31 January 2008


The work in the cantina has finally started... yes, today is a red-letter day! Sergio has begun, and the result will be wonderful... I am so excited about what it will look like in a few weeks time :-) Sergio is shocked at the size of the espresso coffee I poured for him... I really do think these tiny coffees are just a tease. Make mine double, or none at all thanks!

I was going to write my New Year letter today, as it is still (only just) January here in Italy, but gosh darn it, I saw something I needed to change in the portrait of my young friend in the glasses. So I am painting by the computer where the heater is. And I got paint on my wonderful big woollen cardigan-jacket thingy that I forgot I was wearing. That was so nearly a disaster, but the portrait propped up on my bed for me to contemplate is now looking so much more like the rascal he really is.

Yes, today it is very good to be alive... and maybe tomorrow, I'll write my New Year letter... maybe, maybe...

30 January 2008

slow progress today

Today is market day in my village but I didn't need to buy anything so I didn't go...

I am making some progress with the portrait

...but the brush in my hand and the hands on the clock are moving far too slowly

Hopefully things will get better as the day goes on.

Zacchi has been in and out of the door at least a dozen times. Neither of us is settled today. Zacchi's excuse is a cute little girl doggy wanting to come in to play. I don't have an excuse. Sometimes I get things wrong, take offense too easily. The Italians have a word for people like that. Permaloso. I have to make sure it never fits me.

Zacchi thinks we both need a long, long, walk.

Post script: I am staying with portraits a while. They were not part of the plan for the year. My goal is to paint portraits that are better than a photograph. I don't believe in painting things that can be photographed wonderfully. But sometimes a portrait, even if it misses an exact likeness, can capture the personality in a way no single photograph can. That is my challenge.

29 January 2008


Today as I write there is a 60th birthday in my New Zealand family. It is strange not being there. It made me think about a lot of things.

Here in Italy there are some old old markers along the roads, we would call them milestones, but I am not actually sure what the measurement was in Roman times. Milestones are only important if you are counting, if you have an end destination in mind. Yes, reaching a milestone is a cause for celebration, maybe. But then you sadly remember those who did not make it to such a milestone, and that can hurt. Reaching a milestone could be an excuse for a party, if you need an excuse. But life is for celebrating every day.

I am a "big picture" person, I like to know what is likely to be ahead of me. I don't like surprises, even good ones. For my own "milestone birthdays" I like to try something new. When I turned thirty I bought myself my first pair of jeans, and my first pair of running shoes. I have heard that the reason the younger generation dont wear jeans is that my generation wont stop wearing them. When I was young, young ladies didn't wear jeans, they were the domain of the worker, still being used for the original purpose for which they were designed.

For my 40th birthday, I was torn between a trip in a hot air balloon or ice skating. Ice skating was a childhood dream. I loved to skate, and my rollerskates were well worn on the bumpy cracks in the concrete at the Marumaru Memorial Hall. In the torchlight under my blankets I read stories of ice skating, and dreamed that I too would twirl elegantly around on the ice. I made it to an ice-skating rink at 41, only one year later than planned. It was wonderful... until in a moment of lost concentration I ended up on my tail bone. Recovery was slow and painful.

My fiftieth birthday plan was to go up in a glider. Another wish I have held for a long long time. But I was busy in the middle of my MFA degree, and it seemed that I should be content with that. The glider could wait until I turned 55. That birthday happened last year, with large cake and candles, here in Italy. Red wine, family and friends, but no glider.

I have often asked myself why I love to be up high, need to live on a hill, and prefer to go on holidays when I can fly somewhere. Why did it always seem that if I went by car, driver or not, my problems seemed to follow me? There was no sense of real release from daily grind. I decided, once I began flying as a passenger alone, that a large part of that was to do with giving away all responsibility. In the car, I was still a parent, still making decisions, still aware of all my surroundings, still completely responsible. But flying alone, from the moment of buckling up my seatbelt, I handed all responsibility to the pilot. And that act, the relinquishing of control, made even a business trip a holiday.

That doesn't explain why I need to live on a hill. But on this hill, looking out over the Liri Valley, a sea of lights by night and myriad of changing colours and patterns by day, I feel free and alive. But even here, part way up the hill, I still have the urge to climb further. My view is great, but the view from the top is so much better...

When I lived in a river valley as a child I spent most of my free time climbing hills or reading books sitting up in a tree. Yes, I love the water, and particularly love to sleep under canvas by a trickling stream. But most of all, I love being up.

I don't have a milestone of my own this month. But I don't think I need a milestone. I just need someone who will fly with me.

28 January 2008

today was a bit bitsy...

The downs and ups of it all. The day started badly, so I went shopping... came home with 6 new canvases. Good for the spirits, it is. Books and art supplies are not shopping really, they are therapy...

The guy who was supposed to start on my work on Saturday couldn't because he was called back to his real work. He doesn't work Sundays and I respect that. He was due at 9am this morning... but at midnight he was called in to work again so was well asleep at 9am and not at my house. So no gym, no long walk, just lots of waiting to see what eventuated. However... he is a good guy. He and his wife and children all called in tonight at 6pm and he will start work on Wednesday, all things being equal...

