Monday, September 15, 2014


I've been quiet on my blog since my wonderful win with Wearable Wonders (note the alliteration?)
But on my personal facebook page (sorry, you'll have to go to my public one if you aren't family or close friend) I've been pouring forth.

It's been a tough past week and one where I have realised with a great 'ding!' on goes the light-bulb, that everyone is dealing with something and things are never what they seem.

I am at that age- you know, the one where you become the next generation as your parents leave their tired bodies behind. Up until now I always said to people when I heard their parent had died, things like 'Oh well, 80/83/88/90 (whatever age) was a good innings.' And I kind of wondered what the sadness was all about. You get born, you live and you die and if you die old, then lucky old you.
What I have been completely unprepared for is the inevitable passing on of my father. I say inevitable because he is in hospital with Parkinson's symptoms exacerbated by a series of falls, and like taxes, death is one thing we are sure of, and his will come in  matter of days. I thought I was o.k with my parents passing on- they've lived good and long lives, had adventures, surmounted challenges, a family to be proud of and really a great life. What's is to be miserable about? It's a cause for celebration surely?

But this past week, holding my father's once strong and certain hand, now tiny and frail and clinging to  mine like a child not wanting to go to school for the first time, I get what grief is.
Grief is watching someone you love leave their body slowly as it shuts down. First the legs that refuse to co-operate, then the throat that cannot swallow and the bodily functions that carry on despite the mind shouting 'No! I do not want to relinquish control here!' The sleep that comes mid sentence and the sentences that come jumbled and confused until, the head shakes with frustration and the sigh of giving up.

'Your poor old Dad' he managed to say as I moved his arm to a more comfortable position. And with sudden clarity, no hint of a Parkinson's slur,'I love you my darling' to my mother, his wife of 62 years. Then the eyes half mast and a cough and a droop of the head. The jet fighter pilot whose flying boots I stomped around in as a 3 year old, the patient father of teenagers, picking them up from discos and then teaching them to drive so he and they were not embarrassed by a Dad lurking outside waiting. The man who teased us and made us giggle at the dinner table night after night so that mealtimes were always a joy of food and love.

Laughter is the best medicine.

He can't laugh anymore. That Parkinson's 'mask' has slipped into place and taken his face from us. How dare it! The man we thought would fish until he was 90 and die mid cast. The man we thought who would outlive our mother to eat fish and chips and bacon and eggs for the rest of his days, inviting anyone in to share the feast. How could this condition take away his outgoing personality and zest for life? I walk in a haze, numb with shock that this time is really coming to pass and he will leave us all behind. Earthbound.

This, this is grief.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Winner- 2014 LIANZA Elsie Locke!

Well gosh, after 30 years in the children's book game (I illustrated my first book in 1984) I have actually WON an award! A real actual 1st place with flowers and a cheque and applause and everything!
It was the LIANZA Elsie Locke Medal for Non Fiction for Wearable Wonders. I feel like it's o.k to crow a bit- I've waited a long time for this and the reward is all the sweeter; I couldn't be more thrilled! There is not much more to say except thank you, from the bottom of my heart. That book is kind of a download of my brain which is buzzing with joy right now.

Acknowledgment  is truly a marvelous inspirational thing :)

It was a great night- many thanks to LIANZA and their sponsors- Hell Pizza and The Children's Bookshop who sponsor the Elsie Locke Award. You have made my year!

Here is me and Melinda Syzmanik who won the Librarians Choice Award with her deeply poignant novel 
A Winter's Day in 1939. If you haven't read it yet, you must!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

100 Days of art

I am really enjoying the 100 Days Project.

'Choose one creative exercise, and then repeat it every day for 100 days.
Record each daily effort and see what evolves in the work and in the self over time.'

I chose to do portraits from the nose down using techniques from different artists and illustrators to see what I learned in the process. My project is called 'Take it on the Chin' which is something you have to do as an artist. The knocks backs must not knock you down. 

