Creative Food Growing

It has been many months since I posted on my blog. Ellie and I have been busy catching up on all the things that we were unable to get done during Melbourne’s endless lockdowns last year. Since my last post, in late July Ellie broke her leg and required emergency surgery, so life became really complicated for a time. Further plans for fixing up our garden were put on hold until she had fully recovered. After so much disruption from health problems and the pandemic, over the last six months we have finally been getting our garden in order and have recently started to grow more of our own food.

The 2022 floods in New South Wales and Queensland have caused a shortage of fruit and vegetables that, together with the plummeting value of the Australian dollar, has seen an increase in the cost of living in Melbourne. At local supermarkets leafy green veggies have increased in price, with some varieties difficult to find, which means a salad is now an expensive item on the menu. More than ever in Australia it is a great time to get into food gardening to save money and always have fresh food on hand.

Unlike many people who managed to create vegetable gardens during lockdown, this was not an option for us after Ellie’s accident. However our garden was not completely unproductive. We have always had a lemon and a walnut tree and herbs and chives growing in beds and in pots. Early last year we bought a blueberry bush for a large, ceramic pot and now it is covered with flowers and our Monsteria Deliciosa  or Fruit Salad plants have produced enormous fruit this year. Finally, over the last month, we have been able to create a system for growing vegetables that works for us and might provide helpful ideas for others with similar issues.

Several times in the past we have grown organic summer vegetables, in either garden beds or containers and made many mistakes, which made the process difficult. We knew a change of method was required to grow vegetables in our garden all year round with good results. Firstly the system needed to be moveable to make optimal use of the limited winter sun available in our back garden. Secondly the method must reduce bending over and stressing our backs and legs so high planters were preferable. Thirdly and crucially, the vegetables must be protected from hungry possums; bugs; slugs and snails; vermin and birds. All these creatures can do considerable damage and reduce the productivity of a garden. Worst of all, our two dogs, like their predecessors, love eating lettuces and other leafy greens and will climb into large pots, as well as trample anything small in garden beds. Luckily they are not interested in herbs or chives and these are left alone.

We did not want to get rid of our lawn to plant vegetables because the dogs love to run around this space and play ball. We also did not want to remove any of our established garden foliage, which provides a wonderful microclimate that mitigates the heat of summer and provides shelter and food for many birds and small creatures. Gardens are an endangered species with all the over development in our area and need to be preserved. This left the concrete drive as the sunniest area in the garden which benefits from the northerly sun during the colder months. It is good to green this environmentally unfriendly space. Last February we had a row of clumping bamboo planted along the fence line to screen the neighbours new two-story, monster house and this has reduced the blinding reflections from their windows and made the drive more hospitable. We could not have a fixed, raised bed in this area because our car needs to be parked in this space and the only suitable spot near the house is shaded in winter.

Luckily Ellie found a wonderful solution in the Australian designed Vegepod (we are not sponsored by this or any company, just love the products, which can be purchased in many countries https://vegepod.com.au). We bought two 1 m x 1 m Vegepods, plus the waist high stands with wheels. The hinged hoods protect the vegetables from bugs, critters and the weather, with three types of removable covers available: white mesh, clear plastic and shade cloth. There is a built in watering sprinkler system in the covers frame and the bases use a wicking system to draw up water for the vegetables. The Vegepods came flat packed and there are easy assembly videos available on Youtube. These were a considerable investment, but solved all of our problems, so it was worth the money. 

We filled them with potting mix from our local nursery combined with the Vegepod perlite brand to aerate the mixture. Initially we got some mixed lettuces, two types of spinach, silver beet (Swiss chard) and rocket seedlings from the nursery to put in the pods so that we had something to grow immediately. We have decided to only grow vegetables we like and concentrate on those that are expensive to buy, are best picked fresh from the garden or have a short shelf life. 

It is cheaper to grow vegetables from seeds and Ellie joined the Digger’s Club, based at Heronswood on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria (again not sponsored). They produce seeds from heritage vegetables and give discounts with membership, which includes a quarterly magazine. Seeds and gardening products are available from their online store (https://www.diggers.com.au). I’m sure that most countries have similar seed saving services for you to get started.

We still had small plastic pots, seed trays, with and without cells, from our previous vegetable growing attempts, but small plastic yoghurt containers and egg cartons would be a cheap alternative. To save more money we used plastic meat trays we have collected and clear storage containers to create small indoor hot houses for the seeds. Clear meat trays can be clamped on as lids. As the number of these started to mount up we repurposed a metal Ikea TV stand to hold the containers and placed this near the family room glass doors for more light. When the seedlings become large enough the leafy vegetables will be replanted in the Vegepods. Our seeds include winter varieties of broccoli; cos and oak leafed lettuces; Japanese Tatsoi; silver beet/chard; spring onions/scallions; dwarf snow peas; spinach and rocket. We also bought some cucumber seeds and Ford hook spinach for the spring, as well as the flowering companion plants, calendula and nasturtiums.