My really serious student has returned. He wants to understand grammar, so next week we study the future conditional tense. I think it is used more in English than in Italian. He is important. He is my petrol money.

And today, I started the portrait of the new glasses. I think the child underneath them is coming along OK too... here he is in the early stages.

27 January 2008

last night...

Last night Angela's young son came for his English lesson. He saw the portrait on the mantelpiece and ran to it, saying "Mamma" with great delight. I beamed. He wanted to take it home. Really wanted to take it home. But the paint still isn't dry... it took two little fingerprints on the painting and a sheepish "I believe you now" grin on the child to establish that the portrait couldn't go home...

And now it is back to acrylics, much as I prefer oils for portraits. Papà is dry already. Not finished, but dry. By next Saturday it wouldn't surprise me if Papà could go home but Mamma might still be drying. Mamma is beautiful, Papà looks strong. That's how it should be, isn't it?

And my young friend, the one with paint on his fingertips, I may have to paint again. I am reluctant to change his glasses, as the portrait was of him as he was some time ago. But now, nearly a year older and with new glasses, he is more beautiful... and irresistible when he peers over those glasses to beg to have the portrait updated... I suspect a fast acrylic portrait of a lovable rascal could be coming soon.

Then, once the commissions are finished, I think I'll paint my own lovable rogues. All four of them. That way I will know exactly where they are!

But now, to light the fire. It is chilly again, and then they promise us Spring really will be here. The weather forecasts here seem to be quite reliable. The shy flowers waiting to burst through the muted green veils can dance with their cheeky companions who popped out to play a couple of weeks ago.

26 January 2008

it's saturday, all day...

Some time ago someone cut down the tree on the vacant land next to me and carried away green firewood. I came home and disturbed them, and nothing was cleared away. Because I am still a bit afraid of snakes, since last May I have cleared and mowed and cared for that vacant lot. If anyone had a right to that tree, it was me. But I was not cold enough, not poor enough, not cunning enough to think of stealing a tree in mid-winter. But now, each day, I clip a few twigs from the remaining trimmings for next year's kindling. Not stealing, just tidying up of course... Waste not, want not, my grandmother used to say...

Today was shopping day. I hate shopping. I had a huge trolley of supplies. It was close to lunch time. I invited five shoppers to go ahead of me in the queue. I was given five wonderful smiles in return... How easy it is to make someone smile :-)

Bounty Bars taste just as sinfully good in Italy as they did in New Zealand.

While I didn't mind dishes piling up in the kitchen, I can't stand dirty dishes in the studio. It didn't wear off, I became more fanatical about it.

This morning I finished the portrait of Angela. The last brush stroke was her tiny diamond nose stud. I hope she likes it. I think I do.

Internet is a wonderful thing. Yesterday a friend in Belgium reminded me that it was Rocco's birthday today. I had forgotten. I went up to greet Rocco this morning. No, said his wife, it's not his birthday today. She looked puzzled. So I chatted to Rocco at his workshop, but didn't mention his birthday. Later, Rocco called out to me. Oggi, oggi, (today, today). He is 72 today. His wife had forgotten. Thanks Luk, I think we made his day.

Now my lunch break is over, it is time to walk Zacchi. Or time for Zacchi to walk me. Dare I munch another Bounty Bar...?

25 January 2008

another post

Zacchi says, it's ok to write another post today because we missed one when the computer was away.

The sun is shining. There was a heavy frost in the valley below us this morning. We feel quite smug on our sunny hillside, being above the frost and below the snow. It is crisp and clear, a little on the cold side unless you are in the sun. But it is a beautiful day for a walk.

Work went quite well this morning, despite cold wrists. A new story has evolved to be illustrated soon. So after lunch, we walked the two kilometres to the village, and took tea with an elderly friend. Zacchi liked the walk, but is not so sure about stopping for tea.

This could be the beginning of a new routine. Then siesta time is used happily outdoors, and we will work better when we return.

It was an exciting walk... four big dogs to get past, it was much safer being carried, thanks Mum, says Zacchi as his little heart goes thud thud thud...and one little dog friend to sniff at. And on the way home a new doggy friend to get to know...

And lots of posts. Lots and lots of posts. A chap must learn to pace himself better, Mum says.

they say

Last night the Italian government fell. It is good that the government has fallen, they say. Things were going from bad to worse, they say. Italy is finished, they say...

But Italy survived being an occupied country during WWII. The destruction, the poverty, the starvation, the health problems, the separated families, the deaths, the injuries, the rapes, the atrocities... back then they said that Italy was finished. How they lived through these things I cannot hope to ever really comprehend. But I see that Italy survived. With style, with technology, with heart and passion.

Yes, many things could be better, I know. Yes it is fragmented, I know. Yes it has big problems, I know. Yes, it has many many layers I do not understand, will never understand, this I know.

But Italy will survive. I know.

24 January 2008

on-going computer woes...

If you miss me, I haven't gone away... but my precious connection with the outside world is as erratic as my computer at the moment.

