Creativity and the New Year Blues

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Above is a photo of the famous and picturesque Brighton Beach in Melbourne on a lovely summer’s day. This is how we want our holiday season to always be, but it has been a very difficult New Year in Australia and the celebrations have felt rather hollow. It is very hard to be cheerful when so many people are suffering with the devastating bushfires affecting our state of Victoria and the whole country. Climate change is very real in our part of the world, which is quite depressing, especially with our Federal government’s hopeless response to this threat. The current situation appears to have no end in sight and it must be terrible for those caught up in the crisis. While it is important to remain informed and engaged with what is happening, it is also vital to do things to get your mind off a terrible situation, otherwise it can effect your well being which is no help to anyone. This is where a person’s creativity can be their best friend.

Last Monday a deadly wind fanned fires in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and brought down many trees on what was a day of nearly 43 degrees Celsius. A strong wind gust caused a tree limb from our neighbour’s African Coral tree to crash onto our dividing fence and damage some of our citrus trees, a minor inconvenience compared with the extreme fires happening all over the place. Everything seems turbulent and out of balance. How do you stay calm and focused when your country is in a state of emergency?

As well as donating to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery for those affected by the bushfires, it also helps to take action with things that you can immediately change. Ellie and I decided to deal with the fallen tree branch because our citrus trees needed quick attention so that they will recover. Our neighbours are away for the holiday period and the large branch is too big for us to remove on our own, so Ellie and I cut away the overhanging branches from the fallen limb and removed any broken ones from our trees. Now there is just one big branch stuck on our side of the fence. The rest can be taken care of when our neighbours return. 

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It was great to get outside in the garden on a cool day to make the most of the fresh air and sunshine before the smoke returned to Melbourne. A bit of physical activity can make you feel a lot more relaxed.

Good old New Year’s resolutions in this time of stress can help to regain your focus provided you implement them quickly. This type of planning can be done at any time of the year. For example there is nothing like learning a language to stimulate the brain. I studied Japanese for two and a half years at university (up to third year level) but had let it slip. This year I decided to refresh my language skills and have found a phone app to get me started. I still have my Japanese text books, but using the app allows me to listen, speak and read at the same time. I have begun with very basic Japanese to get me back into the flow and am surprised to see how much I remember. It is fun to learn without the stress of exams and I would recommend using an app first before taking formal lessons as it is like playing a game.

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Doing any sort of creative project can be a welcome distraction. Another resolution of mine is to continue with water colour painting, learn all kinds of techniques and try out different materials. After watching some inspiring You Tube videos, I have decided to have a go at making some shimmering water colour paints from old powdered make up to use in craft projects. For pan containers I found 10 plastic make up pots to hold each colour and these will fit into a plastic lidded box which means they will be easy to store. I bought some gum arabic to mix with the shimmer powder as a binder. You will need to leave the container open until the paints dry and once dry the paints can be reactivated with water like normal water colour.

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Here is the video that inspired my project.

I did some research online to find out the lightfastness of the pigments that were used in the make-up powder. For those interested in this type of thing here is what I learnt as they are common pigments used in make-up along with the shimmering mica which is the main ingredient:

Ferric Ammonium Ferrocyanide (Prussian blue) cannot be mixed with titanium white or zinc white as it becomes fugitive (non-lightfast).

Carmine Pigment is fugitive in water colours.

Chromium Hydroxide Green – do not heat over 200 degrees Celsius or the colour might change.

With these results I would suggest that any paint made from these pigments only be used for greeting cards, other types of ephemera or inside sketchbooks where the contents are not exposed to the light. There are artist quality pearlescent watercolours available for archival work. I can’t wait to experiment with these shimmer paints and plan to buy some professional ones in the future. 

In trying times you need to look forward to some good things and to never lose that feeling of hope. 

On a very smoky Friday in Melbourne wishing everyone a Happy 2020. Let’s hope that there are better things to come.

Kat

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.

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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Peppers, Paper and a Peculiar Sunset

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Why is it when you are all fired up to do something creative a situation arises that gets in the way? Yesterday I had planned to do some writing for this blog when our washing machine decided to overflow from the top as well as developing a leak underneath, probably from one of the hoses. Much of the day was wasted with moving the steel bench and it’s contents out of the laundry so that we could get behind the machine to see if it was fixable then trying to find a repair person.

