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- In this newsletter:
- *** Living in the Wairarapa: Communities
- *** News and Current Projects
- *** Cool Things Friends Do: Sue Bradley
- *** Gandalf's Girlfriend
Living in the Wairarapa: Communities
This month has been kind of frazzled. A number of fairly disconnected things happened, which I have at one time or another wanted to address in this newsletter, but mostly, I just fell into the summer hole: I've been lazy and a bit maudlin, and while I think the laziness is entirely deserved, I'll try to spare you the maudlin part. Or at least, keep it short and to the point!
When I moved in here, one of the neighbours who came to greet me was a small, thin elderly Maori lady who lived in the house opposite the street from my backyard. She was a bit tipsy at the time, on her way back from catching up with some friends at the local pub, and she offered me an exuberant welcome. We've chatted a few times since – she'd stop by my garden fence and say hello, and once I went over with a slice of cake, so we sat on her verandah and she told me that she'd been a nurse and life had been hard. She lived on her own. The house is tiny, just one room, kitchen and bathroom I think, and I often heard the music from her TV waft over my garden. It bothered me, sometimes, but I never had the heart to ask her to turn it down, because I knew she had no other space to listen to it.
Last spring, when things were getting really really busy and I had less and less time to sit in the garden, or pay attention to the neighbourhood, one weekend I noticed one of her relatives knocking on her door and shouting for her to open, and if she was all right. She didn't open the door. I remember thinking, with a sinking feeling, that I ought to go over and check on her, but then I got distracted by the American elections, and sitting up nights to get stuff done, and I didn't. A weekend later the police was in the street. She'd been dead for over a week, and they were trying to determine the date and time of death. And I never went and brought her those surplus lettuce seedlings I had saved for her. I doubt I could have prevented it, but they might have found her a bit earlier at least. There was a small article in the paper, seems she was well liked by everyone. To me, she always seemed like the kindly guardian spirit of the street. I'd give something to have her TV waft across my garden again, of a sunny afternoon.
Then this month, Featherston was rattled by another sudden death: a man in his 40's was attacked by a gang of burglars in his home on main street, and died in hospital a short while later. I didn't know the man, but he used to work at the local supermarket (before my time, evidently), and was described as a gentle soul well-liked by everyone. Many of Featherston's shops shut down the day of his funeral. The Featherston Facebook page sports a few posts of the teeth-grinding kind, calling for no mercy for the killers. Five people have meanwhile been arrested, investigations are under way. What is still not clear is whether this was a random burglary, or whether there were other motives involved ... I didn't go to the funeral. I was thinking about it, but given that I did not know the man, I would have felt a bit out of place.
A friend of mine from Seattle, Maxine Eilander, set up a chapter of One Million Moms for Gun Control on Facebook a short while ago, and suddenly found herself marching in Washington waving banners, and giving an interview on TV. I've known Maxine since we studied together in Bremen: she came all the way from South Africa to study historical harps, and now runs a Baroque Opera school in Seattle together with her husband, Stephen Stubbs – who incidentally, was also one of my teachers. They have two young daughters.
I'm quite proud of that odd bunch of people who gathered together to learn to play those weird old instruments, a couple of decades ago. I think at one point or another, we all stepped out of the matrix.
Here is a link to the video, if the embedded version does not work.
Last week, I got the opportunity to run two afternoons of a school holiday programme at short notice, which was good fun, apart from being much needed cash in the pocket. The courses were held in Masterton, and seeing that it was hot work in the midday summer sunshine, and seeing that I wound up splattered with paint, I took the opportunity, both days, to drive out to Castlepoint beach and go for a swim in the lagoon.
I can't remember how long it has been since I've had a proper swim: not a splash in the surf, or a quick refreshing dip in the ice cold river running off the Tararuas, but a good nice old-fashioned swim. It must have been a while: I felt it in my arms and shoulders the next morning. Now this is a luxury I really should allow myself more often! What else is the point of living in New Zealand.
