Getting into Gear

In this newsletter:
*** News & Current Projects
*** X Media Labs in Auckland and Sydney
*** Cool Things Friends Do
*** European Diary

If you have been wondering what happened to my May newsletter, I quite unapologetically decided it was too much work, and skipped it. One reason was that there really wasn't much to write about, other than this artist's struggle to get back into a productive frame of mind after my trip to Europe. That's what I've come to hate about travelling: It's so disruptive. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the trip, and of course it was great to catch up with my family and friends. But at this stage of my life, I am so much happier just sitting in my friendly little hermit cave day in, day out, and getting some work done. There sure is a stack of work to be done.

A few of my oil paintings will be on show - and for sale - at the upcoming Affordable Art Show in Wellington on the first weekend of August! A MOST rare opportunity to see my work in an exhibition! You know, it takes a lot of courage. ;-) The show runs from Friday, 31 July to Sunday, 2 August, at the TBC Bank Arena on the Wellington waterfront. Opening times are from 10 am to 5 pm all three days, and the cost of admission for an adult is a modest $10. The prices for the pieces will be, well, affordable - and there will be stacks of other people's artwork on display as well, so it is definitely worth it! There is also a Gala evening on Thursday night from 6:30 to 9:30 pm. I plan to attend all three show days, so if you would like to catch up, have a chat about my paintings and perhaps a look at my portfolio, do come along - even better, send me an email beforehand, to be sure I'll be there when you are. :-)

The Earthsea illustration project I've reluctantly put on hold until the weather gets a bit warmer and the days a bit longer - it is very awkward to paint indoors with oils, if you can't leave the doors and windows open and air the place properly. Instead, I've started to use my tablet and paint in Photoshop - I now take my laptop to my weekly life drawing sessions, instead of pencil and paper, and I am also working on a couple of digital illustrations. The portfolio building is progressing well indeed.

More importantly, I now have no excuses left to not get seriously into gear with my new web design business. Since March, I've been attending classes in Small Business Management, which is excellent because all our homework consists of putting together the bits and pieces of a proper business plan, which I need to be doing anyway. The real good news is that last week I got accepted into the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, run by Work and Income New Zealand. I'll have to take another set of business classes which will start in July, and write up my business plan, and get it approved, but if all goes well it means I'll be given a chunk of money to buy things with, and another six month's support without the pressure to apply for cleaning jobs, until I can stand on my own feet. So wish me luck with that!

Actually, you can also help me with my business plan! I've put together a questionnaire as part of my market research, and I would appreciate it very much indeed if you could take the time to fill it in. It shouldn't take longer than 10 minutes. Everyone who participates will go into the draw to win a website designed for them by your's truly entirely for free! I hope that will provide some incentive to give that much of your time. :)

X Media Labs in Auckland and Sydney

The X Media Lab has come to this neck of the woods again. This year, I decided not only to make the trip to Auckland for a day crammed full with up to date information about the internet and mobile phones industry - I even invested in a plane ticket to Sydney, to attend the "Serious Games " conference day.

Like last year in Wellington, the title and focus of the Auckland lab was "Commercializing Ideas". Apparenty, the internet and mobile phones are the way to go, these days, if one wants to do that.

One of the stranger developments of recent times are Alternative Reality Games - happenings that use the internet, mobile phones, and even, on occasion, mass media such as TV, to plant mysteries and fake information that make people get up from behind their computer desks and search for hints and clues out there in the so-called "Real World". Scary! Although I suppose, if you got your iPhone, you don't really have to go offline even when you go down that rabbit hole.

What started out in the weird and creative underbelly of the internet community, with fun nonsense such as flashmobbing events, and more serious political action like the co-ordinated worldwide protests against the US invasion of Iraq which were organized through the internet back in 2003, has now caught the attention of the marketers, and is being turned into an advertising tool by companies like 42 Entertainment, whose CEO Susan Bonds gave the first talk at the Auckland conference.

