An awesome experience

I’m a regular bush walker and this weekend I had one of those moments that will live with me forever.

It was a stinking hot day in an area that generally gets a lot of walkers but because of the temperature there was no one else at all. I saw this wild koala at the base of a tree and when it heard me it scampered up the trunk until it was out of any danger that it may think I could cause. I took a few photos, below is one of them…

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I left the area to finish the first part of my walk and when I got back about an hour later the same koala was back at the bottom of the tree. This time I approached very slowly and it climbed only to my waist level and stopped. I stopped too, sat down and waited a while. I also talked reassuringly. It looked very hot and parched so I took my water bottle out and gingerly advanced a few more steps, sat down, waited some more, advanced a bit more again until I was eventually within arm’s reach. I held out the water bottle and poured a few drops onto the ground so the koala could see what it was. I then leaned in and poured some water onto its nose and straight away it started to drink. It eventually drank about half my remaining water and at one time it even took the bottle off me but then dropped it. I was a wonderful experience and it even let me pet it a little. I shouldn’t have but simply couldn’t resist it. It’s great when an animal trusts you enough to allow you this close and to hopefully even help it. I’ve seen this koala up the same tree once before so it’ll be interesting to see what happens if I ever see it again. Check out the following photos.

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March for Elephants and Rhinos, and Zebra art

On October 4th 2014 people from over 130 cities around the world marched to raise awareness for elephants and rhinos. Some horrifying statistics – over 35,000 elephants and over 1,000 rhinos are slaughtered each year for their ivory and horns. This is a tragic state of affairs. I took part in the Adelaide walk which, despite the topic, was a good natured walk where like minded people got together to do something. When we are asked why elephants and rhinos (and other species) should be protected we try to justify things by placing an economic value on them – such as the revenue they bring in through tourism and the iconic status they give host countries, but how about these three reasons?

They have as much right to be here as us!

They are magnificent!

They are large animals, and that means if we protect them in parks, they need large tracts of land and this in turn protects huge numbers of other species!

We adopted the slogan “Not on our watch” meaning we are going to be part of the change that needs to occur in the mentality of this greedy world.

There were a few hundred of us and here are a few photos from the march in Adelaide.

I’m the guy in the lower left of this photo with my arms crossed. As I said, despite the seriousness of the subject, we had a fun day

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We posed by the iconic Adelaide Mall’s Balls

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And here I am reflecting in the balls. Talking of balls (and not trying to be too crude), for some reason some very stupid people in some countries think that rhino horn taken in powdered form increases one’s sexual prowess. I could cut my fingernails and sell that to them – it’s basically the same stuff! That way I could live and get rich and the rhinos could also live.

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Here I am with Emma Still who has organised art exhibitions which I have supported for a few years, proceeds going to painted dogs in Africa. Emma’s an awesome person!!

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And finally, here’s my latest piece of art, a scratchboard of a zebra done at a demo I did for the Pastel Association of South Australia.

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Home? The plight of the displaced animal

In a future blog I’ll be giving a rundown on my trip to West Africa, especially when I have created some art from it. However, since West Africa isn’t exactly blessed with wildlife, being so full of people, I had to get my animal fix on the way back home at Frankfurt Zoo. Yes, I flew the long way home with a very complicated business class ticket created out of cheap points (just to make you jealous, flying business class all the way from Adelaide to Accra in Ghana (and back) and using the flash lounges in the various airports, cost less than an economy airfare by playing the game of using Star Alliance points and matching up the various airlines in the network. More of that another time).

In the Frankfurt Zoo I saw this orangutan and coupled with West Africa’s lack of wildlife (displaced, destroyed or eaten) and the orangutan’s own Indonesian issues with homeland being decimated to make way for our insatiable urge to produce palm oil, I created this protest piece.

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Sometimes you come to a point where you say “enough is enough”. That point came for me when all I saw of wildlife in West Africa were goats and lizards. I guess you can’t eat lizards and they are not going to hurt you, so they stay safe. Snakes and other reptiles are pretty much gone and goats are everywhere, destroying the soil. We did get to a national park but it was the end of the rainy season and the elephant grass was so tall that we didn’t see much. Having said that, it was still a great feeling to be there.

I have one funny story from that park. A river runs through it and with the recent rains, this river was impassable up until the day we tried. When we got to it, the level had dropped but the driver was still unsure of whether he could get through. He asked us to get out and wade across and he would follow in the Jeep. We told him “NO”!! So we drove across in the Jeep – fairly easily.

When we went to leave the park in the afternoon we arrived back at the river, and there, exactly where we were told to walk across – by a professional no less – was this! (You can see our old tyre tracks just beyond it). So there you go – trust your own instincts!

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On my way to Ghana, Togo and Benin

Long time no blog. I’ve been putting too many hours in at the office and haven’t blogged for a while so it’s time to remedy that. I’m writing this from the Singapore Airlines business class lounge – very swish – in Bangkok airport. I have a new trip planned to gather reference material for my art and, as I simply have to every now and then, I’m off back to Africa. This time it’s West Africa. I grew up in Africa and have re-visited many many times but I’ve never been to the west, so here’s to a new adventure. It’s a complicated route to get there; Adelaide – Singapore (one night) – Bangkok – Frankfurt (one night) – Accra in Ghana (and the same route back). The long trip is made all the more bearable because it’s business class all the way – I came across many Star Alliance points when special offers where being dished out and the dollar was in my favour so my luxury ticket has cost less than an economy fare. Don’t I feel clever (for once!).

