The Joys of Silliness

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Silliness is undervalued. By this I don’t mean stupidity but having uninhibited fun. It is the opposite of pompous and stiff behavior or calculated coolness. Adults are able to get away with being silly playing with children and pets but in other situations it is usually discouraged. Well silliness in its true sense makes us happy and has inspired all kinds of creative artworks. It is an antidote to gloom and unpleasant situations. We should never repress our innate silliness.

From school age we are told to “stop being silly.” But probably the best moments of school life were the ones where someone was being silly and these were often anxiety relievers. Those crazy conversations had with one’s peers, the jokes, the funny sayings you will never forget and the mad games you made up together. And there was always a classroom clown who could crack everyone up with some really silly comment. It may have annoyed the teacher but it was usually a breath of fresh air, especially in a boring class.

Once grown up many people become afraid to behave in a silly manner in public. It is frowned upon and subject to authoritarian disapproval in numerous walks of life. The entertainment and arts industries are usually the only acceptable areas where it is actually encouraged. Comedians, cartoonists and writers of humor spread their joy into the world and make us laugh at silly scenarios and the foibles of human nature. They have a license to be silly.

We should celebrate the local eccentrics in our communities. They put us in a happy mood with some of their silly antics. Often they are performing the function of a medieval court jester and poking fun at the government like Lord Buckethead did in the last UK elections. Or they are creative people who love to live a flamboyant lifestyle like Melbourne’s famous milliner, Richard Nylon, who delivers his hats on a Penny Farthing bicycle. We need people like this in the world. They turn silliness into an art form.

Everyone should be allowed some silliness in their lives. When you are engaged with crazy, whimsical thoughts or actions this can inspire some very creative ideas as well as making you feel better. Don’t leave it to someone else to give you this feeling. Get out and do something silly. Ellie and I play the ukulele with others and sometimes sing very silly songs. There is an amateur drumming group who get together in a local park and have fun on weekends and a group of people who go to the beach some mornings just to laugh for the sake of it. One of our friends does tap dancing and has performed in stage shows and in parades and has had a great time.

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Vintage Snakes and Ladders Game

Being silly can be as simple as playing some board games with friends. Just don’t be too competitive or it will spoil the fun. Or you could make a kite and fly it in a park. Ellie and I did this as teenagers. We got it airborne but it eventually crashed and broke. It was fun while it lasted.

You could also make really silly sandwiches, with multiple layers just for the hell of it and serve these to guests. Wear a crazy scarf, patterned socks, colourful shoes or something slightly silly to work just to brighten up your day. But remember there is a fine line between silliness and annoying. You know, like the awful office comedian (think Ricky Gervais as David Brent in The Office). Don’t force the silliness. Keep it natural.

If you like to dress up in costumes there are Cosplay events in most cities. You can become a fanciful fictional character. Some of these are quite silly in a good way. One summer’s day Ellie and I attended a costume picnic with about a hundred people in a city park. On the way to the event we may have had some strange looks from passers-by, but lots of people did smile, as it is not something you see everyday. It was great to be with so many happy, creative people laughing and enjoying the moment. There were people with bubble makers producing giant bubbles, lively drummers and some knights having a sword fight. This was not an official event but organized by some local costume enthusiasts online. We need more of these types of things these days with groups of people making their own entertainment. There is nothing like getting together with like-minded people for some harmless silliness.

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Whatever you do there are many others who also long for some silliness in their lives and are more likely to smile than frown and will want to join in on the fun. You will feel less stressed and come up with all kinds of ideas.

Kat

I love bands that aren’t afraid to be silly. The Australian group Mental As Anything did some great songs in the 80s with some silly videos, like the whimsical If You Leave Me can I come Too.

 

Creative Life: Be Inventive

 

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We all need some kind of tools to be creative. For those who work with their hands these can be simple or complex depending on what you do. Often due to lack of money or availability art and crafts people have needed to make their own tools and equipment, which has led to some imaginative solutions. I have made some simple examples myself because of the expense or if I could not find something suitable. It is good to be inventive.