Because garlic costs an arm and a leg at the moment, we ordered some organic garlic from Diggers. We originally planned to put these in our herb garden bed because the dogs don’t go for members of the onion family, but realised that this spot does not get enough hours of winter sun. The sunny drive is more suitable. Also the extra silver beet and snow peas will take up a lot of room in the Vegepods, so more growing space would be desirable.  Most of our large pots have been filled with other perennials and herbs, so we needed another portable solution. 

The Mother’s Day sales provided us with an answer, as we found discounted large, woven grow bags with handles from aussiegardener.com.au (not sponsored) for the garlic, as well as for the spring onions. The round, enclosed Vegebags made by Vegepod were also on sale and we bought three. These use the same growing system and protect leafy veggies from bad weather. Any large pot or container covered with netting would work equally well, but the advantage of grow bags is that you can fold them up when not in use to save storage space. 

The garlic and silver beet are now planted in these bags. Nothing can get into Vegebags and the silver beet, nestled in pea straw, is looking good. The dogs don’t like the onion family but to stop them getting into the open grow bags we put bamboo stakes around the the edges, tied with white plastic packaging tape that came with a delivery. As for the self-pollinating snow peas, these were planted in a woven grow bag fitted with arches made from old plastic drainage pipe placed over bamboo poles. This was covered with white bird netting, pegged and tied on to keep out possums, dogs and other pests. Plastic trellis attached to bamboo stakes inside the structure will be a climbing frame for the peas. The spring onions are still tiny seedlings, but as soon as they become large enough, we will plant them in woven grow bags, like the garlic.

All of our vegetables are in portable containers that are easily moved into the sun and are accessible for harvesting of the crops. We are already enjoying the lettuces and the spinach, both baby and perpetual. The silver beet is growing fast and the garlic is beginning to shoot. Our other small seedlings are also coming along so we will have fresh greens this winter and look forward to the garlic harvest in spring, when we will plant the cucumbers, and other spring vegetables in the bags. 

Sometimes it does pay to spend some money in order to save money in the future and it is wise to buy discounted items whenever possible. We would not be able to effectively grow a decent number of vegetables with our existing garden layout without implementing these changes. Now we have established a system that we can use for years, will save us money and give us a continuous supply of healthy food to eat. 

In todays’s world of uncertain food security due to climate change (there are still floods in Queensland) we need to use urban areas for food production. If you have a garden, access to a community garden, a sunny balcony, courtyard or rooftop, it makes sense to grow some fruit or vegetables. Even a concrete drive like ours can be used. There are all kinds of growing methods to try, whether you do it yourself or buy easy to assemble kits. You just need to find the method that suits your situation and like us, you may need to use more than one. Just think creatively.

Happy planting, Kat.

For excellent advice on growing fruit and vegetables in your home environment visit:

Aussie Youtube channel Self Sufficient Me (https://www.youtube.com/c/Selfsufficientme). Mark is so helpful and very entertaining.

View the extensive information from the team at Gardening Australia (https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/how-to-eat-from-your-garden-vegetable-patch-all-year/11096242.)

Erratic Creativity and Shaking off the Winter Slump

It is the middle of winter in Melbourne and July is the coldest month of the year with lower levels of sunlight. This is the time when many people have difficulty with their creative flow. Unlike during the warmer months when my energy is high, now it is very erratic and this inhibits my ability to focus on one thing for long. I find it much less stressful to switch between different creative activities, depending on my mood and energy level. When this is low, if something else sparks my interest, I embrace such experiences to restore my sense of joy in dull and grey weather. These strategies can help anyone who is in a creative slump, especially during the winter.

When I am feeling overwhelmed my spirits have been lifted by watching live Youtube streams from places where it is now summer. There is nothing like the power of the Icelandic volcanic eruption and the antics of Danish and German Wildlife to realise that the world is still a wonderful place. Here are some links to these livestreams for your enjoyment.

It is good to know that beautiful places and amazing events are still out there even though we cannot visit at the moment. Watching the live sporting broadcasts of the Tour de France has brought back the heat. It is entertaining to view the cycling action and spectacular scenery of the French countryside. This really puts a smile on your face when it is cold and it has been very inspiring to see the achievements of these talented riders. It is good motivation to get on the exercise bike.

Being in nature is beneficial for your health and sanity even during the colder months, so it is wonderful to have a garden. Our local parks can be crowded with joggers, dog walkers etc whenever there is fine weather and it is lovely to have such a peaceful place to enjoy by just walking out the back door. During  Melbourne’s repeated lockdowns there were millions of people wishing to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine in public parks at the same time. With all the development and destruction of established gardens in our area, I hope that people finally realise how important it is to preserve these personal outdoor spaces.

If you have any outside space, whether a balcony or small courtyard, make the most of it and try to create some shelter from winter winds with screening plants and appropriate seating. Use your imagination and be creative. In the summer Ellie and I fixed up our run down terrace, by adding more paving and painted the old garden furniture so that it is more pleasant to sit outside in fine weather. Plants were added to make the adjacent fernery appear lush and tropical with leafy, evergreen plants that can survive Melbourne’s cold, windy winters.  Here are some before and after photos.

