Sunday 7 February 2021

The art of creating during times of conscious change

While often it has been said that the year 2020 changed everything, I believe that each year does this. 

We felt the changes more last year, and perhaps more acutely, because the effects and consequences of this particular change affected all of us more directly, and quickly. How our world is constructed, how we live, and how we maintain ourselves in it, were challenged radically. 

Feeling at ease one day, life was about to change the next

Now, even the lions were masked.

And so these changes have been thrust right before our eyes. Felt viscerally in our guts.

However, change is nothing new. It happens all the time. To every person, organism, atom, planet, sun, galaxy and so on...we have just become more aware of it. More conscious of it. And perhaps this will continue to be the case as time unfolds further.

Personally, I struggled last year. As we will all have done. My struggles revolved around anxiety. Or to use it's simpler term, fear. Fear of the future; fear for my health, for my partner, my job, my on, and so forth. What would life be like? Would my partner Dave get back to Australia, and if so, would he have any work, or support? Would I be able to reunite with him? And if so, when, and what would happen next?


I realised that I had felt all this before. A wave of it. Over four years ago. At the start of my new phase in life, giving up my job, selling my house, and launching myself off in a motor home. That's what started this blog.

I felt huge anxiety at the time. What will the future be like? Will I be OK? Will I ever get a job again? Where will I live in the end? Where on earth will I end up? What the hell was I doing?

At that time and this, after everything had fallen away from me, except the few possessions I had left, I returned to repeated pattern. Go somewhere new. Learn something new. Create something new. It really doesn't matter what. Move. Instead of just feeling that emotion. Remember what the word actually means. To emote - to move. Fueling my emotions with worry ain't gonna help David, and you've made your decision now, so regret is useless. So don't keep feeling the emotion - channel it.

And this was doubly important now. Because there was another feeling that was growing and felt more frequently during all this. Anger. Or when I say anger, what I really mean is rage. A lot of rage. And I know, after many years, that this emotion is linked very closely to loss. It covers it. Loss of loved ones, loss of face, loss of control, loss of possession, loss of freedom. When I feel it, it's like I become gripped by a fire breathing serpent, or dragon. It is quite debilitating, and can be a bit scary for me and others. So time to deal with it. 

When Anger Strikes

Dragon representing anger

Easier said than done. I'd been getting help using a 6 week course called 'mental fitness during times of uncertainty', with help from my friend and coach Anita Sauvage, and it had helped kick start me again. Totally shifting my view, and really helping me. There have been huge challenges of course, and I now go back and try my best to give myself a break, show myself some compassion, and not worry that I am still learning. That I, and everything around me, is imperfect. And that is alright. After the course, I had felt a deep shift in perspective; that after reflecting, has very much stuck with me.

If change is everywhere, and always, why not benefit from it? Can we, instead of sitting still with it,  not use the movement of anxiety and fear and rub at Aladdin's lamp, to call the genie?

Calling the re-use and re-cycle Genie to deal with change

And of course, when change happens, it isn't always what you might expect. This time, lock down was repeatedly happening. Lock down?!? Sorry, what? So going anywhere now more constricted than previous years. What next?  The world was getting so much smaller. OK, to go somewhere meant local, and during exercise only. Perfect.

Yes, perfect. Spring meant elderflowers. Summer meant left over, going to waste, citrus fruit. Autumn meant local berries, hips, haws, and fruits. Winter meant sloes! Those lovely berry gifts given as preparation for the long sleep over and quietness of the cold time, whilst we wait for spring.

My Dave in spring

I looked and remembered things were brief. Fleeting, and apt to change.

That other sign of spring, and my latest art commission, which I ended up naming 'The impermanence of the cherry', was teaching me that.

'The impermanence of the cherry', oil on board by David Dalzell

Better grasp the nettle now, before you can't make tea from it, and time to develop my foraging skills to make more use of the plentiful harvest. 

