Wisteria and Witches

It’s October again and in Melbourne we are now in the middle of spring. As I mentioned last October when I started this blog, we have the strange combination of the Spring Racing Carnival and Halloween celebrations. There is nothing more typical of Melbourne than scenes of costumed witches, wizards or zombies mingling with the more traditionally dressed amongst the stunning roses at Flemington racecourse on Melbourne Cup day.

Over the last two weeks I have been busy doing some badly needed gardening. At this time of year the air is sweet with the smell of blossom. Our garden is full of the fragrance of wisteria blooms, which cascade from the branches like waterfalls of white flowers. They are fragile and could be easily destroyed by a spring storm so I have taken photos to remember their beauty.

With all of nature’s exuberance it seems strange to embrace the autumnal mood that surrounds the festival of Halloween. One of the disadvantages of living in the Southern Hemisphere is the topsy-turvy nature of traditional festivals. But at least daylight saving gives us longer hours of light in which to party during these celebrations.

Fun costumes make both race days and Halloween parties more enjoyable. I am a big fan of DIY costumes for both the creativity and uniqueness. As I have mentioned before, you don’t need to sew or spend a lot of money to wear a great costume. A good eye for a bargain and for reworking existing items is invaluable. In the past I have created my own Halloween costumes from clothing found at op shops (thrift or charity stores), weekend markets and by using fabric offcuts, cardboard and paper scraps to make accessories.

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Illustration by George Cruikshank for The Witches Frolic by Thomas Ingoldsby

Items that can be reused with different accessories are worth collecting so that you will never be stuck for a costume idea. Witches or wizards costumes are a favorite for Halloween and easy to create with black clothes. Using the same long black dress and a charcoal grey cape found at a weekend market, I can transform into the medieval witch Morgan Le Fey or Samantha Stevens from Bewitched wearing her flying costume. All this requires is a change of headgear.

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For the Morgan Le Fey costume I made a type of hat known as a Hennin (seen in gothic paintings) from cardboard covered with black silk fabric and gold paper. It was decorated with gold braid, glass jewels and gold glitter glue from a craft store. I pinned an old black silk scarf as a veil from the top of the hat. To turn the outfit into Samantha, a blonde wig (try to find a better one than mine as it itches) and a witches hat from a party shop are all that is needed to change the look. Black boots complete both costumes.

A simple way to make a witch’s broomstick is with a length of thick dowel and a pile of flexible twigs or thin bamboo (whatever is easiest to find). Just divide the twigs into four equal bundles and tie each securely with some twine. Place the bundles around the dowel and wrap them all tightly together to form the broom. You can wrap ribbon, fabric or raffia over the twine to hide it. Then you’re ready to fly.

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Whether it is spring or autumn, these are great seasons for festivals and celebrations before the weather gets too hot or cold.  And if you live in the Southern Hemisphere or a tropical location, enjoy the contrast of the light with the “Darkness” of Halloween. You will have the best of both worlds.

Kat

Ukulele virtuoso, Taimane Gardner from Hawaii, taps into the Halloween mood with her haunting instrumental, Rings of Saturn, although she lives in the tropics.

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It’s something to do with the Light

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African Coral Tree, Melbourne spring 2017

Every place has a certain quality of light and this has long inspired visual artists and writers. Just think of Monet and Turner. Their work was all about light. Descriptions of light levels can set the mood of a story or poem. Just the words “sunny” or “overcast” put a picture in your mind. Where ever you live or travel the light has a big influence on how you feel and view the world.

It’s beneficial to have an awareness of how the light effects your environment so keep a visual or written record. If you keep a journal it is helpful to record the weather each day and your emotional response.  The light in southern Australia is softer than in the northern regions. A Japanese friend once told me that she could not get over the sky in Australia. She said that it seemed closer which I found quite enlightening. I’m now always conscious of the sky here and wonder if this is true for others elsewhere.

In Melbourne we are lucky to experience definite seasons and the sky can vary from a deep azure blue to pale violet and everything in between. The light can change by the moment and this is especially obvious at the beach or a park. Here are a series of photos taken by Ellie, some on the same day, that show the different qualities of light in our area, from the intensity of summer days to the hazy light of autumn and the brooding cloudy sky of winter.