Looking at homemade inventions from the past can be inspiring. I have a very old metal yarn winder (a swift) that was inherited from my grandmother. I don’t know where it came from but it was obviously homemade by someone who knew how to use a soldering iron. It is made up of an old curtain rod finial, a metal nut with screw holes on a brass and wooden base, screw-in horizontal brass rods that have vertical brass rod attachments to hold the yarn. Someone went to a lot of trouble to make this winder, probably at a time when they were difficult or expensive to buy. It is quite an ingenious solution to an old problem and might have been created by someone who was sick of holding the yarn as it was wound into a ball.

Everyone who works with yarn needs some kind of winder. I had a look on Google image search and many craftspeople still come up with interesting DIY yarn winders using a variety of materials, from old coat hangers to collapsible wine racks. It is good to see in this consumer-oriented day and age that the inventive spirit is alive and well.

This sort of inventiveness has led to home cottage industries. While I have made my own basic wooden frame looms, I needed a larger adjustable loom for tapestry weaving and found one made be a local man who made these from basic plumbing supplies for a reasonable price. He started out making one for his wife who was a tapestry weaver and others liked his design so he made them for students. DSCN5344

When creating your own equipment try not to get too bogged down in detail. The great illustrator W Heath Robinson was famous for his hilarious drawings of ridiculous inventions and contraptions. These made even the most basic of processes complicated. There is no need to go down this route and it is best to simplify as much as possible.

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Mackintosh’s Toffee Advert, Illustrations by W Heath Robinson, Public Domain Image, freevintageillustrations.com

With very basic carpentry skills you can make all kinds of things with a drill. I made a basic tapestry frame loom shown in a previous post. If you get the wood cut to size at the hardware store, all you need to do is screw it together. I inserted a couple of dowel pegs on each side of the frame to hold a narrow wooden crossbar so that I could suspend my design behind the warp. This made it easier to transfer my designs onto the threads and was an improvement on a simple frame.

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Ellie also made a pegboard for holding cones of yarn so that it was easy to wind it onto bobbins for tapestry weaving. She just used an off-cut of Oregon pine left over from our arbor and drilled holes for a couple of pieces of dowel. Then she sanded the whole thing and coated it in varnish. Didn’t cost a thing because we already had the materials.

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Sometimes you want to try out a craft but do not want buy expensive equipment, especially if you don’t know whether you will like it or not. This is a good time to create you own. As a part of learning about the weaving process I tried out spinning with a drop spindle (How to video). Luckily a relative who had done this in the past gave me her spindle. It is of very basic manufacture and if you had access to the right cutting equipment you could easily make your own. It only requires a short section of dowel and some thick plywood. Here is a link (How to video) that shows you how to make a similar spindle from scratch or with pre-cut discs.
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But there are always even simpler ways to make tools when you look on-line. It is possible to make a workable spindle using a couple of CDs, a piece of dowel, small hook, some glue and small rubber rings (here are the instructions for those interested).

Finding cheaper alternatives to expensive items is a clever way to learn a new technique. With spinning, the wool needs to be combed (carded) and formed into rolls (rolags) before it is spun. Some ingenious craftspeople worked out that it was possible to use slicker dog brushes instead of costly hand carders for this process. These are a fraction of the price. They might not be quite as good as the proper equipment but are ok for the beginner. I was glad that I had learned something about the spinning process without spending a fortune as I prefer to concentrate on the weaving with ready-made yarn.

Sometimes you don’t want a big piece of equipment cluttering up your workspace especially if you will not use it often. That’s when you need to think creatively. I needed to be able to draw up large designs for tapestry but did not want a large, expensive drawing board table. So I went to the hardware store and had a large sheet of melamine fibre board cut to size. I can put this on my easel to draw and then put it away against a corner wall of the studio for storage. It did not cost much and saves space.

When you can’t find just the right tool it is time to make your own. I wanted a mahl stick. This is a piece of dowel with a padded end that is used for resting your painting hand against when working on fine details. It is essential that padding does not touch any wet areas of paint or cause dints in the canvas surface so it is best that this rests on the edge of the painting. At the time I could only find ones with a short shaft and wanted one for larger sized works so I made my own. All I needed was a long piece of dowel, a champagne cork, some felt, twine and glue. It works really well and I enjoyed some sparkling wine in the process.

A tool can be made from anything if you use your imagination. For textural work with ink or paint I have used all kinds of things to create my own tools. Corks, sponges, a jagged cut toothbrush, pieces of carpet, homemade bamboo pens, disposable chopsticks and skewers can be used. An emery board is great for sharpening charcoal pencils to a fine point. They are so many things that can be employed as a tool.

