A Foolish Thing

In this newsletter:
*** New in the shop
*** News and current projects
*** Website updates
*** A Foolish thing

New in the Shop

Following on the overwhelming success of last year's "Middle Earth New Zealand" photo calendar - I sold a whopping fifteen copies! - I've decided to take the plunge this year and get a limited edition of the new 2010 calendar printed, rather than selling them as print on demand through DeviantArt. That means they are cheaper than last year! Really, the encouragement and support came from Rene of the Tolkien Shop in the Netherlands. He took a few calendars off me last year for his most avid collectors, at no profit for either of us, and this year he ordered 25 to sell in their shop. They also sell my CD, btw. The remaining 25 calendars of this limited print run of 50 are now for sale in my own online shop. And yes, I will sign them for you. Please buy them in great numbers!

Size: A4 when folded. Printed on quality paper stock by local boutique print shop in Greytown, Wairarapa.
€ 14.00/ US$ 18.00 plus € 4.00/ US$ 6.00 shipping and handling, to anywhere in the world.

Limited edition of 100 copies, individually signed & numbered. Pre-order now - calendars will be ready to ship from approx. 21 August.

Pay in Euro:

Pay in US $:

Orders within New Zealand: please contact me to arrange for payment by cheque or bank transfer. The calendars are NZ $ 30, shipping within New Zealand is included.

As an extra incentive - you are already thinking about Christmas presents for all your loved ones, or even yourself, aren't you? - I will be offering a "Buy a Calendar and a CD" combo special until Christmas: Save € 4.50 if you buy the calendar and my Travels in Middle Earth CD together! Come on, I know you want them - if that isn't a gobsmashing offer for your inner geek, then I don't know what is. :D

Special offer:

Buy a 2012 Middle Earth New Zealand calendar and Travels in Middle-earth CD together, and pay only € 27 / US $ 35 + € 7 / US$ 10 shipping! (full price: €33 / US $ 40 + € 8 / US $ 11.50 shipping)

Pay in Euro:

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News and Current Projects

It looks very much like things are finally getting moving now with my new web design business to be. A couple of months ago, I got accepted into the Enterprise Allowance Scheme run by Work and Income New Zealand, and a couple of days ago I submitted my business plan for approval. If all goes well, I should know within a couple of weeks if I can go ahead or not. It looks like the first couple of customers are already lined up for me: attending a couple business classes for small business startups exposed me neatly to my target market - so hopefully that will all work out as expected. A few crossed fingers would be greatly appreciated though!

Many thanks to those of you who completed my market research survey. 46 people completed it, which is a reasonably good number given that the minimum requirement was ten - and what's more important, the information I got really is extremely useful for making plans and determine what I will be doing for the next few years. I've finished evaluating them now and will be ready to announce the lucky winner of a free web design package shortly, to those who have participated.

A most encouraging sign is that a few of people already seem be taking notice of what I'm up to. A week or so ago I had a phone call from a lady who organizes seminars for artists in the Hutt Valley. She invited me to do a talk about "Harnessing the Power of the Internet - Online Promotion for Artists". The talk is part of the Arts Hub Forum series organized by Hutt Valley Community Arts, and is scheduled for 20 October 2009, from 11 am to 1 pm at the Petone Library Meeting Room in Petone. Please come along to listen, ask questions, and say hello! Most uncharacteristically, they even pay me - a modest amount, it is true, but after spending 15 years being expected to pay out of my own pocket for the privilege of sharing my knowledge and skills - to get the "exposure", you know - that is a very welcome change indeed!

Yesterday afternoon, I attended a public meeting to support Hutt Radio, a community radio station project that I've been helping out with their online promotion. I've set up pages for them on Myspace and Facebook, and am in the process of figuring out how go about promoting someone else's fundraising campaign on the internet. So far, it has been a bit sluggish - most of my contacts and friends lists are not exactly local, and I am not sure that I have convinced the friendly man who runs this project, that he should use those new toys and send out friend requests to his own contact lists. Besides, I am not exactly in the loop for the most up to date information, which makes it hard to play my part and provide regular updates. Well, the meeting has rectified some of that. Mostly, these good people have been caught out by the general economic downturn last year, lost funding they had counted on, and now need to raise NZ$ 20 000 in rather a hurry so as not to loose their frequency license. It's a project I am most happy to support though, and besides, it's a nice challenge. How to use the internet to promote a community radio station which explicitly targets the older generation? I am sure there are ways it can be done.

