Sunday, August 13, 2017

Random

Heyho! I've been doing a bit of weaving, a bit of mixed media, a bit of gardening, but because I'm all over, expect no finished anything.

The temps are so that if we light the fire it gets too hot; without it it's chilly-ish. But unlike my family in Japan, (all three grew up in the same house where some winter mornings we could see our breaths, which the parents thought was character-building,) I don't panic just because it's chilly-ish; they blame it on my having spent a decade in Minnesota, but houses in Minnesota are centrally heated, so no, they are wimps. As I get older 15C, which is all I needed in this house the first 18 years, started to feel slightly on the cold side but 16-17C I like during winter days. 

A mild cold robbed me of beautiful weeding weather last week. At first I noticed 17-18C inside didn't feel as comfortable as usual, and thought I was being lazy, again, or overdid it weeding in the cold. Unable to muster enough gumption to go out, and feeling slightly queasy, I started taking supermarket cold meds, which didn't work, so after a couple of days I got naughty and took another after two hours rather than the prescribed four and it finally kicked in.

I complained to Ben, and upon interrogation, it transpired I was supposed to take two capsules at a time, so the first couple of days I was on half dose. I probably knew previously but I take these so seldomly and most of my life I survived on half (or quarter) dose of most meds so I'm still miffed why it didn't work as usual. Do old bodies react less to medication, which to me sounds counterintuitive, or have some ingredients stopped working for me?

Yesterday I read some of the art/exhibition-related articles I've bookmarked in the last few months. There was no standouts, but I really enjoyed the reading, and was reminded how I struggled with art writing as a newbie 10-15 years ago. For me, the trick has been to read only what I like, and that turned out to be not necessarily about art I like, but the writing itself. I feel grownup having finally caught on to the fact there is "art writing", (as there are history, science, travel, food, book review, yaddah yaddah,) separate from art/artists, and some are to my taste, some are not.  
At long last, I saw the error of my ways with a not-as straight-forward treadling while mixing colors and considering composition on the cashmere warp, and started over, again, in 4-3-2-1-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-1-2-3. Not only can I weave faster, but the resultant cloth will be tider in theory. I wove as much in two hours, with a fever, as in two afternoons using the previous treadling. I'm also wondering if I should have all colors start from the side and not in the middle so as to avoid having to sew in weft ends in the middle of the piece and causing bumps in the cloth. (Pic above is not under tension but a couple of ends have weights on.)
Vague images of drawing/painting/collage pop up in my head but I don't understand them and can't pin them down. I set out to make a few colorful pieces to be used in collages, but what came out was more fire and fury. Four reds, two greens, one brown watercolor and gouache on drawing paper, but too many layers, especially gouache, obliterated the earlier nuances. Pity.

Usually at times like these, I start making warps; maybe tomorrow. I have a few ideas I want to work out on the loom, too, but much later.
Unidentified succulent given to me by Kathleen, my Bowen Technique specialist, keeps breaking and growing babies. I have three biggish, (20-30cm) pieces outside, and tons of babies inside and they still keep growing babies! (Sorry the pic is so out of focus.) At her place, some mature plants in the ground were 50cm or taller and from memory had bluish/purplish flowers I mistook for something else. Cornflower?? Which is why she gave me some.   

Ben's making almond flour cheesecake. Maybe that will get rid of my cold because we are both sick of me asking him if he's cold, too, every fifteen minutes.

EDIT: If you pay attention to the cashmere piece pic, where I change colors the over/under is sometimes disrupted. I haven't learned when that happens, but I hope to eventually because I've been able to see/fix some of the time.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Weaver Weaves

Life seems to be back on the old/default track, albeit much slower; I've been gardening a bit, weaving a bit, cooking a bit, and... wasting a lot of time dithering. The only thing that's different from before when it all went downhill is that somehow I'm keeping up with the drawing-every-day thing: I don't draw every day, but manage between 8 and 10 a week, so numberwise, I'm ahead, but then they have become super quick, (mostly blind,) line drawings. I think the goal this year is to stick with the plan, although I keep drawing the same faces by Matisse, Modigliani and van Gogh, so I'm learning a bit about a few.

This week's weaving has been the familiar twill, double width; the warp is Merino/Mohair, the weft is merino and I'm doubling it to make the width approximately the same as the warp, 20EPI/40DPI and slightly sticky. The weft repeat is short for me at 156 picks. I don't make very nice centers with double-width, but for the client, if she still wants these, this is sixth, and the seventh will be on the same warp, same threading, with mid-blue merino of the same size and a different draft.
 Seen from the side. 
The weft is a pale gray marl, which is why I wanted the Merino/Mohair, to better show the design. I'm always taken aback when I need one or even three whole days to finetune the draft because the basics don't take that long; it's the fine-tuning and fixing the long floats without destroying the overall look, (even though they may be indistinguishable in the end,) that takes up time. Perhaps if I spent longer in the earlier stage my twills will be more varied.

