The Log Book
Tales of an Artist Afloat
I drew Owha last month, when we were lucky enough to have the beautiful leopard seal visit Island Prism. But I had a bit of a block when it came to colouring her. I put the drawing away until I had the urge to return to it. The pieces all came together and made sense- green and turquoise for the blues of Pacific Bay, and a touch of summer skies as the sun goes down- the time when we usually see Owha (in Maori, 'wh' is pronounced 'f', so Owha is pronounced 'Ofa')
I'm happy with how the paints have granulated, giving texture to the water. I think it gives the piece a bit of a flowing feeling!
Owha has left the Tutukaka Coast now, but is nearby at Marsden Cove. This will be our point of departure for our Pacific crossing, so we might see her again! Today we leave Tutukaka to cruise back to Whangarei where we can carry out the last few repairs and take on provisions- I have a LOT of shopping in my future as I'll need supplies for at least a month!
Click here to see Owha in my Redbubble shop, on t-shirts, bags, notebooks and stickers.
We had a great sail up from Leigh to Tutukaka. Prism sped along on a beautiful beam reach, the squalls dumped their rain around us but not on us, and we were met by a wonderful welcoming committee on the Tutukaka Coast! They spent half an hour escorting us in exuberant fashion. My only regret is not catching the moment when one splashed Jim with a huge tail lob!
I popped down to Auckland for the weekend, and next thing I knew, Jim and Island Prism had sailed to join me! It's early Autumn, which means we get four seasons in one day (if you don't like the weather, look in a different direction!). The light was interesting so I filmed the trip- look out for a very fast sail-by from the newest America's Cup boat (it kicks up quite a wake!). It was wonderful to see Aotearoa, the waka moana, sailing past downtown Auckland and the hulking mass of the Emerald Princess! Ocean cruising past and present... Whilst I wouldn't mind a buffet and a pool, I'll stick with the slower-paced way of doing things- it feels like more of an adventure. I wonder if I'll be saying the same thing after the passage to the Austral Islands?
We've been back in Tutukaka with Island Prism for a couple of weeks. Jim's been working on fixing our leaky water tanks whilst I've been relief teaching at the school in Ngunguru- a welcome top-up to the cruising kitty! Once we get overseas, working becomes more complicated- generally we travel on tourist visas meaning that paid employment is forbidden. One of my boat tasks at the moment is checking that our visa info is up-to-date. Things can change quickly, especially the world's current political climate, and it's worth keeping on top of things, though immigration websites are not always the easiest to negotiate. Thank heavens for art to help me relax!
I've been going back to the sketches and video I took on our trip out to the Poor Knights a few weeks back. I'd love to go out there again, but Prism is stuck here until the water tank repairs have cured and we can fill both tanks (we're currently surviving with our smaller 20 gallon tank and are very thankful of our proximity to the marina!).
We haven't seen marlins in the water- just being hauled out at the game fish club. They are very tasty, but also incredibly beautiful, so it makes me rather sad. I brought the one above back to life, using some of the trophies inside the club as inspiration.
We've also been lucky enough to see Owha, the leopard seal. Normally they hang around the Antarctic, pestering penguins and being generally fearsome. Owha is enjoying a northern summer, first in Auckland and now on the Tutukaka Coast. She's been visiting the marina, and paid a visit to Island Prism whilst we we anchored in Pacific Bay. Very exciting- she's a beautiful creature- but we won't be swimming for a while!
I've been continuing practicing with my brush pen-I'm enjoying the way the style is working. I tried to use it for the textures on the rocks on the paintings of the pinnacle and the stream of knifefish below. It took a lot of concentration, but ended up feeling quite meditative as I tried to use the very tip. There seems to be a single hair that sticks out a little- it's a bit annoying but seems to be useful for very fine work!
I've been putting together an Etsy shop and think I'll put a few of these in there- more details to come but I hope to get it finalised over the next few days. I've been a bit hesitant over selling my originals- I think my inner critic gets a bit chatty, even though I've had my Redbubble store for a while now! But I've started to feel sorry for them just being filed away on the boat, so hopefully a few of them will find some loving homes!
In the meantime, I think I'll add a few more to this series- I'm playing with some compositions involving rays, so we'll see how those turn out! Plus continuing to get the boat ready- we have a month and a half left here in NZ before the big adventure, and I see that painting the cockpit has been added to my 'to-do' list!
Sometimes life comes round in a circle. Right now we're anchored at Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier Island, which is where we spent the end of January last year. I know it's mid February now, but the time and place feel right for a bit of reflection.
