Monday, December 21, 2020

Meri Kirihimete!

It's been a year huh? This time last year I was wondering what 2020 would bring, I felt anxious and disconcerted by the the fact I'd finished my Otago residency (and the regular stipend) and wondering what I'd do to earn a living, what hustle I'd have to concoct. As a freelancer for the past 40 years, I always worry about this. I should learn to just trust that something will turn up. Because it always does, just in the nick of time. 

I didn't expect it to be Covid-19 though. Nobody did. As the world continues to evolve and adapt, we are learning not to count our chickens. Except that it seems I can count on one. Marvellous Marvin!

A late last book for the year - who would have thought that in one year, and the most challenging one at that, I'd have 3 books out! This is highly unusual, but very, very welcome. Scholastic offered me the illustration contract for a picture book by the one and only Nadia Lim. I've been a huge fan of hers since she was a Masterchef contestant (and then winner) and I've subscribed to My Food Bag for quite some time now. So of course I said 'yes!' 

Now Marvin is on the Christmas best sellers list and I am extraordinarily proud of my work and how we put it together in record time! 

Read about Marvin's story here

I am also doing regular illustration work for the Australian School Magazine, signed another picture book contract, have wearable art in progress and workshops lined up. Unexpected given the dire predictions for 2020, but there you are. Stay at home, wash your hands, wear a mask and life will continue. Just a bit differently. 

I hope you have a peaceful 25th December and if you are limited wherever you are because of lockdowns, and can't have a gathering, then I think it could be useful to reframe Christmas as a state of mind, rather than seats at the table. Zoom your love, keep your friends and family safe.

Bottoms up xxx Fi

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

New titles & significant birthdays

Lockdown Sketchmind by Fifi Colston

It’s been a little over a month since my last post and the world has continued to be COVID, crazy and confusing. But here in New Zealand life seems quite normal again, and almost hard to remember the days of lockdown, though we are mindful that it’s ever present outside our borders.
Inside my expanding bubble, publishing things are happening.

Firstly, my Lockdown Diary can now be pre ordered here at Cuba Press and we are just about to send it to print. We have had heaps of orders already and it’s a limited print run, so if you were thinking you’d like one, then get in quick! There is space for you to write your own thoughts and observations on this extraordinary year too. It’s your diary, as well as mine. Perhaps the whole family can add a line or two in response to the entries that mark the time we spent in Lockdown. A 5-year olds perspective can be quite different from a 50 year olds one.

Secondly, ‘The Little Yellow Digger Saves Christmas’ is out in October, published by Scholastic NZ. Written by Peter Gilderdale and illustrated by me, we have paid homage to his famous parents, Betty and Alan Gilderdale who created the series. I studied Alan’s illustration style in depth and replicated some of his favorite characters with my own twist. It was like he was standing, hand on my shoulder, saying ‘You can do it, you CAN draw a digger!’ And digger I have drawn, and some quarantined reindeer!

Thirdly, I was finally able to spend 2 weeks at the Michael KingWriters Centre and take up my postponed residency. There I worked on my graphic novel ‘Ampersand’ and whilst there met with my publishers Penguin Random House to sign the contract for ‘Masher’ the middle grade novel I wrote whilst in Dunedin last year, during my time as Otago University Creative New Zealand Children’s Writerin Residence. Masher is about art, craft, puppets, bull terriers and boys who don’t fit in. It’s comedic and sweet and I’m enormously proud of myself for writing it, and hugely happy that Penguin Random House are publishing it. Many thanks to Vicki Marsdon at High Spot Literary Agency for making that happen!

After my residency, I ran a ‘Draw Like an Artist’ camp for 8-12 year olds at Southwell School in Hamilton in the holidays. 18 of us had enormous creative fun and felt very lucky to be in Aotearoa where we can do these things again, thanks to clear leadership and the team of five million!

Well Hung
Lastly, my entry for the 2020 Parkin Drawing Prize was shortlisted as a finalist and I deliver that to the gallery today. 

Artist Statement:

In 2019 I was the recipient of 6 months writer’s residency at The Robert Lord Cottage in Dunedin.
The cottage remains as the playwright left it and a famous feature is his indulgently deep ‘shub’. My daily focus always came back to the simple shower caddy, modest and hung on a simple screw in the wooden baton on the shower surround, casting layered shadows. Fading and unfinished, like Lord at his end aged 46. The hair in the soap is my own. I think he’d find the humour in that.

