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!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Creative New Zeal (sorry can't afford the land)

The latest round of funding from Creative New Zealand has been apportioned out and once again, my chapeau, though in the ring, was not picked up to grace New Zealand arts with my marvellous talent.
This is not an unusual state of affairs and in the children's book world a common one. At the last conference we had, Tessa Duder read out the funding stats. Because I never take notes, I can't give you them, but suffice to say if all arts funding is seen as a pie and literature gets half a Weightwatchers size slice, then children's book authors in that slice get a teaspoon taster and illustrators get what amounts to homeopathic filling; the hint of money watered down until it is just a memory of the smell of a dollar in a bottle of alcohol. No wonder we drink.

I needed some help to go to The Illustration Masterclass in the USA. I asked for $5000 to cover the course fees and airfares. I asked a friend who works in a completely different sector (not the arts) to help me with it and when she read the funding guide, this is what she had to say. 

"I had a look on the funding applications on the Creative NZ website last night. Good grief they are awful. For a grant of $7,500 there’s a 33 page guide on how to fill them in the form!!

I’m currently putting in an application for $25k funding. It’s a one page doc that may require a second detailed application that would be no more than 2 pages plus a budget. The instructions amount to 3 paragraphs on their website. I could apply for $200k by extending my application by a page.

The CNZ website has a very patronising tone as well hasn’t it? “You will not be eligible if you haven’t cleaned your teeth this morning! Have you made your bed and cleaned your paint brushes? Hmm??”  So I can see why you are frustrated by it."

But still, she went through it and gave me some advice. I am a professional artist and writer, not a professional administrator like her, so I was grateful for the help.
I sent in my proposal backed up with support letters about my worthiness from 4 different bodies and an invitation to speak at a Boston University and a detailed budget. These applications take a week or more to write and coordinate, and if you don't put exactly the right amount of printed copies together in the right order, your application is deemed ineligible. It is the very finest art of bureaucracy. 

Now, I am not saying my application was any more worthy than anyone elses; I'm pleased for anyone who got anything- these applications are like pulling teeth and we all sweat blood over them. I guess what I am trying to say to anyone reading this, is that as freelancers, we writers and illustrators aren't sent by our publishers to upskill, like those in the salaried workplace. When I mentioned the word conference before- we organised it ourselves and paid for it ourselves, to keep our professional practice up to date. To many of you not in the arts, this must seem astonishing. I'm amazed myself all the time, that something keeps me here, plugging away. I think it's the generosity of my family; they are all hoping that one day I'll strike it big and become the next best seller. If I ghost write an All Black Recipe book, I might just do it. It will be called Mehrtens Muffins. I think that has pick up appeal don't you?

As far as I know, nobody ever shares their CNZ proposals. Perhaps because they are scared that should CNZ get a whiff of them elsewhere, they will be shoved in a box labelled 'DO NOT FUND THIS F*CKWIT' and be forever doomed to writing books about poo that seem to sell so well at the Warehouse (sorry public, these are crap books, you have no taste or respect for your children's education and moral fibre. The writer just wanted to earn a sleazy buck).

So- for the amusement and edification of you all, here is my application. I even did appendices. I think that's worth somnething don't you?

Project Proposal
I am seeking funding  from Creative New Zealand to contribute to the costs of international professional development for my full time work as a visual artist by attending an Illustration Master Class at Amherst University (MA, USA) and giving a lecture at Lesley University in nearby Cambridge MA. Funding for this is available as outlined in section 3.9.1 of the Creative New Zealand Funding Guide.

There are no comparable Illustration Master Classes opportunities in New Zealand. The tutors I particularly wish to work with in a special topics group are Brian and Wendy Froud, for their experience in film concept and costume design which sits well with my own focus of Wearable Art and costume illustration for the film industry. Brian Froud's art was an early influence on my book illustration work when I was an art and design student at tertiary level. The Frouds do not visit New Zealand and rarely teach at master classes outside of the U.K. (appendix A: Brian Froud)

I have worked as a visual communicator and illustrator through the medium of books, film and performance/show since 1980. This opportunity is important for my career development as a practicing artist, illustrator, touring educator and workshop presenter in the arts in New Zealand, particularly as it relates to young people. I will be able to focus on producing a series of illustration works using new taught techniques which in turn I will be able to pass on through my workshops in New Zealand. The professional networking will be invaluable, as the roll call of tutors at The IMC only gather together as a group in this one location for this particular intensive. (appendix B)
The tutors cover a full range of disciplines from film concept illustration to the graphic novel. This is a residential, hands on, full immersion master class for the experienced illustration artist and there is nothing like it in New Zealand. I will be the only New Zealand artist to attend and look forward to sharing my work and experience in the New Zealand arts with the other participants.