After a bit of a slump earlier this year, my shop has been going exceedingly well those past few months. I have had my highest sales since my CD fundraiser, partly due, of course, to the big order of Tolkien calendars from the Tolkien Shop in the Netherlands. The National Library of New Zealand acquired a small stack of my CDs for their collection - ok so it's a legal requirement for them to store copies of everything that gets published in this country, but it's nice to know that they consider them a proper New Zealand publication.

Moreover, one day I had friendly email from Jakarta, about publishing one of my Hobbiton photos in a magazine called "Priority". They probably operate on a much more modest budget than that insolent media agency in Dubai I ranted about a little while ago, but the first thing they asked was not, "Can we get it for free", but "How much do you charge". I was perfectly happy to negotiate a price that kept both of us happy on those premises. And my Facebook page has suddenly acquired a handful of fans from Indonesia. So there. :D

The Affordable Art Show early this month was an interesting opportunity to watch some people watch my artwork. I am pleased to say that one of the works I submitted - a piece I did a few years ago called "Duo Seraphim", inspired by music by Claudio Monteverdi and featuring a couple of very naked hermaphrodic angels - turned out to be a bit of an eye catcher. It made quite a few people stop, point, and giggle - or recoil, depending on the viewer's world view, I suppose. In a show that is essentially a barn full of at least a couple of thousand works of the utmost variety of topic and personal style, which tends to overwhelm even the most hardened art appreciator, I dare say making someone notice your stuff is already an accomplishment. It wasn't the educated artsy crowds hunting for the the next artist to "invest" in who took notice, it was mostly younger people who just liked the painting. One small kid really liked my Maui the Surfer. Somehow I tend to think that's a good thing. I did not sell any, no. But hey, you've got to start somewhere. And yes, they are still for sale!

I am glad to report that after my winter break, I've been picking up the paintbrushes again, and finished another of my series of illustrations for Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea novels. Nor have I been lazy during the cold dark winter months, either. Having laid aside the oil paints until the return of longer days and warmer weather, I took the opportunity to play around with my Wacom tablet and Photoshop, and started headlong into what may well become another full series of illustrations, this time for Robin Hobb's character the Fool (more of that below). Not to mention that I've been taking the laptop down to my weekly life drawing classes, which has done wonders for my proficiency with a graphic tablet and pen.

Website Updates

It may not look like much has changed, but I have been quite busy updating this site. First of all, I have made the big decision and will be switching the entire site to PHP - excepting some old pages worth keeping for their historical value (such as the first 17 instalments of this newsletter) which will wander into a dedicated archive section. Secondly, I have been moving around things on the site quite a bit - getting it into some orderly shape and structure rather than the indiscriminate jumble of files it used to be. This will allow me to do great things in the future! Such as protecting files from illegal download.

I now have subdomains for the main sections of the site - conceptart.asni.net for the art and illustration work, and webdesign.asni.net for the pages pertaining to my web design business. In the near future there will also be music.asni.net and photography.asni.net. All this shifting around will probably result in broken links all over the place for a while. Please bear with me - it will all be fixed in time. It would be much easier and cleaner if I could take the whole old site down and then build it up again in its new glory, but given that some six to sevenhundred people stroll by here every day, according to my web statistics, I don't think that would be the best solution. So I will be mending the site on the fly as best I can, and hope that not too many of you will get lost in the labyrinth of my old archives. There's always your browser's back button if you do!

A Foolish Thing

So what's my excuse for missing out on the July newsletter, after I already skipped the one for May? Actually, I have been reading. Actually, I have been reading in May, as well. Does that mean reading and newsletters are mutually exclusive? Well then again in other ways they enhance one another, for what would I have to write about if I did not read. And an even weightier consideration is - what would I have to paint?

In May, which was a wet and miserable month in these parts, I decided on a whim to pick up a story I had started reading years ago. I think I may have mentioned Robin Hobb in one of my older newsletters - I painted a picture for one of her books a while ago. She's written one of the more weighty - not only in terms of sheer page count - works of contemporary fantasy, and taken the idea of trilogies to a new extreme. In fact, we are dealing with a triple trilogy of interrelated stories, set in different parts of the same fantasy universe.

The Farseer trilogy - consisting of Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin's Quest - introduces us to a dark world of politics and court intrigue at Buckkeep Castle in the Six Duchies. Fitz, the bastard son of a royal prince, is being trained in "quiet work" with poisons and knives in the service of his grandfather and king, of the Farseer royal line. Fitz loves Molly, his childhood friend and a commoner girl decidedly below his station. Fitz makes friends with the Fool, an enigmatic and multifaceted character if there was ever one written - he is not just the Royal Jester, but a prophet on a mission, and not quite human. Fitz has an aptitude for the Skill, a magic that runs in the Farseer royal line and enables him to share minds with other Skilled people over a distance, among other useful things. Fitz also has a strong inclination towards the WIt, a magic that allows him to bond and share minds with animals - or one particular animal, his wit partner, the wolf Nighteyes. Witted people are persecuted in the Six Duchies, and hanged when found out.

