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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

My processes and materials

I wish to feel the entirety of this forest living across the road from me, a forest bound by human settlements and the eastern edge of Wellington's harbour. How to understand the collective intelligence of this forest - this singular living being of thousands of individual trees cooperating together, forming interdependent relationships?

I would like to begin by engaging with the forest around its outer edge, embodying its canopy of outspreading crowns - the forest's purposeful, active Living Cloak that reaches upward to bathe and drink in the sun's light. Slowly moving around the forest's edge, drawing what I see and embodying this experience of introducing myself to it and it to me, seems respectful somehow; taking time to grapple with the enormity of this living being's complexity and size. Later I will encounter the individual trees as I walk through the forest and visit the small intimate spaces within its diverse ecosystems, exploring the space between the forest, the trees, and me.

Drawing the entire forest is an impossible task so after some consideration and trial and error I've decided to adopt a process to determine locations to draw the edge of the EHRP forest by using bus stops as markers. It seems appropriate as the forest is bound by the roads that people travel and their homes and property where they dwell. There is a discussion to be had that looks at the role humans have on containing forests. More on this later...

I have decided to draw the eastern side of the forest when the sun is fully facing it from 2pm onwards in the afternoon sun. The forest's canopy is awash with a radiant, steady, even light that I found perplexing at first as it felt unlike any light I had experienced. It is as if the forest canopy somehow changes the way the light disperses as it falls on the trees and I wonder if, in the process of photosynthesis, the trees change and alter the light? I have read in The Hidden Life of Trees that trees share water, nutrients and sugars through networks referred to as the 'wood-wide web' using an intimate association between themselves and fungii - but do trees also share sunlight with each other?

There are about 30-35 bus stops along the boundary of the forest -

i) Bus stops along Eastbourne -

ii) Bus stops along Gracefield -

iii) Bus stops along Wainuiomata -

This will leave a section of the forest's edge undrawn (Camp Wainui-Burdan's Gate). I'll come to this issue when I get there.

A forest within an island

I also feel I need to get a sense of the forest bound within the island which is Aotearoa. This is evident from the ridgeline which is pretty much continuous from Muritai Track to Lowry Bay. That will follow if I have the stamina to draw the main ridges of the EHRP forest.

Ridgeline from Murital Track to Lowry Bay -

MATERIALITY : Pencils and Paper

Paper: John, being the wonderful husband he is, has made a special attachment for my easel so I can make a some-what continuous drawing (scroll-like) of the forest as I move around its edges, bus stop to bus stop, and draw in the style of plein air. This affords an immediacy between the forest and me which is critical to my thesis proposal of embodiment between the forest, the trees, and me.

I may or may not present the drawings as a scroll - not sure yet. It does speak to the idea of a living cloak. Alternatively, I may hang them separately as I still like the idea of water dripping down on the drawings and allowing the watercolour to disintegrate and collect in a puddle on the floor. It describes the temporality of life and the destruction of world forests. The scroll approach allows me to keep my options open.

The scroll concept is so harking to Asian influences - I am reading The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, (1860-1989), so will discuss this influence in more detail later but suffice to say, I appreciate the meditative, mind-landscape philosophy of Asian art that the scroll references in contrast to European pictorial landscapes that view land/nature as a resource or commodity and act to separate man from nature. I also appreciate that there must be a meaningful understanding of Maori manakitaunga to broaden the discussion of land, nature, and people.

The decision to go with a Japanese mulberry paper rather than paper made from local materials (i.e. harakeke) is because I can't source fine transparent rolls of harakeke paper. This does raise issues of site-appropriateness and provokes a discussion about how the Japanese paper fits into this setting? [I've been in contact with Marilyn from Pakohe Papers in Whanganui and hope to attend a harakeke papermaking course in March and use this paper (hopefully made from locally sourced harakeke) in other works.]

The thin mulberry paper I have chosen is so delicate and soft to draw on while also being tough and transparent - quite some paper! As I draw repeatedly on the paper it stirs up the fibres and the pigment from the pencil not only seems to sit on top of the paper but just underneath its surface. This is something I love from printmaking days, where the ink and paper unite as one material rather than the ink remaining on top of the paper as in the painting process.

There are a couple of things to consider with the easel arrangement -

i) Direction of paper - I will roll the paper left to right as I travel around the forest right to left. This will keep the drawings consistent with how I engage with the forest.

ii) Imprint of board - I am resting the paper on a pine board which has a wood-grain pattern. Do I want to allow the wood pattern of the pine board to leave an imprint on the drawing? While it speaks to an honesty of process as well as the materiality of the exercise, it may be too much going on. To decide, I will try the board unprotected and then do another drawing with cardboard between the paper and board.

iii) Ghost prints - as I roll the drawings onto the roll on the right I anticipate the watercolour drawings will bleed onto each other. Do I want this effect of layering? Should I place tissue paper between each drawing and capture the ghost print? I feel I'd like to go with the first option as again it is an honesty of process, but I may be able to do both approaches. Will see.