Here we saved money by planting several shade loving Clivias that Ellie propagated from one pot plant. We found some Canna and Arum Lillys and Bleeding Heart trees, that had spontaneously grown in the empty bed next to the new fence. These have been potted for future deployment in the front garden. Also tomato and pumpkin plants popped up from the compost which was spread in our herb garden, along with lots of nasturtiums which grew from last year’s seeding. Our single wormwood shrub has also provided new plants from cuttings that will be added to the herb garden. Green and variegated spider plants, birds nest ferns and aralia plants easily reproduce in our garden and we have a plentiful supply in pots. It is wonderful when a garden self regenerates. 

When your creativity levels take a dive it makes a real difference to see growth and life in the garden. We are lucky in Melbourne because our winters do not produce snow and there is always an abundance of greenery and citrus fruits during the coldest months. If you are in a snowy region you can also benefit from the watching the continual growth of indoor plants. It is harder to feel down in the dumps when these are bursting with green energy which is restorative.

Plant life can provide creative impetus. Our garden is a constant source of inspiration and has given me ideas for artworks. There is always something new to see during winter. Even when not in the mood for drawing and painting, I have photographed any seasonal changes in our garden for use in future work. These have already inspired me to practice new techniques and try various art materials. 

During periods of low creative energy don’t worry if you are not producing masterpieces. Some artworks are just for learning purposes and not to create great works of art. I have a watercolour sketchbook and a fun collage journal where I do things that make me happy. Some things work, others don’t. I’m not always happy with the results, but I don’t need to show anyone because they are for my benefit alone. It’s Ok to keep some artworks to yourself. These a just a step in your journey to making art that you want to display in public.

However sometimes it pays to ignore your own advice and to go with your instincts. Yesterday I did show one of my practice art journals to someone I trust and they commissioned me to do a small painting as a gift for a relative. So just playing around in a sketchbook for fun when you are trying to lift your mood is never a waste of time. It might just lead you down a more creative path.

Winter might not be the most creative season for everyone but there are many ways to give yourself a boost. This is also the time when there is never more than three months until the arrival of spring and all the renewed energy that comes with sunnier days.

Kat

Staying Creative: What I Learned in Lockdown

The sun is shining, summer is here and Melbourne has survived a second Lockdown which felt like it would never end. This experience has taught some valuable lessons about how important it is to be adaptable with your creativity and creative space in difficult times.  I hope my experience may be helpful to others.

One thing that I found very hard to do during the stress of lockdown has been to write for this blog. I have sat down many times to put ideas in my notebook or start posts on the computer only to finding it too difficult to concentrate and getting nothing done (I’m still not finding it easy). It was impossible to do anything for too long without getting distracted.

Luckily working on visual artwork and experimenting with mixed media was more successful. I had fun trying out mono printing, drawing with some new polychromos coloured pencils and ink painting, as well as revisiting painting with acrylics on canvas and drawing with oil pastels. Moving between mediums seemed to help with my inability to focus.

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Field of Poppies (Acrylic Monoprint)

Using various types of media often requires different types of working surfaces and equipment. I find it best to paint on canvas standing at an easel, drawing and painting on paper on an angled drawing board at a table and using a flat surface for mono printing and watercolour works. Luckily our studio is large enough to accomodate these facilities, but using the space efficiently is important when two people want to use the room for creating different types of art and craft pieces.

I thought that our studio was well organised until I was forced to spend months at home and some things started to bug me. Ellie also needed a sewing machine area for sewing Covid face masks, clothing and textile art. Previously her working table was next to my computer desk but this meant that if she was working at the machine and I was at the computer our chairs would run into each other. Not something that would make for a harmonious environment, especially when you are siblings. Not only that, but Ellie bought a new quilting machine and wanted to have both sewing machines set up so she could move between them for different techniques. She needed a sturdy table to hold this heavier machine. Another addition to the already crowded studio required a lot of reorganisation to make materials and equipment more accessible and to maximise our working surfaces (there are photos of how the studio used to look in the October 20, 2019 post).

Sometimes you just have to get rid of items to reconfigure a space so that it is workable. To accommodate the new flat pack table for Ellie’s machine and an office chair she already possessed, we moved her wooden trolley and an old wooden chair to another room. Her workspace is now on the other side of the room from mine so we don’t drive each other crazy. I also removed the old Apple computer from my desk as it was cluttering up the space and put it in another location (It’s a design classic and we want to keep it as it still works).

The tall table is now in the centre of the room with Ellie’s easel on her side and mine at one end on the other side in front to my wicker trolley. This means that you can walk around the room from either direction so that access to our respective areas is not blocked. I can do messy acrylic work or place my paints and palette on the table for working at the easel and sit down at my other table by the window to draw at the table easel or do watercolours on the adjacent area where I keep my watercolour brushes and palettes.

You can often repurpose an unused piece of equipment so that it does not just waste space. I am not using my metal vertical tapestry loom at the moment and I attached a pin/white board to the frame so I can write reminders and pin up colour swatches or artwork for reference.

Equipment that you use but is just getting in the way of your work often needs it’s own spot for efficiencies sake. Our cutting mat and guillotine were on the central table which limited the working area so we moved them to the side bench. Now each of us can cut paper and card without getting in each other’s way.

