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

Travel to the Past

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When I need a holiday but haven’t the funds or enough time for a long trip, I like l to take a journey back to another time when life was slower and people enjoyed simple pleasures.  How to do this without a time machine?  Well I deploy our collection of vintage items and use them to create a fantasy of a long gone period.

As I have mentioned before in this blog, I love going on picnics.  But sitting on the uncomfortable ground fighting off ants is not always pleasant.  Why not go back to the mid 20th century, when you could sit in style anywhere with your folding picnic furniture to enjoy the great outdoors.  Back then a family or group of friends would load up the station wagon with all kinds of goodies and equipment and would go off to spend the day in the country.  It would have been a bit like a mini expedition without the dangers (if you exclude potential bushfires or snakes).

This type of picnic is something that I would like to recreate when the weather is not too hot.  Anyone can do this with a bit of imagination and not too much expense.  I set up our vintage picnic furniture and equipment on our back lawn to illustrate my idea for a mid 20th century picnic.  We have some old deck chairs, a folding stool; a folding wooden table and chair; a vintage linen table-cloth, old thermos and wine cooler; shuttlecock and quoits sets, all of which came from relatives.  The glass jug; aluminum beaker set; picnic basket and small wooden case were found at op shops (thrift or charity stores).  The umbrellas came from an Asian shop.

Just imagine a lovely country landscape with lots of trees (and nearby parking).  You set up your furniture and unpack your picnic basket in the shade.  It is a beautiful day with a slight breeze.  After a delicious lunch of gourmet sandwiches and salads served with cold wine or craft beer and delightful conversation with friends, you can indulge in a short walk or play a novel old-fashioned game of shuttlecock or quoits (or whatever game takes you fancy) or take a nap after reading a good book.  Then you have afternoon tea or coffee and cakes before you pack up for the journey home.

This is how I would like it to be, but it always pays to take the insect repellant, mobile phones and other mod cons just in case.  Resist the temptation to start Googling or checking your emails.  The whole point is to get away from 21st century stress and slow down a bit.

In Australia there are picnic race events in the country and you could attend one of these and have this type of picnic in style.  Appropriate clothing would complete the vintage feel.

There are even some people in Australia who live their whole lives in another era (Pia Anderson).  They dress in vintage clothes and live with objects and furniture from their favored period.  I think that this would take a lot of effort to do all the time and would not seem like a holiday after a while.  But whatever turns you on.

You could probably travel to other past times for a picnic theme.  Think medieval spit roast.  For this you would need a group of hungry people and no total fire bans.  A Roman banquet would be a bit more difficult.  Hard to find folding Roman couches but maybe a banana lounge would make a good substitute and there are always those portable shade cabanas or gazebos for a Roman tent if you have access to one.  These themes could be hilarious with a group of friends.

So next time you plan a picnic try something different.  Forget the modern minimalism of backpack convenience and go for a historical production for a fun way to visit the past.  There is nothing like a bit of escapist fantasy as a restorative.

Kat

Creativity with Junk, Mallee Roots and Were-Rabbits

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Everyone has broken or discarded stuff.  Sometimes these things are too interesting to throw away.  I turn metal, wooden, concrete or ceramic pieces of junk into unique assemblages for the garden.

In the early spring, my sister Ellie and I decided to put some potted plants on the concrete area beside our rear driveway to dress up a bleak spot.  This made a difference, but the red brick wall under our family room windows looked too bare.  It needed something interesting to detract from the boring blank bricks, so I rummaged around our crowded shed and the hidden corners of the garden to find suitable objects.

First I discovered a pair of old forged iron chair frames that had lost the wooden seat slats years ago.  These were wonderfully rusty and when I placed them back to back against the wall, they formed the shape of a bizarre moth or strange old airplane.   From the top I hung an iron bell and in the gap at the bottom, an old brass fireplace shovel.  Instant wall decoration.

As the wall is quite long I thought it still needed some more visual interest, so from the back of the garden I moved a wooden power pole off-cut, left over from a community art project that Ellie had taken part in several years ago.  This still has its metal capping and makes a great stand for a sculpture.  We had kept a Mallee Root, too interesting to burn in the fireplace, that looks like the character of Bottom when he was transformed into an Ass in  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with eye hole.  I placed  it on the stand at one end of the wall next to a pot of textured rocks.  Mallee Roots are really hard and don’t rot easily if kept off the ground so it should weather nicely.

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Now that I had begun, I kept finding other bits of junk to make assemblages.  We had an old iron and stone-grinding wheel for sharpening tools that had lost its base and wooden handle.  I thought that it would look good on its side to create a table-like structure, so I stuck one metal end into the bottom hole of an upended terracotta pot.  Onto the joint of the handle I attached an old brass hose fitting and to the handles end fitted a rusty garden fork.  I think it looks like a one-armed World War I helmeted soldier giving a cheeky salute.  There is a rock that is shaped like an elbow and another like a foot on the grinding wheel and it is a tribute to the spirit of the Australian Diggers who survived that awful war.  Probably my most serious assemblage.

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After a violent spring storm one of our terracotta pots was broken and the shards looked too good to throw away.  I half buried them in the earth under our Bay Laurel shrub where the dogs are always destroying the grass.  The broken pot pieces now form a bit of archeology in the garden as if they have been uncovered in a dig.  Circa Middle Suburban Period.

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In the darkest corner of the shed, in a container filled with old junk, apart from the spiders, I discovered three cast iron metal shelf brackets.  Standing them together on their bases creates a decorative assemblage and I put these on the concrete ledge behind our rustic garden bench and table.  In the same junk container were a large rusty forged iron staple and an unusual square type of bolt fitting.  These  found objects were placed on the same ledge, next to a lucky horseshoe given to us by our grandfather.  I did not include my grandmother’s rusty secateurs in this or any grouping, because Ellie said it was a bad idea to put potential weapons near the back door.  I’m more worried about the thought of getting tetanus from a cut, than somebody going psycho with some rusty old garden tools, but better safe than sorry.