I liked doing Andy Warhol's style so much I made up a little instruction sheet. I used the Brother Scan n' Cut to make the! I might have to try Bansky next :)

Friday, July 11, 2014

BraveArt- Brave Women!


This is a shout out for the BraveArt project; something I've been supporting as an artist in the best way I know how- by doing art!

'BraveArt is an art project that brings together the positive powers of both sport and art, conceived to highlight the bravery and positive attitude of the CanSurvive Dragon Boat Team. A creative collaboration to inspire and encourage others with the message that you CAN live a healthy, active life after cancer.
For these women it is no coincidence that cancer begins with the word ‘can’. They have a ‘can do’ attitude to life, and to their sport.They have proven it on the water as members of the CanSurvive Dragon Boat Team. As breast cancer survivors, these 26 women dedicate themselves to their sport to stay healthy, and gain strength from working as a team. These paddlers put their bodies on the line competing to be the best in New Zealand. This power of their positivity won them the New Zealand Breast Cancer Survivors championship title at the New Zealand Dragon Boat Association 2014 National Championships. Read more here...

So, these women along with celebrities like theWellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, paralympic cycling gold medalist Paula Tesoriero, actor Miranda Harcourt, musician Lilith LaCroix (Composer Gareth Farr), dancer Jan Bolwell, and former Miss Universe Lorraine Downes have had casts made of their torsos and invited artists to paint them. They will exhibited in several venues in the next 6 weeks and be up for auction on 21st August at The Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington.

I've had the great privilege of working on the BraveArt torso of Paula Tesoriero. My piece is called 'Spokeswoman.'

With Paula being an Paralympic Gold Medal cyclist, I wanted to convey something of what that feeling of riding would be like. Light as air, free from constraints, floating off into the breeze, like dandelion seeds. Nature and mechanics working as one. I created the 3 dimensional effects with sculpted air drying clay and wire. The torso and wheel hub are airbrushed and the seed heads hand painted with a very fine brush, and details finished with a light rubbing of gold and silver pastes.

I hope it raises lots at the auction; these women have worked hard to overcome huge medical hurdles and find new health through sport and community and to bring this project into being.
Please share their facebook page and website with friends, family and colleagues- the more people who hear about it, the more people have an opportunity to bid for the art and send these wonderful brave women to compete internationally. 

Paddling strong, into the the future!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Frozen? Make a snowflake!

School holidays? Middle of winter? All the kids want to do is go and see a movie and have you buy all the merchandising? Well here's a nice wee low cost fun craft to for them to make :)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Bat Woman

Bat Woman, but not as you'd expect her. She's elderly and wise, the kuia of bats.Yes that's a moko- a chin tattoo, and she came to me at the amazing creature workshop run by Wendy Froud . She carries a Nautilus shell- a symbol of my studio on the South Coast of Wellington. The pounamu around her neck is a Manaia meaning 'the messenger between gods and mortals'- it is a shameless copy of Luke Gardiner's work.  My polymer clay is but poor representation of his exquisite carvings! You can see his original here. Gorgeous isn't it?

The bat, or Pekapeka as it is known in Maori is viewed as a symbol of death. But in death there is freedom, and for me the workshop I did at the Illustration Master Class was the death of some old thinking around illustration for me.

Here is how I made her, my wise little Pekapeka. Thank you Wendy Froud, for the incredible week and the birth of new things :)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mastering Art

from one of the lectures at the IMC

I'm back from my whirlwind 6 weeks and I can tell you, it has been expanding and fruitful and I would like to say exhausting because everyone is saying 'You must be EXHAUSTED', but I'm not. I'm exhilarated. I feel like a kid who has been given a box of Griffins Sampler biscuits and told to choose. Should I have the pink ones, the ones with sugar on, the chocolate, the coconut? So much to devour, I want it all!

