Waiting for Spring

ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: Selected drawings available on Ebay. A different selection every month!

NEW: Galadriel's Farewell Song A3 Poster

NOW AVAILABLE: New Zealand Film Locations map: A3 poster * Snowflake Christmas/seasonal card * Queen Galadriel holiday card * Middle Earth New Zealand 2013 photo calendar

TREAT YOURSELF TO SOME MUSIC: Harp sheet music store * Travels in Middle Earth CD
Asni the Harper digital downloads: CD Baby ** Amazon MP3 * iTunes

Also available: Music CDs * Sheet music * Greeting cards * New Zealand photography

In this newsletter:
*** Shake-Up
*** News and Current Projects
*** Cool Things Friends Do: Au Contraire! 2013
*** On the DVD Player: Downton Abbey

Shake-Up

I like winter. It is a good time to get stuff done. Less distraction by fair weather, and the need to not waste it: to sit in the sun with a book, or go to the beach. And this month has been a month of successes. I landed my first proper commissioned (and paid!) illustration job: drawing some cows for an agriculture course at the Open Polytechnic. As you might remember, I signed up for their horticulture certificate last month, and my tutor is writing the course material for that course. She gave me a lift to one of her workshops the other day, because my car was stuck in the garage (I like the idea that this is "distance study"), and I told her about my children's book project. So she hired me!

And there I was thinking that doing that horticulture course was just another way of procrastinating from the scary task of looking up publishers, and sending them my portfolio. Well, this should help: A proper job under my belt. And my goal of being published this year, is now definitely achieved! Which is not meaning to say that I'm not going to try to be published MORE.

The other thing that happened was Au Contraire!, the national Science Fiction, Fantasy and Geekery convention, which took place in Wellington this year. I'd been looking forward to it – and making plans to utilize the opportunity for a spot of promoting my illustration work – since the beginning of the year. But, what with being in hospital and all, I'd lost track of things a bit. Fortunately, it entered my head to look up the dates at the beginning of the month: I had it in my head that it would be in August, but no: NEXT WEEKEND!

To my dismay, I found that the stalls for their Floating Market were already fully booked (I had made a roaring business there three years ago) – but they put me on the waiting list, and I got lucky with a cancellation. Fortunately, I had not quite missed the deadline to sign up for the art competition: which turned out really good news, because – ahem – I won first prize. So now I am not only a published, but also an award winning illustrator! And all in the space of a couple of weeks. :D

Wellington has had a bit of a shake-up last week: a series of smaller earthquakes, culminating in a 6.5 quake on Sunday evening – which is about the size of the quake that laid Christchurch into rubble. Fortunately, Wellington got off lightly: there was quite a bit of broken glass in the Central Business District, a roof caved in in the Hutt Valley, and a couple of buildings in Central Wellington had to be evacuated and will remain closed until further notice, but most of the damage to buildings was superficial. A stretch of land on the industrial waterfront seems to have sunk into the sea, taking with it one shipping container. I wonder whose furniture that was! No lives were lost, which is the main thing, and only one person was injured. Which is perhaps why the quake doesn't even seem to have made the international news: if it doesn't bleed, it doesn't lead.

To those of you who have heard about it via Facebook etc, I can reassure you that my house is still standing upright, and so am I. In fact, I didn't even feel the quake, because I was out on my bike at the time, and apparently it has good shock absorption! When I got back to Featherston, the supermarket was all in an uproar and things had toppled off shelves, but as far as I am aware that is the extent of the damage here in Featherston. My iMac crashed a couple of days ago, which is of course very unpleasant: but I'm not sure I can blame that on the earthquake. And fortunately, I still have my trusty MacBook to write this newsletter on!

Weather: who cares, so long as the ground stays still, read the weather forecast in one newspaper on Monday. People were worried. Wellington has been waiting for the "big one" to hit for about a century now, and seismologists analysing the sequence of quakes leading up to the major shake on Sunday afternoon, were predicting a high likelyhood of aftershocks. People were advised to stay out of the Central Business District. The commuter trains didn't run on Monday morning, and there was no bus replacement service: the official reason was that the train lines needed to be inspected for damage, and that it hadn't been possible to rustle up enough busses for the traffic rush on Monday morning at short notice. But I suspect it was in part also a convenient measure to discourage people from traveling into Wellington that day.

