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‘When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all.’ E. O. Wilson.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . .

The same could be said of seed pods—if you have seen one, you have definitely not seen them all . . .

I have absolutely no idea what kind of pods these are.  They look a bit like gumnuts, but as I am notoriously bad at identifying plants (and birds . . . and fish . . . and any song written after 1980 . . . ) I am not even going to hazard a guess.

Suffice to say that I had previously given fair warning that there might be more seed-pod sketches in your viewing future, so here you go . . .

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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“. . . and remember, the next scream you hear may be your own!” The Birds. (1963)

Well, it’s definitely Spring—the girls and I have just been ‘swooped’ by our first cranky magpie . . .

For the average Australian that statement needs no further explanation.  Australia—Land of deadly snakes, humungous spiders, man-eating sharks . . . and homicidal magpies.  September and October is swooping season for the native magpie. This black-and-white bird with the spooky red eyes can become highly aggressive during the nesting season, attacking anything it feels poses a threat to its chicks. The fact that anything that isn’t another magpie is usually blissfully unaware there are even any chicks in the area is obviously totally irrelevant to the average man-of-the-house -magpie . . .  

Signs are already appearing around the place warning people of aggressive birds and I daresay it won’t be long before we also start to see people parading about wearing ice cream containers on their heads, bike helmets with long wavy plastic antennae sticking out of them, or hats with eyes drawn on the back . . .  (Spoiler alert . . . )

Magpies belong to the family Corvidae, which also includes ravens, crows, jackdaws, and jays. They display a range of intelligent behaviors that not only surpass that of other birds, but most mammals as well.  They mate for life, can live up to 20 years in the wild (which I guess is why the ‘teenagers’ stay goofy for so long), form close knit communities and they have the ability to solve complex problems (like how to still get at you in spite of the fact you are wearing a silly hat, a mask, or are hiding under an umbrella!)

Magpies and I have always had a bit of a love-hate relationship.  I love them because they are inquisitive and hilarious (especially when still babies), they sound fabulous when they come and sing to you, and they are wicked smart.  And magpies remember.  That much is clear.  They remember people who have been nice to themand they also remember those who haven’t . . .

You may recall I wrote once about my little magpie family who regularly came tap-tap-tapping at my office door to get their daily treat.  Occasionally, if I saw them before they saw me, I could go outside and call them and Mum and Dad would immediately come gliding gracefully down and the two babies would waddle on their fat little legs towards me, squarking and gurgling with their mouths agape.  They would all four sit happily at my feet as I fed them their treats. Those babies have already moved on but I fully expect Mum and Dad to be back at my office door when their next batch of babies arrives.  (Sally = Food)

But then there was that other incident which happened, not at the office, but in my front garden—the attempted murder of Little Bird.  There is no doubt in my mind that those two magpie youngsters would have killed that little injured bird without a moment’s thought if I had not got in their way.  They were mean and vicious and it took all my courage (and one of my shoes) to face them down and send them screeching on their way.  I can still remember the look one of them gave me as I made off with his prize. That ‘I’m-gonna-get-you-for-this . . . ‘ kind of look.  (Sally = Food-thief and shoe-wielding lunatic . . . )

Remembering that look got me thinking—perhaps the magpie that attacked us today was that same youngster I chased so unceremoniously from my garden and he is now all grown up and bent on revenge! Perhaps he has never met his magpie relatives who live near my office and so they haven’t had the chance to tell him that I really am quite a nice person (‘No—you must be wrong.  Sally’s lovely—and she feeds us.  You must have just caught her on a bad day . . . ‘ ) 

Worse still, perhaps he will never meet them and so never change his mind about me and continue to see me only as a dangerous shoe-tossing mad woman for the next twenty years!!

Gulp.  Suddenly some of those silly head-gear options aren’t looking quite so ridiculous . . .

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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“You can’t make footprints in the sands of time if you’re sitting on your butt. And who wants to make buttprints in the sands of time?” Bob Moawad.

I confess—I have been making some serious ‘buttprints’ all over the place during the last few weeks (in the sands of time . . . on my couch . . . in my bed . . . )  In fact, I have spent so much time sitting (or lying) on my (rather ample) behind that I can no longer even make a pretence of any kind of forward momentum.  Actually, I can’t make a pretence of movement in any direction at all reallyforwards, backwards, up or down . . .

In my defence I should point out that I am at the moment recovering (dear God, please let me be recovering) from my second (or is it my third?) bout of that really nasty flu that has been rampaging around the country this winter (apparently the flu shot I had earlier in the year was only effective for last year’s model) but even for me, who usually needs little or no excuse to do the absolute bare minimum, my current state of inertia is at a whole new level.

