December 08, 2008

I'm back!

Building 155 icicles, McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

I'm back in New Zealand after a 2+ month contract working down at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Just so you don't think I took a vacation from blogging instead of working at a remote Antarctic research station, here's this photo.

I was busy down there, and I mean busy. I really, honestly didn't have the time to update my blog. I often worked late and the last thing I wanted to do after being in front of a computer all day, was to be in front of a computer doing anything, including updating the blog. So I hope you can understand this lapse.

Blogging seems to be a big commitment, doesn't it? I like sharing my life, but I know there will be times when I may not be communicative. I just blame it on being human; or perhaps a mercurial artist. I don't always like the idea of sitting in front of a computer all day, when there's so much other cool stuff to do.

When I showed up on the white continent, I was reunited with my darling Anthony who sported 8 months of impressive beard and hair growth, the result of The Company not having hired a hairdresser for the long dark season. Click here to see.

My time on the ice was productive and fun too. I got to spend time with good friends, even made some new friends and did a lot of knitting. I finished several hats, including this hat I designed for myself. I used Excel to map out the leaf pattern and threw in a few bobbles, some decorative braids and a tassle complete with a hand-knitted leaf.

Best part was I used up bits and pieces of yarn I already had.

This morning dawned grey and overcast and now it has broken into rain, which turns my mood into a happy one. I'm not sure why rain makes me feel so good. Maybe it's the idea that not much is expected of you on a rainy day and it gives you license to do something fun and not necessarily all that productive. Or you can just curl up with a good book or movie and not feel the least bit bad about it.

It also feels wonderful to have gotten all the laundry off the line before the rain started up!

Fiordlands, New Zealand

Anthony and I just returned from a week-long trip down south to the Fiordlands area of New Zealand, specifially Milford Sound (which really isn't a sound at all apparently, but a mis-named Fjord). Fjords are ancient glacial valleys with water in them and Sounds are ancient river valleys with water in them.

What is really funny is that to compensate for the mistake in naming Milford Sound, they declared the area "Fiordland," but they didn't realize they misspelled it. Fjord is spelled with a j, not an i. But the name has stuck and makes it unique in the places in the world and besides it's too late to change all the maps.

Photos definitely speak better than words in this part of the big blue globe. All along the road to Te Anau (say 'tay ann-ow'), the roads and river banks were overflowing with brilliant lupine blossoms in a eye-popping array of purples, blues and pinks.

See them all on the far bank of the river?

At a view stop, we were greeted by a friendly and inquisitive Kea, who was most certainly waiting for a tasty morsel or for us to walk far enough away from the car so it could attack the rubber seals around the windows (yes, Kea's are known for these antics). Or perhaps he was just waiting for his close-up.

Kea's are a member of the parrot family, known for their intelligence and ability to solve simple problems or work in teams to achieve a goal.

The road from lake Te Anau to Milford is in the top 3 on my list of most beautiful roads. I put it up there with Going to the Sun at Waterton-Glacier National Park and the bit of road from Prince Rupert to Vancouver, British Colombia.

Rivers of water cascading down the near vertical surfaces of ancient glacier-carved canyon walls.

The entrance to Milford Sound is breathtaking, regardless of the weather conditions.

We spent a day there and took an afternoon boat tour that took us up close and personal to many of the rock faces of the sound and even right underneath a waterfall.

During my time around Te Anau, I day-hiked a section of the world-famous Kepler track through old Beech forest and fairytale fern grottos.

On our way back to Christchurch, we took a different road that took us up past Queenstown and the most famous mountain in New Zealand, Aoraki Mount Cook. Here is Queenstown's lovely wharf.

Mt. Cook is the tallest in the photo.

Sometimes the color of the water in the lakes of New Zealand can only be described as fluorescent aqua.

It's good to be back.