The reason why I moved on to this piece, why I had the gumption to find/fix two threading mistakes I marked almost a year ago, was because I got lost/fed up with the tapestry-technique piece.
If you remember, I got started; the treadling was tricky but I color-coded it in small segments; and Pat clarified the technique so I was good to go, in my head. (It took a longer to get the body used to it.) But the way I switched colors was the usual zigzag, (what I call "kasumi", or "mist/cloud", a Japanese visual device used when depicting bird's-eye view,) and I wanted a less fussy pattern so I started over. But they don't look all that different, just slightly less fussy, so I'll keep going, mixing things up a bit. I think.

By the time I started the second time, I had half the treadling memorized so the weaving went somewhat faster, but I need breaks every two repeats lest I get tired and cross-eyed.

I want to write more about this piece but I'll wait until I'm happier about it. Or at least have made more progress.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Envrion-mentaly Friendly Mixed Media

This is not a post introducing new/fav materials, but soliciting suggestions. I'm modifying a post I placed on the FB Letter Journal group on FB because frankly, although hardly my biggest problem, this has been doing my head in.

I've always been uncomfortable with the amount of acrylic-based material prevalent in contemporary mixed media and didn't buy much until I joined the LJ group. A couple of months ago I finished three newish pens in one night, and was appalled by the use I got out of them vs. the amount of plastic I was throwing away, and felt the need to draw a policy for myself. Although it would be nice to get rid of all petroleum-based products, this is 2017 and in some cases convenience wins, and I don't always understand names of chemicals/ingredients, but I assume that means baddies. I've started a tentative list of things I can/should not buy when I run out of them. Can you please help me add/change/update with material you know that would help me reduce petroleum consumption? Thank you.

Use:
*Pencils: lead, oily, water-color, ink/sumi
*Charcoal & conte & pastel- the powdery kind
*Crayons & pastel & sticks: oil, water, ink
*Paint/dyes in cake or metal tube; watercolor in half pan allowed for now to fill with tube paint later (Although are metal tubes environmentally better than plastic?)
*Ink/sumi/dye/pigments
*Brushes, sticks, feathers, fruits/veg, etc, etc.
*Pen nibs / fountain pens?
*Also buy individual colors not in ornate sets/packaging
*Also buy bigger sizes if in plastic and if I like the color??
*Glue in tubs - also test rice glue
*Paper/newspaper/natural fibers
*Worthwhile refills of items on "Avoid" list
*Eraser, eventually reusable soft kinds only.
*Sandpaper
*Ceramic/metal containers/palettes; recycled plastic containers/palettes

Avoid:
*Acrylic paint and associated products for textures, adhesive, sparkles/shine, and all the next best things. Gesoo??
*Most pens including ink/paint/gel/felt-tip unless good refills are available
*Washi tapes until I know more about commercial products because they don't feel like real washi.
*Paint in plastic tubes if possible
*Plastic tools, especially if I can make them
*Kitchen plastic wraps for effects.

OK for now but look for alternatives:
*Spray varnish; used to seal many of my preferred material, especially on envelopes; cf. liquid varnish - are they all acrylic? Are others better or worse? (I use spray because hubby uses it, too.)
*Glue stick when not home
*Possibly white/gold/silver/bronze gel pens, cuz... I like them.
*Probably oil-based felt-tip pens in black in a couple of widths, possibly blue and red
*Kitchen wax paper - look for very thin plastic table cloth?? Also, check "how to make" vids and see if I can make them thin. I put them between paper/pages and then stick them under weight to flatten the whole journal, or to post to the next person when unsure if the pages are completely dry.
* Disposable gloves - although the better ones Mom sent me can be used for at least half a dozen times before getting crusty with dry paint/glue, etc.

Questions:
*One of the things I'd like to try on Tess' suggestion is portable plastic brushes with a compartment for water, in conjunction with ink; has anyone tried this?
*I used to be able to buy gel pen refills in more colors than I found pens, Japan?, but haven't seen them here so I'll go online. Know a good site? I have 30 or so shells, and I sure hope they don't come in skinny plastic tubes!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Money, Travel, Pricing

Oh, dear. I knew tapestry technique would be slow to weave, but tt takes so long to unpick! I'll show some pictures when I make some progress, but the bigger, color-coded treadling plan print out helped. A little.

I wished I could tell you I got back to weaving after being struck by lightening, or Melbourne/Vincent/Matisse/[insert_almost_anything] did the trick, but my life rarely includes that kind of filmic moments. It's actually because: a) I wanted money to: i) replace what I spent during the April Auckland trip; ii) help pay for the Melbourne trip; ii) let me to go to Japan later this year or Feb next year; and iv) help pay for our Otago/Southland, (bottom of the South Island,) road trip in November; b) I got tired of being unproductive; and c) while exploring the various mixed-media techniques, I remembered how familiar loom-weaving is to me, albeit nowhere near as free or spontaneous, and I wanted to it back in my life. It's like returning to another van Gogh book every so often; I know the cast of characters and the basic plot, so I have room to appreciate the nuances and enjoy different authors' spin.