Normally when feeling somewhat under the weather I do what so many of us do—suck it up and soldier on.  I mean, it’s just a cold, or a cough, or the sniffles.  No big deal.  Right?  Well, not this time.  This time my body made it perfectly (and painfully) clear that we were having none of that ‘carry-on-regardless’ crap.  We were going nowhere.  Consequently (and because I really had no other option) I decided to be kind to myself.  I had some time off work.  I took the tablets, drank the medicine, wrapped myself (along with a trio of incredibly solicitious puppies) in blankets and slept.  And slept.  And slept.  I literally had no energy for anything else.  I did no reading, no writing, no sketching, no exercise.  I don’t think I even did any thinking (or at least none that I can recall . . . )

Two weeks later and I finally seem to be coming out of the other side.  I am on my feet again but apart from that there still appears to be little discernible sign of movement.   I feel like someone needs to wind me up to get me started again.  I mean, I should be doing something—anything—again by now.  Shouldn’t I?  (I should be writing, although I can’t think of a thing to say.  I should be sketching, although I can’t think of anything to draw.  I should start exercising again, although just getting the dogs across the park and back in the afternoon seems to be stretching me to my limits . . . )

You know Isaac Newton said (paraphrasing here) ‘‘An object at rest (i.e. me) will remain at rest until acted on by an outside force.”  And really—who am I to argue with Isaac Newton?  So, perhaps all I really need to do is take a few more days and wait for that inevitable intervention from an ‘outside force’ . . .

That sounds good to me.  That sounds like a plan.  And if I happen to make a couple more buttprints around the place before that happens . . . well, I guess the sands of time and I will just have to live with that . . .

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature.’ Cicero.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . . 

When I take the girls for their walk in the late afternoon Maudie and I often play ‘ball’ with one of the many banksia seed pods that litter the park floor.  It started because I never remembered to take an actual ball with me when we went out (getting three dogs out of the house with them and me still intact is often enough of a challenge) and continues now because Maudie really does seems to enjoy chasing the pods.  They bounce around at weird angles, are (apparently) eminently chewable, and, if she loses sight of the one I threw, there are plenty more of them lying around to start the game over. (In case you were wondering—Mabel and Molly are above all this sort of nonsense and tend to watch these antics from a disdainful distance.)  

Apart from our game I can’t say I had ever really given the banksia pods much more thought.  When they are lying on the ground amongst the other leaf litter, they don’t seem all that special.  They’re kind of dark and dingy and unremarkable looking.  But, when doing some reading last week about seeds, I also came across some amazing photos of seed-pods and this really opened my eyes to just how extraordinary these banksia pods are.  And beautiful. They have have all sorts of cool nooks and crannies and weird little nobbly-bits . . .

. . . and it’s not just banksias.  I have discovered there are so many amazing seed pods out there (see here for some amazing pics) . . . and it seems completely obvious to me now that I have spent the last 58 years of life walking around with my eyes shut!  How could I not have known about all these gorgeous things before?  And how could I not have sketched them?  Well, Spring’s finally here . . . so no more excuses . . .

(Fair warning.  You may be inundated with sketches of seed pods from now on.  I am completely enamoured . . . )


 
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Posted by on September 1, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.’ Indian Proverb.

Last weekend, while transferring a packet of bird seed from its rather flimsy plastic pack into a more manageable kitchen container, I also managed to pour a significant amount of the seed onto the kitchen bench . . . and then, in a (futile) attempt to stem the flow, threw a good deal more of it onto the floor.  ‘Rats!’ (or words to that effect.)   As I began the (seemingly endless) task of cleaning it all up (I am still finding odd seeds around the place nearly a week later) I was also forced to notice how many different varieties of seeds there were just in that one small packet . . .

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a great gardener.  I know what works in my own garden (succulents) and I have a lot of them, but I still don’t know what any of the different varieties are called.  I tend to refer to them simply as the ‘spiky one’ or the ‘furry one’ or ‘the triffid’ . . . and I am okay with that.  I don’t feel the need to learn all their scientific names.  But while pottering around my garden earlier this week (and after the seed explosion in my kitchen) it occurred to me that I had never seen a succulent seed.  At least I don’t think I have.  I have always purchased succulents as whole plants and propagated them (look at me—using a gardening term!) by using the babies they throw out.

