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A small paint kit, a few good brushes…

David Liddall

From the time I left school I was compelled to travel, hitchhiking everywhere (including Asia) till getting my licence at twenty-five, thereafter owning a succession of vehicles that doubled as campers, the longest owned of these being a 1972 pop top Kombi van, used daily for about 28 years. Prior to turning 50 I bought my current bus, a Mitsubishi Fuso, 7,500kg, 7.5m land sailing boat, built by a boat builder with very good design and functionality.

Also dating from my school days was my interest in drawing and painting, and after initially trying oil and ink, once I discovered quality water colour paint, I was hooked, especially with it’s portability. Being able to carry a small paint kit and a few good brushes, all that’s needed is some good watercolour paper and a little pot of water and you have the means of expressing a memory or reproducing or creating a wonderful scene, something that will remain long after I’ve shuffled from this mortal coil.

My travel and painting passions were put aside for periods of my life as I pursued a career in nursing, working in a variety of areas, surgical nursing, including a few years as a scrub nurse in theatre (Whangarei) psychiatric (Seaview Hospital, Hokitika and Whangarei) emergency care (Whangarei) and lastly, night RN in a MetLifecare facility at Mt Maunganui (my home town). After thirty years I took early retirement, largely financed by the sale of my Kombi (it seemed too ridiculous to tow a campervan behind a campervan) and I moved to Northland to be closer to my son and grandkids, locating at the little coastal community of Whananaki. Finding a source of print production I sold a number of prints to people I’d met passing through the campground and other local places.

19 years on the road: my current road trip

Late in 2022 I left Northland to visit my brother in Thames and Coromandel, exploring right to Fletcher Bay, the outer tip of the peninsula. The clouds were ominously massing after New Year and I got out of that vulnerable peninsula in the following days, heading back north. Seeing the devastation behind and ahead, I spontaneously turned around and headed south instead (retirement is such a liberating state of being, to allow such decisions) stopping at Taumarunui when I heard the following weekend was ‘Republic Day’ at Whangamonoma, deep into the Forgotten World Highway. I came up with the idea of using my bus as a gallery, attaching paintings along the side with magnets. So paying my stall fee, I set up beside the whip cracking and log splitting exhibits. It was a wonderful experience and bought back the sense of community that was common in my childhood. I sold a painting and got another commission which took me to Opunake and the wonderful Mt Taranaki (that is usually still called Mt Egmont by the locals).

With the delays to ferry services I spent longer in Wellington than expected but had lots of fun painting scenes around the city and did another commissioned work. Due to the sailing cancellation I spent a couple of nights at the Evans Bay Marina freedom camping area, to find lots of others in the same position, over seventy vans there that first night, and due to the excessive numbers some parked in the centre, between the two outside allocated spaces. In the morning the efficient council issued $150 fines to everyone parked outside the lines; nice to see bureaucracy doesn’t rest, even during a national transportation crisis.

Being very aware of the environmental disaster moving toward us, I’ve determined to reduce my carbon footprint as much as I can, though I have given a lot of thought to the rationale of travelling at all, but our footprint exists regardless of where we exist, so I endeavour to spend longer in interesting places off-grid and independent (fortunately my bus is independent of external input if the sun is shining) rather than dashing hither and yon, and have found that it is the obscure, forgotten little places that hold the most interest and subject material for paintings and rewarding experiences.

My favourite places so far are found in the high country of Central Otago and the upper West Coast, especially north of Karamea, such lush subtropical bush and coastal locations, and the Ida Valley. I am drawn to place names like Drybread and Blackball, getting to know the locals of Seddonville, and the muffins at Gentle Annie.

I’ve been privileged to leave artwork in many places in my wake and hope they bring pleasure, however for most of this journey, I’ve done what I call my ‘cafe paintings’, taking my travel brushes and paints with a little watercolour pad to a cafe, have breakfast or a muffin and tea or coffee while I sketch out a scene from my phone, and do a miniature painting. They take about forty minutes and are very pleasurable to paint. Over the following few days I decide who to send it to, put a stamp on the back, write a thoughtful note to my friend or family member then post it off. To date I’ve done nearly forty such paintings. One friend receiving one, was told by his post lady she’d never delivered an original painting before.

It’s a fabulous way to share my journey with others, and imagine the surprise they get receiving a little painting in the post. Maybe you’ll get one one day.

Contact David:

‘Republic Day’ gallery on the bus, Whangamomona

The obscure, forgotten little places

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