Earlier in the year Mom asked me when I'm coming home next, (a first,) and when I said Feb, she complained we couldn't travel in Feb. I was slightly taken aback, because she's never made demands on my trips and Feb is, if the trains keep running, the least crowded and nice. I was sure she'd forget the conversation and indeed she had. It was, however, on Ben's mind and after Melbourne he reminded me several times about Air New Zealand's Asia sale.

So, I'll be going home for a few weeks in Oct/Nov. (Coincidentally, in time for "van Gogh and Japan" at Tokyo Met Art Museum, who latet last year hosted "van Gogh and Gauguin" when I was keenly reading up on the subject. Just down the road National Western Art Museum will be showing "Hokusai and Japonism" at the same time. Don't you just love it when folks work collaboratively?) As regards going somewhere with Mom, I'm thinking of something different from her usual travels, like a few days in Osaka, best city in Japan for foodies. We shall see!

And this is why I'm having another look at my selling strategy, for want of a better word. Suter is the only outlet now, and it'd be nice to develop another, but I also enjoy the occasional online-sale, even though it's labor-intensive; practice does make it easier. Since April 1, I sold three during the cashmere sale, plus another at the Suter, income total almost reaching a quarter of Auckland flight/accom+Melbourne flight/accom+Japan flight.

Small cashmere scarves sell the best at the Suter; I think it's the price, size, and the fact over half of those who buy my things at the Suter are overseas visitors, and the tiny scarves make handy mementos of a trip to Nelson. Also in the new Suter shop, my wider pieces are folded so narrow they aren't shown to their best advantage.

The smaller scarves are fast to make, unless I insist on many weft colors in tapestry technique. And they are cost-effective. (I hope I'm using that term correctly.) Of all cashmere and cashmere-mix pieces, the small, 6-8 inch width scarves allow me make the most profit in relation to the cost of yarns, excluding taxes and shipping to bring the yarn over here, whereas some wider pieces allow me to recover less than 150% of the cost. I learned this by weighing the cashmere pieces in the last sale; all these years I imagined my endeavours were slightly more profitable. (But wider cashmere pieces are scrumptious.)

Merino yarns are less expensive but those I tend to put on the 16-shaft, making them more time-consuming and labor-intensive; I haven't looked into merino cost/price ratio but now I'm interested. Mixing silks and wool from Mom's stash sure help.

I've never took art-pricing flormulae seriously, as I'm so slow everything I make will end up ridiculously expensive. Very early on I wanted to generate enough income to pay for material/equipment/a few books and one or two workshops a year, (so optimistic!) but this side of 2008, (or 2009 when it really started to affect me,) I've only aimed to recover yarn cost and postage. Which I've been able to some years, because I stopped buying yarns and books for the most part, only augmenting the stash to help using them up nicely. But that felt a little... sad in that it's so unambitious, almost apologetic. So this year, belatedly, I dared to aim high, to make enough to cover a big part of my Auckland/Melbourne/Japan trips.

Grand ambition! I have a few commissions which will help me reach almost half of the goal. I'll have at least one more online sale, and a bunch of different-looking small pieces at the Suter, so maybe I can get over the halfway point? LOL. You can see why I quit filing income tax returns. The business side of my weaving is ridiculous; I think it takes the fun out of weaving sometimes.

So, to the loom!

Do tell me how you price your work, what you think about them, how you manage/combat the selling side of your weaving, please??

Monday, July 17, 2017

Weavering / Weaving

The weavering

I've been trying to read books about art, artists/artisans, textile, weaving, but I hadn't been able to stick to any for ages until I came across a Matisse book I bought in Brisbane. It's about Matisse and modernism, and the text is in that convoluted, old-style art writing, but for some reason I'm enjoying it, albeit in small doses. I've done marginally better gazing at pictures.

I have been talking to friends about how I could continue weaving, knowing my technique sucks; Finn, Lloyd, Thomas, and, oh, Stella again and again, and of course Ben. I know what I don't want to do now and that is to move into "textile art", however one defines it. I know what I don't understand and that is "to make a feature" of my bad technique. Otherwise we spoke of changing my POV, deconstruction, mending, ornamentation, and a few other things I should have written down but I didn't. I felt a little disingenuous at these times because I was speaking entirely from my head, as if it was all someone else's worry.

In fact, I find myself not as enthusiastic about anythings compared to how I have been all my life, not passionate, not even biased or partial the way I think I've been all my life. It's not all bad because I've long worked to becoming more composed and analytical, so if it's working that is good news, but it could be aging and not caring, and that's a harder one to take.

At this point I've got mixing colors, making fussy/unpredictable/irregular patterns, and using textures to obscure technical booboos to some degree.

While talking to Stella before Melbourne, I knew as we spoke I wasn't catching the full extent of her advice, and I told her as much. I wasn't taking notes and hoped with enough time to regurgitate I'll discover I understood more. When I came home I couldn't remember much of the important stuff, but I learned something I might have known for a while: when I listen to advice, especially when it involves something new to me, I visualize cloth that includes that new element, like my weaving USB stick. And I remember exactly when I started this, in the afternoon of the Art Expo ten years ago when I was bored out of my wits with no galleries/shops interested in my work. I knew I needed a way to hold visual information, which was new and foreign to me then; now I need another way to store conceptual/ephemeral information.

