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In this newsletter:
*** Reconsiderations
*** News & Current Projects
*** Avatar Movie Review


After last month's upheavals about copyrights and things, I've spent the last few weeks doing quite a bit of mental re-organizing. I have decided to continue painting at least some of the Earthsea images I have drafted, but with a slight change of focus. Rather than working towards a calendar, the plan is now to get five illustrations done for one of the books, and to submit them for the International Children's Book Fair in Bologna next year. I haven't yet decided if I'll go for The Tombs of Atuan or A Wizard of Earthsea, so may end up doing five of each ... which would then bring me up to the originally intended number of 13 anyway, since I've already finished three for The Farthest Shore. The submission deadline for Bologna is October, so at least that takes some of the time pressure off the project.

I'd already been toying with the idea of organizing an exhibition once the series is finished - and that is still the plan, probably sometime around September. At the moment I have set my sights on Thistle Hall, but won't be able to find out if I will be able to book a space there until in a month or so. I will also be investigating alternative spaces, and keep you all updated, of course. Originally the idea had been to launch the calendar on the occasion, and to sell some prints. I haven't quite made up my mind if it will be worthwhile to do the calendar under another name, but there will definitely be art prints available for sale if and when the exhibition happens. No legal restrictions to that.

Most importantly, after my chat-over-a-coffee (actually, an orange juice, since I don't drink coffee, but I'm speaking figuratively) with John last month, I came away with the address of an illustration agency, where, I was told, it might be a good idea to submit my portfolio, and it would most certainly be at least looked at, because he, John, would tell them so. Portfolio, I thought, submit to agent, I thought, aah the dread idea. But under the circumstances, it would not only have been criminally chicken, but positively rude to not act on the suggestion, and do it speedily.

So about a week and a half later, I took my freshly spruced up image files to Kay and Tony at Datastream (that little copy shop off Cuba St, downstairs from the Goethe Institute), who spent a solid two hours making the thing look as flash as it could while also lending emotional support, and charged me practically peanuts, but I know they cheer for me. If you need quality plus friendly digital print or photocopy services in Wellington at a very affordable price, that's the place to go (yes, this is an unashamed plug). And the portfolio went in the mail a couple of weeks ago. It only took me 25 years of procrastination.

This, in turn, then led to another of those entirely unlooked for consequences that I seem to be so good at lately: The Enterprise Allowance people (remember the Enterprise Allowance people? Two newsletters back) - suddenly decided that they really wanted to pay me the rest of my allowance for those last two months which I had not claimed, because I'd been told that I wasn't making enough money with my business to meet their requirements. If you think this makes no sense ... but never mind.

How did this happen all of a sudden? That's where Wellington being such a village comes in. When I was preparing my portfolio for the *overseas* illustration agency, I asked Biddy, who runs the PACE programme here in Wellington, to proofread my bio, which she kindly agreed to do, because that's the sort of person she is - and of course I told her what it was all about. Now, naturally I don't know this for *sure*, but it appears there was some form of communication between her and the gentleman who runs the Enterprise Allowance scheme, for he phoned me up a day later and mysteriously, he knew about the whole thing and was duly impressed by it.

The morale of this uplifting little story is, that even if strictly absolutely nothing else comes out of my bravely sending that portfolio off on its uncertain journey, simply doing so has already made me two thousand bucks. If this indeed turns out to be the beginning of my life as a professional illustrator, it's not at all a bad start. :D

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photo: From the garden: sweetcorn photo: From the garden: today's harvest photo: From the garden: apple photo: feijoa tree and veggie patch

From the garden: sweetcorn; today's harvest; apple; feijoa tree and veggie patch

News & Current Projects

Having come to the conclusion that trying to teach myself PHP and MySQL from a book was really taking far too long, last month I tried to book myself into a short course at Natcoll, my old school - only to be told that unfortunately they did not have enough numbers for the course, but would I be interested in a day long one on one coaching session for the same price? I tried not to wonder if they just made that up for the protection of the other students ... but it was indeed an offer not to be refused. So at the beginning of the month I sat down for two mornings of coaching, the results of which you can admire in this very newsletter. You may now leave comments! At the moment this is still a manual process - your comments will need to be approved, and not appear immediately. I would appreciate it very much if some of you would make use of this new feature, for I am still testing the new system.

I have finally gotten round to doing some work on those shoddy old pages in the "music" section of my website. You are welcome to have a sneak preview of the new layout, but please bear in mind that the site is not finished yet, and most of the links will be leading nowhere. Hopefully by the next newsletter I will be able to launch in its full new and resplendent glory!

Last Wednesday, I started my new series of classes on Online Promotion for Everyone here at the Featherston Community Centre. With three attendants, and one more person signed up but unable to make it on the day, the echo was better than I had expected - and I ended up with about as much money in my pocket as I used to get for those highly subsidized music theory classes at Wellington High School. The people who came all brought their own laptops, which was great, because by the end of the hour they had all written their first basic web page, and everyone seemed very happy. I've written up some of the things we covered in my blog, for those of you who live too far away to attend in person.

The series is open ended and designed to last as long as there is demand. Classes will continue on every fourth Wednesday of the month, the next session will be on Wednesday 28 April, from 7.30 to 8.30 pm at the Featherston Community Centre, 14 Wakefield St. Cost is $ 12 per session per person. The classes are definitely open to non-Featherstonians too!

