Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 42. San Giovanni, Lucca



Sometimes you can work too fast! The girls had gone shopping but I'd no sooner opened my watercolour box than they were back again ready to catch the train home to Barga-Gallicano.

Dab, dab, dab and then I was walking along the strada waving the sketch book around to dry the paint. Rough, but it captures a moment and fixes a memory.

© DON DONOVAN.     donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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29 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 41. Castiglione di Garfagnana


The castellated wall and circular tower to the right of my drawing are parts of the walls that encircle 'fortress' Castiglione. The tower has a pyramidal cover that is bright red and looks like something from a Disney Camelot.

I worked from a small, quiet garden of remembrance that commemorates the fallen (caduti) of the world wars; not only soldiers but also the partisans who took to the hills in World War II and fought with fierce courage.

© DON DONOVAN.  donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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28 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 40. San Michele, Castiglione di Garfagnana, Tuscany



Moss, when it is on top of a wall and has been in sunshine for an hour or two, makes a luxurious cushion and so I was able to work in comfort on the rendering of this ancient church in a rampart-defended hill town above the upper Serchio valley.

You can see a long way from here and I wondered how often fearful citizens might have prepared boiling pitch to pour on invaders in past years. It's peaceful now but has been raided by everyone from Longobards to Nazis; that silent tower has seen them all.

 © DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz

27 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 39. Bar, Tiglio Alto, Tuscany



It looked like an ordinary casa but as I parked the Peugeot opposite I noticed 'Bar' over the door of the cantina. I can't imagine that they'd do a roaring trade - no bingo nights or quizzes - but I daresay that there are a few random callers, either lost or curious to see this remote Apennine hamlet, to sustain a store of local reds and whites just in case.

I didn't go in. I just sat, limning,  in the passenger's seat for a short time and then went on my way up the serpentine roads through the chestnut forests.

 © DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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26 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 38. The Romanesque Church at Loppia, Tuscany








These drawings were made at different times and from different angles. The glebe and precinct were deserted except for a rather dishevelled looking mongrel apparently guarding the heavy, bolted door of what seemed to be more a dwelling than a church.

It's very old, 11th century, I believe, and makes a wonderful subject which explains why I went back again.

There's an ancient mule track bridge nearby where I and my companion played Poohsticks.

 © DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

25 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 37. Seccatoio Castagne, Barga


I went for a walk up the chestnut-wooded hill behind the casa Chiesetta and found this barn-like structure in a clearing. While I was doing the drawing, sitting on a fallen tree trunk, I heard a shout and an angry looking man appeared running across the track waving his arms and shouting at me. Nervous, I waited until he came up to me then I showed him the sketchpad. He relaxed and smiled.

'Come si chiama quello in Italiano?' I asked him, 'Seccatoio castagne,' he replied, patted me on the shoulder and strode away.

I don't know what he was concerned about but I was clearly not the threat he'd inferred.

I wrote down 'Seccadoio castagne' on the pad. Later I discovered the correct spelling. It was a chestnut drying house.

 © DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

24 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 36. The Overloaded Piaggio, Barga, Tuscany


I'd be lying if I claimed to have sketched this on the spot but I promise I did it quickly after seeing it. These three-wheeled Piaggios are ubiquitous on the narrow farm roads that surround Barga and they're used for carting everything imaginable including this deconstructed haystack that left straws in the wind as it crept along in front of us.

A camera would be quite inadequate to record a subject like this.

 © DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

23 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 35. Church Tower, Coreglia Antelminelli, Tuscany



The clock says 11.00 am; the date says 8 September but for the life of me I can't remember what year. What I do remember is sitting on the glacially cold marble step of a shop doorway and using saliva to wet my brushes and the small pans of my portable watercolour box; I'd forgotten to bring any water with me.

My tongue must have been green, brown and blue that morning; colourmen should flavour their pans, or at least give then some nutritional properties!

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

22 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 34. Roadside Chapel, Loppia, Barga, Tuscany



My friend, David, and I both did paintings of this chapel which sticks out into the road as testament to Italy's constant problem of compromising modern transport with age-old buildings. 

'You haven't finished already.' protested David as I hopped off the wall. I had deliberately sat on some sharp stones knowing that the faster I finished the better the sketch would be! My God those stones were brutal.

 © DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

21 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 33. Chiesa Della Fornacetta, Barga, Tuscany



Sitting on a low wall at the back of Barga cathedral I could look down on the suburb of Fornacetta with the best possible view of this ancient church (which may be called Santa Maria, I'm not sure) with its charming hexagonal chapel. This really was a high speed scribble but it works quite well, I think.

Fornacetta, by the way, is where the Della Robbias had the studio and workshop in which they produced some of the unique, remarkable, enamelled reliefs to be seen in churches all over Italy.

 © DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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20 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 32. Barga and the Duomo, Tuscany


I did these illustrations some years apart. The top one, the earlier, I drew while sitting on the alley surface with my back against a car bumper.