On Wednesday, I went to see a film on Matisse with Jean; she has the ticket stubs and I don't know the title or the production year, but it was in a doco-style, with no actors playing his or anyone's part. It showed places he lived/worked superimposed on his paintings or vice versa, fading in/out, and the narrative was a composite of his letters, almost all complaining about money. My word, he was as constant a whinger as Vincent or me on the subject, and the overall tone of the film was unnecessarily depressing.

Often we only saw details or portions of a painting, and there was nothing, for example, about the "movement" that were Impressionism or Fauvism, not much about his friendships, or the many deaths of loved ones. As far as films go, I give maybe 6 out of 10, but I had an experience I hadn't in ages, of my body recalling the motion/sensation/emotion of weaving on my big loom, in reaction to the visuals. That's another "normal" I'd forgotten for give or take a year; I used to get this rush whenever I saw certain kind of visually pleasing films, to the detriment of not being able to pay attention to the film itself and wanting to go home right away.  On Wednesday, I had a full afternoon of errands to run, so I couldn't. But I was pretty sure the weaver in me was back, at least for the moment.    

* * * * *

The weaving.

I threaded and started weaving this warp before Ben brought home the aforementioned workplace germs. It was meant to be the first of three quick cashmere warps for small pieces, to top up the Suter shop; the new shop space and new shop manager's style of displaying textiles suit smaller pieces best, and as of Wednesday there is only one left.
I started with one weft color per piece in mind, to whip up between nine to twelve quickly, then I got sidetracked and started mixing things a bit and needed Pat's help, (from which side to introduce a third color, and it turned out I cut and change the direction of the second color first!) feedback and reassurance, after I knew I was no longer contagious. And in spite of what I said about writing diluting ideas in the last post, writing/talking help me fine-tune my plans at the execution stage. I'm going to make a series with extremely bright, extroverted, "look at me" weft colors, although whether I'll mix weft colors in all nine-to-twelve will be known only when I finish the last.
Pat thought, well, I don't know what she thought, but in effect, "typical" of me to go for a not-straight-forward treadling. I've woven this before with one shuttle, which wasn't that hard, but then she left and I wove and half a dozen rows on I was lost. And it's 47 picks per repeat, (not 48+1) so I thought best to prepare a color-coded "you cannot miss it" treadling printout before I go unweave

The picture above is not under tension. I "made" all three warps with 130 ends, but while threading I discovered this one was missing 12 ends, so the light green end at the left requires a bottle of disinfectant hanging from an S hook while weaving.

At any rate, the weaver is weaving after nearly 11 months hiatus, although still rather inept.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Lighting, Writing, Weeding and Weavering

We've had a cold spell wreaking havoc up and down the country, except, again, Nelson has been chilly, the days starting at lower teens inside our house, in centigrade, and a few nights not quite getting to the cosy 18C in spite of a roaring fire, but you know I love it.

It's been an interesting winter, and in fact an interesting 18 months of changing climate. If I remember correctly, last summer wasn't as hot as the two before, with more rain, although not in regular doses but in all-or-nothing fashion. We didn't have spring/autumn gales, in fact compared to 2015 (??), nothing. We had a few hot summer days here and there, most notably the few days around the end of Daylight Savings, then winter chills came astonishing early, within weeks of the end of summer, and not gently but dropping down to Nelson's usual winter lows. Our deciduous trees dropped brown leaves all in one week. Then the warm (for me?) temps came daringly early around winter solstice and it's not sad enough our long evenings were going to get shorter, but usually we have cold until late July, so I was in despair! Then came this cold spell, so for me, yay.

I like cool summers, cold winters and rain in Nelson, and loathe the seasonal wind. But I discovered the down side of not having enough this year; our firewood is moist. We got a wood in early January which is later than usual but not late, and because we were both still going to regular acupuncture appointments for our various ailments we didn't stack them right away. But where we lave them is our second best wind tunnel where usually in spring/autumn the wind rises from the sea, rushes up the hill and blows and shakes my house. The best is around my kitchen and front door where we stack our wood below the eaves; that's against advise of our chimney guy who said the best spot is under the roof of the tiny patio outside the kitchen, but that's lightly off the tunnel and though it doesn't get rain, if left too long firewood grow green growth especially around the bottom layer touching the red brick.

When winter temps started, meaning theoretically there is no more gales, Ben stacked two-thirds or two truck loads, (and slightly higher than other years so I can't reach the top!) and we had a good amount of last year's, drier for starting fire, but I'll conclude this segment by saying they ain't as dry as other years and now I begrudgingly appreciate the seasonal gales.

* * * * *

For most of the last decade, since I started Unravelling, I felt I wasn't being productive, the Cartesian unthinker, unless I documented here what I did, which led to this weird compulsion to share for friendship of other weavers, but also because I was utterly clueless as to how to work for myself, to be a good administrator, beyond paying bills and taxes. Besides having always been talkative. Then this became a convenient chronicle, often the one place I check to see what I did on a particular month/year.