Display areas for artwork and inspiration material are always useful in a studio. We had three pinboards that were kicking around and we finally put them up on the walls above our respective areas. This got them out of the way and we can feature our own work in our space.

If you paint on canvas storage can be a big problem. There is a narrow shelving unit behind a bamboo screen to hold blank and completed works. I also have a large bolt of linen canvas that was stuck behind my window table where it was inaccessible and I moved it behind the screen. This made it easier to stretch several small canvases, but I needed more room in the shelving to store them. There were several framed paintings taking up space so I put them up in other rooms of the house. Storing works on walls was a good way of decluttering the studio and now I have more space for new works.

Having the time to work on artworks and reorganise the studio has been very beneficial for our creativity. I enjoyed experimenting with materials and Ellie made some very comfortable and colourful face masks. Ellie was also able to completely clear out her small study, which was full of junk and was blocking her from doing any artwork. She now has access to her art supplies and has started doing works on paper.

While stressful and not something we would want to go through again, lockdown has given both of us a chance to to reevaluate our creative methods, try new techniques and work in a more efficient manner.

Wishing everyone a creative, healthy and happy festive season. Let’s hope 2021 brings brighter and better things.

Kat

For a bit of fun here is a very silly Aussie version of The Twelve Days of Christmas by Bucko and Champs. Most Australians don’t really talk like this!

Death of a Palm Tree

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Melbourne is again in lockdown due to a surge in Covid-19 cases. This is a very serious situation for our city and I wish those who are affected a speedy recovery. Disturbing times make you want to stick to the familiar, the things that you can count on, so when something negative happens in your immediate environment it can really get to you. Today the view from my studio window has changed forever and not in a good way and I’m upset.

Hearing the sound of chainsaws usually does not bode well when there is so much development going on in our once quiet suburb. I hoped that a neighbour was just having their trees pruned, but when I looked out of our family room window I saw a man cutting the top from the tall palm tree next door. My first thoughts were “tree murderer” which I shouted towards the culprit. Double glazing makes you brave. Then I became emotional and ran upstairs to the studio to write this piece with the sounds of the chainsaw jangling my nerves.

Palm trees are iconic in our bayside suburb and are found all around Port Phillip Bay. They remind us of the origins of our beach side areas which were established as places for seaside recreation in the 19th century. Some of these palms are very old and contribute to the character of Melbourne.

The Palm next door was not one of the very old ones but it gave a tropical feel to our view even in the midst of winter. Some people just don’t appreciate the beauty of the natural world and want to destroy anything that does not fit with their bleak, narrow vision. I will miss its constant presence as it made our view more attractive, especially with all the ugliness of the building that is going on next door and the starkness of the new construction on the other side. Unfortunately when the new fence was built between our properties the vines that shielded this eyesore completely fell down. As an antidote to this negative action we plan to plant beautiful clumping bamboo along our fence line that will grow tall and thick enough to hide the concrete horror that is to be built.

I  have selected some photos that show the tree through different seasons, times of day and weather patterns which are shared below.

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Goodbye old friend. You gave me pleasure and were a symbol of strength through storms and heatwaves. I’m sorry that you did not get to live out your life span in peace, but you will live on in my memories.

If something like this happens in your part of the world, do something positive that can make a difference to your environment, such as growing plants or vegetables. The world needs all the creativity, beauty and oxygen it can get.

Stay well, safe and creative.

Kat

Creative Substitution: Making Do with Limited Materials and Tools

In difficult times we may have limited access or the money for new materials and tools that we want for our Art or Craft work. Also if we a trying out a new creative activity we may not wish to spend a lot on resources until we are sure that this is something we would like to continue.

Like many creatives I have been trying to keep busy during lockdown in the current pandemic, which is still making its presence felt in Melbourne. When the emergency situation was first declared I had begun working on a Junk Journal to hold holiday ephemera from past trips to Japan and Italy. As this is something I have never done before, I did not want to spend a fortune on materials in case it was just a one off work. Buying things from overseas has also become more difficult at this time so it makes sense to use what you have and work out other ways to fill the gaps. Finding tips on You Tube has been a huge help and I have also come up with some solutions of my own that I hope others will find useful.

Decorative paper is really great for making pockets to hold the ephemera in a Junk Journal. I lacked a good stock of special craft paper so I used recycled or unused gift wrapping paper and some origami paper. Coloured stationary paper, either patterned or plain, can be found in most households and also works well. 

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Even with these paper resources there were limitations with the type of patterns and colour range, so I decided to make some decorative paper myself using printer paper and liquid inks. Sea and household sponges, as well as small carpet off-cuts can be used to stamp the paper and create interesting patterns, Some looked like faces and complimented the Venetian mask page in my book.

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For the Japanese section of the journal I chose to create more calligraphic designs and found that I could do these with a stiff jagged brush to apply the ink. This looks really good when combined with Japanese calligraphy or with Japanese scroll scenes as shown below.

Lacking a common crafting item does not mean you cannot do a technique. I do not have many rubber stamps that a lot of crafters use to decorate their junk journals so I found substitutes. Old wine and champagne corks create unique and interesting designs when stamped en masse on a page. I have a collection of these. It is easier to find champagne corks now-a-days with the advent of the screw top lid on wine bottles and these are good to save from celebrations. 

