Monday, December 10, 2012

Secret Santa

Here is a silly fun thing to make with the kids. 
Enjoy the break if you are having one and see you in the New Year :)

How to make a Secret Snowman:

You will need:
  • Cardboard tube
  • Dacron or cotton wool
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Card
  • Small twigs
  • Things to decorate it with: buttons, coloured paper
  • Lollies or dried fruit (depending on your Xmas diet!)

1)      Cut 3cm off a cardboard tube
2)      To make the body: cover the tube in Dacron or cotton wool – and glue it into place.
3)      Make a head from a circle of Dacron/cotton wool pulled into make a ball. I found it easiest to sew this; hand stitch around the outside edge and pull it tight- stuffing the middle first. Tie it off tight.
4)      Glue the body to a piece of card. I used green, cut into an uneven shape. Glue another strip of Dacron/cotton wool around the base of the body so that it looks nice and rounded.
5)      Decorate the face: black beads or card for eyes, a bit of orange chenille stick for a nose, a red mouth from card or craft foam, buttons from beads (or tiny buttons) and two small twigs for arms. If you are feeling adventurous you can make a little top hat from card.
6)      Fill the body with sweet treats and put the head on. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Hobbit and me

photo stolen  from the internet and photoshopped with apologies...

Yesterday I got to go to a cast and crew screening of The Hobbit. This is because I worked on the movie for a few months as a costume illustrator. I'd have loved to work for a few more but I had a book to illustrate, deadlines were calling and to be honest, the work that I was doing there was concept stuff and I was a tail-end-charlie, taking over from Ruth Paul (who also had another book to illustrate) and that part of the job was almost at an end. At some point the pencils are put down and the fabrication of costumes begins.

So I couldn't wait to see what had been done with Bilbo's dressing gown and jacket (over which we laboured many long hours getting the look and feel right on paper and computer before anything was machined up). Before I left 3Foot7 (Peter Jackson's production company) the first full dwarf costume was unveiled and it was simply amazing, so I was looking forward to seeing more.

I also looked forward to being critical, because by nature we are. We look to find fault more than we look for the good- especially when others are in the limelight casting shadows over ourselves. A nasty little Golumish part of me wanted to pick apart the final costuming efforts, the script and the film quality. When I was handed 3D glasses at the door I sighed because I hate 3D films for their unnecessary 'Coming at ya' effects and because they play hell with my progressive lenses. So I sat there among all the other crew with a glass of wine in hand, ready to disparage the film for all the things I hadn't done on it (but would have loved to). I put on my glasses, which actually were quite groovy slightly retro 50's sort of style and prepared to be bored by lengthy battle scenes , overdone FX and not nearly enough women in the movie (I'd read the book- there are precious few).

So, my verdict at the end of nearly 3 hours?

Gobsmackingly fabulous! I could go on and on about how brilliant Martin Freeman is as Bilbo, how disgustingly wonderful Barry Humphries is as the Goblin King and how everlastingly lovely Cate Blanchett is as Galadriel. But I won't, because I just want to say how enthralled, how delighted, how awed I was. The film was crystal clear and I forgot I had glasses on or that it was 3D. I was just there in the movie. The costumes were excellent, as I knew they would be, the digital work mind blowing the script and score thoughtfully and intelligently created...well you can see I'm a fan. The film lives up to the hype.

I can't wait to see it again. And I am very proud that in some infinitesimally small way I contributed to the process and in doing so Peter Jackson nurtured and grew my skills. He'll never know that but I thank him anyway :)

Monday, November 26, 2012


Almost 2 years ago I gave up my glorious space at the Production Village in Mt Cook and moved my studio home. Our son had left to go flatting (leaving a spare room) and having finished my work on The Hobbit movie, I was about to start work on illustrating a book which would earn me no income for a year. So, it seemed like a sensible move. I hate being sensible, but I was.

In that time I got not one but two books illustrated; The Red Poppy and Far Far From Home. I made a piece of wearable art; Vena Immaculata and made Wotwot puppets for Pukeko Pictures. Our son moved back home and we renovated the kitchen. I ran out of spaces to work and it's been almost two years of frustration keeping a dwindling work space tidy and the house free of art clutter. Despite loving creating things, I hate detritus around me when I'm not working.'s lonely.

My next big project won't keep me socialised either- it's another publishing project- a book on making Wearable Art; aimed at school students and for that I need space to fabricate things out of a variety of materials and photograph the process. That means lots of stuff lying around the place in various states of finish and that's something I don't want to live around 24/7. So, never one to dither when I make up my mind... I just have taken a space at Nautilus Creative Space in Owhiro Bay, a stone's throw from the beach on the wild South Coast of Wellington. I move in this weekend. It's a collective, a not for profit space and I can make as much mess in my studio as I like and meet a few new people. There is even a climbing wall if I want to do that. Better than climbing the walls at home.