Summer Scenes

Autumn Beach Scenes

Winter Scenes

It is now spring and everything looks fresh and new. I love this time of year despite the hay-fever attacks. It’s easy to be creative in the spring and is a pleasure to take photos in Melbourne’s soft light. I went out and took some photos in our garden because the light was so beautiful and I loved the way it played on the flowers and plants. The last camellias are out in our front garden. I wish I had a better camera to do them justice as they have a beautiful soft texture and subtle variations in colour.

In the back garden the Aralia fruit has turned black. I took a photo with the sunlight streaming through a dense cluster, which created a halation effect and makes the photo sparkle. The action of bright light on a camera lens can really enhance an image and with a digital camera it’s much safer on the eyes than looking at the sun through an old film SLR.

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Taking close-ups in this spring light shows up the details. Wisteria flower buds, Japanese Yeddo Hawthorn buds against dark green leaves and a small ground creeper with tiny flowers all seem infused with the radiance of the sun. In summer with the harsher light that creates stronger contrasts it will become more difficult to photograph the small things with my basic camera. Then I will go for the big picture.

Where ever you may be in the world and whatever your art form, try to notice the quality of light. How it varies from once location to another and how it makes you feel at different times of the year. After all sunlight is creative energy.

Kat

(I’m going to take a couple of weeks off blogging to take care of other things that need doing. Thank you to everyone for the likes, following and for visiting my blog. It’s much appreciated. See you soon).

My favourite beach related instrumental is the classic Gunnamatta by Melbourne singer/songwriter, Paul Kelly. Gunnamatta Beach, a popular beach for surfers, is south of Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula and the following film shows several enjoying the sparkling waves on a sunny day back in the 80s set to Paul Kelly’s music

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.

 

When a Blob of Glass is not just a Blob of Glass

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Sometimes the things that we hang onto have no intrinsic monetary value. What give them importance are the stories that they can tell. If you don’t write these stories down or tell others it could make an object meaningless so that it will get tossed out because no one will understand the significance. Such stories are also a source of inspiration.

We keep many useless objects because of their stories and not just for their aesthetic value. Often you are the only one who has heard these tales. There are some stories that I knew of which Ellie had no knowledge because she was not there at the time. It would be a pity if the stories were lost because this makes the things interesting.

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Take the blob of molten glass belonging to my grandfather. He told me that it was from the remains of a house up in the hills where his family holidayed when he was a child. Here they rode horses and enjoyed country life. My grandfather remembered being chased by stampeding turkeys that his mischievous younger brothers let out from their pen. The house was destroyed in a bushfire and he kept this bit of debris as a reminder of the place. Embedded in the glass is some mortar and charcoal from the intense heat of the fire. This piece of glass speaks not only about my grandfather’s experiences, but also of the history of our country. Bushfires are responsible for some of Australia’s worst natural disasters but are also needed for the germination of seeds and regeneration of the native eucalypt forests. Most of us or members of our family have been affected by bushfire at one time or another. For me this blob has meaning and I would never throw it out.

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It is also lovely to keep something that was hand-made by a family member whether it is useful or not. Another thing that came from my grandfather is a piece of Mallee Root. These are used as firewood in Victoria because they are slow burning. He polished this fragment of root on one side to see what it would look like and for no other reason. This was typical of a man who was always curious about nature and trying different processes. I think that it is quite sculptural and beautiful and knowing its story makes it special.

 

Objects that tell us something about our forebears are intriguing. One of our ancestors was a sea-captain in the mid 19th century. One of his sons also sailed. We have quite a collection of old tropical shells that were brought back from their journeys. The ones that are not in great condition are in the garden. There are giant tritons, helmet shells and types of univalves. There is also a Black Bean Pod (Moreton Bay Chestnut) that comes from northern Australia. The pod is hard, woody and the seed inside rattles when shaken. I love the fact that these ancestors were combing some beach over 100 years ago and the shells and pod are still with us today. I wonder where they went and what adventures they had on their journeys to and from Australia. The shells and pod are a reminder of our history when the sea was the only way to connect with the rest of the world.