Oh...and I turned 60 in amongst all of this and writer, Michele Powles made me this amazing cake. I am pretty lucky to have such wonderful creative, generous friends in my life! Six decades of love :)

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Of Sketchbooks and Statues

Level 1 achievement!

Funny old time isn’t it? Well not funny at all for many.

We have, in New Zealand, managed to lockdown, quarantine and in the famous words of Sir Edmund Hillary ‘knocked the bastard off’ and are now enjoying a life in Level 1 with few restrictions other than the border closures to the rest of the world. I have no doubt that as soon as we open up again, COVID-19 will reappear, but hopefully we have some semblance of awareness over how we deal with it. Of course there has been the sadly inevitable business closures and unemployment that follows a country shutting down for 2 months. My own work in my portfolio career has been cancelled for the year, and as I have been the sole breadwinner in the house for the last 15 months, that leaves room for concern.

However, our government has been helpful with subsidies, and in lockdown we had nothing to spend money on except food and the basic living expenses, that didn’t include takeout coffees, going to the cinema or bars or shopping. Over the 50 days, I walked, baked and in the evenings drew my thoughts about life in the times of COVID-19 in a sketchbook. I was vaguely concerned that I wasn’t doing enough creative work and I really could have thrashed out an entire novel. The time slid past peacefully and at the end of it, I found that I had indeed written a book of sorts.
My Sketchmind Diary has secured a publishing contract with The Cuba Press and help from Creative New Zealand to produce it. I'm so happy about this!

Watch this space as they say, for a link on where to pre-order. If we sell all 400 copies, we will not lose money and we can circulate it back into the system on the great money go round that is the economy. I’ll do it mostly with Pinot Gris…

Life and my creative career will go on, I always find a way not to have to commute to an office in the darkest of times. I have, in my fantasies imagined me on a pedestal (put up there by myself) and lauded for my tenacity in the arts. But you need to be careful who you put up on plinths and why. 

The recent demise of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, had people asking, ‘any relation?’ I can tell you now that the slave trader never married or had children. Of course, he might have had ‘issue’, but none recognised. So Colston’s Girl’s School were fairly safe in their offer of 50% off school fees if you could prove an ancestral link, when we sent our daughter there in the 2 years we lived in Bristol.

Colston presiding over his success, talk about a guilded lily.

I always thought that it was poor taste to have a public monument to a slave trader, however philanthropic he was, erected in the city. He funded institutions that benefitted a great many white people, all off the backs of black slaves. It is worthwhile noting that he died in 1721, The Abolition of Slavery Act was passed in 1833 and that statue was put up in 1895. This is what is called, 'a dick move'. There’s a good article here about Britain’s view of its own history. Well worth a read.

So, now, people seem to be either in the ‘tear down all statues’ or ‘leave them there, what’s past is past’ camp. I’m in the ‘let's look and learn something here’ camp.

Edward was torn down as a response to #BlackLivesMatter. But also nobody much liked that posturing bronze with his fancy shoes anyway. It’s always been a slap in the face and after so many slaps, well, you just turn around and say ‘enough’ and slap back. I cheered seeing him thrown off the Arnolfini Bridge into the none too clean water of the Bristol Harbour.

He's been fished out now, and is safely tucked away, graffitied and with a hole in his bum, along with the placards from the protest- and suprising find of an 1881 newspaper tucked into his cavity. This will be included in an exhibition of our current history; Edward Colston, the profiteer of misery, overthrown because people had had enough. This is how we learn and hopefully become more human. 

World leaders should bear that in mind.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Entry F (for Fifi) the Hnry Awards

I won second runner up! Congratulations also to the amazing winning entries by Tim Hamilton (in collaboration with Casey) and Julia Palm.
Many many thanks to the judges, everyone who voted for me and of course Hnry- and especially Ben who was such a fabulous correspondent with us artists. Thanks so much!
You can read all about why we did what we did and what we are going to do now HERE

Yesterday I found out that a concept sketch I did for the Hnry Awards is one of 10 finalists!
This was a beacon of hope in a wierd week. You can vote for it here! Entry F for Fifi.
If I win by popular vote, the money will feed our household and pay all the bills, and be channeled into my creative work. I'm not one to squander cash on cosmetic surgery and designer clothing.