We could not get anyone to come before next Thursday. A plumber had told us to hang onto this older machine for as long as possible because it was very sturdy and he said that with many new models, you were lucky if they lasted 5 years so we want to have it repaired if possible.

As the dirty clothes will pile up, what could we do until then? Luckily Ellie found that we could do our washing if the machine was partially filled and set to the final rinse and spin cycles. This took ages because the leaking water had to be mopped up all the time. After all the things that had been drenched by the overflowing machine had dried out, it all had to be put back into the laundry. Luckily it was a day of 35°C which was great for drying things but not wonderful for staying cool in a crisis. Sometimes life gives you hot Chile peppers like the lethal ones in our garden.

Modern technology can be trying at times but it would be much more time-consuming to do the washing by hand. There was nothing we could do to prevent this annoyance, so I had to accept the fact that it was necessary to focus on the task in hand rather than to do what of had planned. On top of this I could feel the onset of a sore throat (probably from the heat) so decided to have a relaxing evening and not to stress.

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On a more productive subject, the papermaking has been going well. We have found that mixing colourful bits of cotton fabric, which has been put through the washing machine and the blender, then mixed with the paper pulp, creates lovely decorative sheets. Below are some examples of Ellie’s work.

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If you put some pieces of thread on the surface of the paper after it has been couched onto the wet cloth, press and dry it, then iron the sheet under a damp cloth, when you peel off the thread it will leave an embossed effect.

Putting loosely shredded cotton onto the paper while it is still in the mould will create surface decoration that is pressed in when the paper is couched onto the wet cloth. Here are some of Ellie’s.

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In Australia it is now autumn and we have been having some beautiful sunsets. I photographed one of these from the studio last week and once I downloaded the photo onto the computer I noticed something that was not there when I looked out the window. There seemed to be a large UFO hovering in the sky with another one in the distance. How could this be?

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Then I realized that the lights have been on in the studio when I took the photo and were reflected in the window. It was just a trick of the light.

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Seeing is not always believing.

Kat

Here is a fun song, UFO, from Australian band Sneaky Sound System from ten years ago. It still sounds great.

Distractions and Culinary Delights

You know the feeling. You start doing something and you find yourself going off of a totally different tangent that leads into different but fascinating territory. This week I was looking for a favorite recipe (flourless chocolate cake) that my mother used to make and found myself looking at an old cookery book that has been in the family for generations. Now I’m not really a cook, Ellie being the one who inherited that creative ability, but I like to eat and am fascinated by unusual dishes of the past and this old book took me on quite a journey.

Cookery For Every Household by Florence B Jack was published in the UK in 1914 just before WWI completely changed the world. It is a reflection of the previous Victorian and Edwardian way of life, where many people still had maids and cooks to do a lot of the domestic duties. Some of the elaborate recipes are heavily influenced by French cuisine and reflect the old style of entertaining of the wealthy. Our copy at same stage lost its original cover and was rebound in red. The book has over 3,000 recipes and is quite a tome. The book is full of line drawings to illustrate the recipes and as well as basic cooking, there are some culinary dishes that seem quite strange by todays standards.

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It is also amazing that cooks could produce such complicated cuisine with gas rings, simple stoves and equipment.

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Here are some illustrations of the latest technology of the time: The electric stove.

I had to laugh at the mention of low electricity rates. Some things were better back in the early 20th century.

Ingenious contraptions were designed to make cooking easier. The Hutchings’ Patent Cooker was a tall steamer which could hold an entire meal to be cooked all at the same time. Imagine having this towering on your stove. I suppose it was the microwave or Thermomix of its day. Great for the busy housewife.

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In complete contrast, the basic meat safe was still in use for storing perishables. This hanging example was very common in Australia to stop ants and other creepy crawlies from getting at the leg of lamb for the Sunday roast.

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Improvisation was encouraged if you did not have the right equipment. If you did not have one of these for straining soup.

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You could do this.

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The book contains recipes based on ingredients that are no longer common in modern books. Take for example Fried Smelts. It made me wonder about the smell. Apparently it is a small fish, which smells like a cut cucumber and should be eaten as soon as possible. Yeah it probably smelt if left too long.

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Another unusual dish is Salsifis. These are a root vegetable similar to a parsnip and are either black or white. Taste wise these resemble asparagus. In America they are called Oyster plant because they were thought to taste similar. The drawing of the dish shows that the pureed salsifis were placed in scallop shells to look like seafood complete with lemon segment bow ties.