Nature's bounty

The list grew. Cordial, jellies, chutneys, pickles, stewed fruit, pies and oh yes, alcohol! I'm currently drinking a glass of the 2020 sloe gin, and you know what? That year did produce some good things. Some terrifying, anxiety producing, grief inflicting things. A great deal of them. There were also some good things too. I will not be the same again because of that year. But then, I will not be the same tomorrow either.


Marmalade for breakfast

Winter night and sloe gin!

Taking time is important. The more time I take to look, the more I see. The more I move, the more I create. The more I learn. The more things change around me, the more I change what I am doing. 

Going through the last year, I grew conscious of that fact we tend to forget. Seasons come and go. Change happens. All the time. The good, the bad...everything.

Spring gives way to summer

Summer ebbs into autumn

And winter grips, before easing back into spring...

We live in a time where we're more dissociated from seasonal change, and natural rhythms. 

We're convinced that there are now foods we need all of the time; we've lost a certain amount of appreciation, and anticipation in our lives. 

More importantly, we are now more disconnected from change. It is a huge shock, as we try to control our world more and more, to find out we can't and that we are not in control at all, and change will happen whether we like it or not. 

Whatever life changes into, we can always move, create, and learn.

Go where the breeze takes you, and build with what you find

Personally, I think my goal is to learn how to deal with this change. Live with it. 

And reach for a glass of sloe gin!


And now..

All images by the artist (except the school photo, and I have no idea who they were).

Wednesday 12 August 2020

Small steps to Giant Country

Environmental issues are always in the forefront of my mind. Now, more than ever. 

My background was as an environmental applied biologist. I researched as an aquatic ecotoxicologist, before slowly redirecting myself as a designer and artist. 

My first dream as a child was to be the world's first practicing xenobiologist on other planets, until it occurred to me that the universe of Star Trek had not quite been realised on earth yet, and we could not comfortably travel to other planets.

My second childhood dream was to be a tree warden, after reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. I then realised I was not an Ent. Quite a shock.

So, I didn't pursue that either, but our past does not leave us.

We take it with us, and somehow incorporate it into who we are now. I know that my values and passions and instincts are still entwined within the natural world, and connected to our place, impact and responsibility for our health and the health of the planet, whether I explore that as a biological researcher, a NHS graphic designer, an artist or as an individual. 

I know that my artistic subject matter often comes back to the natural environment, and our impact on our natural world. And although I couldn't get from planet to planet, I did not give up on my dream of travelling from world to world, whilst exploring different countries and cultures on this, our most precious planet.

So with all that background, feeding my intuition, when I saw three pods from a Royal Poinciana (Delonix Regia), also known as Flamboyant or more commonly Flame tree in Parap, a suburb of Darwin, at the Top End of the Northern Territory, Australia, my imagination took flight. 

The flame tree is part of the bean family, Fabaceae. It has fern-like leaves and the most flamboyant orange/scarlet flowers.

I took the opportunity to be one of those people who begin to explore what I could do, personally, no matter how small that action may be.

The first step was to pick up three bean pods from the current crop. 

Finding bean pods of the Flame Tree in Parap

Having selected a few beans from the pods, these were kept in Dave's fridge, until we got some growing media, in some pretty large pots. We had nine beans in total. This was at the beginning of 2018's dry season. 

The flame tree's bean pods

I then left Australia and whilst away, Dave watered them. At the end of six months we had... NOTHING. 

Not a single thing. Oh come on. Does nature not want our help or what? Ok, so things may not work the first time around, but my wild imaginings, and magic beans not-withstanding, of a massive tree climbing all the way to giant country were being sorely tested!

The project was put on hold for a while, during the annual trek to New Zealand to wait out the wet season and so nature was left to do her thing, without this impatient expectation from humans, and copiously watered the pots without us. She is quite self reliant. 

On our return, the beans had sprouted... 

Ok, so 9 months were needed in the end, not 6 months as Google had assured us. What was up with the world? Perhaps mother nature is not so hard wired into our preferred global search engine to so readily give up her secrets. 

