whale watching – mosaic style

with basket

glass prisms

work bench

After an intense week of learning on the new job, I awoke this morning with utter joy.  I have three whole days off AND today coincided with one of Merryl’s weekday morning workshops which meant I got to play mosaics in her beautiful studio for almost 3 hours.  Ah the bliss of it all!

shelves of glass

new cutters

I’m working on my second piece and it’s rather large.  The board is 1.2 metres by 90 centimetres.  That’s a lot of wee tiles and pieces of glass to cut, shape and glue.  Good thing I’m utterly bewitched and Merryl’s studio is filled with warmth, colour, creativity and lovely, lovely women who sit about the long work benches and chatter whilst they work.  Did I mention it’s bliss?  Oh it is.

cutting green triangles

This scene is one from my head.  I made it up as a cross stitch a few years back – “The Whale and her Girl” – but this version is slightly different.  Instead of the girl standing on the hilltop with her telescope, she’s inside her home looking out a large picture window.  Before her is my dream view.  A sun rising all goldy pink and orange against the sparkly sapphire sea.  A hilltop to her left, covered in Norfolk pines and crowned with a sturdy white lighthouse, resplendent in its royal blue trim.  An old fashioned ship, festooned with billowing white sails, bobs amongst the roll of the waves.  A glistening seal lolls about on a rock.

laying out the base

But even whilst it’s an imagined view, each of the elements speaks to my sentimental heart.

The sapphire sea?  It’s the east coast of Australia – the waters of the glorious Pacific Ocean which I’ve lived on for most of my life – stretching from Rainbow Bay on the southern tip of the Gold Coast, Queensland all the way to Eden at far end of New South Wales, the southern boundary of the lovely Bega Valley which we will soon be calling home.

And the sun?  Well it’s no surprise to you folks that I’m a huge fan of the sun, its light and warmth.  I didn’t have a clue about the reality of Seasonal Affective Disorder until I came to Melbourne.  Now, I cannot wait to get back to east coast, where the sun will rise over the sea each morning – and at the same time as me.

glueing the grass

The Norfolk pines?  I haven’t a clue who decided that the beaches of east coast Australia all needed to be edged in Norfolk Pines, but by golly, what a fabulous decision that was!  All the beaches of my childhood are trimmed with these lovely giants – Coolangatta, Rainbow Bay, Harrington, Crowdy, Clarkes Beach at Byron … I only have to see a stand of Norfolk Pines and I am instantly at home.  I shall plant a row of them on our farm and when I’m old and wobbly of memory, they shall be my good friends.

harrington norfolk pines

:: Harrington ::

norfolk pines

The lighthouse?  Well it’s my simple version of James Barnett’s favourite design.  He was the Colonial Architect for colonial New South wales in the late 1800s and was responsible for the 3 lighthouses that are so very dear to me – Byron Bay, Crowdy Head and Green Cape.  His lighthouses all have the same look – strikingly white against the blue of their ocean backdrops with royal blue trim.

Every summer as a child and then teenager, we holidayed at Byron and the fortnight was not complete until we’d trekked all the way round the beaches – Clarkes, The Pass, Wategos, Kings and finally up to the lighthouse which in those days had no safety fences, but did have goats grazing on the hillsides, and we’d take flattened cardboard boxes with us, so as to slide down the grassy front cliff face into the legs of our fathers who stood on the edge, stopping us from hurtling off and onto the jagged rocks below.  It was thrilling!

from the back

Crowdy Head was down the road from my grandparents’ cottage at Harrington.  You couldn’t swim at Harrington – the Manning River enters the ocean there creating wicked rips and enticing ferocious sharks. Instead, we would pile into Nanny’s hot station wagon and drive along the sandy track through the bush scrub to Crowdy.  It was so humid and sticky along that road.  There was never a breeze to be felt and the cicadas positively screamed through our open windows.

crowdy lighthouse

Then, just when we thought we would never get there, we’d pop out of the bush and there was the magical Crowdy Bay curving round in front of us, the lighthouse perched up on the cliff to our right.  We’d have a lovely long swim, ride the waves in on our boogie boards, dig in the sand, poke around the rocks.  Sometimes we’d call into the Fishing Co-op.  Often we’d drive up to check out the lighthouse and I’d recount my Famous Five induced fantasy which involved living in this lighthouse and defeating smugglers, and then back we’d go to Nanny’s.  By the time we got there, we were just as hot and frazzled as before we started.

grandad

Green Cape Lighthouse is a much more recent addition to my family story – I only visited it for the first time a few years back.  It was such a long drive in from the highway – a terribly remote spot south of Eden – but when we finally saw it standing proud on the edge of the fiercest of coasts, I recognised it straight away as one of James Barnett’s children.  The wonderful white. The smooth dome of the attached cottage – just like Crowdy.  The splendid blue trim.  Oh yes, this was one of my lighthouses.

