Winter Creativity: Escape the Cold Weather Blues

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Penguin illustration from A Sketch of The Natural History of Australia by Frederick G Aflalo, 1896.

The weather in Melbourne has turned cold. For those of us who can’t leave town during the winter months it is good to find creative solutions to keeping warm and feeling invigorated. I’d rather feel like a butterfly happily searching for nectar, than a penguin sitting on a nest during a snowstorm. I’m not talking about pumping up the heating but tricking yourself into forgetting about the cold, dark days and taking a summer holiday in your mind.

I know compared with other countries our winter is relatively mild. You need to go up into the hills and mountainous regions to experience snow. But in Melbourne we do have icy southerly and southwesterly winds that blow straight from the Antarctic and the wind chill can be very unpleasant in the winter months.   I once heard a frequent British visitor say that he felt colder here than in an English winter. That’s why many retired people head north to escape. I could write a whole post about the peculiarities of Melbourne weather but I won’t. Instead here is a video taken by a drone of a snow-covered landscape near Ballarat, Victoria last year.

A good way to deal with the winter blues that can sometimes affect anyone is to involve your imagination and use all your senses. Begin with sight and surround yourself with images of summer: Flowers, the beach, out-door activities, whatever reminds you of the warmer months. When you need a boost watching movies that are set in the spring or summertime help to shut out the cold. Unfortunately we will view the new series of Game of Thrones in the middle of winter and all those snow scenes always make me feel really frozen. It will be a case of a fleece blanket, warm dog on lap and spicy curry on these days. So if possible avoid films and TV programs about snow (unless you are mad about snow sports) and find something with a sunny theme. Here’s a list of 100 Summer, Vacation and Beach Movies. You can also search for videos on You Tube with tropical related themes. Films of butterflies make me think of a past trip to North Queensland and the rain forests.

If you are lucky enough to have a spa pool, access to a local heated pool or volcanic hot springs you can still enjoy water activities in the winter, like the snow monkeys in Japan. A nice hot relaxing bath warms you up for ages, especially before you go to bed. If you have some type of bath, treat it like a holiday spa, with bath oil or bath salts. A few drops of essential oil will make it luxurious and smell wonderful.

On the subject of smell, fresh flowers with a lovely scent can lift your spirits when it is icy outside. Plants like Daphne and Winter Sweet give out a lovely fragrance in the cold weather and it is worth planting these in your garden to bring some flowers inside. Pine tree cuttings can do the same. Your home will smell wonderfully fresh. If you do not have access to any flowers you can always use fragrance diffusers or scented candles. The smell of lemon in a hot drink is most refreshing; in fact any citrus fruit brings in the sun so use oranges and limes in cooking.

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With the sense of taste you can relive summer memories and the right food will make you feel better. Nowadays we can obtain various summer fruits and vegetables all year round so put salads with your pasta dishes and make fruit pies. Curries, chilies and Asian style rice and noodle dishes are warming in winter but also a reminder of holidays in hot climes so tuck into these at any opportunity. Put pieces of fruit in drinks and stick in some cocktail umbrellas and imagine you are in the tropics. There are many more ideas for comforting food. My favorite dessert treat is Macha (Japanese powdered green tea) Key Lime Pie that requires no cooking just chopping, mixing and refrigeration (Recipe).

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Macha Key Lime Pie

Sound will take you to a warmer place. In a world full of music there is something for everyone to evoke the summer. It could be from a particular culture or from time spent in the sun. This is bound to be quite personal and there is no standard set list. When you are feeling sick of the cold play your favorite summer music and revel in the heat. Dance and sing to the music to elevate those endorphins. That’ll take away the winter blues.

When the cold weather is getting you down with a bit of creative thinking there are obviously plenty of ways to bring back that summer warmth and energy.

Kat

Here is a quirky indie pop song done by Melbourne band, The Lucksmiths, called T-Shirt Weather. I could not find a video version with good sound but the lyrics paint a sunny picture.