I started my first class in Sketchbook Skool a year ago. It was called 'Beginning' (a very good place to start, as Julie Andrews/ Maria would agree). The first week was taught by Danny Gregory, and the homework was simply to draw, every day. It would be the perfect way to start forming a habit. So I drew Great Barrier- anchorages, birds, waterfalls, the store here at Port Fitzroy. Cups of coffee, the dinghy engine, kids playing and my husband mending the sail cover. My sketchbook changed from an occasional companion to a constant friend. I photographed my sketches, posted them and gathered inspiration from the other students as well as from the sketchbooks of our tutors.
A year on, I'm still drawing. The habit I started with Beginning remains, consolidated by half a dozen other classes taken through Sketchbook Skool. I've learned new techniques and, I hope, improved. So I pulled out my sketchbook from a year ago.
Have I got better? In some ways, yes. My inner critic wonders if I've lost a sense of delicacy, but I can still draw this way when I choose to, and my line work these days feels more confident. It's good to look back and see lots of things I like in my older work- the page with the birds and Jim stitching the sail is one of my favourites. But my more recent sketches feel more distinctive, more confident, more 'mine'.
The most obvious change in my work is the scale. My sketchbook of a year ago had numerous tiny drawings littering a double page spread, with copious notes about the weather and the day. Now I mostly have single images across a double page spread. Words have taken a back seat, though I do like the diary style of my older work.
My ultra-fine liner has been exchanged for a brush pen, at least for the moment. I love the expressive lines of the brush pen, and have been determined to actually stick with one medium for a while. Looking back, I like the delicate lines of my fineliners too, but the brush pen is working for me right now. I still can't draw a straight line, but my lines are less sketchy; they flow more and I think they give the drawings more presence.
My greatest improvement, I think, is in my use of colour. I've got better at shading with watercolours, introducing a sense of depth into my sketches and bringing in the dark darks that I've struggled with for so long. I mostly use watercolours alongside pen, but I'm making the watercolour do part of the work, giving value (light and darkness) as well as colour.
So what next? I'm sticking with the brush pen a while longer, and I'm going to keep improving my watercolour techniques. I'll try and bring back some of the written elements, and drawing the little details in life as well as the big exciting things. My older sketchbooks remind me of techniques that I enjoyed and haven't used for a while- such as sketching in coloured pencils or with ballpoint pens- and I'm keen to pull these out again a little further down the line, perhaps see how I can make them work alongside my brush pen and watercolour. I'm sure there will be more Sketchbook Skool, but it's good to have consolidation time.
My collection of filled sketchbooks is supposed to get exiled off the boat soon- it takes up valuable space and may suffer from the humidity of the tropics. But I might keep a couple of books with me- or at least scan them in, as a reminder of what I've learnt and a source of inspiration for the future. And I'll certainly try to keep up daily drawing, whatever form it takes.
Do you ever look back at your old sketches? What have you learned from them? Do you ever find yourself returning to old styles and concepts?
My idea of heaven would probably be a sketchbook that I could use underwater. But then you'd never get me out of the sea. This is one of my post-dive day sketches from out at the Poor Knights. I'd love to get out there again but boat maintenance has been getting in the way (on the plus side, the cockpit lockers are much more watertight).
We have, however, been round to beautiful Whale Bay, wandered up to Tutukaka Reserve and lazed on lovely Matapouri Beach. I've been learning how to use my Wacom tablet with Photoshop via Skillshare and preparing some more designs for Redbubble. We'll eventually drag ourselves away, I'm sure, but this is a wonderful place to be.
Leaving Tutukaka, we headed north to Mimiwhangata. We'd hoped to make it all the way to the Bay of Islands but the winds were light. I took a break from helming in the afternoon to relax and draw Jim and the helm. It's always fun to study the island names on the charts, and this area had a particularly dramatic feel- Danger Island and the Wide Berth Islands. It could be the start of the next Island Prism comic episode...
I used a PITT brush pen for the line work and squinted a bit to get the dramatic shadows. The tarp behind Jim looked a bit odd in black and white so I coloured it with watercolour. I might go back and paint the ocean, but I do like the graphic simplicity as it is.
The anchorage at Mimiwhangata was beautiful, and the sunset complemented the scenery perfectly. We'll pop back when it's time to head south again- Jim wants to cycle the hills and I'll take a tramp- or set up my stool and sketch!
Christmas in Tutukaka was lovely. We spent Christmas Day with our friends Karen and Alex, their daughter Tilly and Karen's parents Jean and Ian. In true Kiwi fashion, we lazed in the sun and shared a magnum of bubbles whilst helping Tilly construct Lego planes and supermarkets. Lunch was roast lamb and an array of delicious salads, dessert was a pudding-shaped rocky road with cherries, maltesers and marshmallows, and a splash of white chocolate over the top. We made sure to brush our teeth well that night!