I write this blog primarily for those of you who don't use facebook, because if you did, you'd have seen on my public page multiple pictures of the Southland Festival Tour which was wonderful on so many levels (hospitable people those Southlanders), my sketches, travels and works in progress at the Illustration Master Class in Amherst USA, me in my fabulous new dress from New York (yes, how great to say that!!! and no it wasn't from Walmart) at the NewZealand Post book Awards (no I didn't win my category but The Beginners Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Paul Adamson did and it is a fantastic book!) AND...absolutely NO pictures of my wearable art entries for this year. If they get into show the first pics you'll see are after opening night in September and if they don't get into show I'll share them after mid July which is when we find out if we made the cut. Fingers and toes crossed, for everyone who have poured their heart and soul and grocery money into their entries!

Also on facebook, a friend said 'It must be nice to live in your bubble' after I posted a picture of a carnival horse I sketched in Aotea Square whilst musing on life and work. She meant it well; she is a good friend but immediately I felt I had to justify my existence outside of a 9-5 job which I have never really aspired to, and any time I have applied for one, I have barely had a reply let alone an interview. I have no aptitude for a desk in office politics and workplaces with cubicles. I'd be terrible at it- I'd want to make sculptures out of paperclips instead of writing reports, and I'd have a glue gun secreted in my filing cabinet, just so I could take it out and sigh with regret that I was wasting all my creative time earning money. I'd be wasting their money too.

So this is the thing... if I had $10 for every time I have heard it said 'It must be so nice being an artist, I WISH I could give up my job and do what you do,' I'd be buying designer clothes and planning my next holiday in Tahiti. 

I'm telling you now don't want to give up your job. You'd never be with the uncertainty of never knowing when or where your next commission is coming from, whether your books/paintings/music will sell and for how much. You'd even have to stay with your life partner if you have one because they believe in you and make up the shortfall when you haven't earned anything in 6 months, and they think (bless) that one day your ship will come in and you'll both sail away together on it into the sunset with cocktails. In fact, some of the most married people I know are artists and writers, for richer or poorer... and our partners do get the short straw in that agreement. They are our rocks on which our boats get thankfully stuck.

To do anything else is unthinkable, and sometimes I wonder at myself- am I mad? completely delusional? But then, then you go to a place where there are others like you. A Masterclass, full of artists who are obsessed with making and creating. A place where everyone has to draw to be able to think. Who search their minds and their hearts and souls for visual answers, and then put them onto canvas, board, screens and creatures. And some make most excellent money from it, and some do not, but we are all equal in our passion. And none of us ever say 'It must be so nice to be a policy analyst, I WISH I could give up my art and do what you do.' We would rather live in penury than cut off our arms. I came away realising my worth; that I have a rich stream of gold, flowing with ideas to share in the world. Expertly. Like a master.

So here's my invitation- tap that stream; bookings are open for Fifi- I need to pay off that dress! 

photo courtesy of Mark Tantrum

Thursday, May 08, 2014

5 things to do before...

I have been busy and it's getting busier and I have 5 things to do before the New Zealand Post Children and Young Adults BookAwards on the 23rd June:

Walk the St Clair Half Marathon in Blenheim this weekend with gal friends and take some important hand sewing with me to do in the evenings whilst the others are playing 500 and drinking Marlborough Sav, because...

I have to finish my World of WearableArt  garment- I'm putting two in this year so one is done and the other is occupying my studio, the lounge, the kitchen and the basement in various stages of construction. One place for sewing (the kitchen), one place for painting (the studio) one place for sawing, sanding and bolting (the basement)  and one place for evening stitching in front of the telly (the lounge). It's the madness that overtakes me at this time of year and I have to pack it up and send it off for judging early because...

I'm touring Southland for a week for the Book Award Festival. This excites me hugely because I have not been to that part of NZ for such a long time and I get to go to Invercargill, Gore, Ta Anau, Milton and Dunedin. The Catlins are an area I have not explored at all and it is a particularly beautiful part of the country so I will be taking my sketchbook as well as my camera. Meeting the students and teachers, librarians and public on tour and showing them handy tips from Wearable Wonders will be right up my creative alley! I'm doing some other school visits too (thank you Creative New Zealand for your support to The Book Council) Then I fly home for one day to unpack my touring things and pack up the WOW garments and deliver them to Mainfreight (WOW's wonderful sponsors), then pack again because...

