… and there might be an exhibition?

A quarter of the way through this year, I decided that it was about time I took some actual art classes.  Since, clearly, I was doing visual art, it made sense to learn something about it.  I chose my teacher by (relatively) slapstick accident.  I met Karen Nield through a ‘speed dating’ event run by Monash council for artists and arts workers.  While I’ve continued working with sand, I’ve been working with other mediums in Karen’s studio once a week.  In particular, I’ve settled on using white charcoal and pastel on black cardboard.  The technique is the closest I could get to the kind of head-space that the sand art forces me into – the way light works, the way shadows are achieved, where the focus is.

The theme has been the 18-month sojourn in the Solomon Islands. The time has been on my mind and I haven’t really found ways to celebrate the experience on the projector, the pace has just been too small.

And so, with Karen, I have been exploring my favourite photos as well as my favourite memories – the ones I wasn’t able to capture.  And that has been a total joy.

And so… It looks like I’m getting enough work together for an exhibition… Wow.  That will be an experience.  Stay tuned.

‘so how did you get here?’ and answers to other questions regarding why I do what I do…

A long, long time ago, in a desert far, far away…

I designed a project as part of my year 12 drama/theatre studies.

It involved shadow puppetry.

It wasn’t something anyone else in my cohort was really interested in.  They all had TVs at home, so their cultural influences looked very, very different from a weirdo like me. So it was mainly a solo project…  Two of my fellow students helped out in the performance of it (and I’m eternally grateful to them) but I made all the puppets, screen, chose the music etc. etc.

It was a jungle story where um… a bunch of animals ate each other… and as a narrative, it was not well thought out.  To quote Marcel Dorney, the thing was ‘prehistoric’ and never made it to the insta-vim-tub virality that is available to current 17 year-olds.    I’m quite glad no document of it exists.

Gee I loved the medium, though.

I still do.

The years passed and theatre generally, as well as music took over most of my artistic endeavours.  Poetry played a greater role than visual arts for a long time too.  But flash forward, to a far more advanced technological age and, via ‘The You – Tubes’ I discovered a variety of animations, which spoke to me and reminded me of my earlier obsessions.

One was a bunch of lullabies from around the world.  You can go here to start finding them.  I find them so very beautiful.

Much more recently I’ve found the story of Lotte Reiniger, which you may, or may not, know much about.  I was already aware of her in a general way, hence my interest in shadow puppetry, and had seen some stills of her films – but I had no access, then, to the actual animations.  Enjoy tracking her down.

And then, in the mid-2000s, I came across (as did the rest of the world) the viral vid of the hyper-talented Kseniya Simonova, who won (of all things) ‘Ukraine’s Got Talent’.  [Side note:  any iteration of ‘Got Talent’ is… er… problematic for me.  I am very much not a fan of competitive art practices.] Yet, her work connected to something fundamental in me.  Her performative storytelling using visual art was able to combine all of the good stuff all at once, as far as I was concerned, in a wonderfully theatrical way.

You can find many other examples of this technique of live illustration using sand and projection art here.  And here.  And here.  And here.  And…

None of this is what I do.

The examples I have given above all require a combination of glass tables, lighting source, camera, projector and projection surface – a pretty complicated setup, therefore, and one that is definitely not portable.  Or affordable and therefore … limited, to my mind.

But they did remind me of my own relationship with over-head projectors., a technology which has been superceded in education settings.  And I’d experienced for myself the attraction they had, and still have, in a dark room.

There is something about this one-armed one-eyed beast, which invites people to get close.  Like a campfire in the desert, it is an open welcome.  I have very strong memories of cold, dark, morning classrooms and students huddling around the projector for warmth and comfort and focused conversation.

Now, nearly all of them have become just another pocket of real estate in the landfill dotting our landscape.  Or perhaps have been melted down for their metal.  Or both.

So, firstly, repurposing one makes sense to me in ways equally driven by logic and sentiment.

Secondly, I’ve been influenced by images used by Paolo Freire in his culture circles in order to begin and prompt discussion for adult literacy, also using the shared event of an image projected onto a screen.