But even better, I had my dear old Grandad by my side as we explored this beautiful lighthouse and its surrounds.  He was a little bit frail – we just didn’t realise how frail an old body could become! – but he was so determined to soak up every moment of that day.  He read all the signs describing the history of the lighthouse and its keepers.  He walked along every perfectly maintained path, slowly round each building taking in every detail, all the way down to the cliff’s edge so he could truly appreciate just what that light was protecting the ships from.

And he chatted to me non-stop.  Grandad was such a great talker.  We marvelled at the remoteness and how much effort must have been required to bring in all the supplies.  We chuckled over the tennis court, built by the government so that the lighthouse keepers and their familes could be the social beacons of the south.  We harrumphed over the ugliness of the modern light and its ghastly skeletal structure that has replaced the grand original.  We were saddened by the memorial to those who lost their lives aboard the Ly-ee-moon steamer.

round-401x600

When we finally arrived home Grandad settled by the window, looking out across the sea, with my laptop, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening reading the stories collected by the lighthouse keepers and their families who served at Green Cape, and filled us in on every detail.  

Oh I loved my Grandad so much.  We had such a special bond, he and I.  Maybe it had its roots in the very fact of being the eldest granddaughter (thereby sharing the most time with him of any of the other grandchildren) and living so close to him for most of my life.  But we shared so much more as well.  We both loved adventuring, exploring, history, and the stories of people and their places.  Best of all, we loved sharing each others company.

So Green Cape lighthouse – it will always tug at my heart.  I will look at this mosaic and smile, remembering all the fun, adventure and romantic notions James Barnett’s lighthouses have given me.  But most of all, I will think of Grandad and imagine him there beside me.

smiling whale

The billowing sailing ship – Master and Commander to be sure.  I adore those books – and really liked the film too.  In fact, you know that last scene, when Jack and Steven are in the captain’s cabin playing a duet, whilst the sailors, marines and officers beat to quarters – that’s from the String Quartet in C Major by Boccherini – “La Musica Notturne della strade de Madrid”.  And it’s the joyful music that my dear Grandad walked me down the aisle to when Julian and I were married.  I can’t decide which was luckier – to have married Julian, or be presented at my wedding by the finest gentleman I’ve ever known ;-)

My romantic heart does love a dashing naval commander and his intriguing nature-loving sidekick – such a fabulous addition to the high seas. Mind you, you’d never catch me out there aboard ANY boat. I can appreciate their loveliness just fine from the solid shore right here.

upside down lighthouse

As for the seal – well she’s a regular feature of the Fishpond (that’s what the little harbour is called) in Merimbula.  Every day when Mum goes walking with her friend Jo and Lucy, the little seal pops up onto the rocks near the bridge, lolling about all sleek and glistening.  Lucy stops and pushes her head under the railings for a better look and Mum and Jo chat to the seal.  She’s apparently an attentive listener but has dreadful teeth and is a bit smelly :-)  I look forward to meeting her and just love that Merimbula has resident seals!  It truly is such a magical place and very soon will be part of my backyard too.  Oh my goodness!

hands

I do find that every time I turn my hand to making, what I’m really doing is telling part of my story, expressing part of who I am, in yet another way.  Sentimental but true.

When we are in our farm cottage – it’s settlement next Friday, can you believe that! – I hope to hang this mosaic on the east facing kitchen wall that is without a window.  This will be my window – looking east across the Mumbulla mountains to the ocean, with a view that will warm my heart and set off a flurry of story telling every time I catch a glimpse of it.

Ah I can’t wait to get back to Merryl’s for more cutting, shaping and glueing!  With the whale, the hill, the Norfolk Pines and the lighthouse finished, I think I shall get stuck into the ocean itself with that rising sun.  Oooooh I’ve gone tingly all over just thinking about all the lovely colour.