News & Current Projects
The Amazing Stories website is now live, and open to the public! Fans of science fiction, fantasy, and horror are invited to join and encouraged to participate in helping to bring back a cherished icon of the field: a cyber age revival of the cult science fiction magazine, founded all the way back in 1926 by Hugo Gernsback. The first dedicated Science Fiction magazine ever!
Writers whose first story was published in the magazine include Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Roger Zelazny. The magazine was also instrumental in creating the science fiction fandom – so it is highly appropriate that it would reincarnate itself as a blogging and social networking website.
All contents of Amazing Stories are free to the general public. Membership is also free – and entitles members to participate in the discussion, share information and engage in many other social networking activities. Membership also represents a stake in helping Amazing Stories return to publication. The more members the site acquires, the faster Amazing Stories can become a paying market for short fiction. Every genre fan now has a chance to help support the creation of a new market for the stories, artwork and articles they all love so much! To visit the site and obtain your free membership, go to AMAZING STORIES, and don't forget to invite your friends too.
For the past several weeks nearly sixty fans, authors, artists, editors and bloggers have been producing articles on the literature of SF/F/H, its presentations in media such as television, film, poetry, literature, games, comics and much more.
This reincarnation of Amazing Stories could not have happened without the generous support of Woodall Design LLC and the members of the Amazing Stories Blog Team: Cenobyte, Karen G. Anderson, Mike Brotherton, Ricky L. Brown, Michael A. Burstein, Catherine Coker, Johne Cook, Paul Cook, Gary Dalkin, Jane Frank, Adria K. Fraser, Jim Freund, Fran Friel, Adam Gaffen, Chris Garcia, Chris Gerwel, Tommy Hancock, Liz Henderson, Samantha Henry, M.D. Jackson, Monique Jacob, Geoffrey James, J. Jay Jones, Daniel M. Kimmel, Peggy Kolm, Justin Landon, Andrew Liptak, Bob Lock, Melissa Lowery, Barry Malzberg, C. E. Martin, Farrell J. McGovern, Steve Miller, Matt Mitrovich, Aidan Moher, Kevin Murray, Ken Neth, Astrid Nielsch, D. Nicklin-Dunbar, James Palmer, John Purcell, James Rogers, Felicity Savage, Diane Severson, Steve H. Silver, J. Simpson, Douglas Smith, Lesley Smith, Bill Spangler, Duane Spurlock, Michael J. Sullivan, G. W. Thomas, Erin Underwood, Stephan Van Velzen, Cynthia Ward, Michael Webb, Keith West, John M. Whalen, Karlo Yeager, Leah A. Zeldes
Quite an honour, to be on that list! My blog will be dedicated to visual arts: I plan to continue the series of features I have been doing on my own newsletter, in this new fancy format where they will reach a much larger audience – and more often! My blog is scheduled every two weeks. Have a look at my author page, you can find my blog posts listed there. You can also add my blog to your RSS feed! See you there.
This month's artwork of the month is something of a result of my aforementioned maudlin-ness: On New Year's day, I found myself thinking unaccountably about a person of my (mainly) online acquaintance with whom I used to carry on a lively correspondence for a while. It went south: we had a fight about a thing, and it ended with me being kicked off that person's Facebook account. Such things happen. It shouldn't be all that important. But then why was I standing there two years later with tears running down my cheeks?
I found a good part of the old correspondence still sitting in my Facebook message box, and, wondering if I could figure out where things had derailed, I re-read the whole thing. It struck me as quite an extraordinary exchange. I don't know if that feeling was mutual. But I found I'd formulated a good deal of what have been my guiding principles in art and life for the past few years. Perhaps the whole problem was that it got a little bit too personal, too close. And I don't deal well with that. The image I came up with when reading through these old messages, is part personal exorcism, and part attempt at an apology.