Chicory Chicory (detail) Janis Joplin (detail) Janis Joplin (detail)

Chicory from my Garden :: "Larger than Life" - Janis Joplin (Photoshop/tablet)

Painting wise, I had to give up on the idea of finishing my next Earthsea image in time for this newsletter, though I assure you it is coming along quite nicely. But it is better not to rush these things! As I learned last month, when I declared the painting finished, only to realize that it really needs to go back on the easel for some touch ups and corrections - perspective, anyone?

It does not mean that I have been unproductive though: Apart from having two more Earthsea paintings in the works, I have started on a whole new project. Having learned my lesson about copyrights, I decided it was time to paint something that was not an illustration of anyone else's book, and promptly put that decision into practice. Maybe I should just start working toward a 2012 calendar, instead of the one I had planned for next year?

Meanwhile, I have not been neglecting my Photoshop and tablet either: I've been practising my life drawing skills on some flowers in my garden, and even submitted a piece for the good old Fan Art on, out of nostalgia if nothing else. It's a portrait of Janis Joplin, after a photo or two, and precisely the kind of image I used to detest ... but it was a good learning experience, anyhow, and if one wants to be a professional illustrator, one ought to develop a range of skills, I suppose. :D

I made an attempt to have at least a short but proper camping summer holiday this year, and singled out a week in late Februrary for the purpose. After postponing my departure for a couple of days due to a storm howling across the countryside, I eventually packed up my gear and drove up the coast until I found a suitable beach, and pitched my tent as it was getting dark.

That night, it started to rain, and continued to do so for most of the next day, and the following night. Moreover, I don't know what the previous campers had been doing, but the rain brought out quite an intense smell of dead fish. So the next morning I decided that if I wanted to lie in bed and read a book all day, I could do so at home in considerably more comfort.

The second day was bright and sunny at least, and I took a detour and found myself a paradise beach to take a walk on, but was really quite glad to crawl into my own bed that night. I wonder if it means I'm getting old... - or just, that I now have a really really nice home. Besides, the beaches really aren't all that far away: last weekend I grabbed my new photo camera and made a trip to Castle Point, which resulted in the images that are decorating this newsletter.

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Avatar movie review

Everyone insisted that I MUST go and see Avatar, and they were right. For the artwork, mind you, not the story. Have you ever been to a movie where there was spontaneous applause when the credits for the compositors and matte painters rolled? Try seeing Avatar at the Embasssy in Wellington. Not only are those artists GODS, they are also local gods.

They would have deserved a much better script. Here's a story that actually has some potential: about culture clash, identity crises, and the power of nature. And what do they do? An hour of explosions. Boooooooooooooooooring.

Even more the pity, because the first half of the movie shows abundantly that a Visual Effects movie does NOT have to be all about things blowing up. The main character, Jake, is an ex Marine who has been crippled by an accident, and is hired in lieu of his brother, to partake in a scientific experiment on the planet Pandora - in the service of an exploitative mining corporation, which is interested in finding out about the local culture only so that they can get them out of the way, and get better access to the natural resources of their planet.

However, the team of scientists who conduct the experiment (led by Sigourney Weaver in a rather broad nod to her role in the "Alien" movies) are more interested in actually gathering knowledge about the fascinating biological phenomena they observe on Pandora, which, in their view, could turn out far more valuable than the minerals the corporation came to extract. The experiment involves lending consciousness to a different body, one that is artificially grown from DNA of the local population - who are about ten foot tall, blue, and quite a bit stronger and more agile than Earthlings. This is Jake's job - and he clearly finds his healthy new avatar body far more attractive than his own crippled one.

Quite apart from the truly stunning artwork, I really enjoyed the playful curiosity of Jake's exploration of his new body, and of the fantastically exuberant forest world around him. And all the flying around up in the air. It's - joyful. There aren't too many movies that are that, unless they're made for kids.

The good stuff lasts for about an hour, and then it all comes crashing down. Moreover, the rest of the plot is far from original - much of it is a fairly blatant rip-off of The Word for World is Forest by, none other than Ursula Le Guin. I do wonder if she got any royalties for this movie? - But, let's not go there.

Unfortunately, where Le Guin sees a moral dilemma: an inherently non-violent culture, which is driven to the use of violence because it seems the only way to survive, and save their living environment from being destroyed by aggressive and technologically advanced strangers - Hollywood just sees a chance to have people yell loudly and blow things up.

Truly, I could have imagined more inventive and psychologically interesting ways of solving this conflict - a high tech culture pitched against a corrosive forest environment and those who have learned to inhabit it - than to indulge in an hour-and-a-half long explosion fest. Quite apart from the fact that it seems to run completely counter to all the values that the people of Pandora have been embodying in the first half of the movie. No hint of what is the real crux in Ursula Le Guin's original version of the story: the seed of violence that is being sown, and will be affecting the local culture even after the aliens have departed.

Then again, I suppose making that the focus of the movie would have run quite counter to the Hollywood party line.

(I had meant to include this review in my February newsletter, but so much was going on last month that it ended up on the cutting floor. So this may seem somewhat belated - though in some parts the movie may still be playing, or you may want to watch it on DVD.)

Arohanui, from Asni

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photo: seal photo: seal photo: seal

Lazy seal at Castle Point