I was older when I did the lower one. That time I brought a stool to sit on, my bottom being less inclined to sustain punishment. Interestingly, the trees at the end of the alley had grown quite quickly.

The church on the hill dominates Barga; it is the duomo San Cristofero; on one of the corbels of its tower there is carved an image of Mussolini, who gave Barga city status. If you mention the carving to local people they frown in puzzlement and stare into the distance...




© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.


19 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 31. Houses Above Barga, Tuscany



My feet were dangling over a steep fall as I sat on the side of the narrow road and sketched this view of houses looking out over Barga with Monte Pania in the background.

I heard shuffling footsteps but didn't turn round. Heavy breathing and the pungent whiff of smoker's shag. Then the footsteps shuffled off as a grumbly old voice said 'Buon lavoro, signor.'

That's 'good work' in Italian! I called after him, 'Grazie!' He waved his stick jauntily and shuffled some more.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.



18 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 30. The Walls of Barga, Tuscany




 Late afternoon I was sitting on a bench overlooking Barga’s Parco Kennedy. To the right tall houses form the curtain wall of the centro storico. I wondered how many chamber pots had been emptied out of those windows? I lost myself as I drew them, remotely aware of an audience of two small boys.

These little sketches don’t take long. I made a mental note of colour so that I might add a little oil-pastel resist and watercolour wash later then I snapped the sketchbook shut while at the same time acknowledging at last the presence of my audience with ‘Allora: buona sera, signori’. 

They fell over each other to get away.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

17 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 29. Barga Silhouette



Monet painted the same scenes over and over because the light changed from one moment to the next, continually giving him new subjects.

Barga is like that. When you look down on to the little town that lies between the Apennines and the Apuane Alps it constantly changes as mists drift up the valley of the Serchio River.

This was painted from a low wall a short distance from where we stayed; as I quickly laid the wash a viper came sinuating along the wall and then stopped, looking at me. I finished, half panicked, then the snake and I took off in different directions as if a gun had been fired!

Art is dangerous.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

16 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 28. Street Signs, Barga, Tuscany


Italians seem obsessed with private property. There are signs like this everywhere and on some street pavements there are tiles inscribed with Proprieta Privata telling you not to put a foot on them! This simple sign marks an ill-defined entrance to a garden near Barga on the Apennine slopes. I sketched it from outside but feared crossing the chain lest I be thrown into the local prison!

On another day I sat in the Café Alpini in the Piazza Roma of Barga and drew this reckless little signpost. These throw-away scratchings are grace notes in the sketchbook, done when there's a moment to fill and something with which to fill it.





© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.





15 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 27. Door, Chiesetta No.2, Barga, Tuscany



Without moving from the lunch table on the terrace where we had enjoyed a light insalata and a chilled, local pinot grigio, I perched my sketchbook on my knee and drew the back door of  of the casa. Got carried away...

The house was built halfway through the 18th century but I don't know whether the door is that old and nobody knows who or what 'N.G' was. 

They don't make doors like this in New Zealand; I would have liked to have brought it home with me in my cabin luggage!

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

14 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 26. Another View Of Chiesetta, Barga, Tuscany


Having done a watercolour of the house from beside the piscina, I quickly did this pen sketch because, hearing some falcons mewing in the sky above me, I was inspired to write a lyrical, illustrated article.

This drawing done, I started to write on the same paper, and this shows part of the essay, which covered several pages and was subsequently published by the Wellington Evening Post back in New Zealand.

Our bedroom was on the upper floor, the one with the shutters closed.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.


13 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 25. Chiesetta No. 2, Barga, Tuscany, Watercolour



I sat by the swimming pool and did this daub of the upper house called Chiesetta No.2. It's so wonderfully Italian that it could exist nowhere else in the world.

A historic casa it stood on the Gothic Line in World War Two, one of Hitler's lines of last retreat as the Germans slowly lost the war. Our relatives found bullet holes and ammunition as they were restoring the house. Now, surrounded by chestnut covered slopes it is so peaceful that one could hardly imagine such a cruel history.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

12 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 24. Chiesetta Numero Due, Barga, Tuscany. Black and White


In Italian, Chiesetta means 'little church'. This house, No. 2, which belongs to our relatives, stands near a tiny two-person wayside prayer kiosk on an ancient mule road on the slopes of the Apennines.

I sketched it a number of times (more in later posts) but this rendering, done from below the slopes where olives, vines and raspberries grow, shows the whole, two-part casa. The main house is to the left. The smaller house was once used for animals but has been converted into living accommodation.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

11 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks 23. Slow Chicks, Allandale


This old saw bench with its wire cage stood half way up the Sarginsons' drive at Allandale. The chickens roamed wild in the long grasses and there was the danger of some of the littlies getting run over - hence this sign.