Funny that - it seems that as soon as a group of people comes up with an activity that is spontaneous and self-directed and does not involve massive marketing budgets aimed at making people buy something, the marketers are hot on their heels trying to take them over, in the attempt to cram their consumer messages down our oversatiated throats in ever more complex and thorough ways. Does it ever occur to anyone that the very reason for engaging in such off the wall activities might be to try and get away for a while from the constant bombardement with slick consumer brainwash ?

After the first couple of speakers - who, incidentally or not, both hailed from the US - had filled me with an amount of unease with their unapologetic recipes for total consumer manipulation, it was a relief to hear a different perspective. Two of the most earnest and thought-provoking presentations I heard that day were given by participants from India: Parmesh Shahani of Mahindra & Mahindra, also editor of Mumbai fashion magazine Verve; and Vishal Gondal of Indiagames.

India has come a very long way from the days of my youth, when we were taught to think of it as this poor and backward "Third World" place that needed all the technological aid it could get from the West. Does anyone else remember how, sometime during the 1990's, the German government, whose policy up to then had been to regard the Digital Revolution as a passing fad that could safely be ignored, suddenly woke up and decided that it would be a cool idea to get lots of Indian software engineers streaming into the country by oh so generously offering them special residency permits? Hahahahaha.

Obviously, these people had much better things to do. By now, India's computer and multimedia industry is decidedly cutting edge. Maybe one of the reasons for that is that, instead of the overstimulated ennuy one encounters in the US and other western societies, in India these technologies are actually making a massive difference to people's lives. It only took a short video presentation about the creative use of mobile phones to bring affordable school education to outlying rural areas in India, to drive that point home.

Vincent Heeringa of New Zealand's Idealog apologized profusely for being a paper magazine guy, then proceeded to make a plea - in the day and age of Twitter - for such old-fashioned ideas as complexity of thought, lengthy well-researched articles, and paying one's contributors. All of which I thought were excellent points.

Design pioneer Dale Herigstad introduced the future of technology - interfaces that can interpret hand gestures, making clumsier devices such as mouses, keyboards and remote controls potentially a thing of the future past. His video presentation of how to operate these devices made me think of a beautiful slow dance - whatever else may come from it, I suspect that we had a glimpse of the new performance art of the next decade or so.

Canadian author Juliette Powell confirmed what I know ever since I've done my CD fundraiser, with her talk about how to effectively use social networking sites, while the second half of the day was given over to the ins and outs of making a business succeed in this sector.

Compared with the hard-nosed money making focus of the Auckland lab, the "Serious Games" conference day in Sydney was far more academic and even artsy in its outlook. Organized as part of the Sydney Film Festival, it defined "game" in fairly broad terms.

One of the highlights was certainly film maker Ondi Timoner's talk about her recent film "We Live in Public", a documentary about internet pioneer Josh Harris, whose experiments with Big Brother style camera surveillance reveal some of the darker aspects of contemporary media craze. This was followed by a talk by the film's subject himself, which struck me as either completely mad, or strangely inspired. Not that that seems to be an unusual reaction to the man.

The title "Serious Games" refers to games that have a purpose other than pure entertainment. Applications range widely, from education, staff and professional training, to health care, to military simulations, and of course, marketing and advertising. Ian Bogost, author of "Persuasive Games", gave a lucid introduction to the topic, stressing that in an environment where the media increasingly favour easily consumed information fragments and soundbites, games are a place where complexity can find expression.

Games design veteran Lee Sheldon gave us a short run-down on the games production process, and Michel Mol, head of Innovation and New Media at Netherlands Public Broadcasting, talked about the situation in the Netherlands, and his struggles to successfully integrate new media concepts with and olde and established public broadcasting organization.