Boxing Day saw us raising the anchor and taking Prism out for a spin amongst plunging gannets and wave-skimming petrels and shearwaters. We didn't get too far, but returned to Rocky Bay for lunch. Karen, Tilly, Ian and I braved the water for our first swims of the season. Refreshing may be the best word for it- it certainly washed away a few cobwebs, and the sun warmed us up enough to get ice cream from Lickety Split afterwards!
We picked up provisions from Whangarei (grocery shopping isn't called grocery shopping when there's a boat involved). Back in Tutukaka, Karen and I explored the treasures in Toot Sweet and the Tutukaka Gallery. The gallery is well worth a look if you're in the area- it's currently full of incredible work by local artists Steve Moase, Paul Duflou and Shane Hansen. I tried to convince Jim that Island Prism NEEDS one of Shane's beautiful bird cushions from Toot Sweet, but he invoked a two cushion policy on the boat. I'm not convinced, and will be pulling out the Island Prism rule book to verify this. And hey- I'm the captain, I'm allowed to change the rules!
Art-wise it's been a few days of watercolour washes and Lexington Grey ink in my Noodler's nib creaper. Lots of blues, greens and pale ochres on this sun-drenched piece of coast. With Christmas over and provisions purchased, it was then time to head farther north, so we said a temporary good bye and turned the wheel towards the Bay of Islands.
Excitement hit on Sunday morning, somewhere between loads of laundry, a final tidy of the boat and a visit from our friend Adrian. The stressful jobs were done and I was ready to go sailing! There was a total lack of wind, so the sails remained furled, but we maneuvered away from the dock easily and headed to Waiheke. Our night at Blackpool was quiet and uneventful. I made the most of having time to read, Jim worked on the drain pump which had already began to misbehave, and the next day we set sail to Kawau.
We had beautiful winds. All the work which Jim had done on the hull paid off as Island Prism cut through the water at 6.5 knots. We met heavy rainfall, with beautiful sunshine in between, and by the evening were anchored near the Governor's mansion at Kawau. The anchorage there is secure and very pretty. The island has a colourful history, having been home to cannibals, coppermines and Governor George Grey, who imported exotic plants and animals and drove around the island in a carriage drawn by four zebras. Some of the animals remain today- peacocks and wallabies roam alongside the native birds.
The island's birdlife are always happy to see people, especially if you come bearing bread. A flotilla of ducks swam out to see us as I sketched the view from the boat in the late afternoon, and the following day the peacocks and weka stalked the cafe in hope of edible gifts. The peacock's feathers were glorious in the sunlight, although he did seem to have trouble turning round in the confined space between tables!
I was experimanting with my new Noodler's Nib Creaper and Lexington Grey ink. The pen is a flex nib, which gives it a range of line variations as you change pressure, and Lexington grey is a lovely shading ink which goes from a light pencil shade to a deep grey. The two worked together beautifully as the pen allows the ink flow to vary- I think the duck sketches show it well. On the cream paper in my sketchbook, everything had a very gentle 19th Century air. Next time we're back I might need to try something a little more outrageous, but for now the greys and greens suit the beautiful mansion house and peaceful island very well.
Kawau is beautiful, and it was tempting to stay another night- maybe looking for wallabies at dusk and barbequing on the beach. But the wind was blowing well so we decided to take it to head up the coast to Leigh.
Boat launch is less than three weeks away, and it's two months until the summer holidays. My feet are itchy and can't wait to swap shoes for dive fins. I've been revisiting old photos and using them to paint from- it's been good inspiration to work on watercolours. Yes, I know it's Inktober. No, I still can't stick to a single signature media.
About six years ago, we sailed Island Prism from Auckland to Abel Tasman National Park, at the top of the South Island. The passage was eventful, and we got slammed by a gale off Taranaki, but were eventually rewarded with amazing cruising. Our friends Jill and James joined us for a few days. We consumed copious amounts of wine, tried to catch a fish that wasn't a barracuda (we failed) and met a white dolphin and a colony of seals.
The seals were NZ fur seals, and the group consisted of a couple of males, dozens of females and some tiny pups. They were happy for us to approach the colony provided we stayed away from the pups. The females kept their distance but the males were much more playful and inquisitive, diving with James and swimming up to me and Jill to blow bubbles. They revelled in showing off their underwater acrobatics.
I came across some of the photos and relived our encounter in watercolours. I'm loving my tubes of Daniel Smith and finally seem to be achieving some reasonable darks.
That's probably it for painting this weekend- the epoxy paint we used this morning should be dry, so I'm off to slap some bottom paint onto the hull. I'd rather stick with watercolours, but it will all be worth it when the boat is afloat- and we have some great adventures planned for this summer!
An Artist Afloat- Painting the world one anchorage at a time.