September 02, 2008

Packing Again

I'm now two days away from my flight to the Antarctic. I've done this drill so many times, I no longer have to think about it too much. Yes, it is still exciting, but the result of all this experience, is I've become a master at packing and organizing my stuff. In fact, the other day when the lady at Jenny Craig was packing up some food I'd ordered to take with me, she pulled out a cardboard box and I took one look and said, "I don't think all of that is going to fit in that box," and she said, "Oh sure it will, plenty of room," and another lady in the office chimed in, "yeah, it will fit no worries."

Well guess what? It didn't fit. The box was too small. Once all the food was packed, the first lady handed me a box much larger than the first one and said, "you were right, the box was too small," to which I explained that I've spent the better part of the last 11 years packing up my life at least twice a year and I've developed a talent for sizing up boxes.

You can see in this packing action shot that Snowflake is making it known, in no uncertain terms, that he is coming with me. Shhh, don't tell anyone. Cats are not allowed in Antarctica.

Tomorrow I go over to the Antarctic Centre by the airport and get my clothing issued for my Antarctic adventure. The next morning, my flight on the C-17 is scheduled at 5am. Of course this is all dependent on the weather down on the ice, which can be very fickle this time of year.

Now that most of my house is packed up and all my craft stuff put away, I am relying on knitting to keep me happy for the next couple of months. I've packed lots of yarn and currently I am working on a hot pink dog sweater for my niece's toy poodle. And I mean 'toy' poodle, not toy poodle. Her poodles are as much real dogs as Snowflake is a real cat (but we won't call them 'stuffed' as not to offend). She has two doggies, and since I'm unable to measure them properly (since she's in California, and I'm here), I am guessing and hoping that the sweater will fit. If it does, I'll make another one in light blue (her two favorite colors).

This is that cool bamboo fiber yarn. Who would know this stuff is made from bamboo? It's so soft and silky and knits up beautifully. See the nice sheen it has?

Recently when I visited my friend Kay, we got to play on the torch for a little while and I made these two cuties...

Really, it's tough to make a matching set, because after you make the first one, you have to put it in a high-temperature blanket (or a kiln) so it doesn't cool down too quickly (and crack). So the first bead is out of sight when you make the second one, so you have to just try and guess and hope it looks like the first one. I think this set turned out pretty close and I'm happy.

These beads started out with a white center, then I layered green glass over that, then applied the dots with another, slightly more yellow-y green. I like the way the white underneath brings out that gorgeous green color.

August 26, 2008

Four Days Worth

I went away for the weekend to Kaikoura (say 'kye-coor-ah'), a beach community about a hour-and-a-half drive north of Christchurch. My friend Jude invited me to stay up in her bach (vacation home).

A view more or less straight out from Jude's bach.

Kaikoura is awesome. It is most famous for it's seafood and in particular, crayfish, which is like a lobster without the big claws. Tastes pretty much the same I would gather (I haven't actually had crayfish here yet, but look forward to it). In winter, Kaikoura is a pretty sleepy little place, but it explodes with tourists in summer who love fishing, whale watching and water sports.

Jude and I went on a great hike of the Kaikoura peninsula headlands. Once at the top, the view is great.

Here's another view. Notice all the little spots amongst the rocks there -- those are seals.

We scrambled down a rather steep trail that down the cliffs to take a closer look.

The next day, we drove down the highway to check out a short walk to a waterfall that a local had recommended. It was about a 5-minute walk from the highway, following a gentle stream through dense forest dripping with rain.

The waterfall was very pretty, but what we discovered in the pool under the waterfall was most unexpected and incredible.

The pool was filled with baby seals, swimming, rolling and playing with each other. Some were lounging about on the rocks around the pool.

This is the best photo I got of them. It was dark, I had no tripod and had to make do with slippery rocks to steady the camera and the little sealies were constantly moving (as baby seals do).

How the seal pups got up here I have no idea! My best guess is that the mothers climb upstream and give birth by the waterfall. It's a bit of a mystery but the most delightful surprise!

On to Some Art Stuff

I've needed to create a resume to possibly pick up some part time work this summer. Ideally I'd like to be working doing something creative. This is the first 'crafty' resume I've done so I wanted to do something special.

