Saturday 29 December 2018

Becoming Blue VI: Blue Sun Orchid - HAUNTING II

It’s hard to understand what it is we are capable of until we risk leaving behind what we’ve always known. - Chani

In order for things to begin there needs to be an ending. Here in Australia, I feel that things have slowly come to an end. The studio that I had been using as a base has come to its own end in the form of a lease expiry. The beautiful garden that was just coming into flower outside was packed away before my arrival from New Zealand and all the offices are now empty. As I stroll around the confused space, I find a knot of fairy lights, a coiled hose pipe, the charcoal remnants of a fire and a shovel which cut straight into a mound of fertile compost like a dagger. Everything I looked at on the 18th December described how I felt. Knotted, burnt out and cut before any cutting had actually taken place. I took a series of black and white photographs with my heart in my throat. I could barely swallow and I felt nauseous. I had a sad feeling that things were very quickly coming to a close and there was nothing I could do but let go of what those four weeks in Melbourne had been. It wasn’t going to be easy to let go, I had become attached.

Australian song: True Blue

Hey True Blue, don't say you've gone!
Say you've knocked off for a smoko...
And you'll be back la-ater on.
Hey True Blue, Hey True Blue 
Give it to me straight, face to face 
Are you really disappearing?

I think I can say quite honestly that I had never been so happy in my life during those days in Melbourne. The happiness was because of a meeting between place, time and the people. It was a meshing, an optimism, a hope. Now, the place was being dismantled, the time suddenly wasn't quite right and the people were also saying goodbyes and I found myself, after a month of being in New Zealand, feeling quite scared and uneasy to what I had returned too. I felt vulnerable, alone and out of synch with everyone. Even my flight from New Zealand had been held back by a day due to four broken aeroplanes. It felt like Australia didn’t want me back. I’d fallen out of the slipstream about as fast as I had fallen into it.

The habitat of a person I had grown to care for very deeply, was no longer in the window of the building. On the last day, only one thing remained - their distant face in the window and an open laptop. Everything seemed distant. The distance of blue. Just as it was in my more recent dreams, I found myself unable to reach them. My time was over. Our time was over, for now.

"Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head 
Why did summer go so quickly, was it something that you said? 

When you knew that it was over you were suddenly aware 
That the autumn leaves were turning to the color of her hair. 

Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel 
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel 
As the images unwind, like the circles that you find 
In the windmills of your mind..."

In my desperate attempt to stay on course, I stomped around Melbourne with a big, blue suitcase and hesitantly filled it with oil paints and painting media, later hopping onto a train which took me back to where I was staying in the suburbs. Stomach tight and feeling jittery, my heart and it hopes once again broken. Grief set in. 

Work in Progress: 'Christmas 2018'. Watercolour and charcoal on paper.

I said in my last post how after conquering one flower, another one comes into my life and alludes me. I finally conquered the Agapanthus and it's agony... Then the Sun Orchid came in during All Hallow’s Eve and it’s taunted me since. Only this time it is far more mysterious. It's a dangerous heady sort of feeling. Slippery, tricky and confusing, like a picnic at Hanging Rock; a bad dream, a puff of smoke.

"You should grow a beard 
A beard to tell a thousand stories never told before 
A beard to tell you tales, whilst the fireplace roars 
The closing of relationships and the opening of doors..."

I often wonder if I could just settle down with a quiet life or if I am now addicted to the highs and lows of whatever this existence is that I seem to be shaping for myself.  I ask why am I pushing so hard? To what end and at what cost? What am I willing to sacrifice and why? A friend of mine has told me to just get on with things actively rather than ask all these questions, but when one finds oneself this far away from anything they know you can't help but ask how you ended up here. It's just who I am as a person.

The goal of art is to reveal unearthly life dwelling behind everything, to break the mirror of life so that we may look being in the face’ (Franz Marc).

I spent Christmas in quiet contemplation trying to regain the strength I had somehow lost, whilst preparing to go back to Tasmania on limited luggage. I posted all the materials ahead of me to a house on 'Comeback Road' and laughed out loud as I wrote the address... for that is exactly what I am doing, I am coming back.

Four seasons in a day in North West Tasmania. My view just off of Comeback Road. 