In other news, my resolution to get myself published as an illustrator before the end of the year, has been accomplished rather quicker than I expected: The other day, I had a message from a young author by the name of Rod Martinez, from Florida, who wanted to use one of my Earthsea, pardon, Fantastic Journeys images for the cover of his print-on-demand young adult novel. He seemed professional and honest, and so I sold him a license for a nominal fee: but fee is fee, and a fee it was. So here is my image on a book cover, and as soon as someone actually buys it, I can call myself a published illustrator. Hurrah! – so what's up next?
My exhibition in Carterton has been extended until the end of the month – they didn't have another booking until the beginning of February, and thought it would look rather empty without pictures. And I have earned myself a picture and a short article in the local newspaper after all! Just when I thought they'd completely ignore me. Between that and the Arrow FM interview I posted last month, that's not such a bad outcome then.
The first step to getting my head around the business activities I plan for this year, has been to seriously update my LinkedIn profile. About time I used the site properly! If you are also on LinkedIn, feel free to request a connection. Just let me know that you're one of my readers! :) I could still use a few more people to endorse my skills, especially those in illustration, computer graphics, and the various software and web coding languages!
Apart from my rather spontaneous stint as a school holiday programme art teacher – which I hope will not have been my last one – I will also be offering adult community education classes in Facebook and Photoshop in Masterton over the next few months. The "Introduction to Facebook" will take place on Saturday 9 March, from 9.30 am to 2.30 pm, at Wairarapa College in Masterton. The Photoshop classes – beginners and intermediate – are scheduled on Monday nights from 6 - 9 pm, the first class will run on 4 and 11 March, the second on 25 March and 1 April – provided there are enough enrolments! Please contact me if you would like more information about these classes.
The garden photos this month cunningly disguise the fact that the place is currently in a bit of a state of disarray: first it was raining a lot, and then it was too hot, and then the start chord of the lawnmower got stuck and I didn't find the rock which had wedged itself between the blades until I dropped the mower off at the local Mitre Ten as a warranty case, and confirmed every opinion they might have had about females and technical toys ... still, I got served by the handsome Irishman who chatted me up about window paints some months ago, so it was worth it. Maybe I am finally learning to act in socially acceptable ways.
The upshot of it is that I haven't been mowing my lawn, so it is now a meadow, but that's just fine. The capsicums and the green beans do not seem to mind, and neither do the zucchini, the gherkins and the red kales. The tomatoes are coming along and will hopefully turn a healthy red before February is out, and then there are carrots, leeks, onions, and with a bit of luck, perhaps pumpkins, kamokamo, sweet corn, and borlotti beans. I've got a pickling bucket of green walnuts sitting in the corner, and soon it will be time to bake the first of the apple pie, with cream! I still haven't discovered the secret of growing a cauliflower that looks like a cauliflower, though. Well, there's a project for next year!
Cool Things Friends Do: Sue Bradley
I met Sue some years ago on Facebook, through a shared appreciation for Tolkien, the Lord of the Rings movies, and the work of a bunch of illustrators who have worked on those movies. When I was in London in 2011, we met for a picnic by the Thames, and afterwards she took me along for a public talk by watercolour artist Shirley Trevena. Despite my concerns about my ability to stay awake, fresh off the airplane from Downunder as I was, it was fascinating enough to prevent me from nodding off!
Sue also pointed me to the London Art College a little while ago, where she had done the Children's Book Illustration Diploma, and I wound up enrolling myself for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Art Certificate, which I have recently completed. Sue does beautiful watercolour work – she went on to do another online course, and having followed her work for a little while, I think it has really taken off in the last couple of years. But let her tell you about all of that herself!
"I have always painted although I had to give up art as a subject at school to train as a scientist. I worked in the field of medical research as a microbiologist and biochemist for 16 years before taking a career break for a few years to be a full-time mum. Then I started my second career by training to be a teacher. I now supply teach in primary schools and have some time to develop my ‘third career’ as an artist!"
