Good Deeds

Now available in the shop: Greeting cards * Music CDs * Sheet music * New Zealand photography

In this newsletter:
*** Good Karma
*** Website Updates
*** News & Current Projects
*** Wairarapa Photo Journeys

Good Karma

Here in the Wairarapa, winter is settling in. Fleece blankets go on sale, the days have become much shorter than they used to be, and there is less tempation to just laze around in the sun - though April, in an effort to make up for a rather poor summer, has been gifting us with some of the most glorious late-late summer days: blue skies, no wind, and gloriously warm. Easter has come and gone without much ado - I had a delicious meal of all home grown vegetables to celebrate the occasion, more of a Thanksgiving feast really, but then as you know, I celebrated Easter in October: in spring, where it belongs.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a truckload of firewood on my back lawn, and spent a busy weekend figuring out how to stack wood so it doesn't collapse back on you. Ever since, I have been enjoying a cosy warm house. Admittedly, we haven't hit the season of the chilly Southerlies yet - but so far, my sturdy little wood burner has had no trouble keeping the whole house heated. There certainly won't be a lack of wood this winter. Just ask my back and shoulders. :S

The garden has been providing me perhaps not with plenty, but with some very tasty stuff indeed. The tomatoes have been ripening and at one stage I actually harvested enough of them simultaneously to make tomato salad, decorated with some of my very own little red onions. The leeks may be more spring onion size, but they are *very* tasty, and have been spicing up more than one soup, in conjunction with my crop of fresh green chillies. The sweetcorn makes a nice lunchtime snack, and after a difficult start of the season, one of my zucchini plants actually did grow up and has started to produce offspring. There even is one capsicum ripening, and I am waiting eagerly to see if it will grow beyond its current size of a large acorn. The apples from my own tree went into what turned out to be the mother of all apple pies, and my walnut tree is the envy of the neighbourhood. Next time I go shopping, I need to remember to buy a nutcracker!

photo: From the garden: today's harvest photo: From the garden: tomato salad photo: From the garden: walnuts

From the garden: today's harvest; tomato salad; walnuts

One of my trips into town this month was for an Artists Alliance networking event at the new Arts Hub at Toi Poneke. I remember the Wellington City Council policy consultation where the suggestion to create a public space for artists to meet and informally hang out was made - in fact I seem to remember that I was one of the people who came up with that suggestion! Coming from Europe, the lack of informal gathering places where artists go to find each other, is one of the absences that I felt most keenly, here in Wellington. It's great to see that the suggestion has been acted upon so speedily - this can't be more than two, three years ago.

I was early for my meeting, so I went to check out the Good Karma Project exhibition that was on in the same building. You can read more about this project (along with a whole lot of self promotion on the part of the organizers) on their website. It seems that the ided behind the project was to help children in a school for Burmese refugees in Thailand develop their creativity by sending some volunteers to hold art and photography workshops there (though there is so much self promotion by the organizers on the website that it's a bit hard to get to the meat of the project). The drawings done by the kids in those workshops were then given to New Zealand professional artists, who created work in reaction to those drawings. At least, that was the idea, though some artists seem to have found it more challenging than others to stick to the brief.

What made the little exhibition totally worthwhile was the kid's artwork. I loved each and every one of those little A4 drawings. There were a few drawings for visitors to take home in return for a smallish donation. I picked one of a fish pond with lotus flowers (seen from the point of view of the fish) by Su Hluing Hnin, 11 years old, Grade 3 at Irrawaddy Flower Garden School. I have no idea who Su Hluing Hnin is, or even if she or he is boy or girl - but I think the drawing is stunning.

I wish there was a bit more information about the kids who created those works on that website. Instead, one rather gets the feeling that the people in charge of the project have been to one of those Red Hot Business marketing consultations like I did a few months ago (did I ever tell you about the Red Hot marketing guy? There's a topic for a future newsletter!) - where they were told that "Charity sells". Or perhaps they went to the same Press & Publicity class I attended the other day, were I found out what Constitutes a Newsworthy Story in New Zealand? In any case, what could potentially have been - and perhaps is - a really cool project that actually has an impact on the real world, does suffer somewhat from the self importance of those in charge of it. I do hope that the money I gave for that gorgeous little piece of art will really benefit the young person who made it, and not go towards paying some New Zealand artist's trip to Thailand.

