The Tree and Creative Family Celebrations

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The Tree as a centrepiece of the festive season brings joy to family celebrations and allows for all kinds of creative interpretations. In our home it has been the focal point for gatherings of family and friends so we try to put an effort into making it a little bit different each year, without spending a fortune or getting too stressed. I can usually find something in our decoration stash to re-invent the tree every season whether it is a real or artificial pine, or the alternative kind. 

One of our most memorable trees was a Monterey Pine that we placed beside the fireplace in the old part of our house. This was the largest tree we have ever had. It was nine feet tall and nearly reached the ten foot ceiling. Ellie and I went to a tree farm to choose it and brought it home with the help of our uncle and his trailer. It was a job getting it on to the tree stand and I’ll never forget the strong scent of pine that permeated the house. We fed the tree regularly with sugar, vinegar and a few drops of bleach (to kill mould) that was added to the bucket in which the trunk was placed. This kept it looking fresh for the whole festive period.

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We had an old fashioned Christmas party that year where everyone came dressed in costumes of the late Victorian era. The pine tree was decorated in this style, with candles, toys, papier mache and glass ornaments.  We already had many of these decorations and found inexpensive items at two dollar shops and chain stores. On top of the tree was a large papier mache star. 

We did not light the real tree candles in case naked flames ignited the volatile pine needles. Instead the room was lit with large candles in the fireplace and assorted candle sticks and holders, as well as some oil lamps. The light reflected in the shiny glass baubles of the tree and created a lovely atmosphere. Luckily it was a cool summer’s evening and the candles did not generate too much heat.

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All our guests entered into the spirit of the occasion and we had a wonderful evening trying to recreate a celebration from a bygone era. We may have lacked the snow but once the sun had eventually set it was hard to tell that it was summer and the tree gave us a taste of a northern winter Yuletide.

More recent trees at our place have been the alternative kind, being created from a music stand, a dead tree and a ladder, all of which suited the more modern section of our house and fitted well with the summer season. Here are some photos.

This year I dug out a 1970s, six foot, green tinsel tree from the attic. (That is the great thing about old houses with roof storage. Plenty of places to store old family items that can be rediscovered and reused.) We have not put up this tree since 2007, so I thought it was about time and it looks good in our more casual family room.

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When sparkling aluminium and vinyl trees first appeared they must have seemed so modern compared with the traditional pine trees. The only thing they have in common are the branches formed into a cone shape. They remind me of something from the space age, like some strange satellite antenna. Many examples of these shiny vintage trees are available to buy online and they are especially relevant where it is summer and no sign of snow. They look great with the sunshine reflecting on the metallic foliage. 

Mixing both original and contemporary ornaments can give new life to a vintage tree. As well as some vintage decorations, such as the synthetic silk balls, I used more recent decorations from our collection that also suit this tree, like white, gold and silver stars, aluminium tree and butterfly cutouts. Basically anything sparkly and shiny. Amongst the branches are white and silver Christmas Crackers (or bon bons) to hide the trunk. I did not put on any lights or glass baubles because electricity, glass and dogs are a recipe for disaster. And speaking of dogs, we have placed our tree on a small table to prevent the original silk balls being appropriated by our dogs. The last time we set up this tree one of our previous fox terriers stole and destroyed a few. It would be too tempting at ground level, especially as our younger dog loves balls. So far so good. The tree looks quite dramatic and nearly touches the ceiling.

Our vintage tree will be a cheerful feature at our end of year party and will allow us to time travel back to the mid twentieth century for our celebrations. Nothing like cocktails and retro finger food partaken around the tree on a summer’s evening to put everyone in happy, holiday mood, especially when the sun does not set until around 9.30 pm. 

Have fun and be creative with your tree. Whether it is real, traditional or modern, there is something special about getting together with family and friends around the tree for whatever you celebrate at this time of year.