Yesterday I thought a friend looked tired. He said no, just old. He is so much younger than me, and I, dressed warmly in my wrinkles, was feeling very young. "But it has been a beautiful day, lovely sun this morning. It didn't get cold until later", say I. "The day is like life, first sun and then cold", says he, "Sunshine when you are young, and rain and wind when you are old".

This morning I sat in a sunbeam and wondered: am I stealing a second youth right now? And if I am, who will judge that? I am young in my heart, I ate my breakfast in a sunbeam... what more could I want? Except, perhaps some optimism for my troubled friend.

23 January 2008

an interesting 24 hours

Can Kay survive 24 hours without a computer? Mmmmm... yes... but!

My normal routine involves time on the computer in the evening. I don't like television at the best of times, and poor reception Italian television doesn't exactly pull me in. I could get an aerial, I suppose, or put the tv back where it was, but I need it where it is to show the photographs I am working from...

At the computer I write, I work on projects, I study a little Italian, I email, I skype Kiwi friends occasionally... a pleasant way to pass an evening. Last night I paced the studio, tried not to touch the works in progress - I am really pleased with the second portrait, two visitors recognised her instantly and I like the way the clothing and background seems to pick up how I see her, an incredibly stylish, thoroughly modern woman living in a stone house in a village over 1000 years old.

In the end, I couldn't cope with my hands not being occupied, so I took Zacchi for a long walk, photographed the village in the dark, came home and played the piano for a while and forced myself to have an early night. How does one fill an evening without TV or computer, without reading in English and when too tired to study Italian? Roll on summertime, when I can go up to the piazza and chat until 11pm.

But for now, I think I may have to get a cable to connect my tv with its aerial again... or maybe sew for the summer... or pretend I am a domestic goddess and make marmalade to give away...

This morning there was no reason to bounce out early. The paintings must dry some more, they are slow at this time of year, and there was no computer to check for mail. A good excuse to wander to the market and just enjoy being here again. I bought a pottery jug in the regional style so I can cook in the fire. Truth is I am more likely to use it next winter for mulled wine than cooking beans...

21 January 2008

musing by the heater...

Last night I made some real progress on the double portrait I have been avoiding. Now I can see two children I know, not one I know and one who was vaguely familiar but not quite anyone in particular. I had to start another painting to stop working on that one. I know it is best to let it dry, so there is no risk of losing what I have already achieved. Stopping is really hard to do… I want to keep going. But the sleeves on my sweatshirt prove that I get too close, I lean on the canvas; I am generally a mucky pup when I am working.

And… call me crazy if you must… late last night, when I took a break and made a cup of tea, I wondered why I felt so hungry. Oooops… there on the wide window ledge / bench space was the dinner I had prepared some time before. I was so absorbed in what I was doing I had completely forgotten to eat. Because I had prepared the food, I thought I had eaten it too! I laughed when I realised, because it meant I am back. Back to being totally immersed in creating. I haven’t been in that space for several years. For a while I had a bed in my studio in New Zealand, because I worked late into the night and wanted to open my eyes the next day to see the previous night’s work before anything else.* Happiness is bouncing out of bed in the morning to see what you thought you had painted the night before!

And now… exciting news, maybe, if it happens this time… the man is going to start on the restoration of the rock and earth walls in the cantina on Saturday, and my life will be completely changed again! We are going to replace the rammed earth with cement, and polish the rocks and seal it so there is no dust and I can sleep in what was possibly once the stables… Exciting! It will double the size of the house. I hope, by June, to have a dining room and a new bedroom. This house is a work in progress, and as the TV programmes tell you, progress can be very very slow! I have learned patience here…

I really want to write more about ego and self. And I will. But today I have more immediate things to do… that entry is too important to me to rush it. An email this morning reminded me that some people read my blog in their second or third language. I want my next post on this subject to be really clear, and something I have thought about in more depth. Sheryl gave me cause for thought… as usual! It is good to have this kind of debate, even if in the end we agree to differ. Or especially then, perhaps.

Today is mostly get the washing machine and computer sorted day, and I have been working a little on another art project that needs “little and often” type attention as I gather information and ideas for it from my community and surroundings. This afternoon it is cold, and Zacchi and I are by the heater writing this because one of us needs to warm up a little. But I must get in the wood and light the fire, I think I have to get back to my paintings…

*Warning: there are too many chemicals in studios; sleeping in the studio was not a wise thing to do! When I regularly woke with nose bleeds I realised I was probably also doing all sorts of damage to my lungs and brain!

20 January 2008

"The antidote to exhaustion is whole-heartedness"

This morning a friend who knows me pretty well suggested I could do with a bit more ego. Mmmmm... that set me back on my heels a bit. You see, I have been believing quite happily that ego is the cause of most of our problems. I believe that without ego there would be no need for war. I was clinging to the belief that it is better to find the essence of the person, and strip away the ego. I was attributing all ills to ego.

This could be a long post. Go get yourself a cuppa now, that's what I am going to do.

OK, here we go. One bucket of Earl Grey tea (real tea leaves, purchased in Scotland, none of that tea bag rubbish, eh Mike?) and a quick, energetic tinkle on the piano to clear my thoughts on the way back to the computer. This post changes in direction rather a lot… it's not exactly well crafted. And comes bearing only tentative links to the title. Never mind! Producing well crafted writing was about my ego…

Ego... do we need it?