I have also been invited to speak at Lesley University Creativity Commons (MA) (appendix C)  on the subject of creative practice in New Zealand, particularly as it relates to working with young people. This is an opportunity for me to promote our visual arts and how we teach this within the educational and public communities through the likes of The Book Council (Writers in Schools) and the Storylines Festival.
In my past 33 years as a full time working visual communicator, I have covered a range of artistic disciplines as evidenced by my CV (attached), and a fundamental part of my core practice is to encourage and support young people to participate in the arts, which ultimately benefits all New Zealanders. I believe this fits well with the desired outcome of Creative New Zealand as defined by  section 4, Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa Act 1994

Wellington Children's Book Association Illustration Workshop :  50 adult participants
Writer/Artist in Schools/ Library visits/ Museum lectures for 2014 (based on 2013 figures):  1950 primary and secondary students,  580 emergent visual and textile artists, 180 practicing visual and textile (international and local) artists
Total projected minimum reach nationally and internationally for 2014:  2970 individuals
I am hoping that Creative New Zealand will find this meets with a favorable ROI.
Fifi Colston

 (appendix A) Froud was the conceptual designer and costume designer for the films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth (both in conjunction with Jim Henson's Creature Shop). He collaborated with Terry Jones, who was a screenwriter on Labyrinth, on The Goblins of the Labyrinth and subsequently on a number of non-Labyrinth-related books about fairies and goblins, namely of the "Lady Cottington" series. He has also worked with American writer Ari Berk on more recent books, including Goblins and "The Runes of Elfland", and produced art books such as Good Faeries/Bad Faeries. One of his most famous art books, Faeries, produced in collaboration with Alan Lee, was the basis of a 1981 animated feature of the same name. (Source: Wikipaedia)
(appendix B) 'A large part of our students body every year consists of professionals seeking to try new things within their technique, meet other artists, network with art directors who come for portfolio review and simply spend the week getting even better at the thing that they love to do most: ART!
Past students/attendees have gone on to forge into amazing places within their area of illustration and work with wonderful companies, writers and directors like Wizards of the Coast, Jane Yolen, Cassandra Clare and Guillermo del Toro.'  (source: Illustration Master Class website)
(appendix C)  Lesley University: The Cambridge Creativity Commons engages Cambridge public school students and teachers in imagination and exploration of ideas that matter and creation of interdisciplinary projects in and through the arts. The Cambridge Creativity Commons (CCC) offers programs in a “creative lab” model to encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration among teachers, artists, scientists and students to facilitate creativity. Founded on the principle that every child is creative, and that this ability can be developed in environments where creative processes are practiced, the CCC works with CPS teachers and OST staff to develop new approaches to teaching and learning through meaningful, creative programming that integrates arts and sciences curriculum. The CCC serves East Cambridge students in grades 1-8, primarily from the Kennedy-Longfellow Elementary and Putnam Avenue Upper schools, as well as out-of-school programs, at no cost to the district or the students.
The CCC has emerged as a distinctive creative program in Cambridge under the guidance of its Partners Advisory Board: Dave & Doffie Arnold, the Cambridge Community Foundation, the Cambridge Public Schools (CPS), the Cambridge Arts Council, and Lesley University’s Creativity Commons and College of Art & Design.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hats off to Team Work

I cannot believe it is over a month since I posted (the writers lament). Well all I can say is I have been neck deep in recyclables devising cool costumes you can make in less than an hour. My next book, tentatively titled 'Ghoulish Freaky Fun' is due in at the printers at the end of March which means if our designers the wonderful team of Vida and LukeKelly have a chance of getting any sleep for the next 4 weeks, I need to have it ALL done and pronto! Making a book is a team effort.

Speaking of teams, I have talked before about Harriet Rowland who has the blog www.myexperienceofwalkingthedog.blogspot.com and her walk with cancer. Should I mention this in the same post as my Ghoulish book? Well yes, because Harriet is not defined by her cancer- she is a writer- and what a writer. And now a published author!

Makaro Press- the wonderful team of Mary McCallum and Paul Stewart have made her blog into a book. The Book of Hat (Harriet's nickname) is being launched this Wednesday at an invite only function (she has so many friends and there is limited space) in Miramar. The book is not for profit (just for love) and $1 from each donation covering print costs goes to Canteen.