The panel discussion and question and answer session that rounded off the conference brought up some interesting points about attitudes, and like all the other labs, the day ended with drinks and extensive opportunity to network, talk to other attendees and to the speakers. I had some interesting conversations in Sydney, and I had also brought along my illustration portfolio, which I managed to shove under quite a few noses, and was very gratified by the reactions I got. That alone was probably worth the trip - whether or not anything in the way of actual opportunities (read: paid work) will emerge from it I do not know, but these things work in weird and mysterious ways, and it can't be a bad thing to show one's nose and keep up to date with what is going on in the big wide world.

Besides, I wrote this report and can now send it on to all the other participant's websites. Tohé! :D

Cool Things Friends Do

Another benefit of going to Sydney was that it gave me the opportunity to catch up with my friend Michelle Tran, she who created the gorgeous cover for my 700 Years of Pop CD. At the time she was a first year art and design student. It's been five years since I last went to Australia - meanwhile Michelle has graduated, and has been quite active creating mural projects in her local area, as well as doing design work for the local council. She took me on a tour of her suburb of Auburn - an area that is distinguished by its diversity and multicultural bohemian atmosphere. A good place for an artist to live! We had some fantastic Thai food for brunch on Saturday morning, then visited a couple of her murals before I had to go on the long trip to the airport, and the slightly shorter flight home. Of course I took some photos ! See above, and below.

Some of the people I count as my friends I only know virtually - though in the case of my virtual friend and fellow artist Catherine Anne Hiley, the virtuality is multi-layered and extensive. Not only have we hung out on the same artsy websites for several years and had many an animated discussion of topics highly relevant to us both, such as Adam's rib,the gender of angels, and the precise nature of the affections of the Fool (this is cryptic, but shall be explained in a future newsletter, maybe). I also own a book - quite a substantial book, seeing that it covers "Western Plainchant', all of it - written by her father, who is an eminent music scholar and medievalist. And I recently met her sister on Facebook. That is, I spotted a familiar name in the "Continuo Players on Facebook" community and boldly introduced myself. She is a lute player and specialist on Tolkien music. Or music in Tolkien. In any case, she has had my CD even before I met her on Facebook, and she even wrote to me via her sister, to say that she liked it. :) Moreover, Catherine Anne used to live in Berlin, before she recently moved to Edinburgh - and before that, in Regensburg, which is my most favouritest place in Germany after Bremen, and a certain small Bavarian village.

Why that digression into the "it's a small world" phenomenon? Catherine Anne is a very cool printmaker and cartoon artist - can I call her that? Well, at least she draws in a somehow very Berlin-ish funny, saucy cartoony style. One of her most recent projects is a (very) small illustrated edition of Lewis Carrol's (not very earnest) Hints for Etiquette, which she is selling through this website. It looks great, and I can so see why she would pick a text like that to illustrate. Besides, I like to lend what support I can to those brave fellow souls who publish their own art through the net, rather than waiting to be "discovered" by some big publisher or label. The pricefor the book is a very modest 6 British pounds, there are only 25 copies, and last time I asked she said there were only three or four left... so check it out, and be quick! :) - And if you've missed out on the book, she's also selling one of her prints - limited run, and signed - though that is for rather a bit more money.

In other news: It appears that work on the long awaited Hobbit movie is now well and truly under way. Of course everyting about it is top secret and everyone is officially close-lipped, but the rumours fly, and one one cannot help but notice that some of the key artists involved in the project are now in Wellington. Especially when they keep doing entirely public book signings at the Weta Cave! Of course, being busy busy busy and not really into the hardcore fan thing anyway, I've missed both concept artist Alan Lee and the director himself, Guillermo del Toro, last week - but Weta apparently has hired some really sharp people to revamp and look after their website. Not only does it look a LOT slicker recently than it used to, they also keep posting these cool little interview podcasts. I keep track of them on Facebook, you know. ;)

Here is also a video interview with Guillermo del Toro (director for the upcoming "Hobbit" movie).

European Diary

For completeness - and for those of you who mostly read this newsletter for the pretty pictures - here is a small selection of photos from my trip to Europe in April, other than the ones from our journey to Estonia which I've posted in my last edition.