As I moved further inside my head, I've also become suspicious of loosing/diluting/deforming ephemeral ideas/images by turning them into texts. Sure, sometimes ideas become clearer and "actionable", ugh, by writing/explaining about them, but also often they became narrower, trivial, ordinary. I also felt shallow, or that I was cheapening my ideas, by the short idea-action-plan turnaround, as if I hadn't thought of all options, say.

But then I've always had horribly short memory which continues to shorten, so unless I somehow keep hints I lose ideas. Sketchbooks had the same, (worse?) constricting feeling, so I've been auditioning a bullet point list; when a point accumulates too many sub-points, sub-points come in paragraphs, or I have three or four levels of sub-points, it's may be time to hunker down and write a post, or scrap it altogether. Maintaining this list also provides logical and lovely paths to illustrate a point from different perspective, but then you know better, I don't always follow these lovely paths.

Oh, dear.

The point is, I have surprised myself last week to find I have been rather productive, or at least busy, in spite of not having chronicled anything here. And I don't know which way I prefer.

* * * * *

Other than that Ben works in a school, with some colleagues with small children, and every July/August he brings home icky sticky germs, this year in late June, I have been well. I have not had many debilitatingly-tired-for-no-reason days; although two to three months later than usual, I have been gardening in spurts, (it's so cold it's perfect for me); I have been reading books on paper; and I have even been weaving/weavering. I would say life is back to normal if I know what my normal is/was, but with it returned insomnia. LOL, the roughly 16 months when the mood was in low I had only a dozen sleepless night, but the last two weeks, three. As usual, I blame the over-stimulation in the garden.

This normal includes a few permanent changes, the biggest being our diet; aiming for as little carbohydrate as possible will last for the rest of our lives unless some new study overturns the benefits we've seen. We do indulge in an occasional pastry or emergency frozen dumplings, and we ate toast every morning in Melbourne, but it helps I get upset stomach from wheat telling us we've had too much and our baking with almond and chickpea flour have improved. In fact, we have become more sensitive to delicate tastes and smells, I spend a lot more time in the kitchen and although I don't record stuff I notice things, and I've become a better cook in a relatively short time compared to, oh, the last 43 years when I tried really hard, off and on, to be a good cook. That's not a bad thing.

And mixed media now has a place in my life. I want to spend more time in the garden and weaving so there'll be fewer days/hours spent on it, but I love the spontaneous, worry-free way of making something pleasing to my eyes, and it's such a easy way to experiment with colors.

* * * * *

Last week I excavated my purple/gray/claret hellebores from the tall weeds because they started a little while ago. The wood ash is fertilizer/bird-digging deterrent to a tiny degree, but most importantly markers for where the plants are after I've cut off all the old leaves, especially important for newer, tinier plants and the one dark purple, ugh, I didn't see and stepped on and hope I didn't kill. Sticks, rocks, and mussel shells are place makers, too. Not the pretty pics of two years ago, but, oh, I do so love them.
This is the most dense part and when warmer and the big leaves have grown the ground is covered. I hope to expand further to the left, and double the hellebore patch.
The second darkest, of which I have a couple. The darkest "grays" (very very dark, bluer purple,) stay smaller and don't self-seed, so they are the ones I pollinate most enthusiastically, although here are never too many seeds; at least not enough for me.
 Whereas clarets self-seed freely; I'll spread these out probably next autumn/winter.
The white patch was weeded a few weeks ago and now it's time to weed the new weeds which were too tiny back then, and remove the leftover rubbish. Two freakishly vigorous pink lividus suddenly dropped dead last summer. I have two or three more of them left but eventually this area will be covered with Orientalis  singles of unknown or not purple/gray/claret colors. Although I have a lot of whites, I don't have a Niger; it was unintentional as the patch started with a couple of greens and one yellow, but that's gardening tough-love style.
I found these babies in the white patch but sadly not their mama, which wasn't a small or weak plant. Oh, dear.
These were started from purchased seeds mostly from the northern hemisphere. (When I pollinate, I stick seeds near the parents directly in the ground.) In the foreground are Orientalis singles of unknown colors; hellebores are notoriously hard to predict even when (cross_ pollinated under strict control by professionals, so we see a lot of "various/unknown" seeds, but they germinate readily, too. All others are different varieties of purples/blues/grays, and possibly one or two named "black", purchased over the years. Seeds from the northern hemisphere take a minimum of 18 months to germinate at my house, but I've had two kinds come up after 30 months, so when I plant them, I dig biggish holes and entire content of a pot goes into the ground just in case there is a dominate late-bloomer hiding. I used to thinly spread grit over the seeds, too, but about 1 cm of crushed seashells have worked better so seeds purchased in the last two years are covered with that, which sure makes it easier to see new babies.

* * * * *

I don't know how much longer we can stay in this house, garden the slopes, (and the parts I'm working in are the easier parts,) but most worrying, carrying firewood across the driveway, up narrow steps, and across our patio, up a few more steps. Perhaps we should consider putting a one-switch heating system soon. But it is nice living and feeling the slight changes in our tiny corner of the planet. I'm hoping ten more years here, though.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Charmed by Melbourne

I'm glad I got the Melbourne pics posted; I had been sitting on this post's words for a fortnight thinking about the too-many photos I have to go through. Melbourne is ever so photogenic.

