Another year gone, another continent, painting and drawing again, inspired by the culture we are living with. Maya high civilisation may have collapsed 1200 years ago, but Maya people did not disappear. 8 million of them carry on as they always did, growing maize, scratching living in the highlands of Guatemala. Visiting ruins of their cities, wrestling with their enigmatic script, buying tortillas from them for lunch, Maya world is all around us.
Maya were obsessed with calendar, and the way they reckoned time is complex, slightly bizzare and always inspiring. This critter is a generic depiction of a “winal”, what you would call a 20-day month, done the elaborate way of Copan, in Honduras.
Maya script is structurally similar to Japanese, a mixture of ideograms and sylabic signs. Phonetic values of the written sylabs are known, so you can write in their script even non-Maya names. This is a take on my own name, “Larsen”. Properly transcribed it would go: “Big Chief around here, possibly divine, one La-Se-N”. The snake in the grass is the “N”.
The second name I clobbered together is Natali’s. The furious face is nothing personal, in this position it reads “Na”. Maya glyphs display a wide range of improbably hooked noses. Nothing fanciful there, all the types we have actually met while travelling on local buses.
After year and half of drinking dirty dishwater mascarading as coffee, we are in the land of arabica. A good grafitti I walked past in San Pedro La Laguna inspired this poster, “To die for coffee”. “Q” stands for “quetzal”, a national bird and a local unit of currency. 8 quetzales is about a US$1.
A couple of disturbing murals in Chichicastenango Municipal Market mutated into “God “Q” discoursing with a caterpillar”.
After a long gap of doing other things, artistic inspiration seized my hand and I started doodling. We are in Venezuela, waiting out the hurricane season, learning Spanish language in a serious way. First complete book that I read in Spanish was a learned discourse on Santeria, a syncretic religion practised in Cuba, Porto Rico and Venezuela. Term “syncretic” suggests a mixture of two religions, but Santeria is anything but syncretic. Catholics contributed names, everything else comes from Yoruba, currently a part of Nigeria. Orisha, the gods of Santeria, are elusive: they change shape, they change gender, they behave even worse than people. Fratricide, adultery and incest are common, myth and legends are fluid and cruel, yet full of humour. Inspired by such a fresh view on a sacred pantheon, I drew a few “guardian deities” on the first pages of my new log book, to light my way.
Eleggua is a guardian of the paths, opener of the doors, without his help no other Orisha can do a thing for you. Original doodlings in the journal were done with left hand (I am a right hander). I am not sure why, but it feels right.
Yemaya, known in Brazil as Yemanja, is a goddes of the sea, part woman and part fish, unless she feels like taking other shape. You don’t want to hear about her marital life, nor about all the progeny that her own son sired on her.
Olokum is a dark horse, a late arrival in the Caribbean. Guardian of the ocean depth, he is chained to the sea bottom as punishment for trying to drown the entire human race. The only Orisha that cannot possess its priests during the rituals, as he is the ocean in its entirety.
I am not sure how the iguana ended up on the next page. Two dozen of them are prowling around the marina where we are staying. Four foot long, once they warm up in the sun in the morning they behave like spoiled vegetarian cats. Love banana skins and papaya peels.
After first few pages of benedictions I made a cover for the journal. A4 size, paper is old nautical charts cut to size. Beads around the edge are a genuine Santeria neckless dedicated to Ellegua. Black and red are his colours. Eleggua outline is from another neckless that we were given by a manic Indian Swami from Trinidad. Eyes and mouth from small cowrie shells traditionally dedicated to the Orisha.
Lizard in the corner appeared one day in my sewing box.
While I was at it, I whipped out another cover, a Yemaya. Outline is from the other half of the Swami’s neckless, black hair is a teased rigging rope from my boat, her crotch I cut off from a goat skin that covers my chart table when I am using a type writer.
I was having so much fun that I pinched some canvases from my love and painted a definite version of the Orishas in acrylics.
Eleggua, enamoured of cigars, is about 12″ by 16″. White mouse is one of his animals. Ornament in the bottom left is a “veve” of Eleggua, from Haitian voodoo.
Olokun always wears a mask in front of his face. Steering wheel and a pair of oars belong to him.
One more Yemaya of the long hair. Blue and white are her colours. The writing (all written by left hand) are invocations and benedictions in Yoruba, as practised by today’s Santeros. So I am told.
The last Orisha I painted was Osain, lord of the forests, patron of herbs and herbal medecins. One eye, one leg, one arm, crippled and crooked, result of a rather trying extramarital tryst in the early days of his tenure. Like all the rest of Orishas he is no pussy cat and proper respect is expected. 12×16″ canvas.
After a long silence I am back with new doodlings. We are currently in Jacare, in north-east Brazil. In the past 8 months I sailed “Kehaar” from Darwin across Indian Ocean to South Africa, then I took my recumbent bicycle for a 5 000 km ride around 6 countries sharing the Kalahari desert. Done no art work on the way, life was fairly hectic without it. My love flew to South Africa and she found me in Saldanha Bay, 50 miles north of Cape Town. We sailed together across the “Housewive’s Ocean” to Brazil, just in time for the Carnival in Paraiba-Pernambuco, a full-on street party going on for 11 days straight. Second week in the country, recovering from Carnival, I did all the paperwork to clear in, and finally we have time to catch up on a bit of art.