Yesterday's post was less optimistic perhaps. And maybe, just maybe - ok, probably - all that stuff about having so much work to do was about ego. Thinking I needed to justify my butterfly life. Thinking I had to be a human doing, again. But no, I came here to be a human being. Yesterday I was setting myself goals, things to achieve. I had got a bit down, having no goals, no dreams any more, while others seemed to know exactly what they were doing, where they were heading. But surely that is the point. The "goal", for want of a better word, is to "be". The dream, for me, is world peace.

The goal is to be. And in that state of being, things change around you. It is a little like throwing a pebble into a pond. The under-valued ripple effect. If I am being myself, and therefore am happy, then that is contagious. How often do we read or think, consciously or unconsciously "I don't know what that person has, but whatever it is, I want some of it". How simple is it to give a smile, and get one in return? And how wonderful that gift, if someone needs that smile you have freely given, or so gratefully received?

I am not talking about diluting everything so there is no life, no energy, no interest. I am not suggesting we just exist, do no work. Far from it. I am suggesting that we need to listen to our intuition, to read and experience our emotions, to learn what sits well with us and can healthily be continued, and what we must put aside because it drains and depletes us.

A poet wrote "Sometimes the truth depends upon a walk around a lake". When we are on the rollercoaster of our busy lives, it is difficult to see, to feel, to know the truth, to be. The cognitive mind, the ego, the "oughts and shoulds" take over. And in that race, that busy, busy life, we become exhausted. We lose ourselves, we are empty. Perhaps the more we feel empty inside, the busier we need to be. And soon we are exhausted, with nothing left to give, and not knowing how to receive. We need to stop, bend down and pick some daisies. Take that walk around the lake. Not be afraid to search in the darkness for what is real.

"To be free from self necessities" (David Whyte CD, Midlife and the Great Unknown)... is that what I mean when I talk about stripping away the ego? If I need to explain who I am, what I do, make myself sound important to myself and others, then is that not also exposing my own lack of confidence, lack of self-belief, lack of self-knowledge. But in those actions, I am building the ego. Do I need to build myself a life that moves too fast, that lacks compassion because I have no time? Do I need to bury myself in the things on the periphery that exhaust me?

Yesterday, on my walk with Zacchi, I found myself once again wishing I didn't own a car. I drove home with the gas bottle, then walked the two kilometres back to the post office I had just driven past. It was a choice, and it felt good. The car added to the stresses of my life. Yes, freedom to go and photograph, to find, to explore, to meet friends at the station.. But also it gave me the ability to do the things that were not “real” for me, and with it came the expectation that of course I would do those things, like drive, to work I didn’t even want, in another town. I was very conscious that the car was taking me back into a lifestyle I had walked away from. Taking me back to empty ego? I needed to find “me” again.

I am going to stop writing now. I need to think a little more, to listen again to the CD I mentioned above, and start removing things from my list of things to do. Oh, and paint some more. A lot more. And sit in the winter sun waiting for the spring flowers to appear, and know it is right to do so.

But here is something to think about while I am gone. It is a wonderful poem by Derek Walcott. I think it is about self, but I don’t think it is about ego. Also, I need to tell you, the title of this post came from a Benedictine monk, in conversation with David Whyte at his moment of exhaustion and revelation. I wish I had said it myself.

Love after love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

19 January 2008

knowing when to stop

I could be painting in my studio right now, but I think I should stop. I know I am tired, and I will make mistakes. Oooops... used that "should" word. Rephrase: But now it is time to stop.

Today I started a new work, a portrait of Angela. The credenza (sideboard?) makes an awesome easel, and with the table turned sideways I have plenty of room to step back and consider each mark. I really want to light the fire, but I know that if I do I will keep painting, and the light is not good enough. I can't keep my hands off the brushes if I stay in the room. Tomorrow I will go to a city where I can buy the lighting I need on a Sunday. It wont wait until Monday, I have a good feeling about this painting and I don't want to put it on hold. There is a time in the day when the light moves and I can't quite find the right spot to work. That's shopping time. I didn't want to stop now, so I came to write this post to keep occupied. Often the success of a painting is knowing when to stop, when to put it aside, when to take a break.

Zacchi took me for a long walk this morning. It was good for both of us. He is learning that it is OK to wait outside shops and houses, mum does come out to protect him if a big dog comes near! While we were walking I was wrestling with a problem. Walking is good for thinking.

I have felt a bit lost since Christmas. The museum is packed down, there are no more tours for a few weeks, my unfinished paintings were hanging over me, and I was resenting my teaching. Many of the things I need to do for the Campagna della Pace 2009 and other projects involve others who are not available at the moment. I was going around in circles a little, not sure where I was heading. It was not that there was nothing to do, there was too much to do. The problem was where to start.

Following my Dad's advice, I started with my immediate surroundings. This was much easier than I expected, once the studio decision was made. Suddenly I am living in a tidy house. That's a novel experience for me! Next came the lists. Now here's a confession: in the bad old days, sometimes I wrote things like "put out washing", "dust lounge" on lists purely so that I would have something to cross off! I sent my lists to two friends, so they could check up on me. What happened was that I found myself doing all the jobs I had forgotten to write down! Now, some time later, it is time to deal with the lists and write the time-line, so I can work backwards and find the most urgent jobs.

