Setbacks and Learning Curves

 

When you teach yourself something new it does not always go to plan. While you might be trained in a related field this does not mean that you will be able to do a new technique well at the beginning. Often you learn things by trial and error. There are bound to be technical difficulties from a lack of knowledge and not having the best equipment for the job, so you spend a lot of time trying to overcome these issues as best you can. It can be a big learning curve.

As I have said in the last two posts, Ellie and I are teaching our selves how to make rag paper. This all sounded very straightforward in “how to do” articles on the net. So we jumped in, bought the basic equipment, prepared the materials and started to make paper outside under the car port. That’s when we discovered this was not as easy as it looked.

 

 

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First sheet out of mould

 

Firstly we had not made enough pulp to completely fill the tub to make a lot of sheets. The pulp in two colours that we had made in the blender was too coarse and the process was closer to felting wool than paper making, which I have done before. You could plug up any holes in sheets with bits of pulp before taking them off the mold just like you can when making felt. We did not panic when things went wrong but had a good laugh about our shortcomings. The results were quite decorative and can be used in collage but they are not suitable for writing or drawing upon. We had to go back to the drawing board and work out how to make finer paper.

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Texture rag paper once dried

That’s when we discovered that professional hand-made paper makers use a machine called a Hollander Beater (great name) and the smallest models are AU$2,000 plus, which is way above our budget. As we want the paper for our own use and do not want go into major production this would be an expensive investment. This was all a bit disheartening but barriers always make me more determined to find a solution. First we thought of using cotton linter (cotton waste from the ginning process) rather than rags, but could not find an Australian supplier for small quantities and it is just too expensive to buy from overseas if shipped here at all (crafters in the US are spoilt for choice). You could use cotton balls but that is hardly recycling and you would need an awful lot.

Ellie went back onto the net and did a lot of research and came across a suggestion from someone who had the same dilemma (click on this link). If you do not have a Hollander beater use a washing machine to break down the cut up rags, as well as a clothes dryer if you own one. The one-inch square rag pieces are placed in fine mesh lingerie bags and the machine set to a heavy-duty hot water wash cycle with some sodium bicarbonate. Pretty much the opposite of what you should do if you want to preserve your clothes. You would not need to boil up the rag pieces if you put them in the washing machine.

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Cotton rag squares ready for washing machine

We tried this out and the cloth became much more fibrous, and was easier to pulp in the blender. You need to do small quantities at a time or risk burning out the motor. We have quite a powerful one and need to wear ear protectors or risk going deaf from the high sound levels. Any lumpy bits of pulp can be cut up and put back into the blender to break them down. We have decided to process a lot of rag material then go back to making the paper. The pulp can be dried for storage and the warm water added when you begin the paper making. We hope that we have better luck with the next batch.

The downside of all this is that it is quite time-consuming. It would be much easier to make paper from shredded computer documents, but this is not acid free or archival. I think I will concentrate on making decorative cotton paper first until I get the hang of it. You can also press the paper dry with an iron to make it smoother or put the newly made paper between smooth cloths or felt before it is pressed. We used Chux cleaning cloths, which give the paper texture.

Sometimes in the initial stages of learning a new skill you are unaware of the pit falls. In some ways this is just as well because you might not try something new if you think it is going to be too hard and the challenge to find solutions is good for your creativity. And if you don’t have all the right equipment there is usually an alternative. It might not produce perfect results but it could also lead to some very creative work that makes the most of imperfection.

Ellie and I will see where this leads. Whatever the results of our rag papermaking we will be able to use it in our artwork to trigger our imaginations. Experimentation does make life and art more interesting.

Kat

For those of you wondering what on earth is a Hollander Beater, here is a very short video of a paper maker demonstrating this machine and the pulp it produces.

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Getting rid of the Annoying Stuff

Isn’t it funny how we put up with things that annoy us for ages before doing something about it? It can be an object that you use everyday, a process with an aggravating glitch or just something that keeps getting in your way. Often these are just irritations but sometimes an inefficient item can even damage your health. Whatever the level of frustration anything that continually bugs you is energy sucker and rather that put up with it you’ll have less stress if you use your creativity to eliminate the problem.