I have been trying to finish sketches, but they are all dead pieces of work. I can't seem to distill whatever it is I am trying to distil. I know that the reasons behind this are because I am not focused - there is too much going on in my head and heart and I am still moving around between B&Bs. I have also lost energy and am full of self-doubt. Usually, I paint from emotion, I either project myself onto the plant or the plant does it to me, but now I am trying to incorporate what the landscape is trying to tell me as well. I feel like a conducting rod with electricity pulsing through it and it's almost just too much. I ask myself, why stop doing what you did before? Why not just carry on interpreting flora? The answer is, I have no idea why - again it's just a feeling that I should consider the other elements. So I am considering the bushfires, the history of a landscape both geologically and ethnographically as well as the story of my heart and the lure of blue.

The Wuthering Heights fire in 2016, by Nicole Anderson

Many crises in our lives have a long unconscious history. We move toward them step by step, unaware of the dangers accumulating, but we fail to see is frequently perceived by our unconscious, which can pass the information on through dreams. A recurring dream is a noteworthy phenomenon. It can anticipate a future event of importance” Jung. I came to Australia because of a series of premonitory dreams I had between 1998 and 1999. Since arriving here, I have seen the people and places that I saw in those dreams. That in itself has been really hard to digest over the past eight weeks. I clearly don't like the mystical as much as I thought I did. I don't like not knowing how or why I had these dreams. How could I have seen half the things I have seen 20 years before I saw them? All I have to run on is the nodal axis of the moon which is a 20-year cycle and the fact I had my Reiki attunement in these years. Did I accidentally open up a portal through time and place? Or did someone else open it and reached out to me? What on earth is going on?

A friendly reminder of the quote that led me into Blue, and how terrifyingly accurate this quote has now become to my own life: 

"but I long to see the blue flower. It lies incessantly at my heart, and I can imagine and think about nothing else. Never did I feel like this before. It is as if until now I had been dreaming, or as if sleep had carried me into another world." 
Novalis, from "Henry von Ofterdingen"

First sketch. Charcoal and watercolour on paper. A5 in size. 
In these dreams, there is no storyline, just places, faces, voices and feelings. I remember after having them at the age of 14 that I’d somehow end up in Australia. It was just a feeling. I was older in these dreams – a young lady. I felt solid – real, alive. More alive than I have ever felt. Stable. Secure in my skin. This is something I have never actually felt in my whole life. I still don’t, but I wonder if the storm I have had to ride out alone this Christmas is the beginning of me finding a way of being happy in myself and secure in my decisions.

Tasmanian Fire

Now, hiding in an AirBnb on Drummond Street which used to be used to house women who wanted to further themselves many decades ago as well as painters who couldn’t afford proper housing, I am reconsidering compositions. I sit meditating and visualising for hours. It takes hours and hours and is actually one of the most exhausting stages to what I am doing. It's how I work. I am aware the clock is ticking, which really isn't helping this deep process but I have to ride it out. 

“What we have to reconquer is the weight of lost reality. We must make for ourselves a new heart, a new spirit, a new soul, in the measure of man. The painter's true reality lies neither in abstraction nor in realism, but in the reconquest of his weight as a human being” (Alfred Manessier).

Tomorrow I will be in 'Marrawah' which means 'Eucalyptus Wood' in Aboriginal Peerapper or 'Number One' and it is where I will be for the next four weeks. I like the fact it can mean number one – because I feel that this is where Blue really begins.


With thanks to the fabulous Amaya for her kindness and guidance over the past 6 months since I embarked on this journey. Thanks to Emily and Chris for their love and care in Melbourne and to Natasha, Bambi, Vida, Tamsin and Poppy of England, my mother and Andrew of Spain, Tiffany of Sydney and Jenny, Elizabeth, Zowie and Sue of New Zealand for their support. Thanks also to Sue of 93 Drummond Street for looking after my canvas, Melissa for letting me use her home in Tasmania, Meg and David for looking after me so attentively these past two months and to Thomas, for letting me be me and for teaching me so much.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Becoming Blue VI: Blue Sun Orchid - HAUNTING I

My life is planned by the movements of petals

It was October and the leaves outside my window were beginning to turn. I carefully packed away my brushes in glass jars and placed a blue drape over my unfinished paintings, mindful that I would not see them again until the year ended with a '9'. It was a funny feeling. Over the past few months, I had been mindful of a great shift occurring inside of me as I prepared for my trip to the Antipodes. No doubt it was another growth spurt from within my chrysalis. It is a long way to travel and I suppose it was inevitable that more 'wisening up' would be required on my part in order to navigate the new landscapes I would be in over the next couple of months. I often find that landscapes on the outside test the ones on the inside. 