The resume text will be printed in black and while on vellum paper which is slightly transparent. I wanted a beautiful color background to put underneath the vellum that would show through slightly.

I looked around for inspiration and it's amazing what you can find in the room you're standing in. I had been admiring the twigs that came with my anniversary roses that I still have sitting in a vase. The roses are long gone (but they still look kind of cool -- all dried up and almost black in color), but the twigs that came with arrangement actually sprouted roots and have put forth some leaves.

So this is my inspiration...

I was thinking of some kind of pattern, that also looked really organic and natural, so I did some sketches and came up with an idea.

Then, studying how the branches curved and twisted, I sort of free-handed it out in pencil, full size on a piece of marker paper (special paper that does not bleed and allows you to blend the Copic marker colors).

Then I went over the pencil lines in fine black ink pens that don't bleed when colored in with the Copic markers. I really like these...they are called Pigma Micron. They come in different widths.

After the black ink was fully dry, I erased the pencil lines. Pencil will muddy the marker colors if you don't get rid of it.

Now the fun part. Coloring. I pulled out some markers that I thought would work and tested them on a scrap paper.

Then, I started coloring, starting with the lightest colors and layering on the darkers ones to give the branches and leaves a sense of form and shape. I used the colorless blender to blend the different colors together smoothly. With alcohol markers, even when the marker is dry on the paper, the ink can be 'reactivated' by using another marker or the colorless blender. It's amazing what a little color can do -- it's like magic -- making a flat, uninteresting drawing come to life.

I learned a little trick from Marianne at the "I Like Markers" blog. If you don't have a dark color that coordinates with your lighter colors, you can use a medium gray layered over the lighter color to give you a darker or 'shadow' color. I used this technique here on the leaves and it worked beautifully.

I would have taken a couple of photos of the coloring part, but honestly I got so immersed in it, I forgot. I think it turned out really nice and will make a lovely background for the resume.

You know sometimes when I do stuff like this...I can hardly believe I did it. It's a little bit like waking up from a trance. It almost seems like it comes from somewhere else. I reckon it does.

August 22, 2008

Tranzscenic Railway

Yesterday felt like a great day to get out of town. The skies were blue and there was snow in them thar hills. So my friend Jude and I booked two tickets on the Tranzscenic Railway, a train that travels from the east coast of the South Island (Christchurch) to the West Coast (Greymouth) straight through the Southern Alps via Arthurs Pass.

Here is a view across the Canterbury Plains farmland to the majestic Southern Alps.

A bit closer now...

Along the way, a deep river gorge with the Waimakariri (say 'Why-macka-rearie) River far below.On the way we passed small settlements such as Cass. This once used to be a thriving community of about 600, but now one lone soul lives here. He is called by his nickname "Rambo" by the locals and is reputed to be a pretty rugged individual. His job is to maintain the tracks in this area.

The Waimakariri river again. It is called a 'braided river' for it's shallow depth and the way the river seems to braid along the vast silt bed of the valley. Apparently this type of river is common in New Zealand and rare in the rest of the world.

A photo of Snowflake at Arthur's Pass. This morning, he looked at me with longingly, with hope in his little beady eyes as I was getting ready to leave the house. How could I not bring little Snowflake along? He loves the snow, having spent many winters in Antarctica. If not for that bright little vest of his, he might disappear entirely into the background.

I don't have any photos of Greymouth (bad photographer!) as we had only one hour to grab a coffee, lunch and partake of a whirlwind shopping blitz through a shop that had caught our eye. With moments to spare, we dashed down the street to the train station with our loot and got on board with about a minute to spare.

Then it was back the way we came with the sun sinking lower in the sky and our eyelids falling heavy from the hypnotic motion of the train.

August 19, 2008

A Fine Afternoon on the Rupaki Track

Today was a stunner with a capital S. The rain clouds cleared and the sun came out. The snow-covered hills beckoned.