I, having sketched it, it being a rather fun subject, asked whether it might be misinterpreted because, you'll agree, it is somewhat ambiguous.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

10 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 22. Citröen 2CV, Allandale


Euan Sarginson, my late friend and co-author of New Zealand Odyssey, parked this old Citröen 2CV in a distressed shed on his property at the head of Lyttelton Harbour. It was just visible through the long grass when I sketched it many years ago.

The French called it 'deux chevaux' - two horses - for its 2hp engine. Euan's model was a very early one, not at all like the tarted up fancy ones that tiptoe round chic Paris back streets these days.

A well known New Zealand women's magazine once ran a review of the Citröen which its writer called 'deux cheveux'. I wrote to them and pointed out that that meant 'two hairs' but they never replied!

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

09 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 21. Brickworks, New Lynn 1978




I was clearing out a cupboard the other day and found a number of very old leaves from my sketchbooks, some of them stained and foxed. This was one of them. I cannot believe that I sat and drew this subject with such precision.

Later on in life I learned to relax and speed up!

I think this might be quite an historic piece of work because I've been unable to find any images on the Internet that were taken from this angle.



© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

08 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 20. Footbridge, Picton



I was waiting to take my car on to the Picton-Wellington ferry and searched for a subject that would keep me from tedium. This slender footbridge took my eye. Beyond it, under its arch, you can see the outline of the ferry ship itself which eventually took me north up beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound to Cook Strait on my way home from a South Island trip.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

07 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 19. Tobacco Kiln, Riwaka



The Nelson-Tasman district used to abound with tobacco farms. Indeed, one of our ex-prime ministers had been a tobacco farmer. But it was starting to go out of fashion which is probably why this old kiln was looking a bit tired, although still functioning - just ripe for sketching!

 The little squiggles in the foreground are actually rows of tobacco plants growing but you wouldn't have known had I not told you.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

06 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 18. Whitebaiters' Bach*, Anatori River


The Anatori River is just about as remote as you can get in New Zealand's South Island. It's near where the road ends on the north-west coast. The river is an abundant provider of the delicacy that lures fishers almost as much as gold seduces prospectors - whitebait. This board-and-batten shed with its corrugated iron roof is typical of whitebaiters' homes-from-home.

As I sketched this one I remembered visiting the Anatori years earlier with a doctor friend, trying out his new Rover 2000. We caught enough whitebait in half an hour to make fourteen fritters; I ate three, he ate the rest!

*For those who don't know: a 'bach' is a hut or cottage, often a weekender. It's pronounced 'batch' and I think the word comes from bachelor.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

05 September 2012

The Brakes Keep Grabbing...




Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 17. Barn, Stanley Brook, Tapawera



Another rainy day. Another sketch done from the comfort of my car's passenger's seat. Total luxury: I even had the concert FM station playing on the radio. 

The proportions of this ruin on the Motueka Highway are perfect and the fragmentation of its structure makes the play of black and white great fun. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love dilapidation!

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

04 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 16. A Barn In Korere Valley


I sat in my car in the rain and drew this subject on State Highway 6, south of Nelson. I liked it so much that I moved the car a bit, wiped the condensation off the windscreen and drew it again.

As anybody who goes sketching will know, the appraisal, the sizing up, the scratch on the paper are so absorbing that nothing else can penetrate the mind; no worries, just perfect peace. I recommend it.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.


03 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 15. Glenhope Railway Station



Dilapidation delights me as much as black and white pen sketching so when I found this building sitting in the middle of a paddock south of Nelson, out came the paper, pen, ink and collapsible stool. It's the old Glenhope railway station on the now defunct line from Nelson southward that was planned to connect with Christchurch but never did.

You could still read 'Luggage Room' over a door but I think it was now used by the farmer to store hay and other farming materials.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

02 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 14. St. John's, Barrhill



I made a note in my sketchbook that read: 'Very simple church, almost severe. In a lovely grassy glen surrounded by old trees and empty cottages. I felt as if I were in the ghost of Goldsmith's "Sweet Auburn! Loveliest village of the plain".' The drawing looks ghostly too, the church is actually more colourful than that..

On the day I sketched in the churchyard all was still and I saw nobody. Around what seemed laid out like a village square were just a few empty weekenders and one permanent house; the leafy common lands were being grazed by sheep with no sense of history.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

01 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbook.13. Presbyterian Church, Matawhero




It was a pleasure to sit and paint this four-square, well-kept and obviously much loved church near Gisborne. The grounds were like a window box of colourful flowers.

In researching it for Country Churches of New Zealand I found an intriguing history but this is not the place to tell it. You can find it on this blog if you enter 'Matawhero' in the search box.

Good hunting!

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz    www.don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

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Blurb

RANDOM SAMPLINGS F...
By Don Donovan

About Me

My photo

Don Donovan: Biography

I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.

In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.

We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.

We have two daughters and four grand-children.

Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.

Books & Writings

‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.

‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).

‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.

‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).

‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)

Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Auckland’
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Aoraki-Mt.Cook’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Otago’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.

My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.

Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.

[ENDS]