Here are a few photos of the place, only 15 mins drive from home and plenty of parking. And given that I'm in training for walking a half marathon in May, plenty of scope for exercising along the coastline. The room is upstairs, a real garret of a place and in an earthquake or tsunami I will be toast (soggy toast) but I'll die happy :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Far Far From Home

'Where are you going' asked a big black spider...'

It's a shame that Mark Sainsbury will be looking for another role. I quite liked him, though I have to admit I tend to channel flick between Campbell Live and Close Up for the most interesting stories. Story is really important; much more so than who is presenting it, although it's true to say a bad presenter can kill a good tale. The thing I like most about Mark is his amazing moustache; not that I want it tickling me at all you understand, but I was quite inspired by it for the spider character in the recently released 'Far Far From Home' book I illustrated, written by the lovely Elizabeth Pulford.

I felt that a TV journalist is quite like a spider, trapping people in their lies and wrapping up the show with a thread dangling, ready for the next bite. I salute you Mr Sainsbury; and thank you for your hairy mandibles.

Far Far From Home is published by Scholastic and available at a bookshop near you! (Real spiders not included, cute bug will melt your heart).

Monday, October 08, 2012

Spring Cleaning

There's something about spring isn't there? I'm not normally driven to scrubbing things, but in the last couple of weeks I've moved my studio space within the house, tossed out a lot of books I never look at (to make way for new ones I will), cleaned out the bottom of my wardrobe where odd things lurk, like shoes I will never wear (to make for new ones I will) AND cleaned the kitchen table. That last one might seem like nothing to you, but it is the hub of the house and therefore attracts everything from my sewing box, garden hose fittings, important community notices, our chef son's knife set AND a set of cat paw prints. The cat it seems walks all over it when we aren't looking. This is all in addition to crumbs, cups, plates and packets of cornflour. Sometimes it's just easier to read the paper and have a cup of tea in the lounge...

But September comes and October brings longer days, the promise of warmer weather and a great deal more light- which shows up ALL the clutter. The following is a poem I wrote some years ago for Next Magazine as part of my regular column. It still rings true today though  as I finish organising cupboards and filling plastic bags with things destined for the op shop, I am reminded that the once great tradition of garage sales have been replaced by Trademe...though their fees are now so high and the profit margin therefore so marginal, it might all swing the other way. That would be nice. They were so much fun!


There's blossoms on the cherry,
Yellow daffies in the border,
And like a squirrel storing nuts;
I have been a hoarder.

Useful things for later use
Through winter I did store,
But now my cache is breaking free;
I cannot shut the door!

There's twenty cans of spray paint,
All with one burst left,
And my grand attempt at weaving;
It warped but never weft.

Paper bags from fashion shops,
Complete with visa chits,
Giftwrap saved from birthdays past,
And bows with curly bits.

There's baby gear as well of course,
And though I've done with that,
How can I throw out one small sock,
Or a tiny fluffy hat?

Still, with summer ever looming,
Resolution must not fail,
I'll gather strength and sentiment,
For a mighty garage sale!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Illustration Assessment

I've been an illustrator for a long long time. I trained at Wellington Polytechnic (now Massey University) have been a commercial illustration for advertising for 32 years and a children's book illustrator for 28, tutored illustration at Christchurch polytechnic and Massey and well...I know a few things. So does my colleague Adele Jackson. Between us we create illustration for trade and education and are often asked by people wanting to  get published if we can look at their work and give some direction.

It's our business and it's a publisher's business and it's in an aspiring illustrators business to know how work should be presented and crafted for publishing. So, we decided to get business like about this advice and offer an assessment service.

We've called it Portmanteau and you can visit us here and find out what we are all about and what we can do for you.

We are committed to having the very best illustration out there in the world. So if you want yours to stand out and get noticed, we can help you take it out of the bottom draw...or suitcase!

Portmanteau, taking illustration to new places. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Having a Grimm Time!

Illustration by Robert Anning Bell

My story got a mention in the Listener! from the highly respected and wonderful Kate Di Goldi. 
"so I’d like to commend several other stories: Jeri and Del, for its economy and wit and re imagining of the witch as a producer of reality television..." 

How cool is that?!

Well, I didn't win the Goethe Institute Grimms fairytale competition and I guess we will find out shortly who has, although nobody I know that entered did (and just about every children's author in NZ had a go!). I wasn't expecting to win at all (no really truly). I wrote it because writing for a competition gives you a really good end point to write for and I have always been deadline driven. Speaking of deadlines I have a book to create for Scholastic by the end of February. Really exciting and I can't really say any more than that except I might have been working my entire creative life to do this book. It's that perfect a topic for me and no, it's not about sauvignon blanc! 

Jeri and Del

Once upon a time, in a large field near the River Hutt, there stood a tall tower that dominated the land as far as the eye could see. It was cold, grey and imposing and it was known to all as Avalon.
The tower was ruled by a fearsome witch. Her lips were red as blood, her fingernails sharp and she had a hooked nose that no amount of surgery had managed to fix. She wore her black streaked hair in an exquisitely styled bob and designer clothes only ever graced her back. Her many servants did her bidding in fear, lest they might be put under the axe.