I noticed that many of the recipes followed a similar line. No food should look like its original form. For instance Stuffed and Baked Cod resembles a pair of eyes. I don’t think that this is any better than having a fish on your plate looking at you. Quite odd.

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Vegetables were presented so that there was no sign of any leaf. With Dressed Spinach the cooked leaves were put through a sieve, then butter and seasoning was added and the dish was decorated with triangular croutons of fried bread and segments of hardboiled egg. Anyone who had an aversion to spinach would never know that this plant was on the plate. Maybe not such a bad idea after all.

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There seem to be a lot of recipes where the food is dressed. Dressed Crab is another example. It involved the complete dissection of the crab then a mixture of the flesh and mayonnaise was put back into the shell with some claws on top to remind the diners that they were eating what was once a crab. No struggling with a naked crab.

Prawns (shrimp) got a similar treatment. In the Prawn Salad it looks like the two garnishes are dancing in a sea of prawn flesh, lettuce and sliced radishes, a reminder of their origin.

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Meat dishes also seemed to disguise the form of the original animal. The traditional Game Pie with its raised pastry case contains a variety of bird meat. The illustrated example is decorated with the feet of birds in the top hole that seems to be saying “let me out of here.” Not very appetizing.

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There seemed to be an obsession with molding things into cylinders or cones so that they became architectural structures like the following example.

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In those days cooking leftovers was a whole art form in itself. These dishes were not merely an afterthought. Here are a couple of extraordinary recipes.

Proper table linen was as elaborate as the food. There were a myriad of ways to fold napkins. Although the bishop’s Mitre seems a bit sober for a jolly night of feasting. Maybe that was the intention to avoid excess.

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To me it is the elaborately decorated desserts of this period that are incredible and make my mouth water. You may not have lived in a castle but you could eat a Castle Pudding (I think it must be a smear of pudding on the page).

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Nothing defines the period like Jellies. Great wobbly mountains of Jelly. The following recipe for Coffee Jelly could still be made today and would certainly liven up a party.

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The name of this dessert says it all. Tipsy Cake is an elaborate form of the classic Trifle. Layers of sponge cake, custard, strawberry or raspberry jam doused with a cup of sherry and decorated with cream and toasted almonds. Yum.

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For those with delusions of grandeur there is always the Princess Cake with it’s pink royal icing.

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Invalid cookery is where things take a down turn. No wonderful desserts if you were sick. It was a drab world of steamed food, soup and broth. The following advice in the book tells the sorry tale.

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Many of the more elaborate recipes found in this book are the type that nowadays would be made by chefs and are not the sort of food you would have everyday, although there are hundreds for normal meals for the ordinary housewife to feed her family.

I think that old cookery books from the past can still inspire and provide useful information for those interested in creative culinary skills. They also tell a story of the lives of our ancestors and the kind of society in which they lived. You often learn something new when you get distracted.

Kat

Truly Inspired by A Guy Called Bloke

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My blog had the privilege of being featured on fellow blogger A Guy Called Bloke‘s Truly Inspired series.

Here is the link: Truly Inspired: The Artist’s Child

Check out his wonderful poems and writings while you are there.

Woven Baskets: A Living Tradition

I noticed that there is a Lost Trades Fair in Kyneton, Victoria in March. Amongst the crafts featured is basket weaving. I had not realized that this craft was in danger of disappearing. I can remember a time when mum would order handmade wicker baskets from a craftsperson to be used for food hampers that were raffled at our school’s fetes. After doing a Google search, it seems that these traditional basket makers are no longer around in Melbourne (or very hard to find) and most available cane or willow wicker baskets seem to be imported from overseas where such materials are common and still used by craftspeople. Nowadays it appears that many Australian basket weavers are now using local materials and traditional Indigenous techniques. Hand woven baskets are useful and wonderful to collect.

Basket weaving is a skilled craft undertaken since the Neolithic period. Most cultures have some form of basket weaving tradition. These hand-woven articles are really useful for storing all kinds of materials and tools. If they are beautiful that’s even better and the colours and textures of baskets are also very inspiring.

In Australia Indigenous weavers make wonderful baskets. Sometimes these are the only items of women’s work that have survived from past centuries. Luckily this knowledge is being passed on to future generations and to non-indigenous women at local cultural centres. The materials used are more sustainable because they are found where the weavers live. Here is a video of a workshop that took place in Victoria.