"I have recently had paintings selected for major exhibitions including the 2012 Artist and Leisure Painter magazine annual worldwide Open Exhibition at Patchings Art Centre, Nottingham and the Royal Society of Marine Artists Exhibition at the prestigious Mall Galleries, London. I have been honoured to have work chosen several times for publication in the Paint magazine and twice as ‘Image of the Month’ on the Painters Online website. I currently tutor watercolour classes and exhibit work at two local galleries. I am married with two grown-up children and live in a beautiful part of England, the county of Kent close to the borders of London."
"I have been painting ever since I can remember – as a very young child I remember ‘painting-by-numbers’! As a teenager I began with ‘poster paints’ and then oils. I suppose art was ‘in my genes’ as my ancestors were mostly craftspeople, including a barometer maker, a walking-stick maker, a tailoress and dressmaker. My mother was an embroideress and my father a scientist who designed and painted stage sets and built dolls’ houses and models in his spare time."
"I have painted in most mediums, including acrylics and on-glaze work on bone china and porcelain. I began to paint in watercolour about 10 years ago and this is now my favourite medium. I love its freshness, transparency and vibrancy. I am very interested in creating pattern and textural effects and experimenting with semi-abstract themes."
"My favourite subjects are landscape, flowers and animals. Landscape because I enjoy huge sweeping vistas and studying colour, light and shadow. As you can imagine, I was completely in my element when I visited New Zealand last year! I’m completely fascinated by skies, seas and mountains in particular. I enjoy florals, not in a botanical way but exploring colour, looseness and flow which watercolour makes so possible."
"I began painting animals almost by accident when I visited a friend who breeds Seal Point and Birman cats. The moment I saw those vivid blue eyes and white fur, I knew I had to have a go at painting them. From that sketch began a series of pet portrait requests which has now developed into commissions through a local gallery and online. These days I spend lots of time painting cats, dogs, guinea pigs and recently, horses! "
"A few years ago I decided to develop my illustration skills, so I enrolled on a distance learning diploma course with the London Art College. I thought it would be fun to try using my imagination as I did when I began painting as a child! The course provides an opportunity for aspiring illustrators to learn how to approach requests from publishers for illustrations and build expertise and technique as they learn to create children's book illustrations including drawing, composition and picture planning. It was very challenging but great fun and very rewarding. Working to deadlines really forced me to make time to study and improve my painting, which is difficult when you work from home. I developed an even stronger appreciation for the skill of the great illustrators, particularly those who work on fantasy themes!"
"I decided to take my study further by enrolling on a watercolour course with the Open College of the Arts. This involved art assignments, studying the watercolour masters, research and visits to galleries and exhibitions. I can certainly say that my understanding of the medium and my handling of watercolour techniques advanced greatly and led me to experiment with the medium in many new ways."
"I’m a massive fan of Lord of the Rings. As a teenager I guess I was a bit of a hippie! I read the Hobbit at age 11 and I read Lord of the Rings for the first time when I was about 15. I idolised fantasy artists such as Roger Dean and I adored Tolkien’s own illustrations, later becoming a huge fan of Alan Lee, John Howe and Ted Nasmith. There are so many fantastic Tolkien artists and illustrators out there that have captured the story and the settings and worked on the movies. "
"I painted many scenes from Lord of the Rings, those days in oils. I remember painting Gandalf and Frodo in deep discussion by the roaring fire at Bag End. I also recall painting the Barrow Downs, Rivendell and the Black Riders. Most of these paintings have been lost over the years (although they were far from great works of art!)."