Tiny dicotyledon seedlings

By the end of the wet season in 2019, we had two seedlings. And their growth rate in the tropics is quite quick. This had not occurred to me, being used to a more temperate climate. It's pretty amazing to see the growth of things like bananas, and papayas and such.

Quickly growing seedlings

By the time we got to the end of the dry season 2019, the two saplings were ready to plant. So we took them back to Parap, and planted them. 

Transplanting the saplings

No small task, given we had to move two, six foot saplings across town in the motorhome, in two very heavy pots, in very hot and humid weather. One of the saplings didn't hold up to the reduced water, or transplantation, or the new environment. However, the second did well, and grew rapidly. 

Planting day

If its root system can take, it should hopefully survive the next wet, with its cyclonic winds... It need not be supported, as this challenge - the force of the winds, is what has led to trees like this growing strong enough to flex, and grow the root systems necessary to flourish. 

Taking hold

The flame tree is doing quite well, and I look forward to the time that I can look on it again in person. At time of writing we are coming out of lockdown in the UK, after the initial, horrifying battering of the COVID-19 pandemic, where many dreams lie in tatters. A human cyclonic-forced storm if ever I witnessed one. 

Our roots are deep however, and I am sure we can weather this.

I try to remember this saplings' beginnings as I go through life's challenges myself. 

There will be many more beans. And certainly Australia and the planet need reforestation to help with both climate change and species survival, including our own. 

Just think. If each one of us planted just one tree...what would be the impact on our planet. And us. 

Small steps indeed, but they might just get us to Giant Country.

Saturday 25 January 2020

Where the Bloody Hell Are Ya?

Ok, so not such a polite title, but then, as things stand, it takes a lot to get people's attention. Even more so when online.

Also, this is a tag line for an advertising campaign. A $180 million advertising campaign launched by Tourism Australia in 2006, under the supervision of Australia's current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. A Prime Minister who decided to go to Hawaii, when his country was burning.

'Where the Bloody Hell Are Ya?' formed the premise for broadcasting the wonders of Australia's countryside. A countryside that started burning much earlier in the summer season in the south of the continent, and much further than usual.

Apparent contributing factors to this appeared to be long dry months of drought for at least 3 years; winds; over use of water; non-clearance of bush to manage fires, and a dipole over the Indian Ocean.

And it also seemed that it may be the unmentionable. Shh, did someone say climate change?

In Australia, it seems it is never the time to mention climate change.

No matter what happens. Be it fire, drought, or extremes of temperature and is not the time to discuss climate change.

I will not go into my own personal views. Humanity, and humanity's learning, is young. Mistakes are needed when growing, and to learn.

But my emotional response to this, and to the voiceless, needs an expression.

Loss of human life, especially preventable death, is tragic, and awful. Loss of property is also difficult to bear, although materially, of less importance.

Loss of life for all those other creatures sharing this space...that indeed, are attempting to cope and survive with everything that we inflict upon it, needs also to be acknowledged.

Hence, I decided that my artwork, for submission into Darwin Visual Arts Association members' Climate Change Exhibition, 31 Jan - 22 Feb 2020, would use the iconic koala.

Fewer things say the fragile nature of Australia's wildlife, quite like the koala. Treated in such a way as to appear as an exhibit. Stuffed, materialistically, as if in a museum...shown as if this is a precious exhibit. Perhaps even extinct. Indeed, such are the low numbers of the koala, that it is now considered to be functionally extinct in the wild. Setting aside reasons for these fires, this loss of life appears to be endangering the very existence of these creatures. Aboriginal Australians consider themselves to be custodians of the land, rather than consumers or there much to learn here?

Where the Bloody Hell Are Ya?
Prize winning entry
Exhibited in Darwin Visual Arts Association Members' Climate Exhibition,
31 Jan - 22 Feb 2020
1/8 McMinn Street, Darwin, Northern Territory

Darwin City Light Box Exhibition - from May 2020 

One can imagine too, that this is a gift. For services rendered within government. An acknowledgement for all the hard work. And inside the bell jar? A fire starts.