The witch spent her days concocting new formulas by which the ordinary folk might be drugged. They had strange and curious names like 'The Stars Do Dance,' 'Masters of Banqueting' and the most stupefying of all; 'The Hapless Apprentice.' With these she could control and influence the hearts and minds of simple people and consequently dine with the rich and famous. With the aid of her alchemists, sorcerers and the company accountant, she had devised a new and more bewitching enchantment and named it 'Aoteroa Hath Talent'. With it she would be able to capture artless maidens and callow youths then starve and control them until they were slim, stylish and sang like nightingales. They would then be signed up to contracts that would keep them slaves to the Tower forever and make her a real rich witch.

One day, a pair of young lovers, Jeri and Del walked beside the river, picking daisies and sharing a cigarette, which were precious in this land since the King's Treasurer had increased the taxes.
         'I love you so much Del,' said Jeri as she exhaled, 'I want to hang out with you forever and one day maybe like, get a pet?'
Del tucked her tiny hand into his and carried on texting with his other. The rumble and hum of horsepower on the Autobahn beyond was suddenly broken by a sweet sound filling the air around them.
        'It's Lady Gaga!' said Jeri, 'I so want to be like her!'
Del stopped texting and listened to the music.
         'It's coming from over there,' he said pointing to the tower.  Jeri pulled his hand.
         'C'mon, let's go!'
Del shook his head, he stood rooted to the spot; he still hadn't finished his filter tip.
          'Don't go near that tower Jeri, nothing good ever came out of it,' he warned.
          'But listen to that, it's awesome!' Jeri said and let go of his hand. Del watched as she ran towards the music and he knew that she was lost to him. He could neither weep not speak, so he texted his mate Zach Ruru and asked what he should do. Now Zach was a wise young man and said : bro git a puppy, chicks luv dem

So Del set off to the Olde Animate Shoppe to find a canine that might win back the heart of a star struck maiden. He wandered through the door, past guinea pigs in foul smelling straw, sly kittens clawing carpet covered poles and turtles like rocks in their warm watery tanks, until he came to the dogs. There was a hairy beast with teeth as large as dragon fangs, a sleek hound baying for biscuits and a fat poodle with clan tartan coat, but he could not see a pup in sight. At last Del managed to attract the attention of an assistant. She was stout and kindly and reminded him of his grandmother who had been eaten by the wolves of Social Development long since.
           'I have but one small dog' said the woman, 'and it is very special with the power to charm all but the hardest of beings.' She reached inside her fleece and pulled out the tiniest pup imaginable, with ears like a bat and eyes like huge black baubles. It wore a pearl studded collar and trembled in the harsh light.
            'Gross, it looks like a rat,' said Del.
            'Hush, 'said the woman, 'it's a girl thing. One look into this dog's eyes and any one you desire will follow you to the ends of the earth.'
As she handed the minute animal to Del, she told him 'Her name is Daffodil and you must be very, very gentle with her: she has a fearsome bite.'

Del paid the woman all the money he had saved for a new spoiler, tucked the dog into his hoodie and journeyed off towards Avalon. The gates of the tower were heavily guarded by the witch's henchmen. Nobody could enter without a golden pass, which were kept on guard's belt. Del heard music coming from inside the tower, but outside people wept and moaned and threw themselves onto the ground in despair.
            'Why?' they cried, 'oh why are the judges so cruel?'
Del was terrified of what might be inside; wizards, torturers and makeup artists, but most especially the powerful witch. Summoning all his courage he walked up to the gate and took Daffodil out of his hoodie and showed her to the guards.
             'Awww!' said Lars, the fairer of the two, 'Who's a bootiful widdle puppy den?'
Whilst Lars played with Daffodil's ears and kissed her little nose, Del was able to lift a golden pass from the guard's belt.
            'Pass!' barked Ralf, the other guard. Del showed him his card of gold and was let inside the gates. He followed the music up a long corridor until he came to a green door. From behind it came moaning and wails and the occasional right chord. He was sure Jeri was in there but as he turned the handle, a chilling voice said behind him,
             'Have you come for the audition?'
Del turned and found himself staring into the bloodless face of the witch herself. She poked him with her sharp finger. He thrust Daffodil at her, rather too roughly and the dog snapped, biting and tearing at the witch's hands, ruining years of expensive manicures. Whilst the witch screamed and called for her guards, Del yanked open the Green Room door. Twenty five surprised maidens and a few buff young men turned to look in surprise. The wailing stopped as they swallowed back their song practice.
            'Del! What are you doing here?' asked Jeri, walking to the front of the crowd wearing nothing but small silver shorts and an inappropriate tee-shirt.
             'I've come to save you!' said Del, 'from yourself!' he bent down and picked up the dog who had finished savaging the witch outside, 'and, I have bought you this.'
              'You'll need more than that' said Jeri, ignoring the dog, 'I've got through to second round!'
Del looked at her and realised they would never live happily ever after, not whilst she had a microphone in her hand. He turned to leave and bumped into Lars who was daubing the witch's hands with Dettol.
              'Here,' he said, handing the little dog to the guard, 'her name is Daffodil, you can keep her.'
As he walked back up the corridor, he heard Lars running to catch up.
              'Wait,' shrieked the witch, 'come back to me this minute.'
              'No!' yelled Lars over his shoulder, 'I'm going with him.'
The witch screamed at him and demanded to know why her faithful servant would leave her.
              'Because, now I have Daffodil,' replied Lars, 'and you don't bring me flowers anymore.'