Thank you for dropping by to my erratic blog and wishing all of you Happy Holidays and a joyful Festive Season.

Kat

The following is a typically Aussie, irreverent take on a well known Christmas song by Bucko and Champs (Greg Champion and Colin Buchanan) You won’t hear this one in stores!

SUPPORT YOUR ARTIST FRIENDS: IT MATTERS

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Having supportive friends can make a big difference to your life. Getting support for your creative endeavours from people you know can give you confidence and inspire your work.  There is nothing more uplifting than seeing friends in an audience at one of your performances, at an exhibition or other similar events where you have work displayed. It is also important to support creative friends and to celebrate their accomplishments. 

Recently the ukulele group that Ellie and I help run performed at a local community festival. We had a lot of fun entertaining the crowd and it was great to see the smiling faces of family and friends who came out to support us in the audience. It boosted our performance. After the event I realised the several of the friends that we had invited had not turned up, even though they had said they would attend and had not sent any apologies.

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I was disappointed because in the past these friends have been quite insistent that we inform them when our ukulele group has scheduled a performance so they could come. For many years we have been playing our instruments at their parties, but when our uke group actually performs, not many show up. It was a free concert and in the same area where some of them lived so it would not have taken a big effort to be there, but I guess you can’t make people attend.

Who would want to be the sort of person that can’t be bothered to be a supportive friend? It is important to help out your friends even when you are busy. Don’t just nod and say something is great. Follow through and go to their events and exhibitions.

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If you really like a friend’s artwork and have the funds, buy one and display it in your home. If you can’t afford an original artwork buy a print or a card of their work.  An author would really appreciate you buying a copy of their book to read. Or if music is their medium, buy a CD or a download. The least you can do is spread the word that their work is available for purchase.

Take some photos or video the event and give your friend copies. When an artist is performing or talking to people at an exhibition opening, often it is family and friends who can record the occasion. After all the hours of preparation for something that is over in a short time, it is priceless to have a record. 

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If you cannot attend send an apology and congratulate them for their achievement. It is also thoughtful to send them a bottle of wine to celebrate or a card of congratulations. Show you care.

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And if you never get the support for your art from some people, don’t invite these repeat offenders to your creative events. They do not define you or your work. Positive energy generates more so save your efforts for those who do give you support and don’t take them for granted. Make sure you thank your family and friends for coming and that they know any help they may have given has been greatly appreciated.  

Anything that you can do to support your creative friends is valuable and is the most basic thing you can do for both the arts and friendship. Be the type of friend you want to have. It matters.

Kat

(all images from pixabay.com, unsplash.com or pxhere.com)

One of the ultimate songs about friendship is The Beatles With a Little help from My Friends. Here is a version from 2009 with Paul and Ringo performing the song live.

Health Scares and Creativity

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I haven’t posted in quite a while. Earlier in the year I was really busy rehearsing for a ukulele festival and put other creative activities on the back burner. I stupidly let myself get run down at the beginning  of the flu season, became seriously ill with a respiratory infection and ended up in hospital. Luckily, thanks to the wonderful care and attention of the medical and nursing staff, some powerful medication and a long period of rest, I made a full recovery. This whole episode was a bit of a wake-up call. You never know what is around the corner, so it is important to make the most of life and your creativity while you can. Do not to neglect your artwork, whatever that may be.

Because my energy had been depleted I needed to refresh my creativity and felt that I should try something new. Rather than getting bogged down trying to get a big idea or tackling a large work on canvas, I decided to work on a smaller scale and do works on paper. It would give me the opportunity to revisit coloured pencils, pen, ink and gouache, as well as to learn watercolour properly, something that was never taught when I went to art school. I bought some new paints and materials to supplement those I already had and have been experimenting with mixed media together with watercolour. Change is good for the soul.

Youtube has been a wonderful resource for watercolour lessons and information on paints and other materials. There are so many generous artists who share their knowledge and are entertaining in the process. Wish these had been available when I was at art school.

