Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Finding Art & Nature in Sydney

Stepping outside of our familiar space and going somewhere new, or somewhere we haven't been for a while can be a great way to spark new ideas and gain new perspectives. Last week I took an impromptu trip to Sydney looking for art and writing inspiration. Here is what I found...

Sydney Writers Festival

On the backdrop of the old wharves at Walsh Bay I found myself wandering through the crowds, and pausing in cavernous rooms with one meter thick concrete beams running across the ceiling (were they keeping whales upstairs?), engrossed by a panel of speakers talking about what stories we should tell our children. Chris Sarra said that we should simply tell them how great they are and that they can do anything, every child has potential. Stephanie Alexander expressed her steadfast belief in the importance of learning about the world through growing and cooking. Witty Richard Gill discussed the importance of the arts, particularly music as the foundation to learning. The arts provide abstract learning, things are not described but experienced in this approach to engaging with the world.

A gorgeous art installation to get you in the mood for reading,
hung on the frame of a the classic hills hoist.

There was a bit of a garden theme running
through the festival.
The Vegie Patch truck,
complete with boxes of herbs kept
punters tummies full.

An idea that could easily be applied to a
wall in a backyard.

Why Drawing is Terrifying?

Really this was just a catchy heading for a public talk at The College of Fine Arts in Paddington. Of the panel of four speakers, Peter Sharp, Leslie Rice, Emma Robertson and Tim Silver, only Tim admitted to being terrified. As he was the youngest, I can only hope that it is an affliction overcome as we grow older and wiser. I find those white papers that we all begin with the biggest hurdle. Once I make the first mark I usually forget what it was that scared me.

I took a class with Peter in painting during my COFA years. He is one of those lecturers who offers some valuable insights. He told me that I love paint, he could see that, and so to keep on painting. He could also see my need to battle with self confidence in order to pursue being an artist. I am still working on that one.

Nature as author. This is one of the ideas he explored in his talk. An example given was some delicate beautiful works on paper made by simply letting a snow ball melt on the surface, leaving behind marks made by the impurities in the snow. Another work placed a pad of paper in front of a tree, attached a pencil to the end of a tree branch and let the wind move the pencil over the paper. Tree drawing.

In his own work, Peter uses drawing as a way of stepping into and understanding the landscape. Over the past 20 years he has pursued an affection for the arid Fowlers Gap in western NSW. He is only just beginning to work out how to draw this landscape, spending hours at a time wandering with charcoal and paper in hand as his interpretative tools. It is in this state that he looses his sense of self and more or less enters the landscape.

For Emma Robertson drawing is both a problem solving tool and a universal method of communication that overcomes all language barriers. She completed a residency at the Sydney Botanic Gardens in 2008 that explored Australia's Endangered plant species in a series of hauntingly beautiful works.

Stanmore Rooftops


A quick sketch of the sea of buildings in inner west Sydney,
a place where I rented flats installed in old mansions with dodgy wiring during my uni years.


 Going Home...

Bird man in Circular Quay. A passer-by asked 'Why are they so attracted to him?'
A man at home with nature in a bustling city.

Sunset over the Parramatta River from the window of the train.

Dreaming on the way home... the view out of the train window with reflection.
Light drawings.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Communities Growing Together: Cessnock Community Garden

A sprawling site on a natural watercourse on the outskirts of Cessnock is the home of Cessnock Shed and Community Garden. I joined a tour of the garden with the Hunter Organic Growers Society this month where we were welcomed into a place of fun where the locals have come together and really made a shared space of their own. Everyone has an opportunity to explore their own interests, from aquaponics to worm farming or just growing a beautiful bunch of herbs for the kitchen. Along side the garden sits two sheds. One for metal work and the other for wood. The garden and workshops are a great combination as there is always something to build in a working garden.

The tour begins in the raised beds designed for wheelchair access.
Overhead irrigation pipes water the garden beds.

Wine barrel halves make attractive herb pots at the end of the vegetable beds.

Hot red chillis


The aquaponics system cycles nutrients
from an adapted water tank of fish through
beds of cabbage grown in re-purposed
bath tubs.

Worm farms have been created in old bath
tubs covered over with old weed matting
to keep them warm and dark.

The garden is in the grounds of an old aged
care facility. Old hospital beds make
perfect potting tables.

Beds of potatoes, basil, kale and more...

In conversation with one of the gardeners as she takes us through the herbs and chilli bed.

Giant sweet potatoe, nearly the size of
a human head.

Autumn is the season for planting garlic
in temperate areas.

The flower garden is full of
beautiful roses.

Those pesky rabbits are kept out
of the lettuce patch by re-purposing
old fly screens.
Netting protects the cabbages from white cabbage moth.