"I have painted a few fairy tale characters in watercolour, including Snow White and the Sleeping Beauty. I was very ‘into’ castles and I often painted them, altering them to become Sleeping Beauty’s castle, Orthanc or Barad-Dur. However, on my recent trip to New Zealand I sketched a few of the Hobbit dwellings at Matamata (Hobbiton) in addition to some landscape work inspired by the wonderful scenery. A dream would be to spend more time on the set painting en plein air. I have dabbled with a few sketches of Arwen and Frodo since my visit and I have a ‘Goldberry’ in my head so watch this space! An ultimate challenge would be to successfully ‘capture’ a dragon in watercolour!"
*** may contain spoilers for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Really, there was no way I could NOT go and see The Hobbit. I've expressed my reservations here before, and I went with fairly low expectations, but for one thing, I owe it to my readers – here and on the new Amazing Stories blog. I would have seen it anyway, just for old friendship's sake. A couple of my ex fellow students at Natcoll have credits: Erin Woolhouse, the other girl in my class, for "dailies and assistant colour grading" – go her! Johnny Chan, wiz kid, not in my class but doing another course at the same time, on the motion capture team. That doesn't really surprise me. And to be frank, yes. I was curious.
So one rainy afternoon in early January, I decided that this was the day, and caught the 5 pm session at our local Masterton cinema. This was the regular frame rate 2D version, on a smallish screen, though I had a privileged seat right smack in the middle of the front row. Eventually I caved in to curiosity and saw it again in full 3D high resolution, at the Embassy.
I enjoyed watching it the first time round, and the 3D version at the Embassy was nothing short of spectacular. I have seen only a couple of 3D movies before (the last one was Beowulf, several years ago, and not a good movie by any stretch), and the technology has really come along since then. Mind you, since I *am* a bit of a geek when it comes to visuals in cinema, I was already squealing with delight to see the Metro Goldwyn Meyer logo in 3D.
The additional visual detail is well worth making the effort to catch a 3D screening – just watch those Dwarven gold coins fly off in all six directions, when the dragon lands in them right at the beginning of the movie! Or the way Gollum's cave suddenly comes to 3-dimensional life. That kind of visual detail mostly got lost in the 2D version.
When it comes to pushing the envelope of what is technically possible in cinema these days, the teams at Weta and Park Road Post really carry the torch: in big and conspicuous, as well as in subtle and unobtrusive ways. How much work must have gone into all those animated animals! They are so realistic, you really don't think about the fact that these are not real birds and hedgehogs who have suddenly learned how to act.
I am not sure the whole thing is really a movie, though: but as a Walk Around In Middle-earth And Meet Some People 3D experience, it totally works. It was pleasant to take another stroll through familiar places, meet old friends, and get acquainted with some new characters. Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins is outstanding: He owns that part, but is at the same time convincing as a younger version of Ian Holm's Uncle Bilbo. Ian McKellen's Gandalf seems to have become humbler and tireder – and older. Illogical as this may seem, it befits the Gandalf of The Hobbit: a hardworking old wizard who is tired of the slough of keeping the evil out of Middle-earth one day at a time, before he meets with the opportunity to make a big change once and for all, which is offered to him when he realizes the identity of Bilbo's ring.
I had the greatest fear that the twelve Dwarves (not counting Thorin Oakenshield, who is clearly The Hero) would be a bunch of gimmicky buffoons informed by the worst kind of kiwi mate-y campfire humour, but that was not the case. Those Dwarves who have speaking parts beyond a couple of generic lines, are fine little exercises in characterization. I thought the sloppy table manners were a little overdone – it's not only Gimli, apparently, who can't down a mug of beer without spilling half of it on himself, and what a waste, too! But it was nice to see the Dwarven songs from the book so well realized (both of them). The glimpses of Hobbit domesticity in the beginning were sweet, and helped to drag this old time fan back into the familiar world of these movies.