I fly out to New York the next day! Such is the life of the rich and  (moderately) famous. This is an indulgent detour along the way to Boston; well Amherst University actually for The Illustration MasterClass. A week long residential where I will be in a focus group learning model making and creating fantastical characters with Brian and Wendy Froud. You may remember The Dark Crystal and The Labyrinth? Froud created the art, sets and costume design for those films. He's an English genius from the world of Faerie (and an illustration hero of mine) and I just can't wait to immerse myself in the studio environment and learn everything I can because...

When I get back I have three days until the book awards evening and by that time my next book 'Ghoulish Get-Ups' (Scholastic) will be at the printers and an advance copy not too far from my hands. And I will be on fire from the course (or utterly broke from New York) and will be ready to create new things for the second half of the year in my work. At this stage I have no idea what they are, but I can assure you, something will brew, because... if you feed the mind, nourish the soul, and look after your health both physically and intellectually, then the rest follows xxx

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

NEWS FLASH Finalist!

I am absolutely stoked that Wearable Wonders has made it to the non fiction shortlist for the NZPost Book Awards. I have never been shortlisted for these book awards before and I am more thrilled than I can say. The list has a bunch of really amazing books on it and I am completely honoured to be there.

Saturday, April 05, 2014


Two excellent things happened in the past couple of weeks.
Firstly, my studio mate Rowan Saker who makes the most beautiful wood furniture from recycled timber (Global Wood Rework) said 'Hey Fifi, is there an easy way to make a type stencil that I can use to brand my packaging?'  (no- this is not the excellent thing)

I told him everything I knew about hand cutting stencils from Mylar or drafting paper- a laborious process involving photocopying, fine scalpel blades and bit of bad language when you cut too far.
Then a week later, The Brother ScanNCut turned up from an unexpected source. Excellent thing number one.

Now, if you have EVER had to cut shapes from paper, card, plastic or fabric sort for craft, quilting or stencilling, then this machine is what can only be described as heaven sent. I've always put off certain projects (like being Banksy) because the fiddly stencil cutting of repeat motifs has put me off (years of being an airbrush artist, I guess I'm kind of over it). I was busy with my book deadline so the only first chance I had was to make fun moustaches with writer friends one night over dinner as we looked at the machine that was just itching to be used and loved. There is something really mesmerising about this thing in action. Your put you images or paper to be cut on an adhesive mat and pop in a little cutting blade (there are different adjustments) and set the thing to go. And it chatters away, busy whilst you watch in amazement! I had thought the only way to do this kind of thing was with lasers by someone who would charge you heaps to do it.

Then the week after that I was asked to lend a hand with some Easter crafts for a competition run with Eggs Inc and What Now. Excellent thing number two! So in the morning I'm off to Christchurch to show how to make some cool egg decorations including...wait for it...The Royal Family! Wills, Kate, Baby George and a corgi.  Eggs Royale. Keep a look out on their facebook page for pics and ways you can win the entire set! I've put some instructions and templates below to help the kids get started.

But I also wanted to make a simpler craft (I DID get carried away with the royals) and use a few templates. Instructions below. I revved up the ScanNCut and used it to make some great shapes. There are a whole bunch of preloaded ones you can use or you can scan your own. I am only just scratching the surface of this fabulous machine and can thing of many instances of wearable art where this would have saved me sooooo much time and silly mistakes.. And best of all being no bigger than your average home printer, it fits under your bed/bench/desk, which is a big plus! I'll be blogging more about it when I've tried some more craft projects, so keep your eyes peeled. In the meantime I reckon this is the crafters (and designers) dream machine. Take a look at the picture below- that lace was cut made from printed craft paper that the machine scanned and then cut! It's so fine and delicate! My hands and worsening eyesight could never do that!

Oh and...I made Rowan his stencil- in fact I made him two of them. It took me 10 minutes, including setting the type on the machine. He's still blown away!