I did the sketch in the midst of a huge black hole I had gone down. I had plenty of work lined up, but as always exhausting to think about it- I'm part of the gig economy and I rush from one workshop, presentation, commission and event to the next. Do the hustle...
None of it makes me any kind of fortune. It IS the arts after all. With no time or money to holiday around the world sightseeing I was all FOMO. I couldn't bear how hopelessly inept a Boomer I am! I surely should have three properties, rental incomes, a bach, a boat and a share portfolio by now? Yet, because I'm more of a socialist by inclination, none of that would sit with me comfortably at all. Yet I still felt like a failure. I'm not of course, but measuring success by financial wealth is fundamentally flawed and dispiriting as f*ck.

Well how the world has changed in such a short period of time. You couldn't drag me onto a cruise ship or a long haul flight to the UK now if you paid me. The world economy is in freefall and it appears that COVID-19 is no discriminator. You can get it even if you are Prince Charles or Boris Johnson. Also, billionaires need to wash their hands as well, but not of people.

I feel curiously joyful in this lockdown. My happy place is right here, with the quiet and the stillness of a world gone mad, to a world gone home. The birds are chirping and tweeting (as are we online) my family are as safe as they can be, art is my solace and I'm massively proud that I helped to vote in the leader of our country, Jacinda Ardern who is compassionate, credible, courageous and clear about what we need to do.

She is the mother of our nation, and an inspiration for our times.

You can see the rest of my Lockdown Diary sketches in my facebook portfolio here.

Sunday, March 29, 2020


When we could still seems so long ago now.

I'm not going to say anything much about the pandemic to be honest. I'm at my desk in lockdown, continuing to create things for a world that is changing into something we aren't sure of yet. I hope it will be kinder and less inclined to use material gains as a measure of success. Artists have always struggled with this one...

I am creating some resources to keep kids amused and busy during this lockdown and you can find them on my Pandemic Resources Page. I am also posting the some videos on my previously neglected YouTube Channel, mostly exploring my attic and the useful things I find in there!

On Instagram I'm posting daily sketches of things that occur to me, day by day. Who knows how many days we will get to? This is the right thing to do, no matter how hard. Keep safe, follow the instructions #BeKind

Love Fifi xxx

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The End of my Love Affair with Facebook…

Update- well hasn't the world changed since this post? Now that we are in the midst of a pandemic- facebook contact is really important to keep me in touch with people. It was good to have a break though. Keep safe folks, and wash your hands!!

The Crown

An artist I followed on Facebook who had over 1200 ‘friends’ and kept us glued there by increasingly making bolder and more provocative posts designed to shock, announced one day ‘Heads up, tomorrow I am committing Face-icide.’

We were all shocked and upset, ‘But why Tali why?’ because she was the most interesting person in our feeds and we waited for what amazing crazy thing she would be doing in her life, like we were watching a drama series on Netflix with a box of popcorn.

Her answer baffled me ‘Because I just can’t keep up with wishing people happy birthday, giving encouragement and advice, likes and smiley faces and most of all because I am getting no painting done whatsoever. You can follow me on my blog. So long and thanks for all the fish.’ Or words to that effect, I wish I’d known how to screen shot the conversation at the time. I’d have printed it on cotton and made a dress from the fabric. I’d have called it the ‘FB F-off Frock.' I was very upset that she left us so blithely, and then after a week or two, forgot she existed at all.

This new year though, I did the same, I killed off my personal page of 350 odd friends and family.
Nine years of dedicated daily posts, and now I’ve gone from their news feed- if they ever saw me at all amongst the torrential algorithmic news, fake news, and relentless advertising. I put a much less attention-grabbing headline as a post, murmuring that I was going to take a break. A few people replied with ‘yeah right’ because I’ve said this before and then I’m back two days later. I have no self-control. Unable to just log in and out once a week, I suspended my account.

So why did I do this more permanent thing?

BF (before facebook) I have always been a communication junkie. I hung out over my fax machine back in the day, and before that hours on the landline. Mobile phones were a godsend with texts, so I could be always yakking. It was the thing I got told off for at school the most- talking. Even at home growing up, the catchphrase in my family was ‘Shut up Fif!’ so garrulous I am. My blog was the next tell-it-to-the-world platform on a weekly basis or more.
I’ve always had an opinion too, though now as I get older, I find myself like Prince Charles, in that Episode of The Crown.
Charles: ‘But Mummy, I have a voice’
The Queen: ‘Let me let you into a secret, no-one wants to hear it.’

