Challenges

In this newsletter:
*** Stuck on perspective
*** Upcoming events
*** Current projects
*** Walking the kepler track

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photo: Kepler track: fairy tale forest photo: Kepler track: over the top photo: Kepler track: wild water

This newsletter ought to be called “Biting my nails with impatience and frustration because everything always takes much longer than anticipated, and even though lots of things are (or seem) close to finished, I’ve got nothing quite ready to show”. Or maybe “February always trips you up for being such a short month”.

For instance, I have set myself a goal to finish one Earthsea illustration a month – but January has gone and February is nearly past, and still I haven’t finished the next painting. Truth is, I got a bit stuck on perspective.

Earthsea no. 2 is an illustration of the first chapter of "The Farthest Shore": Archmage Sparrowhawk meets Prince Arren for the first time in the Courtyard of the Fountain at Roke. The scene is a classic fairytale setting, a magic fountain in an enchanted garden at the Wizard School on Roke Island.

I started that painting perhaps a bit rashly - encouraged by the fast and easy progress with the "Tombs of Atuan" image I posted last month, which fairly much painted itself. I had quite a clear visual idea of the mood and composition - but then I realized that oops, I really need to figure out the details more properly. It's daylight, and architecture, not darkness and some wild formless nightmare cave. There's a difference in approach. Like, you have to actually have a fair idea how large the buildings are supposed to be, how big the space in between, where the characters are standing in relation to each other and to the architectural features, what sort of style the architecture is, what sort of style the garden and the fountain are, where everything is in relation to each other... and that's not even talking about figuring out where the light's going to come from. Or getting Archmage Sparrowhawk's posture, features and fall of hood right!

With the latter, I had a bit of help from my friends and fellow illustrators on DeviantArt. =LG-Young tossed me some good google searchwords to find the right Archipelagan faces on the internet, and =InKibus put her several galleries of hooded and cloaked people at my disposal to sort out the fall-of-the-hood problem, and even offered to take a personalized customized shot for me should all else fail.

But with the building, o my! I tried all sorts of things: I sketched up a (very sketchy) 3D model of a courtyard just to get an idea of points of view. I picked up Rex Vicat Cole’s "Perspective for Artists"which has been sitting on my night desk looking at me accusingly for the past two years, and started to work my way through it and wrap my brain around the geometry.

Incidentally, that isn’t so different at all from making my way through my 700 page book on Dreamweaver and wrapping my head around the code – I’m now on page 485 and learning how to set up a user registration system on my site, maybe I’ll even have finished it by the time you read this. Then you'll be able to sign up for this newsletter with a state of the art PHP form, instead of the dingy old email link! There have been hickups and holdups with setting up my first MySQL database, and progress has slowed to about a chapter a week as the complexity of the tasks increases, but it is SO worth it.

But I digress. As to my painting: With Rex Vicat Cole in hand, I imported a work-in-progress photo of the image into Photoshop and drew lines over it until I had completely lost any idea where my horizon lines, P.V.P.'s and D.V.P.'s might be in that mess. I took a piece of charcoal and attacked the underpainting until I was in danger of loosing it under a layer of black. I went and bought some graph paper and drew a ground plan to scale, so I could do some calculations on proportions and lines of view. I spent a few of hours (very pleasurable hours, I might add, procrastinating from doing far more useful things) - at the library, going through a big stack of lavishly illustrated books on fountains and garden architecture from Portugal, Rome, Morocco, China, Japan. I found a gorgeous book about classic Islamic architecture , and a really interesting one on modern water architecture which features mostly examples from Germany (always nice to find something that makes me feel good about Germany for a change).

image: rough 3D sketch of courtyard ground plan of courtyard in Roke trying to determine my P.V.P. and D.v.P.'s

Attempts at understanding the perspective of Roke

At Wellington City Library, there don’t seem to be any good books on medieval European architecture though, which made me a bit sad, because one of the more obvious reference points for the Courtyard of the Fountain has got to be the cloisters of a medieval monastery or cathedral. I think of the cloisters of the Doomkerk in Utrecht, along with the Alhambra in Grenada and a variety of gardens and courtyards I have seen on my travels in the Mediterranean and Mexico, when I think of Roke. I reckon Roke must have a Mediterranean sort of climate. But then the organization of the trees and water might be a bit more austere, and less symmetrical, perhaps taking some ideas from Asian landscape gardening. I have not decided if I should steal the architectural features of the Big House mostly from Morocco, or mostly from Russia – or perhaps borrow some bits from India?