Hat's book is a thing of bittersweet wonder and Makaro describe it thus:
Harriet Rowland — known as Hat — was 17 when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that began in her knee. At the time she was a student at Queen Margaret College in Wellington, New Zealand.
Going through treatment was often a lonely time, as friends — while supportive — didn’t always understand Hat’s new life. This was until she fell in love with the character Hazel Grace from John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars, a girl who talks honestly and openly about living with cancer. Like her, Hat found life changed in ways that were both good and bad: falling in love and hospital stays among them. And she was surprised by how much happiness there was still to find.
Throughout her journey, Hat has kept a blog called My Experience of Walking the Dog, and this book is a collection of those posts edited with the author. Why the blog title? Her parents say cancer is like a dog — fine if it stays in its own yard. Hat’s dog got out. This is her unexpected story.
‘This way I will NEVER have to get a job, learn how to cook more than two-minute noodles or do anything mildly productive. I never have to grow up and I can forever be a kid! Though my ‘forever’ is shorter than most, I don’t mind. What I do mind is that I am going to have to leave everyone I love behind.’ — The Book of Hat

Hat's mum Jan, Mary McCallum and I all went to school together. We've had education, interesting and fulfilling careers and a bunch of children- but none of us expected this. Nobody does. Harriet has taught us all the value of living life fully over this last couple of years and never putting off your dreams. She's an amazing writer and an inspiration to us all, and we can't wait to celebrate with her on Wednesday. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Real Me

I saw this little video which I think is brilliant and it made me think  about my facebook usage. 

A friend said 'You must get the prize for the most status updates' like it was a bad thing. I've had my times where I want everyone to use fb like me and got cross when they didn't and defriended them in a fit of annoyance figuring that if they only use it once a week/month/year then they don't understand the medium and therefore wouldn't care. I forgot about the lurkers. People who are there, but afraid of posting anything about themselves in case Google runs away with it and plasters them all over the internet (why care? I'd be flattered). Pictures of their babies smiling could be vulnerable (why is this a problem unless they are starkers and shown in some icky context). In case their privacy is invaded and someone steals their identity (good luck with MY overdraft). These are people who also believe and repost all kinds of urban legends as truth. I like to check these out on www.snopes.com before I get outraged and then paranoid. It always pays to do a bit of research and then make up your own mind... or story (this is what writers do as a job).

I, on the other hand, am probably very naive and trusting. Actually I'm not at all- I know a scam when I see one and you will never find me in email conversation about money and goods with anyone from Nigeria. Oddly enough, the only time I've been scammed was recently with a mannequin supplier in Auckland. But let's not get into that- only to say, if you order online, it pays to email or call the company first to see if they actually exist.

So back to my facebooking. 

I signed up only because I needed photos of a girl band to do an illustration for them and their best pics were on a private page. I was very reluctant- I had my blog, that was enough, and before that, email and before that faxes and before that, the phone and well, I have never known a life without communication. But needs must and my kids showed me how and after a week of throwing my hands in the air at all the notifications that came through my email (just turn them off Mum, that's the first thing you do!) I got jiggy with it (as Will Smith would say).

Over the past 3 years I have learned how to filter out ads, unwanted Farmville invites, moaning minnies I can't be bothered reading about and revel in the online community that makes me laugh, think and get into action. I have my privacy controls set tight. I choose who I accept as fb friends and share my world with (always people I actually have met in real life) and I direct all other parties interested in my art but not my cat, to my public page.  

I absolutely know that the FBI or any govt agency who wants to, can access my profile. I think this is a good thing- it means that if I get murdered and Benedict Cumberpatch is too busy, then the appropriate authorities will be able to look for clues in my last status updates (there will be a LOT of reading, they might need a team of six on it). And it charms me to think that if my status updates suddenly stopped, people will wonder  if I'm o.k- much like the little old lady who hasn't been out to her letterbox in days. And they might start asking each other if anyone has seen me- and get in touch with my family who can tell them the what's so. I grew up with them all saying 'Shut up Fi!', it became the family joke.

I guess the day Fifi is quiet, is the day you all come and weep with them at my funeral service. And I hope there will be lots of you - I want the biggest send off so I can feel the love as I soar off into another realm.

I hope they have wifi there.

PS. If you are concerned about your online identity- then get it verified with RealMe