Facebook for me started off innocently enough- a way to find the best photos of a band I was doing a poster for- my kids had to teach me how to use it, how to disable the pesky and abundant email notifications and how to connect with friends. Wow, what a cool thing it was- how easy to share photos with the family. At this time, I was also on The Good Morning Show, and connected with all the other presenters and crew. Then my tiny fan base wanted to be facebook friends too and I accepted. And my publishing editor, all the people I had ever met anytime at festival events, worked with, friends of friends, my kid’s friends and even a rabbit. I will never forget Tog, RIP.

Facebook is important for your work profile all our publishers say, you HAVE to market yourself. Because apparently that’s our job now, as well as creating all the content, we are responsible for selling it too. Things got awkward around election time. I couldn’t annoy my followers and colleagues with my views in case I lost a sale or a supporter, I also felt very uncomfortable seeing posts of a stranger’s family funeral, wedding or birth in my news feed. So I created a public page and gently moved the kind but unknown people onto that, and invited others to join me there. But many refused to change one page for the other and, like the situation when you realise you left it too late to say ‘sorry I made a mistake letting you into my personal life,’ I was stuck with the relationship.

I tried a policy of unfriending people who rarely posted and never commented- I broke up with them through a cheery private message, and got some really offended replies of ‘I thought this was where we could be friends but obviously you want me gone from your life!’ Note, these were people whose only posts or location alerts were about coming to my city for a holiday, yet never called to catch up for coffee. They would be entirely unreliable to help you in any personal crisis.

I tried restricting some people so they couldn’t see any of my posts, and that just felt mean, even though they only used your facebook friendship to promote their work. Merely unfollowing them means you don’t see their posts, but they can still trawl through yours if they've a mind to. There is nothing more unsettling to bump into an distant acquaintance on the street and them say ‘I hope you managed to get some work/new drains/bury your father/sort out the problem with your home loan’ and you realise ‘Fark, they are a facebook lurker friend!’ TMI, TMI everywhere.

And then there are work contacts who see you comment on a friend’s post about something that affects a community you are involved in, and they personally message you with admonishments and warnings. Basically saying, ‘You can only be vanilla, you can never be honest. How very dare you!’
I spent so many wasted hours trying to organise my personal facebook page into some sort of sense where I could have meaningful and fun interactions yet maintain some sort of privacy. Privacy and facebook of course are a nonsense, as Cambridge Analytica showed us.

All of this aside, the sharing of information even when you think you have it well locked down and the addiction to the little red notification flag, nothing prepared me for the overwhelming sadness I experienced over this Christmas period. Not long after the Whakaari/White Island tragedy, my feed was flooded with the heart-breaking Australian bush fire climate change disasters, road accidents and family violence reports. Then Trump bombed Iran and #WW3 was the end of Facebook days for me. That and people’s holiday snaps of their endless luxury holidays jetting away abroad, posting photos of their food, fiddling whilst the planet burns. I put my phone down.

Of course, like the Hotel California, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. The minute I log back in with the password and username, there I will be, resurrected and 3567 notifications of activity I’ve missed, all my comments and posts back like magic. I plan to go in though, in the dead of night, rescue my photos, delete all but very close family and the handful of friends I can utterly count on to bring food and love to my family if I suddenly die and will help organise a funeral. I'm going to Konmari the feck out of it. Or push that 'permanently delete' button altogether. 

In the meantime, the real me has found peace in choosing what bad news floods my way. I don’t have to look at other people’s seemingly fortunate wealthy lives and perfect families and have jealousy twist like a knife in my gut (my problem, not theirs). My husband says I’m far less grumpy now, but quietly wagering that Twitter will replace my addiction. I’m also sorry if I have put up aspirational posts in the past that make my life seem like a bunch of goddamned daisies. Nobody’s is, yet nobody wants to admit it in the highly curated life online. Yet we circle like vultures for a hint of weakness, or mistake made, ready to pounce and gossip.

Since quitting my personal page, I’ve had actual coffees and catch ups in person with people I like and care about, invites to stay and long walks along the wild coast of Wellington. I miss the banter from humerous like minded friends, but I don’t miss how utterly miserable Facebook made me feel.

Ironically, this post will also go up on my public page where I hope I don’t lose followers. Ah the duplicity...

Cheers, and thanks for all the fish, love Fifi xxx