Road Trip

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In this newsletter:
*** Road Trip
*** News & Current projects
*** Cool Things Friends Do: Sabrina Pohle
*** Winter's Bone

Road Trip

After missing out on a proper summer holiday last year, I was determined that this year, I'd pack my tent and go somewhere and spend at least a good week relaxing in da bjootiful natjure. So after spending a singularly unproductive week early in January, I decided that now was the time, packed my tent and gear in my trusty old car, and drove off north.

The idea was to find a nice beach south of Napier, then head up to Lake Waikaremoana, where I haven't really had a chance to spend time before. Maybe find another beach round the East Cape, and come back via Mt Ruapehu, where I hadn't said hello in a little while.

I was a tad worried about leaving the garden alone for a week in the middle of summer – the green beans and tomatoes were coming along so nicely, and the second generation of lettuces about ready to harvest, and I didn't really want to come back and see all that glorious food shrivelled up in the heat. So I was quite relieved when I checked the weather report, which promised intermittent rain on the East Coast for at least the next four days or so.

I guess what I didn't consider was that it would also rain on me ... The first day, I revisited a beach I had found some years before, and always wanted to come again with a bit more time. But the campsite wasn't inviting, the weather wet, chill, and quite windy, so after a nice good beach walk, I continued north. After stocking up on fuel and camp food in Wairoa in the early evening, I decided that I might as well head into the mountains right away.

By the time I reached Waikaremoana, what had been an intermittent drizzle down by the coast, had turned into a regular old downpour. I definitely wasn't going to pitch my flimsy tent in this! Still, I did drive up to the one official campsite, to ask if they might have a cabin for the night. On ringing the after hours bell, I overheard the camp manager mumble something about "one person", before she opened up and gleefully informed me that yes, they did have one cabin left and it was $ 90 a night. I didn't ask how much a tent site would be.

Reasoning that I could still get back to Wairoa before dark, where at least there was only a drizzle, I turned right back. I got to the Wairoa motor camp at 9 pm – with the last of the daylight – to see the camp manager look reproachfully at his watch before he charged me $ 16 for a tent site within hearing distance of the main road. I guess the steep fee was for the stylish 1950's music and artefacts exhibited in the lavatory. It sure wasn't for the showers, which were a dollar extra and wouldn't even spout cold water without paying. Frankly, for that amount of money I would have expected a hot spa and a free foot massage! I did mention this to the camp master, and I did promise him to blog about it. Maybe one day I'll put together a list of "Top 10 New Zealand campsites best to be avoided".

Being rather put out about the shower, and feeling reluctant to spend another night in a tent being rained upon, I didn't even stop for breakfast, but decided there and then to call it quits. To be honest, I had spent quite a substantial part of the last couple of days looking forward to when I would be done with this holiday thing, and could go home! I guess this means one of two things: Maybe I'm getting old. Or perhaps I'm getting old.

I stopped for a belated breakfast at Lake Tutira, a peaceful little nature reserve and bird sanctuary cum campground by the side of the Gisborne-Napier road. I had considered spending the night there on the way up, and I suppose I could have saved myself some fuel and aggravation if I had! But perhaps then I would have continued the next day. After a conversation with some sheep, and a stroll around the lake, I drove on to Napier, and decided that instead of heading straight back home, at least I'd stop by Ruapehu. The day was still long, and I had been missing the Mountain.

The byroad which cuts across from Napier to Taihape used to be nearly 100 km of unsealed road, winding its little frequented way through some practically uninhabited back country. I've done this drive twice before, both times in the opposite direction, and it used to instill a sense of heady adventure. Now, I discovered, they are busy sealing the road, and almost done with it! It makes for a faster drive for sure, and I suppose, also a safer one: The road is very steep in parts, climbing up and down the spine of the Fish of Maui, which in these parts has an almost South Island-ish grandeur.