One thing that really shocked me was the price of water colour paints and materials in Australia, especially water colour paper which needs to be 100% cotton and makes a big difference when learning techniques. I tried to limit the costs by getting one set of paints on Amazon and found some good deals on water colour paper on Fishpond, as well as sourcing some water colour pads made from Italian paper by the local Australian company, Art Spectrum. I only needed to buy a few new brushes as I already had many for gouache. Those few I bought were also made by an Australian company.  Local is always cheaper than imported, especially if you buy from one of your country’s online retailers.

I saved money by using plastic well palettes that I already had for washes and improvised with a porcelain soap dish and some white ceramic tiles left over from our renovations, which are great for mixing smaller quantities of paint or coloured inks and are easy to clean. The larger tile can be used for working on a small sheet of wet watercolour paper. Always keep ceramic tiles or other useful containers for mixing paints.

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I also had some ancient Windsor and Newton pan and tube watercolours from a relative. The tubes had dried up and I cut these open and put the paint in an old theatrical makeup palette so I could use them with the old pans, which I blue tacked into the same container. These are still workable, although not as nice as the new paints. Never discard old watercolours as they can be reconstituted.

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Another thing that I found helpful in revitalising my creativity was reorganising the studio. (For a comparison you can see how it looked in early 2017 by clicking here). It is a good idea to find out what you have so that you don’t waste money on things you don’t really need. I moved the things that I use more often to accessible locations in cupboards and shelves. Those that are not used much were placed on higher shelves or in stacked, vintage suitcases. In one accessible suitcase, under a table, I put all my A3 art paper and pads. a much cheaper alternative to buying a large drawer unit.

The old dollhouse now holds pan paints and inks, coloured pencils and markers, as well as some craft items. Biscuit tins are great storage containers for drawing materials.

I moved my acrylic, oil paint and other brushes from the table onto the white wicker trolley. Making more space on my table surfaces means I have plenty of room for my materials when I am working on something. The tall Ikea trestle table can be used for cutting paper or fabric and is a place for Ellie to work on her projects.

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I still have room for some fun inspirational objects. It is great to be a bit silly and playful in your work space.

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As I’m still finding my feet with watercolours, I don’t want to show any of my early attempts. It is more important to have some fun and enjoy the process without any pressure.

A health scare makes you take stock of your life, especially when you have been lucky and dodged a bullet. Enjoy life and revel in your creativity.

Kat.

In the spirit of the coming Halloween celebration here’s a fun video from one of my favourite 80s Aussie bands, Mental as Anything.

In Praise of Pigs

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The pig is an animal that has been used as a symbol by many cultures, as well as inspiring writers and artists. (See entries on Wikipedia for a good survey of the cultural and religious associations and the pig in popular culture). Sometimes it is used to depict human failings; at others it represents wisdom and good fortune. Pigs also can be just plain entertaining. Now we have entered the Chinese Year of the Pig I thought I would share my small collection and some random thoughts on the subject.

Undomesticated pigs can be fierce and dangerous beasts. Since ancient times representations of wild boar have displayed this ferocity with great imagination. Take for example this illustration from our dilapidated copy Oliver Goldsmith’s A History of the Earth and Animated Nature, Vol. I 1868. The various species of wild pigs from different regions of the world are put together to create a scene that could only exist on paper or in your nightmares.

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I’m sure that the British illustrator Paul Hogarth was channeling this wildness in his cover illustration for the 1960s edition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. That is one threatening pig.

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In contrast illustrations of domestic pigs seem much more benign although they can still display a lot of character. In our 1883 copy of the Universal Self Instructoris an entry on how to keep hogs with an accompanying picture. The artist gives you the impression that these two hogs would have been stubborn personalities with minds of their own. They look immovable.