Minor irritations usually just require a bit of creative thinking to make them disappear. Before we had our kitchen renovations, we had nowhere to put our trays. Many were too wide to fit in a cupboard so these were stuck against the wall at the end of a bench and would fall over all the time and send something else flying. Drove us crazy. When we bought some metal shelves to hold a small dishwasher and the microwave there was room for the trays but no way to stop them from falling over.

Ellie and I went looking for a solution and found an old wooden Bookmaker’s Stand in a vintage shop. Bookmakers would stand on this small wooden platform at country race meetings and the punters would place their bets. Fortunes must have been made and lost on this stand. There were spaces between the slats and when you put down one of the folding legs, it became an angled rack for our trays. Problem solved and it had a great story as well.

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A tool or a piece of equipment or a process that causes physical pain definitely needs to be changed. I have been cutting up lots of old clothes for rag paper-making, which is a great way to recycle and eliminate more clutter, but have found that I don’t have the right scissors for the job. I have sharpened and tried the various ones we have in the house but they all cause hand and wrist strain from repeated use. As I don’t want to get RSI in my right hand I have looked online for ergonomic scissors and there are several options, although some are quite expensive. I will probably go for the medium price range. Looks like it will be money well spent because RSI is worse.

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In the meantime changing the working method has helped. Ripping the fabric into long strips, rather that cutting reduces the use of scissors and I only have to cut the strips into small pieces. Rethinking a process is a good way to solve a problem.

Quick fixes are often all that is needed when something is bugging you. I always have duct tape, Blu-tack, wire, bulldog clips, pegs and metal hooks handy when a temporary solution is all that is required. These can be used in all kinds of situations to hold or hang items around the house and garden or for use in creative work. As well as the usual types of tools, jeweler’s pliers are invaluable for fixing fiddly things, like jewelry or bending fine wire. Of course there are times when you need to consult an expert. If a problem involves electrical or plumbing repairs DIY is probably not the safest way to go. A bad situation could escalate into an awful scene from a sitcom.

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When you don’t have a lot of space for your creative work anything that gets in the way becomes an annoyance. At the moment we have a folding clothes rack in the studio for drying towels and sheets inside during the winter as we don’t have room for a clothes dryer. This has been bugging me because it takes up a lot of space. As it is summer I have folded it up and it feels much more roomy. I don’t want to put it up again in this spot so I need to find a solution to this problem. I’m still mulling about it but I’m sure an idea will come to me. Some resolutions take longer than others.

The thing is there are always solutions to problems if you put your mind to it. Irritations can inspire original ideas and are a great incentive for all types of creativity and you’ll feel a lot better when you make them go away.

Kat

In the spirit of fixing stuff here’s the wonderful David Byrne with Broken Things.

 

 

Relighting the Creative Fire

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Often at the end of the year you can feel a bit jaded after the craziness of the silly season and need of a break. It is good to use the holiday period to refresh yourself so that you can begin the New Year feeling inspired again. That creative fire needs to be rekindled.

We are lucky in Australia that our New Year holidays occur in summertime and can get outside in the fresh air and enjoy nature. It is a time to try to unwind, read some good books, do some easy exercises and enjoy great food. Once you are sufficiently chilled out it is easier to let the juices start flowing again and come up with plans and ideas for future projects.

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Over the break Ellie and I have been doing just that, clearing our heads and discussing creative ideas. As we have a lot of old cotton clothing that is only suitable for rags we decided to have a go at rag paper making so that we have some interesting paper for art and craft projects. Paper can be really expensive, especially acid free and interesting textured paper. It is also a good way to recycle old cotton and linen.

You don’t require lots of equipment for making paper and can do this in the laundry or any wet area with a sink and bench. You just need a deckle (wire screen) and a larger mold (frame) to fit tightly around this. You could make these yourselves (click here for “how to” instructions) or find an inexpensive kit online. We have gone with the latter option and are waiting on delivery.