I have 6 projects demanding my attention. It is too much. I have put one on hold, and have delayed an exhibition. I have removed a deadline from a third. That still gives me more than I need. I have five individual timelines running along under my master timeline. That doesn't mean I will meet all my deadlines. It means that I may choose to move a deadline, or alter a project to fit the time available. I can pretend to myself that I am in control. Somehow I need something to work to, to hold myself accountable somewhere.

But now, enough writing. I just have to pop back to the studio, to look at the painting again... promise that all I will do there is put the kettle on... maybe...

18 January 2008

it's a worry...

Having a studio (that once was a kitchen) is so good that I am even washing the dishes that turn up in the sink periodically... that has to be a first! Dishes before creating? Never! Don't worry, it will probably pass...

I have heard that it takes three weeks to establish a new habit. Not true! Only once, the first day, very sleepily, did I go to the paint cupboard looking for the tea. Now I go straight to the plastic bin where all the teas are kept. And I gave away the white wine so there is no danger of confusing it with the turps... should I have done that the other way around? That was another habit I thought I should break. Yes, in New Zealand, I have come close to dipping the paint brush into the wine, but never have I tried to drink the turps. I think I am safe.

Now back to work...

Fly safely, fly high, fly with wings of glorious colours...

17 January 2008

learning to be irresponsible

I did it! Today I said "No thankyou" when offered another English class in a private school. I let my arm be twisted last year, and have quietly berated myself every week since then. Only five more lessons to go!

Now maybe I can learn more Italian, paint more passionately, live life more fully. Let's take out the "maybe". I *will* do all of those things!

Zacchi is happy about all of that. He hates me going away. On Thursday evenings he flattens himself against the step and looks up at me with reproachful eyes. The food rewards evidently don't make up for being alone. I tend to agree with him on that one. However...

Parmalat make a wonderful cherry yoghurt, whole rich black cherries in it. And if you add to that some of Ambrosio's Amarene Kirschen (cherries in liquor), and stir a little, you have the most decadent cherry yoghurt you could ever wish for, and you can eat every last delicious drop yourself! Quite makes up for having to cook your own dinner, and do the dishes, it does!

That still leaves a few private English students, I guess that is OK. They pay for the yoghurt and cherries.

Oh, by the way, I turned down the job the very same week I passed my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. Makes you wonder a bit, doesn't it?

Now back to the cherries...

16 January 2008

now it is important

Funny how having a studio makes a difference. I've been bouncing quite happily, wanting to get into it all day.

I went to a civic ceremony this morning, the dedication of a new memorial in Cassino, when I might have been playing in my studio.

There were five of us from our group there, watching, paying our respects, taking photographs for the website. But I must admit that during the mass three of us snuck around the corner and discussed religion rather than listen to the full mass. The other two had disappeared back to work. None of us attend church now, but still had much to say. The Italians were interested in learning about other religions... there is not a lot of choice here, in the south of Central Italy! First I had to clarify that "Protestant" does not mean "non-believer". Not easy, sotto-voce with my amount of Italian. Much hand waving on my part.

Religion has come up for discussion a bit lately. Even in blogs I know.


Today two of us agreed that we felt closer to "God" and more in tune with our spiritual lives in the mountains than we do in church. There was no debate about organised religion now being a business.

But you can't live in this community without being in a church sometimes, without being involved somehow. The church in my wee village has to be one of the most beautiful in Italy. Outside, you wouldn't give it a second glance. Inside, there is a wonderful serenity. Sometimes if I hear the choir practice I slip inside and listen. There is no organist, they don't need one. I wonder why this feels more real than the pomp and ceremony I witnessed this morning?

Our local priest comes from Madagasgar. He has a huge smile, and lopes along like an athlete. I say "our" because I live here. And the church in the centre of the village is like another room in a huge house, a house that houses 90 people. We share him with another village. Once the mass or ceremony is over he is out of his robes faster than one would think possible, and outdoors mixing happily with anyone lingering to chat. Which of course is what you do, in Italy. That's what piazzas are for.

After Cassino it was time to enjoy my studio. It is still a work in progress. But there was a moment of revelation for me. *I must clean the windows. As soon as possible.* They have been cloudy since I bought the house nearly a year ago.

It is not easy, cleaning these windows. They haven't been done for many many years. I did the ones in the cantina, I needed the light in there. I probably needed it in the kitchen too, but not enough to climb up, remove the shutters, take the windows off the hinges, and bring them down to attack with a pot scrub.

I have a sense that the discussions about religion, and cleaning my windows to let in more light, are related somehow. I could look for the links but I think that, if you want to, you will make them yourself.

Sometimes I visit the church in the cave behind the village, it is 1,000 years old and has no windows. I have a painting of it hanging in my studio. But now, I plan to clean the studio windows. Now it is important.

