Before there were Emoji

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Washi Ningyo (paper dolls)

I was looking at some of our Japanese doll collection and noticed that the simplified faces were like emoji, first used by the Japanese in mobile phones. These traditional dolls have been around for a long time so maybe this type of art inspired the creators of emoji.  The following photos demonstrate the similarity.  But whether there is any relationship or not it is still fun to speculate and to enjoy the skill and creativity of Japanese doll art.

The paper dolls above are tiny examples of the art of using origami (folded paper) to make beautiful paper dolls.  The boy on the left has a thoughtful expression while the girl’s face is blank so I would liken them to questioning emoji faces.

The above traditional wooden kokeshi dolls are from the mid-twentieth century.  The girl and the older woman with a child both have a very typical calm expression but the little boy is smiling brightly to indicate youthful happiness.

Love the look on the face of this Japanese pin knitting doll that I bought to use for my textile work. She seems to be really pleased and content with the world like she has just eaten chocolate.

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Vintage Daruma Doll

The fabric Daruma doll is a depiction of the founder of Zen Buddhism, Bodhidharma, who meditated for nine years so that his arms and legs atrophied and fell off (for more info on these dolls go here).  His eyes seem to be looking inward like he is in a trance and his mouth seems very determined.  Maybe this expression would indicate quiet reflection if it were an emoji.

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Ceramic Toy Bells (Left to Right) Benzaiten, Ebisu and Daikokuten, three of the Seven Lucky Gods

The Seven Lucky Gods are popular figures in Japanese art.  You often see depictions of Ebisu in Japanese stores and restaurants because he is the god of prosperity and wealth in business.  Daikokuten is also a god of wealth and a demon hunter while  Benzaiten is the goddess of music and beauty (based on the Hindu Goddess Saraswarti).  Ebisu and Daikokuten have very happy contented expressions, as you would if you always caught the big fish or had a bag of  valuable objects and a mallet for killing demons.   Benzaiten has a wistful look as she plays her instrument.  Useful emoji characteristics.

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Kaibina Dolls (Clamshell Dolls), Omamori Amulets

This pair of kaibina dolls made from clam shells are good luck charms (omamori).  They are covered with Kimono fabric.  The pair are supposed to represent a united couple.  While the female doll looks very happy her male counterpart has quite a sour look on his face.  Maybe this is supposed to be an expression of strength and seriousness but it’s more like he has eaten a bad clam.

Japanese dolls are made from all kinds of materials and display a variety of facial expressions and emotions in a simplified manner.  There is probably a lot of tradition involved in these choices, especially with the vintage dolls.  The pin knitting doll that I purchased new a few years ago seems to have a more modern exuberant face than the older dolls like many emoji.

Whatever the origin and influence of emojis, our brain can make all kinds of visual connections between these and Japanese dolls.  The past appears to influence the present and the present adds to tradition.  That’s the way creativity often works.

Kat

Sticking with the Japanese theme I have included a traditional Japanese piece Sakura Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) played on the ukulele and a Japanese animation with the crocheted duo U900 playing the Beatles Twist and Shout on the ukulele.

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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.

The Worry Tree

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I’m a worrier.  Always have been since I was a child.  I’d worry about my schoolwork, passing tests, my health, anything and everything.  I still worry about things and I know it’s a waste of energy.  These types of bad thoughts can sometimes get blown out of proportion so that they interfere with your creativity and stop you from getting things done.  You need to put them into perspective.

The song I’m So Worried by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame sums up this type of worrying.  It’s just ridiculous and you will always find something to worry about if you let everything get to you.  Although I did have a bag damaged by the “baggage retrieval system they’ve got at Heathrow” so maybe that is something to worry about.

As a form of self-therapy I recently created a “Worry Tree.”  I figured I needed more than worry beads to relax me.  Using some pruned branches from our Magnolia, I hung up an object every time I felt anxious about something.  I even made some beaded ornaments from those left from broken necklaces.  By looking for or making something to hang on the tree I find that I completely forget about what is causing my worry and I can relax. This type of diversionary method works because I’m involving myself in a meditative process.

People have attached things to trees for millennia to ease their worries and ask for help. For example in Ireland, Cornwall and Scotland trees are often associated with sacred wells and petitioners attach pieces of cloth and other objects as a prayer or supplication. They are called Clootie wells in Scotland and cloutie wells in Cornwall.

To externalize your worries by attaching a symbolic or written item to a tree can be an effective remedy.  Then you can let it be.  I only wish my worry tree was a living one, although this would be a bit difficult to fit on my desktop.   My worries have now been turned into something fun and creative that makes me feel happy.

On a positive note, being worried has definitely inspired songwriters.  There is The Worried Man Blues, a traditional song that has been recorded by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and many others.  I like Johnny Cash’s version.

Probably the most famous song that shows how stupid it is to worry is Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy .  It deservedly has had millions of views on You Tube.  I love to sing and play this on my ukulele and it always makes me feel good.  A less well-known song of the same title with a similar theme is by Australia’s Guy Sebastian.