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The pig form may be bulky bit it can lend itself to delicate and small artifacts. For example I have a tiny glass pig that I bought in a shop in the US, as well as a tiny pig pin, something that will be fun to wear this year.

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Pigs can be wonderfully amusing creatures and have inspired cartoonists like Walt Disney in his 1933 animation of The Three Little Pigsand the Loony Tunes character of Porky Pig. Here are a couple of comical pigs. The pink one is a vintage bath salts holder and the other was found at an op shop.

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There are many charming images of pigs in children’s books. In our 1901 edition of Country Favourites there are some delightful illustrations of pigs for the story Pat and the pigs by Winifred Fenn. The story is about a very naughty boy who steals cherries and releases the pigs in his charge to eat the flowers in an old ladies garden. Of course, like all moralizing tales of this era he eventually sees the error his ways and apologizes. The likeable and good-natured looking pigs seem oblivious to the fact they are involved in dirty deeds.

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A piggy bank is the quintessential money box with so many creative variations. Countless generations have saved their change in one. When my sister and I were children our grandmother would give us the contents of her vintage hand painted, ceramic piggy bank. Unfortunately this lovely bank was accidentally given to charity.

I was always horrified by the thought of smashing a beautiful piggy bank to get at the contents when there was no bottom opening. I would rather use a knife to loosen the change while holding it upside down. I still have a reproduction of a depression era glass piggy bank and it is easy to shake out the contents. Many financial companies give away piggy banks as promotional gifts and that is the origin of the jovial plastic purple one below.

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Because the pig is one of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac it is popular in Asian countries as a symbol of luck, wisdom and good fortune. A Japanese friend gave me a wooden lucky charm from her local temple, painted with the image of Ebisu (one of the seven gods of happiness) riding a white pig, which I treasure. The gorgeous Korean brass pig was found at a local op shop.

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Pigs are great animals to doodle and I did this drawing a long time ago just for the fun of it.

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Pig objects make an interesting collection and have all kinds of different meanings around the world.  Although sometimes symbolising wild nature, pigs are also revered as intelligent and benevolent animals and can inspire us in our creative endeavours.

Happy Year of the Pig!

Kat

Because it is just so delightful and amusing, here is Walt Disney’s animation of The Three Little Pigs.

Happy 2019

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It’s a lovely sunny New Year’s Eve in Melbourne. It’s around 25 degrees Celsius and it is a perfect day when much of Australia is experiencing a heatwave. I don’t want to linger on the computer too long and miss it.

I just want to wish everyone out there a very Happy and Creative New Year and best wishes for 2019.

Kat

Here is one of the best celebratory songs to get you in the mood for a party or just to make you feel good.

Creative Festive Decorations

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There are so many options for being creative and making your own sustainable and recycled decorations. Using what you can find around your home and garden, as well as previous years’ decorations, stimulates the imagination while saving money and the environment.

This year I decided to do my own take on the popular ladder tree because we had a vintage ladder that an unknown tradesman had left behind and never returned to collect. It is a wonderfully distressed white-painted ladder and all it needed was a clean with mild detergent.  I have seen some beautiful ladder Christmas trees with glass balls hanging down from the inside. Obviously the owners did not have crazy dogs, who could run underneath and smash the balls to pieces.  Because we do have such mad creatures, I wrapped white cord around the outside of the ladder to discourage our two dogs from walking through.  I could hang the decorations from this cord.

I looked through our old decorations and choose silver and white ones and to add more colour found some stars woven from synthetic ribbon left over from a craft project at our local community centre. A pile of these was put out for anyone to take so Ellie and I took a few. Stapled on crochet thread made ties to attach them to the ladder. On the steps I placed some small decorative gift boxes that I had saved, as well as a small tin bucket as a candle holder. Some fun mask earrings also make interesting ornaments. On the top of the ladder a chrome candle hanger was great for displaying a silver star.