15 January 2008

two little buttons

Yesterday I was thinking about the word "should". I have decided to delete it from my vocabulary. I believe that our language defines us to a large degree. I like listening to people, helping them to change their language to make their dreams possible. It is time I did that for myself. Remove the doubt, remove the feelings of obligation. Focus on the positive, the creative.

It is more than 24 hours since I saw the sheep in the low morning sunlight. As I drove back I knew they would be painted in oil. I could smell the oil and the turpentine. I could see the frenzied brush strokes loosely sketching in the composition.

But then I got home. There were other things to do. Things I should do. Should, ought. Nasty, nasty words. They were OK when I was younger, learning how to fit into a society. But I learnt them too well, and now they are a problem. It is time to be focussed, some would even say selfish.

I don't even have the canvas and the paints together in the same room. I miss having a studio. While writing this I have decided to turn my kitchen into my studio. I am not quite sure where the kitchen will go. Does it really matter?

Some would say I ought to have a proper kitchen. I should be sensible. I will be; I am going to buy plastic bins to put my mobile kitchen in. The advantages of not having things fixed. I can move my oven, it has a gas bombola. What is a "proper" kitchen anyway?

Words and how we read them made me think of my cyber life too.


Two little clicks of the mouse. Are these the most powerful words we use now? There is no looking back. Once you hit send, there is no second chance, no changing your mind. But until then you can still hit delete.

And now, I'm off to heat up some soup while the gas is still connected. Then I will build my studio.

14 January 2008

a promise kept and more

I woke this morning to glorious sunshine. When I opened the shutters, the sky was a clear pale blue, not the rich cobalt blue of a Hawkes Bay summer's day, but a cool, clear pale blue. Not a cloud in the sky, and sun glistening on the fresh snow on hilltops on both sides of the valley. The sun had kept its promise of yesterday.

Despite the rain, much needed to fill the wells after the long hot draught last summer, leaves are still clinging to the trees, or crunching underfoot, painting the landscape in rich hues. How I manage to stay safe on the roads I don't know, my eyes are never where they should be.

The sun is low in the sky, and as I came home from the gym, thinking completely different thoughts about what I would write today, a shepherd and his flock (no fences here, small closely watched flocks) were near the road. The sun behind them cast them into autumn-coloured shadows, rimmed with clear, pale fire.

Lesson one: never go out without your camera.

I raced home to get my camera and retracked, overshooting the spot as the flock had moved. With some good Italian driving I dodged trucks, pedestrians and roadside stalls and found them again. I crossed the soggy field, and asked permission to photograph the sheep. Good, I have reference photos.

Lesson two: reference photos are just that. For reference only. They are not a composition. They are not a source for colour matching. They are flat, dead, lifeless, and no matter how wonderful, always two-dimensional.

Now here is the challenge. I must paint this scene. Like the rain on the cobblestones, the feelings, the mood, the magic of this scene is etched in brilliant colour and detail in my mind. When I paint, it is not the photos I must call on. It is the memory, the image imprinted within me, that will serve me best. Only this image carries with it the magic that I must try to capture in paint.

I thought I was over being a landscape painter. I thought I had moved on. The sun, the dark, the rain think differently. Perhaps I have really only just begun.

13 January 2008

domenica and garlic toast

There is a new dumping of snow on the mountains behind me. It has been raining a few days now and today, while it rained most of the day, the sun popped through just enough to say "Don't forget me, I'll be back".

I lit the fire this morning, not because I was cold, but because I hoped its cheery company would keep me in the kitchen long enough to establish some order. Yes, I am an optimist! Instead of cleaning and sorting, I made some Hokey Pokey biscuits with my precious Golden Syrup brought from the UK. It made me think about the things we take for granted. Americans and Kiwis in Italy miss cheddar cheese. I miss Golden Syrup, and Vanilla essence in the form that I am used to. I really miss butter with salt in it, our lovely yellow butter.

On the plus side, I have discovered that the wonderful fibrous bread we have here - cooked in the village in a wood-fired oven - when toasted over the fire, rubbed with a cut clove of garlic and drizzled with freshly pressed olive oil, is a flavour burst without peer. Served with home made vegetable soup, it takes a lot of beating on a Sunday evening in winter.

I know it's a cliche, but that's because it's true. The best things in life really are the simple things.

12 January 2008

light of heart

Why are some days happy days for no apparent reason? Today is one of those days.

I worked too late and slept in this morning.
Zacchi stayed at the neighbours overnight then ran out on the road.
The dishes are still waiting for me.
The paintings are unfinished.
I taught two English lessons instead of one.
It is raining. Lots.
The power bill came.
The car needs to be serviced.
The house needs much work.
The bread has gone stale.
My friends weren't home when I called on them.

But I am happy. Really truly happy. My feet dance even though I don't tell them to. I caught myself singing as I went up the stairs.

I love living here... last night I went to buy matches (to light the gas). It was raining but not cold. A woman with an umbrella was walking towards me. The lights were reflecting on the wet cobblestones in the narrow street. She made an interesting addition to the composition, the perfect picture. I love it.

Do artists have to paint, or can they just enjoy, and call it art?

