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What I Thought About When I Thought About Drawing

Cy Twombly

Artist Anne Hamilton wrote an amazing essay about making and creativity all people, artists or not, would be well inspired to read. I quote her;”

“One doesn’t arrive — in words or in art–by necessarily knowing where one is going. In every work of art something appears that did not previously exist, and so, by default, you work from what you know to what you don’t know. You may find yourself, as I did, in Ohio. You may set out to make a sculpture and find that time is your material. You may pick up a paintbrush and find that your making is not on canvas or wood but in relations between people. You may set out to walk across the room, but getting to what is on the other side may take ten years. You have to be open to all possibilities and to all routes–circuitous or otherwise”.

Find the full essay here;

I have been in the circuitous unknown during my residency here at Earthskin. Given the time to wander and muse without interruption, I have been in the delight of surprises arriving. Here is an example, a poem by the same title as this blog post;

What I Thought About When I Thought About Drawing

We all are makers, we make our lives every day. What we make matters. Here, to finish is Ann Hamilton again:” Every act of making matters. How we make matters. I like to remember, and remark with regularity, that the word “making” occupies seventeen pages of the Oxford English Dictionary, so there are multiple possibilities for a lifetime of making; make a cup, a conversation, a building, an institution: make memory, make peace, make a poem, a song, a drawing, a play; make a metaphor that changes, enlarges or inverts the way we understand or see something. Make something to change your mind–acts that amplify”.

Leave your trace, trust your mark.



My place of residence, the yurt

Earthskin yurt

Like sleeping in a shell, a thin skin, just a canvas membrane between you and the forest sounds, the rustling of animals in their nocturnal wanderings. The full moon has been so bright the yurt feels lit like looking up from underwater to the brilliance of the world above, shadows of the palm fronds wavering dimly through the plexiglass dome.

found nest, another kind of home

found on a walk to Murawai beach, a second nest

found nest after a rain storm

Master copies

Morandi is always an inspiration

I am looking at Morandi’s prints, in particular, his still life with shells, and my favorite,”Campo di tennis ai Giardini Margherita a Bologna” 1921.

There is much to be learned from copying an image. I am discovering this as I work in pencil to translate the delicate black lines he once scribed and scratched onto a copperplate so many years ago. I cannot match the quality of light to be found with the softness of a lead pencil bleeding into the paper. I imagine I can feel the tenderness he brought to the images, the way he created and held lights while retaining rich, varied and velvety blacks. His deft touch was so precise and yet simultaneously, full of feeling.

These images can be found in the book; Giorgio Morandi Lines of Poetry,

Home tennis court in Auckland.

Morandi inspires a series

The beauty of birds

All these birds have flown into my vision at Muriwai Beach

The Beauty of Birds

Morepork, Gannet, Brown Booby
a mated pair of Rosella Parrots, Fantail
Pheasant, Pukeko and Mapie
Tui, Tui, Tui
White Faced Heron still as a hermit
Kingfisher, Bell Bird, Wood Pigeon
Wild Ducks
the raptor
Harrier Hawk
all these feathered marvels of flight have either passed through the garden as I sit with coffee and notebook, watching the sun light the tops of trees,
sighted on my walk past the tannin waters of the pond
or startled by my footsteps, flown up and soared from the ridge
riding the thermals toward the sea
birds, bees, trees, forests
tribes of the forest are disappearing
clean water
is disappearing, words are being torn from mouths
tongues, languages, cultures
are disappearing
but in this protected bit of eden
still lives a piece of the wild
In all their beauty
I watch them               coming and going
in the heavens
and in my nightsky     arrive her messengers

Here in Muriwai, at Earthskin Residency I am being fed by my encounter with a piece of the wild. I have been granted time and space in which to let “ the facts form a poem in my mind”. (pg. 31 Learning to Die, Wisdom in the Age of Climate Change”) I quote Robert Bringhurst and Jan Zwicky referring to the physicist Michael Faraday lecturing on electricity at the Royal Institute London in 1858 who stated; “I am no poet but if you think for yourselves, as I proceed, the facts will form a poem in your mind”.

Bringhurst says “let’s have more truth, more birdsong, more reverential silence, and less jabber”.

Letting the facts form a poem in your mind is, or can be invited as a way of thinking and being in the world, a way of following uncertainties toward a discovery, it is an unfolding, a letting go. It is letting something happen as a way of being and belonging in the world, it is the way the wild unfolds. If one practices this way of being, one feels enlivened and enlarged. This is a kind of thinking “like an eco-system, like a planet, like a world,” quoting Bringhurst again. ”just by spending a day in the wild-alone with reality, keeping quiet and letting things unfold”, is the way to finding life’s poetry.