Pencils: I am committed to using watercolour pencils rather than standard colouring pencils or watercolour ink. Watercolour ink requires a high precision of technicality that I don't possess and given its association with Asian calligraphy and landscape art, I feel inadequate to use it.

There are other reasons for wanting to use the watercolour pencils though. I am relishing the simple act of drawing with a pencil (rather than brush) on paper. These are the simplest of tools, it's like art for beginners! Like the Impressionists before me, using repeated, small slanted lines that overlap each other allows me to echo the light flowing onto the trees. I also like the intensity of pigment in the watercolour pencils compared to other pencils, and am enjoying layering different colours over each other to try and capture the variety of greens in Aotearoa's forest canopy and its intense yellow brightness of light in the afternoon.

However, it is the tension between paper and watercolour pencil that intrigues me the most with these materials. Because I have not used water to apply the pigments onto the paper, the pigment adheres to the paper in an unstable, compromised state. With the first introduction of water the entire artwork will change. I really like this tension as it enacts the notion of Life's ceaseless, ever-changing processes as described in New Materialism.


Email to Rohini Biradahvolu Earth Sciences Librarian Victoria University 18th January 2022 Hi Rohini,

Happy new year! I hope you’ve enjoyed a relaxing summer break.

I came to see you last year about my MFA project on the East Harbour Regional Park in Eastbourne. My exegesis concerns the forest as a living being and explores the space between the trees and me, really an exploration of the embodiment that occurs between us, as human, and the trees, as non-human living beings.

I have read a few wonderful books – The Hidden Life of Trees and The Secret Therapy of Trees - which helped me identify the following areas of earth science as most important to my project and in particular their relevance to Aotearoa’s southern and black beech forests:

  1. Aromatic substances (monoterpenes) released by the trees as volatile molecules. Is anyone studying the perfume of NZ beech, manuka etc? I’d like to use this scent in my art installation

  2. The presence of negative ions in NZ beech forests and how they are beneficial for humans

  3. Understanding (and measuring?) the subtle electromagnetic relationships between the biosphere and living beings with particular focus on the bioenergetic level between trees and humans

  4. The symbiotic relationship between ecto-mycorrhizae basidiomycetes and NZ beech trees

I would really appreciate your help in identifying meaningful research in these areas and especially if there are students at Vic who might be interested in this line of inquiry.

Ngaa mihi

Suzy Costello


Email to Ricky Clarkson and Jo Greenman, WCC wardens of EHRP

Jan 18th 2022

Hi Ricky and Jo,

I live in Eastbourne and have been a neighbour to the East Harbour Regional Park for over 30 years. This year I am doing my final year for a master of fine arts at Massey University and my exegesis is on this forest - viewing it as a living being.

I'm interested in understanding the space between the forest's trees and us humans, i.e. how we embody each other as we walk through the forest and settle in quiet spaces. Quite lovely things occur between us e.g. breathing in the trees' aromatic substances, being enlivened through the forest's atmosphere of negative ions, sharing reciprocal bioenergetic interactions... we feel good and I wonder what the trees feel?

There are some areas I would really appreciate your help with. Firstly, I feel it is important to ask permission from both you as wardens, and from those who hold mana whenua, if I may do this project. If possible may we meet each other to discuss? Importantly, I'll not disturb or remove anything from the forest.

As part of my art project I am interested in both the forest as a whole as well as the small intimate places it offers us. If possible I would like to make a video of four 'rooms' of the forest - safe, secret places that people who care for, and about, the forest go to and feel a deep connection with. Ideally it would be helpful to find two people from Eastbourne and two from Wainuiomata who would be interested in sharing their space and what it means to them and what they hope for the forest in the future. I would greatly appreciate your help in this project.

I live at 276 Muritai Road Eastbourne and my contact details are (04) 5628818 or (021) 2427399. Below is a link to my website if you are interested and I hope to meet you both sometime if suits

Ngaa mihi,

Jo's reply 19 Jan

Hi Suzy

I am happy to help.

As long as nothing is removed or damaged you do not need permission for this project. The Northern Forest part of East harbour regional park does not have a highly involved Mana whenua. We do work closely with the Ropu Tiaki with regard to the Parangarahu lakes and Orua Pouanui/Baring head. If you wish to submit a request to them you can go through me.

I suggests finding locals through Eastbourne community Facebook pages, MIRO and Love Wainui Facebook

Call me if you want to chat to me specifically.


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