Art/Creativity, New Zealand Life, Uncategorized

Meeting Middle Earth.

If you really want to know what Middle-earth is based on, it’s my wonder and delight in the earth as it is, particularly the natural earth. -JRR Tolkien

After travelling throughout the North and South Island of New Zealand, I am not surprised that Sir Peter Jackson decided to use such landscape for the fantastical world of hobbits, elves, dwarves and dragons. With drastic and diverse terrains, natural colour palettes of various hues and the creativity of Wellington’s Weta workshops, some of the most loved books came to life. Although, I have read and watched The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings throughout my teen and adult years, I cannot claim to have the dedication that others around me may have had. For this post, I simply want to share these places and stories with some of those fans and stir an excitement for a beautiful country that I feel quite passionate about. All photos are from my own travels and adventures throughout Middle Earth.

So let me begin with some scenes from both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that are closer to home….

Mt Cook, Twizel and Canterbury.


Stretching across the central and southern parts of the South Island of New Zealand, the mighty chain of mountains named the Southern Alps was used extensively in filming The Lord of the Rings. The majestic peaks, with their exquisite glacier carved lakes and rivers depicted the Misty Mountains of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

This striking part of New Zealand is known for its stunning alpine scenery and Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak. Lindis Pass, a 63km scenic reserve, was also featured as part of Fangorn Forest, and is one of the routes that traverse the Southern Alps.


Driving through the spectacular Lindis Pass that links the Mackenzie Basin with Central Otago is considered a must do when visiting New Zealand.


Lake-town – one of the most extensive outdoor sets built for The Hobbit Trilogy – was created  on the shores of Lake Pukaki, where the turqoiuse waters run from the glaciers of the surrounding peaks.


Near Twizel in the MacKenzie country the epic battle at Pelennor Field and scenes involving the Eastemnet Gullies were filmed on the spectacular. Twizel lies just down the road from Mt Cook/Aoraki National Park, where the breath taking opening scenes of The Two Towers were filmed.

Queenstown and Wanaka.

And here are some of the film locations from more of the South Island.

Lake Wakatipu was used for scenes involving Lothlorien, an ancient forest. “There lie the woods of Lothlorien!” said Legolas. “That is the fairest of al the dwellings of my people. There are no trees like the trees of that land. For in autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold.” The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien.


See the same gorge, otherwise known as the Anduin River, that the Fellowship of the Ring paddled down to be greeted by the two giant statues on either side on the river. Unfortunately, the statues were added in postproduction… Nevertheless, Kawarau Gorge is pretty spectacular.



From Lake Wanaka in the heart of New Zealand’s southern lakes region, you can see the backdrop used for Gandalf’s flight to Rohan with Gwaihir after his rescue from Orthanc. Wanaka was also the film location for the River Anduin, Golden Plain, Lothlorien, Pillars of the Argonath, and Dimrill Dale.



Te Anau, Milford Sound and the West Coast.


Gateway to massive Fiordland National Park, the township of Te Anau sits at the edge one of the most picturesque lakes in New Zealand. Te Anau was a base for a number of The Two Towers locations including the Great River Anduin, Fangorn Forest and The Dead Marshes. Milford Sound was the film location for Fangorn Forest, with its beautiful beech trees it’s a stunning place to visit. –




With these mountains whetting our appetite, let us now cross waters to the North Island and explore some of the film locations that they had to offer for the trilogies!


Capitol of New Zealand as well as a centre of creativity and flair. Surrounding this area are various filming locations,however, Wellington is also home to The Weta workshops where you can tour through studios with the artists at work. I really encourage this experience as the works of art in both the detail of material and special effects particularly bring to life the war scenes and costumes that JRR Tolkien so describes.

The Wellington region provided the locations for Rivendell, the Auduin River, The Gardens of Isengard and Lothlorein in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The most accessible filming location in Wellington is Mount Victoria, which is within walking distance of the city. The forested areas of Mount Victoria were used to depict Hobbiton Woods, where the hobbits hid from the black riders, all of the other film locations are within an hours drive of the

Weta Workshops



This was a happy surprise as we drove out of Wellington to find Rivendell nestled amoung trees and water.



The Taupo Region.

