Saturday, May 21, 2011

Our third day of the Sydney Writers' Festival

Our plan had been to busk every day of the Sydney Writers' Festival, but our plan was thwarted on Tuesday night when Stella put her leg through the floor of her flat, which is also the bedroom ceiling of the flat downstairs. Her bottom was sore for a few days, and I was relieved to have a break, because I was having a bit of a portrait-crisis. I did some soul-searching while Stella's bottom recovered. I resolved from now on to be more honest, and to worry less about people's feelings. My writerly reputation was on the line! Even just one little scrap of bullshit leaves a bad taste in my mouth, which, when I phrase it like that, is hardly surprising. I don't want to degrade the act of writing, even for one sentence. Though one healthy aspect of this portrait business is that when Stella yells, "Time!", I have to finish my sentence, pull out the page and let it go, mistakes, deficiencies, failures and all. I can't afford to fiddle faddle over a phrase. The next customer is waiting. There are plenty of published novelists out there who would be grateful for a paid gig, as Stella constantly reminds me.

But Stell's bottom was almost back to normal by Saturday, so we went down to the wharves and set up on Hickson Road opposite the bottleshop (Stella's choice). Stella's voice boomed out from our little alleyway, and once we started, we had as many customers as we could possibly want. We charged a Sydney Writers' Festival premium: $5 per portrait, instead of our usual fee of 50 cents or more. We RAKED it in!


Jorie was part of a wedding group. I offered to do the bride and groom, but they were in a hurry to get to their photo shoot. Jorie was not only the mother of the bride, but also an Anglican minister, so she had done the official marrying. She is a poet, and it turned out she knew Stella's mother and my father, both of whom are poets.


Annika and Nikita


I've known Kirsty for a long time. She was my brothers' year advisor, and twenty years ago, she gave my sister and me the best bag of hand-me-downs I've ever received. They were clothes from her wild days in London: knee-high black go-go boots, tartan flares, and a navy-blue silk blouse with white crowns on it that I still wear.
Photo by Sally McInerney

Solange and Monique

Solange and Monique had chanced by the Writers' Festival as they walked off their hangovers. I assured them that there was no evidence of hangover on their faces, and that they were youthful enough to get away with many more years of hangovers.


Photo by Stella


Russell was a particular favourite of our mothers, who were at the edges (or in the golf buggy) doing a bit of crowd-handling whenever Stella and I had our hands full.

Georgina and Rebecca

Georgina, Rebecca, Stella and I had a little discussion about make-up. Georgina asked whether I did anything to my eyebrows, and I proudly said I'd never even plucked a hair of them. I started saying something about the concealing and disguising properties of make-up, but Rebecca said that's not what make-up is about.


Alisha and Isobel

Rhyll (Mumma)

I like writing about faces I've been looking at since I was born. I could have written pages about Rhyll's face. I love the way the McMaster/McDonald women are put together, both outside and in.

Sally (Mumma)

Surely the face that is most familiar to me, in the whole world. But it was interesting to stare at Mumma anew.


Andrew and Emma




I think Katherine and Soraya were friends, or else it was just a coincidence that two beautiful women with rich colouring were next to each other in the queue. I use the word "beautiful" here because it is interesting, or odd, that you wouldn't necessarily know this about them from reading my portraits, which fixate on details.

Pattie Watts

Some people who sit for me tug my heartstrings for days afterwards, such as Pattie Watts, her face still clear in my mind, as though I missed something, or did her a wrong, or should have done something differently.


My professional pride suffers when I think of this portrait - such a wonderful face, and I was just a bit too hungry to describe her properly. And the carbon paper had a big crease in it.