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Some objects are valuable because they bring back personal memories. An old key attached to a long piece of wood belonged to the boatshed at the bottom of our grandparent’s orchard. Before the door fell off it was locked with a padlock. My mother’s family kept canoes that they used on the river in the shed, but these had gone when I was a child. Inside the rickety old building all that remained was a pump that sent water from the Yarra River to water the orchard. As a child I disliked the sound of that machine. It was mechanical and creepy and I tried to avoid it when it was on. The pump fed a giant sprinkler that sent jets a long way across the orchard and you had to run before it could drench you with water. In summer it became a game of dodge with a lot of yelling. Later owners eventually pulled down the boatshed but the key can still unlock the past.

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We often keep utilitarian, unprepossessing things just to remember a person. A rather plain, rectangular lump of heavy metal is something I treasure. It is a metallic sample that belonged to my father. He was an industrial chemist and this was something that was used in his research. To us as children dad’s job was mysterious because it was separate from our lives. Any thing to do with science was like alchemy involving strange processes and smelly chemicals. This sample gave his job a reality and when I use it as a paperweight I remember the rare visits to dad’s work seeing him in a white lab coat, surrounded by all kinds of strange apparatus. Dad’s piece of metal has never rusted or corroded so whatever the sample was for I’m sure it did a good job.

So an object can be more than a physical thing if it has some kind of story that is important to you. It does not need to be earth shattering or epic. Sometimes the most memorable stories are the simple ones. Pass them on or write them down. Use them to inspire. A “blob of glass” without a story remains a blob.

The things we keep

Their stories silent

It’s up to us to make them speak

Kat

One of the best songs ever written about Australia is Ganggajang’s Sound of Then from the 1980s. It is evocative, nostalgic and fun.

The Nature of Things: Texture

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Ellie’s photo of a Cyprus Pine stump

Everything has a texture. Part of the essence of a life form, natural or manmade object and substance relates to its texture. This can be silky, smooth, rough, spiky, sticky and so forth. There are so many words just to describe how something feels, that one could go on and on. Even sounds and music can be referred to in a textural manner such as abrasive, soft, fuzzy, scratchy or sharp.  Textures are very inspiring to visual artists, writers and musicians because they can be used realistically and metaphorically.

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When I learnt basic photography as part of an art course, one of the first exercises given was to photograph patterns and textures. This has stayed with me and I still like to take photos of something just for its texture. These photos can be used as inspiration for an artwork or an end in themselves. The textures of plants create interesting photographs. The spiky native “Silver Sunrise” grasses with or without their yellow flowers; shiny yellow grapefruits against intense green foliage and rough tree-fern trunks all make tactile looking subjects.

I don’t have a SLR camera and it is difficult to get really close to an object so I must use iPhoto to crop the images and zoom in on a particular area. I find that you can do a lot with a basic photographic program to enhance and manipulate an image. For example I added definition to a yellow rose and increased the color, zoomed in on a sculptural rock to emphasize its soft green mossy texture and enhanced the shine on a rock with quartz crystals to make it more crystalline. The inherent characteristics were stressed for their own sake.

Sketching textures provides inspiration for visual art. With black ink, pens, stippling sponges, corks and brushes it is possible to get a variety of textural effects. I used some of these techniques in drawings for tapestry designs. They were worked up in a series of gouache vignettes, components of which were used in a final design. There are many other ways to use textures in art, from realistic oil painting, textured materials to simulated surfaces in computer graphics and is just a matter of personal preference.

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Our personal experiences give us an understanding of texture. It is difficult to forget the experience of a sweaty handshake, a lumpy mattress, or the soft, velvety feel of a puppy. Words relating to texture often describe a person. Someone can be prickly, slick, oily, sleek, bristly, slimy, cuddly, hard etc. We associate touch with human characteristics and using these types of words can sum up and individual’s attributes without the need for a long explanation and are very useful for writers. When the sense of touch is engaged with words our minds conjure all kinds of feelings that can either repel or bring us closer to the subject.

Texture in music is often very involving for the listener. Layered music that creates sound textures can take you to real or imaginary places. The contrasts between different types of instruments like strings, electric guitar and drums, melody, rhythm and harmonies makes for rich, complex and emotional pieces. The Australian band, The Dirty Three, play imaginative textural compositions. This band of Victorians was formed in 1992 with members Warren Ellis on violin, Jim White on drums and Mick Turner, who is also an artist and designer of their album covers, on guitar. They often collaborate with Nick Cave. The following is a piece from their album, Ocean Songs (1998)

When considering a creative idea, don’t forget texture. It will add another dimension to your work, whether it is visual, written or auditory.

