Flour Arrangement

“A sack had burst, and figures were struggling in a storm of white, one of them, from the bulky shape of him, a guard.

Could he have glimpsed Mac’s face then, in the confusion of the moment, through the cloud of floury dust?  He thought he had; the image of it was so clear in his head.

A face wiped of all expression is what he saw.  Or maybe that was just the flour Mac had been showered with in the exploding storm.  But what Digger thought he saw was the look that might come over a man who is on the brink of extinction, and knows it, and has already let the knowledge of it possess and change him.”

I read David Malouf’s The Great World in 1990, but whenever I spill or drop flour this scene rushes back to me, with its lyrical shock and unlikeliness.

Flour Arrangement

If one brown bottle should accidentally drop …

Brown glass bottles are used to store medicine because they block ultra violet rays, but still permit sufficient light in to see the contents.  Clever, but it does not explain why brown glass bottles are used in hipster cafes to serve table water.  Whenever I pour from one I expect a smell of formaldehyde.

This is a brown dropper bottle adopting a heroic pose.  What is in the bottle?  Why, table water of course.

Brown dropper bottle

Pencil portraits

Stationery stores are one of life’s small pleasures, and I particularly like shopping for pencils.  This is a short guide to pencil spotting in the wild, illustrated with plein air paintings of some of the species I have encountered on the hunt.

BlackwingThe Palomino Blackwing 602 is the modern remake of the venerable Eberhard Faber Blackwing, which went out of production in 1998.  The original Blackwings had a pink eraser, and the modern ones have dark grey erasers to match their slick paintwork.

Steinbeck, Hemingway, Dalton Trumbo etc. etc. used these pencils, and the paean to the Blackwing in Henry Petroski’s book The Pencil helped make it a much sought after classic.  Must confess I think any decent 2B does much the same job for far less money, and the bulky eraser makes the end of the pencil lurch about alarmingly.  I certainly am not about to pay $40 for one of the originals on ebay.

By the way, ‘Blackwing 602’ has to be about the best possible name for a pencil.  Eberhard Faber’s naming department also came up with the ‘Mongol 482’, which is the focus of Leonard E. Read’s jaunty hornpipe to free markets ‘I Pencil’.  I do not agree with everything Read says, or indeed much of it, but it is thought provoking to realise no single person knows how to make all the parts of a pencil.  The essay is free online (natch), and I recommend it to you.

Columbia alternativeAny person who went to school in Australia pre-digital will recognise the chocolate top and scarlet body of the Columbia Copperplate.  A very good HB and at one time the only pencil manufactured in the Southern Hemisphere.  Sadly no longer made in Australia, these now come from Indonesia, and the red is less orangey-scarlet and smooth than it used to be.  Are they also smaller?  Or are my hands just bigger?

Tasted delicious when you chewed the end: woody high notes with a refreshingly astringent, bitter after-taste.  If they had not meant you to eat them, why did they make them look so edible?

Staedler TraditionThe Staedtler Tradition Eraser Tip.  I was surprised when I painted this just how nearly orange the eraser is.  I had thought it was pure pink, but I was wrong.  I was also surprised by how extravagant the ferrule is when you look at it up close.  Like everyone who has tried to erase something with the ‘eraser’ on one of these pencils, I can only assume it is intended to be decorative rather than functional.  All it did was spread the mistake around the page and surround it with a hazy pinkish halo.

I once read a Richard Price novel that likened a woman’s nipple to an eraser tip.  I have not looked at these pencils the same way since.

Staedtler is from Nuremberg, which means it shares the same hometown as Faber-Castell – on which more below.

Taste terrible and the eraser sort of crumbles in the mouth.  The ferrule is hell on the teeth.  Maybe this is why children have milk teeth – so they can learn what not to do with their permanent teeth.

Faber Castell 1222The Faber-Castell Goldfaber 1221 has an aristocratic bearing and is, so far as I know, the only graphite pencil with a picture of jousting knights impressed into its side.  Originally known as A.W. Faber, the manufacturer of these pencils became Faber-Castell after Baroness Ottilie von Faber married Count Alexander von Castell-Rüdenhausen.  The Count had to renounce his title in order to marry and carry on the pencil business; as a noble, he was forbidden to traffic in commerce, so a morganatic marriage was not on the cards.  Later the former count was granted a new title of Count von Faber-Castell.  There is a Faber-Castell castle, which looks just like it belongs on the lid of a box of pencils.  How romantic this all is.

One of the Faber family scions moved to New York to make his fortune.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, he chose to make … pencils.  He built his pencil factory where the UN building now stands.  This was John Eberhard Faber, and his company was called Eberhard Faber.  And if you have read this far, you may remember that Eberhard Faber made the Blackwing pencil, and so this post draws a full circle.

Still life with lemons and police helmet

The visual complement of lemon yellow is, I understand, deep blue.  So when painting a still life of lemons, it seems only natural to place them next to a dark blue police helmet.  Right?

I am painting on MDF off-cuts from the local hardware store.  I cover them with acrylic gesso and take it from there.  It is cheap and the surface is a delight.  If this hadn’t become a painting, it might have been the door on somebody’s kitchen cupboard.

Lemons and Police helmet

Utzon vase and mandarins

Lin Utzon studied sculpture at East Sydney Tech, whilst her father, Jørn, was designing and overseeing construction of the Opera House – until he quit in frustration at a government that neither understood nor deserved his talents.  Jørn maintained that the most important part of a glass vessel was the space inside it.  That may be true for a drinking glass, but thankfully Lin Utzon focused on the exterior of this vase.  It is – I think – a perfect sculpture.  Here it is with some mandarins.

Incidentally, Jørn based the shape of the Opera House on the segments of an orange, so citrus seems the right choice for this still life.


Utzon vase