Then there are the works of the various charcoal and print artists who I grew up with and was surrounded by, including Käthe Kollwitz, and A. Paul Weber  (if you are happy to read German you can find more images here.  I especially love his jesters and fools).  The monochrome of many of the works of Maurits Cornelis Escher was a huge influence, as was Wilhelm Busch, the grandfather of modern cartooning, and many, many more illustrators of Märchen and folk-tales around the world who worked in ink, water-colour, woodblock printing, etchings…

So many of the images of my childhood were black and white, whether book, film or television.  And there is a particular depth, shape and texture in the world of black, grey and white, which still attracts and which colour distracts from.  At least, that was my experience.

Lastly, if you have never met her before, let me introduce you to the singularly innovative Caroline Leaf:

She has created – throughout her career – dynamic, grounded and unique animations, using a staggering array of techniques, including scratching images directly onto film stock.  Her sand projection work The Owl who Married the Goose is charming, sweet, comically tragic and wryly humorous.  It was created in collaboration with Inuit artists and is in the Inuktitut language.  If I can create a work that rings with the palpable authenticity she taps into, even if only for a single moment, I will consider myself satisfied.

This, then, is the path so far.

Please let me know if you think there are any signposts or landmarks or memorable giants or fellow travellers I have forgotten or overlooked, or whose work I should meet.  I would, in either case, be very, very grateful.

In the meantime, may you travel joyfully across the landscapes beneath your feet.

Share your bit of the map sometime, yeah?

the end, the beginning and the sand that slipped into the cracks between the two…

At the beginning of the end of 2017, I created a short ‘gif’-like animation to wish my friends and family a great beginning to the new year.

Then my mum came to visit and we had lots of long conversations about the past generally, and this year specifically. I was trying to distill my thinking about end of year reflections into 3-5 questions.

Of course, because this is the way I seem to work, I collated a sum total of 126 questions.

In preparation.

With the intention to leisurely edit them to a usable size…

My patient and long-suffering mum kindly helped me to whittle all of that down to, maybe, 23. That process alone was simultaneously revealing and exhausting. We eventually decided to cheat and allow chance to make the remaining decisions.

Using a coconut bowl from the Solomon Islands, I put the remaining 20+ questions into it, for an open-ended process that would allow people to choose randomly, but also to dismiss and choose again if the question didn’t work for them.

The result of all of this preparation was the collection of images you can see in the following video, with me building the individual images and asking lots of useless details, such as, “Was there a tree next to the building?” and “Did the paths run straight, or were they more organic?”  And my mum patiently answering as well as clicking on the camera dooverlackie to capture them:

Then on New Year’s Eve itself, I once more attached the bedsheet to my front window blinds outside our study (as we did on the rained-out Halloween) and played with sand.

The set up.jpg

My mother and partner both generously participated as we watched the clock tick down to midnight.  Well… kinda… To be honest, in the end, we forgot about time.  Which was quite sweet, actually…

Counting down until midnight.jpg
And, wonderfully, several of our our neighbours took time out from their own celebrations to watch and comment. One brave soul cheerfully, joined our process, answered questions from the ‘Tree of Life’ bowl with good humour and joined the conversation between words and images. These were the results, with their questions (if any) attached:

A  response to: “What nourished you in 2017?”

If music be the food of love, play on!

A response to:  “What was the best compliment you received in 2017?”  – the answer was:  “You think like a much older person.”

External view
Internal view
The internal view…

A response to:  “What would you like to do next year, that you did this year?”

Two lovely ladies in great hats at the beach
Two lovely ladies in great hats at the beach

And, a response to:  “What would you do in 2018, if you knew you could not possibly fail?”


Of course it all couldn’t happen in the Australian outdoors without some unexpected fly-by-nights.  Who were duly celebrated:

A guest
A guest

And so, reflecting, now, on the reflection…

I think the process has distilled my questions and I can’t wait to use them, in their new and condensed iteration:

“What grains of sand are you happy to leave behind?”

“What grains of sand are itching at you right now?”

“What sand dunes and oceans would you be happy to explore next?”

“What would you like this mirror made of glass, sand and light to reflect?”

Good night.jpg

The final product… A Dragon and A Princess

I finished the short film a little while ago, but didn’t think to blog about it. I’m not completely sure why. Perhaps because I’ve already said all I’ve needed to…? I am far more interested in the responses of other people, to be honest. Please feel free to leave me a comment, or ask a question if you have any. Constructive feedback is always appreciated – even the brutal kind. It would tickle me no end to hear from you.