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Illustration news!

So only two more days until Northwrite! and I am busy preparing my workshops so we all have a spectacular time, get really energised and come away with new vigour around writing, illustrating, presenting, social media and the world of story (I'm doing the illustration and presenting bits!)

What we won't be doing is painting portraits like this one; a commission in the style of J.H Lynch  If it was an illustration masterclass like my dear friend and wonderful children's book author and illustrator Ruth Paul went to in Boston, then we might be! (lots of fantasy art there!) However, if you are about in Wellington on Saturday 3rd November, you have a chance to hear Ruth talk about her experience there at a special Illustration seminar that the Wellington Children's Book Association is putting on.

We will have great guest speakers talking about children's book illustration and myself and the fabulously talented Adele Jackson will be introducing Portmanteau; a new illustration assessment service we have set up (more to come on that next week when the site goes live!)


Monday, August 20, 2012

NorthWrite 2012

I'm really excited! NorthWrite is just around the corner and I'll be winging my way up to Whangarei to run two workshops and participate in a panel on The Business of Writing. I'll be in great company with some of my most favourite people and I can't wait to break out those illustration materials to show even the most terrified-of-drawing participants how to create illustration that is really fun, cool and usable. It's an unusual workshop min that I'll be showing you in a non digital way how Photoshop works and if it can work for you! You don't need any Adobe experience at all- heck, you won't even lay your hands on a mouse (unless you want to illustrate the scurrying kind!). I'm also doing a presentation on presenting. How to Front Up. What you need to know to manage a room and engage an audience. Sound interesting?

Check out the full programme  and register now!

I look forward to seeing you there :)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Storylines Festival!

some of the crafts we are making!

It's Storylines Season! We have the Wellington Storylines Family Day happening on Sunday 19th at The Michael Fowler Centre from 10am-3pm. Come and meet authors and illustrators, be captivated by storytellers and make some awesome crafts (designed by moi, the Queen of  Crafts!) Did I mention it is FREE? Grab a kid or three and come along for a fantastically fun day in the wild world of children's books!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Margaret Mahy Treasure Chair

Hi everyone, here are the instructions for the 'Down The Back Of The Chair' Craft (over on a separate page) Have fun and don't forget August 11th is Read Aloud Day  so head off to your local Library to hear New Zealand Authors and Illustrators reading from their favourite Margaret Mahy books! I'm going to be at Wellington Central Library and I'll be demonstrating this craft there too! 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Start Me Up

I've been guilty of lounging about sighing and wondering where my career is going. I do so many things: illustration, writing, wearable art, painting, comedy, running workshops, drinking good coffee...I have confused myself entirely. However I've never been an entrepreneur, so to add to the rabbits running around inside my head I signed up for the Wellington Startup Weekend figuring that one should never die wondering.

Three days before the event I got windy. no, it wasn't a case of too many beans or the capital's weather. I was worried that I couldn't add any value, that nobody would pick me to be on their team, that I wasn't techy enough, savvy enough, designery enough or young enough. It would be like being picked for a netball squad with everyone avoiding the short unfit one.

So this is how it went:

On Friday night we gathered at the BizDojo in Vivian St with a few beers and burgers. Dave Moskovitz ran us through what we'd be doing, how the weekend would go and what we needed to know. We played a game which involved brainstorming crazy business ideas in teams then doing a one minute pitch. This was pure fun and allowed for start ups of the most preposterous kind. Our team came up with Bear's Badgers; robotic programmable badgers that would dig you out of the rubble come the big one in Wellington. We'd promote it with a reality TV show hosted by Bear Grylls where buildings were blown up and the badgers are sent in. All extremely implausible and un PC, but we had ridiculous fun. I was thrown up there by the team to pitch it and found that my years of presenting on TV, to groups and schools and of course my foray into stand up comedy was incredibly useful. The feedback (after beer) was that people had no idea what we had come up with but they really wanted one!


Then came the real stuff. 47 people got up and proposed ideas for business and who they would need to make them come alive. The ideal team comprised designers, developers and marketers. I wondered at this point where an illustrator who has a way with egg cartons would fit in this mix. My skills with InDesign are limited, I cannot write code and I do not have an MBA.  You could go and join up with any person whose idea you liked the best and was looking for team members so that's what I did. I decided not to care too much that I was from the arts and crafts end of the creative world, but I did make sure the team had someone there with real design know how and I pulled in another one walking past just to be certain that I wouldn't be made to struggle with creating web page graphics in a program I bumble about in. Is that lazy of me? I don't think so- it's all about finding people with key skills. I still had no idea what I could contribute and figured that if nothing else I could bring the others coffee and 'know my limits'.