An imagined mother, carrying her child, whilst all around her, the fire spreads.

And emblazoned on the brass plate, the words 'Where the Bloody Hell Are Ya?'

Thursday 17 October 2019

So what's a Scottish Saltire doing on a Norfolk village sign?

Sometimes art projects take us on journeys we are not expecting. They lead us along the threads of history and we learn a great deal in the process. Not just in the practice of the art itself.

Commissioned as the artist to repaint and renovate Thursford village's unique sign, there was a question to puzzle over. A mystery to solve.

Why was there a Saltire on the top of a tiny wee village in Norfolk, England. Whilst pitching the new designs to the Parish, and Parish Council, enlightenment and further mystery were just around the corner.

Was the flag signifying St Andrew's Cross? St Andrew's Church certainly helped weave that idea into place.

So far, so logical.

A 'before the renovation' shot

But to have a Scottish flag atop the village sign of a southern English village?

Why not the St George's Cross?

Mysteries abound in material legacies like village signs. The years pass on. Memories dwindle into gossamer. They blow away on the winds, only to settle in unlikely places.

There are such threads in Thursford. The family Ross - there for generations now. Indeed, the clan name of Dalzell drifted in from Motherwell, Glasgow. Wandering in for different reasons. Staying for different times. Scottish farmers in the previous two centuries. And then an Irish Royal Air Force worker in the last.

Thursford is the name of a small village in North Norfolk, England.

There are other names, all with significance.

The Scott-Chadds. These are people who took ownership of the somewhat grand Thursford Hall in yesteryear. They are shown now with the shield and falcon crest in the centre of each side. A proud beginning to this sign's legacy, though not the beginning to the village's. That was here before then.

Repainting the crest of the Scott-Chadds

New, proud Falcon

Miss Eliza Goddard - school mistress. Listed when the school was founded in 1862. Placed here, and perhaps helping to redress the absence of many women's names in Norfolk history. How many children's feet patted up the road, heads full of learning. Their journeying and their playing in those misty days, aided by the efforts of this one woman.

First school mistress of the newly founded school, in 1862

Charlie Plumbly - farmer, whose Norfolk was and continues to be the bread basket of England. A family fully connected to the land, even today. Forming and maintaining such deep foundations.

The more traditional methods, keeping us fit, strong, and helping the roses??

These shades of the past, connected to the living of the present. And in one very real way, in the guise of Cricket and Vamus.

Vamus and Cricket, slightly behind with his white socks

These are the horses at Thursford Castle. Of today. They are cared for by Sally and Mark Hickling, who kindly allowed them to pose for research material. Such animals have been as important a part of this village in previous centuries as the women and men of the place. Returned to their traditional duties. Back before a cart, and a plough.

Again, using their sustainable energy, even if just in this picture.

Then closer to now. George Cushing, Minnie Cushing, Harry Bushell. Progressing the connections from horse to machine with a love of steam. Thursford's traction engine and historical legacy abounds to this day. You can almost hear the clatter; feel the vibration.

Steam is celebrated in Thursford

We had our own station once. Helping us journey together.

There is a warmth to this village. A sense of deep and long history. A sleepiness too; in the quiet passing of the years, the drifting of the dreams.

An after shot

Sunbeams in Thursford

What new peoples may come here. Settle here. Leave here. Influence here.

Who will come next, as next they will surely come. From Scotland? Perhaps. To admire the top of this single sign? This touchstone. This symbol. There will always be a little touch of the Celt here.

The roots go deeply. The threads are long.

Tuesday 6 November 2018

Shoving the Elephant Overboard - The Outback Half

So I'm returning to Australia after spending the spring and summer months back in the UK, reconnecting with family and friends; working, and building further artwork for re-stocking my UK outlets.

Landing gear engaged...

The time spent away in the northern hemisphere, gave me time to reflect on that first big southern adventure.

