Truly Inspired by A Guy Called Bloke

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The Three Graces (detail)

My blog had the privilege of being featured on fellow blogger A Guy Called Bloke‘s Truly Inspired series.

Here is the link: Truly Inspired: The Artist’s Child

Check out his wonderful poems and writings while you are there.

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The Tipping Point

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When you are doing something creative have you noticed sometimes there is a point where everything can suddenly go wrong if you don’t immediately adjust to the situation? I guess this is also echoed in our way of life. In many areas we have reached the tipping point for our planet. This is a good reason for artists to use recycled materials.

I read on a local news site yesterday that China is no longer accepting waste materials from Australia for recycling (link to article). This means all the plastic and paper that was to be sold to China will go into landfill if it cannot be recycled here. Councils are now asking ratepayers to cut down on the amount of waste for their recycling bins. This is the result of sending our problems overseas and not finding a creative solution for recycling large quantities of paper and plastic in our own country. If we are to prevent turning our environment into a tip and being swallowed by mountains of rubbish, it will take a change of mindset for our society, which won’t be easy. At the very least, as artists, we can recycle materials in our work.

Many local artists and designers have already been using recycled items to create works of art and are trying to make a difference no matter how small. It is also good for the soul to turn rubbish and junk into something beautiful, as well as unique. Here is a link to an exhibition Turning Trash to Treasure held at the South Melbourne Market in September 2017.

Reusing old materials is a source of inspiration and often requires a lot of rethinking when you run into difficulties. Ellie and I have been learning to make paper from old cotton rags and clothing for use in artwork. We have been having problems with making a very fine pulp, as mentioned in recent posts. This requires breaking down the cut-up rags in the washing machine and repeated processing in the blender.

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It is quite time-consuming so we decided to mix this with a pulp made from shredded computer documents and other paper of a reasonable quality. We found out that if you add calcium carbonate powder, also known as whiting or chalk, this will make an acid free pulp (here are the instructions: How to make Acid Free Paper). We bought some from our local art supply shop as it is used in printmaking. We have also decided to size the paper with a clear artist’s gesso after drying rather than adding starch to the pulp.

 

Papermaking is a really good way to use up old paper rather than putting this in the recycling bin. Last weekend we started making paper with paper pulp on its own to get a feel for the process. This was totally different from the cotton pulp. The first day that we tried this the pulp was a bit lumpy and so some of the sheets were a little thick. When dried this it looked like the recycled molded cardboard used to separate wine bottles in the carton, which was not what we were going for.

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We had also obtained a smaller A5 mold and deckle to make cards, which was easy to use and required less pulp. As the lumps disappeared from the pulp mix the paper became thinner and smoother.

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When we began doing this outside under some sun umbrellas it was quite warm. Just as we were starting to get the hang of the process the sky darkened and there was the sound of distant thunder. With the storm getting closer it was quite hard to concentrate. Not wanting to be stuck outside with lightning imminent we hurriedly packed up and put the paper in the press under the car port then dried it flat inside. After drying the paper was pressed under a pile of heavy books because it had curled a bit.

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The next day it was even hotter and we decided to continue the process under the car port just in case the weather changed. The pulp had softened even more and was a better texture. Because it was thinner we had to be careful when getting it off the deckle. The cleaning cloths that we use for separating the paper sheets need to be really wet or the paper won’t come off the deckle. The hot weather didn’t help and we had a lot of disasters before getting this right. If you sponge the back of this once it is upside down on the cloth the paper comes off more easily.

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We noticed that there was a variation in thickness of the paper but it was better than the day before. If the pulp mixture became too thin the paper was more likely to fall apart when transferring it to the cloth so it was necessary to add more pulp when this was starting to happen. You had to watch out for this tipping point to avoid failure.

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When we had finished we pressed the sheets between our plywood boards with bricks on top and dried them by pegging the backing cloths on a drying rack. This worked better than trying to dry them flat on a surface. Some sheets are better than others but we can experiment with the sizing on some or use them for collage so nothing is wasted and we can always re-pulp sheets that are too horrible.

 

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Next we are going to try some shredded magazines together with recycled computer paper to see if we can make some interesting decorative paper. After we have reprocessed some of the colored fabric we can include a small quantity of this fibre in the mix.

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Individually we might only be using a relatively small amount of recycled material but it’s better than doing nothing. It’s a pity that more local manufacturers are not doing their own recycling of plastics and paper for their products. So much has been done overseas and now that this is no longer sustainable we will all have to be aware of the amount we consume and how to cut this down. This will not be easy so the more people who can come up with creative ways to reuse recyclables, as in artwork, hopefully we can avoid the tipping point.