I can say with relief that I did not become the tea lady.

I'm going to spare you a blow by blow account of what we did and how we did it. If you really want to know how this thing works, join the next StartUp near you- travel across country to it if you have to. But these are some of the things I found myself doing:
Internet research on product and affiliation programmes, canvassing opinions from people on the street on facebook, by phone, calling clothing designers, emailing, texting, trying out competitors product... at one point this involved me stripping down to my undies in the corridor and using their webcam software to take my body measurements. Possibly the website is a have and I am now on YouTube somewhere exciting 80 year old men- I don't think I did much for the 20 something designers who happened upon me with my laptop on their way to the bathroom!

I found myself contributing to discussions and decisions about how the product we were developing should look and feel, how it might work in the marketplace, where the revenue streams might come from. These are the sort of conversations I avoid; I always just want to do the painting and drawing bits and leave the business stuff to suits. I found myself using words like Marketplace Validation and Minimum Viable Product and understanding what those things mean. We used the Lean Canvas which was invaluable and I shall forever use this as my template when coming up with any new idea that I want to promote and sell.

We had incredible mentors who sought us out, asked us the hard questions and told us how to get to the answers. A high point for me was that our pitch coach was Helen Baxter from Mohawk Media. I listen to her on Afternoons with Jim Mora and she is just as gorgeous and bubbly and smart in real life. I was a little bit star struck (and this from a woman who has been a television presenter for years). I'm not going to tell you what we pitched, because it's an idea that someone else came up with and may develop further without my continued involvement. It's his IP and as he's an IP Laywer (but a young very laid back long haired dude) then it's really best to respect that! But I CAN tell you that he and I pitched it together for the team. I did the first bit to engage the audience and outline the marketplace problem and he talked through the solution and product.
The hours were long and crazy (bed at 2am), the highs were high, the lows were low. The three days were a compressed version of what setting up a new enterprise over a longer period of time is. It starts with A Great Idea! lots of enthusiasm and a sense of 'We are going to take over the world/NZ/Wellington/Cuba St'. Adrenalin and excitement. Then comes research and seeing someone has done it or the costs will be too high and the revenue nil or simply that nobody needs or wants it. Then rehashing, pivoting, spinning and just making a decision goddammit! Then working like crazy to make a prototype and business case.

People came up with working apps, live websites and signed up customers- OVER A WEEKEND when it's hard to get in touch with anyone. The stops that were pulled out were incredible. One team even took on learning new programming to get their product out. When developers say they need 3 months...they CAN actually do it sooner (well maybe not totally scoped out!) We all can. Amazing things are possible with a dedicated team over a short period of time.

One site which touched all our hearts was NZ Cancer Supporters led by Nick White a cancer survivor to wanted to set up a network. They got 1050 members in 24 hours. Extraordinary courage led that one. They got the People's Choice Award. There were other incredible ideas and the one that won is in education and it is sooo cool if you see the word Questo sometime, then this is how it came about.

So, have I got a fabulous new innovative app or business I shall make my millions from and will I be featuring on the rich list anytime soon?
No. But what I did achieve was pulling myself out of the thinking that this economy is so f*cked and business is so mercenary that there is no room for an aging illustrator like myself in the world. I found that I can be useful, I don't have to do everything myself in order to achieve, my head is NOT filled with fluffy kittens, I know my shit and that there are many ways of skinning a cat. Market Validation? I got Fifi Validation, and that my friends, puts me on a rich list that has nothing to do with dollars.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fitting in a poem

Fitting In- Fifi Colston

It's National Poetry Day, so to mark it, here is my contribution. I may have posted this before so apologies if you've seen it. I wrote in when living in Bristol and feeling a little short on networks. I had to work really hard to make contacts and this is a reflection of how I felt. Tonight I'm about to make a whole bunch and I am feeling both excited and terrified by the prospect. It's the Wellington Startup weekend and I am about to throw myself into the lion's den. My worries that I'm too fluffy a kitten or too old a cat have be ignored as I put on my gladiatorial suit and see what happens! I will report back with a full run-down on Monday (if I am not too exhausted). 

Fitting In…

Do you ever stand there looking
At the bottom of your drink
Thinking ‘Any minute now’
‘I’m going to throw up in the sink’ ?

And this is not a symptom of
Some alcohol abuse
Because what’s filling up your glass
Is only orange juice.

You’re the designated driver
And it’s just as you had feared;
Your party going partner has
Completely disappeared.

You know that you should mingle
But you don’t know where to start
You can barely hear the music for
The thudding of your heart.

Everybody in the room
Is full of bonhomie
And seem oblivious to you
Whilst bonding cheerfully.