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Even with a limited amount of stamp pads you can create interesting patterns with the corks. I only have black, red, blue and  green stamp pads and colours can be used together to make varied effects.

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Many junk journals are made from old books or ephemera. I do not have a disposable collection of these, having got rid of a whole lot of such items before we had our renovations. The ones that remain are either too useful or have too much sentimental value to destroy for craft purposes. But it is ok to copy books and ephemera that predate 1923, because if you wish to sell an art or craftwork you cannot use copies of any copyrighted material created after this date and must use the original.  If you are lucky enough to have older books or ephemera you can copy these as much as you wish, so keep them for this purpose instead of cutting them up. This is a great way to make a limited resource go a long way.

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Old books, especially 19th century encyclopaedias, travel and botanical books, contain wonderful illustrations that can be photographed, if the book is fragile, or photocopied for use in art and craft projects. I have used these to add interest to my journal. Often Junk Journal creators like to ink the edges of old book images to make these stand out from the background and use wooden ink “dobbers” to apply the ink. I do not have any of these so I made some by sticking synthetic felt to the bottom of champagne corks or with foam glued to a round piece of ply wood. These do the job and were made from things I had lying around. If you don’t have a tool make one yourself from household items.

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Use your old artworks that would otherwise be thrown out to create new decorative elements. I had some sheets of paper with Japanese ink style experiments in painting bamboo leaves that I cut up to use as book pages. I coloured them with green and brown water colour to make an interesting background for pockets made from copies of old botanical book illustrations. Your own discarded artworks can add original elements.

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When you lack the right equipment to create a particular technique, find another way of achieving the same result. I wanted to enhance a page with a stencilled effect but did not have any stencils. I saw a suggestion that you could place garden foliage on a page to act as a mask when sprayed with various coloured inks. This would leave a lovely ghost image of the plants. The only problem is that I do not have a selection of these inks or extra spray bottles in which to create a watercolour substitute. Then I remembered a technique I did as a child, splatter painting, which looks like the colour has been sprayed onto a surface. For this all you need is some kind of metal or plastic mesh, a small frame and a tooth brush. I found some wire fly screen mesh in our shed which I stapled to a small wooden painting stretcher and was ready to go.

I wanted strong colour and grabbed the gouache that I had squeezed into old make-up pan palette. When wet with enough water to make the paint splatter through the wire mesh, you can build up layers of different colours and control the intensity of application by splattering the paint over different parts of the foliage mask. I was really happy with the result to which I added red roses cut from wrapping paper. Just shows that there is more than one way to achieve a desired effect if you think creatively. 

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I still need to decorate the cover of my journal and am considering several methods but that is for another day. It has been very relaxing and enjoyable working on a Junk Journal and I will try to make another one using some recycled materials.  But whatever I use I will make do.

So don’t let limited resources stop you from doing your Art or Craft. There is always a substitute.  

Stay safe and creative.

Kat

Many of the ideas and inspiration for making my journal come from the You Tube channels of Pam at The Paper Outpost and Lindsay Weirich, The Frugal Crafter, who I have found to be very helpful and are a delight to watch. If you haven’t already, check out these channels.

Creativity and the New Year Blues

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Above is a photo of the famous and picturesque Brighton Beach in Melbourne on a lovely summer’s day. This is how we want our holiday season to always be, but it has been a very difficult New Year in Australia and the celebrations have felt rather hollow. It is very hard to be cheerful when so many people are suffering with the devastating bushfires affecting our state of Victoria and the whole country. Climate change is very real in our part of the world, which is quite depressing, especially with our Federal government’s hopeless response to this threat. The current situation appears to have no end in sight and it must be terrible for those caught up in the crisis. While it is important to remain informed and engaged with what is happening, it is also vital to do things to get your mind off a terrible situation, otherwise it can effect your well being which is no help to anyone. This is where a person’s creativity can be their best friend.

Last Monday a deadly wind fanned fires in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and brought down many trees on what was a day of nearly 43 degrees Celsius. A strong wind gust caused a tree limb from our neighbour’s African Coral tree to crash onto our dividing fence and damage some of our citrus trees, a minor inconvenience compared with the extreme fires happening all over the place. Everything seems turbulent and out of balance. How do you stay calm and focused when your country is in a state of emergency?

As well as donating to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery for those affected by the bushfires, it also helps to take action with things that you can immediately change. Ellie and I decided to deal with the fallen tree branch because our citrus trees needed quick attention so that they will recover. Our neighbours are away for the holiday period and the large branch is too big for us to remove on our own, so Ellie and I cut away the overhanging branches from the fallen limb and removed any broken ones from our trees. Now there is just one big branch stuck on our side of the fence. The rest can be taken care of when our neighbours return. 

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It was great to get outside in the garden on a cool day to make the most of the fresh air and sunshine before the smoke returned to Melbourne. A bit of physical activity can make you feel a lot more relaxed.