The Taupo region was the filming location for Mordor, Emyn Muil and Mt Doom. In Return of the King, Frodo and Sam climbed Mt Doom. You can do the same while walking the Tongariro crossing, often described as the best 1-day walk in New Zealand. It’s a challenging walk taking 7-8 hours, taking you past volcanoes, steaming fumaroles, jagged lava flows, the red Crater and Emerald Lakes.

Unfortunately, my friends and I were not able to walk the Tongariro crossing as planned, due to the weather conditions. But we did do a little walk, knowing Mordor was close by in the distance. It is still on my list!



And lastly, let us journey to the hills of Matamata, where I know you have been waiting to view the cute little Hobbit holes, home of Bilbo and Froddo Baggins.

The town of Matamata in the Waikato with it’s rolling hills and emerald green grass was the perfect setting for the peaceful Shire region of Middle-earth, the home of the village of Hobbiton. This area of New Zealand is one of the richest agricultural and pastoral areas in the world and is characterised as a large fertile basin through which the Waikato River flows. The Hobbiton movie set has primarily been returned to its natural state, however hobbit holes and other distinctive land marks such as ‘the party tree’ still remain and can be viewed as part of a Hobbiton tour. The Waikato region also offers superb caving and black water rafting.



Tours of the Shire bring to life a film set that has not been forgotten. What amazed me most from here was the visible evidence of how Sir Peter Jackson was one who gave great attention to detail during his filming. For example, the job of daily hanging up and retrieving the little hobbit laundry on the line was given in order to give the authentic impression of footprints in the grass! Wow.

Another was the tree that sits atop of Bilbo’s home. Jackson had leaves that he had envisioned for the set ,created and attached to the tree!


Even if you are not a big fan of the books or films, you cannot help but appreciate the creativity and feel the magical and cheery atmosphere of what is Hobbiton.



You can even have an ale from The Green Dragon, where they brew ales made only for this once in a lifetime experience. It is also the only entry inside as the rest of the hobbit holes are empty and were filmed elsewhere in Wellington.




This is certainly only a little taster of what meeting Middle Earth is like and I hope you have enjoyed it. If anything, it simply displays the gorgeous views of New Zealand and hopefully entices you to come and visit it for yourself. I don’t believe you will be disappointed!



Art/Creativity, Uncategorized

Created to Create

In the art room, I often tell my students not to be afraid to create and experiment. I aim to acquaint them with the idea that no one is the same so not to try and be anything other than what you are in your style and ideas. I also remind them that there are no mistakes ultimately when it comes to art, and if you don’t like how something is going, seek to learn from it and altar it to suit what you are envisioning. However, I empathise with them when I sit down to my own table and wonder what the heck I am doing? Crazy, right? You would think that by winning art awards during my school years, time at art college and countless hours in the art room teaching others, that I would have built enough confidence not to feel this way on occasion. I guess it is something that I will have to continue to work through as it can stop me from doing part of what I believe I was created to do…Create.

Balloon Dart Painting with the teens at BCM Camp, circa 2012

In this post, I want to expound on what art is to me, what keeps me from doing it and the results of when I do create. Maybe you can relate or maybe you could help me out! During my school years, I definitely romanticised art and the life of the artist. The artwork with all its grandeur hanging up in the silent and contemplative walls of some very important museum. The ‘starving’ artist so deep within their work that when they do come out for the cups of coffee from their favourite cafe, the evidence of their labour is colourfully exhibited on their hands. I really enjoyed the art history of the Leaving Cert curriculum and mapped out to visit Paris, Rome and London to view some of the greats that I had studied. And great they were in all their beauty and splendor.

School of Athens, Raphael, St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. circa 2009

Then there was art college and I’m still trying to ruminate all that I learned and saw there about art. It broke down and redefined what I considered art. I became more open to the forms that art encompasses, and I began to think more about the thoughts behind the piece as opposed to trying to figure out how it was composed. I considered how artists went from within the walls of art college to inside those ‘important’ galleries and museums. I suppose that by romanticising the art and the artist in such a way previously, that it removed me from feeling like an artist myself and I wasn’t quite sure how I was to fit into this scene. Even now, I think about being an artist and what that looks like to me if it doesn’t involve having my own studio space, buried arm deep in paint and sipping wine every week at all the exhibition openings. Am I still an artist if my everyday life includes going to work (at school or with the youth) and then having to do all the other things that life requires?  But I think the key is those few free minutes during the days of routine where you find the moments for a creative outlet -let it be knitting in front of the tv, or challenging yourself to five minute sketches to illustrate an image that stuck out for you during the week.