Whatever your art or craft, it is great to make your own tools and equipment. Being inventive is part of the creative process and what you make can be as basic or as complex as you like.

Kat

It is wonderful to use your imagination. Here’s an oldie but a goodie by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Creative Garden: Signs Of Early Spring

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It’s amazing what a bit of sunshine can do. We had a sunny morning and it was the first day I have felt like pottering around in the garden for a while. It’s still winter but the plants in our garden are starting to wake up. I can see that I will have to do a lot of weeding when the weather warms up but will also have more energy for creative activities.

With spring just weeks away it feels like coming out of hibernation. I just hope that the winter does not hang around like it did last year. We may not have Groundhog Day in Australia, but the rare and endangered Mountain Pygmy-possums (the only marsupials to hibernate) will also come out of their nests to breed in the spring. But as they are nocturnal you are unlikely to see their shadows.

For those unfamiliar with Australian possums, they are marsupials like Kangaroos and Koalas and have a pouch. They are really cute. The ones that inhabit urban areas can be destructive to plants but it is very hard to resist those eyes when you see them in a tree and they are easy to forgive. Wind chimes, bells or bright lights seem to be the best deterrent to stop them eating plants. For those of you who have never seen these little creatures, here are a couple of videos, one of a mountain pygmy-possum and another of a  Common Ringtail Possum that has come down from the trees to accept a drink on a very hot day.

While some plants are about to display new growth, others are on the decline in our garden and need to be replaced. The grapefruit tree has not survived the dry cold weather as it had some kind of disease. It also took a big knock and never recovered when the tree limb from next door crashed on top of it a couple of years ago and destroyed its middle branches. We will need to put in another evergreen tree in its place. Preferably something the possums can’t eat.

Sometimes you do something in the garden that is not intended to be a permanent fixture but end up keeping it anyway. We stuck a lily plant in an old rusty wheelbarrow to move it from a spot where we wanted to plant something else. It has sat in that wheelbarrow now for years because we could never decide where to put it. It keeps regenerating in winter and does not require lots of water and will have pink flowers around late December. Actually it is quite convenient being in a moveable container and has been placed in various locations depending on the sun. Sometime random acts can work out quite well.

A plant that flowers in the winter and is still going strong is our zygocactus. The pendulous pink flowers look wonderful in the dull light when nothing else is flowering. These plants use smart tactics to attract desperate insects when there is no competition in the cold months. The Arum lilies that started flowing in the autumn are still hanging around and attract other creatures.

At this time of the year everything looks really green and fresh. It is good to see the ground cover plants before they are singed by summer heat. I love the tiny purple violets and the unusual striped Cobra lilies that come up under our lemon tree. The Cobra lilies look like they are about to pounce onto the violet flowers. The violets delicate scent is the smell of early spring. Both these flowers will be gone when it heats up so I try to enjoy them while they last.

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The plant that seems to be bursting with life despite the low temperatures and wind chill that we have been experiencing lately is the Japanese Aralia. It has masses of fruiting umbrels. More than I have seen in a while. They turn purple as they ripen. The colour scheme of the garden seems to be in synch. In autumn there will be lots of flowers for the bees to enjoy.

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There are many signs that spring is not far away. Nature is about to get very creative and it is always good to follow its example. Time to enjoy the sunshine.

Kat

To complete this post here’s a catchy song, Sunshine by the New Zealand band Dragon from 1977, featuring the late, great Marc Hunter on vocals. They were filmed on the Australian TV music show, Countdown. Dragon are legends of the NZ/Australian music scene and are remembered for some great hits from the 1970s and 80s.

 

Wild Winds and Inspiration

 

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Wind Measuring Instrument, 1911 Illustration

Last weekend in Melbourne there was a bad windstorm and it’s about to get very windy again this weekend. As we live in a coastal city we often experience storms coming in from the bay, especially in early spring when the temperatures are starting to rise and the winds become more severe. These can be frightening but are also inspirational giving us spectacular views of nature at it’s wildest.

The following is a video taken in 2011 of one such storm over Port Phillip Bay with some beautiful photos and vision.