I may have missed out on the big quake (with a mixture of relief, and feeling a bit cheated), but I did feel two of the earlier short quakes. In a way, one gets used to them: it is part and parcel of living here. I have experienced quite a few quakes by now, a few of them rather bigger jolts. It remains an unsettling experience: one never knows, when the earth starts shaking, how long it will go on for and how bad it will be. The one thing that most people think they can rely on is the firmness of the earth they are standing on. Take that away, what certainties are left?

Land of the Long White Cloud

Land of the Long White Cloud



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News & Current Projects

This month, I have more than made up for the lack of new artwork last month. I have completed the first of what will likely become a series of Time Angels – or maybe I should call them "Celestial Bodies"? Or "Time Dancers"? These images have been sitting at the back of my head since my temporary addiction to Doctor Who, a little while ago. They are inspired in part by a series of baroque paintings of angels I once saw in a dusty provincial museum in Mexico, as well as by Indian classical dance poses (and costumes), and photographs of far off galaxies. I was going to imbibe them with deep meaning, but they ended up rather more playful, and that is just as well. Not everything has to mean something all the time, does it?

This was one of the paintings which earned me first place in the Au Contraire! art show this month – along with an older piece, Waiting for Spring, which I thought particularly fitting for the purpose because it is based on a sketch, or doodle, I did during the first Au Contraire! in 2010. It also embodies the theme of this year's convention, "Regeneration", rather well, I thought.

The third piece I entered is a digital piece, Galadriel's Farewell Song, which I have now made available in my Etsy shop as an A3 size poster. The motif is also available as greeting cards. I sold a handful of those at the Floating Market, and traded one of the posters for a book. It seems to have been the favourite of the three, and has earned me quite a lot of flattering comments!

Cow behaviourby Astrid Nielsch Bull body language by Astrid Nielsch Sheep behaviour by Astrid Nielsch

Four b/w illustrations for the Open Polytechnic agriculture certificate course materials

Then there was my first proper commissioned illustration job: a set of four black and white illustrations of cattle and sheep behaviour, for an agricultural course at the Open Polytechnic. For a first job, it really was quite a good one: including a bit of research into animal behaviour, and finding appropriate images, as well as getting my head around keeping things very simple, and concentrating on the most relevant detail. And at $50 per illustration, it was quite adequately paid! Certainly compared with other less rewarding things I have done for money. I am quite pleased with the job I have done, I must say. So was the person who commissioned the drawings! I really wouldn't mind turning this sort of thing into a regular gig.

Winter trees, Glendhu Winter trees, Glendhu Winter trees, Glendhu

Works in Progress, for the "Metropolis" exhibition at Matchbox Studios in Wellington, 2-15 September 2013

I have painted like mad for the upcoming exhibition at Matchbox studios, and taken my cue from the title of the exhibition: Metropolis. I currently have three rather larger size oil paintings in the works, one nearly finished, one some way along, one just started. A fourth one exists as a reasonably well formulated idea, and I plan to make a start on it as soon as I am done with this newsletter. Getting all four paintings done by the end of the month will be a bit of a challenge, but one can try!

On Amazing Stories, this month I have posted an interview with Milivoj Ćeran, a very gifted fantasy artist from Croatia, whose work will be part of the main show at IlluXcon this year: quite an accolade, in the illustrating world! I have also written up my impressions of Au Contraire! 2013, specifically the art and art-related activities that took place (and yes, I have blown my own trumpet, too!)