I have even tried to find an actual courtyard here in Wellington to go and do some reference sketches, but the city is a bit slim on architecture as an art. I tried Civic Square, but it's not nearly square enough despite its name. At least it gave me some idea of the size and proportions of the space and buildings. I then went over to Parliament gardens, and did a little rough sketch of one of the neo gothic buildings there - not a courtyard, but very pretty, sporting lots of little phallic turrets which might be a good thing to have too, for the Big House on Roke, just to be a bit mischievous. Of course I’m going off to Europe in a few weeks, where there are courtyards aplenty, and I fully intend to bring my sketchpad along – but I was rather hoping to finish the painting before I go.

I do wish to say that I do take this job of being an illustrator very seriously, even though for the time being it's not even a job at all.

photo: Kepler track: moss photo: Kepler track: more moss photo: Kepler track: mossy trees

Upcoming Events

Harp performance: The medieval market in Levin on Valentine's Day was pleasant as usual, and I even sold a few CDs and a music book. I expect that I will be performing there again next year, but at the moment it looks like that's how long you will have to wait to see and hear me live.

Teaching: I'm pleased to report that my “Learn to Read and Write Music” course at Wellington High School Adult Community Education Centre has met minimum numbers the last two times round. The course is running at the moment, and there is only one scheduled this year. It may be possible to do another one in September, so if you are interested, please contact the school and let them know. cec@whs.school.nz or phone (04) 385 8919

Travel: I will be travelling to Europe from 22 March to 19 April - mainly to see family and friends, but I plan to do some videoing, hope very much to do some sketching, and would be very pleased to meet some new people. So if you would like to meet, and haven't been in touch already, now is the time to contact me. Here is the itinerary as far as it's been fixed:

  • 23 March - arrive in Berlin. Sleep for a day.
  • 25 March - meet some people about a harp.
  • 26 March - 1 April - trip to Estonia: (Riga) - Pärnu (26-27 March) - Tallinn (28-29 March)- Tartu (30 March)- Riga (31 March)
  • 1 April - back in Berlin by late morning.
  • 2 April - fly to Basel, sightsee and sketch, and spend the night.
  • 3 - 4 April - visit the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, do some sketching, perhaps go up to Strasbourg
  • 4 April, travel to Bern
  • 5 April - meet some friends in Bern, Switzerland (this is now Bern, not Neuchâtel!).
  • 6 April - take the train to Bremen, arrive in late evening.
  • 7-8 April - see friends in Bremen.
  • 9 April - travel back to Berlin, attend opera performance in Rheinsberg.
  • Easter week - spend time in Bavaria with the family.
  • 17 April - leave from Berlin.

photo: tomato harvest photo: veggie garden photo: zucchini photo: lettuce and herbs

Harvest time in Asni's garden: cherry tomatoes, lettuce, herbs and my own zucchini

Current projects

My first website project for a real life client - a local construction business - is nearly finished. I am still waiting for them to send me some missing bits of content, so the site isn't live yet, but you can have a sneak preview here: Topnotch Construction website

The people at Hutt Radio - a new access radio station in the Hutt Valley - have entrusted me with looking after some of their internet promotion. It's a work in progress, so far I have set up but not polished a Myspace page for them, Facebook and others will follow.

Speaking of which, I have started to expand my own web emporium - another work in progress. I have now got a Myspace musician profile, which still needs some making pretty. I have had a gallery on DeviantArt for several years, and have finally decided to clear it of any pornographic materials and open it up to the public. :P The galllery does feature some nudes from my life drawing sessions, which is why some of the images will be filtered unless you open your own DeviantArt account (which is free) - sorry, but it's DeviantArt policy to tag any nudity as "mature content". It's the best place to go for my most up to date artwork and photography, until such time as I can set up my own gallery pages on my own website. My artwork, illustration, design and 3D work is here: Asni's Deviantart gallery, and photography, greeting cards, mouse pads, photo prints and a calendar can be found (and bought) here: Asni Prints.

Design work on my next website project has started and will keep me busy until it is time to take off to Europe - but it's too early to show off anything as yet.

And since I mention it - try googling "Earthsea illustration" and see whose DeviantArt gallery comes up on the first page! Ya-haa. :D

photo: Kepler track: raindrops glitter photo: Kepler track: duck in the rain photo: Kepler track: rain

Walking the Kepler Track

I'll takeup the story of my epic South Island trip earlier this summer where I left it – at Manapouri campsite, getting ready for the big hike.