So many things happened there, it is difficult to wrap that all up into one blog entry, so as promised, and shoving the elephant back overboard, I will not try, and I'll just touch on a single story, that resonated with me, instead.

Making the decision to come back to Australia was easy. But what was it specifically that I was looking forward to?

The fashionable head gear, and all the friendly insects?

This season, we will be wearing mostly net!

The hugely crowded beaches, where you can hardly move for windbreaks?

Where is everybody?

The modern forms of transport?

On the Murray River

The outside barbecue facilities on the road?

Roll up, roll-up, get your lovely sausages here!

Or perhaps it was Dave's facial expression when I told him I was coming back?

You're coming back?

Seriously, I think it has something to do with the eternally positive outlook of Australians, and how they so often can turn difficult and challenging situations into something inspiring, and endurable.

One story sums this up perfectly.

Whilst we were travelling post wet season, in March 2018, between Brisbane and Darwin, we stopped in the town of Barcaldine, Queensland.

An unassuming town, Bacarldine represents the origin of unionism, and the beginnings of the modern labour movement.

The meetings of sheep workers and pastoralists here were key to the growth of this early political force and they met to resist unfair treatment and strike to improve workers' rights in what must have been hugely difficult situations, let alone a demanding physical climate.

They met under The Tree of Knowledge, outside the station entrance of the terminus of the Great Western Railway.

The tree became a focal point, and symbol of this unity and strength. In 1888 the Central Queensland Labourers' Union was formed at Barcaldine.

In 2006, the tree was intentionally poisoned by glyphosate.

I suppose in some situations, with such a malicious act against a living organism, and symbol of human values, the story might have ended there. At best, it may have resulted in a plaque, and some lines of history for passing tourists to be wistful about.

But not here.

What emerged, like a seed awaiting the inevitable bush-fire, was an artwork that captured the indomitable spirit of the original movement's sense of injustice.

The Tree of Knowledge

The original tree, beneath the new 'canopy'

The memorial, designed and built by m3architecture and Brian Hooper Architect, can now be seen on the original site, and to sit beneath it is quite humbling.

The constructed wooden 'canopy' now towers above you, and when the wind blows, the wooden chimes sound eerily above the original tree's preserved trunk.

The story itself becomes even more memorable, when you find out that the original species was a Ghost Gum tree.

I spent a bit of time sitting and reflecting and listening to the tree's voice. For me there was the reflection of the wooden chimes symbolising the tree's leaves, and the many voices of the workers, struggling to be heard.

Later I found out that scientists have in fact been able to successfully clone material from the original tree, and specimens can be found growing in various places in Queensland. It gave me a smile and a lot to think about on the road ahead.

Personally, I find stories like this truly inspirational, and full of hope. That the seed of human resilience is there, and grows on. No matter what.

I'm now looking forward to seeing what's on the next horizon...

Tuesday 22 May 2018

Shoving the Elephant Overboard!

Its been a little while since my last post, but there are times when life just takes over...and recently there's been a need to live those moments as fully as possible. Be in it, and catch the precious, fleeting instant, rather than reflecting on it, or being online.

Catching the moment - A Graphic Flutterer

It can at times feel like I've become a touch disconnected from the actual experience by writing about it too often. And also, there are times when it is important to give permission to stop. Especially when the task becomes too great, or the list of to do becomes too long.

Sometimes, there's little time to reflect and write a comprehensive sentence, let alone compose a blog, and for that I hope you will forgive me.

I could actually write a whole blog on learning to slow down, and not to try to fill every moment with stuff, but suffice to say I gave a lesson by example instead! Taking time to appreciate the watch the horizon, rather than describing it, is important.


This blog will try to deal a bit with my first Australian experience, but do note, this will not even scratch the surface. This continent pervades and overwhelms your senses with its grandeur and shear scale....nothing about the Australian continent is small, or for that matter, easy.

The Oz adventure was a tale of two halves, and this blog will attempt to reduce the size of the elephant, by dividing it up, and shoving some overboard.