Many indigenous fibre artists have made some incredible artworks using their basket weaving techniques.  I wish I had an example. Their work is influencing other non-indigenous craftspeople and basket weavers who are now incorporating indigenous techniques and using local materials to create their own original designs. Here is a link to some of the magnificent basket work you can see on The Basket Weavers of Victoria website (link).

Ellie and I have a collection of traditional and decorative baskets, some bought in stores specializing in handwork from other cultures, some found in charity stores, others inherited from relatives. They are a terrific form of craftwork to collect that you can use while you are working or can be filled with all kinds of things to organize your space. We also have some interesting fibre objects that show the ingenuity of weaving with plant materials.

If we see an old wicker or willow basket in a charity shop, we snap it up and have kept those that came from family. Our collection includes a large bread basket; shopping baskets; large round baskets; a huge wood basket; a picnic basket; laundry and dog baskets and various small baskets, all of which we use. Modern storage baskets are also useful and as they are not made of plastic, better for the environment.

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Baskets are usually made from plant materials that are readily available to the weaver. The following Asian baskets are made from split bamboo. The largest one with a lid is really old and come from a relative who used it for her needlework. It is an example of Chinese basketry work which I use to store craft materials. The other shallow round basket is Japanese and was found at an op shop. Also made from bamboo using a delicate, open lattice pattern. I have seen similar baskets attached to ivory figures in  antique Japanese carvings. Judging by what I have seen on Google it is probably from the mid twentieth century. I use this basket for holding weaving threads so that it does not become damaged.

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The small oval bamboo basket was a gift from our grandmother. A local craftsperson glued the shells to the lid and lacquered the surface. We have several of these baskets in varying sizes and they are great for storing small items. I don’t think that they were very expensive baskets and would be good for decorating in all manner of ways.

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We have several African shallow baskets that are perfect for holding tapestry bobbins while you are working. These are all from Zimbabwe and we bought them at local store that sells African wares. The medium-sized basket is a binga basket made by the ba Tonga people. It has the characteristic herringbone edge. The smallest one is a tightly woven Ukhomane basket with a checkered rim. The largest basket, which is a type used to sort and clean maize and is similar in design to the Ukhomane but has a herringbone rim so seems to be a combination of the two styles. What I like about these are the abstract patterns and earthy colours and are not too dissimilar to the look a woven tapestry. They are a pleasure to use. African baskets are available online.

Another op shop find is a large old picnic style basket with folding handles from the Philippines. It is great for storage in the studio with an inner tray for smaller items. It is unusual and I could not see a similar one on Google. My guess would be that it’s from the 1960s or 70s.

A very small, lidded basket that was inherited is a bit of a mystery. It was a gift from a relative who was an intrepid female traveller in the early 20th century. It looks like it could be African but is also might be woven from pandanus palm like some of the work of Australian Aborigines, but it is hard to be sure. Apparently she was quite a character. We have a photo of this relative seated in a canoe on the Zambezi River where she visited Victoria Falls. She may have found the basket while on this trip.

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Other woven items include a Zimbabwean Gudza (fertility) doll that I received as a gift and a woven cup that Ellie found at an op shop. The latter looks African and is very decorative rather than functional. We also have a lovely woven figure holding a basket. It could be woven from some kind of palm leaves, reeds or banana fibre. We don’t know its origins but it is still a testimony to the weaver’s skill. I have placed the figure with some bird’s nests from our garden, examples of the first woven baskets.

Basket weaving techniques can be used for all kind of objects like this woven football that is used in the kickball game of Sepak Takraw, in Malaysia and Thailand. We have three in the studio and they are beautiful, sculptural objects.

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Textures of baskets can influence and inspire tapestry weaving. Here is one of my samplers with areas of raffia and natural string fibres that show this influence.

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Baskets and objects woven using similar techniques show the diversity of the weaver’s craft in different cultures and make an interesting collection. It is wonderful to see that there are still craftspeople rediscovering ancient methods and using them in a sustainable manner. Whether they are old or beautiful, all baskets are great to use.

Kat.

This song and video of Buffy Sainte Marie’s Changing Woman weaves magic. (You Tube took down the wonderful psychedelic video I had before but here is the song).

The Tipping Point

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When you are doing something creative have you noticed sometimes there is a point where everything can suddenly go wrong if you don’t immediately adjust to the situation? I guess this is also echoed in our way of life. In many areas we have reached the tipping point for our planet. This is a good reason for artists to use recycled materials.

