National Park as we call it) – the location for 3 volcanoes, 2 of them active. Note: Mount Tongariro has proved me wrong on this, with a series of recent eruptions – Yay! The ‘inactive’ volcano – Mount Tongariro – has so many blown-out craters, it’s probably more like a bunch of volcanoes in its own right.
If you saw the “Lord of The Rings” series, one of our active volcanoes on this plateau – Mt Ngauruohoe – was featured as Mt Doom.
Ngauruhoe is actually a beautiful, symmetrical cone, regarded as a female in Maori tradition, and she looks anything but ‘doomful’ under normal conditions. She does, however, tend to have a plume of steam arising from her crater quite often – a sign that she is by no means as sweet-natured as she may look.
Anyway, the inspiration for this small ACEO painting was Mt Tongariro doing its undoubted best. Click on the image for larger size and more details …
At the age of 13 in the Scottish educational system, a pupil has to make the choice of what they want to do in life. Obviously a very big decision, quite hard to make at a relatively young age: I don’t know if things are the same now.
The options for me were Languages, Science and Art.
I wasn’t in any doubt what I wanted to do and it was called Art.
But here’s where one of life’s major disappointments reared its head: my father’s response was a flat, “No! You will never make a living at art. Keep it as a hobby and enjoy it.”
This was painted later in life, after I moved to Wellington to work as a lawyer. But it reflects the desolate feelings I had earlier – plus my grief at devastation of nature. Click on image for more details.
Looking back, I can understand his reaction at that time, but it sure was hard on me. What’s more, I was also very good at both languages and science. It wasn’t as if art was my only option. So I didn’t have that leg to stand on.
One doesn’t argue with an RSM, especially my father. With a great deal of sadness, I decided to go for languages.
There was nothing else to do but carry on …
This is another later painting and it’s worth clicking on the image for a fuller explanation of what’s behind it.
My dad’s comment impacted very heavily on my mind for far too long, and I am only just now beginning to shake it off. What’s more, I never until very recently fully forgave him for what he’d said because as I grew older, and especially lately, I became so very aware what a strong influence it had on my thinking and choices since.
Though I sold quite a lot of art all through my legal career, I found I had indeed a very deep belief that I’d never make a living at it. How deep that belief was, I only discovered when I quit my job and moved up north here – about which, more later. It seemed like I would never shake off the stigma (as I saw it) of not having been to Art School.
Parents: Be careful about what you say to your kids – especially about their dreams. Select your words carefully.
I had arrived in Scotland with a perfect BBC accent. Aberdonians are very Scottish, very patriotic, egalitarian and up-front. No place to be talking like a London radio announcer, as I soon found out. That BBC accent disappeared very quickly.
My new school was the High School for Girls in Aberdeen, now Harlaw Academy where pupils gain the advantage of a great Scottish education. I was there for 8 years in total – my longest term at any school by a long shot. In spite of our continual house moving though, my parents had always made sure I got the best possible schooling. This settled period at an excellent school occurred at just the right time in my education.
Outside of school, I started off making scrapbooks of pictures I liked, embellished with painted artwork and lettering, drawing on ideas from magazines and books. My stamp album got the same treatment. And though with some of these ideas I was copying from existing artwork or photos, I’ve come to appreciate that the discipline of doing that started to train my eye really well.
The leaping tiger was an icon used by Esso Petroleum at the time.
Getting close to pipe band competitions on Scottish soil inspired a pencil study of a Highland dancer, drawn from a photo in the local newspaper – I’m glad I have that. Not many people outside of Scotland realize that Highland dancing is actually an excellent fitness training. Traditionally, in Highland Regiments the soldiers did PT and the officers did Highland Dancing, to stay fit. Highland dancing is something I loved at school and would take up again, if there were any close to me – I was always happy when we walked into the gym and saw the pianist sitting at the piano!
The sword and helmet design was also an embellishment in one of my scrapbooks.
There was plenty of Art at school in the early days – I still have one or two of the many things we created in art classes. Of course, we were given the usual array of still life subjects, but it seems at some stage our art teacher got creative and found something especially taxing for us to focus on:
They’re actually quite tricky subjects, and I’m glad to have these two paintings still – mainly because I used the backs of them for designing something else. (It’s called keeping a portfolio -Haha!) They would have been done in my early teens.
As we got to the higher classes, we were encouraged to produce black and white ink illustrations for use in the annual school magazine.
My first was of Alice in Wonderland, drinking from the bottle and holding her hand on the top of her head to see if she was growing any taller. No prizes for guessing where that idea came from, but I remember especially the art teacher’s help and encouragement in creating it. I know it was accepted for the magazine, and so were a couple more in later years.
I wish I still had those magazines…
Parents – keep your kids’ art stuff!
The earliest piece I have, done within a couple of years of moving to Scotland, is a half-finished drawing on a sheet of lined paper ripped from a school exercise book of a tiger attacking a buffalo, copied freehand from an illustration in the book “Man-Eaters of Kumaon” by Major Jim Corbett.
It was perhaps the fist edition of this book, and there have been many since. I’m not sure if they all have the original artwork, which I think was by the great wildlife artist, Bob Kuhn. I remember being fascinated by the illustrations in that book – more quality artwork!
And though the book was technically a “hunting” book, it was special. Jim Corbett has an enormous reputation as a humble yet highly skilled and patient hunter, who rid parts of India of some really dangerous wildlife, while at the same time showing humanity and care for wild animals. In later life, he exchanged his rifle for a camera, as many hunters do.