Beautiful snow pea flowers.

Find out more about the Cessnock Shed and Community Garden here.

Learn more about the Hunter Organic Growers Society here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Permaculture Day in Beautiful Stroud

Swales, comfrey, and food forests have become synonymous with Permaculture. In Stroud, a quaint little town of wooden cottages in the Hunter Valley, I visited a flourishing small farm that included all this and some wonderful creative ideas in the spirit of sustainable living. It was World Permaculture Day and Brett Cooper had opened his one acre property to showcase how a small plot of land can sustain his family and provide produce for the local community. 

A photo showcase of ideas for growing an edible land... 

Brett at home in the food forest explaining his planting method of using 'nurse' plants. Nurse plants are selected that benefit the growth and production of other plants and are planted closely with their 'host'. They can be removed as the host reaches full size to minimize crowding.

Dorper sheep are a self shedding variety well suited to Australian conditions. Brett keeps a small flock of three. Lambs that are produced will be processed on site by a mobile abattoir. In their paddock are a number of fruit trees protected by iron that withstands the sheeps eager attempts to eat the foliage. Under the trees are beds of sweet potatoe.

A fantastic pyramid of Celyon Spinach in flower.
The thick leaves withstand the heat of Summer,
making this a great plant to keep you in greens
over the warmer months of the year. The berries
can be used to make a beautiful purple food
colouring for icing. Seeds are available from Eden Seeds.

The kitchen garden is planted out in
rectangular mixed
specied beds. Weed
matting is used to on the paths.

The good old hills hoist put to a use as a trellis for a grape vine.

Gorgeous flowers of pink amaranth.
Use the leaves of this plant as a spinach
and eat the tiny seeds as a gluten free grain.

A native bee hive nestled into the bows
of a gnarled mulberry. Native bees are
stingless so they offer the allergenic
gardener a great alternative to keeping
European honey bees.

Brett is building a market garden.
Cardboard has been placed over the
lawn with compost and mulch on top.
The paths are laid with wool carpet.
Swales are cretaed by the beds to catch
water as it runs down the slope.

What is permaculture without poultry?
The chooks and ducks happily co-exist in
their own paddock and house.

A simple method of keeping white cabbage moths at bay. Loops of wire provide a frame for fly netting.

The green house offers perfect conditions for a winter crop of tomatoes and capsicum. The raised beds and overhead wtering system are a great design feature.

The edible pond also offers a contemplative
place to sit and take in the garden. Taro,
arrowroot, ginger, galangal, kang kong,
water parsley, water cress, native lillies
and more form a nice little ecosystem.

Water parsley

Hello chicken!

Permaculture design aims to mimic natural plant communities by grouping species that will benefit each other and that like similar conditions. Brett has grouped a herb garden on the upper slope of this garden with a comfrey border to prevent the grass invading. On the lower slope are plants that love moisture, such as bananas, arrowroot, tumeric, and galangal.

The back corner of the block slopes steeply. Swales catch the water and wool carpet (selected for it's low toxin levels) is employed to mulch the paths. Tyres provide a temporary border to the grass around some of the trees. Brett advises against growing root crops or vegetables in tyres as they leach chemicals into the soil which is absorbed by such plants. However fruit trees aren't affected.

A living mulch of pumpkins, alfalfa,
comfrey and pepinos (closely related
to the tomatoe, it tastes a bit like a
rockmelon), grow as an understorey
to bananas, citrus, stone fruits,
jaboticas and more. The mulch plants
can be cut to apply as a dry mulch
to fertilise the trees. Brett plants in
very close rows from a meter between
trees. Some of these are nurse trees
which will be pulled out as they grow
to allow more room for the main crops.

Tagasaste, a legume tree once popular
as an ornamental, grows between the
espaliared apple trees. Each time it is
pruned the roots release nitrogen into
the soil providing nutrients for the
apples. Tagasaste is relished by sheep,
cattle and horses and can provide a
valuauble source of vertical browse.

It can be difficult to propagate,
so it is best purchased in tree tubes.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pink Sweet Potatoe Art

Asian white, purple, pink and the familiar orange are the colours of sweet potatoes.
When I hoard my rainbow of vegetables some of them get impatient
waiting to be dinner and start to grow. Their fleshy stems
reaching out in twisted forms. There's something both
strange and wonderful about this sprouting vegetable

Put this painting on your wall... prints available here.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sunday Afternoons...

Lake Dive

The lake on the verge of evening, still and brooding as darkness falls.
Splash.... the water breaks.
The meditation ripples away with the water.