So I had a look on-line to see what succulent seeds looks like and . . . well, they pretty much look like a lot of other seeds . . . which is fascinating in itself considering the variety of plants these small insignificant-looking things grow in to.

Then I started to wonder just exactly how many varieties of plants (and therefore seeds) there are in the worldand the answer, my friends (without being too precise) isLOTS!!  Lots and lots and lots.  And, I am happy to say, I also discovered there are plenty of people out there working very hard to see that this remains the case.

It seems there are a number of seed banks around the world dedicated to the storage and preservation of the world’s seeds.  The largest of these is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.  This vault (also labelled the ‘doomsday vault’) holds upwards of 850,000 seeds from thousands of varieties of plants, all stored at a constant temperature of -18 degrees Celsius.  The ‘disaster proof’ vault was deliberately built in its remote location, high up a mountain, ‘to survive rising sea levels, power outages and other calamaties that could affect the seeds’ (The Crop Trust)  and almost every country has deposited seeds there.

(Unfortunately, this year this seemingly impregnable vault appeared more fallible than originally thought. Extraordinarily warm temperatures during the winter (no such thing as global warming huh?) sent meltwater rushing into the entrance tunnel.  The water then froze within that tunnel and had to be manually hacked out. Luckily, the seed vault itself was not breached and the seeds remained safe. This time.)

I wonder if there are any succulent seeds being held in Svalbard?  I know this vault and others like it are primarily concerned with preserving those seeds which might keep the world fed (corn, wheat, rice, vegetables, etc) should something cataclysmic befall us rather than the tiny treasures from our own little patches of dirt, but I’d like to think they still had room for a few tiny succulent seeds to be safely tucked away.  And daisiesI like daisies.  And roses.  And geraniums . . . and love-in-a-mist . . . and bird-of-paradise . . .

But, just in case no-one in Svalbard has given much thought to preserving these particular lovelies, I guess there is nothing to stop any of us from creating our own personal seed vaults and filling them full of our particular favourites is there?  Perhaps people are already doing that, and I (as usual) am way behind the times.   At any rate I am thinking about it now.  I seem suddenly overcome with an urge to go outside and search for succulent seeds!

And here’s a thought.  I could also add a few of those random seeds I am still finding around my kitchen floor.  I have no idea what any of those seeds are but that could be part of the fun.  Who knows what manner of gorgeousness any of those tiny things might one day produce . . .

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Did you know that there are over 300 words for love in canine?’ Gabriel Zevin.

When I arrive home after being out of the house all day I am always met at my front door by my small (but extremely loud) pack of fur children (I swear the whole neighbourhood knows when I get home).  Molly will run in circles barking at the top of her lungs.  Mabel will wriggle, grin her lop-sided grin and yip excitedly . . . and then there’s Maudie . . .

Maudie comes at me like a doggie-sunami, sweeping aside anything in her path (including her sisters).  She will shriek with excitement, hopping about on her back legs and waving her front paws wildly in the air, and then, quite suddenly, she will realise something is missing.  She will skid to a halt, do a complete about-face, and hurtle headlong back into the depths of the house in search of that missing something.  She’s forgotten to bring me her ‘Ball’ . . .

Ball is one of Maudie’s 300 words for love.  It is her comfort and joy.  (Think Linus and his blanket.)  She takes her ball to bed with her in the evening, and it is the first thing she looks for in the morning. She takes it outside to sit in the sun with her and it has its own special place beside her on the sofa in the evenings.  The only time I ever see her really upset is if Mabel steals it from her and refuses to give it back.  (This causes such a ruckus that I usually have to intervene on Maudie’s behalf.  Mabel can be a real little *&#% when she wants to be . . . )  

Unfortunately, Ball is now in imminent danger of being loved to death.  Comprised of some sort of dense squishy foam the constant and unyielding onslaught of Maudie-love (along with Mabel nibbling pieces off it occasionally just to stir her sister up) has seen it begin to disintegrate at an alarming rate.  It used to be the size of regular tennis ball, but has now shrunk to the size of a (weirdly shaped) golf ball. What happens when Ball crumbles completely and Maudie is left bereft doesn’t bear thinking about.  So for the last few months I have been quietly searching for some kind of replacement.  It has proved no easy task.