The first challenge was to fit everything I was going to need on a four day hike – food, clothing, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, some water, emergency gear – into a backpack, and then to be able to hoist it on my back and carry it through potentially rough territory for up to seven hours a day. The Department of Conservation has published a very useful booklet listing exactly what one needs – and it is wise to pack exactly that, no more, no less. The people at the DOC Centre in Te Anau are happy to offer good advice and reassurance, and in any case it pays to check the latest weather report before going on the track, and to register one’s itinerary and expected time of return.

photo: Kepler track: up into the mountains photo: Kepler track: lunchstop on the Iris burn photo: Kepler track: woodlands

The day of the hike dawned with heavy rain - and I lay in my tent wondering if it was indeed a good idea to start the hike, under those conditions. Eventually I drove to Te Anau, about an hour behind schedule. Fortunately the people at the campsite were happy to store my harps and video gear for a few days, so instead of parking the car in the supervised car park at Te Anau, I saved myself 45 minute’s walk by leaving the car at the Lake Te Anau control gates, and starting the track from there.

The first part of the hike leads through some of the most amazingly beautiful beech forest, following the Waiau river to the swing bridge at Rainbow Reach – another entry point to the track – and then on to the first hut at Moturau, passing some wetlands on the way. The track on this leg stays fairly level, going from one lakeshore to the next, and it’s a good way to get accustomed to carrying all that weight on one’s back.

photo: Kepler track: wetlands photo: Kepler track: wetlands photo: Kepler track: wetlands

I had been advised to walk clockwise, rather than the usual anti-clockwise direction, and that turned out to be a good idea. The main reason was a recent slip which hadn’ t been fixed yet, on the second leg between Moturau and Iris Burn huts, where a part of the track had fallen into the river. Supposedly it was easier to tackle the detour going uphill… When I got there I realized it was indeed no joking matter. Being one of the Big Walks, the Kepler track is kept in meticulous condition and is, for the most part, broad, smooth and really easy to walk. The improvised detour around the slip suddenly required us to scramble up a very steep, muddy slope, with no proper track, just some improvised steps and handholds, mostly swinging from one tree to the next, ape style – all with a heavy pack!

I got stuck fairly soon – one of the steps was nearly waist high, with no proper handhold, and I simply didn’t have enough strength in my legs to drag myself and my pack up it. As I stood there in the mud pondering the situation, a well-timed party came down the opposite way, and one of their young men very graciously offered to carry my pack all the way to the top. May he live long and happily! I then slid myself and my pack separately down the rest of the detour – which was only moderately less steep – until I regained the main track.

By that time it was a little later in the day than I was quite comfortable with. I had had a long lunch break earlier on, and lost track of time a little while doing a sketch – yes, I did drag a slim A3 pad into the forest for this very purpose, but found that sketching and hiking don’t really mix. The rest of that day’s hike went smoothly, but I kept my breaks short. A pack can get pretty heavy with no proper breaks… a whiff of wood smoke, and soon after the sight of Iris Burn hut shimmering through the trees, was a great joy and relief that evening! The sheer beauty and primeval peacefulness of the place made up for any hardship though.

photo: Kepler track: the great slip photo: Kepler track:tree topsphoto: Kepler track: at Iris Burn hut
photo: Kepler track: young ferns photo: Kepler track: fern carpetphoto: Kepler track: more fern

The next day’s hike was going to take me nearly a 1000 metres up the Southern Alps and then across an exposed mountain ridge to Luxmore Hut. The previous day’s walk had about pushed me to my physical limits, so I was a little anxious about the prospect of a two hour climb. But the hut warden was, as always, reassuring – and walking back across that slip didn’t seem such an attractive option either. So I shouldered my pack and started trudging up that mountainside… and soon realized that, slowly, steadily, I was indeed going to make it to the top.

The crisis came when I got there. It had started snowing a little before I reached the tree line, and when I came out on the mountaintop I saw several things:

- The snow was blowing horizontally in a fairly strong and gusty wind, and I had no idea if it was going to get worse. And once out on that ridge, turning back would be as bad as trudging on.

- Speaking of ridge – the path went, for as far as I could see (which was not terribly far), along the top of a mountain ridge with a very long and steep fall to the right, and a very long and steep fall to the left. It was a reasonably broad ridge – but I have bad vertigo and fear of heights. Oh yes, and did I mention that there was a snow storm going on?

- Besides, my clothes were wet with perspiration and the shelter, which I had expected to find when reaching the top, and where I was going to change into warmer and dryer clothing, was another 45 minute’s walk away. Along a mountain ridge in a snow storm. I think I mentioned that.

- I also saw another pair of hikers ahead of me, a young couple from Brazil whom I had met the days before, trudging through the blizzard halfway to the shelter, the brave souls.

I took a few steps out on the ridge. My legs started to tremble uncontrollably. I turned back. I prepared to walk back down the hill to Iris Burn hut.

