Author Archives: artbybam

New Zealand – Rotorua & Wai-o-tapu

On day 5 of our trip, we headed to Wai-o-tapu Thermal Park, a place of extraordinary geothermal activity.  After getting our tickets and going in, we were told we could catch the geyser show, they do this once a day, where they add soap and cause a crater to look like a volcano. Wouldn’t you know, we “just” missed it, and only caught the tail end.

Lady Knox geyser

Lady Knox geyser

Continuing around the park, we (of course!) stopped at The Artist’s Palette, with such lovely colors, I was unable to do them justice with my paints.

Colors of the Artists Palette

Colors of the Artists Palette

Sketches at Wai-o-tapu Park

Sketches at Wai-o-tapu Park

The Artist’s Palette

The Artist’s Palette

The rock formations and colors were spectacular, again, challenging to capture on paper.

Wai-o-tapu rock formation

Wai-o-tapu rock formation

Got in a quick sketch at Rua  Ōwhanga

Rua Ōwhanga

Rua Ōwhanga

Another pool was Roto Kārikitea, also known as The Devil’s Bath, an eerie bright green phenomenon caused by a toxic mix of sulphur and ferrous salts   combined with minerals from the Champagne Pool.

Roto Kārikitea

Roto Kārikitea

Ending this supernatural visit, we went to a local spa on Lake Rotorua, with geothermal hot springs, with pools of alkaline or acidic baths in varying temperatures. A superb finish for the day!


Rafters at Okere Falls

New Zealand – Okere Falls & Maori wood carvers

Before I get too far ahead, on our way to Cathedral Cove, here’s a cute New Zealand quail who walked along with us for a bit. Many NZ birds have little or no fear of humans, and some have even evolved to lose the ability to fly. New Zealand quail


We traveled quite a bit on the following day. In the morning, we passed by kiwi and avocado orchards, sustainably harvested tree farms, and stopped to pick up lunch in an old gold mining town, Waihi.

Old pumphouse in Waihi

Old pumphouse in Waihi

From there, we stopped near a river to enjoy our lunch, and then on to Okere Falls.  I had trouble managing the colors and trying to sketch the water, so I did this quick color layout for reference on site. Quick sketch Okere Falls We were lucky to see several rafts pass by, and sketching the rafters was more my speed than water, as you can see here, sketched from my photo. Rafters at Okere Falls

Later we stopped at Tikitapu (Blue Lake), a very serene place to take out our paints. Finally, we went to see two Maori wood carvers, where they work, their tools and how they decide what to carve. We then enjoyed a home cooked dinner with them, very delicious and a great end to a busy day!

Maori wood carving tools

Maori wood carving tools.

Photos of Maori wood carvings

Photos of Maori wood carvings

Maori sketches for wood carvings

Maori sketches for wood carvings


watercolor palette

Palette update

With a stay at home mandate, we can pause and see what we wanted to do, but didn’t have “enough” time. Now, many of us have more free time than ever before!
I took advantage of this to update and switch to a different watercolor palette, made by Craig Young.  It’s not new, it’s been here for 5 years, and I haven’t used it because it seemed too heavy for urban sketching. After spending a couple weeks with other artists who manage just fine with even larger palettes, this one doesn’t seem as heavy.
There’s more space to mix colors, and I’ve adapted it to fit my pans with magnets, as I never know when I might dare to switch a color!  (See my list of colors below.)
What are your favorite colors?watercolor palette

It’s interesting how different two cobalt turquoises can be!  I bought the Schminke one for New Zealand, and while there, I got a sample of a Windsor & Newton one, and do love both of them!

Top row: Lunar blue (DS), Prussian blue, Cobalt turquoise (W&N), Cobalt turquoise (Schminke)
Second row: Warm sepia, Sap green, Cobalt blue
Third row: Burnt sienna, Brown ochre (DS), Hooker’s green with Perm. green, Perm. violet
Fourth row: Quin. gold (W&N), Raw sienna, Alizarin crimson (W&N)
Bottom row: Perm. yellow deep, Perm. yellow lemon, Translucent orange (Schminke), Quin. red (DS).
Note: all colors are Holbein, except where labeled.

Cathedral Cove

New Zealand – Cathedral Cove

We stayed at motels in NZ, surprisingly comfy, clean and with kitchen facilities. It’s a very friendly country for hikers and campers.  Breakfast was typically groceries purchased by Phil, our guide, that we could take and each enjoy in our rooms before leaving for the day.

This day we headed to Cathedral Cove, accessible only on foot or by boat. Of course, the ferry wasn’t running the day we went! A beautiful sunny day, but I guess the sea wasn’t cooperating.  So it was on foot in and out, up and down around the hills, about 2 miles with an elevation change of 500 ft. People swam, took selfies for social media and enjoyed the gorgeous beach and rock formations. One of our group was upended by the strong surf! Glad she was okay!Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove

There were also perfect places to rest and sketch on the return walk. Cathedral Cove return Cathedral Cove return

We all enjoyed a well-deserved ice cream on our return!

When you spend time in the sun with footwear like this, Sandals

you can end up with a Maori-inspired tan! (More about Maori art later. 😉)Weird tan lines

Rangitoto Island

New Zealand – Auckland & Whitianga

Finally getting down to the business of sharing this amazing trip with you! Looking back on it, every day held new and inspiring views.