A Room With A View

Version 2Version 2I’m not about to talk about the 1980s film starring Helena Bonham Carter, but about how it is always wonderful to have a pleasant view from the room where you spend most of your time working.  It is very soothing and good for your well-being to have an interesting outlook.  I have two large windows in our studio.  One window overlooks the back garden and the other has a wide view over neighbouring rooftops and of the sky.  Because a large two-story house is soon to be built next door, I will lose the unencumbered view.

This view has given me much pleasure over the years.  I have watched so many aircraft, such as the Air Force acrobatic team, the Roulettes, doing routines before the Australian Football Grand Final or the Melbourne Grande Prix, as well as Fighter Jets and Black Hawk Helicopters doing exercises.  Vintage planes in formations and huge aircraft for airshows have entertained me from time to time.  I often see parachutists descending to a local park and the Goodyear blimp has passed by making its slow way across the skyline.  There have occasionally been spectacular fireworks.  At dusk in the warmer months I see Flying Foxes (fruit bats) flying low over the rooftops on their way to find food and all kinds of birds have flown past this window on their way to who knows where.

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Views can keep us connected with the natural world and this is good for the health.  Observing natural phenomena has helped to elevate my mood and made me respect the forces of nature.  There is nothing like the azure blue sky of a bright sunny Melbourne day dotted with cumulus clouds to make you feel happy.  At other times watching the rain sheeting down over the rooftops is always an incredible sight.  When this view is gone I will miss seeing the moon in all its phases low on the horizon, the beautiful sunsets and the dark storm clouds rolling in at different times of the year.  Some storms have been quite scary at times when the wind is gusting at over 100 kilometres an hour and there are lots of dramatic forked lightning but they are exciting.  No matter what it says in the weather reports it is always better to see what is actually happening out the window.

There is not a lot I can do to stop the inevitable so I will have to make the best of things. At least I still have the other window that looks onto the greenery of the garden and can go outside in fine weather.  If I did not have this option I would probably put up lots of pictures and posters of the natural world and fill the room with plants to feel better in the winter months.

I have enjoyed my sky view for a long time and I will miss it a lot.  It might not be the most spectacular panorama compared with some wonderful scenery in the world but it has been mine.  If you have a sky view, no matter how small, make the most of its benefits while you can.  And if you have no view to speak of create one yourself with a virtual window and some posters and plants.

Kat

This post calls for a happy song so here is ELO, the 70s British band and proud wearers of satin shirts, doing Mr Blue Sky.

Art Studios and Ordered Chaos

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I love viewing images of Artist’s studios so I thought I would share ours as it might give others some ideas.  I follow the principle of “ordered chaos”(yeah I know this is an oxymoron), where in the studio I have a lot of tools, supplies and reference material and it is arranged so that I can find things when I need them.  This is not to say that the system is perfect, as sometimes I do forget where something is, but most of the time it works.  I could never be a minimalist and would find this too restricting, yet a complete mess would drive me insane.

Recent studies (Why Creative People Have Messy Homes ) have argued that messy people are more creative than the extremely tidy.  To a certain extent I would agree with this idea, but I also think that if you can’t find anything and have no space to work it just makes you stressed, which hinders creativity.  If you have to spend hours looking for something or continually moving things on a desk to make space, it is a waste of your precious time and energy.  As with all things it is good to have some balance.

The secret to ordered chaos is that you have close at hand things you use regularly and store those not used often in an accessible place.  I also keep related items together and this makes it easier to locate individual articles, as well as being more aesthetically pleasing.

The key to this system is that you need a lot of storage.  This way I can house a lot of stuff without going crazy and becoming buried like a chronic hoarder.  For this purpose the studio has a mixture of second-hand and modern furniture, the latter coming mainly from a chain store (and parents).  The largest pieces are high pine shelves and a bench with cupboards underneath.  Flat pack style shelving was necessary, as the studio is on the second story and you cannot fit large furniture up the stairs.  There are some smaller shelves, a bookcase and assorted trolleys and tables.