Kat

There are quite a lot of songs with “Paper” in the title. I love this one from the sixties, Paper Tiger, performed by Sue Thompson. It’s a live version but she is miming and obviously enjoying herself.

A Hand-Made Halloween

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Over the past ten years in Melbourne the festival of Halloween has become more widely celebrated and seems to be getting more commercial with large public events in many shopping centres. The St Kilda Town Hall even has a hugely popular Haunted House experience. We are increasingly getting Halloween themed catalogues in our letterbox advertising elaborate and expensive decorations and costumes, as well as the usual treats. Before all this commercialization most local Halloween celebrations were limited to home parties where decorations and costumes were usually homemade and trick or treating was rare.

Magazines used to be the main source of ideas for making party decorations and costumes. We have that really old party magazine from the 1890s, mentioned in a previous post, which has a wonderful section on Halloween, as well as the more recent Australian Women’s Weekly Home Library publication, Perfect Parties. No one was expected to spend a fortune and it was so much more fun and creative to make things.

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As children Ellie and I had a Halloween Party. As there was little available in the way of decorations, except for plastic spiders and orange and black balloons, we invited some friends for a sleepover before the party and had a great time making decorations for the family room and garden. Out of black card we cut black cats, owls, bats, broomsticks and the like and hung these from sticks of bamboo to create mobiles.

In one corner of the garden we built a witch’s house against the side fence with a sheet of corrugated iron for the roof and bamboo poles (cut from the garden) tied together with twine to form the walls and a window. We painted a sign that said “Witches Hollow”. In front of this structure dad made a tripod from wooden poles and hung a cast iron camp oven for a cauldron over some unlit wood. These days you can have a fire in a metal fire pit. Probably one with a wire safety grill is best to protect from dangerous sparks.

A decorated table is a wonderful centrepiece for a Halloween party. You don’t need to buy special tableware. Our grandmother gave us a vintage tablecloth with embroidered black cats, but you could make a tablecloth from orange fabric or just use orange crepe paper decorated with cutout black cats, bats, owls etc. She also made us a beautiful cake decorated with black cats. It is easy to make cupcakes and decorate these with black cat sweets, jelly babies and snakes, together with orange or chocolate sprinkles on plain white icing. There are so many creative ideas around for making Halloween food these days, especially online. Fresh fruits and vegetables, like pumpkins, turnips and tomatoes make great table decorations and are a reminder of the autumnal origins of Halloween, even if it is spring here. And you can use them to make a soup or put them on the barbeque after the party.

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Black Cat Cupcakes

Only recently in Australia has it been possible to get large orange pumpkins to carve at Halloween. Supermarkets now have these to buy for the occasion. We had to make do with the green kind. Our grandfather carved a jack-o-lantern out of a pumpkin and fitted it with an electric light bulb to put on the front veranda. He also had a very old papier-mache mask of a skull and put a bulb in this as well. They looked wonderfully spooky to welcome the guests. Now front porch decorations seem to be becoming more elaborate and more common here, but you don’t need to buy frightening manikins that cost a heap. A homemade scarecrow could look just as creepy especially if you give it a scary clown face.

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Most people who came to our party had homemade costumes. I created one from a long white satin bridesmaid dress that I had worn the previous year. Over this I wore a filmy pale blue robe of my mothers and made a cone-shaped hat from white cardboard, stuck on some gold stars, attached a filmy white scarf from the peak and stapled some hat elastic to keep it on. With a wand made from a piece of silver painted dowel I was a Sorceress. Mum made Ellie a skeleton costume by sticking white electrical tape to a black polo neck top and tights.

Guest’s costumes ranged from the usual witches or ghosts, to someone dressed as a pea pod with green balloons for the peas. There were some very creative costumes, such as a hand painted skull and crossbones outfit and a witch doctor, who had lots of small handmade mojo bags attached to a belt. I remember we all had a great time dancing to pop music and playing Murder in the Dark, which still seems to be a popular party game. Of course there were prizes for the best costumes and little bags of treats for everyone to take home.

With a bit of creativity you can avoid a lot of the cost and over commercialization of Halloween and still have a great party. And if it is for just for adults, substitute more appropriate food, drink and entertainment. Be as crazy as you like. Why should kids have all the fun?

Kat

Probably one of the best songs ever written about a ghost is Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. The famous “red dress” video of this song has had many millions of hits on You Tube so here is the “white dress” version.