If, in five or ten years time, I do happen to see one Su Hluing Hnin who's really good at underwater scenes, post on one of those internet boards for aspiring illustrators, I will eat my words, and conditionally apologize profoundly in advance. :D

image: Art from Thailand photo: wood stack photo: home grown apple pie

Art fron Thailand; wood stack (that's just what didn't fit in the shed); homegrown apple pie



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Website updates

Mostly, the end of this month finds me basking in a great sense of achievement. I have finally gotten round to fixing up those music pages on my website! That is, most of the original asni.net site, except for the photo and Tolkien fandom sections (that'll be another month's job). Please have a look here to see the glorious new layout and cool new functionality.

Ok, so some of those links in the navigation menu on the left still lead to a dummy page - but you've got to admit, this is a massive job. It will certainly keep me busy for another month or so, just to update those music pages that are still missing. But after much procrastination, work is now definitely under way.

The sections that work already are the new shop pages (music CDs and sheet music), the New Zealand Diaries, the contact & enquiries section, the harp links collection, and the new Asni the Harper image gallery. Of this last I am especially proud, because it constitutes the official start of the Database Driven Era on asni.net. It may not look like much to you, but the functionality behind those humble pages means that Asni has now got her head around web programming to the point where, rather than slavishly copying reams of PHP code from a book, she can write her own customized bits of code, and what's even better, they work.

So if you're still hesitant to hire me to do your website: better do it soon, because sooner or later someone is bound to realize how seriously smart I really am and that I'm actually worth about at least three times the money that I was going to charge you. ;-)

In the meanwhile, it's not like I am lacking in things to do to keep me thoroughly busy.



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News & Current Projects

My illustration portfolio made the trip to London and came back with a friendly note saying something along the lines of "not quite there yet, but do keep trying". The agent did include some comments about what she thought I could do to make my work more "commercially viable", I think is the term. The Earthsea images, she pointed out, were not exactly suited for book covers. Which is fair enough, because they were done explicitly with a calendar format in mind.

So then the logical next step was, why not design a book cover or three as an exercise. Fortunately, the restoration of John into my life means that I can once again use the theme of the month on his website as provider of the all important deadline. This month's theme was Alan Garner - a British fantasy author who, I must admit, had not appeared on my radar before. The only book by Alan Garner that was in the catalogue of the Featherston public library turned out to have grown a pair of legs - the local librarian, a shining example of her trade, did recall it by cover when I went and asked for it, but said she had not seen it around in a while. A bike ride to nearby Greytown earned me a copy of Thursbitch however - along with a copy of Robin Hobb's latest, Dragon Haven, which was really a bit of luck since that book has only been out since March.

Thursbitch is, from what I could gather, not the most "typical" of Alan Garner's books. His fame rests mainly on stories like The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, which are more "Young Adult" fare, while Thursbitch is most definitely a grown ups book. It was quite a fascinating read - it is set in a real place, a village and valley in Cheshire, and draws heavily on local traditions (and dialect!). The standing stones and strange natural rock formations which are found in the area are like characters in the story, rather than just part of the setting. The story is glum, and more than a bit weird as novels go, but not at all in a bad way. Here is the cover image and design I came up with - I have used some photos of the actual place, and stones, as a reference:

Thursbitch art Thursbitch cover Thursbitch dustjacket mockup

Cover art for Alan Garner's Thursbitch

I've got a confession to make: despite my best efforts to finish it in time for inclusion in this newsletter, that next Earthsea image I promised for this month is still not done. It's a painting of the Painted Room from The Tombs of Atuan - a dark, dramatically candelit, claustrophobic underground scene, and though I did manage to put most of the elements in place this week, I feel it will greatly benefit from sitting on the easel a bit longer and have a couple of glazes applied on top, to get the lighting and colours just right. It is in the nature of oil colours that they need to sit around for a few days to dry between each application. There's absolutely no way I can rush this. I guess that does make oil colours not a very deadline friendly medium. Or at least it would take a lot of careful advance planning to get the timing right. :) No wonder everyone switches to digital these days: That Thursbitch image I cranked out in one sleepless night, after doing a bit of research and sketching beforehand, and with a bit of post production fiddling the next day.