So who am I now as an artist- as I teach or as I spend time working alongside of youth? I still feel uncomfortable at times, using that word to describe myself… artist. I even feel like a ‘fake’ when I put that to my name. However, I must remind myself that an artist creates, so if I’m spending moments of my time drawing, painting, taking photos then indeed I am creating and therefore I am an artist. An artist isn’t defined by the number of exhibitions they hold ( please feel free to read my February post on the exhibition I held called They Speak For Themselves. ) They are certainly not defined by the amount their work is sold for. In fact the Oxford Dictionary describes the artist as someone who creates as a profession or as a hobby. Therefore, reader, going by that definition would you consider yourself an artist? Have you set any barriers in believing that an artist is one thing and you don’t fall into that category, as I have done? My routine has changed a good bit the past two years. Last year, after a day at school, I would sometimes come home and paint. On the weekends, I got ready for the Christmas Craft fair and my sister in law and I would spend some time designing cards. During the summer vacation, I went to Teenstreet and worked in Artzone, facilitating teens with the opportunity to explore various art mediums. It was especially then that I had to remind myself that I am an artist and get over the fact that as I worked on a mural, hundreds of spectators passed through-something that makes me very uncomfortable.  In light of all of this, an artist isn’t defined either by the amount of time that they spend creating during their week, the only criteria is the creation process whatever that may look like. What does that look like for you?

 Glitter Dollar Bill, Erin Walshe, GA, circa 2011

When it comes down to the actual creating process for me, the excuse is always there “Oh I just don’t have much time to create anything.” Sometimes this is true and sometimes I hide behind it because I am afraid. I don’t really know what makes me so apprehensive to start an art project or piece of work. Perhaps it is because I feel lacking in ideas and it isn’t such a great place to be in when you are actually itching to create but don’t know where to start. One of the most memorable lectures in art college was when we were told that we were going to make a lot of terrible stuff, but it doesn’t matter as long as you are creating. We were promised that if we did so that one day something will happen amongst  all the ‘mistakes and mishaps’ and you will find that little gem. I thought that this was a great encouragement to experiment in my art practices and learn through the things that go wrong. I believe that life can be somewhat like this too if we are open to learning from the things that come our way and the things that we pursue. Another factor that intimidates me about creating is that I am not good enough or talented enough. I could never draw or paint like so and so. And how did they come up with that idea? I could never come up with something as clever or thought provoking as that! What lies. I know they are lies and yet I still choose to live by them. In fact, I’m actually allowing fear to stop me (again, read my post on When Fear is Crippling to hear more of my thoughts on that subject). It comes in the various forms such as’What if I create something that is unpleasant and I fail miserably in trying to portray what I am envisioning?’. The answer: take the elements that did work and carry them through and try again. Take the elements that don’t quite work and see what you can altar or discard from this. Art is a process. Masterpieces are not made in one single instance and perhaps our instantaneous society puts that pressure on us. We must give time and space for the process to develop. ‘What if I am criticised and no one likes it?’ Art is an illustration or expression of your perspective. Since we are all different, we might not like the same things. So I have had to say to myself that although it feels personal because it is my perspective that I have put out there, that not everyone has to respond to it in the same way that I do. I need to grow some thicker skin for what seems like rejection. Imagine if the Impressionist had given up after they were deeply criticised for branching off with their colourful brushwork? ‘What if my idea isn’t as thought provoking or my art isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as so and so’s?’ Art can be about learning from others and building a mental catalogue of images, styles and techniques that influence and inspire us. Art is not suppose to be a competition about who is the most influential, thought-provoking or inspiring. I have certainly made it into this at times and it will have a negative effect on your confidence and thus on your work. ‘What if I don’t get the time for it?’ As we have already touched on the subject of time, I just want to add about being intentional. I remember going to an artist group last year and they discussed about whether inspiration comes to us spontaneously or whether it has to be worked on. I think the main thing that I brought away from that is simply being intentional in the time that we do set aside and see if those moments of Ah-Ha! come along, and if they don’t to continue to produce. Continue to produce not as a robot or out of guilt. Produce because you were created to create, because by doing so it will birth purpose,expression and bring to fruition more than what appears in front of your eyes. Why do I make such excuses to stop me from creating, knowing that when I do create, I feel relaxed, purposeful, happy and released. How do you feel when you create?