Keeping Your Childhood Wonder

When you are a child it is so easy to find the world a wondrous place. So many things seem magical, especially the natural world. Everything is new and an adventure. I think that it is important not too lose this sense of wonder in life. If you become too cynical and apathetic it can have a negative impact on your creativity.

Our creative vision is most often stimulated by the wonder of things. When I was quite young I would do paintings and drawings with little difficulty. Often these contained images of plants and flowers, animals, mythical creatures, family holiday destinations, or characters from stories, films or history. There was a never-ending supply of subject matter. Here is a pastel drawing I did as a child of some Sea Lions, followed by a recent drone video of the colony at Seal Rocks near Phillip Island and The Nobbies. To me they are still amazing creatures to watch.

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My childhood drawing of Seal Rocks

Such things still make me excited like a kid and would not want to lose this feeling. One summer night not so long ago I went outside around midnight. It was still moist after a summer storm and suddenly a large Grey-headed flying-fox, Australia’s largest fruit bat (wingspan up to 1 metre or about 3 ft), swooped right over my head. I could have touched it. I had never been that close to one before and I was exhilarated. After this encounter I would look out for them and was lucky enough to see a classic scene of  bats silhouetted against the sky during a lightning storm. These creatures are wonderful and we are privileged to have them in and around our city. It is good to notice your local wildlife and remember that humans are not the centre of everything. My experience motivated this poem.

Flying Fox

Flying Fox, the beat of swooping wings

Above my head

A wild bat wonder

Flying Fox, across the lightning sky

I watch at dusk

No gothic horror

© Copyright theartistschild.com 2017

Here is a video of the colony of Grey-headed flying foxes at Yarra Bend Park in Kew, Melbourne, followed by another of the bats flying across the Melbourne skyline at dusk.

Reconnecting with your childhood imagination is an effective way to get ideas as an adult. Some people have entire careers reliving their early fantasies. Things that grabbed you as a child can still be inspirational. Collecting seashells at the beach was one of my favorite childhood pass times. Their shapes and colours were so beautiful and it was like finding treasure. The only time I ever bought a shell was a Cowrie shell as a souvenir from a trip to Sydney. These shells are uncommon in Victoria. I still have it and its strong colour has lasted because I keep it in a dark box. It is a lovely subject to draw with the spotted markings.

The excitement of being given or finding something unusual can still bring on a sense of childlike delight. My grandfather gave me a rock containing some fossilized shells when I was a child because he knew that I was interested in such things. I still love fossils and have collected a few mainly as holiday souvenirs. I still get a buzz when I see interesting fossils in museums or books. Prehistoric Ammonites with their spiral shell shape remind me of the shells of some freshwater snails. I carved one out of a small piece of talc stone with this type of shell so it is also permanently frozen in stone like a fossil.

The ingenuity of inventions might be what tickled your early imagination. My father had inherited an old Remington portable typewriter (1929 model) that fascinated me as a child. I would try to type things with two fingers but this was a slow exercise. When I got the chance I learnt to touch type and it has made the writing process so much easier, as well as using computers. Keep that childhood thirst for knowledge. Learning any form of technology gives you so many more creative options and it helps if you are keen to embrace new methods.

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Sometimes you find that when you get really excited about something there are always people who think you are strange. They can’t understand your enthusiasm. But if you lose your joyousness just because of what people think it would be very sad. Being indifferent means that it is difficult to get involved in the creative process.

I hope I will always be able to maintain the childlike passion of a David Attenborough when he describes fabulous wildlife and never become bored and jaded. There is so much in this world that is wondrous.

Kat

Here’s The Pointer Sisters who know how to get excited!

Vision: Seeing Things or Not

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Photo by Ellie

The human brain is strange. Sometimes it allows you to see things and sometimes it doesn’t. You can look at an image for ages and not really observe it clearly and at other times you can see things that aren’t even there. This can be both annoying and great for your creativity.

In my last post I put up several photos of Ellie’s and was so focused on the images that I did not notice there were some hand blurs at the edges of some of the pictures. It was not until I saw the photos on a larger screen that I saw the problem, which I have now corrected. I was so busy looking at the main scene that I could not see this detail. Sort the opposite of “not seeing the forest for the trees.” It was a definite case of selective vision that can happen to all of us at times.

This got me thinking about the way we see things. If you want to go into the art history and cultural side of this John Berger’s seminal book Ways of Seeing (1972), based on a BBC TV series, is a good place to start. What I’m talking about is more from the personal creative side. One person can look at the same thing and see something totally different and our individual vision is what gives us original ideas.