11 January 2008


There are all kinds of tourists. I meet the ones who want to visit the battlefields, to visit the cemeteries, to reflect on war. Mostly they are good people. Occasionally you meet one who is just filling in time, or wanting to tick another thing off the list of things one must do. I don't like taking them to the cemeteries, when it is just a matter of ticking them off a tourist list. I like the visitors who spend time there, who come away with tears in their eyes, with heavy heart. Then I think maybe, just maybe, they will go home and vote differently, or they will discourage aggression somewhere. I particularly like the ones who let me take them to the German cemetery, when they had only considered going to visit the Commonwealth and Polish dead. There are 20,036 young men in that cemetery. They had mothers too.

Today I drove a lovely man around all the accessible points of interest and to the Abbey. We went to the destroyed town of St Pietro Infine. If you have seen the John Huston film "The Battle for St Pietro" you will know it. I was really really pleased to see that the work being done there, setting the ruins up as a museum, is being done well. Apart from where sites are being established to view things better, or to show the history, it is being left untouched. Too many things in Italy are being rebuilt. I am constantly asking myself what is best, restoration or conservation? For old castles, bombed martyred towns, and many buildings, please just conserve, don't rebuild.

St Pietro Infine was never rebuilt, the returning civilians left the town as a monument to peace, and built down below it. The had buried too many of their people to want to live there again. The first time I visited it, in 2005, vines were destroying the ruins, adding to the decay. I was concerned that even that would disappear as a peace message. The following year a building there was being restored to make a museum. The next time I visited more work was being done. Then I was afraid it would be walled, there would be reconstruction, and an entry fee. But today I could still walk freely among the ruins, still feel something of the reality of war. Many museums tell us of the battles, of bravery, of heroism and deeds; my heart goes also to the civilians in this once-occupied country.

Our museum is on the move. It is an empty shell full of packing cases today. I miss it.

10 January 2008


Thursdays are always a challenge. I teach English on Thursdays. I would rather study Italian. I missed going to the gym today. Instead, I trotted happily along my street in my nightgown. What? you say... That isn't the Kay we know and love! That model of decorum from Morrinsville.

You see the tree roots on the road seem to break the water pipe that runs along it, above my house. I live below road level. Having street access here is a bonus, I don't have to carry groceries up a hillside on slippery rock paths in the winter. So my car is parked outside the house, along with several others.

This morning, the water people came early to fix a broken pipe. If they hadn't, there would soon have been water seeping through into my cantina, which is built of rocks and rammed earth. It was already creeping up Elfania's wall in the apartment above me; she called the water people. And when they wanted the cars moved, we all ran. Romana in her pyjamas and dressing gown, me in big woollie cardy, my Scottish lambswool slippers and ankle-length nightie. Navy blue seemed to be the colour of choice on our street today.

I enjoyed that. I felt like a local.

Funny, the things that give you pleasure sometimes.

9 January 2008

playing with words

I was going to write about being a professional artist. An artist friend challenged me on my comment that I found being a professional artist "not enough". We exchanged a few emails. We are good for one another, if a little too painfully honest at times. I tried editing our conversation, but somehow it came out all wrong. Stilted, pompous, she said defensive, on my side, I say aggressively assertive on hers. Out of context it was wrong. But she did make me think about why I felt entitled to call myself a professional artist. I had struggled to do this for many years. This is what I wrote to her:

For me in that particular time (when discovering that being a professional artist wasn’t enough) it probably encompassed these considerations:

  • As a professional artist I strive to make work that is honest, technically superior and well critiqued (by myself and my peers) from a knowledge/experience base.
  • I expect to be working from a position of genuine integrity and not just painting a picture for sale, or producing work that anyone else could have painted and possibly done better. I think for me that involves having my head, heart and hands all working together to make work that I can defend in any context. I like to think that my work carries my intention, no matter what theme, scale or media I am working with.
  • I considered myself a professional artist when I finally held the belief that I could make my art my full time profession. I am sure that this change was greatly helped by gaining my tertiary qualifications, although I don’t believe that this is a pre-requisite in any way. It was also helpful to my self-belief when I was offered employment in an art school at postgraduate level.
  • In recent years I have travelled a little more, subsequently realising that my work and exhibitions could stand successfully anywhere else in the world.

It is not that simple really. I used to live in New Zealand, the country I am from. There, I remember the good and the bad. The excitement I felt when I left the country on an art trip, my precious art box in my hand luggage (you can't do that now) and my profession listed as "artist" when I filled out the airport cards. I also remember apologising for describing myself as an artist to an over-worked colleague some time after I left the teaching profession. Her husband pulled me up sharply. Why did I apologise? Why was I reluctant to use the term? Did I think it made me different from everyone else? That was a reality check for me. Why was I uncomfortable with the term? Didn't I see it as a "real job"? Did I think it was some kind of elevated status? Where was I coming from?

Yes, I was regarding it as some kind of elevated status, in that to be a professional artist meant that I was actually expecting people to like, understand, and buy my work. All my working life I had been teaching, in some way or another. I was in a *giving, serving* profession. Suddenly, when money for my art work came into it, I felt that I was taking. That didn't sit at all well with me. I remember saying more than once that I would work to support my art making rather than paint to sell. Was that a "cop out"? (Later I had issues about filling the planet with unwanted artworks... more in a later blog perhaps?)

