small pleasures

When one of your daughters is making a career as a whisky distiller, we have a responsibility to visit one of the best makers in the world. And, when you’re en route in a rental car, the designated driver also has a responsibility not to partake of the tastings on offer. (Japan has VERY strict drink-driving laws with as good as zero tolerance and very heavy penalties.)

The Japanese word for whisky is, like most foreign words, written in Katakana script.

uisukii - Katakana script for the word whisky

The late Masatake Taketsuru is considered the father of Japanese whisky. He came from a family of sake brewers, and became a chemist to learn more about the sake making process. In 1918, Taketsuru-san travelled to Scotland to study whisky distilling at the University of Glasgow. He returned to Japan two years later with his Scottish wife and, after a stint with Suntory, went out on his own to build Yoichi distillery which was completed in 1934. The first whisky with the Nikka brand was launched in 1940.

The word nikka means daily work or daily routine.

The Yoichi Distillery is west of Otaru. Whether or not any purchases were made is yet to be disclosed. Hope you enjoy these photos, RBW!





A train ride out to Ochanomizu and a short walk leads to Ochanomizu Origami Kaikan, a 6 story centre specialising in high quality traditional Japanese paper. The current gallery exhibition features samurai hats. There are classes in paper craft going on all the time. The staff are happy for visitors to wander around, including into the paper making workshop where we watched paper being painted and hung.

All things origami and washi paper are available in the shop which we will visit again at the end of this trip. I was in heaven.

I’ve been absent from the blog since returning from the US in early November. It might just be because I’ve become a little preoccupied with making mandalas. 

The person I have to blame thank for this wonderful new activity is Bo Mackinson whose mandala workshop I attended at Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp.

As I’m usually awake with the sun (which where I live means 4.30 am in the middle of summer), this is a perfect and quiet way to start the day (after the first cup of coffee of course).

The size varies depending on the paper/card I’m working with, usually either a 4 inch (10.5 cm) or 7 inch (17.5 cm) diameter. Thus far, they’ve mainly been on black paper, with metallic pencils and gel pens as per Bo’s recommendation.

Some of the lessons that emerge for me from this practice are:

  • mostly there is no plan and that can lead to surprises
  • be patient
  • take it slowly
  • experiment with different patterns and styles
  • don’t be afraid if it gets messy – keep going to the end



I spent a rainy Saturday afternoon learning more about the joys of block printing. Messy is my middle name. I need to work cleaner with both the pencil and the inks, and be more consistent with the techniques. Still, there are many levels of forgiveness in the process and the results are never known until you peel off the paper. And learn as you go is the mantra.

It’s definitely paying off being a little more patient as far as the cutting of the block goes. Less is definitely more, and each level requires more concentration around what to leave and what to cut.


The starting point for this print was an old computer altered image of mine. The subject matter, and the fact that the image already had effects applied, leant itself to a little more freedom and play.


The reverse side of the tracing paper line drawing gets pressed onto the block


First cuts – what’s going to stay white.


It took a few proof prints before all the cutting was done.


The second stage determined what would stay gray.


One of the final prints.

A few weeks ago, spurred on by someone else, I started to play with linocut block printing. So far it’s going really well if you take the fun factor into account. Am seeing improvements each time, although still working out the right amount of ink to apply.

The biggest lesson is knowing when to stop cutting.

I’m using my old photographs and selecting those that don’t require too much detail while I’ve still got my L Plates on.

Kimberley dragonfly - green ink - linocut
Gumnuts - grey ink - linocutGumnuts - green on pink - linocut

Grey kangaroo and older joey - green on grey - linocutMagpie at Oyster Point - black ink - linocutMagpie at Oyster Point - blue on black - linocutmagpie-approaching-pop-grunge-2-fx-ancient-smMagpie in flight - black ink base - linocutMagpie in flight - grey on black - linocut

What started out as a thought to make tree decorations and gift tags for the coming Christmas season became a bit of a fun production line over the last couple of days.

One kilogram of air dry clay (or 2.2 lb) made around 70-80 of these trinkets. The images are samples of the first batch. No oven required. There are 40 more still lined up waiting to dry (at least 24 hours required) before they get painted, dried again, glossed and added to the collection. The largest of the circles are around 4.5 cm in diameter to give you some indication of the scale.

The best part of making these are the surprises that emerge from apparent mistakes. There could be a metaphor lurking in that sentence.
















This past week was my first ever encounter with fried green tomatoes.

This little food snap means more than how good they tasted. It reminds me of strong connections made, laughter, shared stories and aspirations, and two new friends from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

fried green tomatoes