Still, I felt a sense of loss. One would barely meet another car, for the three to four hours the drive used to take. This time, I got overtaken by two or three campervans when I stopped by the roadside to shoot some photos. It is a very scenic drive, and sure, one should share, but I still hate to think of this road becoming part of the relentless caravan of motor homes which wind their way around the scenic routes of these islands, leaving shabby motor camps run by greedy people in their wake.

At least, it meant that I reached Ohakune a good hour earlier than I had expected. I had obviously left the coastal drizzles behind: at around 6 pm, it was still baking hot. I pondered that I might as well spend one more night in the tent then – I'd stayed at the Ohakune DOC campsite a few times before, a lovely, and sizeable piece of meadow surrounded by some rimu forest, with a river murmuring by the side. I bought some beers and fish and chips, and was fully looking forward to stretching out my legs in a shady spot and leave the visit to the mountain for the next day.

When I drove down to the campground, I found the road to where it used to be barred, and was instead presented with a tidily organized new campsite, where every camper was allotted a space just big enough to park their car or motor home, and maybe with a bit of skill, just manage to pitch a tent on the minute speck of grass next to it. More than half of the allotted spots were already taken, and there was no hope of shade until the sun would go down.

Right, I thought, leave those beers for later then and do a bit more driving. I headed up the Ski Field road to my favourite sketching spot – some smooth rocks by the mountain river above a waterfall, with a view all the way to Mt Taranaki on a clear day. You could sit and sketch, or dream, and not notice how the hours went by, and I had done so on a few previous occasions. So I went and had my fish & chips, took some photos, and did yet another sketch – number four by now, though number one was before I knew how to hold a pencil, so I'm not sure if that counts.

Then I sat in my car and drove through the evening and night, down toward Palmerston via Fielding and then left through the Manawatu Gorge, and on through Pahiatua, Eketahuna, Masterton, Carterton, Greytown, Featherston. Where I unpacked my car just after midnight, and fell into my own dry and comfy bed with a sight of relief that at least, tomorrow I'd be able to water the garden. I still had nearly a week of holiday left, I pondered, so why not use it to do some of the stuff I was always putting off. Sort out those mountains of files in the office. Paint a painting. Sketch some fairies. Put some music buttons on my web site. Cook some good food, catch up with a friend, and spend a nice day in Wellington maybe.

Maybe it means I'm getting old. Then again, if I honestly prefer to be at home and get on with my work, to having a holiday, maybe it means that I am doing something very, very right.

From: Tania Williams. Submitted 2 February 2011 3:05 pm NZDT

Camping in New Zealand is always bound to be an adventure with the total lack of weather stability. Apart from the few hiccups, it sounds like it would have been a 'refreshing' little holiday...hopefully leaving you 'refreshed' and ready to takle whatever comes your way.

Cheers Tania

From: Asni. Submitted 3 January 2011 4.12 PM NZDT

I think at the end of the day it was more the attitudes of some of the camping place owners that put me off. And the thought of spending a week in a tent! Decidedly getting old, me. :)

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Forest faeries Tricksy seductive faery Erlkönig, pencil sketch Erlkönig, coloured in

assorted faeries

News & Current Projects

The other day, I was asked if I had some fairies. I said sorry I didn't, but sent some angels and a couple of Fools, along with a promise to whip up some faeries over Christmas. Turned out that between Christmas dinner with friends, keeping up with the garden, cooking, baking, eating, drinking, watching Doctor Who specials, and enjoying my life, I didn't get quite as much time with my sketchbook as I might have liked, but a couple of young faeries did stroll by and were duly documented.

I then brazenly stole David Tennant's face for a sketch of the King of Elfland, aka Green Man, aka Der Erlkönig – he has this uncanny ability to look both young and handsome, and ages old and wise at the same time. In that respect, a Timelord and an Elf King aren't so very different I suppose. Just screencap the finale of Doctor Who Season Two, the scene on the beach – which incidentally is a breathtaking piece of acting, and has got to be one of the best sad melodramatic love scenes ever put on screen. You know, usually it sort of gets a bit artificial by the time an actor actually gets to say "I love you", but these two, they pull it off. But – err, I digress. And of course you shouldn't screencap, it's illegal! I think. O well.