I also felt that indulging in my passion was not really work. Yes, it was exhausting, time consuming, stressful, but it was for *me*. That is the part that felt wrong. I was doing what I had always wanted to do, just for me. Why couldn't that feel like valid work? It does now, and I am not sure where the change came. I suspect, but I am not sure, that a little of it came when someone who had seen my exhibition "Unlocked" asked my husband in a local pub "When is Kay going to go back to doing real painting?" (ie, local landscapes). My response was one of delight, that because of my changed work, more honest work in my opinion, art was being discussed over a beer in a working man's bar on a Friday night in rural New Zealand. I know that a lot of the change came when I had my first exhibition in Italy. And now, three years later, I live in Italy and I find the culture of "noblesse oblige" still exists. My little village, in a poorer part of Italy, has always had a resident artist. But there was a gap of a few years with noone. Until I turned up. They liked having an artist here again. And, to keep me here, those who can afford it commission paintings from me. Is that related to why it felt pretentious to call myself an artist in New Zealand? I don't know, but I do know I am grateful for the commissions that keep coming, just as I need them.

But maybe this more ordinary fact is what makes me a professional artist. When I am working, nothing else exists. For example, I set out to cook myself a good wholesome meal tonight. For me and my little dog, Zacchi. I told myself I would not start this post until after dinner. But, as usual, when I am painting or thinking about my art, I forget about what is happening in the kitchen. Usually I am a good cook. But when I am working on a project, microwave meals are safer. They turn themselves off. Tonight I ate burnt offerings at the computer while I worked on this post. Zacchi gave up on me as he waited for his share to cool and be delivered to him. He put himself to bed by the computer.

Zacchi says it's the pits, having a professional artist for a Mum.

8 January 2008

it's a choice, really

After years of correcting students' work, dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s, I chose not to use a capital letter this morning. I can do that you see, because this is my weblog, and while others may judge it, I am the one who creates it. Life is a bit like that too. Others contribute to my life, but it is I who accepts or rejects what is offered to me.

This morning I received an email that made me a little sad. It was going to be a difficult day for me. And then I checked my daughter's art blog, and on it was a post that gave me the sound of her laughter. It made all the difference in the world to me. It reminded me that I have a choice every day.

I can choose to be happy, or I can choose to be sad. The author of the email that made me a little sad once said to me that it's OK to have glass half empty days, but you must remember that your particular glass is more than half full. And that is true too. So today, after a little reflection, and the gift of laughter, I am choosing to be happy. It really is that easy! As easy as choosing not to use a capital letter.

7 January 2008

Email to Mary

What would you paint if you were free to spend what you liked on brushes paint canvas, paper etc? Would it be large, small? bold, delicate? Abstract or real? What would happen if you took three colours, put them out, and put on some favourite music and let the hand to the painting, completely shut off your mind? Try it... you can do it! Take a red, a yellow, a blue. Now let yourself pick one or two more colours. Put the rest away. Don't think about mixing. Just paint... and paint... and paint. And when you think it is finished, paint some more. Paint over it. Add to it. Decorate it. Fill it up completely. Write the date on the back, and put it away. Look at it again in three weeks time. Stand back and analyse it. See what it says to you about colour, feeling, mood, story, about you and your relationship with paint. Try to read it. It is a text, about you, about your relationship with paint, about many other things. Do you want to be freer? Do you want it more tidy? Would you like less, or more on the canvas/paper? Would you change a colour? Now take another, and put on music that is appropriate for that day. Take something from the first painting, and put it onto the second page. Then turn the first one around so you can't see it, and paint, paint, paint. When you have finished, look at the two together. What is happening?

there is no path

How does one choose a name for a blog, or even begin a blog, when it is a spontaneous action that has brought one to this screen?

Why did I start a blog? It is part of my life to record my journey. So far I have recorded very little. Emails to friends capture moments along the way. There is no continuity, no way of sharing the parts that can be more public. It is time to honour the promise I made in New Zealand one year ago, to write about my journey.

What is the journey? I am not sure. It came, in part, from wanting, all my life, to be a professional artist, then discovering when I got there, that on its own it was not enough.


J Kay de Lautour Scott http://www.kayscott-artist.com/
The website is long overdue to be updated. Paintings are waiting to evolve, swirling about in my mind. Clients are waiting for commissions. And so, instead of all the things on my "to do" list, I start a blog.

I am interested in the fact that I have changed the font for my name. I like a cursive script. The font I have chosen looks a lot like my "best printing" when I tried to do my best. Back then it was to please others. This time, the task is harder. This time it must please me.

My current favourite quote - discovered yesterday - is

Travellers, there is no path, paths are made by walking. Antonio Machado.

My other favourite quotes include the butterflies.

I think they should be in colours too.

Just living is not enough,

said the Butterfly.

One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.

Hans Christian Anderson (1805-1875)


How does one become a butterfly?

she asked pensively.

You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.

Trina Paulus, Hope for the Flowers


I've done it! (she said confidently, having changed the word from "hopefully"). I've written my first blog!