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 stencils....fun! 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!

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.