It is next to impossible to review this movie, or even formulate an impression, independent of everything that surrounds it: the fandom, the media hype, the protracted struggles over the film and distribution rights, the outrage over the undisguised attempts from several parties to secure a bigger slice of the pie. Personal differences with personal friends over how these things have been handled. The very familiarity with the material, the visual style, the faces, the locations, and the kind of jokes one was to expect. Some people were going to love the film no matter what, and some people were going to hate it, no matter what. There are people who have been living and breathing these movies for well over a decade, by now. That's a long time to keep up one's inspiration and enthusiasm.
There was probably no practicable way to avoid the impression that in a lot of ways, it is just "more of the same". So the filmmakers made what is likely a wise decision: they just ran with it. I could have done without a few of the all too obvious quotes from Lord of the Rings (Rivendell Elves doing the Rohan Horse Surround? What the heck??) – but on the whole, the film felt more like Tolkien's extensive appendices – fleshing out characters and places and bits and pieces of history we already know from Lord of the Rings – rather than a proper dramatic prequel.
I could also have done without half the fight sequences – especially the protracted game-sy sequence in the Orc cave. I'm not sure we really needed the White Orc, though I appreciate the David versus Goliath imagery which goes with the search for the Promised Land. I do wonder somewhat worriedly how this is going to pan out. But hey, Tolkien wrote it! The conflict between Thorin and Azog seems to strike a theme about the ability to let go of the past, which I expect will be developed further in the other movies. I did think Bilbo's sudden valour in the face of the Wargs was a bit sought: all too obviously a device to find some sort of character arc for what is after all only the first third of a rather slim book.
My favourite part was the Rivendell sequence: it elaborates on the sets and matte paintings we have already seen in the previous movies, and then those waterfalls! They alone would be a good enough reason to see the movie in 3D. I particularly loved the substitute "Window of the West" moment when Elrond deciphers the moon runes: I always thought that part got a little short-changed in The Two Towers.
Most of all, I really loved the Gandalf-Galadriel moment. That alone would have won me over. I always thought the old wizard needed some female sympathy. In fact, when I was a teenager I made up my own character, a Dunedain girl by the name of Gil-Estellian, who was Gandalf's girlfriend. I don't know precisely what that says about me, but – let's not go there! She would ride her swift horse around the desolate places of Wilderland unbeknownst to the rest of you readers, and come to the hardworking wizard's aid when he most needed it. There is an old sketch of her somewhere.
Many years later I was reminded of it, and painted a painting of Olorin returning to the Gardens of Lorien in Valinor. I imagine he would have been quite a good looking fellow in those days, before he was sent to Middle-earth to sort out Sauron, in the guise of an old man, and took on the name Mithrandir, or Gandalf. Galadriel, who is after all the only Elf left in Middle-earth who was born in Valinor before the exile of the Noldor, might well have known him back then. Who knows, maybe they had a "thing"? It might explain why old Gandalf seems to feel so self-conscious about what age has done to him. Yes, of course that was an in-joke about the fact that every returning actor is now ten years older than they were in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Whatever one might think about the precise nature of their relationship (and I am sure it is purely platonic, Galadriel being married and a venerable Elf Queen, and all) – I'm glad to find out that Gandalf is not impervious to female charms. It is also a nice reminder that even those who seem to be strongest, and whose job it is to save everyone else's day all the time, sometimes need someone to be there for them.
Of course I am not trying to say that my painting, or certain conversations that happened on certain internet forums years ago, had anything to do with this. The whole thing is completely justifiable from what one can find in the books: it is quite clear that Gandalf and Galadriel have some special bond of trust. All the screenwriters did, is allow the viewer to imagine that there might be a bit more to it than pure professional collaboration. But I must say I derive a huge amount of personal gratification from the fact that they put that in the movie.
What gratifies me even more, is that it appears to be one of those things which catch the imagination of the fans, and lead to endless discussions on internet forums, along the lines of "Does the Balrog have wings?" Now we're only waiting for the first Gandalf slash Galadriel fan fic. Or maybe a threesome with Celeborn – any takers?
Meanwhile, here's the first of the Hobbit spoofs.
Arohanui, from Asni