Melbourne is wonderfully civilized, by which I mean people are polite and kind, and the size of Downtown/CBD is big enough to contain oh-so-many places of interest and beautiful buildings but small enough to remain manageable on foot; public transport is plentiful, easy to use, and in case of their achingly lovely tram, free inside the central part of the city, and information readily available. It's an amazing place as regards food, where we never had a bad meal, everything was fresh, high quality and delicious, including back street takeaway joints. I was almost tempted to try a fast food joint just to see how well they performed, but with only five days I didn't dare waste one meal; coffee didn't disappoint, (the worst we had was "average",) we knew this beforehand, but for me, brewed with the soft Melbourne water, accom owner Neil's biggest, gentlest tea leaves this side of the... 1950's was a real treat.
We chose our accommodation well; we tried AirBnB after hearing so many great reports from well-traveled friends. We wanted an apartment with kitchen, not sharing a unit, because we intended to shop at the Queen Victoria Market and cook at home. As the main goals of this holiday were art, architecture and urban photography, with whatever else we came across, (maybe some sketching, flâneur-ing, food and coffee tasting, with side trips to coffee roasteries, bookshops and art supply shops,) we wanted something unshiny, yesteryear-y, sans pools and gyms. After a few days, we found something we couldn't not have imagined in our wildest dreams. The places looks exactly like the photos, filled with Neil's late brother's artwork, Regency furniture, high ceiling and an old-time grace; beds were comfortable, shower better than our own. It's in an old converted office building, very central, but surprisingly quiet except for the weekend merriment across the street at Ms Colllins, not the club itself but folks waiting to get in, or out for a cigarette, and the obligatory urban police car at 2 or 4AM. LOL. The kitchen was smaller than we expected so didn't cook but assembled a few meals. There was no Wifi in the room, no all day Al Jazeera, Ben read a whole lot, I managed a tiny bit of sketching.

As planned we walked a lot in Melbourne; Ben usually clocked 18k steps by early afternoon, one day, before noon. But I was more out of shape, and we'd forgotten how to walk in/against the crowd. I got tired by mid-afternoon while Ben still wanted to keep going. I might have liked the accommodation more than Ben, too, and my current life of having plenty of time to savor/digest experiences may have highlighted our different "schedules". We did have one morning when he went to his favorite roastery while I stuck around the accommodation sorting the tourist info, doodling just a little, and taking photographs of the accommodation. It took two days for us to learn the lay of the land, and five until I could walk against the flow without thinking about it.

Here's a funny story. Ben had researched coffee grinders and he had to go to Padre Coffee, 438-440 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, a suburb north of the CBD. So on Day One we went to the Information Center, picked up the tram map and bought the tram cards, and off we went. He got what he wanted, plus some beans, and the cafe treated us to coffee. Friends had recommended many eateries in the Italian Precinct, mainly around the 300 block on Lygon Street, Carlton, a suburb between Brunswick East and Melbourne, so we thought we'd walk back into town. And we did. For perhaps an hour? More??  And though we found a few eateries, Lygon St was more industrial-looking with nothing like a "precinct", Italian or otherwise. When we saw 22 Lygon Street, we took the tram back into town, feeling more than disappointed.

On Sunday, we told friends Anaru and Roz how about this illusive "Italian Precinct", and they were slightly puzzled, until a light bulb went inside Roz's head: house numbers on the same street change/revert/repeat when they crossed suburbs. After 22, Lygon Street would have entered (North) Carlton, numbers resuming around 1000 on one side, 600 on the other, and it's this set of 300 block we were after, and A&R even took us to Brunetti on a crowded Sunday afternoon and a fab independent bookshop.

While the episode of the Italia Precinct was funny, the Greek Precinct was another story. In 2000 when Ben and I met up with my parents in Melbourne, we walked up and down one street trying to decide which cake shop to go into, and deciding after long last on the most crowded one very early in the day. This time, however, we found one big cake shop, (and it was big, and I took one pic, which I've since lost,) and one casual eatery, even though this time we were on the street marked "Greek Precinct". The Chinese Precinct next to it was most definitely there, though we were there too late for lunch and too early for dinner, so we only took pics.

Melbourne publishes a bookshop map. Can you believe it? We hit a few, and my best was either Books for Cooks near Queen Victoria Market, or the museum shop in National Gallery Victoria Australia-Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square, not the NGV International where the van Gogh exhibition was held. I only bought the van Gogh exhibition catalogue because I didn't see an Australian cookbook I wanted in the first instance, and everything at the gallery shop was so darned heavy. With Anaru's help, we also found one art supply shop; it was an intimidatingly serious place, mostly oil, and when I couldn't find a 150-180gms sketch pad I didn't ask. We saw some fancy portable paint brush in metal cases, though, very elegant, very yesteryear-y, very expensive. I wished I took pics of them.