I have been taking out the sketchbook again, and been out and about sketching river rocks, as well as sitting by the fireside of an evening developing things for the Atuan image. I found a great new website to post and share sketchbooky stuff: 'skineart is a website for Moleskine sketchbook lovers, but fortunately for me, they accept other brands as well. As you might have noticed, I found myself yet another alias to go by. Check it out and give my sketches some love. :D

Tombs of Atuan: The Painted Room: Wall painting concept sketch Tombs of Atuan: The Painted Room: Wall painting concept sketch river rocks pencil sketch river rocks pencil sketch

Concept sketches for The Tombs of Atuan:: river rocks from my sketchbook

In other news, my writer friend Shawna Reppert, whom I have introduced in a previous newsletter, has just had her first short story published! These days, "published" doesn't necessarily mean you have to rush out and buy a book or magazine - her story "A Knight's Vow" got selected for the April edition of 10 Flash Quarterly, a fantasy/horror/science fiction magazine on the internet. Read here!

My Online Promotion for Everyone workshop here at the Featherston Community Centre turned into a one on one session this month, since everyone else didn't show up. I will be writing up some of the things we talked about in my next web design blog next week - so if you're interested in finding out more about the internet and how it works, do by all means subscribe to my web design mailer, or follow the blog. It's good for you! :)

Classes will continue on every fourth Wednesday of the month, the next session will be on Wednesday 26 May (unless there is a change of date, so if you're interested please let me know and I'll notify you of any changes) - 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!



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Wairarapa Photo Journeys

Seeing that the weather has been so gorgeous, I've been out and about taking photos again. The Wairarapa certainly offers much variety within a very driveable distance!

The first of my weekend trips led me back to White Rock - a beauty spot on the coast, down a lengthy, little frequented, unsealed backcountry road (this is why you hardly ever meet anyone out there).

When I went for my mishappen camping trip in February, I drove past a number of pictoresque old Wairarapa homesteads and little country churches. I always meant to go back and take some photos. Easter Sunday turned out to be the day: unfortunately, I managed to time myself so that I left the house precisely when, after a sunny and summery week, a threatening billow of chilly Southerly clouds began to drift over the Rimutakas from Wellington. Rather than outrunning them, they eventually caught up with me and drenched the landscape in rain. Still, it did make for some nice moody autumn shots. Can't be tourist catalogue sunshine all the time, now can it?

That experience made me wiser about taking advantage of the beautiful weather, so next week I didn't wait for the weekend, but drove up to the coast at Lake Ferry on Friday. Turned out that the only place to buy anything to drink after a hot half hour drive was a sit-down pub, but in the end I didn't mind - for the price of a tonic water, I got to enjoy one of the best views of the coastal scenery, at one of the beauty spots of the entire East Coast, where Lake Wairarapa almost meets the sea. Blue as blue can be, and the South Island looming on the horizon.

The day I biked over to Greytown to get those books from the library, I was smart enough to pack my camera as well. Another splendid late summer day - biking along the State Highway is not the most enjoyable experience, so on the way back I picked some side roads, and for the price of a small detour, came home with a bag full of glorious South Wairarapa countryside photos.

The photo opportunities are never far away - all it takes is walking up Underhill Road of an evening. Here are some autumnal mood shots, just before the light really got too dim.

My latest excursion found me randomly driving along the little country lanes out of Martinborough. When I got to Gladstone, I decided that it was too early to turn back, so picked a likely road with no idea where it might lead. It led to a full view of what I have dubbed the Dragon Mountains - a range of hills I'd only ever glimpsed from far off, and which every time makes me think of a dragon's crest. And all that glory is barely half an hour's drive away from where I live!

To be continued...

Arohanui, from Asni



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