The large shelves hold lots of storage boxes, baskets and containers full of art materials, tapestry wools, weaving and sewing materials, tools and memorabilia.   As well as the doll’s house and toy wardrobe mentioned in previous posts (17 Oct and 21 Nov, 2016), there is also a toy dresser that houses a tin collection and several vintage suitcases and a hat tin to store items.  On the stairwell wall is a multi-cultural mask collection, with a couple we made ourselves (very difficult to hang as you teeter over the void).  A bamboo screen hides the narrow shelves used to store canvases and other artworks.  There is a roof storage area off the studio for extra equipment that is not used often.

On the large table is an easel with a drawing board and all the tools you would need, like brushes and pencils.  Under the table is a drawer unit that contains art materials.  Next to this is a wooden boot drying rack, found at an op shop, that now holds paper and folios. It’s fun to find a new use for something that no longer serves any purpose.  Plastic storage bins on wheels fit under the table and computer desk so no space is wasted.

The advantage of having a studio separated from the living area is that there is room to make a creative mess and you can leave project materials where they are until you are ready to work on them again.  Ellie has a small study for computer work and drawing and uses the studio for painting and textiles.  In the latter, areas are set aside for different types of work, from writing, drawing and painting to sewing and tapestry weaving.

In a studio you can store a lot of things that otherwise would be chucked out.  Things that are great for inspiration, like natural objects, old toys and items collected from op shops.  As a creative individual it is common to see potential for artistic applications in items others view as rubbish and there is a danger of becoming an obsessive hoarder.  It is important to be selective with what is kept otherwise it could become unmanageable, so every now and then redundant stuff needs to get thrown out to be recycled, if possible.  But I admit this can be difficult.

Due to lack of space in the house, an old exercise bike and some hand weights are kept in the studio, which is not ideal.  And there is a clothes drying rack used in colder months on the other side of the room, out of view in the photos.   Sometimes it can feel a bit like a laundry.  All the stuff in the room does takes up a lot of the floor space, but as most of the furniture is light or has wheels, it can be moved aside when necessary.  It’s just a case of being flexible.

Storage seems to be a common problem for artists and some of those who I admire work in some sort of organized chaos.  In a thirty-year-old magazine I found an article about the brilliant London theatre designer and artist, Yolanda Sonnabend, who died in 2015.  Her studio was full of wonderful old distressed furniture and lots of fascinating and creative storage units.  It was cluttered, but not a chaotic mess and full of unusual and interesting objects.  There was even a dead tree hanging from the ceiling.  Here is a photo of the magazine page.

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Yolanda Sonnabend’s Studio, The World of Interiors, June 1984

Local Melbourne artist and living treasure,  Mirka Mora, also has a wonderfully cluttered studio with lots of interesting artifacts and furniture.  She wrote an inspiring book called Love and Clutter (Viking, 2003) about the memories associated with the various objects in her collection.   It is full of great photos of her studio.  Here is a link to an interview that she did about her life and work, with many pictures of her workspace:

thedesignfiles.net – interview with Mirka Mora

Everyone needs a place for creative play and if you don’t have a whole room that should not be a hindrance.  Even if you only have one living room you can create a corner workspace on a table or desk.  All is needed is a work surface and good lighting.  For really messy work there is nothing better than a car port or garage and if you live in an apartment you can drape a table with plastic sheeting.

With limited space you would probably need to be quite organized with the storage of materials otherwise it would be difficult to work effectively.  Because Ellie and I have several fields of interest this requires more storage space, but if you only use one or two mediums you would not need so much stuff and a simple shelving or drawer system might be all that is necessary.

It is possible to have a balance between order and chaos in your workspace without any extreme tidiness or messiness that could hamper creativity.  But that is just my opinion and it all comes down to what works for you.

Kat

For a further fix on creative people’s workspaces go to wheretheycreate.com

Be Creative with Your Old Festive Decorations.

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Each December I give a Dalek figure a Santa hat and a stocking and decorate a Tardis money box with a magnetic tree, because Time Lords and their evil nemeses deserve a bit of festive joy, as do we all.  Decorations for the festive season put you in the mood for fun holidays and family get-togethers.  Every year it is nice to add a few new pieces to your collection, but the advertising catalogues we receive in the letterbox seem to be full of ever more expensive or unoriginal items.  If you like doing craft you can make your own, but if, like me you do not have the time to do this in a big way, you can remake and repurpose your existing decorations.  In our household we reuse items from our decorations box every year, but try to give them a new spin, with the latest catalogues providing inspiration.  It is so much more imaginative and satisfying than just going out and buying new baubles.