With the studio mopped I went for a motorcycle ride to the Sierra Nevada before joining a party in the almond groves near Alhama de Granada. Autumn was very much underway - the  Spanish air was cold and once again full of the heavy fragrance of olive wood smoke. I inhaled as much of the air as my lungs could take, just in case I missed it once I was absent. I touched the mountain and its trees and picked up a cone before I said my farewell. I was only supposed to be gone for two months, but my bones knew it would be for longer. 

Blue Sun Orchid - Tasmania
20cm x 25 cm - tiny sketch :: work in progress
Watercolour and charcoal on paper
I arrived in Melbourne at six in the morning under the cast of an October full moon and as my airplane danced in the city’s airspace, I watched the sunrise like the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odessy. A thin, crescent-shaped flash of light covered the curved horizon.  I felt like I was being born.  Weeks later, I ripped a thin gash in one of the arms of my black Indian dress - 'the chrysalis is breaking' I thought. Then a week after that I ripped another split in the armpit of my silk shirt as if to confirm it. I thought back to the paintbrushes and the paintings waiting for me in my studio in Spain and then of the lettuces and artichokes waiting for me in England. There are Horcruxes of me scattered all over the place. It was a strange feeling. I pictured an invisible bungee rope which was metaphorically attached to my navel and pretended to twang it. It was stretched as far as it might have been able to go and I was aware of how very far away I was and that I was upside down, and yet my soul had arrived in this landscape before me. Or perhaps it was always here? 

I arrived in Tasmania on the eve of an immense storm the day after All Hallows. ‘Another one’ I thought, as I reflected on the days I spent in Scotland looking for Meconopsis. Electrical storms, like me, appear to also be chasing blue. I had never really considered Tasmania as a location before. It was always one of those places that seemed remote and peculiar. It certainly was never on my radar, but I ended up visiting the island because I wanted to find blue orchids and I had been informed that this was the best place to do so. Unprepared, I hopped off of the propeller plane and felt another sense of belonging – only this was more profound than what I had felt in Melbourne. This feeling only deepened as I drove along the island’s winding roads, smelt it’s damp air, touched it’s old soil and paddled in its choppy waters. The days rolled past like the raging clouds in the sky – everything on this isle was saturated with meaning and magic. I was inside a novel, inside a painting, inside a song. 

Most of the sun orchids in Tasmania remained dormant in bud as they patiently waited for the storms to pass. You could almost taste the tension in each capsule as the week grew old. Desperate to cross-pollinate I think that in the end many of the flowers this year had to opt for the far less exciting prospect of self-pollination instead. The weather just was not on their side, or, it seemed, on mine. I sat with a several budded stems in a heathland for a few hours while a swarm of mosquitoes and March flies feasted on me. I watched and waited and then watched a little more. Their plump, tight buds becoming heavy with me as we cooked our spells together. It was like looking into a mirror. Partially ripped chrysalises not quite ready to open. The orchids and I were chanting together beneath the folds and sheets of blue.

My life unfurls with the movements of petals and stars. As soon as I understand the workings of one blue flower, another seems to embrace me. With pieces of me spread out all over the globe like pollen, my body begins to cry out in pain and pleasure. It is ready to receive a place and a time. I believe the place has arrived, almost at the start of this journey into Blue, but possibly not the time. I shall return.


There are many layers to blue. Six weeks have passed since my time in Tasmania. It is now December 14th 2018 and I feel my head shifting gear as it readies itself towards practical work after having spent a month in New Zealand. Unable to sleep and pining for a place I have only just discovered, I decided to extend my Antipodean trip for a further two months and booked a one-way ticket to go back to Tasmania. I do not know when I will be returning to the mainland and I secretly wish I wasn’t. I bought ten meters of canvas to paint on whilst in Wellington and will be bringing this with me, along with oil paints, paper, and my dreams.

To be continued...

If you want to be taken to the environments I have been in with the power of your imagination and hearing, I have uploaded a few podcasts which combine commentary on the painting process along with field recordings taken from the sights I have visited. I have edited these so that listeners are taken on a non-interrupted journey through the landscapes and they are available here:

Sunday 16 December 2018

Becoming Blue V: The Antipodes

In October and November 2018 I was invited to teach several workshops on painting leaves in Australia and New Zealand as part of the first leg of my Blue Flower trip. I was totally blown away by everyone's support and love, not only for what I am doing in my work but for botanical art in general. It is so good to have so many of us working towards getting botanical art out there into galleries and on walls. Enthusiasm is so important and the most contagious type of love. 

