Recycle re-use

On experiencing creativity


I am feeling particularly energised after an afternoon workshop at QAGOMA (Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art) with Brisbane artist John Honeywill. John had us wielding large sticks dipped in black paint across paper laid the on the floor, followed by collaging, pencil scribbling and rubber drawing. All done in the name of creativity.

Collage number 2, now nothing more than an image on my hand-me-down iPhone, is the collage design I liked best of the three I did. We had just 15 minutes. The exercise aimed to combine the intuitive with the thinking part of the brain. Instinctively, I approached this as a colour and tonal piece. Intuition and experience drew me to the particular colours.

My first collage had been a happy accident that resulted primarily from plonking the bits of paper on the backing page. As a consequence, for Collage Number 2, I decided to work within the ‘confines’ of the materials, that is to use their own particular qualities rather than manipulate or change them.

What spoke to me were the beautiful ragged edges of two of the bits of paper, something I had not particularly focused on when choosing them. They became the heroes in my design and, being heroes, needed top billing, with a good supporting structure. This is where the black strips came in handy.

The whole design came together in minutes, with no repositioning or conscious thinking. Even the conscious thoughts, requiring many words to describe here, came in seconds. Not surprisingly this exercise felt like a powerful burst of energy! For me, collage making, or any artistic endeavour, too frequently becomes laboured rather than fluid. A drawn out bid for the right composition, colour, texture or shape can degenerate into exhausting, fruitless fiddle rather than a creative act.

At the outset of the workshop John had briefly explained the connection between unconscious process and the the thinking brain in creativity. Good teachers provide experiences, not just words and that is exactly what John orchestrated. We had the experience of combining intuitive thinking with analytical thinking. Doing art using these different aspects of our brain makes magic happens. Oh to find that place each time I set to work!!

Thank you John. Click to visit John Honeywill

Magnetic Island

An unsurpassed natural beauty

Island Holiday Break, June 2021

This breathtaking view along the boardwalk from Nelly Bay to Arcadia (above) transfixed my artist’s eye. What a joy, walking in the National Park observing the different habitats, from mangroves to literal rainforests. With 76% percent of the rocky island being National Park, there are 10 distinct regional ecosystems here. Nine have a biodiversity status “of concern” and one is “endangered”.

Look up when walking in the Eucalypt forests and you will almost certainly find a Koala. There are Rock Wallabies by the ocean at Bright Point in Nellie Bay. The Beach Stone Curlew, one of 17 rare or endangered birds, fossicks in bush nearby the shores.


Kids planting trees

Hanging out to dry

27 pairs of work gloves

Like bats on a tree

Thanks to the Pengari Steiner School year eights who did a wonderful job of planting tubestock on the dunes at Marcus Beach, May 20, 2021

Easter Sunday Mosaics Workshop

Canberra Getaway

Planet over Painting

Van Gogh #2 Starry night

My Van Gogh Sunflower experience at the international exhibition at the National Gallery Australia bought to mind another Van Gogh moment many years ago when I saw a version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night for the first time at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).

The curators for this exhibition had also hung the painting so that the viewer first saw it from a distance. While the sunflowers dazzled me at a distance, the Starry night painting, completed in the same year (1888) had a mesmeric quality. I stood transfixed as the stars seemed to twinkle from afar. Starry Night, like the Sunflowers, is a medium sized painting (72.5×92 cm) and the optimum viewing point for many paintings of that size is much closer than where I stood on those two occasions. 

It never ceases to amaze me how people stand right on the ‘do not cross this line’ mark in front of art works at galleries. The descriptions besides the works encourage this behaviour, as do the crowds at blockbuster exhibitions, but most artworks, particularly larger pieces, look better from a distance.  I like to view artworks by moving around them; up close to see how the artist applied the paint and the techniques used; at various distances to find the optimum viewing point and to minimise  glare, and, if there are not too many people around, also to look from a number of different angles.

Finding the optimal viewing point for a work is an intuitive, individual process to a degree, but is also dictated by the work itself.   Fine small pencil drawings or old and rare prints that are displayed in low light for preservation purposes necessitate close up viewing. (The reading of the descriptions is in sync with the viewing distance in these situations.)

That the Starry Night painting stood out so strongly from a distance, spoke of Van Gogh’s virtuosity. He used his complimentary colour scheme powerfully so that the Dark Prussian Blue, Ultramarine and Cobalt Blue of the sky and river made the yellow stars pop out of the background, giving this relatively dark, low key painting a glowing  quality even from a distance. Technically the application of blue and yellow paint needs careful consideration so as not to end up with green where the two colours mix. 

As I marvelled at Van Gogh’s skill, the crowd broke my reverie. This blockbuster exhibition was in the days when only epidemiologists and pandemic specialists concerned themselves with the possibility of a virus that would spread so fast and widely with terrible consequences for so many people, and affect all aspects of our lives – even the way we view art in galleries.