In Australia it is also summer and I like to limit the amount of northern winter decorations, because the days are long and there are hot days to enjoy.   A reference to the snow is ok because it can make you feel cooler, but it is good to celebrate the summer time.

Sometimes broken decorations can be given a new purpose.  A few years ago I reused the round metal frame of an old wreathe that had lost its foliage and hung this by a chain from the ceiling above our stair banister.  From curtain hooks I hung metal silver butterflies and white, gold and silver papier-mâché stars to form a mobile.  In the centre was a hanging red bird candle holder.  To match this I attached a long silver chain on the left side of the stairs decorated with silver and red hearts and a white peace dove.  To the right of the mobile I hung a white glittery horse, a larger silver heart and to reflect the summer,  a red mobile with natural shells.  It was a look that suited our modern living room and did not clash with the African artifacts and the black bamboo pole on the stairs.

Over the years we have done the real and the artificial tree thing, but a couple of years ago I decided to do my own original take on this iconic item.  We have an old silver music stand, and the base forms a pyramidal shape like a pine tree when the top half is removed.  Once placed on the TV console, I wound the silver metal chain around the outside held with a couple of curtain hooks and voila, I could hang decorations from the links.  The same star decorations from the mobile, some silver trees and musical instruments, together with a metal angel, were attached to the chain with small wire hooks.  I fitted a metal skewer into the hole in the top of the central pole and blue tacked one of the stars to it.  A silver metal reindeer, a couple of silver summer insects and a tea light sat under the tree to give it interest.  At the other end of the console our grandmother’s 60s wooden leaf-shaped dish held some silver fruit decorations.

Last year I went for more of a Scandinavian effect.  The horse and the peace dove were now on the tree.  I added a reindeer themed card on a stand and next to the tree the silver reindeer sat beside a couple of small logs, offcuts from some tree pruning.  On top of the flat log was a little rabbit blowing a trumpet that we have had for years.  Just a little bit of change is often all that is needed to update your theme.

We had some old Ikea straw decorations in storage and one of the mobiles was a bit tatty, so I cut off the straw angels and stars and tied these to the stair banisters so they sat against the wall.  Some were also hung from the ceiling above the stairs, together with another Ikea straw mobile and the red bird.  In the wooden leaf dish now sat three Ikea woven straw pinecones.  I assembled an abstract snowman figure from an alabaster ball that came from a broken lamp, topped with a porcelain ball from a broken salad dressing shaker and sat it next to a gold star.  On the bookshelves opposite I put some more traditional wooden ornaments; small white angels, musicians and Santas next to a glittery tree card.  The whole scheme was very modern with references to northern traditions, yet did not look out of place in our warm climate.

I have not decided what I will do this year because I usually decorate spontaneously.  Maybe I will dig out some of the less used items in the storage box for a change.  I have noticed that traditional wooden toy decorations are making a comeback so I might play around with some that we have tucked away.

You may prefer a more traditional festive scheme, but whatever your style, have fun and use your imagination to rework what you already possess.  It is possible to come up with interesting ways to decorate you home without spending a great deal, if at all.

Kat

Embrace the Fun Side of Your Creativity

It would be a very boring world if we had to be serious all the time and to be creative you don’t have to always work with deep and meaningful concepts.  You can express yourself in any way you like and sometimes do things just for fun.  I like to play around and create amusing visual displays.  From retro toys, souvenirs and figures from other cultures to kitsch items and colourful ephemera, these are placed in the studio, as well as other rooms in the house and in the garden.  They are a source of inspiration and make me smile.

Some of these displays have grown into collections and others contain only a few items.  In the kitchen there is a large pine cabinet that mainly houses crockery and glass objects, but the top shelf is devoted to old and new toys, including a number bought on holiday in Japan.  Every time I look at this shelf, as well as being visually pleasing, each item has a story to tell that brings back many memories.

