Jenny Longstaff


Today I received a couple of photos from Jenny so thought I’d share them with you. Jenny has chosen to work with two haiku. These photos show her working on the first one which she plans to use in her exhibition associated with the New Zealand International Science Festival.

First strokes on the canvas

Later that same day

21.05 update

Seismic ripple

Jenny Longstaff rang me recently to invite me up to her place for the afternoon. Jenny lives in North East Valley and has wonderful views towards the hills and south to the City. We sat outside in the sun with Tilly, her Abyssinian cat, trying her best to monopolise the conversation!

Jenny’s life story could easily be turned into a family drama – there’s been enough of that in her lifetime with abandonment at birth, the early loss of  her adopted mother and adopted brother, the discovery of birth family members much later and more…….. But that is another story!

Right now I wanted to capture the arty side of Jenny’s life story.

Patterns patchwork

WNMS – What current projects are you working on Jenny?

I’ve got heaps on the go. There’s the haiku art which is currently a blank canvas, truly. Here it is – I just bought it today. At least I know what size it’s going to be! And I’m having an exhibition and art workshop at Orokonui Ecosanctuary in January. But the New Zealand International Science Festival is before that, in early July, and I’m exhibiting some of my work as well as taking several children’s workshops at the Library. It’s all about colour – “Pigments of Imagination”. This is the exhibition I pinched one of your haiku for  – it works in so well I just had to have it before your Haiku art exhibition! Sorry and all that, not!!

WNMS  – Have you had any formal art training?

Well I went to Art School in Australia for a year – but it felt very narrow, restrictive so I gave it away. I’d rather read and think about life, and experiment – I’m an autodidact.

WNMS – Tell me about your giftware range.

Ha, that sounds a bit commercially organised for me! I have cards – any-occasion type cards – of some of my paintings and photographs which I sell at the Railway Station Art Gallery and a couple of other outlets. Also smaller sized reproductions of some work. Finding time to arrange sales outlets is always a hassle. I’m busy doing, rather than selling. Anyone want to be my agent?

WNMS  – Do you paint every day?

No, not always painting, but every day I’ll have some sort of art experience, whether it’s photography or research or talking about art or seeing an exhibition, and thinking of ‘picture making’ and ideas. I’m fascinated with patterns. I’m probably a frustrated wallpaper designer! A William Morris wannabe. I reckon I could make a pattern out of a cow pat. Don’t put that in Ruth. I like looking at patterns in nature, and in other cultures. I’ve even stopped halfway through eating a bowl of noodles to take a photo of their shape and pattern. They looked like kelp, that same type of motion and rhythm.

Pigeon pairs

WNMS –Do you work on multiple pieces at a time or ….?

Always! If it’s not paintings then it’s photography. I’m passionate about both. I seem to be really energised at the moment and feel that I have to catch these ideas as they are happening.

pattern from building

WNMS – Where was your first exhibition?

I was brought up in Australia so my first exhibition was in Canberra – with three other art students.  We called it Pictures at an Exhibition after the Emerson Lake & Palmer album.

WNMS – So how important a part does the ‘will it sell’ scenario weigh on your mind when you’re working?

Initially it is all about expressing whatever idea it is that is coming out and finding my own style. But it’s how I make my living, apart from my housekeeping job at Olveston, so I have to be realistic and think of sales. But thinking of sales means keeping my fingers crossed that someone will like my work, rather than me tailoring my work to some perception of ‘saleability’. Subject matter is my decision, but size and price perhaps are based on sales considerations.

coastal sketch

WNMS – Do you remember your first sale?

Yep. I used to be quite athletic and went on a school sporting trip to Sydney. While there I sketched a terrace house in Paddington and when I took it back to school my English teacher bought it for $5.00! That was pretty amazing at the time. I felt like a real artist. It was so encouraging.

rustic reds

WNMS – How does place – Dunedin – influence your work?

I love North East Valley. I’ve got fantastic views here and it’s a terrific community. And I just enjoy Dunedin, its history, the wildlife, the landscape. And it’s not ‘up itself’. It’s the right size for me.

Mosaic project

WNMS – Do you work in silence or have music playing?

Silence mainly, so I can concentrate. If songs are on I get distracted by listening to the lyrics or wanting to dance. I do enjoy music.

WNMS – Don’t stop there! What sort of music do you enjoy?

It’s a mood thing. I’ve got eclectic tastes – I love cello, and Flamenco guitar, Vivaldi, Elgar, the Blues, Ry Cooder, Santana, Leonard Cohen, Joe Cocker, Dido, Norah Jones, Coldplay, Brooke Fraser…. For radio I enjoy the National Programme.