An old blender will turn small pieces of rag into pulp. Also you would need a large plastic basin in which to mix the rag pulp then dip the deckle to capture the fibres, which form the paper sheets. Pieces of plywood are good to use as a paper press either weighted down by heavy books or feet and any flat surface can be used to dry the sheets. Here is a good website which shows the basics of papermaking with all kinds of suggestions for equipment and materials (click here).

I can’t wait for the kit to arrive and to start experimenting will different textures and types of pulp. Then there is the creative joy of using the finished paper in an art project. I hope to share the process in this blog when we have something to show.

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We had a lovely New Year’s Eve out in the garden. Because it was a cool night and everything was green from recent rain we lit a fire in the metal fire pit, as well as some candles. The dogs were fascinated by the sparklers and barked and tried to bite these as soon as you stuck them in the ground. It was a very noisy process. They did not seem phased by the large booms coming from the city fireworks because they were with us. I took some photos of their antics. Some of them were in focus!

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I hope you are also fired up to do more creative projects in 2018 and feel reinvigorated from the holiday season.

Kat

Here’s the wonderful Pointer Sisters doing Fire

Fixing a hole and Lighting up the New Year

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This post began with a hole in the wall but more on that later.

New Year is rapidly approaching. At this time of year I love to light candles, which can symbolize, peace, hope and wishes for a new beginning, as well as remembrance of what has gone before. Candles also give a relaxing atmosphere to the home, especially if they are scented and can also repel mosquitos outside (citronella and lemon grass). Having candles on your table will make even the most basic meal feel special.

Candles are beautiful decorations for any celebrations. With the lighting of candles also comes the responsibility of avoiding any type of fire. Outside when it windy or there is a day of Total Fire ban, it is wise to put candles in an enclosed container, like a tulip shaped holder or a lantern. This is much safer than lighting fires outside in the summer.

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Inside you must be especially careful with naked flames. I like to put candles or incense in our fireplace for safety and any smoke will go up the chimney and not set off the smoke alarms. I can leave these without worrying that the house will burn down. If you have a fireplace candles look great in summer.

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In our front living room there used to be an old gas fire that became dangerous so we had it removed. There was now a shallow hole in the double brick wall. We wanted to fill this with a simulated log gas fire but could not find one small enough to fit the space. We were left with a wooden mantelpiece with marble surrounds and a hole in the wall. A decorative screen has been hiding this for several years.

The creative mind can work in funny ways. On Christmas Eve I suddenly had a bright idea about how to turn the hole into a feature. It is so simple I could kick myself and wondered why I had not thought of this a long time ago. I selected a couple of used bricks left over from our renovations, as well as a very old decorative cast iron vent that came from some relative and placed these in the bottom of the opening. With the addition of several pillar candles we now had a niche that creates the effect of a fireplace without the heat. This is great for summer and will also look welcoming in the winter. I put some old shells (collected by an ancestor in the 19th century ) onto the hearth as a reminder of the sea.

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There is a gap in the double brick wall at the top of the hole that acts like a chimney for the candle smoke so that this will not build up in the room. As the whole niche is made up of bricks with a marble surround, everything is flame proof. Pillar candles can build up a lot of heat so this is important. You should never put candles in an enclosed flammable space.

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It would be quite easy to make a faux fireplace from scratch. I’ve seen examples on Google image search that can be as simple as a brick ledge against a wall with a wooden beam placed high above to act as a mantle. Old reclaimed mantelpieces can also be placed against a wall with a fireproof ledge in the opening to hold candles. Just make sure that any wooden features are far enough away from the flames so that the mantelpiece won’t catch fire. To limit smoke use slow burning natural candles like soy or beeswax.

If you have nowhere inside to safely light candles, outdoors you could create a niche against a stone or brick wall, turn a large rectangular concrete planter on its side or end, or put candles inside a chiminea. There are so many creative ways to make safe candle holders.

