On Ghost Nets

By Vita Forest

Ghost nets – that’s what they call the lost and abandoned fishing nets that float the ocean, moving with the tides, travelling large distances and trapping fish and birds and dolphins, sharks and turtles.  At the Australian Museum, there is a display of Ghost Net Art, made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to raise awareness of this problem and to turn something destructive into something wonderful.

I visit the museum with a bunch of sketchers, fanning out through the rooms armed with sketchpads and pencils and watercolours and brushes.  I am attracted to texture, to roughness, to coarse surfaces, woven rope, splintered wood, twisted wire.  And so I find myself among the ghost nets, read the stories, read how these massive artworks came to find themselves suspended from the ceiling and crawling up the walls of the Australian Museum.

I stand in front of a giant crab, a huge disc of netting and woven spirals and multi-coloured ribbing stretched over wire.  I sketch out the outline and begin to map out its limbs and scribble and hatch the barnacles of its body as it hangs breathless against the wall.  I stand in front of it, where the light haze dims and brightens in time to the story on the screen beside me that starts up again and again at the touch of a child’s finger.  Across the way, a projection of Bangarra dancers twist and contort, and children shriek and try to catch the slippery bodies of fish made of light that dart beneath their feet across the floor.

And when I finish my scribbly, gnarled, ancient crab, I sit on the floorboards, too tired to stand now, not wanting the bench, the angle is just not right for the fish, the cod, floating high above our heads.  So I sit on the floor, out of the way, but still visible to the boy who slides down beside me to peer at my paper as his mother reads about the crocodile spirits, about the men who could hitch a ride on the back of a crocodile without fear.

‘That’s good,’ he whispers when it’s time to go, when he is called to stand up, to climb up and follow her away.

And I think about the legend of the cod and the crab who watched each other and fell in love.  And I think about the people combing those northern beaches for nets not shells.  And I think about them stretching and cutting and twisting the nylon into new shapes, new stories.  And how I am taking the ghost nets and stretching them out in a new way on my page.  And wondering if we could make something this shape, this size at school out of other thrown-away things.

And I think about the ghost net that caught me this week, floating unaware beneath the surface of everyday life, waiting, hovering beneath the flow of it.  And how I was gutted and let down, thrashing in my net, struggling to take a breath, to remember the good, until I was cut out in time, set free to slither out into the clear, warm water again.

And I think in the end, that’s all we can do – scoop up the ghost nets whenever we find them and take them out of the water so they won’t catch anyone else and try to turn them into something beautiful.

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This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been

WRITING school reports!

READING Fire by Kristin Cashore

WATCHING Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock with the kids (Max is studying it at school)  Wow!  Is it our new favourite Hitchcock??

VISITING Vivid in Chatswood with the kids and enjoying the atmosphere while eating a gelato from Gelateria Gondola (the best).  We liked all the music-making, interactive fun.  No doubt we’ll get to the city sometime too.

SKETCHING with my niece Pippi in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney.  Then we went

LOOKING in the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Pippi’s first visit.  Her verdict – “There were lots of butts, some of them were quite detailed…”)

PLANTING some lovely things on my balconies after being inspired by our apartment’s gardener

UPDATING our block’s garden.

LOOKING forward to seeing it all in bloom.

Fire stick

By Vita Forest

We had met at the cafe near the station and looked at sketches  from previous occasions – Neil’s idyllic rainforest scene, drawn and coloured on an iPad, Tomas’ panorama of Cockatoo Island in scratchy blank ink  and Fiorella’s book of treasures – page after page of details  – a chair, a gnarled stump, a delicate tree fern.

We had drunk our coffees and teas and set off to find our own sweet subjects – what would catch our eyes today?  I love meeting up again in a few hours time and seeing howal though we all start at the same spot, our eyes take us in all sorts of different directions.

I started with a tree, an old twisted dead thing whose bark twisted over the trunk.  Whose trunk was scarred with the stumpy remains of branches from long ago and pocked and grooved with deep fissures.  I like a tree with character.  I also  liked that I could fit the whole tree on my page, composition being something I’m trying to improve on.  So I got out my trusty graphite lead and shaved it to a point with my knife and sat cross-legged on the grass and drew that tree in the shade of another tree, a living tree whose leaves shaded me from the hot sun.  Ants crawled along my knee and a breeze swept through carrying with it the smell of smoke.

Sydney is burning.  Parts of it.  The autumn so far has been summer hot and the bush fire season has extended.  We have hardly had any rain and there’s lots of dry branches and leaves turning into brittle fuel on the ground.

When I finished my drawing of the tree, I walked further into the park and along a path that edged a gully.  Down one side of the gully they had done some back-burning.  Possibly yesterday.  The smell of smoke hung in the air and here and there little scribbles of grey smoke rose from still smouldering coals.  The other side of the gully was still a lush green but this side looked scorched and barren.