Hillside vista

WNMS – Do you prefer to be on your own while you work?

You know, it’s quite interesting that most people are scared of silence and being alone. I’m very self-sufficient and actually like being by myself. I guess it depends on what I’m working on and how much concentration is needed. I can’t be bothered with idle chatter. I think it is interesting for people to see an artist at work, to see the decision-making process and technique.

WNMS – How do you keep motivated when things get tough in the studio?

It’s a matter of discipline really; I work well to a deadline. It’s always tempting to run away from it and do something else when things aren’t going so well – but if I’m doing housework that’s a sure sign of desperation!

moon pool

WNMS – Are you a hard taskmistress? What I mean is, do you ever push yourself to finish a work that is arguing with you through the whole creative process?

No, if I’ve ‘lost it’ then I just put it away. It’s not a matter of quitting, because I usually feel that the idea is good. It’s just not mentally ‘processed’ to the right degree. Once I left a painting for over a year and then came back to it and was right into it. It was a better painting for being left.

Spun Gold

WNMS – What was your most fun selling experience?

I love selling in the gift shop in Olveston! No, really, I can’t think of a specific experience. I do think what is enjoyable about selling is seeing the pleasure when a customer finds something they really like.

WNMS – Tell me about your best exhibition.

Best quality of work? Best sales? Best experience? Uum last year I had one for the Fringe Festival at the Gallery on Blueskin. And then this year’s Fringe Festival Exhibition was cool. It was in the Bandstand at the Botanic Gardens. I enjoyed both of those – good interaction with the public. Hopefully my best exhibition will always be my next one!

2 paintings

WNMS – What other interests do you have (besides painting/photography)?

Well there’s always my motorbike. And I went on a Masters Outward Bound course where I was the oldest participant. That along with my 2 year motorbike trip, they changed my life – trust yourself, aim high, dream big. I also went on the Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment (PACE) programme. With a mentor and financial help it allowed me time to work towards becoming a self-employed artist. Another thing I really loved was my 3 weeks last year as a volunteer Dept of Conservation hut warden down at Stewart Island.

Rococo Cloudscape

WNMS – Do you ever wonder what happens to your sold work?

Oh yes I’m really nosey. I like to know what kind of home its going to –  often the new owners will tell you a story. One of my paintings was placed 3rd at the Art Society summer exhibition and bought by an English tourist for his son’s flat warming present. He told me he hoped his son didn’t like it and he could keep it for himself!


WNMS – Do you belong to any arty groups?

I’m enjoying my involvement with the photographic society – I’ve been a critique judge a couple of times. And I’m an Otago Art Society member, been on the council for a year. I joined OpenArts too. They are a very well organised and talented group of Otago Peninsula artists. I like feeling part of a creative community. Dunedin has so much going for it with creative energy and individual skill – I think it is important to have some sort of framework for support, encouragement, and exhibition opportunities.

I got up to leave just as the sun grew weary and autumn rippled coolly along the late afternoon valley.  Jenny went to bring her clothes in off the line and called out, “Don’t laugh but look at this. Even my washing basket is inspirational!”  I have no idea how Jenny will tackle her haiku art work but it definitely will be an interesting piece of work!

Wash basket


My professional background is as a graphic designer in publishing, having previously worked as production editor for Otago University Press and as art editor with Longacre Press. I have also designed books for the Department of Conservation, Otago Heritage Press and McIndoe Publishers.

I have been a volunteer hut warden at Mason Bay, Rakiura and am presently employed as a housekeeper and guide at Olveston, Dunedin’s outstanding historic house.

I’m an Aussie but have chosen to live in beautiful Enzed for nearly thirty years, apart from a recent break of 2 years when I rode a motorbike around Australia. The experience of ‘wandering in the wilderness’ observing nature closely, being part of the landscape and living simply was a pivotal one.

Since my return, my creative streak has been unleashed. I love looking, thinking, and doing, thus the visual arts are a major preoccupation for me. Inspiration comes from the natural world, history, and community. Photography fascinates me and I also enjoy painting, with acrylic my preferred medium. I have also undertaken a mosaic commission. As you can see, I like to try my hand at different things.

One Response to “Jenny Longstaff”
  1. Brenda Dickey says:

    Hello Jenny, Last week we visited the Olveston Historical Home and missed seeing you. We did see your art work in the basement and it was very nice. I also sent an e-mail message to Jeremy Smith and told him that the Probate records for David, Marie and Edward Theomin are now on He sent me a nice message back. Rob and Brenda Dickey

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