The first rough cut…


This wasn’t the first draft.  The actual first draft only used still images, had several key scenes missing, no music and the narration was a little less… warm? I guess?  It provided a really good storyboard for the development of this thing, but it’s not something anyone really needs to see.

I was happy enough with this iteration for it to be the first, official, ‘rough cut’ and to share it as a draft.  It still missed some key scenes.  And there were moments I looked forward to animating and not just leaving as static pictures, even if it was a quite subtle addition.  But, so far – so good.

As always, many thanks to the other creatives involved for their generosity and for allowing me to move my toys to their sandpit for a while – @lyreon, @ kyraneko (the writers) and Alexander Blu (the composer) and Jon Swabey who shared the story/collaboration with me in the first place.

occupational hazards

I reckon I’m getting the hang of this.  There is a definite style and rhythm coming through in this process, which I’m loving.  When there’s a flow and you get to ride the wave, it’s a beautiful thing.

Biggest hurdle working on this one?  Insects.  Many tiny flies and beetles, crawling around on the surface.  It only added to the aesthetic, but trying to make sure the little things didn’t choke and die on the glass surface was distracting.

a dragon learning to fly…

So I managed to gaffer-tape a rig on top the projector lens, using, of all things, some old business cards – and voila:  the whole editing process just got easier and cleaner 🙂

This one is REALLY short.  But isn’t it amazing what a more stable camera can achieve?

the next little experiment in animation…


It’s always interesting what you learn in processes like this.  While I’m determined to finish the dragon project using only the still camera on my mobile phone and my computer’s inbuilt editing software, I got frustrated enough to look into (cheap) animation software.

I spent far more time manipulating photos yesterday, than I did creating images.  About four times more.  The images (including a ‘rehearsal’)  took nearly two hours.  Getting her face right (on the surface it takes up roughly a square centimetre and remember, it’s made of sand) took the longest.  Once that was done, the rest was fine.  That’s the fun part.

Getting the images to be sufficiently similar in size and orientation took upwards of seven hours – a shoulder-achingly, mind-numbingly, not-fun seven hours I would much rather spend making more images.

Halfway through, I had enough and looked for software option.

Of course, my research didn’t find me anything that was going to be any more useful than what I was already doing, at least for this project.  But that’s okay.  At least I knew, during the remaining time and while I was nudging a photo using a cropping tool left half a millimetre, then checking against the previous image, and then moving it back a quarter of a millimetre, that there wasn’t any easier fix for this.

I already knew that getting things right ‘in camera’ saves a lot of effort further down the line, but there are so many variables in the shed.  The floor and box are slightly wobbly.  The light can be variable, especially during the day.  Mounting the camera on the aperture is the the best place for it, but how to do it so it’s the same every time?  How do I attach my phone solidly enough that this doesn’t wobble it’s position and so I can still answer it?  I still need to use my phone, as a phone, after all.  The aperture sinks over time and needs to be repositioned every now and then, or the picture is out of focus.  The phone’s weight is only going to increase that… And so on and so forth.

I am going to try it today.  Yesterday was just plain ridiculous 🙂

But I sure learnt a lot.



beginning to create video footage

The video below is a sort of trailer.  I have begun to play with a story that did my social media rounds about two months ago.  So below is the teaser and a full(er)-length film is not far behind.

First, I played with some images from the writing and then figured out I could ‘animate’ the photos I took using i-movie and it all got a bit… more complicated than I planned to.  Or, perhaps, the story pulled more commitment out of me than I had anticipated.  It’s not story-telling or collaboration the way I’ve been doing it so far in the sandpit but more of an extended challenge, I guess.

The whole thing is an experiment on the relationship between narration and image and where the two need to match, or contrast or just be silent, still or empty.  There’s lots I’m unsure about with this one.  As a learning opportunity, and a discipline, especially in recreating images, though, it has been invaluable.

The context to all of this, if you need it, is this Tumblr thread, which got extended by other clever people this way and then went viral.  The idea grabbed me and I did some preliminary stuff. And then I asked the two creators of the thread (Lyraeon and Kyraneko) and they were happy to let me play in their sandpit.  It is a wonderful thing to find open-hearted people who are willing to let others pick up the grains of their inspiration and play.