Good old New Year’s resolutions in this time of stress can help to regain your focus provided you implement them quickly. This type of planning can be done at any time of the year. For example there is nothing like learning a language to stimulate the brain. I studied Japanese for two and a half years at university (up to third year level) but had let it slip. This year I decided to refresh my language skills and have found a phone app to get me started. I still have my Japanese text books, but using the app allows me to listen, speak and read at the same time. I have begun with very basic Japanese to get me back into the flow and am surprised to see how much I remember. It is fun to learn without the stress of exams and I would recommend using an app first before taking formal lessons as it is like playing a game.

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Doing any sort of creative project can be a welcome distraction. Another resolution of mine is to continue with water colour painting, learn all kinds of techniques and try out different materials. After watching some inspiring You Tube videos, I have decided to have a go at making some shimmering water colour paints from old powdered make up to use in craft projects. For pan containers I found 10 plastic make up pots to hold each colour and these will fit into a plastic lidded box which means they will be easy to store. I bought some gum arabic to mix with the shimmer powder as a binder. You will need to leave the container open until the paints dry and once dry the paints can be reactivated with water like normal water colour.

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Here is the video that inspired my project.

I did some research online to find out the lightfastness of the pigments that were used in the make-up powder. For those interested in this type of thing here is what I learnt as they are common pigments used in make-up along with the shimmering mica which is the main ingredient:

Ferric Ammonium Ferrocyanide (Prussian blue) cannot be mixed with titanium white or zinc white as it becomes fugitive (non-lightfast).

Carmine Pigment is fugitive in water colours.

Chromium Hydroxide Green – do not heat over 200 degrees Celsius or the colour might change.

With these results I would suggest that any paint made from these pigments only be used for greeting cards, other types of ephemera or inside sketchbooks where the contents are not exposed to the light. There are artist quality pearlescent watercolours available for archival work. I can’t wait to experiment with these shimmer paints and plan to buy some professional ones in the future. 

In trying times you need to look forward to some good things and to never lose that feeling of hope. 

On a very smoky Friday in Melbourne wishing everyone a Happy 2020. Let’s hope that there are better things to come.

Kat

The Tree and Creative Family Celebrations

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The Tree as a centrepiece of the festive season brings joy to family celebrations and allows for all kinds of creative interpretations. In our home it has been the focal point for gatherings of family and friends so we try to put an effort into making it a little bit different each year, without spending a fortune or getting too stressed. I can usually find something in our decoration stash to re-invent the tree every season whether it is a real or artificial pine, or the alternative kind. 

One of our most memorable trees was a Monterey Pine that we placed beside the fireplace in the old part of our house. This was the largest tree we have ever had. It was nine feet tall and nearly reached the ten foot ceiling. Ellie and I went to a tree farm to choose it and brought it home with the help of our uncle and his trailer. It was a job getting it on to the tree stand and I’ll never forget the strong scent of pine that permeated the house. We fed the tree regularly with sugar, vinegar and a few drops of bleach (to kill mould) that was added to the bucket in which the trunk was placed. This kept it looking fresh for the whole festive period.

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We had an old fashioned Christmas party that year where everyone came dressed in costumes of the late Victorian era. The pine tree was decorated in this style, with candles, toys, papier mache and glass ornaments.  We already had many of these decorations and found inexpensive items at two dollar shops and chain stores. On top of the tree was a large papier mache star. 

We did not light the real tree candles in case naked flames ignited the volatile pine needles. Instead the room was lit with large candles in the fireplace and assorted candle sticks and holders, as well as some oil lamps. The light reflected in the shiny glass baubles of the tree and created a lovely atmosphere. Luckily it was a cool summer’s evening and the candles did not generate too much heat.

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All our guests entered into the spirit of the occasion and we had a wonderful evening trying to recreate a celebration from a bygone era. We may have lacked the snow but once the sun had eventually set it was hard to tell that it was summer and the tree gave us a taste of a northern winter Yuletide.

More recent trees at our place have been the alternative kind, being created from a music stand, a dead tree and a ladder, all of which suited the more modern section of our house and fitted well with the summer season. Here are some photos.

This year I dug out a 1970s, six foot, green tinsel tree from the attic. (That is the great thing about old houses with roof storage. Plenty of places to store old family items that can be rediscovered and reused.) We have not put up this tree since 2007, so I thought it was about time and it looks good in our more casual family room.

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When sparkling aluminium and vinyl trees first appeared they must have seemed so modern compared with the traditional pine trees. The only thing they have in common are the branches formed into a cone shape. They remind me of something from the space age, like some strange satellite antenna. Many examples of these shiny vintage trees are available to buy online and they are especially relevant where it is summer and no sign of snow. They look great with the sunshine reflecting on the metallic foliage. 

Mixing both original and contemporary ornaments can give new life to a vintage tree. As well as some vintage decorations, such as the synthetic silk balls, I used more recent decorations from our collection that also suit this tree, like white, gold and silver stars, aluminium tree and butterfly cutouts. Basically anything sparkly and shiny. Amongst the branches are white and silver Christmas Crackers (or bon bons) to hide the trunk. I did not put on any lights or glass baubles because electricity, glass and dogs are a recipe for disaster. And speaking of dogs, we have placed our tree on a small table to prevent the original silk balls being appropriated by our dogs. The last time we set up this tree one of our previous fox terriers stole and destroyed a few. It would be too tempting at ground level, especially as our younger dog loves balls. So far so good. The tree looks quite dramatic and nearly touches the ceiling.