 

mosaicing at Merryl’s

mum

Oh the frabjous day!  I’ve been pausing at the glittering windows of Merryl’s Mosaics – filled with awe at the beauty she and her students create – for as long as her studio has graced Glenhuntly Road.  Several times a year I pronounce to Julian and Abby “That’s it!  I want to go to Merryl’s and learn how to make mosaics!”  And yet it’s never happened.

second night starting point

But with the end of our time in Melbourne rushing towards us, and the recent death of Grandad, there was no more waiting for the right moment.  It had to be done!  Mum was coming from the sadness of Brisbane to spend a week with us before returning to her home.  Abby was on school holidays.  I had a week of days off before starting another fortnight of night duty (ugh!).  Perfect opportunity for finally calling Merryl and finding out just how her workshops ran and what we needed to do to start laying tiles.

tiles

It was ridiculously easy.  Isn’t that the way?  I always um and ah and um and ah and fret and hesitate … and yet, when I rang, she invited us to attend that very evening – no tools or supplies needed, she supplies everything, the workshops run for 2 1/2 hours, there’s a flat workshop fee that reduces when you bring family members and when you visit more than once in a week.  And there are sessions offered 3 nights a week and 5 mornings.  So delightfully flexible.

abby

And you just have to visit Merryl’s website and read how she came to start her mosaic workshop – very inspiring :-)  A passion for colour and design!  A desire to create a community of supportive creativity for women!  Merryl’s a woman after my own heart indeed. tiles with pencils

Within moments of arriving, we were settled at her huge work benches, our chosen wooden boards in front of us, tools by our side, and a breathtaking array of tiles and pebbles and glass laying before us.  The ultimate child in a candy store experience.

trees

I’m making a Hamsa (found in Jewish and Middle Eastern cultures) which represents the Hand of God and is said to protect your home from the evil eye.  Traditionally, they are highly decorated with an eye nestled into the palm.  Mine has a much simpler design – inspired by the beautiful art of Tomie de Paola, I’m creating a Hamsa that represents our little farm and when we settle in just 26 days, I hope to take my finished Hamsa and hang it on the walls of our little farm cottage.

Mum’s making a striking platter based on a Moroccan design.  She has cut and laid her tiles with painstaking precision – it is beautiful!  And I can’t wait to see how those rich blue stars leap when she’s filled in and grouted her background.

And Abby – she’s making a wallhanging based on a design from one of her favourite web based graphic novels.  You should see her in action – within moments of starting she mastered the tile cutter and grinder, carefully shaping her sparkling purple tiles to fit her meticulously measured curves.

end of second night

Oh we are so looking forward to returning next week!  And my pinterest boards are filling up with favourite pieces and designers … and birds.  I’d like to start a series of round pieces inspired by the work of the English mosaic artist Martin Cheek and representing the birds of the Sapphire coast.  And pieces for the garden.  And for the bathroom and kitchen of our strawbale home.  And for our paths.  And our exterior walls.  And …. And …. And … :-)

Thank you Merryl!

 

full up

We so look forward to Saturday & Sunday – long, wonderful days together.  The to-do list is sometimes crazy long …  sometimes there are surprising additions … somehow it all fits in.

9.15am  The Haircut

* could there possibly be someone else who has what I want? * that one! * the pre-snip jitters * she’s still cutting * that tickles! * gorgeousness! *

10.50am Little My’s Funeral

* after a week of green beans, spinach leaves, lots of cuddles and even a lovely warm, sunny day, Little My left us on Friday night * we wrapped her in a pretty teatowel * planted her under the camellia in the front garden * Abby & I gave the eulogy * Emma gave the toast * the girls said the Hail Mary * we asked Mary to keep our Little My happy and watch over the furry sisters whose days are so much quieter now that this busy, noisy, friendly little pig has gone * we will miss her *

11.30am An Introduction to Very Basic Woodwork

they’re off to another anime convention in October * Emma needs a scythe * fancy there being hay that needs cutting at the Melbourne Convention Centre * Jules cut it out of ply * it was taped up for painting * and there was a handle too * they had a ball! *


3.00pm An Amateur’s Attempt at Tiling the Table

* the boy change the pattern * he wanted random * it’s his room so I said he could * I’m very benevolent like that * he applied the glue/adhesive/concretey stuff * I laid the tiles * there were little thingys to put in between each tile to set the perfect space apart * they revealed I’m not very good at maths * there is a wooden edge round 3 sides not 4 * hmmmm … * but we LOVE the effect and now I want to tile the whole house *

6.10pm Embracing HER OWN Machine

* she now has her OWN machine * talk about empowering * apparently she was too scared to use any of mine in case she broke them * she bought her shirt and jacket from the oppies yesterday * she’s vlisifixed the shirt * now she’s reshaping the lapels on the jacket * first, she practiced straight lines on a teatowel * the aura of confidence around her doubled today * beautiful to watch *

Now, I have to head out into the freezing, dark rain.  I promised fresh pasta for tonight’s lasagne.  Hopefully the chickens will have laid another egg sometime during the day. Otherwise it’s packet spaghetti guys!