Kat

May in the Garden: Autumn Creativity

In Melbourne, the month of May means late autumn when much of nature is starting to shut down and winter plants are awakening.  With the chilly mornings and shorter periods of sunshine it is good to make the most of any opportunities to spend time outdoors.  Walking around our garden I noticed some small details that I thought showed the seasonal changes and delights of the colder weather and decided to record them with my camera.

Autumn has often been seen as a season devoted to loss, remembrance and regret.   Memorial services for war casualties are held in the Autumn months.  It has also inspired many creative works of art and literature such as O. Henry’s short story, The Last Leaf (1907), Emily Bronte’s poem Fall, Leaf, Fall and the classic jazz song Autumn Leaves (Joseph Kosma/Johnny Mercer).  I particularly like Eva Cassidy’s version.  There is so much that is beautiful about this time of year that it is not hard to find inspiration in nature.

In Autumn you never know when a mushroom will suddenly appear.  I saw some small mushrooms (probably toxic) coming up between the concrete and the lawn.  I was surprised that they had survived because of our dog’s tendency to flatten anything.  The next day they had fully opened and were showing signs of damage and by the third they were withered and black.  This cycle gives a good lesson in living life to the fullest before you exit like a dried up mushroom.

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More plants are displaying the wonderful colour of autumn leaves.  Rather than looking at the whole shrub I focused in on one segment of wisteria leaves, with the golden colour spreading into the green.  Soon the whole plant will be yellow and the leaves will quickly fall and cover the surrounding ground.  Once bare the twisting structure of the trunk will be revealed.

I photographed a curly leafed variety of Nandina (sacred bamboo) in early April.  Now the other Japanese Nandinas bear lots of red foliage as well as some small red berries.  The nandina does not lose all its leaves and fruits in autumn, but the old leaves turn red before they fall.  Interestingly the berries and leaves are highly poisonous, except to some birds.  The delicate red leaves and shiny berries look very dramatic in close-up, especially against green foliage, complementary colours that stand out in the soft light of autumn.

DSCN4638The weaker sunshine highlights the wonderful texture of a tree-fern trunk.  The stumps of the pruned dead fronds create a sculptural pattern that is not always noticed when hidden under the shade cloth needed for summer sun protection.  During the colder months trees may be stripped bare but you can enjoy details that are exposed when dense foliage disappears.

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While some plants are starting to go dormant others are blooming.  An interesting lily popped up in a neglected corner of our garden.  We did not plant it so it must have come from a neighbor’s place.  It is now has a white flower with a green tip that looks like it has been painted on with a small brush.  We used to have some pure white Arum lilies and it is another variety.  Lilies are often used as symbols of death so it is an appropriate that it flowers at this time of the year.  I think that they are poisonous as well and this may be one of the reasons for their somber associations.

Along our drive is a hardy creeping plant that has tiny pink flowers (Polygonum Capitatum, Pinkhead Knotweed).  It came from our grand parents garden.  Looking closely the ball-shaped flowers are actually made up of multiple delicate flowers.  They maybe small but the flowers are prolific.  Nothing will kill this plant.  It has tenacity and even spreads over the concrete if there is a small amount of soil.  Apparently it is a Himalayan plant.  No wonder it is a hardy survivor.

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The glamour plant of our garden in the cold months is the camellia.  We have several in the front garden although there have been some losses due to drought over the years.  Only the hardy ones have survived.  Most of the camellias now have buds but the first to flower are the sasanqua varieties.  I zoomed in on a lovely pink flower with yellow stamens.  The flamboyant camellia is to winter what the rose is to summer.  Full of the colour and energy of life despite the darker days.

This energy can be also seen in the activity of the bees while they collect pollen from our Japanese Aralia flowers.  These are white and grow in groups (umbrels).  The bees love these autumn flowers and many are attracted to them.  It drives our dogs crazy and while I was taking the photos, they jumped up and tried to catch the bees.  Not a great idea if you don’t want to be stung.  I managed to get some close-ups of the industrious insects, who always manage to find some type of pollen bearing plant in the autumn.  We should be like bees.  No matter how bleak we may feel there is always something that will generate our creativity.