In front of this rustic collection was a pot that contained a shade loving Clivia given to us by our Aunt.  But our younger dog, who is only 15 months old, decided in a moment of naughtiness that this would be a great chew toy and dug it out of the pot.  Luckily Ellie caught her in the act and was able to replant the only slightly damaged Clivia.  But we decided not to put it back in the same place where it had attracted Destructor Dog’s attention.  I thought the now vacant spot needed a sculpture.  In our pile of Mallee roots was one that resembles a large rabbit’s head.  It fitted on top of a rounded rock and I sat these on a square section of broken concrete planter as a stand.  I call this piece The Were-Rabbit, because it looks slightly sinister and reminds me of the Wallace and Gromit animation that features a particularly nasty, but hilarious monster rabbit of the same name (Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit).  Yes I know I have a weird imagination.  Anyway, it’s too big to use as a chew toy, we hope.

While I like to play around and have fun creating these objects I always try to make the most of a materials aesthetics and to put them in an appropriate position in the garden.  It often takes a lot trial and error.

At the moment I have run out of items to make assemblages and my creative burst has probably produced enough for now.  As we accumulate new junk, which is inevitable given that many things are not built to last these days, I will most likely find inspiration to create more, as it is such a constructive way to reuse broken stuff.

Kat

The following is a link to one of my favorite gardens surrounding a building that began construction in Victoria in 1855.  The historic Old Curiosity Shop in Ballarat has become a testament to giving new life to broken pottery and discarded objects and is still being added to by the present owner.  It just goes to show once you start along this path it is difficult to stop.

The Old Curiosity Shop Garden

There’s a Dragon At the Bottom of the Garden

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We have a dragon in our garden.  Not a real dragon like a type of frilled lizard, but the mythical kind found in old legends and fantasy tales.

Before we had any garden features our back yard looked rather boring.  Several years ago Ellie and I decided we needed some kind of focal point at the rear of the property.  We visited garden centres and couldn’t find anything we liked to suit our style of house.  It is a cross between the early 20th century Australian Federation and California bungalow styles with a modern red brick addition on the back.

Looking in some books on how to renovate houses of these eras, we saw some terracotta roof dragons hand-made by the local architectural pottery.  Our roof has a couple of original terracotta finials but is not high enough to take a large dragon, so we decided to get one of these beautifully modeled terracotta sculptures to put in the garden.  We went to the pottery and looked at all the designs, chose a large French style dragon (actually a two-legged Wyvern) and placed our order.  After several weeks it was delivered in separate pieces to its new home.

The dragon needed some kind of plinth on which to sit so we cleaned a lot of old bricks left over when a front verandah was enclosed.  With the help of a friend, the brick plinth was constructed under a wooden pergola needed to protect the dragon from falling branches. The tree next door is an African Coral tree that sheds limbs in storms.  This structure has proved very effective, as we often find fallen branches that have been deflected by the framework.

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The foliage surrounding the dragon prevents it from being viewed from all parts of the garden, so it does not compete with other garden ornaments and retains its dramatic impact.  We named it after Ramoth, the dragon Queen in Anne McCaffrey’s wonderful books about the dragons of Pern.  Our dragon has gained a green patina of moss and lichens and has become a home for spiders, the kind that make interesting funnel like webs in the dragon’s mouth.  Every time I tried to remove the webs they kept returning because the spider lives inside the dragon.  Not a wise idea to put fingers into any crevices as I have since found Redback spiders in the garden so the webs can stay, no matter what made them.   For those unfamiliar with these spiders they are Australian native members of the deadly Black Widow family and like to live in damp and dark corners of the garden or shed.  Or maybe down a dragon’s throat.

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The dragon is a wonderful symbol of both the creative and destructive forces of nature because it represents the four elements: earth, air, fire and water.  It lives in the earth, flies in the air, breathes fire and has the scales of a fish.  In western Myths and stories, dragons have often been seen as an evil serpent, like St George’s dragon and Tolkien’s cunning talking dragon, Smaug.  In Chinese culture usually they are lucky and are one of the 12 zodiac animals.  Also on the positive side, a dragon is the symbol of Wales and the magical friend of little Jackie Paper.   I was always sorry when Puff “sadly slipped into his cave”.  Dragons continue to inspire new works for children and adults, like the movie How to Train Your Dragon and the books and TV series of Game of Thrones, where they are dangerous but heroic creatures.  Never a wise idea to mock a Queen’s dragons.  Barbecue anyone?

It is great to have one of the architectural dragons at ground level because only birds would appreciate the sculptural detail when they are placed upon a roof.  To me Ramoth has a smiling face, but she looks quite powerful and ready to defend her territory so is a perfect garden guardian.

Kat

The Christmas Lilies are in Bloom Again

It is a hot, blustery Christmas Eve in Melbourne.  As we are about to have several hot days in a row, I thought I would photograph the lilies in our garden before they wilt.

Our white Christmas Lilies, also known as Day Lilies, are looking lovely at the moment.  It is quite windy and I had wait for lulls in between the gusts to avoid blurry photos.

Also some of the pink Calla Lilies are out, although not as many as last year, but they give a bit of colour.

It is going to be hot on Christmas day tomorrow.  35 degrees celsius is expected.  I hope that the Lilies survive a bit longer because they bring lushness to the garden in summer.

Enjoy the season, whether it is summer or winter.

Kat