East of Melbourne in the middle of nowhere

Here are some photographs which were taken during some of the workshops and as part of my expedition to find the Blue Sun Orchid in Tasmania. My journey started in Melbourne where I gave a talk to the friends of the botanic garden soon after touch down. After this, I was whisked away from a city I was growing to love to a place further away from the humdrum near Lakes Entrance. After a few days off grid for my birthday, I then found myself back in Melbourne for a business meeting after having packed for Tasmania. It was touch and go if Tasmania was going to go ahead as severe weather had been predicted, but after much mulling over I decided to go. 

Tasmania, orchid hunting in between storms. First week of November 2018
After a week in Tasmania which took me from the North to the South of the island, I was back in Melbourne for four days, before then flying to Canberra for a few days for a workshop. The day after I returned, I then had a workshop at Geelong Botanic Garden and then a day after that I had another workshop at Melbourne Botanic Garden. Then I had a few days turn over before flying to New Zealand for three workshops in Wellington, Hanmer Springs and Auckland. Eventually arriving in Tauranga. 

It was a jam-packed schedule. I worked out on December 21st that I hadn't had a single day of solitude since October the 22nd! For an introvert, that's quite a change of routine... 

So here are the photographs. I would like to thank Sandra Morris, Sue Wickison, Lesley Alexander Smith, Elizabeth Yuill Proctor, Mali Moir, Dianne Emery, Jenny Coker, John Pastoriza-Pinol, Cheryl Hodges and Amanda Ahmed for making all of this possible. I would also like to thank my friend Meg and her family for their generosity and kindness in helping me with my arrival and for planning such a magical birthday and my friends Emily and Chris for their support and care. I would lastly want to thank my friend Thomas, for his organisation and for teaching me so much. Thank you. 

Tasmanian coastline.  November 2018

Arthur River,  Tarkine Forest, Tasmania, the first week of November 2018

Arthur River,  Tarkine Forest, Tasmania, the first week of November 2018

In the ancient woods of the Tarkine in Tasmania. This part of the wood is due to be logged very soon. Some of the work I am doing for blue Flower will be used for an exhibition that is trying to raise awareness of these woods and get them legally protected.
Working in Tasmania. November 2018
Working in the Tarkine, Tasmania. November 2018

Gum forests, suburbs of Hobart, Tasmania, the first week of November 2018

The view from my desk at Sue Wickison's house in Wellington, New Zealand. 

Looking for Dragons with Elizabeth Yuill Proctor, Hamner Springs, New Zealand
New Zealand, South Island

New Zealand, South Island

New Zealand, South Island

Moana, New Zealand. December 2018
In Tauranga with aritst Jenny Coker, New Zeland, 15th December 2018
View from Jenny's garden, Tauranga, New Zealand, North Island

Student's work after a workshop at Otari Botanic Gardens, Wellington, New Zealand.
With thanks to Sue Wickison for organising this workshop. 

Workshop at Otari Botanic Gardens, Wellington, New Zealand.

Workshop at Otari Botanic Gardens, Wellington, New Zealand. 

Workshop at Otari Botanic Gardens, Wellington, New Zealand. 

Workshop in Hamner Springs, New Zealand South Island.
Thanks to Elizabeth Yuill Proctor for organising this!

Birthday celebrations during the workshop in Hamner Springs, New Zealand South Island. 

Workshop in Hamner Springs, New Zealand South Island. 

Workshop at NatureArt Lab, Canberra Botanic Gardens, Australia.
Thanks to Cheryl Hodges for making this class happen.

Workshop at NatureArt LabCanberra Botanic Gardens, Australia 

Workshop at NatureArt LabCanberra Botanic Gardens, Australia 

Workshop at NatureArt LabCanberra Botanic Gardens, Australia 

Finding a Wahlbergia in Canberra, Australia. Thanks to Cheryl Hodges for taking this shot1

Teaching at Melbourne Botanic Gardens.
Thanks to Mali Moir and Dianne Emery for organising this one!

Teaching at Melbourne Botanic Gardens.

Teaching at Melbourne Botanic Gardens.

Teaching at Melbourne Botanic Gardens.

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand.
Thanks to Lesley Alexander Smith and Sandra Morris for organising this workshop. 

Teaching a workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 
Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Samples of my portfolio on show in Auckland

Class photo in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Geelong Botanic Gardens, Australia.
Thanks to John Pastoriza-Pinol for organising this workshop and for an amazing lunch!