The second trilogy - The Liveship Traders, consisting of Ship of Magic, The Mad Ship, and Ship of Destiny - takes us far to the south of the Six Duchies. We meet an entirely new set of characters, with one notable exception. The books tell of the fortunes of the Vestrit family, Old Traders from the semi-independent trading port of Bingtown. Althea Vestrit, born to sail a ship, is cheated out of her inheritance, the newly quickened liveship Vivacia, on account of being a woman. Her nephew Wintrow is cheated out of his vocation to be a gentle priest of Sa, on account of being the family's oldest male offspring. The three generations of women of the Vestrit family - Ronica, Keffiria and Malta - all have to come to terms with the havoc that results when Keffria's husband imposes his ideas of appropriate gender roles over the personal talents and inclinations of his sister-in-law and son. The Fool reappears as Amber, a woman and an outsider in Bingtown's tight-knit traditionla society. She helps Althea on her quest to regain her ship, which involves living as a ship's boy for a while. Amber also befriends Paragon, the Mad Ship who has been beached these many years, and carves him a new face. Sea Serpents haunt the waterways in pursuit of the easy feed provided by slave traders throwing their dead cargo overboard, and in their quest to find She Who Remembers. A pirate with a conspicuous absence of any normal human emotions manages to rally the Pirate Islands to a common cause, and unquestioning loyalty to himself, when he begins to capture slave ships and set their cargo free. Meanwhile, away in the magical Rain Wilds a dragon awakens, befriended by a human boy.

That was as far as I had got. Remained the third trilogy, The Tawny Man, consisting of Fool's Errand, Golden Fool, and Fool's Fate. I had been mildly curious to know what would happen back in the Six Duchies: if Fitz was going to get his Molly back, and how the Fool would fit into the picture, and what of Queen Kettricken and Prince Dutiful, and Chade and Burrich and them all. I had enjoyed the first two sets of books, the way one enjoys a story that is complex, intelligent, well written, full of psychological insight, accurate in its observation of human foibles, politics, household details, social interactions, and some of the darker aspects of people's craving for control and power.

The third trilogy adds a whole new dimension of passion. Golden Fool, in particular, is one big long 600 odd page meditation on the nature of love. *All* sorts of love - and that, indeed, is the beauty of those books. Fitz, older now and disappointed in nearly everything he had aspired to in the Farseer trilogy, is caught in a web of strong passions and affections - for his elders and mentors, for the women in his life, for his natural daughter whom another man has raised, and his foster son who seems to repeat the mistakes of his own youth; for his ageing bond animal the wolf, and above all, for his friend the Fool, who one day appears on the doorstep of his lowly hut in yet another incarnation as Lord Golden, and brings Fitz back to Buckkeep Castle, disguised as his personal servant.

At one point in the books, Robin Hobb uses the image of a woven tapestry to describe the quality of the Skill music one of her characters produces. One can focus on the colour and texture of each different strand that goes into the weaving, or stand back and see the larger patterns emerge. That seems a very good description of her writing, too. I could easily spend several newsletters trying to analyse the underlying patterns of light against dark, the imagery of Christian mysticysm, the influence of the Tarot, the idea of Platonic love, the relation to the work of other female fantasy writers from the American West Coast, Feminsm, Gay Pride, Jungianism, Psychotherapy, possibly even Marxism Machiavellianism and a number of other -isms one could read out of, or into, her writing. I doubt not that I'd be missing the point.

In fact, I suspect that the author would very much like to leave it up to every single reader to find their own point in those books. For me, it was perhaps this: That when Fitz finally gets what he so singlemindedly has wanted, and what we have been made to root for, nearly from page one of the first book, according to all the romantic conventions of Western literature: when the Happy End finally arrives, it is a complete let-down. I am certain, from the amount of discussion going on on the internet, that I am not the only one who felt that way. And in making her readers feel that, Robin Hobb quietly succeeds in exploding the romantic ideal of love that has dominated fiction writing of all kinds of genres for the last several hundred years.

I wish someone had told me that earlier. I might have made a few less stupid decisions in my life.

Arohanui, from Asni

PS: It appears that not even a triple trilogy is enough to cover all that could be said about Buckkeep, Bingtown, the Rain WIlds, and the people and dragons who live there: The author has just published another book, taking up the storyline of the Liveship Traders: It's called Dragon Keeper, but I've promised myself that I will finishe re-reading the entire set first before I get lost in that new book.