Our vintage tree will be a cheerful feature at our end of year party and will allow us to time travel back to the mid twentieth century for our celebrations. Nothing like cocktails and retro finger food partaken around the tree on a summer’s evening to put everyone in happy, holiday mood, especially when the sun does not set until around 9.30 pm. 

Have fun and be creative with your tree. Whether it is real, traditional or modern, there is something special about getting together with family and friends around the tree for whatever you celebrate at this time of year.

Thank you for dropping by to my erratic blog and wishing all of you Happy Holidays and a joyful Festive Season.

Kat

The following is a typically Aussie, irreverent take on a well known Christmas song by Bucko and Champs (Greg Champion and Colin Buchanan) You won’t hear this one in stores!

SUPPORT YOUR ARTIST FRIENDS: IT MATTERS

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Having supportive friends can make a big difference to your life. Getting support for your creative endeavours from people you know can give you confidence and inspire your work.  There is nothing more uplifting than seeing friends in an audience at one of your performances, at an exhibition or other similar events where you have work displayed. It is also important to support creative friends and to celebrate their accomplishments. 

Recently the ukulele group that Ellie and I help run performed at a local community festival. We had a lot of fun entertaining the crowd and it was great to see the smiling faces of family and friends who came out to support us in the audience. It boosted our performance. After the event I realised the several of the friends that we had invited had not turned up, even though they had said they would attend and had not sent any apologies.

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I was disappointed because in the past these friends have been quite insistent that we inform them when our ukulele group has scheduled a performance so they could come. For many years we have been playing our instruments at their parties, but when our uke group actually performs, not many show up. It was a free concert and in the same area where some of them lived so it would not have taken a big effort to be there, but I guess you can’t make people attend.

Who would want to be the sort of person that can’t be bothered to be a supportive friend? It is important to help out your friends even when you are busy. Don’t just nod and say something is great. Follow through and go to their events and exhibitions.

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If you really like a friend’s artwork and have the funds, buy one and display it in your home. If you can’t afford an original artwork buy a print or a card of their work.  An author would really appreciate you buying a copy of their book to read. Or if music is their medium, buy a CD or a download. The least you can do is spread the word that their work is available for purchase.

Take some photos or video the event and give your friend copies. When an artist is performing or talking to people at an exhibition opening, often it is family and friends who can record the occasion. After all the hours of preparation for something that is over in a short time, it is priceless to have a record. 

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If you cannot attend send an apology and congratulate them for their achievement. It is also thoughtful to send them a bottle of wine to celebrate or a card of congratulations. Show you care.

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And if you never get the support for your art from some people, don’t invite these repeat offenders to your creative events. They do not define you or your work. Positive energy generates more so save your efforts for those who do give you support and don’t take them for granted. Make sure you thank your family and friends for coming and that they know any help they may have given has been greatly appreciated.  

Anything that you can do to support your creative friends is valuable and is the most basic thing you can do for both the arts and friendship. Be the type of friend you want to have. It matters.

Kat

(all images from pixabay.com, unsplash.com or pxhere.com)

Health Scares and Creativity

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I haven’t posted in quite a while. Earlier in the year I was really busy rehearsing for a ukulele festival and put other creative activities on the back burner. I stupidly let myself get run down at the beginning  of the flu season, became seriously ill with a respiratory infection and ended up in hospital. Luckily, thanks to the wonderful care and attention of the medical and nursing staff, some powerful medication and a long period of rest, I made a full recovery. This whole episode was a bit of a wake-up call. You never know what is around the corner, so it is important to make the most of life and your creativity while you can. Do not to neglect your artwork, whatever that may be.

Because my energy had been depleted I needed to refresh my creativity and felt that I should try something new. Rather than getting bogged down trying to get a big idea or tackling a large work on canvas, I decided to work on a smaller scale and do works on paper. It would give me the opportunity to revisit coloured pencils, pen, ink and gouache, as well as to learn watercolour properly, something that was never taught when I went to art school. I bought some new paints and materials to supplement those I already had and have been experimenting with mixed media together with watercolour. Change is good for the soul.

Youtube has been a wonderful resource for watercolour lessons and information on paints and other materials. There are so many generous artists who share their knowledge and are entertaining in the process. Wish these had been available when I was at art school.

One thing that really shocked me was the price of water colour paints and materials in Australia, especially water colour paper which needs to be 100% cotton and makes a big difference when learning techniques. I tried to limit the costs by getting one set of paints on Amazon and found some good deals on water colour paper on Fishpond, as well as sourcing some water colour pads made from Italian paper by the local Australian company, Art Spectrum. I only needed to buy a few new brushes as I already had many for gouache. Those few I bought were also made by an Australian company.  Local is always cheaper than imported, especially if you buy from one of your country’s online retailers.

I saved money by using plastic well palettes that I already had for washes and improvised with a porcelain soap dish and some white ceramic tiles left over from our renovations, which are great for mixing smaller quantities of paint or coloured inks and are easy to clean. The larger tile can be used for working on a small sheet of wet watercolour paper. Always keep ceramic tiles or other useful containers for mixing paints.