Note: this trip began the last week of February, just as the first cases of the corona virus were starting in the US.  Arriving home last week, as a safety measure, I decided to self-quarantine for 2 weeks, even though I have no symptoms.

In case of any jet lag, I arrived a day early. Went across the street to walk around Parnell Rose Garden in Auckland.  Reminder to self:  They drive on the opposite side! Be extra careful crossing streets!

I could tell it was a magical place when I heard a unique sound in a cemetery on a hill, as if it was whispering to me. Stopped to sketch this tree, and then a few flowers in the gardens. Tree in Parnell Gardens  Parnell Garden flowers

The next day, the rest of the group arrived. There were 6 of us plus Karen, an Art Safari tutor, and Phil, a guide with Wrybill Bird Tours. We left to get lunch at a local bakery, to Parnell Park to enjoy our lunches in the warm sun, and then off to Devonport’s north shore to walk and sketch at Torpedo Bay. All in all, a very good start!

Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island

Auckland skyline

Auckland skyline

We sketched from here, a former military fort.

The next day, we headed to the Coromandel Peninsula, stopping at Tairua for lunch and a sketch, then on to Whitianga, in Mercury Bay.


Whitianga scene

Glad to have Phil as our guide, he knew where to find the birds!




Another unique trip happening soon!

I thought I’d be so busy with Grey Matter, that I wouldn’t have the time or energy for anything overseas this year. But – fate (and Art Safari!) has a way of throwing things at you, and when this trip showed up, I decided to take it!

So, I’ve renewed my watercolor palette, and switched out compose blue for a cobalt turquoise. (So yummy!) Watercolor palette 2020

A little geography quiz for you, can you name this country? Map Hint – it’s NOT in the northern hemisphere!

Answer coming in the next post!

Installed tablet/phone holder in Promaster

A helpful accessory

I thought this would be an easy, quick little project. Wrong! This iPhone/tablet/gps holder was ordered from England, and there’s a video that shows how easy it is to install.  My first issue was the supposedly simple removal of the radio to enable access to a couple of screws. I kept trying with tools that I thought would work, then was worried I broke the tabs inside.  Finally took the van down to an auto shop that installs remote starters and sure enough, it took the guy about a minute, which included him climbing in!

Happily though, the rest of the install was a breeze.

Here’s a link to the video I watched to learn how to install it, and here are a few photos.

Inside view of new screw location

The screws removed holding the original part go in a new location

Installed tablet/phone holder in Promaster

The final product in use

electric batteries and inv

Electricity for Grey Matter – planning and layout

Disclaimer:  I am not an engineer, nor am I an electric expert.  Use this design at your own risk!  Also, feel free to input suggestions! Thank you!

Now, on to the plan – here’s a diagram.  Why such large battery capacity?  (And they are quite large and heavy!)  If we’re off grid, the system needs to be able to run the air cond. for a short time.  The water pump(s), any heat, etc has not been finalized yet.
Grey Matter electric diagram

The plan – the dark lines indicate batteries and a narrow closet which will house the inverter, solar controller and other electric “stuff”. (technical term 😉 )
I had originally thought to place the batteries behind the driver and passenger seat, alas,
the inverter location became an issue.  After searching the promaster forum, these vans are
made to carry 4,000 lbs, so having the battery & inverter weight on the same side isn’t a problem. In fact, it makes the wire runs as short as possible.

electric batteries and inv
electric elevation

Next, on to the galley design!

Back home with spiffy equipment

After a prolonged stay in a large garage, Grey Matter is back!  We’re very lucky to have a relative with a large garage who also loves to build vehicles from scratch! A friendly face of a steel bench watched over the work.Steel bench with headlights

The fan was the first (and easiest) to go in.

We will wait and attach the inside plastic mount for the fan when the inside ceiling is installed. van roof fan installed

A kit from Hein (
was helpful to attach the rails which will hold the solar panels.Solar rail attachment kit

Closeup of rail attached

Attaching the solar panels to the rails was a little tricky, requiring a ‘please help’ email to Hein.  After he explained, they went on easy enough.  The solar panels don’t have a lot of space under the edge, so it took a bit of fussing. Kit to attach solar to rails

Solar panel on rail

One down, one to go!

The curved opening for the new side window gave Bob a bit of anxiety before cutting, but it fit perfectly! New side window

The wood required to fit out the thickness needed a little more thickness added to make a snug fit. (Note: after getting it home, we found a slight leak, so we’ll need to remove and reseal it.)

The air conditioner was my biggest concern – the framing and getting it installed with its weight needed to be carefully pulled off. After doing the inside framing, we had questions about how to install the heat element on the ac. Apparently, one needed piece had dropped inside the ac.  Bob finally figured it out, and he and a friend got it installed and done! Yay!

AC with heat element

AC framingAC installed 
A few more minor jobs, and it was on its way home!

GM back home

Upstate New York! Typical winter weather

Next project is completing the electric diagram and layout plans.  This has changed from the original idea, so stay tuned for that update!

Much appreciation and gratitude to Bob for all of his help with this.