Independently-owned shops are still plentiful and thriving in Melbourne. As are mending/repair/alteration shops. (Leather good repairs, in the center of town, no less!) And ever-so-many barbers and hair salons. And within downtown/CBD, no big neon or ugly signs, no big box shops in look-at-me colors. One of the eye-openers was they had a normal-sized supermarket in Southern Cross train station. In Japan, there are supermarkets in the basements of, or right next to, train stations, but not often right in the station and if you get off at a smaller station, they could well have been closed a long time by the time you went home. Melbourone's setup, where you can see the trains coming and going, seemed much more customer-friendly. Although, in fairness, it is about population, too; Japan has many more people at the station, and many more trains departing all the time. On the other hand, the population of Melbourne and Yokohama are not so different, so instead of boutique clothes shops, I say, supermarkets nearest to the stations!!

We didn't see one-tenth of historic buildings/museum/art galleries we intended to we didn't go look at tweed jackets or hats which was on my list of things I wanted to buy Ben. Because of our diet we didn't need to eat much, which was cost effective but perhaps better research may enhance our experience. I regret I wasn't in shape, but we need to discuss our different ways of enjoying/experiencing things. Ben used to be the one who didn't want me to cram our days with To Go Lists for years, so this was a surprise reversal. I had a hard time coping with big city crowd; I had a hard time relaxing most of the time and I'd be interested to observe how I cope with crowd the next time I'm in Japan. I wished I sketched more, and next time, at least part of the tip, we'd like to stay in an accommodation with a regular kitchen so we can cook with ingredients from Queen Vic Market. Oh, seafood and butter!!

And if all goes well, if neither of us has a medical/dental emergency and we don't have to replace major appliances, (fridge is already on the list; we can hear it vibrate from the bedroom now,) we may go back within the year while our tourist visa is still valid. Ben wants to go back when the days are still longer so we can make more of our time.

Or Sydney, or Brisbane, or Adelaide.

Ben's are here.

Edit: a few more thoughts. Ben and I enjoy art exhibitions in a similar way, so whatever we do, however much time we spend, we can find each other at the museum shop. Every time we go to Wellington, I wonder if I want to move there, and the answer is always, yes, if we can afford to live in the CBD and still have some quiet, which we can't. The answer is the same for Melbourne; we heard the cost of living not only in the CBD but suburbs close by are prohibitive, but it is still a seductive idea. A month in the winter in an CBD apartment would be ideal for me; being able to travel there once in a while would be alright, too. Five days was always going to be much too short, but for our first holiday in 14 years not connected to family or workshops, it went well. We're just greedy for more.

Melbourne Pics - Part II

Before the trip, I resolved to take food, architecture/urban pics and a few selfies, as well as to sketch. I didn't do a whole lot of any of them, (two selfies??) but I am happy with  some of the urban pics I did get. Melbourne is so photogenic.   
Block Arcade entrance.  
I don't remember taking this, though. 
Chinatown. 
Almost filmic.
 
Amazing what stops me in my tracks. This day it was the pictures of
Mary in the Catholic Bookshop! 
Old and new. There were worryingly numerous holes in the city where presumably old buildings had been taken down to be replaced by the new.  
Money changers at the gates of the temple, or in this case a cafe in front of a Baptist Church that looks like a Greek not-quite-temple?? 
Brunetti on Sunday afternoon in the Italian Precinct; more on this later.  
Fish and Chippery, somewhere between the Italian Precinct and the CBD. 
A most pleasant afternoon with the Woods
After Round I at the van Gogh exhibition.
Our accommodation; more on this later, too.  
Our last morning came all too soon. We would love to go back, and sooner rather than later. 

Melbourne Pics - Part I

Over five days, I took around 300 pictures, which is not many for me until a couple of years ago, but plenty considering I've chosen to look/experience rather than photograph/record more recently. Still, after culling, I still have enough to show you over a couple of posts so here's the first part.
Arriving at the big smokes after dark. 
View from the window of the accommodation, down Market Street,
looking south towards Yarra River.  
Block Aracade. The place was crowded and we didn't go in. 
 
Nice, eh. 
National Gallery of Victoria - Australia in Federation Square, four flights straight up.
We took the lift up to the top and came down one flight at a time. 
Padre Coffee, the only place Ben had to go in Melbourne. Otherwise we played it by ear.
Just after Padre, Ben says, "Oh, goody, there's an art supply shop for you!"
And now some from Queen Victoria Market!!
We got THE BEST  bitter soft cheese from France, and a pretty good blue. There was also a butter shop, the first time I encountered one, but since we didn't have a kitchen, (more on this later,)
I could only admire in awe.
Yeah, start training them early!!
Best coffee at the market according to the local gentleman who shared our table,
and darned good sausages, too. 
I was looking forward to all kinds of specialty produce stalls, but this was the only "Italian" stall I found, although many others carried a few typically Mediterranean produce.
There were plenty of Asian produce stalls with, among others, amazingly-looking bitter gourds!
I love radicchio; I usually wash and eat them raw, but this time we had some scrumptious cheese.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Vincent, Ben and I in Melbourne

The exhibition.  It was immensely satisfying.