So when you find this happening
Do you soldier on alone?
Or slug down half a pint of gin
And take a taxi home.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Al Capone- Fifi Colston

I was up in my attic today looking through piles of artwork for a particular picture I had done some time ago of a daffodil ( I thought I could cut it up to make a card out of) and came across this picture of Al Capone I did sometime in the early 90's, or it might have been the 80's; who can tell? All I know is that I was living in Christchurch and fully employed as a freelance airbrush artist and that this was for an advertising agency. I have no idea who the client was- possibly something to do with safety glass. The details are on a need to know basis and who needs to know this now? I'm not planning to write a memoir.

If you enlarge the picture you'll see dust sticking to the surface. This shows that a) it is a real bit of painting and b) my archival facilities leave lots to be desired. It's also worth noting that I did this illustration back in the day when there was no internet to do research with, no Photoshop to construct it with and no facility at home to scan it and send an image via file sharing. I did it by getting books from the library, drawing it, transferring the image onto (very expensive) imported airbrush paper, covering it with frisket film and hand cutting each stencil layer which were then airbrushed until the very final little highlights. Then couriered to a client and hoped it would pass muster. It took hours and required plenty of skill and much planning; if you got it wrong there was no back button. You had to start again.

I find it interesting that artwork rises to the surface to say 'hello old friend' just when the timing is perfect. I say this because my SO and I are watching Season 1 of Boardwalk Empire of an evening. I'm revelling in the costume of the time, we are both engaged by the politics and of course the series features a young Al Capone. Did you know that his car had inch thick bullet proof glass? I'd like some of that, because right now I find that being bullet proof in this pared back economy is not only useful but imperative. If work gets much thinner, I may have to start illegally manufacturing my own gin...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fifty Shades of Green

Update! I've created a blog for this and a facebook page so you can keep up with the antics of Josie and her cat as they (try to) write an erotic novel! You can get them sent to you by email if you go to the blog. I'm posting every other day until they are done. So come and join me and remember- if you haven't laughed today, at least you haven't wet your pants.

Well it's true to say that I'm feeling very cross that I haven't written a really steamy novel. I could pay the electricity bill AND the plumber if I had lucked in like E L James. It seems EVERYONE is reading it in hardback, on Kindle and iPad. A colleague's teenage daughter and friend were even booted out of The Warehouse for chortling and squealing over page 100. It's in the window of Whitcoulls as their premier display and last night as I drove home from a Storylines meeting I saw a bright red neon winking at me from the Old Hutt Road declaring 'Fifty Shades of Grey'. 'Funny place to put a bookstore' I thought, but as I drove past realised it was a paint shop cashing in on the fame. Who would have thought that a bit of fan fiction turned dirty could sweep the world in such a way?

A couple of years ago I started writing something like one and got quite some way with it. It was to be my 'next big thing.' But it's fair to say that my characters came (if you'll pardon the pun) to the point of having a physical encounter of the most intimate kind. And that is where my writing stopped. The problem with writing nitty gritty dirt stuff is that you need to write from some sort of experience. This leaves you as a past voyeur or active participant. I mean if you'd never felt shuddery sensations or seen whopping members then you probably weren't there. Mind you, has anyone who has ever written about them, ever met an actual vampire?

My problem is that I have never actually been a nun so the fear that any writing in the sweaty zone might be interpreted as 'That was the time when...' from my own life, leaves me feeling uneasy. I'd hate litigation for tales of tiny appendages, unsatisfactory oral sex and downright awful kissing from a past life. Equally any tales of magnificence would only leave my husband either outrageously proud or very suspicious. And then there is the dichotomy of my career as a children's book writer and illustrator and pursuing a career in porn (sorry, erotic literature).

My other great regret (other than not making an ungodly amount of money from a dirty book) is that I haven't hooked into the graphic novel market. I wouldn't perhaps be read by quite so many flushed women, but I'd certainly get lots of Creative New Zealand Funding...

Artistic Passion

     As the lift doors opened, Fifi smoothed her paint ridden palms down the side seams of her paint spattered art shirt and took a deep breath, beating back the niggle of doubt which had invaded her rebellious confidence during the trip downtown. She had come this far, she couldn't back out now. She stepped out of the lift and padded out into the stark luxury of the marble foyer. She felt so out of place here in the business sector of Lambton Quay. Her pounding heart beat an unsteady rhythm as she contemplated her options. It was no use. The only way she would get funding for this project was to front up to the man himself, Jake Montana. Fifi only hoped he wouldn't look down on her ink stained hands and make an unfair assessment of her ability, because underneath it all, Fifi knew she had a special that a man like Jake needed. She shut her eyes and prayed to be given the opportunity to reveal it to him.

    Clunk! The lift doors shut behind her, there was no escaping now. Fifi swallowed, which wasn't usual but given the circumstances she would consider anything. She pulled herself together and stood up straight; she reached a full five feet and that was without impending osteoporosis.
    'May I help you?' said a deep rumbling voice behind her. She turned, startled and found herself looking into deep blue eyes the colour of Tasman Bay.
    'Yes,' she said thrusting her small chin forward, 'I'm here to convince you to give me a quick response grant.'
   Jake laughed loudly...