Then I turned again. I set my teeth and took a deep breath and decided to try and walk as far as the first snow pole, some 10 metres ahead. Then to the next pole. Ah stuff it, let’s go one further… eventually my legs stopped trembling so badly – which made walking a whole lot easier, I can tell you!

But it was thinking as far as the next snow pole for all of that way. Sometimes there were wooden steps to help with the climb. Sometimes the ridge broadened out a little, giving me a short respite from panic. A couple of times I got down to my hands and knees and crawled, where the ridge that gave a tiny little bit of shelter from the wind gusts and the view had crumbled away and I felt like I might be swept down into the lowlands.

photo: Kepler track: path into nothingness photo: Kepler track: fellow trampers photo: Kepler track: the view we could have had

By the time I got to the shelter, the snow was blowing ever thicker and I didn’t have space for any thought except reaching that shelter. A few people were huddled in there already – and they gasped when they saw me come in like a yeti all encrusted in snow. The Brazilian girl was shaking and nearly in tears, a plain case of hypothermia – the poor people had clearly not known what they were getting themselves into, and didn’t have much experience at all of snow.

When I saw that, the mother hen instincts took over my own panic. I got her to change into some dry clothing, and borrowed her my spare pair of socks – she was walking in three pairs of cotton socks, which by that time were of course soaking wet. Note to my readers: Do not try to walk the Kepler track in cotton socks!

I had been silently cursing myself for dragging my little gas cooker along just in case there was a gas failure at any of the huts, thereby adding a chunk of unnecessary weight – but now I was glad to have it. I boiled us tea from some ice sheets I found outside in the rainwater tank… and got her to hold the hot pot on her lap for a while. She finally relaxed and stopped shaking.

We had to get on. The wind and snow didn’t show any sign of letting off, but me and the Brazilians had decided to stick together for the next part of the track, the one and a half to two hours between the two shelters. This, we had been warned, was the most exposed part of the track. But perhaps the wind was blowing from an unusual direction that day, for we soon found ourselves walking in the wind shelter of the higher ridge to one side of the track. To our very great surprise and relief, the second shelter appeared after just over an hour’s fairly smooth walk!

After a short rest, and greatly encouraged, we started on the last leg of this day’s journey. The path climbed and climbed through a grey nothingness of clouds, and I had to fight hard against another surge of panic. Good thing the two Brazilians were walking right behind me, so I had to pull myself together and just walk on. Once or twice the clouds drifted apart and we got a glimpse of the majesty of the views we would have had on a fine day. Deep down, I was secretly grateful that the fog at least helped to keep my vertigo at bay.

photo: Kepler track: coming down photo: Kepler track: the track goes ever on and on photo: Kepler track: lightening up

We came past the summit of Mt Luxmore with no curiosity to explore, and then finally the track started to dive down into more sheltered regions. That evening at Luxmore hut, the hut warden congratulated everyone who had come across the ridge that day in what had been, apparently, less than favourable conditions even to those who were familiar with the territory.

But what had made it so difficult? I reflected. Had it really been dangerous? Other people with less experience than myself had come across fine. And I had to admit that the only reason I had not been able to walk out on that mountain ridge the first time round was my own abject fear. What other things can I not do simply because I am afraid of them? I wondered. Two things sprang to mind spontaneously. One of them was, why have I never even tried to turn painting into a part of my livelihood? Now there was an interesting question to ponder on the way down the mountain.

The last part of the walk, five hours downhill through sheltered forest back to Te Anau, seemed like a piece of cake after that day’s trip. The next day dawned bright and sunny, and I took my time and had a really long breakfast in the hut common room, which has got to be one of the greatest places on this planet to have a really long breakfast in.

photo: Kepler track:back to the lowlands photo: Kepler track: a sunny day photo: Kepler track: lake Te Anau

That day, it so happened, was the day of the annual Kepler challenge – a marathon race all the way round the track. These people RUN up that mountain and across that ridge and back down, the fastest did it in just under 5 hours! The same track that it took me four slow days to walk. Sadly, this meant that civilization with its noise and bustle was coming to meet me a little earlier than it should have – there were helicopters flying over all day, and when I got down to the lakeside I could hear the megaphones from the finishing line from an hour away. After four days in the quiet remoteness of the Fjordland bush and mountains, little sleepy Te Anau seemed positively hectic. But it was rather thoughtful of them to put up a big victory sign at the finishing line, for that was exactly what I felt I deserved when I walked off the track that afternoon.

Arohanui, from Asni

photo: Kepler track: sunshine photo: Kepler track: tree beards photo: Kepler track: rain photo: Kepler track: fern glory photo: Kepler track: the ancient ones

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