It’s not that Maudie doesn’t love a new toy—quite the opposite.  Every new thing I have brought home for her has been a joy and a delight.  For about five minutes. Then it has been gently discarded and rarely looked at again.  Nothing (so far) has come close to competing for her affections.  I was beginning to despair.  And then a couple of weeks ago I came across a site selling cat balls.  (That doesn’t quite sound right.  Perhaps I should have said ‘ balls for cats’ . . .  )

Anyway, these seemed to be about the same size as Ball is now and made of the same squishy material.  (I couldn’t get a green one but I thought (hoped) that she might be more concerned with the taste and texture than the colour.)  In fact, so convinced was I that these balls were exactly what I was looking for that I bought a bunch of them (6 balls for one dollar.  Woo Hoo!  ‘Hey big spender . . .’ )

When they finally arrived early this week I was so excited to show them to Maudie that I gave them a huge build up.  I worked her up into a frenzy of anticipation as I slowly undid the wrappings.  And she loved it. Her eyes grew wide and she yipped excitedly and pawed at the packet.  I held up one of the new balls and she launched herself at it, grabbed it and took off running.  She ran twice around the house in glee—yay—a new ball!  She threw it in the air and caught it and threw it again.  She took it outside and showed it her favourite sunny spot in the back garden.  She rolled it around in her mouth and chomped on it and even rumbled a warning at Mabel when she wandered too close.

Feeling very pleased with myself and confident I had at least found a contender I took myself off to do a couple of chores and make myself a nice cup of tea.  When I returned I found the living-room littered with shredded wrapping paper (I should have seen that coming) and a scattering of small, brightly coloured balls.

And there was Maudie—fast asleep and snoring happily on the couch . . .

. . . and nestled safely between her two front feet was . . . you guessed it . . . her old, decrepit, smelly, beloved Ball . . .

‘Maudie Maudie Maudie—go find me a ball . . . ‘

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘The palest ink is better than the best memory.’ Chinese Proverb.

I have been feeling a little bit despondent about my sketching lately.  I have still managed to work myself up to doing a bit of drawing during the week but I have felt somewhat . . .  uninspired . . . to say the least.  I look at the fabulous sketches of my fellow online students and arty friends, and see that they have done their sketches ‘on the bus’ or ‘in my lunch break’ or ‘in the doctor’s waiting room’ and I, who have no (valid) excuses for not sketching (and obviously a lot more free time on my hands than some of these people) feel like a complete wastrel.

This feeling is not entirely unexpected of course.  I’m in the doldrums.  It’s happened before and, no doubt, will happen again, but . . .  sigh . . .

In the past, feeling like this has resulted in me stopping drawing altogether, sometimes for years, but I am determined that is not going to happen this time.  I am going to try and push through, and if that means a sketchbook full of crappy, uninspiring sketches, then so be it!   (That sentence was full of false bravado by the way.  ‘So be it!’  Ha!  Who am I kidding?  I still get really upset with myself when I do a crappy, unspired sketch, but I am trying a little positive psychology on myself so I’ll let it go . . . )

In an effort to suck myself into a more positive frame of mind I looked back over my very first sketchbook, which I started last year. In it I found one of the first ‘outdoor’ sketches I attempted.  With it I  wrote — ‘. . .  just to be clear, the pots are actually standing on a garden of bark chips (not just a patch of concrete)—but I have no idea how to draw bark chips so I just pretended they wasn’t there.  I also ignored the rest of the garden—the back fence, the Hills Hoist, the three madcap dogs chasing each other in and around the pots—and anything else that was too hard.  I think that’s called ‘artistic licence’ . . .’

At Sketchbook Skool they teach that there are no ‘bad’ drawings.  Each sketch we do is a learning experience and therefore important in itself.  Although I still struggle internally with this concept (I still believe that some of my drawing ‘experiences’ have been, and continue to be, pretty gruesome) I have tried to take this on board and so, although at times still sorely tempted, I no longer rip these offending pages out of my sketchbooks.  I may not ever show these horrors to anybody else but there they will remainpale (or sometimes scarily bright) memories of my ongoing artistic endeavours.

Finding that earlier sketch put me in mind of another I did, much more recently, of the same garden. It’s from a different angle (it was a cold day so the girls and I sat in the warmest spot we could find) but otherwise much is unchanged.  The bird bath and many of the plants are the same—and I still haven’t worked out how to draw bark chips or the dogs racing around the gardenbut, in spite of that, I do like the second drawing more than the first, and that’s definitely a step in the right direction.

So, sketching slump or no, I will soldier on.  I am not going to give up.  Realistically, how could I anyway?

What on earth would I do with all the cupboards (and drawers and boxes) still full of lovely (empty) sketchbooks. . .  and pens . . . and inks . . .  and pencils . . . and paints . . . and pastels and . . .

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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