Back then, blockbuster gallery goers moved slowly in a continuous mass, edging along the ‘do not cross this line’ mark, jostling for a better viewing position. I had plenty of time to see the Van Gogh at more than one angle while I moved slowly with the crowd. When I saw a small viewing gap, I’d dart out quickly to view the painting from different distances before reclaiming my position in the line.

The Starry Night on the Rhone, held by the Musee D’Orsay, does not appear on the coasters I bought at a tourist kiosk along the banks of the Seine in Paris but two other more ubiquitous night sky paintings do, one painted before the Rhone painting, the other after. Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum Arles which predates the Rhone painting is a night scene awash with bright yellow and orange light, cafe patrons and people on the street. The yellow facade of the cafe building dominates, with just a small corner of sky anticipating  the nocturnal sky paintings. 

Less than a year after the serene view of the Rhine, Van Gogh painted another Starry Night inspired by the view from his window at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy. This painting, held in the MoMa collection New York, was done quickly over several sessions and has an altogether different feel, perhaps indicative of the artist’s mental state.  More turbulent, full of movement, and unsettling energy the painting, for me has a sense of foreboding. 

I have not been lucky enough to see the originals of my two coaster paintings but even if I have the chance, the Rhone painting will always be a special and favourite work. I discovered in this work a painting that looked equally good no matter where I stood. Vastly different when viewed up close, but still utterly compelling – from every viewing point. That’s a very rare achievement.

Theresa May Postcards: my latest project

On 17  February 2019, two days after Theresa May’s Government had been defeated for the second time on her Brexit deal with the EU,  journalist Tom Peck  wrote an article in The Independent on the British Prime Minister. Peck likened her to the rugged Nokia 5210, a shock proof, water-resistant mobile phone that was renowned for its indestructibility.

She is indestructible. She is the cockroach in nuclear winter. She is the algae that survives on sulphuric gas from sub-aquatic volcanoes, seven miles beneath the daylight. She is the Nokia 5210.

Tom Peck The Independent, January 17, 2019

 Fascinated by this I looked up the Nokia 5210 and started reading old reviews from 2002.  Bizarre as it seemed, the journalist had hit on something that resonated: the words used to describe phone in the reviews somehow seemed to speak of Theresa May and the political situation. 

I used some of these words in the digitally-designed postcards.  Another element, the unusually shaped “on” “off” buttons of the Nokia phone, suggested people shouting; they represent the “yes” “no” protests seen daily in the press at that time. 

After two more defeats, May proved not to be indestructible, resigning on May 24, 2019.

Meanwhile mobiles have come a long way since the fabulously retro orange Nokia 5210, Peck’s quote, no doubt forgotten by most, has been buried by the 24 hour new cycle, and postcards are fast becoming a nostalgic thing the past.

Creating a garden path with a barbed wire grass edge

The clump of Barbed Wire Grass along the edge my garden path grew from wind blown seed. It gave me so much joy to see this plant which miraculously found its way to the edge of the path.

Then I noticed Mother Nature at work again. One-by-one three little grass seedlings appeared in a line on a bare patch of sand just off the main path. I could easily have mistaken them for weeds, but as they grew I realised they were native grasses of some sort. During a dry spell, each time I watered the banana plants nearby they had a little sprinkle of water too. Before long they were swaying in the breeze.

Then seed heads appeared. More Barbed Wire Grass, growing in a line creating an impromptu path to the banana patch and the wilder part of the garden where I let the natural vegetation reign. I call this ‘Zeroscaping” – Mother Nature plants a seed, you just need to notice, wait, then marvel at the design.


It prompts an artistic response too. I placed some mosaic tiles in a line to to create a more defined path. They are temporary with some round stepping stones underway, started at the Easter Sunday Mosaic Workshop.

Plant Notes: Cymbopogon refractus is a clump-forming Australian native perennial that is 1m in height when in flower from December to March.  Its seed heads,  look like barbedwire, hence the common name.  In a garden setting, it makes an unusual edging for a path, could be grown in swathes or used as the part of a layered planting. This grass needs no fertilising, can be cut back after is flowers and is easy to grow and maintain.

Van Gogh #1- Sunflowers

Most people are familiar with this sunflower painting, so ubiquitous are Van Gogh’s works. I imagined the father telling his daughter, “See, this is the original”, studying the painting to find the signature.

No matter how good the reproductions of this painting, none will prepare you for the extraordinary luminosity of the actual work.

I had one of those rare viewing moments that stay with you forever. Looking from a distance, I had an uninhibited view of the sunflowers. The painting glowed, commanding attention, although hung in another room on the wall where it could be viewed before entering.

The curator of this exhibition understood that, whilst comparatively small, this painting holds drama when viewed at a distance. Luckily we had booked for the first viewing session and got to the gallery early enough to be almost first in the queue, enabling me to have an unobstructed long view. It was an unanticipated magical moment.

Botticelli to Van Gogh Exhibition, National Gallery of Australia, 5th March – 14th June 2021