I’m spending 21 days going through Ghana, Togo and Benin and I know I’ve got some very cool places to go to such as a village of 10,000 people who live in the middle of a lake on stilt houses, and another village of two story mud huts. Of course, wild animals are in my itinerary too and my camera is going to get a serious workout.

I’ll be back with a vengeance on this blog with new art and experiences, but for a while, I will definitely lose wi-fi. That’s the way an adventure should be!

What a difference a bit of water makes

Here’s a small fun piece I’m about to finish. It’s one of the many great sights you can see if you are a bush-walker. It will go with a few others and hopefully be framed together as a montage of curious kangaroos and wallabies.

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Right this minute in South Australia there has barely been any rain for a while yet in Queensland there are massive floods with tragic loss of life and unimaginable conditions for people to deal with. However, water can totally change what you might see as a bush-walker. The other day I went for a two hour walk in a fairly dry park. The plus, no one else was there; the minus, not a lot to see. Eventually, after not having taken a single photograph, I thought I’d head over to Morialta Falls. The minus, it was the Australia Day public holiday and there were guaranteed to be people everywhere. There were, but that’s because it’s an accessible and magnificent area. Though the falls had no water, there was still a small stream sitting (not really flowing) in the valley and this was enough to completely change my day, filling the place with wildlife.

After scoffing quite a few of the wild blackberries which were almost ripe (my favourite time – not quite ripe but almost) the very first things I saw were three tawny frogmouths. Now explain this to me……..I spent quite a while photographing them and being entranced (they aren’t a common sight and they are wacky and weirdly wonderful) and people could see me photographing these strange barky growth-like creatures but no one really bothered to look at them, and the only ones who did went “wow” and walked off after less than half a minute! Oh well, maybe I’m the weird one.

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Next on the list was this strange caterpillar. Anyone recognise it?

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Then a koala bear with its young

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And after a whole host of fairy wrens and other lovelies, I spotted a goldfish in amongst a school of what looked like trout fingerlings. Curiouser and curiouser

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Bush-walking – what a great pastime! Especially for the wildlife artist.

ISSA Virtual Exhibition, recent and upcoming shows

The International Society of Scratchboard Artists is having a Virtual Exhibition. This will be up for the rest of the year. I’ve had a look through at the standard of work and it’s superb – well worth checking it out. The are some amazing artists involved and it really makes me feel good to be a part of this.
Also, I’ll be delivering some work to Pulteney Grammar School for the upcoming ZOOSSA Creating for Conservation show which, as always, is in aid of the Painted Dog in southern Africa, a cause worth getting behind. Thanks again to Emma Still for organising this.

And finally, I had a table at RSL Villas, a nursing home, where I sold some work with a portion of the sales going back into the nursing home to help pay for some new chairs for the residents. It was a great day and I met some sensational staff. My awesome wife works there as a physiotherapist and everyone loves her and constantly tells me so!! Well, of course they do!

Great pastel demo by Leigh Rust

Back in 2008 I had an exhibition that was opened by that great primatologist, Dame of the British Empire and United Nations Messenger for Peace Dr Jane Goodall. It was a joint exhibition with 30 pieces of art, mostly chimpanzee paintings and scratchboards by myself and Leigh Rust. Well, I’ve just had the privilege of having Leigh’s company again. He was booked by the Pastel Society of South Australia for a workshop and a demo and he and his family stayed with my family for four days. Damn nice people!!

I went with him to Victor Harbor, a lovely seaside resort in South Australia, where he did a demo of a koala using his own brand of handmade pastels “Rustytones”. He had two hours to show off his skills, honed from years of work in the studio and in the field and we weren’t disappointed. I heard gasps of amazement as he effortlessly created a superb piece of art right before our eyes.

As you can see from the image below Leigh has developed a palette to hold his pastels in just like an oil painter would hold a palette laden with paint, very handy and innovative. He sells all sorts of colours but has also developed specific combinations like his ‘wildlife’ palette, taking much of the guesswork out for someone wanting to try pastels but not knowing where to start.

The range is absolutely gorgeous with his pastels loaded with pigment. And the great things about them, you don’t have to break them to get ‘usable’ pieces and you certainly don’t have to rip off annoying labels since he doesn’t use any.

Leigh employs a technique which I’ve used quite a bit when sketching out the initial layout but he takes it one step further. I often look for ‘guidelines’ such as imaginary lines let’s say from an ear to an eye or from the tip of an elbow to the nose, building up a network of lines which act as reference points to get your drawing accurate. However, he actually draws these lines on his reference photograph. It was great to see him explain the rhythm of the lines, which create planes, and this can clearly be seen by the results below.

Back to the pastel demo – Leigh can talk and he spent so much time explaining his philosophy that I thought he wasn’t going to finish. And then, in no time, he finished! It was a great sight to see.

And now this lovely piece is on my wall!