Turning that useless hole into something fun has raised my spirits. It is good to solve an annoying problem before the New Year. Ellie and I will be lighting our candles in the niche, as well as in the fireplace, to farewell the old and welcome in the New Year. We wish everyone a bright and very happy 2018.

Kat and Ellie

Looking through a long list of songs about candles on Google, the number one song and probably one of the most uplifting is Melanie Safka’s Lay Down from Candles in the Rain, that she wrote about the Woodstock music festival in 1969. As it is the summer season of music festivals in Australia, here is a live version she performed on Dutch TV in 1970 with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, where she also tells the story of the song.

 

Creativity Is For Everyone

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There is nothing nicer than getting a creative gift, especially when it is something you have always wanted. But what if you were only encouraged to pursue a certain creative pursuit because of your gender? I recently saw a Christmas gift catalogue from a well-known supermarket chain that did exactly that. It advertised a ukulele under the heading “gifts for him”. Was this saying that only males have the will or the time to play the ukulele, while females are engrossed in using some kitchen appliance or other “suitable” item chosen from the same catalogue?

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Being a ukulele player, it got me really steamed, as there are just as many female players as male ones. In this day and age playing a musical instrument and doing other creative activities should be gender neutral. Ukuleles are relatively cheap compared with many musical instruments and make great Christmas presents for every age group. They bring happiness and no one should be denied the pleasure of playing a uke just because of their gender.

Why won’t the type of stupid thinking seen in that catalogue just die a natural death? It’s an annoying hangover from the bad old days when women were allowed a creative hobby whereas men could have a career in the arts. In western society, up until the last century girls were discouraged from many creative fields, unless these were small-scale, fairly passive and genteel, like sketching with watercolours and needlepoint work.  Large-scale oil painting and sculpture was considered beyond the capability of the fairer sex, unless you had very enlightened parents or grew up in the family of an artist. Those women who bravely defied convention made it possible for later generations of girls to follow their dreams and we should make sure this type of discrimination remains in the past where it belongs.

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As children Ellie and I were always allowed to follow whatever creative path we chose and were able to try out many art forms. For Christmas we were often given various types of paints and other materials, as well as craft kits, so that we could experiment and find our creative passion. Any gifts of money were used to save up for something that we really wanted, like my first guitar. No one ever told me that this was a boy’s toy (I have also seen guitars advertised under “gifts for boys”). It works the other way as well because I know men who love needlepoint and have no qualms about doing what was once considered women’s work.

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Creativity knows no boundaries and if someone expresses an interest in any type of artistic area it is good to encourage them by giving a relevant gift. It does not matter whether they take this up as their life’s work or go on to do something else. It just helps that someone thought it was possible for the recipient to undertake a particular creative activity.

Everyone should be allowed to try out any creative endeavor without being subjected to gender stereotyping. The advertising world may be stuck in the past but the rest of us have moved on.

Kat

On the subject of ukulele players, here’s a video of the very talented Taimane Gardner playing a Surf Medley with guitarist Jazzy Jazz and Cajon drummer Jonathan Heraux.

 

Photogenic Places: The Grampians, Victoria

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Every country has its photogenic places. Often the traveler is drawn to see overseas sites before visiting those of their home country, which is a shame. In Victoria there are many scenic areas and while I have not visited all of them, what I can say is that those that I have seen are often quite beautiful and sometimes spectacular. If you love taking photographs for inspiration or pleasure there is nothing better than finding such places in your home state or country.

In the spectacular scenery category is The Grampians, a mountain range in Western Victoria. One very hot summer Ellie and I did a weeklong tapestry workshop at Halls Gap, a town beneath the towering Pinnacles that we could look up at from the place where we were staying. As we had never been to this region before, one day we took off to explore the ranges above. Everywhere we looked there was something of our ancient land to photograph. It was quite a hot day (37 degrees Celsius) so we did not walk as far as we would have liked. But we managed to journey through the “Grand Canyon” and along the “Wonderland” walk. Near the car park were incredible rock features and pools. There was hardly anyone around so we had much of the landscape to ourselves.

Ellie took the following series of photos with her trusty, classic Nikon SLR and Fuji film.