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I also had some ancient Windsor and Newton pan and tube watercolours from a relative. The tubes had dried up and I cut these open and put the paint in an old theatrical makeup palette so I could use them with the old pans, which I blue tacked into the same container. These are still workable, although not as nice as the new paints. Never discard old watercolours as they can be reconstituted.

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Another thing that I found helpful in revitalising my creativity was reorganising the studio. (For a comparison you can see how it looked in early 2017 by clicking here). It is a good idea to find out what you have so that you don’t waste money on things you don’t really need. I moved the things that I use more often to accessible locations in cupboards and shelves. Those that are not used much were placed on higher shelves or in stacked, vintage suitcases. In one accessible suitcase, under a table, I put all my A3 art paper and pads. a much cheaper alternative to buying a large drawer unit.

The old dollhouse now holds pan paints and inks, coloured pencils and markers, as well as some craft items. Biscuit tins are great storage containers for drawing materials.

I moved my acrylic, oil paint and other brushes from the table onto the white wicker trolley. Making more space on my table surfaces means I have plenty of room for my materials when I am working on something. The tall Ikea trestle table can be used for cutting paper or fabric and is a place for Ellie to work on her projects.

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I still have room for some fun inspirational objects. It is great to be a bit silly and playful in your work space.

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As I’m still finding my feet with watercolours, I don’t want to show any of my early attempts. It is more important to have some fun and enjoy the process without any pressure.

A health scare makes you take stock of your life, especially when you have been lucky and dodged a bullet. Enjoy life and revel in your creativity.

Kat.

In the spirit of the coming Halloween celebration here’s a fun video from one of my favourite 80s Aussie bands, Mental as Anything.

In Praise of Pigs

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The pig is an animal that has been used as a symbol by many cultures, as well as inspiring writers and artists. (See entries on Wikipedia for a good survey of the cultural and religious associations and the pig in popular culture). Sometimes it is used to depict human failings; at others it represents wisdom and good fortune. Pigs also can be just plain entertaining. Now we have entered the Chinese Year of the Pig I thought I would share my small collection and some random thoughts on the subject.

Undomesticated pigs can be fierce and dangerous beasts. Since ancient times representations of wild boar have displayed this ferocity with great imagination. Take for example this illustration from our dilapidated copy Oliver Goldsmith’s A History of the Earth and Animated Nature, Vol. I 1868. The various species of wild pigs from different regions of the world are put together to create a scene that could only exist on paper or in your nightmares.

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I’m sure that the British illustrator Paul Hogarth was channeling this wildness in his cover illustration for the 1960s edition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. That is one threatening pig.

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In contrast illustrations of domestic pigs seem much more benign although they can still display a lot of character. In our 1883 copy of the Universal Self Instructoris an entry on how to keep hogs with an accompanying picture. The artist gives you the impression that these two hogs would have been stubborn personalities with minds of their own. They look immovable.

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The pig form may be bulky bit it can lend itself to delicate and small artifacts. For example I have a tiny glass pig that I bought in a shop in the US, as well as a tiny pig pin, something that will be fun to wear this year.

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Pigs can be wonderfully amusing creatures and have inspired cartoonists like Walt Disney in his 1933 animation of The Three Little Pigsand the Loony Tunes character of Porky Pig. Here are a couple of comical pigs. The pink one is a vintage bath salts holder and the other was found at an op shop.

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There are many charming images of pigs in children’s books. In our 1901 edition of Country Favourites there are some delightful illustrations of pigs for the story Pat and the pigs by Winifred Fenn. The story is about a very naughty boy who steals cherries and releases the pigs in his charge to eat the flowers in an old ladies garden. Of course, like all moralizing tales of this era he eventually sees the error his ways and apologizes. The likeable and good-natured looking pigs seem oblivious to the fact they are involved in dirty deeds.

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A piggy bank is the quintessential money box with so many creative variations. Countless generations have saved their change in one. When my sister and I were children our grandmother would give us the contents of her vintage hand painted, ceramic piggy bank. Unfortunately this lovely bank was accidentally given to charity.

I was always horrified by the thought of smashing a beautiful piggy bank to get at the contents when there was no bottom opening. I would rather use a knife to loosen the change while holding it upside down. I still have a reproduction of a depression era glass piggy bank and it is easy to shake out the contents. Many financial companies give away piggy banks as promotional gifts and that is the origin of the jovial plastic purple one below.

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Because the pig is one of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac it is popular in Asian countries as a symbol of luck, wisdom and good fortune. A Japanese friend gave me a wooden lucky charm from her local temple, painted with the image of Ebisu (one of the seven gods of happiness) riding a white pig, which I treasure. The gorgeous Korean brass pig was found at a local op shop.

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Pigs are great animals to doodle and I did this drawing a long time ago just for the fun of it.

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Pig objects make an interesting collection and have all kinds of different meanings around the world.  Although sometimes symbolising wild nature, pigs are also revered as intelligent and benevolent animals and can inspire us in our creative endeavours.

Happy Year of the Pig!

Kat

Because it is just so delightful and amusing, here is Walt Disney’s animation of The Three Little Pigs.