From the reading before the trip and my less-than-thrilling experience in Auckland, (sixth para,) I expected a smallish exhibition with not too many of his most famous paintings. That turned out to be the case, and a blessing. Compared to what I would expect of a painting exhibition, (nobody said this is a painting exhibition, though,) there were many more sketches; prints of other artists' paintings, the likes of which Vincent sold in his short art dealer career, and later studied and copied; and too many Japanese woodblock prints, which were in vogue after first appearing in Exposition universelle of 1867 and he and Theo collected.

I didn't count but there were perhaps around 40 oils, and at least two tiny, extremely detailed watercolors. Most/all paintings had glass in front but the lighting was good I had to look from all direction to check; at least one piece was badly situated, though, with the green glare of the exit sign dominant from my height. I was obsessed with this glass issue this exhibition, as some of his paintings glistened, making them look less Vincent-esque, (or rather, my preconceived notion of his work,) and I wondered if it was the glass or an extra layer of varnish. This was noticeable perhaps due to the short distance allowed to view, the lack of crowd, or the works being hung lower, compared to my previous Vincent experiences. I could see the grooves of the impasto, and where the peaks were flattened because he rolled up a lot before completely drying to post to Theo, I'd like to think. If I had another chance, I'd go looking for his finger prints.

Before we left home, I was told Tuesdays tended to be quiet, and once there, to come in at 9AM when the gallery opens. That's what we did; we were about the 20th in the queue at the main door, and perhaps 12th for the tickets. We did the first round in relative peace and quiet, and after a coffee, went back in, this time competing with a crowd that included a few best-behaving school groups I've ever seen in art exhibitions. And then we went home once, but I am a fan of art galleries just before closing and we couldn't help ourselves and returned at 4 for the last hour.

Having less well-known pieces and being able to stand close allowed us to look more carefully. One of the most interesting discoveries was his use/distribution of details: in his heyday of heaping impasto, he loaded details in some parts of the paintings while just covering the canvas with a thin layer in others. (Ben joked that he ran out of paint for the day.) This made the eyes linger on the rich, layered area in the way they do on focused areas of a photograph. This was most evident in our favorite piece, The Green Vineyard, (October 2-3, 1888, Arles,) in which if you divided the painting horizontally into five nearly equal sections, the middle section and the one below were the richest, followed by the right half (?) of the top section and the central part of the second from top. And on my screen, this linked photo is pretty darned close to the colors I remember.

The official line is colors burst into Vincent's work after arriving in Paris, but I found it wasn't necessarily so. He indeed used bright colors to great effect, so perhaps mixing more hues after Paris would be more accurate. My recollection of Planting Potatoes, (September 1884, Nuenen,) has a darker (but not blacker) sky and browner earth, making the pale orange sunset all the more starker than the linked photo. Likewise I enjoyed the intended/unintended abstraction of the human form; he struggled with human proportions and they are often inaccurate, but the earlier, blockier shapes are funny and compassionate. Potato Digging (five figures), (August 1883, The Hague,) in my mind, was much more vibrant and adorably naive. Suffice it to say, his Dutch paintings were far from all Potato Eaters!

If we are examining seasons, I would have liked to have seen a couple from his dark Drenthe days, but that's nobody's fault but his, as he suddenly decided to leave town and all his possessions. Also from The Hague when he had a glimpse of a "family" life he craved, and was presumably as happy as Vincent was able. (And seasons don't need to be confined to the country, do they?) There were more from his Nuenen days than I expected, fewer flowers-in-vases from Paris, proportionately few of his more famous Arles and Saint-Rémy paintings, giving it a distinct impression of very short summers in the South of France, but a good number from Auvers-sur-Oise considering the very short "stay" there. Alas, no weaver paintings, as we had one of the worst jobs ever, stuck in our holes of houses in the dark toiling away, regardless of the season!

I'm finicky about exhibition catalogues. I don't have faith in the colors, many are ridiculously expensive and/or weighs a ton and a half, a few are light on content. This, though, had many photos of works not included in the exhibition, and lots of text for the size of the exhibition, so even though the colors are not at all how I remember, and it weighed in at well over 2kg, paperback, (NGV didn't bother with hardcover; I wonder why!) I brought one home.

When translated into photographs, it is the colors, shapes and lines of paintings that appeal the most, so some of our favorites from the exhibition made ho-hum postcards, (many weren't made into postcards at all,) while some colorful but not-as-intriguing-in-person-on-this-occasion works looked great on merchandises. We came home with not even a postcard, unheard of for moi.

I also saw my very first Rothko at the same gallery, a pale pink-orange job and rather flat. (We went around their permanent collection on Saturday, well before approaching Vincent.) I was terribly disappointed.

But it was great fun looking at Vincent's work with Ben, his first time viewing in person. He loves landscape photography so he enjoyed the subject; typically he noticed strange and minute details. It's wonderful we can keep talking about the exhibition and relive the experience over and over. I think Vincent has a new fan.