In 2015 during one of these wind events an extreme gust brought down a huge branch of the African Coral tree next door. It broke a part of the fence and just missed the windows of next doors family room giving the inhabitants a huge fright. The following photo shows the size of the branch. Since then they have had the tree pruned extensively as it really sways in windy weather.

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Storms have long been an inspiration to writers and artists, especially in the days when travelling by sailing ships, which were constantly at the mercy of the elements. Looking in some of our old books I found some illustrations of storms from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of these are for well-known stories while others are more obscure and it is interesting to see the different ways storms have been depicted. Many stories have begun with a shipwreck in a storm as the basis for the drama to follow.

One such is Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. In our 1904 edition of Shakespeare, the storm is depicted as a scene on the ship with crashing waves and a panicking sailor confronting Prospero. Very melodramatic like the stage play it illustrates but not very atmospheric with regards to a storm. You can imagine the stage hands throwing buckets of water and rocking a stage prop ship.

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The Tempest, The Leopold Shakespeare, 1904 edition

Two other famous stories with a similar beginning are Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Johann Rudolf Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson (1812-13), also about people stranded on supposedly deserted islands. The frontispiece of our 1905 edition of Robinson Crusoe shows the crashing waves while men are being washed from their overturned lifeboat. In the distance is their floundering ship. It’s a wonderfully energetic drawing and conveys the desperation of the situation. The Swiss Family Robinson scene is very atmospheric with foaming waves almost engulfing the ship, its masts broken, as it smashes against towering rocks. It is from an edition of about 1907.

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Robinson Crusoe, 1905 edition

Illustration at this time relied heavily on the engraver’s art, which reached amazing heights in the 19th century. From our 1895 set of Charles Dickens works is a fantastic illustration by Fred Barnard of the tragic storm in David Copperfield (1850), which sees the deaths of both David’s friends, Ham and Steerforth. In the illustration we see Ham, with a group of seaman, about to go out into the stormy sea where you can see Steerforth’s boat and its wreckage. The figure of Ham is a solid presence surrounded by swirling water and foaming waves. It is a masterly drawing where you can feel the tension of a dire situation.

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The Storm by Fred Barnard, David Copperfield

In our collection we also have a couple of less well-known 19th century adventure stories written for children. The first is the Last Cruise of the Ariadne by S Whitchurch Sadler RN (1877). The frontispiece has a wonderful colour scene on a ship in a storm with a group of passengers being drenched by sheets of water. One of them is unconscious or has perhaps drowned. It is a very beautiful and poignant illustration of the perils of a sea journey in the past. You can almost feel the ship being buffeted by wind and water.

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The second book is A Voyage Around the World, A Tale For Boys by W H G Kingston (1880). It is full of the adventures of a couple of boys on a voyage to far away places. They always seem to be involved in some lucky escape, especially at sea. Two illustrations show the young boys bobbing in stormy seas. One includes their companion dog. Real “Boys’ Own Annual” stuff and it would have been exciting in the days when travel was not easy. By the amount of literature devoted to shipwrecks and storms at sea, it is a wonder anyone willingly sailed at all.

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Many visual artist’s are inspired by the wind and turbulent weather. One of the mast famous is the British artist, J M W Turner, who did many paintings of storms. His are some of the most atmospheric works. Churning seas, wind-driven rain and snow swirl around on his canvases and watercolours so that the viewer is caught up in the storm. With just a little paint and skillful brushwork he could say a lot as the following watercolour sketch of a Storm at Sea reveals.

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Storm at Sea, J M W Turner (1775-1851), Watercolour, Wikimedia Commons

As a child in the sixth grade I did a painting of a storm scene. It was quite unusual for me to do such a gothic work as I usually painted happy pictures and did not like thunderstorms. Maybe I had been watching a scary movie and loved the thought of a castle on “a dark and stormy night.” Or the idea of a windswept sea appealed to me as it has done for countless generations of artists. I have kept some of my childhood art so here it is.

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One Dark and Stormy Night, Kat

Wild winds and violent oceans might be dangerous but they can inspire all kinds of art works. What is life without some risk and excitement to get those creative juices freely flowing? But just don’t stand under a tree.

Kat

As the wind picks up around our house what better way to end this post than with Buster Keaton battling a storm in Steamboat Bill Jnr.