Bodice Ripper- Wearable Art  Entry 2003

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Just Desserts

Time for a bit of verse- that's why my blog is called Fifi Verses The World- because I used to do a regular column for Next Magazine (for 8 whole years!) when the completely wonderful Lindsey Dawson was editor there- she gave me my first writing break! I love that woman for all the opportunity and mentoring she gave me- and she is still doing that with great workshops amongst the many wonderful things she does. Go check them out here.

Anyway, about the poem. I wrote this when the kids were small and picky as about food. Drove me bananas and I always said that I'd know when they had grown up because they'd eat a curry. Well now they truly do eat all sorts of things and more than that, our son has become a chef. I would never have thought it when he was 5 years old spurning mushrooms and now at 21 he is totally frustrated with my lack of a pantry. It's not that I don't have one, it's what's in it that he despairs of. Is this really my revenge for all the years of 'I don't like that!' dished up by offspring?

Here's a bit of rhyme for all of you out there who are at your wits end about getting the right foods into your kids...

Just Desserts

I'm desperate for Salad Nicoise,
Or sautéed silverbeet,
But chips and chicken nuggets,
Is all they ever eat.

That, and mashed potato,
Instant noodles and mince pies,
I'm sick to death of KFC,
Or anything that fries.

Cooking for them makes me weep,
It's all so frigging bland,
They spurn fresh market produce,
And worship mush that's canned.

The books all say don't worry,
Kids won't starve deliberately,
But mine will three day hunger strike,
Than down a fresh green pea.

That, or search with patience,
Through every scrap of food,
To pick out grains of couscous,
And onion flakes half chewed.

They just don't know I'm plotting,
To avenge my tortured meals,
I want them both to get a taste,
First hand of how it feels.

They'll invite me round to dinner,
When I'm seventy odd years old,
And won't eat sugar, salt, or fat,
...revenge is best served cold.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Pony Contest!

I did this little Shetland pony pic as a sample illustration. It's done in watercolour and coloured pencil.The trouble with doing 'hard art' (that's on actual paper as opposed to digital art) is that it takes up space in your drawer.  You are unable to bin it (because you like it) and it's (hopefully) an awfully long time until you die and your children profit from selling your artwork on Trademe. That's assuming you got famous enough in your lifetime like Maurice Sendak (who had no children) for your art to be worth something.  This little picture has no intrinsic value to me except to show a client that I can a) draw a pony and b) am keen for some work.

It has some worth thought to someone who likes horses and /or wants something to frame and give to a friend or put up in a kids room. Or maybe they would just like a piece of my artwork because who knows when I'll hit the big time? Like Bill Nighy.

So in the spirit of someone who just likes her artwork out there in the world, I'm offering this little illustration to the person who most entertains me with their horse story. When you were 12 did you ride one called Bubbles and were devoted to it like Nat in my junior fiction novel Glory? Did you have an incident involving a forward catapult over the neck of a stubborn mount? Go to my facebook page and comment on the post with this picture on it. Or comment on this blog. I'll send it anywhere in the world for free and seal it with a loving kiss (I'll wipe my lipstick off first!) You'll need email me with your address (mine is on the sidebar). Robots, spammers and Nigerian scammers need not apply- what use would you have for a pony picture anyway?

Happy horsing around!

Stan Yee for his fab tale of horse-manly pride coming before and embarrassing fall! Thanks Stan, the pony is on it's way to you :)

Stan Yee Well, there was a time more than 30 years ago, when I was with the church group and we took turns to ride at Kiwi Ranch. The guy asked who was experienced enough to handle a 12 year old ex-pacer - me of course. They were all watching as I galloped away about half a km and turned and headed back. I was showing off, naturally. I dug my heels in, hung onto its mane and reins with both hands and put my head down. I think it had one of those old well worn leather saddles. It was so cool, galloping so fast that I could hardly feel the hoofs touching the ground. I saw the crowd in the distance and I just keep going ... until I ran out of room that is, and suddenly pulled the reins down, somersaulted over the horse and landed flat on my back, still with the reins in one hand. Very red faced I tell you ...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hand made, Hand drawn...

Bella Rosa- chalk pastel
Breaking news!!!
I am using a new crowd funding platform to help pay for my exhibition costs- check it out and see what fab rewards there are if you help me mount my work and show it on Monday- the best reward is  Coffee with Fi- where I buy you coffee, gossip with you and draw you in French chalk pastel right there in the cafe!
I lied...I said this next post would be about the character development of the wee bug in ‘Far Far From Home’ the new book by Elizabeth Pulford and myself. But actually I have a couple of things coming up this weekend that I need to post here instead. The wee bug can wait; the book is due out in October and I’ll give it some more space here in a week or two.

I’m showing my skills and showing my art and I don’t mind if you look!