In any case, turned out that the question about the fairies wasn't random, and it looks like there will be a few more of them in my future (some are already sitting on my hard drive as I write this) – along with a bunch of valiant poor woman's daughters, enchanted castles, bad wolves, magic mills, and Wassermänner! That's all I am going to say for now, but expect to hear more of this in a future newsletter. And cross your fingers that all goes well! As projects go, I couldn't be more pleased and excited.

If you've wondered what became of the London Art College correspondence course I signed myself up for in September – well, so far it has been a bit slow going. The first couple of exercises weren't the most inspiring, and I was a little put off when I found out that I am supposed to complete nearly half the exercises before submitting them for feedback. I suppose I also had to overcome a certain amount of reluctance to step out of my comfort zone. There is a lot of emphasis on comic book style work, which I've never been particularly interested in at all – but then suppose that's the whole point of learning something new. Might be time to step up the pace a bit!

I've just completed exercise 3 (out of 14) and found that I enjoyed myself with it. So here is something very different for a change: a couple of comic pages, or storyboards. The assignment was a) "to create, in 3 panels, a fast moving action which can be understood without words or speech bubbles", and b), "A slower moving action in nine evenly sized panels, with a beginning, middle and end", also to be understood without the aid of text. Storyboarding, in any case, is definitely a useful skill to have in my line of work, and one that I used to struggle with, so I think this has been a good and productive effort.

Helicopter rescue Tiki goes fishing

Helicopter rescue *** Tiki goes fishing

The Middle Earth New Zealand calendars are now nearly sold out - I have 8 copies left as of this writing, most of them with minor damages: scratches and dirt on the cover, bumped edges, and a couple of copies with small colour faults. I was none too happy with the quality of the print job, and will definitely be looking for another printer this year! They're still available in the shop, with a further price reduction to 10 Euro, on account of the damages, until the end of February. I've already been asked a few times about previous year's editions and what the "going rate" was, so I don't think there is harm in keeping a few copies as future collector's items!

My latest website – the one I was hoping to maybe finish before Christmas – has fallen victim to the "I really need the client to deliver those files" syndrome. One of the reasons I stayed home over the holidays – apart from wanting to avoid the crowded beaches – was that I was planning to get some solid work done on this project. The original plan was to finish the site and THEN go for a holiday! But it became evident that by that time, summer would be well over. As I write this, I am still waiting for the client to deliver the image and text files I was promised about a month ago. It makes me appreciate all the more how fortunate I have been with my previous clients, all highly professional individuals with a very clear idea of what they wanted from their site. I guess one can't always get that lucky! Well, I trust we'll get there in the end. Note to self: next time, make file delivery dates part of the contract!

Rather than sitting and twiddling my thumbs, I have been working on this and that and some faeries, and on a few more updates to my own music pages. The Who is Asni the Harper section is now complete, and online listening is back! You can now stream excerpts from my Travels in Middle-earth CD with a flash music player. There are still some issues I need to resolve, but even so, it's a whole lot more elegant than it was before. Have a listen! The other CD albums will eventually follow suit.

The cash flow has been healthy these last few months: between Christmas shop sales, a healthy advance for the abovementioned project (so really, I shouldn't complain), and some smaller bits of work for some previous clients, I have nearly emancipated myself from my savings account, at least for the time being. I've also been doing some online promotion consulting: the lovely Anna Jones from 50 plus Travel needed a Facebook page, and some help with her Google Adwords campaigns. A project that has been both informative, and good fun!

second generation lettuces future sauerkraut walnuts

home grown

The garden has come a long way since last year. This last month, I have been able to supply most of my own vegetables. The green beans are in season: last year I was carefully collecting small handfuls to fry in butter and eat with religious attention. This year, I've been cooking several solid meals, and am beginning to run out of recipe variations!