I post here a few doodles I did during the passage, most of them on navigation charts as they were spread on my chart table. Ideas to develop further.
On a long ocean passage you need to keep a tight reign on your mind, or it will wander off on a sharp tengent. Here I am developing our ideas about an alternative Zodiac.
First version of my “Sail-ship earth”, drawn on a chart I was using to navigate at the moment. It was meant to be a title page of a “Manual of Sextant navigation” that I wrote in South Africa, a short course in practical astro-navigation without any theory or complicated mathematics.
This version of “Sailship earth” I painted in acrylics on the wooden lid of my sextant box. I also used it to promote the Manual. Being only 19 pages long, we placed it as a pdf file in our ETSY shop (“http://www.etsy.com/listing/223235445/a-short-manual-on-basic-sextant“).
Here are four more advanced marblings from our show, all are acrylic on cotton canvas, about 300x360mm (12″x 14″).
Sailboat is painted into an appropriate window left out in the centre of the pattern of swirled non-pareil.
“The Eye of Shiva” started with the same basic pattern. A drop of clear water pushed the marbling apart to allow for the eye, and a swirl with a tooth pick created the eye socket.
My love took one look at these guys and declared: “That’s a Jesuit Procession”. So “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” it is.
This basic pattern of non-pareil combed towards the centre with four short combs lends itself to butterflies, fairies and other four-winged creatures. In this particular case it’s more like “Fairy God-mother in law”.
Photos by Nat from smallestforest.net
Our marbling exhibition last Friday at DVAA was a great little show, and I’d like to thank everyone who turned up. Today I will post six new marblings on canvas that were framed to hang on the wall. They are all a little larger than our ordinary marbling, about 12×17 inches (300x420mm). Acrylic on mordanted cotton canvas.
“Supraintelligent manifestation of colour Blue”, as it appeared briefly in the “Restaurant at the end of the Universe” by Doug Adams.
Another take on the same theme.
“Homa” bird comes from Persian mythology.
In marbling, when you get something you really like, you know it is a unique piece; no matter how hard you try to replicate the previous print, it will never come out quite the same. Once I was happy with my “Homa” bird, I tried a dozen of them, and they are all very different.
Photos by Nat from smallestforest.net
I had a few days spare before we start hanging our marbling on the gallery walls, so I finally finished a project I started a couple of years ago when Nat’s old i-book finally died. What you do with a dead Apple lap-top? Being a carpenter I came up with a carpenter’s solution. I chucked out the offending electronics and filled the husk with thin plywood, turning the shell into book covers.
Text block is a custom size to fit the laptop. Spine is a marbled strip, glued and stitched to the plastic covers. While I was in the workshop ashore, drilling a row of holes to take the stitching, a bloke looked over my shoulder and dropped an incredulous remark: “I didn’t know they made computer covers out of plywood.”
Large volume in the foreground is my “bad luck book”. A few years ago I made a fancy log book for a skipper, oversized thick archival paper, handpainted covers with copies of medieval charts, the works. Guy never came back for it. The next try, another sailor liked the book, but he wanted to change the end papers. I dully did, but he never came back either. The last try, friend of a friend expressed interest, but didn’t turn up at the meeting we arranged. I felt the book was jinxed, and I sliced the block out of the book, pulled it apart, cut the paper in half, and bound two new books out of it, covered in good marbling. I thought it would be shame, throw away the sturdy case with the painting, so I cut up a whole heap of surplus navigation charts and made another block out of them. Immediately the feel of the book changed, and I am keeping it for myself, as one of my own log books.
photos Nat Uhing from smallestforest.net
I took a month off work to marble fresh canvas for our forthcoming show, and these are some of the them.
The first detail is a development of my “feeding frenzy” pattern. Naturally not every print have the beasts in them, no matter how much you try. Sometimes they just leap out like in this one.
To make sure that you can use the print as a book cover, it has to be a good deal larger than the front page, and the crucial images have to be placed accordingly. Wastage is considerable.
The next spread is rather personal, with my junk “Kehaar” prominently displayed.
I can see several potencial beasts in the next “compass” canvas, but I left them dormant.
I do not want to bore you with details, once you’ve seen a dozen marbled books, any more become a blur. Next frame captures nine more books, with colourful “vata” pattern, and my favourite, “supraintelligent manifestation of colour blue”. Most of the text blocks are made from redundant sea charts.
All up there will be about twenty canvas covered marbled books in the show, and half a dozen fancy timber covered with marbled spines.
Photos by Nat from smallestforest.net
As every Wet season, we are going to have a little party at the DVAA Gallery at Frog Hollow in Darwin, everyone welcome.
This year it’s all about marbling: canvas and paper, framed marblings painted into, journals with marbled covers, spines or end papers, also several ring binders full of older marbling works, new calendar for 2014 (artwork is not marbling but schizographs) and few other things. Natalie has been covering the preparations in her blog( smallestforest.net), there are plenty of photos of marbling process in there.