Ladder trees are easy to create. Ours was virtually free and I could reuse many of our old ornaments and at the same time find a use for some craft items. As I have been really busy lately, it was very quick to put together and I did not need to run around and buy a lot of new decorations. Most people have a ladder of some sort. Even modern aluminum ones can be made to look great with lights and simple ornaments so they needn’t cost a fortune.

Craft items can be used in a different way to create interesting ornaments. For a table decoration I found a simple round vase and inserted a long colourful cord that I had made by pin knitting with some crochet cotton yarn. On top of the cord I rested a star decoration to create a simple and unique table centrepiece for the festive season. All it took was a bit of imagination.

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The natural world can provide quick and easy trees. Last year our main tree was created from a dead camellia. This year I wanted to keep it simple in the front room so I used three dead branches that I had stored in the roof to make a small tree for the bay window sill. These were placed in a hand-painted vase.  I decided to use mainly red and gold decorations from our collection which goes more with the summer aspect of our festive season in the southern hemisphere.

Many of the ornaments are recycled items. Some are in fact key rings like the red resin hearts, which were gifts from previous Christmas bonbons. It’s good to recycle plastic items. The small gold flowers are from a broken vintage bracelet. The ribbon around the base of the tree was from gift wrapping and the cherry cluster is a brooch. Ribbons are always good to keep for decorating your tree. Any interesting and attractive object can be used as a decoration.

Festive decorating need not be an expensive and stressful exercise. It can be fun and creative, even when you have little time. Just limit yourself to some main decorative items, recycle and use what you have in an interesting way and don’t be afraid to do something different.

Wishing everyone a wonderful festive season where ever you may be and a very happy new year.

Kat

Here’s a photo of a glorious December sunset taken from my studio window.

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Blogging and Real Life

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In Melbourne we are in the middle of a beautiful spring and everything is being renewed including myself. I know other bloggers have been wondering why I have disappeared from the Blogiverse for over six months. Thank you for the concerned emails. I had been pushing myself to keep busy after my mother’s death last year and eventually things become too much, especially while my sister and I sorted out our late mother’s affairs. Her death made me take stock of my priorities.

Blogging enabled me to stay creative, contribute something to the wider world and keep my sanity while mum was ill, but eventually I was putting too much pressure on myself trying to post regularly and to keep up with everyone else’s blogs. Don’t get me wrong. So many of you have wonderful blogs. I have enjoyed reading them and I am thankful for all those who have followed my blog, but there are only so many hours in a day and I was not having enough time for my own creative pursuits. Let’s face it life is just too short and you can’t do everything.

Getting out and engaging with others in the real world plus working on your own projects should take precedence. In the last months I have been doing more with the ukulele group I help to run, performing at open mikes and we recently played at a local community festival, which was a great success.  All our practice is paying off and we are sounding more professional. There are so many fantastic and creative things to do when you get away from screens.

There is that true saying that you must do something for 10,000 hours before you become highly proficient.  I guess I am one of those who need to concentrate on one thing at a time to do it justice. It is impossible to do all creative pursuits exceptionally well and it can take a lot of discipline and self-examination to make a choice.

For some of us it is better to be an occasional blogger. I’m not primarily a writer so being on the computer all the time keeps me away from playing my ukulele and working on my own songs or my artwork.  I will try to blog when I have something to share about creativity that would be of interest to others but I can’t promise to post to a schedule.  Don’t expect me to take part in any blogging activities. While I appreciate the honor of being asked, I find it too time-consuming and stressful. Blogging should enhance your life, not get in the way so that it becomes a trap.

Never be afraid to take a break from blogging or to cut back on the number of your posts and go out and experience the real world. You should always do what you think is best for your creativity and wellbeing. It might be just what you need to become more energised.

The same can be said about our reinvigorated spring garden after a long cold winter. Now the garden has some spring color and green foliage. Here are some photos displaying the new plants that replaced those which did not survive the dry conditions plaguing Melbourne over recent months.

Kat