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Interview: Older Geeks Mixing It Up on the Web


Artist Natalie d'Arbeloff

Artist Natalie d’Arbeloff commands star power in the cybervillage. Through her cartoon alter ego, Augustine, and her blog Blaugustine she has captivated readers and nabbed fans from around the world. Writing as guest editor of the Guardian newspaper last June, she mused on the scarcity of older female bloggers. And called for an army of women to stir things up on the web with "their wisdom, grumpiness, sexiness and devil-may-care bolshiness."

AHB reached Natalie d’Arbeloff in London, England.

Ruth Dempsey: When and how did your own cyber journey begin?

my mac drawing

Natalie d’Arbeloff: It began when I bought my first computer, a Mac, in 2000. I was instantly captivated by the drawing, painting and design tools available digitally and spent most of those early days getting to know how my computer worked and just experimenting with its visual possibilities. This is one of my very first digital images, produced late at night in a state of computer-induced adrenaline high. I started sending digitally illustrated letters to friends and family, printing them out and posting them in the old slow way because nobody I knew was using email then.

Surfing the Net was not my primary interest and I only became lured into cyberspace gradually, when I began designing and building my own website and needed information and advice. I joined a couple of online forums and chat groups and soon after, discovered blogs. This was a revelation, especially when I found people on my wavelength out there and slowly started feeling part of a cyber community. I decided to become a blogger as well and created Blaugustine, my blog, as a new section of my website.

RD: What do you like to write about in your blog?

NdA: The visual aspect of Blaugustine is of primary importance to me and I try to accompany much of the verbal content with images that I create – cartoons, drawings, paintings, digital graphics, photos and videos. The content is usually what I happen to be thinking, what I’m observing or imagining.

I’m also writing an ongoing autobiography illustrated with photos as well as examples of my artwork over the years. I post installments of it at irregular intervals and eventually might turn the project into some sort of multi-media thing. There’s another work-in-progress – a graphic novel that I hope to finish one day.

The fun of blogging, as I see it, is that it’s a platform which constantly evolves and you are free to change your content, your look, your angle, as you see fit. The best way to see what Blaugustine is about is to go to my archive where all my posts, including images, since April 27, 2003 (when I started blogging) are stored and viewable with just a click.

RD: You have run into some fascinating Canadians in the cybervillage. Who are they?

NdA: One is the Finnish-Canadian artist/printmaker Marja-Leena Rathje in Vancouver. She creates stunning layered and textured images combining natural forms with graphic elements, sometimes digitally produced. Her blog is a showcase for her work as well as a journal in which she comments on other artists, events and ideas relevant to her interests.

Another Canadian connection is the American writer Beth Adams of The Cassandra Pages. She and her photographer husband Jonathan Sa’adah have emigrated from Vermont to Montreal and are happily settling there permanently. Whilst not giving up their U.S citizenship, they hope to eventually become Canadians as well. Beth writes vividly and perceptively, turning even the most ordinary incident into a feast for your mind and spirit. Her descriptions of Montreal are more alive, observant and informative than any I’ve ever read in travel guides. Jonathan’s photographs are extraordinary in their own right. I think someone should sponsor this couple to take a round-the-world trip armed with laptop and camera so we can see it all through their eyes.

RD: Other favourites?

NdA: My blogroll lists the ones I visit regularly, and you should definitely take some time off to explore those links. I promise you won’t be disappointed. In fact, you’ll find it hard to tear yourself away.

RD: How has blogging changed your life?

NdA: Like most artists and writers, I spend much of my time working alone and there are long, slow periods when feedback from the outside world is non-existent. Having a blog gives me a window, not only into the world, but also into the minds and lives of other creative people – people I can communicate and interact with and occasionally meet in real life. The commitment to keeping up the blog also provides a stimulus, a motivation, not unlike writing a regular newspaper column or drawing an ongoing comic strip. Visually, it challenges me to keep exploring, discovering and inventing.

And the fact that others will be seeing what I post on my blog acts as a trigger, keeping inertia at bay. Even when nobody comments on a post (and we do love comments!), there is still the possibility that somewhere on the planet a few strangers have clicked, by chance or intention, on Blaugustine, have stopped, looked around, found it intriguing and will come back often. This is astonishing, revolutionary, and could not happen in this way before blogging.

RD: Some people may be interested but cowed by the technology. What advice do you have for them?

NdA: My advice is: Jump in! Don’t be cowed! It’s not as complicated as you think. There are beginners’ classes everywhere on how to use a computer so you don’t have to struggle alone. Once you know the basics, you can decide how much or how little extra technical help you want for your own purposes. As for becoming a blogger, it couldn’t be easier. There are many free blogging servers, perhaps the most common being It takes about ten minutes to set up a blog, following clear and simple instructions.