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Life is still all around us in autumn.  Sometimes you will see it in the life cycle of a mushroom or the activity of a bee.  At others it is a splashy bright camellia flower.  Plants that are losing their leaves are just having a respite.  Nature makes the most of this time and so should we to recharge our batteries.  It is a good time to be contemplative and concentrate on creative projects when there are no distractions from summer activities.   There is still plenty to keep you active, motivated and inspired as the days grow shorter and remember, spring is only four months away.

Kat

I wanted to include a song about May in Australia and remembered local legend and singer/songwriter Paul Kelly’s Leaps and Bounds (1986).  This song has become something of an anthem for Melbourne.  It mentions two iconic buildings.  The most famous is the M.C.G (Melbourne Cricket ground) with its “fly swatter” lighting towers, venue for the 56 Olympics, Aussie Rules football and local and international cricket.  He also sings about the “the clock on the silo” which is the neon light clock on the old Nylex factory that can be seen from the Punt Road hill on the other side of the Yarra River.  The video shows Kelly and his band playing on top of the silos in 1986.  Pay attention to the skyline of the city, the lone Arts Centre spire and the surroundings.

In the following short video the same area of Melbourne was filmed by a drone last year. A lot has changed in 30 years. (The Nylex factory is to be converted into apartments and there was a fight to preserve the silos and the clock after the developer was going to destroy them. After a lot of protest, assisted by the video of this song, it was announced in March this year that the silos and the clock will be incorporated into the design).

Autumn in the Garden

Daylight saving has just ended and we have turned back our clocks, but nature does things to its own schedule.  Our garden is in transition.  It is still quite green but the autumn colours and flowers, fruit and seeds are becoming more prominent as the temperature cools.  Today I took some photos because I wanted to record the seasonal changes.

The Japanese Nandina is now a lovely shade of red.  This came from our grandparents and we have had it in a pot for years.  It is a slow grower and has remained this size for ages.  Maybe it is now like a bonsai because the roots have nowhere to go.

We have two varieties of Plumbago, blue and white, and the flowers are still hanging in there.  They are very delicate and have a sweet nectar.  Because the flowers are so sticky the sometimes get all over the dogs, over your pants and sleeves and anything else that comes in contact.

There is a last bud on the Iceberg rose.  These hardy white roses do well in pots.  Unfortunately there is no fragrance.  Our Elephant Ears are looking very lush and have spread to other parts of the garden.  As long as it is shady they survive the summer.  Because we have a mild climate they usually don’t completely die down in winter and bring a bit of the tropics down south.

The Clivia now has wonderful red seed pods (photo left).  We need to watch that our young dog does not eat these.  Ellie planted some in pots so it will be interesting to see if these shoot.

The Chinese walnut tree is also covered in green walnuts (photo right).  When they start to split and the nuts fall to the ground it is a battle to see who gets to them first.  The dogs love to crack open the hard shells and make a mess inside.  I’m constantly yelling at them to go “outside” with the nuts.  Last year the dogs ate more nuts than were saved to dry.

I love the spiky red flowers on the bromeliads.  I think that they look like some creature from another planet.  You can almost imagine that they will suddenly extend from the plant and try to whack you like a type of creepy carnivorous plant.  These flowers last for a long time.

Although Aralia plants are evergreen (photo top left), in autumn some leaves turn a bright yellow then to brown before they fall.  You can see the seasonal transitions on one plant.

Because we do not often get frosts, a long time ago we put our potted Maranta (prayer plant) outside in a very sheltered spot behind some large pots (above photos bottom).  It has thrived although sometimes the purple spots fade in the brighter light of summer.

We also have a Wollemi pine in a large terracotta pot (photo top right).  It is one of the most ancient species of evergreen trees on the planet.  It a pine that also has characteristics of a fern.  We call ours “Wolly” because it is so special.  We plan to plant it in the ground so that it will reach its full height and will be protected by a large Melaleuca tree.  At the moment the tree has bent a bit so will need to put a stake to straighten the trunk.

After I took these photos the sun disappeared and it is now quite gloomy.  I think there is rain on the way and it really feels like autumn.  I’m glad that I made the most of the sun while it lasted, something that we should always remember.

Kat