The first saw me settled in Darwin from the end of October until mid December. It was during what the locals term 'The Build Up'. It has other names too. 'Mango Madness Season' being one of them.

I could soon tell why.

Mangoes did indeed appear in greater numbers in supermarkets, and my moods could swing on the toss of a coin from one moment to the next, if I ventured too far from the beloved and benevolent god called 'Air Conditioning'.

The atmospheric pressure build up at this time of the year did reinforce my belief that we are finely tuned to the weather. And there was no fighting against it. You just have to wait for the rain storms to come, with the massive lightning flashes that herald the static discharges; ultimately reducing the pressure.

At least for a short time.

Storm approaching

The subject matter for Australia automatically went to its nature at first, with the native plant and animal life - first and foremost, birds...and bird life there is aplenty.

Chestnut-breasted mannikins

But my art also took a couple of different directions at this point...acrylic, with a heavy dense graphic impact. It took on a more severe, bold, striking appearance. And this said Australia to me, a direct impact on my senses. It would see me change subject matter to cars as well, with the opportunity to complete my first Australian commission.

The Valiant

The atmosphere of the build-up, and the effect it was having on me, hopefully got channeled a bit too, giving a slight mad-cap approach to some video making...a fun way to blog, and to showcase my artwork in a different, creative way...

My friend Dave would also give me the chance to go on the water, from Darwin Harbour, and chat to people whilst on boat cruises and show my art style in more of a workshop, tutorial-like manner.

On board the Charles Darwin cruise ship

On the water with Darwin Harbour Cruises

Dave Norton is a tour boat guide, for Darwin Harbour Cruises, and so I had a great opportunity to learn all about the local area, and sample the fantastic food on board. I had a great time on this cruise. The staff are all incredibly welcoming, the food is delicious, and the onboard safety talk is becoming legendary! Sailing around Darwin Harbour provided a well needed relief from the top end's build-up as well. Humidity would often be lingering between 80 and 100%, with regular storms coming in from the sea. In fact there was one on the horizon, and as well as a  wonderful sunset, we were treated to very dramatic rainstorm, on the distant horizon thankfully!

The couple of months I had to explore Australia would enable me to encounter both ancient aboriginal artwork, as well as experiment with modern digital art for the first time extreme of art only Australia can offer. I was in awe of the integrity of the aboriginal art seen on the surfaces of rock...and amused by how the modern age signs to give information on the artwork are all but degraded and in need of renewal!

The trip has also helped me expand my graphic design and artistry skills, by helping to rescue a graffiti attacked wall, and renovate a number of mailboxes in Darwin, increasing my canvas size to include murals on the side of buildings was definitely a stretch of the portfolio.

It was a real challenge...only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, and the heat meant that working over the day became necessary, as I was usually sapped of strength until late morning. I am not an early riser at the best of times!

And now December loomed, and this meant leaving Dave and Australia. My business visa required me to leave the country after 3 months, and this gave me the opportunity to do business in New Zealand, before returning to Oz in March.

And perhaps this sense of leaving, and wandering, again became apparent in my artwork. That bittersweet tension resolved itself with the rendition of two Brolgas...created in the vibrant acrylic style I had begun to explore here.

Brolga remains

Brolga departs

This was part of the plan however, as I would now venture further afield, and test my art production whilst going to the markets!

I'll be writing a further blog on my art and craft market experiences in the future. Suffice to say that this phase came with many trials and tribulations, and took a lot to complete. Although I learned a huge amount in the process.

For now, I would return to Australia in a relatively positive, though certainly more drained, state of mind. Support at his point was crucial, and this was mostly given with emotional support from Dave, who is far more pragmatic than I am!

I would now need to prepare myself for the next big challenge. Adelaide to Darwin via the east coast of Australia. A trip that was going to see us on the road for nearly a month...and that was going to prove a real test of my capabilities, and character.

Stay tuned for the next part of this blog...

'Shoving the Elephant Overboard...the out-back half'