And finally, Bringhurst says “The wild is the only place to go to calibrate your mind. There really is no other place.” “Only the wild can calibrate your mind because its what your mind was born from”. (pg. 31 Learning to Die, Wisdom in the Age of Climate Change”)

As artists, we live in these uncertainties, the edge of the unknown is the mysterious place from which our work arrives. It is to embrace not knowing with a willingness to trust what we do not know that is the source from which to invite our most authentic response. We must trust even through the fallow periods and the necessary times of rest and “non-productive” hours of idling or days seemingly passed without result. This has been one of the biggest gifts of my time here at Earthskin. To sit and muse, to let the mind and pen wander without expectation. Give yourself this gift.
Stay wild.

On Painting

Earthskin lemon tree

The film referred to in the poem below is “Dream of Light”,

After O’Hara
Why I am not…

I am not a poet
I am a painter
Why? I think I would rather be
a poet, but I am not

as soon as I saw the yellow
lemons hanging plump as moons
shining out from their orbit of stilled
leaves all glossy with sun
I thought of Antonio Lopez Garcia
and his quince the courtyard and
the Spanish sun I was remembering how absorbed I was
in that slow-moving film
slow as paint drying I remember how Antonio
knocked two nails into the ground took his stance
centered himself on the tree
with plumb bob and horizontal line
how he laid down white marks crosses
carefully drawn on fruit and leaves
so he would know his path

Painter after painter ruin after ruin
age after age the painter’s gaze
faithfully receives the world

to the tree growing within to the ripening beauty
imperishable presence of lemons
quince or O’Hara’s SARDINES to the things
we vivid see that drop us into stillness

though the leaf curls the fruit darkens
and the flesh rots

ripening beauty


Muriwai pond

I walk past this pond as I walk the ridge to make my way down to the sea. It is alive with much birdlife, the air filled with their song. On a day I was caught in a downpour, rain falling intense as a monsoon, tiny frogs and salamanders were springing up from the long dry grass. They leaped from near under my feet and scurried downhill, racing with apparent reckless abandon toward their rapidly filling aqueous home. 

Day Trip

view from the bathroom window, Ponsonby Public Library

I love libraries. When your phone is suddenly dead and you need to make travel arrangements, the public library is there to supply free wifi, power and plenty of reading material while you wait for it to be recharged. While doing so, in looking at back issues of the publications “Art New Zealand” and “Art News”, I was able to discover two new possibilities for artist residencies in this beautiful country.

Where Gannets Leap

Where Gannets Leap

You can view the fledglings from the cliff top where about 1200 gannet pairs are nesting. At this time of the year, March and April the young are leaving the nest to take their first flight.

The poem below was written here at Muriwai in response to the recent death by suicide of O.

Whoever lets go in his fall, dives into the source and is healed

Sometimes a man stands up
calls their Beloved on the phone to tell them
I love you
rings the florist to say again in flowers
I want you to remember I always loved you
and keeps on walking

I think of this as I walk along the ridge
feeling the beckoning arms of the surf below
By my side waves on leaning lances
wild agapanthus standing tall phalanx of stems
bearing aloft their sky-blue crowns
Flower of love guiding each tender soul
down the path to the western sea

The black dog barks its warning I am given a pass
the gates are not open to me not this day
What gates of suffering could not be closed for
What dark undertow led him to that bridge
what edge called him from his skin that day

He departed as a bird falling
falling upward into the greatest immensity
launching himself as a fledgling dives
into that abyss we all must go like gannets leap
birthing themselves headlong
into the tides of light


Murawai week one

Murawai studio week one

standing against the wind

I am excited by a whole new palette here. The colors all shot through with light, though not so on this cloudy day. As I begin my exploration the entry point seems to be through the sea and its changing atmosphere. I love to walk the beach in all weather. I am thinking about edges…those distinct and those lost. Edges of the internal as well as the external landscapes. I am looking at the lines lost as sea and sky dissolve into each other, those shapes defined by their shadows as our aliveness is shaped by the ever-present shadow of loss. I am looking at the dark shapes of the dunes given weight by the lightness of the sage- silver shimmer of beach grass ever-shifting. I look at and cradle in my hand transparent pearlescent shells, halfmoon slivers like the castoff scales of water gods, metallic black sand, weathered warm greys and more silver of driftwood, the volcanic looking charred remnants of beach fires.

All these edges, these studies in contrast, lead me naturally to the ultimate edge and its borderlands, the territory of life and death. Like the sides of a coin, we cannot separate life from death. Death is always in our midst. In the week since I have been working in this New Zealand studio, two souls within my extended family have left this world. Two funerals have been held. Though I have never met either of these men, their sudden leaving is deeply felt. The disturbance of death always asks of us the living, to examine and to re-order our life. It is through great loss and suffering we can find ourselves destroyed or through the struggle find a way to transform our heart into something wider, deeper, more full with empathy and compassion. To accept the pain of loss without rejection, to allow ourselves to become intimate with death is to give oneself the greatest possibility for intimacy and vitality in life.

I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s note wants to climb over—
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

at the edge of the world