I was looking at some of Ellie’s old photos and found the one at the top of this post. It was accidentally snapped when she was holding her phone and she had completely discounted the shot. But I saw this as a wonderfully evocative image with her hair floating out from the dark silhouette of her hat against the bright cloud filled sky. She saw it as a mistake but I saw a quite beautiful scene. Always take another look at what you have done. You might be surprised.

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Ammonite Fossil

Seeing things in another way can provide inspiration. We have an unusual polished ammonite fossil that was bought on a holiday as a memento. It was not chosen because it was the perfect specimen, but when you view it from a particular angle it looks like there is the head and torso of a Shakespearian Gentleman wearing a puff sleeve jacket and a neck ruff. Can you also see him?
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This ability to see things that are not really there can lead to interesting artwork. I have a small piece of driftwood, that when you stand it vertically, is like a tree that resembles a figure. This inspired the following ink drawing in my sketchbook.

 

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Dryad, Pen and Ink Drawing by Kat

The brain often sees figures and faces in trees and foliage because we are wired to recognize the human form from birth. Using this concept I did a pen and ink drawing of the imaginary faces that I could “see” in the trunk of a vine-covered tree. It is called Spirits of the Forest, and depicts some of the scary and strange beings that may be encountered out in wildness of the Australian bush.

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Spirits of the Forest, Pen and In Drawing by Kat

The human mind is sometimes selective and we can miss seeing the obvious but it can conjure up all kinds of images if we see with both our eyes and inner vision. Just keep looking.

Kat

A great feel good song is I Can See Clearly Now. Jimmy Cliff did a terrific version in the 90s but I also love the 70s original by Johnny Nash.

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.

 

Two heads are Good, Four Heads are Better

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Group Energy

After some dreary days in Melbourne, the sun has been coming out intermittently and I have finished with macabre subjects for a while. Time to get out and do things with others, which can be very uplifting especially if you are doing something creative together.

Working with others on a creative project is not only more fun but the results can be so much better than if you do it alone. You can bounce ideas off each other, give suggestions for improvement and exchange knowledge. If you have someone with whom you can collaborate that is good and if there is more than two people even better. Extra energy is generated when you are part of a group.

From school projects you learn to work with others. I have very happy memories of our end of High School party. A group of us got together and made painted banners to fit the theme and each contributed ideas. Not everyone was good at painting but this did not matter. Those of us who had more skill did the difficult parts. There were plenty of areas to fill in with colour so no one felt left out. We ended up with large banners from our combined effort and they looked fantastic at the party.

Visual art has long been full of groups of artists collaborating on the same work. Renaissance and later artists ran studios where apprentices did much of the preparation and under painting and the master added final details to the work, which would bear his signature. Everyone would benefit. The students would learn new skills and enable the master to produce many more paintings than the would on their own. Artists have continue to work in groups devoted to similar interests using many mediums. For instance performance artist groups, like the anonymous Guerrilla Girls, have taken art outside of the gallery system. Group artworks are boundless.

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Getting together and chatting over a cup of tea or coffee can generate collaborative ideas

Writers collaborate on all kinds of works. One of my favorite jointly written works of the fantasy/science fiction genres is the Empire Trilogy by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts. Often the screenwriting for film and television productions is undertaken by a group. There are a lot of websites devoted to collaborative writing if you Google the subject, with ideas and advice for those who would like to try this or have a project in mind. My only experience of writing with someone else was when I wrote some songs with a friend. I did most of the lyrics but we did throw ideas around to improve a song.

Musicians have always collaborated, from medieval troubadours to rock bands and everything in between. Some famous examples of modern group collaborations are Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure and the combined talents of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison in the Travelling Wilburys.

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For years Ellie and I have been doing music together. As sisters we can do vocal harmonies that sound unified because of the similarities of our voices. I was saying the other day that it is a pity we don’t have another sister because then we could do three part harmonies. But you need to go with what you have in this life and if something is lacking try another way of doing it. Over the last couple of months we have been working with another ukulele player, who is also a violinist and this has given us a fuller sound. His knowledge of music and violin skills has enhanced and has made a world of difference to our performances.

Getting together with like minded people in a club or group associated with your creative field of interest is a good way to find others to work with or start your own group by advertising on line or in local papers. Often it just takes a bit of action on your part to get others involved.

You don’t need to be an artistic genius or musical virtuoso to work with others. In fact you will learn a lot of new things, contribute ideas and hopefully have an enjoyable experience.

Kat

I had a toss up between including the Travelling Wilburys Handle Me With Care or the 2004 tribute to George Harrison, with Prince’s amazing guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Too hard to choose one so here are both.