This is the view from the estuary looking up a the Port Hills in Christchurch. I daresay there is more snow up there than last time.

I dug through the garage, finding all my cold weather gear and put a bunch of it on. It felt like the same sort of outfit I'd wear when, say, walking down to Hut Point in Antarctica. It was THAT chilly today.

Just to see what it looked like over the hills, I drove through the tunnel and got this photo of Lyttelton Harbour.

Here's the start of the Rupaki track. A bit muddy, but not as bad as I expected. As usual for NZ trails, someone has done a great job of digging a trench on the side of the trail for melt water to flow down.

Water runoff on the side of the trail.

White sheep, black sheep... huh?? Honestly, I have never seen a bi-colored lamb like this. What happened there? Was it a secret rendezvous with a bovine somewhere? A sort of Romeo and Juliet story from different sides of the pasture?

Just another pretty picture...

This photo so funny because it's so obvious I'm holding the camera at arm's length. But when no one is around to assist, you do what you have to do.

Here I'm wearing a treasured hat by one of my all time favorite knitters, Mette (say 'met-uh') Cephers. She worked as a dispatcher in the Firehouse at McMurdo Station my first winter in 1999 and knitted these gorgeous Scandinavian hats and matching mittens all day long. Eventually she stopped coming to the ice, but her hats have shown up in the tiny McMurdo Store from time to time.

A gorgeous view of the summit of the hike. At the top of this hill, you can see Lyttelton Harbour. The horizontal line (where the trees are) is a road, and the trail is the line going up on the right side.

And oh, I finished another hat. I love this yarn -- it is called Malabrigo and it an exceptionally soft merino wool yarn from Uraguay -- but even though it's green, I can't say this colorway is my favorite of all time. I think someone will love it though, so I'll bring it down to the Ice with me in a couple weeks and see if I can find it a home on someone's noggin'.

I like the cabled band on this hat, but if I were to do it again, I'd increase the width of the band a little...and maybe start the decreases a bit sooner and make the top a bit more pointy instead of round (all a matter of preference). One thing is for sure, my knitting has gotten so much better. I struggled at the beginning with my stitches looking 'lumpy' but these stitches are smooth and even and lovely. Also getting much faster. This hat took me only 3 evenings.

August 18, 2008

Paua and Silver Necklace

Just made this tonight. It is a beautiful paua shell and sterling silver necklace. The textured silver bars I made with 14 gauge wire, hammering it flat and using one of my texture hammers to give the hammered effect. It looks better in real life as I don't have a very professional camera set-up at the moment, but the silver bars really glimmer and the paua shell flashes all sorts of blues and greens.

I've spent this rainy cold day inside watching the Olympics and making jewelery. Fun!

Here is what it looked like all day today...cold, icy rain on the window.

August 17, 2008

WIFFA Design

This past week, I've worked on a design for the first annual "Winter International Film Festival, Antarctica" or "WIFFA."

The penguin illustration I did a while back with my new Copic markers came in handy as well as the 3-D Antarctic continent art.

Here is the final design...kind of like a mandala or a snowflake with filmstrips emanating from the Antarctic continent center. The colors in each frame of the filmstrip depict an Antarctic landscape with snow in the foreground and sky afire with colors typically found in most Antarctica skies in August.

Here is the sticker design. The six flags represent the six countries that submitted films for the festival: McMurdo (U.S.A), Scott Base (New Zealand), SANAE IV (South Africa), Casey and Mawson (Australia), Neumeyer (Germany), Rothera and Halley (Britain).

The t-shirt design is similar, but without the flags (too busy for the tee I reckon).

To order a t-shirt or a sticker, you can visit the gallery at Click here.

Weathering New Zealand

It is pouring down rain at the moment and icy cold outside due to a brisk 'southerly' weather system assaulting the country from the Antarctic regions.

The heaters are going and I've curled up on the couch knitting a new hat while watching the Olympics coverage on TV.

It is a mere two weeks before I head down for another stint 'on the ice.' I suppose I'm putting off packing until the very last minute.