Firstly on Sunday 3rd June I am running a masterclass at Handmade in Wellington. For those of you who have never been to Handmade, it’s a fabulous celebration of creative arts and crafts and full of classes for everyone who wants to get back to making stuff. Just up my alley!
I’m demonstrating clever gift ideas using reused and upcycled materials as well as some unique ways to accessorise your gift wrapping with items from around the home or garden.  The class is getting pretty full, so if you want to join me, book your place now.

The next thing is an exhibition:

Bountiful Burlesque!
Feathered fancies and titillating tulle; colourful art of the Wellington burlesque scene.
I’m a long time participant in Dr Sketchy Anti Art School drawing sessions. This is a collection of my portraits and drawings from life in the performance spotlight. The exhibition will be complemented by a selection of exquisite nipple pasties by the wonderfully talented stage and film costumer Cathy Tree Harris. Shake your tassels and enjoy the show!

Deluxe Cafe, Kent Tce, Wellington
4th-17th June

Monday, May 07, 2012

Far Far From Home

Far Far From Home- a tiny little bug!

I’ve been quiet on the blog front because I’ve been using what beloved NZ writer for children and teens Fleur Beale calls ‘bum glue’. This is what you need as a freelancer to keep you stuck at your desk until the job is done. And the job in question has been illustrations for a new picture book by Elizabeth Pulford, called ‘Far, Far from Home’published by Scholastic. It’s a delightful story about a very tired little bug trying to get home to his family. And the glue worked- I’ve finished the body of the book (just the cover to go).

For this project I’ve tried a new approach- one I learned largely from my time as a costume illustrator on The Hobbit movie. I have drawn the line work with pencil on tracing paper. It gives a nice quality to the sketches I’ve found, then scanned them and imported them into Photoshop. Then I created textures using paper and paint and scanned them in too- plus a few nice handmade papers I found at Gordon Harris my favourite art supply store. The next step was to digitally clip the textures into the sketches. This takes much time using many layers. Think of it as collage, but on screen. Instead of cutting out bits of paper, you cut out bits of scanned paper and ‘glue’ them down with pixels. Digital illustration is no faster than traditional ‘hard’ media (unless you are using oil paint which takes some time to dry!) But it’s so much fun and allows for lots of depth and luminosity that I knew I couldn’t achieve in wet media (paint). Plus if you don’t like where you put a tree- you can move it!

In my next post I’ll tell you how I created the character for the little bug. Those who follow me on facebook, you’ll have seen a little of this process. But this time I’ll show my early working drawings as well.
The illustrations are now with Vida Kelly the book designer who gave me invaluable art direction. Once again, as with The Red Poppy, I have had the fabulous experience of working closely with the designer to create something really gorgeous.The pic I've posted here is just little taster of the book to come, but to see the whole'll just have to go to a bookshop when it's out!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Chinese Poppies? I don't think so!

for instructions on how to make this poppy on Youtube, go here

Anzac Day shortly; the poppy sellers will be out on the streets and I urge you all to donate to the RSA. The money raised from the annual appeal each year goes to providing services for returned and former service personnel. As a former Airforce brat; with my father, my grandfathers and the all the men in their families having served in the military either willingly or because they were drafted, the support needed after being in a warzone is crucial. Don't get me wrong; I am against war in all its forms, but I'm all for helping out the people and families who are affected by their involvement. Rehabilitation is everything. 

Which brings me to question the decision made to outsource the making of the poppies to China (and assembled in Australia). Previously the poppies we bought on the streets were made by Kilmarnock Enterprises in Christchurch by intellectually disabled workers. Making the poppies provided work, income and occupational therapy for a section of the population who are marginalised at the best of times. In Christchurch they have endured more than is necessary for wellbeing, now the poppies have been taken away. Why? Money of course- it's always about money isn't it? Let's make cuts, let's outsource to China. Let's happily pay people (possibly children) in a foreign country almost nothing so we can make more dosh. It's a capitalist view that takes no account of the worth of the worker and the benefit of useful, productive enterprise to the soul.

So, the conundrum! The RSA will make more money from its appeal by using the cheaper red poppies, and that money will go to good use, but in giving to one sector of the community, we take away from another. What's the answer? Simple. Give to the collectors, refuse the Chinese made poppies and make your own. Here is a template I created so you can do that.

NB- For an updated version of the template, go here

You will need:
  • Fifi's template
  • Red paper
  • Craft glue
  • Green pipe cleaner cut to about 7cm long
1) Trace or print the template onto red paper
2) Cut out the poppy petal shape and punch a small hole in the middle of it with a pencil or skewer.
3) Crease each petal in half  to give it some shape
4) Push the pipe cleaner through the hole from the back of the petals and bend over 5mm on the front so it holds securely.
3) Cut out the black circles (if you have traced rather than printed the template, colour the circles in with a black marker) Snip a fringe around the bigger circle as shown and glue the smaller circle to the middle. I used a nice velvet paper for the smaller circle to provide a bit of contrast. Flick the fringe out a little.
5) Glue the black circles over the pipe cleaner on the front.

Pin it on your lapel.

Lest we forget...oh and don't forget to check out The Red Poppy by David Hill and illustrated by moi!