Another very early piece was this Guy Fawkes, developed from a black and white logo in a newspaper advertisement run by a fireworks company. Inside the small circle, probably less than 1″ across, you could just see the face and the tall hat, the armful of fireworks and the side of Guy’s lantern. Tiny as it was, the quality of the design made an arresting image.
My dad suggested I do something with it. The challenge was to expand it out, bring in color, and still retain the play of light and shadow created by the lantern. I was about 10 when I did that.
Learning About Art
Gradually, art awareness began to develop. With help, I was learning to analyze what I saw from a graphics point of view – maybe not with the improved understanding that comes from years of practice, book study and looking, but at least innately. My dad encouraged me to start a “swipe file” of pictures I liked, as a reference tool. Over the years it grew to huge proportions, but it still contains stuff that dates back to that time.
Soon, when looking at books or magazines, I was taking note of the artwork. How was that picture done? What about the composition? What about the colors? What about the angle? At the time I was barely conscious of this, except to know that I enjoyed pictures, but through sharing my dad’s thoughts, the habit grew stronger and never left me. It took me a while to realise that not everyone sees things this way. Quite a shock!
Years later, that old Tiger drawing got reworked it into a fantasy battle between a tiger and a huge snake. Must have been looking at too much of Frank Frazetta’s work, he had a real passion for huge snakes!
Michelangelo didn’t limit himself to drawing from life. In 1492 at 17 years of age he put himself in serious danger by dissecting dead bodies in the mortuary of the Santo Spirito monastery in Florence.
The penalty for interfering with human remains was death. Why would he do that? To understand how the human body is constructed and how it works – and that is what gave such unprecedented life and movement to his paintings and sculptures.
Drawing – Making Line Live
I’ve come to appreciate that though I never went to art school, I did get a pretty rigorous training in drawing and in making what I created truly express the reality. This came from my dad’s critique, which harked back to the good old basics of looking hard at one’s subject-matter, understanding it and capturing it.
If what I drew or painted didn’t look like what it was meant to be, and didn’t have life, I GOT ROASTED. If the technique was weak or fussy, I GOT ROASTED. About that, more later.
So I came to value clarity of line, especially when it expresses 3 dimensional mass and movement economically.
The Second Principle : Strength of Composition – Design
Composition is arguably THE most important element of a painting – sculpture too, though it’s more complex in three dimensions. If there’s one thing that really puts me off, it’s a painting with a number of elements scattered around the space, without real consideration for the overall layout of the composition as a whole. No design! And that happens more often than you might think. And the average person doesn’t see it.
Look at frames from Disney cartoon movies, and see how all-pervading good composition and design was in the huge array of Disney’s animations – masterly! Given the number of artists working for Disney at any one time over the years, maintaining such consistency is a huge achievement in itself.
Taking the subject of composition a little deeper, here’s something most people are totally unaware of. It was clearly explained in a book called ‘The Painter’s Secret Geometry: A Study of Composition in Art’ by Charles Bouleau, which I have among my texts. The book is out of print now, but people on Amazon are crying for a reprint. I really can’t improve on this short excerpt from a review by T Campbell:
“This is the art history text we all should have had and didn’t. It is the only book I have found in several years of looking into what has been printed on composition/design in the 2-D arts that actually shows the manner in which artists in a number of Greco-Roman to western traditions managed their space. It was certainly not the “I’m OK, you’re OK” approach that is so common now. The great ones then, and to a certain degree even now, were very well educated in their traditions, which included mathematics, especially geometry, the application of which to image making was connected to their faith, as well as being an expression of their genius.
“Bouleau carries his argument into the 20th century and shows that respect for geometric spatial division to establish harmony is not dead. It still works, even with completely nonrepresentational art.
“This is a stunningly informative look at the visual arts in the European traditions and is the only book I have found that informs me on how the “old masters” and some contemporary masters built their paintings.”
Below are works by 2 relatively modern artists, showing their use of geometric principles in composition. “Miserere” by Georges Roualt and “Composition ll in Red, Yellow and Blue” by Piet Mondrian:
Don’t be misled: this is not a case of art being forced into a geometric matrix to suit some theory. Just as mathematics underlies much of our world (think of music, for a start), it is inescapably true that artworks whose composition or design complies with certain geometric principles, are more powerful and satisfying.
Hence the value of basing your studies as an artist on the very best of traditional and contemporary masters.
Briefly, I was born an Army child in Derby, England, traveled about, and now live in New Zealand. Having trained and worked as a lawyer, I’m at last refocusing my life on what I’ve been secretly doing all along – art.
The journey so far has taken me from England to Scotland, to Africa, and now New Zealand. Through it all, art underpinned and sustained me through a heap of stuff – I’ve been grateful for that.
Now, this exercise of putting down on ‘cyberpaper’ the journey that brought me to where I am as a person and an artist is helping me rediscover myself after ‘losing’ ten years of my life caring for my elderly mom with Alzheimers. I’ve come away with no regrets for giving that time, and at last it is being returned to me. Here, if you care to check out some of the struggles of being a carer, is my account of the process written while in the thick of it – The Alzheimers Carer.
This blog is in a sense its own fulfilment, though like my art it does have a definite message of love and respect for our wonderful planet and the creatures that inhabit it with us – we have severely misused both.
If anyone cares to join me in this journey, I shall be truly honored. For my main Home Page that links and knits together all my websites, click HERE.
For a time warp journey to my last project, visit Taketakerau.com which features the 36 major paintings I created for a recently-published book about the nature and history of New Zealand.
Showcasing the Paintings, Sculpture and Jewelry of a multi-talented New Zealander with a love of nature and a background in – of all things – the law.