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The most playful objects are in the studio as this is where I need a lot of visual stimulation. One of the seven dwarfs and a vintage Popeye toy sit on the computer desk and I can see them every time I sit down to work.  Across the room on a shelf, a child’s toy wardrobe holds a diorama with seaside souvenirs and related objects, while a trio of incongruous toy horses stand along side.  On the top of the wardrobe sits a miniature closet and dressing table in the same pale blue. Greeting cards with interesting and associated designs are often used in my groupings and I have a large number to choose from. I move items around in different combinations when the mood takes me.  For example, some resin figures that have at one time been in the old dollhouse (see 2nd post) or the wardrobe display, now sit on a pelmet in the studio.  Others may view these articles as clutter and dust collectors, but to me they are part of a whimsical realm where my imagination can wander.

Out in the garden a gnome peeps out from under a shrub and an owl, a failed possum scarer, sits on a metal post to become a quirky feature. A cast iron gecko crawls along a rock.  These things are purely for amusement and don’t pretend to be anything else.  For me, keeping a sense of fun is a necessary part of the creative process.

Many creative people have collecting and hoarding tendencies and sometimes it can be difficult to control.  I find that I have to be selective with what I keep and have given away countless objects because it was impossible to store them with the space available.  But there are no rules to this and you can be sparing or lavish with your chosen material.  If it is a house full of Star Wars figures that gives you a buzz or if you want a garden full of gnomes, go for it and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.

The following links are to examples of homes and gardens where the residents have embraced the fun side of their creativity in a flamboyant and unconventional manner.

Sandra Eterovic – The Design Files

Bronwyn Barnett – ABC News

Sydney Garden Gnome House – Cool Hunting

Pensioner Robert Rae’s garden – Daily Mail UK

Kat

Imagination is Free

In the last few years the cost of living has skyrocketed.  This has really impacted on the price of art and craft materials, as well as hardware items.  After paying for life’s essentials there are often inadequate funds available for expensive creative projects. It is necessary to find a cheaper solution and sometimes having limited means leads to more interesting and original ideas.

We are lucky to have had three generations of hoarders in our family.  Not the extreme kind, but those who kept old furniture and junk items under their houses, in their sheds, garages or storage areas.  While we had to get rid of a lot of this stuff when our relatives died, we managed to keep some interesting things stored in the attic and shed of our family home.  We have been able to use such found objects around our house and garden in a creative and fun way without spending a cent.

It helps if you like the naturally distressed look, objects that have genuine flaking paint and real rust.  Sometimes all a thing needs is a gentle clean or a minor repair.  This saves on time and materials, like paint and sandpaper.  The age of an item shows its history and over restoring would destroy any authentic character.

For example, an old distressed dolls house in our studio is used to display a collection of bottles dug up from our garden, as well as glass jars, that are filled with interesting old buttons from our grandmother and driftwood, flotsam and shells found at the beach. It also holds some sewing and craft materials.  I find it fun to change the objects every now and then, as these give me inspiration and are visually pleasing.  This is a case of using things found around the place in a new manner that costs absolutely nothing, as well as requiring little time and effort to produce.

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It really pays to look in your close relatives’ sheds, attics, garages and basements to see if there is anything useful. Best to ask permission before rummaging around these places and appropriating objects to prevent any family arguments.  If you do not have your own source of free stuff you can find things in curbside hard rubbish collections and skips (dumpsters), but to avoid breaking local council laws you should ask the homeowners if it is ok to take something from their pile.  Also there are plenty of free recycling websites around Australia and the world where people give away unwanted items or get stuff for free.  Probably the next most inexpensive places are garage/yard/car boot sales; then op shops/thrift stores/ charity shops, weekend markets and of course on line auction sites.

It definitely is satisfying to look at any old piece of so-called junk from a different angle and then create something new.  Often this tells a story about your family history and is also a way of recycling things that would otherwise be trashed. You will have something unique that reflects your personal vision.  So play around and use your imagination.  It will make you feel good without breaking the bank.

Kat