I read on a local news site yesterday that China is no longer accepting waste materials from Australia for recycling (link to article). This means all the plastic and paper that was to be sold to China will go into landfill if it cannot be recycled here. Councils are now asking ratepayers to cut down on the amount of waste for their recycling bins. This is the result of sending our problems overseas and not finding a creative solution for recycling large quantities of paper and plastic in our own country. If we are to prevent turning our environment into a tip and being swallowed by mountains of rubbish, it will take a change of mindset for our society, which won’t be easy. At the very least, as artists, we can recycle materials in our work.

Many local artists and designers have already been using recycled items to create works of art and are trying to make a difference no matter how small. It is also good for the soul to turn rubbish and junk into something beautiful, as well as unique. Here is a link to an exhibition Turning Trash to Treasure held at the South Melbourne Market in September 2017.

Reusing old materials is a source of inspiration and often requires a lot of rethinking when you run into difficulties. Ellie and I have been learning to make paper from old cotton rags and clothing for use in artwork. We have been having problems with making a very fine pulp, as mentioned in recent posts. This requires breaking down the cut-up rags in the washing machine and repeated processing in the blender.

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It is quite time-consuming so we decided to mix this with a pulp made from shredded computer documents and other paper of a reasonable quality. We found out that if you add calcium carbonate powder, also known as whiting or chalk, this will make an acid free pulp (here are the instructions: How to make Acid Free Paper). We bought some from our local art supply shop as it is used in printmaking. We have also decided to size the paper with a clear artist’s gesso after drying rather than adding starch to the pulp.

 

Papermaking is a really good way to use up old paper rather than putting this in the recycling bin. Last weekend we started making paper with paper pulp on its own to get a feel for the process. This was totally different from the cotton pulp. The first day that we tried this the pulp was a bit lumpy and so some of the sheets were a little thick. When dried this it looked like the recycled molded cardboard used to separate wine bottles in the carton, which was not what we were going for.

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We had also obtained a smaller A5 mold and deckle to make cards, which was easy to use and required less pulp. As the lumps disappeared from the pulp mix the paper became thinner and smoother.

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When we began doing this outside under some sun umbrellas it was quite warm. Just as we were starting to get the hang of the process the sky darkened and there was the sound of distant thunder. With the storm getting closer it was quite hard to concentrate. Not wanting to be stuck outside with lightning imminent we hurriedly packed up and put the paper in the press under the car port then dried it flat inside. After drying the paper was pressed under a pile of heavy books because it had curled a bit.

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The next day it was even hotter and we decided to continue the process under the car port just in case the weather changed. The pulp had softened even more and was a better texture. Because it was thinner we had to be careful when getting it off the deckle. The cleaning cloths that we use for separating the paper sheets need to be really wet or the paper won’t come off the deckle. The hot weather didn’t help and we had a lot of disasters before getting this right. If you sponge the back of this once it is upside down on the cloth the paper comes off more easily.

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We noticed that there was a variation in thickness of the paper but it was better than the day before. If the pulp mixture became too thin the paper was more likely to fall apart when transferring it to the cloth so it was necessary to add more pulp when this was starting to happen. You had to watch out for this tipping point to avoid failure.

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When we had finished we pressed the sheets between our plywood boards with bricks on top and dried them by pegging the backing cloths on a drying rack. This worked better than trying to dry them flat on a surface. Some sheets are better than others but we can experiment with the sizing on some or use them for collage so nothing is wasted and we can always re-pulp sheets that are too horrible.

 

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Next we are going to try some shredded magazines together with recycled computer paper to see if we can make some interesting decorative paper. After we have reprocessed some of the colored fabric we can include a small quantity of this fibre in the mix.

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Individually we might only be using a relatively small amount of recycled material but it’s better than doing nothing. It’s a pity that more local manufacturers are not doing their own recycling of plastics and paper for their products. So much has been done overseas and now that this is no longer sustainable we will all have to be aware of the amount we consume and how to cut this down. This will not be easy so the more people who can come up with creative ways to reuse recyclables, as in artwork, hopefully we can avoid the tipping point.

Kat

There are quite a lot of songs with “Paper” in the title. I love this one from the sixties, Paper Tiger, performed by Sue Thompson. It’s a live version but she is miming and obviously enjoying herself.