ARTWORK OF THE MONTH. This month, I have settled on some nature and landscape sketches, from one of my sketchbooks, which I have kept since 2006. The first sketch is of Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand, and a place of great spiritual significance to Maori people. The sketch is done from the walking track that leads up to the cape, coming from the campsite at Tapotupotu Bay. The second sketch is of the Kaimai Ranges, near Matamata in the Waikato. The famed Hobbiton film set is not far from this spot, and those mountains appear in the background of the Lord of the Rings movies – they are the view from Bilbo's doorstep! The third sketch is an unfolding fern I wound in Waipoua forest, up in Northland: an ancient forest, home to some of the oldest trees on this planet, including Tane Mahuta, a 2000 year old kauri tree. Come to think of it, I've got a sketch of Tane Mahuta as well! I should dig that out, one of those months! My Ebay listings can be found here.

Speaking of things to sell: my Martin Haycock Gothic harp is still on offer. The harp is suitable for medieval and renaissance repertory, or anything else anyone may want to play on it, which requires a range of 3 1/2 octaves, G - c'''. A very unique harp, one of the earliest reconstructed medieval harps, built in the mid-1980's. It is in perfect playing order – please contact me for more details. Asking price: € 1990 / US$ 2550 / NZ$ 3000, or best offer. Can be shipped from New Zealand by regular mail, shipping costs not included. Email me if you are interested – and make sure to pass this on to all your harp playing friends!

It is that time of the year again, and I should be thinking about next year's calendars. Truth be told, sales have been quite sluggish this year, so I have had my doubts if it is even worth doing a 2014 edition. I will leave the decision up to you!

In those cases, the best way to go is to ask for subscriptions (or pre-orders, if you prefer), and then only print as many as are needed. I will make my selection of images in the next couple of weeks, and send them out with a separate email, along with all the details of how it will work! I will be looking for a minimum number of subscriptions – so if you are keen, let all your friends know about it! :) Of course, you can let me know right away if you want to be on the list!

As always, various classy items are available in my online shop: have a browse! Harp music CDs can be bought here, or downloaded from CD Baby, iTunes, or Amazon. There is also my collection of harp sheet music books , and the New Zealand film locations map, which is proving quite popular!

In between all that, I also somehow found the time to paint a unicorn and phoenix (both rather small size) for the "Birds and Animals" exhibition which is currently on show at the Carterton Events Centre, featuring work of a range of Wai Art artists. The paintings are for sale, but alas! I completely forgot to take photos! If they don't sell at the exhibition, I will put them in my online shop afterwards. And if you live near Carterton, come and check them out!

But that is not the end of it: with the mild and sunny weather we have had, I have taken my canvas and brushes out into the garden again, and painted my lemon tree and my hazelnut. I am not sure if the latter one is not perhaps a little too much on the "rough and ready" side – though I guess one could say it is firmly in the tradition of the German expressionists? I am really rather pleased with how the lemons turned out though – another quick painting which didn't take much over an hour.

I did have a piece last month which I did not post in the newsletter, because it was a birthday present for my mother, and I didn't want to spoil her surprise: bougainvillea! Watercolours may not be my strongest point, but I do think I have captured the airy, fluffy magentaness of these flowers rather well. Well you know: with all that painting that I'm doing at the moment, it might just be that I'm actually getting better! :)

The weather has been very mild for the season for the last few weeks, and it shows in the garden. My fingers are itching to get on with the spring planting, and I have to remind myself that it is not September yet: In all likelihood, August will still bring some frost and cold spells. One must not be impatient!

The daffodils in front of the house have already started to blossom, and my new almond tree is looking very expectant. I've put in and received my annual order of seeds, and just got the first round of seed trays going: among other things, I've sown some purple asparagus. This will be a long term project: it takes about three to four years from sowing them, to the first harvest. Gardening really does teach a person patience.

I have added a couple more fruit trees to my collection: the apricot that I promised myself in my last newsletter was duly bought and planted. When I took off the label after planting, I realized that instead of the Trevatt, which everyone told me was the best variety for the Wairarapa, I had inadvertently walked out of the nursery with a Fitzroy - a New Zealand cultivar, developed in Taranaki. I briefly considered digging it up again, and asking the nursery to exchange it: but then it all seemed too much trouble. I told myself it was probably meant to be, and that I might end up happier with a Fitzroy, than I would ever have been with a Trevatt. A few months ago, I wouldn't have been able to tell one apricot from the other anyway! Besides: where's the fun in doing what everyone recommends.

