Friday, January 25, 2013

Diary of an Adventure

As an artist I keep creative diaries. Often they are full of lists of things to do, plus little sketches of things I like or works in progress. I have a whole stack of them and one day my children or grandchildren (if our progeny want to go down that path) will have them to pour over or biff in the skip. I hope it's not the latter. Nearly 12 years ago I started a new one at the beginning of our great adventure. We decided throw our cards in the air and see where they landed and go off to my birthplace and live and work. Our O.E. But with kids in tow. So no Oktoberfest and combie vans for us, but we did hope to see something of Europe. Our parents were slightly horrified that we'd go with no jobs and subject our children to British schools (both sets are Poms). After all, THEY escaped to New Zealand. But they didn't try and talk us out of it, only hoped we'd get sufficiently homesick to come back on our NZ not UK passports.

I kept an almost daily, then weekly visual diary which I am going to share with you all on a weekly basis. I will not apologise for illegible handwriting- you'll just have to squint. Sometimes there will be long tracts of self pity and whingeing, but that's life. Warts, drawings and all, this is not a travel log of a family on an expensive holiday. I learned much about myself and my family over the 22 months we were away. And it starts here on our last day in Wellington...

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Reg the Gnome- my  faithful companion

I sometimes get asked by people," What advice would you give my teen about wanting to be an artist; should they apply for a place in a college of Art and Design, is a degree necessary? What did you find useful and what are the requirements for being in a creative industry?"

Here is my opinion:

Before you go and do an art degree, study typing. In my youth, secretarial school was somewhere you could learn to bash those keys accurately really fast. You also learned how to answer the phone, write letters and do office administration. This will be important for your career as an artist because at some point you'll decide to write a novel or two, using words instead of paint to express your story. You'll also need to apply for residencies, grants, galleries and internships. Writing a succinct application is crucial to your success, and if you become successful, you'll also need to know how to do your accounts. So learn Excel and accounting software. Do a Business degree, that will be useful.

Before you go and do an art degree, study history and the classics. Art is not merely painting pictures of pohutukawa and harakeke flowers, although they might sell at an art show. Art is about making a personal statement, challenging points of view and influencing the world; forming a manifesto. Artists have recorded social history and helped unseat destructive manipulators by exposing truths in a quiet, intelligent and well observed manner. Do a Political Science degree, that will be useful.

Before you go and do an art degree, study acting. Expressing yourself publicly and articulately is vital when you give talks about your work and sometimes you need to be able to put on another persona when you are lacking courage. The ability to project your voice is a gift that can be learned. Understanding how a production is put together is like understanding the structure of a skeleton. If the plot is the bones of a play, then the painting of a set is just the hairdo. Nice but not necessary if the underlying framework is sound. Under every piece of great art and design is wonderful bone structure. Do a Drama degree, that will be useful.

Before you go and do an art degree, look into some teacher training. You will at some point in your career both rely on teaching art methods to supplement your income and then just because you enjoy sharing your world with those students who want to be in it with you. When tutoring children, you need to know how to keep control without squashing youthful excitement when faced with paint and glue. With adults you need to know how to help open long shut doors on suppressed creativity. You need to know when to have it be about them and not about you. Do an Education degree, that will be useful.

Before you go and do an art degree, make sure someone in your life knows how to cook and administer first aid. You will eat distractedly when absorbed in a body of work and your posture will suffer, as will your lungs from inhalation of paint and sculpting materials and fingertips from crafts knives, files and heat guns. Find someone to love you for or despite your obsession with your work and refusal to take a 'real job' because that would destroy your will to live. If they can't love you anyway, then ditch them.

I hope that's useful :)

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Tied up in knots

I wondered this new 2013 year what I should blog about. I have spent New Year's Eve and the following days with a head cold which has made coherent thought exhausting. It hasn't stopped me over thinking though; wondering how the year will pan out, how to be more successful than last year which disappointed me in all kinds of ways. Then whilst coughing and hanging out the washing I thought about why 2012 didn't stack up for me the way I wanted it to and over coffee with my husband and adult daughter in a relaxed kind of way, feet up on the scruffy old coffee table and undies flapping in the breeze outside, articulated my thoughts thus:

When you are a kid, your achievements are kind of huge; doing up your shoelaces, going to school, learning to read, writing a story...all of those things. They are BIG things. But when you are a teenager they seem like small stuff compared to struggling with relationships, your changing body, exams and school pressures. And so it goes on through life- each major milestone made to seem insignificant the minute it is passed because of the expectation for the next achievement. By nobody except yourself.

The first time I had a book published I was over the moon. I'd 'made it'! That was soon replaced by crushing disappointment that it wasn't shortlisted for an award. Same for television work- one minute you are on the box looking glam and the next, yesterday's news. And then it goes on; you produce more and you expect that certain things will follow as a matter of course; money, fame, awards, residencies, grants, magazine spreads, adoration, adulation, a bach on the beach, designer clothes, travel and all the things society puts up as marker of success. And very nice they are too, if you can get them. And if you don't, you go down a hole. I went down one last year in a work starved period. In this vacuum one might expect that you could embrace the free time and get on with that project you always wanted time to finish. But what happens is that you get so depressed thinking no-one will ever want to give you work again that you sit in quiet desperation and bat off all your previous successes as nothing more than being able to tie your shoelaces. Forgetting of course that when you were 5 that was a very major accomplishment.

I have beaten myself up for not being entrepreneurial enough; not taking risks, not sinking a big financial investment into my work to see if it will come off. Then (whilst hanging out the washing) I realised that every time I write or illustrate for the publishing industry I do just that. If I were to cost out my time it would run into the tens of thousands of dollars. So in effect, each project I take on, I sink a huge amount of money into with no assurance that I will get a return on investment. There are not many in the salaried sector who would be so brave. I am not the only one. There are many of us out there, being entrepreneurs, creating new startups each time we sit at that drawing or key board. We are courageous beyond belief.

And this is why I am unreservedly thrilled that Gavin Bishop, a writer and illustrator our children's book community adores for his talent, wit and generosity has received an ONZM for services to Children'sLiterature. Gavin has been tying up his shoelaces with great dexterity for some years now and they look superb; I hope he never swaps them for cheap elastic.What Gavin does reassures me, he has forged ahead because he loves what he does and is good at it and in the end isn't that what we are best doing? 

So in 2013, I'm hoping to rid myself of expectations that unachieved leave me feeling like I can't even do up my shoes anymore. I'm going to carry on doing what I love and am good at and that alone will be enough. With my laces confidently tied, I can walk forward and take new paths without falling over. Here's to an upright year!