Instead of worrying find something that you can do to ease these annoying and distracting thoughts.  Maybe a “Worry Tree” will work for you as well.

Kat

Ecstatic about Eggs

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I love all types of decorative eggs.  You could say I’m eggstatic about them just like “Egghead” from Batman (aka Vincent Price) with all his bad puns.  Ellie and I have a small collection.  None of our eggs cost very much and many of them were gifts, as well as some being family heirlooms.  I have also decorated some and created one from scratch.

For many people the egg is a major symbol of Easter, of spring fertility and rebirth.  For kids it is about chocolate.  In many cultures it is also the cosmic egg in creation myths.  The egg is the ultimate symbol of creativity and has inspired many artist’s and crafts people to create beautiful objects.

A collection usually begins with one object.  My parents had a Austrian poker work egg brought back from an overseas trip.  It opens up to form two egg cups and has matching napkins rings.  I was always fascinated by it’s decoration and shape so when I saw other interesting eggs on holiday or in op shops I would snap them up.

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Austrian poker work egg and Swiss tin eggs

Some of our eggs have been brought back by family members from holidays overseas as gifts.  Our aunt gave us some cloisonné eggs from China and they came with little wooden stands.  I also had some old ones from a relative that are good for displaying eggs.  On a trip to Japan several years ago we also found some lovely decoupage eggs when visiting an exhibition at the Tokyo Museum that depict images from some medieval narrative scrolls.

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Chinese cloisonné eggs (back row),  Chinese painted real egg (centre),  Japanese decoupage eggs (left and right centre row) Chinese painted wooden eggs (front row).

Because Australia is so close to Asia it is easy to get Chinese eggs here.  Locally we found some real eggs that were painted with the Animals of the Chinese zodiac, like the horse and monkey.  These are quite fragile and need to be stored carefully.

There are also some Asian plant fibre eggs but I have forgotten where they come from as they were a gift.  Shows you should write things down at the time.

Old egg cups are good for displaying eggs.   We have a couple of vintage majolica ones from Italy: a turkey and a duck, as well as a later goose, all found at op shops.  These are quite fun and painted wooden eggs look great in them.

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Polish wooden eggs and Russian painted egg at back

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Russian wooden eggs

Old napkin rings are also good for displaying eggs.  They come in all sorts of shapes and materials and make an interesting collection of their own.  I also find large vintage buttons good for stopping eggs from rolling around.

Eggs come in so many different materials and can be an example of various crafts.  You can find interesting ones at local craft markets or specialist craft stores.

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Australian painted real eggs and Philippines embroidered fabric eggs

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Hand blown glass eggs

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African stone eggs, two painted and hand engraved and a black wooden ebony egg

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Taiwanese Sodalite egg (left), orange simulated marble egg (centre back), Italian marble egg (right), my talc stone egg (front).

I had a go at sculpting my own talc stone egg.  This caused a great deal of dust and took a lot of sand paper to get the right shape.  I now appreciate how much effort it must take to shape and polish very hard stones.

One year I decided to paint some eggs as table decorations.  The most difficult part was blowing out the white and yolks.  Because I thought I would run out of breath, I used an air brush compressor with a syringe needle attached to the end of the tube.  With too much pressure the egg exploded so it was very tricky and messy.  The blown eggs were then coated with layers of acrylic paint and stippled with another colour to make a textured effect.  I added some gold dust left over from gold leaf that someone had given me and applied it with the varnish.  I think that the aqua ones look like real eggs.  The layers of paint has made them less fragile.

I have a real ostrich egg that I bought at the Melbourne Zoo shop ages ago.  There must have been an excess of eggs in their breeding programs.  Wonder if they made huge omelets.  There were holes in each end of the egg where they had blown out the innards.  These were rather large and not very attractive so I glued in some enamel flower earrings that I did not wear.  This is probably the closest I will get to anything like a Faberge enamel egg and the ostrich did most of the work.  It has such a beautiful creamy shell and is quite heavy.

The following black egg is made from Australian post ice age river red gum found buried in the flood plains of the Murray River.  It is very much like Irish bog oak.  These ancient trees stopped growing about 5,000 years ago and the ancestors of todays indigenous Australians would have been around to see them growing.  This was a gift from a friend who knows the maker.

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The oldest manufactured egg in the collection is tiny.  It is a novelty made in Germany and sold in Melbourne in the late part of the 19th century.  The egg contains the “smallest doll in the world,” a little peg wooden doll that we inherited from a relative.  Unfortunately some long ago child had broken one of the arms because these are movable.  The limb was long gone.  I had to give it an arm transplant using a tiny piece of matchstick and glue (click on the pictures for detailed close ups).  This was really fiddly and I nearly glued it to my finger.  The doll looks a lot happier.

That’s our egg collection.  It is amazing how many creative ways there are to make decorative eggs and these are only a small sample.  It seems appropriate that a major symbol for creation should inspire all sorts of creative, eggceptional ideas.  Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Kat

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