Still Waters in progress, Oil on wood, Erin Walshe circa 2015

I do not think that creating art is my sole and main purpose. I do not necessarily live and breathe it, although it is much on my mind. As a Christian, I think my purpose is so much more but I do think that God has made me as an individual and He can use these things to express and connect with Him, as well as with those around me. He is the great Creator, the First Artist and we are made in His image. So when I spending time creating, I know that it pleases Him that I am using gifts that He has given me and He gives me those feelings I mentioned above as a result.

One more point I want to briefly mention is that I believe that everyone is creative in some way. Would you agree with this? Just because you don’t draw or paint, doesn’t mean that you lack creativity? I walk into homes and know that whoever decorated it had an eye for layout and colours. I hear someone tapping a beat or humming in their office and expressing themselves through song. I see the teen snapping a photo and adding twenty filters to it. I smell a delicious treat baking in the oven with a presentation that makes your mouth water. Well all of that is creating too. Picasso once said that:

       What do you think about this?



While I am here in Oamaru, I am embarking on a new multi-media project with the youth. Last week, I stood up in front of some of the teens and spoke about the idea to meet on a monthly basis and work towards creating a body of work to exhibit at the end of the year (hopefully!). Those aren’t the exact words that I used but that was the jest of things. As I’m speaking, I can’t help but wonder what was going through their heads. I want to stir an excitement and openness to experiment through various media, and not to be afraid to do so. So how can I do this? Perhaps, it is by being honest with them and telling how even an art teacher can have the same reserved feelings in approaching a new art task. I’m sure I will learn along the way what will work in creating such an environment and what won’t. (I admit that I did try to entice them with promises to do activities such as Balloon Dart Painting, cause surely everyone thinks that is fun,right?) I will have to update you along the way with all that unfolds but till then I hope that some of these thoughts have helped you question and perhaps define what art is to you and whether you were created to create!

Lahinch, Co. Clare, circa 2013

Art/Creativity, New Zealand Life, Uncategorized

Galleries Galore.

As my fifth week of residing in Oamaru has arrived, I realised that I haven’t even visited all the art galleries that this town has to offer. How amazing is it that there is still some art to be seen with its abundance on every corner. It definately is the place to be to receive inspiration and see other’s point of view and creative outlets. That being said, I haven’t created much myself lately, although my camera is usually in my hand, but I do hope to start some projects with the youth so that we can encourage each other in our creativity. I do want to write a post called Created to Create. But for now, I simply wanted to share some of the Art I have seen so far while in New Zealand.

Below are some photos of an exhibition in a local gallery.





Gorse- common to Ireland and to NZ. Has the aroma of coconut and the aesthetic of yellow buds, however, it is a weed.










I like how they have used the plate as well as the print.






This particular artist has a signature style in representing portraits, usually of the female figure.

Below are props for some of the fairs throughout the year. You can walk through an alleyway and see them displayed in their quirky and slightly sinister (clown) representation of Oamaru’s history.



I really enjoyed the corrugated work of Jeff Thomson displayed in a museum in Christchurch. Especially the use of colour and shapes using such a common resource.      


More from that same museum in Christchurch. Look at that design work!

This is from the Art Gallery in Christchurch and I just cannot stop staring at it! The colours are so pyschodellic.

Some street art from Christchurch


The next three examples are displayed in Dunedin.

I like the incorporation of the bench to demonstrate the hills of the steepest street in the world, Baldwin St.


Temporary installation in Christchurch, commemorating those who died in the 2011 earthquake.

More from around Oamaru, Forrester Gallery.

Wicked Stitches, on our idea of home.







Art/Creativity, Uncategorized

They Speak For Themselves

                                                                                         Erin Walshe, 2016

For those of you who might not know, this was the title of the exhibition I ran recently. Now that the opening has come and gone after months of preparation, I can sit back with a relaxed and content sense of accomplishment and note what I learned from this experience.