My short visit to Basel was a delight. It was odd to come back to a place where such an impact was made on the course of my life: In 1986, barely out of High School, I drove there with a friend and fellow harper, to attend the first ever international symposium on historical harps, held at the famous Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. And I fell in love with the whole package. The instruments, the music that went with them, the heady scholarly atmosphere, the old buildings, late night concerts in the Leonhardtskirche and walks through this beautiful medieval city. The city has become no less beautiful, and I was a bit surprized at just how nostalgic I felt about all of it. And I had completely forgotten how much I loved the Münster!

I had planned a day out of my quite limited time in Europe, just to go to Colmar and visit the Unterlinden museum and one of my favourite ever pieces of art, the Isenheim altarpiece. I dragged my A2 sketchpad with me, because I was in search of a sketchable courtyard to help me to figure out the Courtyard of the Fountain at Roke, for my Earthsea series. There aren't any good courtyards in New Zealand. But I dimly remembered that the museum, which is housed in an old monastery, features just what I was looking for. And it did. So, after paying my respects to the painting, I sat down and sketched. Only to be harried in the most impossibly rude and unacceptable fashion by some Nazi whose job it was to tell people they couldn't dangle their feet into the courtyard. And take that job seriously he did. To the point where he yelled right into my face when I calmly pointed out that I couldn't very well sketch with my back turned to my subject, and eventually grabbed the piece of paper I was working an and crunched it up.

That rather spoiled my visit. And needless to say, that was the last time I ever went to that museum. Sad that this can happen in a place where there ought by rights to be a special respect and regard for the arts. Instead, it has become a commodity, to shove busloads of tourists through every day and make the cash registers ring, while the people who have been entrusted with this legacy consider that only a dead artist is a good artist.

The real reason for my trip to Switzerland was, of course, to catch up with some online friends and fellow illustrators whom I had met through John Howe's website - to make up for missing out on going to St Ursanne a couple of years ago (yes, I'm still sore). We met in Bern, which was a great choice, because it is definitely a place worth the while of a visit. In the morning, I caught up with my friend Sunila, who had kindly taken charge of organizing this meeting, for a visit to the spanking new Paul Klee Center. He's a very favourite artist of mine, and the morning was barely long enough to see the whole of that gorgeous exhibition. Afterwards, we met with a couple of other people and just had a good time. In the evening, I tried to sketch gothic details from the cathedral, but was prevented by first one, then another guy thinking tney had to chat me up... one would THINK that one got too old and fat for that sort of thing eventually! But it appears I am not quite there yet. Need to eat more fatty foods. :(

Bremen, of course, was just good for the soul. Seeing that I only had a day and a half to spare, I actually got myself and everyone organized to meet up on the same evening - that was after a long chat and cup of tea at my old school, where all, it seems, is much as it used to be. The second day, I hired myself a bike and went for a trip to Worpswede - which is a relatively substantial trip if you haven't been on a bike for the last three years! But the weather was beautiful and spring well under way, and the ride through the moors a vivid illustration of what exactly it was that those Worpswede painters painted. The next couple of days, I could barely use my legs, but who cares! I had a great time.

On the way back to Berlin, me and the parents stopped over at Rheinsberg to attend the premiere of the relatively little-known, but nonetheless surprizingly funny, opera "Doktor und Apotheker" by Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf. My good friend Julie Comparini was starring as the apothecary's self-determined wife, and did a brilliant job of it. After that, I had a couple of days in Berlin, to catch up with friends and artwork, then we went down to Bavaria for a very short Easter holiday. Those were a gorgeous couple of days, hot and sunny and with spring already in full bloom. I was more than glad to see the place and breathe that sour spring air again - last time I was there I had bid it a tearful farewell, fully expecting that the flat would be sold next time I came to Europe. It's strange how one can get so attached to a small piece of earth, particularly one that's on the other side of the planet. But there it is.

Arohanui, from Asni