I like to look at beautiful things

By Vita Forest

Yesterday I saw

  • From the train – mauve jacaranda blossoms rubbing shoulders with swathes of magenta bouganvillea blooms.  The sight of it momentarily silenced the woman behind me on the train in mid-sentence.
  • The headland of Barangaroo on the approach from Wynyard.  Noticing how the lush terraces of Sydney trees are now obscuring the paths along the hillside.
  • The splendid sight of all those beautiful clay vessels at the Clay Canoe stall at the Finders Keepers Market at Barangaroo.  All those layers and lines of vases and sculptures, as if a bunch of drawings from Shaun Tan’s books had come to life and were congregating together.  I mentioned this to one of the owners – apparently I was not the first to make such a comparison.  They did not know Shaun Tan’s work and were going to have to look it up…
  • A gorgeous gal from my class who noticed me as I stood lounging in the shade of the entrance of The Cutaway sketching the Stoop Bros’homemade, steam punk airstream trailer.  Kids are always amazed to discover I don’t actually live at school…
  • Sketchers perched in shadowy spaces under trees on the terraced steps on the hills of Barangaroo.  After a week of crazy, unpredictable weather, it was hot and sunny.
  • A family paddling barefoot in the water lapping over the sandstone slabs at Nawi Cove, Barangaroo.
  • A nifty paint palette made by one of the sketching gang from a tiny fishing tackle case.
  • The smiles on the faces of the Stroop brothers as we surprised them by holding up our sketches of their stall.

I chatted to one of the potter-extraordinaires from Clay Canoe as I stood admiring their wares.  I explained that I was not in the market for another of their vases just at that current moment (having already bought one very recently).  ‘So you just like looking at beautiful things?’ she remarked.

Indeed.  Indeed I do like to look at beautiful things.

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Things of my table

By Vita Forest

Things on my table

  1. Three scarlet pomegranates in a blue pottery bowl.
  2. A streaky white resin bowl containing shells from various sea-side holidays, mostly pale.
  3. A stack of four water colour palettes that screw together to form a pleasing shallow cylinder.
  4. A tall vase of luscious pink and cream peonies.
  5. A hexagonal glass jar half-filled with water.
  6. Two writing notebooks and sharp HB pencil.
  7. A 6B graphite pencil, solid lead sharpened with a knife, pewter-coloured shards flaking off to form a point.
  8. My sketchbook and a wad of thick, textured water colour paper.
  9. Two cats, alternating between napping and eyeing the bobbing heads of the peonies, aliens from The World Outside.
  10. A finished sketch of those pomegranates in their blue bowl.

Stretching rainbows

By Vita Forest

Sitting under hats around the table

Blindingly silver in the sunlight

Waiting for the ripening buds of leaves

to burst into green shade

Two ten year-old girls creep closer

Slatted against tree trunks

Pressing their grins into calloused bark

Stifling laughter

Remembering them at six, at seven

When their mouths held gaps and Tahlia astonished

with her description

of a dog’s soft wet nose

And their two heads bent over a stretch of rainbow

Building waves of red and yellow and green

When their hair was longer

And their legs were shorter

Eryldene 2018

By Vita Forest

Under the red pavilion

In the quiet of the garden

Brushing my pencil over the white to

Build the retreat out of triangle and square

Stretching up a pink angophora

from the bottom of the page

Listening to the lorrikeets against the softly misting rain

And the scratch of the brush turkey beneath the camellias

Under the deep roof of the verandah

Sipping tea

Cosied under a knitted posy

Spreading scones with cream and jam

And coaxing out the rough bark of a jacaranda

As I chat to Kate

Sipping coffee and eating scones as

she waits for her paint to dry.

Fox prints

By Vita Forest

Have you read Margaret Wild’s Fox?  It is a searing tale of friendship, jealousy, temptation, grief and loss.  Did I mention it’s a children’s picture book?

My class has been examining it closely.  Noticing the similes, the use of present tense, the metaphors, the personification, the colours used by the illustrator Ron Brooks, the layout of the pages and the unusual scratchy lettering.

This week,  after a boring old handwriting lesson (“check your pencil grip, stay on the lines, sit up straight, trace slowly and carefully, form your letters in just the right way”) we changed gear to explore how Ron Brooks’ lettering contributed to the story.

He experimented and took some time to get it just right.  Brooks ended up writing the text by hand and using his left hand (he is right handed), hacking out the words, tracing some of the letters over and over, writing them down and then up the sides of pages, on diagonals, in capitals (screaming).  In short, breaking all the handwriting rules.

We looked at the book again and focused on the writing, looking not at what it said but how it said it.  The kids had a play on little whiteboards, swapping their usual writing hands, using capitals where they should have used lowercase, reversing their letters, looking away when they wrote, turning their boards upside down, writing over and over in the same space.  Then they chose a piece of coloured paper, a handful of oil pastels and went away to make their marks as one of the three characters – half-blind, trusting Dog, griefing, wary Magpie or sly, jealous, lonely Fox.  The stipulation – they could only write the name of their character, nothing more, nothing less.

Miss Sadie, rather cheeky and daring, stared me in the face and screwed up her paper into a ball.  I stared back at her and said, “Yes!  If you are Fox, that might be just what you would do.”  (They have witnessed one of their classmates do this same action on a rather regular basis when he is distressed and in the midst of a meltdown).  Suddenly, there was scrunching, there was ripping, there was smudging, there was scraping.  Some of them wrote their character’s name just once, others repeated the lines over and over and over again.

Another happy accident occurred when I handed out some black mounting paper that I had cut in half to what I thought was a good size to frame their work.  It turned out it was too small.  “Stick it on an angle,” I advised.  And the artworks looked better than they would have with a neat black border.

The next day, we sat in a circle and held up the artworks for others to see.  The students went around the circle and explained what they did, how they did it and why.  Amongst the “I did it coz that’s what I felt like” there were some gems.  Kelly left space around Magpie’s name because she was left all alone.   Sharni wrote Dog’s name without looking at the paper because Dog was blind and Lana ripped away a piece of Fox’s signature because his heart was broken in two.

Don’t tell me kids can’t understand difficult stories…

There’s a poem in that

By Vita Forest

There’s a poem in

The way we hate vegemite

And the way others don’t

The excuses she makes for missing

every single meeting

The vibrating cat that sits perched on my lap

Like a humming loaf

The scarlet red of the flowers on the coral tree and

the way they fall apart if you remove them from the tree

The smiling girl in the photo who just last week

tried to kill herself

The rock that you step over on the path

In the shape of a heart

The shriek as we leap the channel surging back to the sea

And land heavy-heeled in the retreating water

The light patter of rain

On the hood of my new black raincoat

The bowl full of  shells

That sits in the middle of the table.

Poems

everywhere.

This week

By Vita Forest

Near Woolwich Dock, Sydney

This week or so I have been

WRITING

READING

  • We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  • La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

LISTENING to podcasts on ABC Radio

WATCHING Killing Eve on ABC iView

Woolwich Dock

WALKING around

  • Willoughby
  • the Lower North Shore
  • Hunters Hill and Woolwich

Cherry blossom in Hunters Hill