First of all, here is a little background on my limited experiences of organising a solo exhibition and indeed my background as an artist. I’ve always struggled with calling myself an artist and I allowed a lack of confidence in my abilities to shy away from really throwing myself into my work. The art world can be a scary place!! When I think of an artist, I think of someone exotic and eccentric; who can be found with every grade of pencil in their hair and bits of sketches flowing from every pocket. After studying printmaking in art college and years of dabbling in other areas of creativity, I often wondered where I fit in. Then I hid behind the ladder I climbed in becoming an Art teacher. Surely, that will suffice enough to encourage others in their creativity with certainly no time for my own creation. I know that this was an excuse! For the moment, I don’t want to divulge too many of my thoughts on this topic as I hope to soon write a post called Created to create. For now, my intention of mentioning this bit of informaton is to highlight the fact that I never thought I would run my own exhibition. I had always exhibited with others and I really thought that I coud never have enough courage to display and organise one on my own. I still can’t believe I did it! I feel like a little dream has come true…

                                                                                Mackenzie Zemek, 2016

For this exhibition, I actually based it on a collection of beautiful photographs that my grandfather took throughout the 1940’s to 1960’s. Perhaps, you could accuse me of hiding behind someone else’s work but it really was my desire to share these photos with the surrounding people. That being said, you would be somewhat right in the sense that by removing the pressure of exposing my own work, I could concentrate on developing a confidence in organising and holding an exhibition and all that that entails.

                                                                                  Mackenzie Zemek, 2016

Listed are a few lessons learned:

1. Take the time to ask some questions! I learned, as I have through other endeavers in life, that there is never harm in asking questions! Ask about who to contact, ask if they would spread the word, ask if you could exhibit in their space, ask what they can offer. Ask others their opinion in the setup, the layout and all the other practicalities that can seem so dainting and overwhelming for one person (even for someone such as I who finds great enjoyment in organising! ) You would be surprised how people will jump on board with you and help along the way. I’m so gratfeul for such people that I have met recently. ( I also couldn’t have done it without my sister in law being so involved practically, especially when it can takes days to set up!)
2. Take a deep breath and relax. Some of you could find this easy, such as my sister in law, who would be labelled as so placid that sometimes you would wonder if she even has a pulse. Inevitably, something will go wrong, such as coming in on the morning of the exhibit and seeing all of the photos laying on the floor, after hours of accurately measuring the layout the days before. And yes, I did just slap them up, hoping for the best and that no one would come along along with a ruler…. You will also forget something but roll with it, if you have the main bits set in place then no one will even notice whatever you had thought of and then forgot. Surround yourself with such calm people when you are wound up so that they can encourage you with their placid demeanour…Ally Walshe.

3. Take the time to observe your audience. One of things I most enjoyed from the opening day was seeing the expressions on some of the viewers as they found pleasure from admiring another’s perspective. It was especially exciting to their faces light up when they were able to recognise themselves or loved ones. The opening can be such a busy time as you try to make conversation with those who have walked in the doors, as well as making sure that the flow of the day is going smoothly. However, try to be purposeful in standing back for a moment and observing those standing in front of the artwork. It gave me such delight and a sense of accomplishment to be able to witness the excitement and happiness that was sparked from the photographs displayed. One example of this was a lady who came along and had with her, a photograph of her sixteen year old self that my grandfather had taken in 1946!

                                                                                             Mackenzie Zemek, 2016

I could write more about other things that I learned through this. Such as the benefits of gathering feedback and all of the organising tips in the preparation. However, I will simply leave it at those three points. I say all of this not to put myself on any pedestal but to encourage other artists out there who might have struggled with confidence. I want to humbly express that no matter how you may feel about exposing yourself through your art or through an exhibition, that stepping out despite those fears will be so rewarding and so worth it! In displaying your work, you are sharing your impressions of the world around you, some may like it and some may not! But either way, there is really no wrong or right here and therefore that provides you the freedom to know that you cannot fail in this endeavour! So relax and enjoy the reactions to what you share with the world. I take this with me as I wonder about the future exhibitions I may hold. You never know, perhaps I will give it another go here in New Zealand….
Thanks to those who came along! Here are a few photos I took of the display.


Below are photos from the opening day, courtesy of Mackenzie Zemek.