For the past four months I’ve been working on a project: a mate of mate got a contract to refurbish a visitors’ center at a Ningaloo Reef in WA. So we’ve been building brain coral, fake rocks, manta rays and whole heap of other things. Just the two of us. A welcome change from swinging hammer in a boat yard. Today I started loading them all into a container for the long trip to WA, and I realised that I have no record of any of that work. Frantically running around with a borrowed camera I snapped some of it.
Brain coral took three months of work. Shame that photo does not show a greater detail: all the squiggly convolutions are stippled, weeks of patient work. The whole thing is over a metre high.
First we inflated a metre diameter beach balloon and covered it in plaster. Puncturing the ball we got a clear concave surface to work on. Covering it in half an inch layer of clay, we carved the squiggly lines in, by hand, then stippled the surface of every line. Pouring in a skin of fiberglass we got the first plug, the positive original. We peeled off the clay and smashed the first plaster surface. After repairs to mangled details we covered the plug in silicone to get a mold. Encasing the mold in fiberglass jacket gave us strong base to lay the final product – in pigmented polyester resin with several layers of reinforcing glass. Sounds like a lot of work? My word.
The square hole in the top of the coral will take a touch screen connected to other displays. To support the computer we glassed in a wooden shelf.
Another screen will fit into a rock. Looks real, doesn’t it?
In reality it’s another dirty trick. Rock surface is a skin of PVA glue mixed with latex paint, applied in several layers into a silicone mold taken from a real rock. You weld together a strong frame from square section and shape the rock with thinner steel rods. Cover the frame with chicken wire and hot-glue onto it the PVA skin of rock. This particular rock took three casts off the same mold. In the end you plaster the inside of the rock to give it strength – I can see little fingers picking at all those details sticking out of the rock surface.
Another part of display is much larger rock, a gantry about 10 feet long and 9 feet tall. Details are painted in light acrylic wash. Even this size rock is light enough for two guys to carry around, complete with welded steel frame inside. Backing is expanded polyurethane foam, to save on weight.
The final use for the rock mold was this Flintstones’ coach. The whole back and left side of the seat is a textured rock taken from the same mold. Unfortunately I remembered the camera only after I screwed down the whole monstrosity into the container, and I wasn’t going to move it again. Rendered in solid plaster inside, it weights about 200kg, to make it sturdy enough for daily use in the reception area.
Dark timber is merbau (ipil), lighter areas structural plywood. Rock is PVA.
Finally we come to the manta rays. Client ordered three beasts, to hang from a low ceiling. 3-metre wingspan is all that the room can accommodate, so we made a 3-metre master model out of Styrofoam. Covered the shape in a thin layer of dental plaster, and for finer details a skin of wax. From this plug we cast a silicone mold, reinforced with polyester jacket.
You cast the beast in two separate sections, top and bottom, before you sandwich them together (still green) and bolt the clam-shaped mold tight. Pigment, flow- coat, muslin, and fiberglass layers, including the reinforcing for the screws to hang it from, has to be all done the same day. Two halves, then clamp it together. A long day in a hot shed.
We modified the beasts so they didn’t all look the same – shape of wing tips and and the feeding flaps around the mouth. How do you modify fiberglass? With brute force, angle grinder, heater, lots of bog and patience.
Last thing is to attach the tail which will travel separate from the body. In this view the beast is 6 feet long.
Photos by the author
We’ve been keeping our best marbled canvas as a private collection, but I recently decided to use them as book covers and send them into circulation.
Material is cotton canvas, marbled on cassava starch size with industrial acrylic paints.
And as usually, once I start making books, I carry on. We have so much varied material on board, that I don’t have to buy anything. The next book has timber covers, a fancy Japanese noodle box out of “aodamo” wood.
It is the first book cover I ever made, about 14 years ago, and I kept the original manuscript of “Monsoon Dervish” in it. With the book now in third printing, and the manuscript gathering dust in a storage box, it’s time to use the covers for something else.
Polish is beeswax mixed with kero, then a light coat of shoe-shine.
Text block is made out of old navigation charts. I went through my eclectic collection of old charts and got rid of around thousand of them. That sounds like a lot, but many were photocopies on bond paper, a thick stack came from prawn trawlers, so charts were dirty, damaged and worn out, contemporary Australian charts are printed on thin paper of poor quality that is no good for book binding. Even though, I ended with 16 thick text blocks of good paper, white on one side, a bit of print on the face, mostly the empty bits with a lot of sea and no land.
This one is a custom-made log book with “pageant” paper text block; covers are hand painted interpretation of old charts from my collection. Madagascar on the front.
The Archipelago on the back.
Another box in the bilges that got a chop was my shell collection. There is only so many shells I want to keep, especially when I only see them once a year. Timber is recycled jarra from an old door.
I cut the murex with an angle grinder, diamond tip blade.
Just for comparison of size: noodle box at left is 200×300 mm (8″x 12″).
Photos by Nat from smallestforest.net