I have been experimenting with pickling – or lacto-fermentation, if you prefer the technical term. Pickled vegetables have got me through last winter: they aren't only addictively delicious, but also insanely good for me. Did you know that the bacteria involved in the process do not only do wonderful things for your tummy, they can also reduce allergies? I am living proof.

A neighbour pointed me to a recipe for pickled green walnuts, apparently a prized specialty. This has taken care of what came down from my tree in the strong winds we had over Christmas. Nothing wasted! – Or so I thought, until I discovered five minutes ago that I have lost the whole bucketful to mould. Big bummer! Evidently I haven't yet optimized my workflow. Now this will have to wait until next year. I'm also growing cucumbers and cabbage for the explicit purpose of making Saure Gurken and Sauerkraut. Let's hope, with better success!

Unless something bad happens, this year's tomato crop will be substantial, and ought to be ready for harvesting soon. I've had a delicious dish of broad beans, bacon and rice the other day, harvested the first zucchini, the leeks are now looking decidedly more like leeks than spring onions, the apple tree is literally bending under its load, and the first walnuts have come ripe. And for desert? How about some homegrown rhubarb!

green beans and broad beans green bean curry pickles and desert

home grown and cooked

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Cool Things Friends Do: Sabrina Pohle

Could you introduce yourself and tell us a couple of things about yourself?

My name is Sabrina and I'm a 26 year old student from Germany. I hope to finish my studies with a Magister's degree (the old German equivalent for a Master), sometime this year. My major is Japan Studies, my minors are Art History and German Law.

Besides art, I'm a geek and enjoy gaming, movies and tv series. I like analyses on pop culture, and read a lot of blogs about social issues.

How did you get into doing art? Have you worked with digital media right from the start, or was there a "traditional" phase?

I'm not one of these "Oh I started art since I could hold a pen!" people. My interest started when I became a big manga and anime fan in my early teens. I tried to draw my favourite characters, and later portraits of my favourite actors.

I didn't start out with digital, simply because back then the hardware wasn't really made for that. All I had were pencils and lots if printer paper. In my final years in school I had a great art teacher who showed us how to use various traditional painting techniques. I experimented a lot with water colours, oils, pastel chalks and the like.

Since 2007 I've been working mostly digitally. I got a Wacom tablet for my birthday that year, and ever since, I have a lot of fun with experimenting in Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter. I like to work with textures and rough brush strokes - so I suppose my traditional background still shines through every now and then.

You study Japanese culture, and have spent some time in Japan – how has that influenced your art?

Yes, Japan Studies is my major and besides a bit of language, it mainly concentrates on culture, politics, history and arts. In 2008/2009 I've been lucky to spend a semester abroad in Osaka. It's in the Kansai region, which is pretty much the cradle of the old Japan with the former capital cities like Kyoto and Nara. Those places are full of beautiful sites, and as you can imagine I tried to see as much as I could.

The time in Japan did influence me in two ways. First, I was trying to absorb as many impressions as possible, and I've taken hundreds of photos. Second, when I wasn't traveling around in Kansai I took time to practice my drawing skills, and almost filled up the sketchbook I brought with me (around 60 pages of daily doodling).

You're quite active both on DeviantArt and on Could you tell us a bit about those communities, and how they help you develop your art?

My main focus is still on deviantART community-wise. I don't know why, but even if I try to get into other art communities every now and then, I still come back home to dA. I suppose I feel just more comfortable with the features of this site. And of course I've met incredible people who are supporting me with their friendship and critiques, and artists who inspire and motivate me. I wouldn't be the artist or even the person I am today, without the community on dA. I also try to give back as much as I can. If someone needs my advice or other help they can always contact me.

For ConceptArt I must admit that I had to take a hiatus recently, since I was too busy to be much active outside of dA. But this place has always been a huge inspiration for me. There are a lot of great artists and fantastic art. I enjoyed taking part in a few challenges, and I wish I did more of them. I hope I'll have time to go back there soon.