Love this photo? Put it on your wall... buy it here.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Road-side Recycling

Sifting through a pile of picket fences, a portable dunny and fluffy cushions I met a kid with the same passion for reuse as me. Council pick up time, when everyone puts out their debris on the roadside ready to be taken to the tip, is for some a great treasure hunt. Those trucks that go around picking up metal makes sense, they get cash for other peoples trash. But what about re-using what others see as waste for our own use?

My garden is being built on a budget. Three wooden gates came from our very street last pick up, plus cat run netting (new they sell for around $3000), two pairs of heavy duty gumboots and bamboo blinds which we employed to screen an ugly fence. This time it is shade cloth, three beautiful solid wooden doors with brass handles, only in need of some new paint, netting to add to the cat run, a trampoline mat (to use as shade cloth), large canvas signs for use as a tarp, plastic plant pots for propagation, and yes, I couldn't go past the picket fences, only in need of some new cross timbers to hold them together. Imagine the bill at the hardware store if I had bought all that new?

The blond haired boy took to the debris with glee. "We are going to build a cubby house" he told me. Perhaps a wrought iron chair would suit? Or how about these unused pine poles? You can even have a dunny? I suggested. He exclaimed that he couldn't believe that people would throw this stuff out.

council rubbish pick up pile

Many of us are guilty of throwing out perfectly good things in working order simply because we no longer have a use for them. So it's a great way to pick up something for free. Those cushions didn't even have a stain on them. Once we found a brand new football in it's plastic. Another time a stack of antique books, and 10 vintage cameras. Many things end up on the side of the road because they can no longer serve their original purpose. This is where a little bit of creativity can see a resource in something that someone else may see as rubbish. Carpet could be used for weed suppression, an old ladder as a pot plant stand. Making use of "waste" is an opportunity to extend the life of our resources and depend less on new resources to meet our needs. It's win win for the environment and for your hip pocket.

So don't be afraid to sift through a roadside pile. Whenever I have met the owner of their "waste", they are usually only too happy to see that someone has found a use for their stuff.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Inspiration Assemblage

assemblage art
My studio is a small room at the back of our house, crammed with bits and pieces that inspire me.
Textures, a colour or a triggered memory will draw me to something.
I make little assemblages and stick them to a pin board.
This is where a new artwork begins....

Pictured is old yellowed dress making paper, a piece of sparkly blue paper that
came as packing in a box, antique silver thread,
a pinch of fur from an old jacket, a dab of quinacridone rose paint.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Scrummy Flat Bread - Gluten Free

This bread is so scrummy that even if you are a gluten carnivore you'll be sure to enjoy this one. With the help of a little secret ingredient, it is moist and works great with some simple toppings or torn up to have with your favourite dip.

Supermarket and healthfood store offerings of gluten, dairy and yeast free breads tend to be somewhat bleak. They are dry, have odd textures, and lack flavour. Gluten is a protein present in wheat, rye and barley. This protein is what gives bread it's characteristic elasticity. There is a wide variety of gluten free grains from which bread can be made; rice, quinoa, corn meal, potatoe starch, arrowroot... However all these wonderful grains don't tend to bind well into a dough without a little extra help. Usually a mix of high starch flours (potatoe, corn, arrowroot) and xanthum gum are added to help the ingredients bind. Yet this approach still falls well short of a decent bread, producing a dry and still somewhat crumbly texture. 

Gluten dairy yeast free flat bread recipe

Flax seeds are a special little seed. When placed in water they swell, releasing a mucilage content. This is a great fiber to aid digestion, and it is also one of the next best things to gluten for making bread bind and hold it's moisture. It is available as a flour, which is a different product to flaxseed meal, being a true, finely ground flour. Added to any mix of gluten free flours, it will make for moist and flavoursome baked goods. It is available to purchase direct from the farm at Waltanna Gold, a Victorian farm which produce the flour from a golden variety of flax.

Ingredients:                    1/4 cup flaxseed flour
(Makes 1 flat bread)        1/4 cup soy flour
                                      1 1/4 cup brown rice flour
                                      Pinch of salt
                                      1 teaspoon olive oil
                                      Enough water to bind into a manageable dough


Combine the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon. Turn out onto a floured pizza tray, approximately 25cm diameter. Knead to combine. Cook in a moderate oven (200 degrees) for approximately 20mins, until slightly golden brown. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh herbs to serve, or add your favourite salad toppings. If you would like to use it as a sandwich wrap or as a pizza base, remove from the oven after about 15mins before it browns so that it remains flexible. 


The brown rice flour can be substituted with any grain flour (gluten or gluten or gluten free), try quinoa or buckwheat. The soy flour can be substituted with any legume flour, such as chick pea, or if you have a grain mill, try milling black beans for a deep earthy flour. Have fun with it, mix and match your flours to keep it interesting. Herbs can also be added to the dough.

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