To keep myself from buying a second almond tree and potentially cluttering the front garden up too much, I settled on a sour cherry instead: there's the perfect spot for it next to the new garden pond, which is now dug, but still needs sealing, and filling up with water. I'd been ogling the Griotella cherry trees at the garden centre since my first visit in June, but had some trouble finding reliable information about this cultivar: the internet told me that it is a dwarfing variety, and looks very pretty, and that the fruit is full of health benefits (though that would be true of all sour cherries), but I could not for the life of me figure out if it is a variety with light or dark flesh: the principal distinction among sour cherries. In the end, I decided to just go for it and buy it: good thing to, because by that time, there were only two of them left at the store. And I am not sorry that I did so!

It's time to dig next year's vegetable beds, tidy up the hedge and the messy bits behind the house, and do some pruning! Fortunately, I am now studying a horticulture course, and will actually be knowing what I'm doing. Pruning workshop on Saturday! Better get the newsletter finished by then.

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Waiting for Spring: Asni's garden in July



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Cool Things Friends Do: Au Contraire! 2013

Meeting other people who do interesting things – such as writing and publishing their own books and comics, making videos, or related activities – is one of the main reasons for attending Conventions. Well, for me at least. One of my personal highlights at this year's Au Contraire! was the Floating Market: a surprisingly large range of stall holders were offering books, art, and other items which make a geek’s heart beat faster – and which one will rarely find assembled and for sale all in one room.

My own stall was next to that of Simon Petrie, representing Peggy Bright Books, a small publisher of very well made books. Simon was nominated twice, and won once, in the novella category of the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, and one of his outlet’s covers also won the award for best illustration. I bought one of his books, the double novella Flight 404/The Search for Red Leicester, and he graciously suggested to swap it for one of my Galadriel posters. Which pleased me enormously, of course.

I started reading Flight 404 yesterday, and got so caught up in it that I literally could not put it down. It is a multi-layered story, using a classic space travel plot to emphasize the loneliness and the emotional struggles of the pilot, who spends the vast hours lost in open space, by reminiscing about her life, with the aid of an android who provides simulations of people she once knew. It really struck a chord with me. I did have a feeling, when I met Simon, that I would enjoy reading his books. They are available from the Peggy Bright Books website – go and read for yourself!

Another author-slash-illustrator I met on the market (and at the Drawfest events) is Angela Oliver. She has a degree in zoology, which (as you can see) reflects in her work, and her characters. She had a large and colourful array of very small scale artwork on offer, and a couple of self-published books. Her latest novel, Fellowship of the Ringtails, is a tale of lemurs. This is how Angela describes her book:

“The kingdom of Madigaska is in turmoil. The King has died under suspicious circumstances and another has usurped the throne. The sole survivor of the royal bloodline is an illegitimate orphan, Aurelia. Born many miles away, and raised by a peaceable fishing tribe, she knows little of her heritage, her destiny. But with the fierce Hunter, Noir, on her trail, what hope does she have?

Set in an alternate world Madagascar, where the dominant life forms are lemurs with a level of technology equal to primitive tribes, “Lemurs: A Saga” contains true elements of Malagasy history and culture, intermingled with a heavy dose of pure fantasy. It is, indeed, epic fantasy, with lemurs.”

The book is available on Amazon and Kobo, in both paperback and ebook versions. I haven’t managed to read my own copy yet, but if it is anything like Angela's artwork, it is bound to be fun! With lemurs.

I did not manage to attend a whole lot of events – mainly because, after living like a recluse for several years in a row now, I found the prospect of spending three entire days among *people* a little frightening. But they were all really nice people, and I even had fun at the Sir Julius Vogel Awards Ceremony cocktail party – instead of just standing around looking lost. Fortunately, I was not pressed into harping service this time round! Much nicer to get an award for my art, and suddenly finding myself something of a VIP.