I put my bag down on the path (away from the blackened leaves beside it) and began to draw this surreal scene.  There would not be too many opportunities to draw the effects of fire.

I hope.

I noticed that the fire must have scorched over the earth and then been extinguished almost immediately.  There were trees with one side of their trunks burned, the other side spared.  There were piles of charcoaled grass but here and there a stem of fern still stood (though it was blacked and shriveled as if drawn in ink).  I stood and drew the stand of rocks beneath the trees, the charred remains of strappy grass and the flaky ash that had crumbled over the soil.  Pedestrians marched past, some turning to look down the slope, a few stopping to snap a couple of photos.

I stood on the side of the path and remembered my dreams of fires and my concern one time that saw me taking my keys and walking outside at midnight – just to make sure I couldn’t really smell the building burning.  And later I sat on a seat with Fiorella, swapping stories and showing each other the contents of our pencil cases and talking about the plants that need fire to germinate.

And I remembered peering down that charred slope and seeing a kookaburra dive into the ashy dirt and snatch up a lizard as a cloud of smoke slowly rose around it.

There is life there yet.

This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been

WRITING

READING

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • the synopsis of my novel aloud to my children and watching them squirm (Eww! Nude life drawing! Eww!)

SKETCHING at Union Square at Pyrmont after getting rather lost.  Lovely to catch up with some sketching pals!

EATING blood orange gelato from Gelato Gondola (so good! Possibly my new favourite) after

WALKING with Max

SNORKELLING at Shelly Beach with Max and Briony – stingrays and many many fish.

WATCHING the whole of the final season of The Bridge on SBS On Demand…  Let’s just say OMG!

This week (or so)

By Vita Forest

This week I have been

WRITING Holiday at home

READING

  • Quiet by Susan Cain
  • The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

SWIMMING in the waters of Balmoral Beach

SKETCHING at the Art Gallery of NSW on day too wet to sit outside

WATCHING many, many episodes of The Bureau (C’est formidable!)

MAKING Jules Clancy’s chocolate and pecan tart (spectacular)

MEETING Sui-Sui and Alessandro  for a long lunch full of good company, good food, good chatting and cat-patting!

PERCOLATING lots of ideas for writing, teaching and general creative endeavours in the year to come.

This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been

WRITING Through the wardrobe

READING Thomas Appleby Convict Boy by Jackie French (getting ready for next year’s history topic).

SAYING farewell to students and teachers and other staff who are leaving the school.

CLEANING the classroom

WATCHING the excellent Year 6 musical

PERFORMING a surprise teachers Christmas dance for the students (we felt like rockstars!)

SEEING some old pals at our Christmas party

SKETCHING a witch’s house at Annandale

EATING fish and chips at Balmoral Beach with Vastra then seeing a movie

PUTTING up the Christmas decorations at last

Layers

By Vita Forest

Inside the Tramsheds, Harold Park

This morning we went sketching at the Tramsheds at Harold Park.  Here are some of the things I saw

  • a girl at Central Station wearing a long dark skirt emblazoned with a print of Hogwarts at night.
  • a toddler sitting on his father’s shoulders on the Light Rail carriage.  It was crowded and his father held the boy’s foot with one hand and a pole with the other.  The little boy helped by holding onto a strap with his  tiny hand.  It looked precarious but they were quite relaxed and there were no accidents.
  • Preparation and setup at the Tramsheds by the staff before they opened for business.

Preparing pasta

  • A group of men meeting for coffee with their boosted (skate)boards leaning against the walls, waiting.  They left later, some wearing helmets, some without.
  • Lots of still lives – native flowers in vases or pots or jars resting in alcoves.
  • Men watching sport on a corner screen as they waited at the barber, their spouses waiting outside on comfy text-splattered arm chairs.

At the barber

  • a boy having a tantrum as his parents watched, bewildered.
  • An old tram turned into a cafe (a popular subject for the sketchers in all its green and gold).
  • cricketers in white playing on the oval in Jubilee park.

Here are some of the things I drew

  • Stacks of bowls and plates making pleasing shapes on shelves.
  • Long, freshly made strands of pasta drying on hanging rods.

Making Pasta

  • A wall of brightly coloured lockers.

Lockers

  • Studded grey/green leather diner stools.

  • layers and layers and layers (screens and windows and shelves and slats) that you could peer through).

Layers and layers

  • the dangling roots of an indoor fig tree.
  • sculptural pendant lights.
  • a service bell in the shape of a crab.
  • pipes from an exhaust fan
  • a stack of baskets
  • a rowing boat suspended from the ceiling with swinging silver fish hanging beneath it.
  • Orange lentils, golden cashews and brown almonds in matching jars.
  • scarlet plastic coated wires near metal tubing.
  • electric globes hanging in trees.
  • neon signs.

One of my sketches

With a touch of colour added