Most people say that CA gets you better critiques, while dA is more social. I have to say that this always depends on the people you know, and who know you. For someone who is new to CA, there are times were you don't get any good critiques at all. The place is getting bigger and bigge,r and you can be overlooked quite easily. Networking on dA is a bit easier, so if you're making new friends, you can get incredibly helpful critiques there. Though in both communities it's always "giving and taking". If you're a hermit crab you won't get much out of them if you're not leaving your shell every now and then.

Most of your images are portraits or character designs - any ambitions to do this professionally?

Actually, yes! I really hope I can work as a freelance illustrator or even concept artist one day. There's still a lot I have to learn though. Not just art-wise but also how to manage my finances and taxes and all that. Sadly, you can't just make money with your art, without the red tape interfering.

If you could pick a project to work on as an illustrator or concept artist, what would that be?

I'm currently working on a fantasy comic. Most of my character designs are related to this and I hope one day I'll have my own fully coloured graphic novel in my hands.

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Wassermann territory Wassermann territory Wassermann territory

Wassermann territory

Winter's Bone

It's been quite a while since I've been to the cinema. And it's been even longer since I've been to the cinema and watched an arthouse movie, seeing that lately, most of my sporadic cinema-going has been for the sake of staying on top of the latest blockbusters in the fantasy/sci-fi/effects-heavy genre (of course I don't do this for fun. I put my film tickets on my tax return under "research and professional development", you wouldn't think I did this for fun!) :P

A measure of how out of the loop I've been, is that I took Winter's Bone to be the kind of obscure art house movie that makes the round of the film festivals, barely manages to get a distribution contract, and only ever makes its money back if it has been really really REALLY low budget.

But lo! This film has won prizes! It has garnered massive critical acclaim! It even made its makers some money! Meaning, people have actually been to see it! 4 million US$ in excess of production costs would seem a modest sum by film business standards, but hey, I wouldn't say no to that if it was my film. Would you believe it, it has FOUR Oscar nominations! And this despite the fact that the story is told from a rigorously female perspective! What is happening to the world? Must be that new US government, or something.

What attracted me to this movie were quite personal reasons – an online friend of mine lives in the Ozarks, where the story is set, and I was quite simply curious to see a film that might portray something of her surroundings and way of life.

What I got, was an awesome story about courage. Forget about hunky gun-slinging muscle men and hours of explosions. A hero, that is a 17 year old girl like Ree, who single-handedly looks after her two younger siblings and her mentally absent mother, teaches the younger ones survival skills and algebra, finds ways to feed them and keep them warm in the complete absence of cash, or those who might be in a position to go earn it, and refuses to ask for what ought to be offered.

When her meth-cooking absentee father doesn't show on a court date, the family stands to loose their house. Ree goes on a quest to find him, which puts her in the way of some pretty nasty individuals involved in illegal drug manufacture – people who have snorted down the remainders of a conscience long ago. Still, there is something about this girl's quiet insistence that she and her siblings have a right to live, which makes even the most hardened of them betray the odd sign of humanity.

It isn't a happy and uplifting movie by any stretch, but somehow, it manages to not be depressing. It might have something to do with Jennifer Lawrence's performance as Ree – not for no reason, it seems, has this young actress been gathering up awards right, left and center.

But mostly, I think it is the fact that the script doesn't make us judge these character's lifestyle. Yes, there is poverty, and brutality, and a good bit of drug snorting, and no, these things aren't nice. But one survives. As Ree eloquently shows us, it is possible to remain human even under these adverse circumstances – and one ought never, ever judge the children by the crimes of their parents.

Arohanui, from Asni

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Wellington, Abel Smith St, in front of Toi Poneke, Thu Jan 13, 2011 Wellington, Abel Smith St, in front of Toi Poneke, Thu Jan 13, 2011 Wellington, Abel Smith St, in front of Toi Poneke, Thu Jan 13, 2011

OMG it's a TARDIS!