Guests of honour this year were bestseller author Jennifer Fallon, who gave a very interesting talk about using dialogue to define one’s characters, and Anna Klein, who is heavily involved in the Role playing community here in New Zealand: among other things, she organizes Chimera, New Zealand’s largest LARP convention. She also has a Master’s degree in Lovecraftian literature, and so the whole convention had a bit of a Lovecraft theme going.

You can read more of my impressions of this year's Au Contraire! on my Amazing Stories blog.



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On the DVD player: Downton Abbey

Since I don't own a tv, I generally hear about new tv series only when they have reached the third or fourth season. If the buzz is sufficiently favourable, I might eventually get the box set out from the video store. Much better that way. One does not have to sit around chewing one's nails, waiting for the next installment. One sleepless-night binge will do the trick!

I had been peripherally aware of Downton Abbey – I persistently misread the title as "Downtown Abbey", which I found a rather intriguing and mysterious concept – and of the fact that Maggie Smith is in it. So last time I found myself in Wellington and craving something to take home and watch, I settled on it as the tv series with the highest likelihood of being enjoyable. And I was not disappointed! Not only does it have Maggie Smith in it, it also has Penelope Wilton (unforgettable as the best Prime Minister Britain never had) – AND their two characters basically get to bitch it off. That alone would be fully sufficient reason to watch the entire series.

But it is by no means the only reason: In the course of the first three episodes of season one, it is well and truly established that this is not your average British period piece about the good old days of the landed gentry, when everyone behaved very right and proper and polite, and perfectly stereotypical. No, these are real people, with real problems, character and flaws: from the three sheltered (or not so sheltered) high-born daughters, right through to the housekeeper, the butler and the cook: three characters which, in most films or tv shows, only exist as paper cutouts, to decorate the periphery of period dramas where the higher-borns get all the dramatic action and character development. A butler is just a butler, and he's probably called James, while the housekeeper walks through the house at night rustling a bunch of keys, looking both motherly and faintly threatening.

Afternoon at Cape Palliser Afternoon at Cape Palliser Afternoon at Cape Palliser Afternoon at Cape Palliser Afternoon at Cape Palliser Afternoon at Cape Palliser Afternoon at Cape Palliser Afternoon at Cape Palliser Afternoon at Cape Palliser Afternoon at Cape Palliser Afternoon at Cape Palliser

Afternoon at Cape Palliser

The beauty of the series lies in the way every inhabitant of the big house is so lovingly drawn: they all have a life, a history, problems, loves, heartaches, successes and disappointments. And where else would one find a tv series starring no less than six middle aged and older actresses as main characters, with whose joys and problems we completely empathize – and who have, shock horror, *romantic interests* at least some of the time?

The same is true of the male characters of course: though perhaps just slightly less unusual. They don't have to be handsome, brawny, or even particularly interesting, in the sense of exotic, or out-of-the-ordinary. This is a tv series which shows the beauty and drama and heartbreak in completely ordinary people and events.

The show is obviously meticulously researched: almost an anthropological study in how a big house in Britain once operated, with its strict separation into upstairs and downstairs, where everyone had their assigned role to play, and breaking out of it, in either direction, was very much frowned upon. At the same time, it is a walk through history: The series starts in 1912, with the sinking of the Titanic, and the three seasons (so far) portray, in turn, the pre-war period, the First World War, and the early 1920's. The social changes taking place during this time are very much part of the plot.

But we wouldn't be so glued to the screen if, at the heart of it, it wasn't also a right old soap opera: proof that an intelligent and well-researched tv series does by no means have to by dry, or preachy. Or that a soap opera with huge mass appeal does not have to be shallow and stereotypical. When done with this amount of skill, entertaining tv is very intelligent indeed! Not to mention highly addictive. So when can we borrow the box set of season four?

Arohanui, from Asni



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Afternoon at Cape Palliser Afternoon at Cape Palliser Afternoon at Cape Palliser Afternoon at Cape Palliser

Afternoon at Cape Palliser