The Grand Canyon

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Wonderland

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Rock features near the Car Park

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The Big Head

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Due to the heat we did not get to the scenic lookouts at the top of the pinnacles. Here is a drone video that shows the majestic and breathtaking view from the air. You can see the long narrow canyon and the huge rock walls of the mountain ridges and the gap between the mountains where the town nestles. It’s a special place.

So if you know that there are amazing places in your country or state don’t hesitate. As the natural world or cities are constantly changing, at the first opportunity get out and see the sights while you can and take lots of photographs.

Kat

Dreams Change: For Some of Us a Lot

 

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From the Universal Self Instructor, 1883. In the past you were encouraged to pursue many interests.

I was going to write a post about how your dreams can change but then I discovered something that made me realise that this might not be true for everyone. Some of us are wired to pursue a variety of interests, as opposed to those who focus on one or two things throughout their lives. Neither of these ways of thinking is wrong, just different.

I have been talking about having many interests on this blog for a while, but I did not realize this was a sign of people with a particular type of brain. I only recently found out that I am a Scanner thanks to another blogger, Yarn and Pencil, who included a reblog on her site, which describes Scanners, the name given by Barbara Sher in her book Refuse To Choose (2007), for those who have many interests. Sher points out how the ideal of the Renaissance thinker has been superseded by the modern obsession with specialization in a single field where diversification is discouraged. It was a relief to know that to have multi-interests and the desire to try new activities is a specific type of mindset and not the result of being flighty or indecisive.

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Not this kind of Scanner

It also does not mean that you lack determination. I have always finished what I started, even when taking some time off to do something else and have tried to gain skills and knowledge, even when I decided I didn’t want to make a particular activity my life’s work. That is why I chose to work in an artistic area because it allows you to use a lot of the knowledge gained over the years.

Version 2On John Williams website I read that as a Scanner you need to concentrate on one idea and develop this in order to make a living and be successful. But this does not mean that you should give everything else up or stop from being curious about the world. I wish I had known about it years ago. It would have stopped a lot of agonizing. I think that it must be hereditary because both my grandfathers and father had many interests. So does Ellie. It seems to have hit our side of the family more than any other branch.

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It explains why time management and goal setting are more difficult for some of us. Our brains are constantly jumping from one interest to the next. So if you are a Scanner you must also be a juggler. This is the hard part and I know this from bitter experience and many extensions of course projects at University. If you have a looming deadline it is not the time to suddenly go off and pursue something else. With many interests it is still possible to concentrate on one thing at a time when necessary and avoid distractions, especially the Internet. Just because there is a smorgasbord of information available 24 hours a day does not mean you should look at it all the time. Get the thing that is most pressing out of the way no matter what and then you can move onto something else. It’s a case of keeping all your balls in the air in a balanced way so that one does not cause everything else to crash to the ground.

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Sometimes it’s difficult to see the end of a project so it’s left uncompleted. This type of problem affected the most famous Scanner of them all, Leonardo da Vinci. I don’t think he ever considered the Mona Lisa finished. In fact a lot of his work is unfinished but this did not make him less of an artist, anatomist, engineer, designer etc. I have some unfinished canvases in the studio that have been sitting around for a while. They are not part of any specific project so I did not need to finish them in a hurry. I will get back to them eventually, but it goes to show that without some type of pressure it is easy to let creative endeavors slide. DSCN4665

That is why some of us find it difficult to write long essays or works of fiction because the end seems a long way off and there’s plenty of opportunity to get sidetracked. Short stories and poems suit me better. At the moment I have been writing songs again after a bit of a break. This type of writing satisfies both my musical side and love of words and is short enough for me to write quickly. I return to work on a song if it is not quite right after letting it sit for a while. It is actually good to be able to move between activities, as you can come back and see things from a fresh perspective. Version 2

While you can have many diverting interests it is probably unrealistic to think that you will be good at everything and it’s best work on your strengths. Although I like learning about at a lot of different things, I do try to develop my artistic and musical talents more than anything else. My interests in nature, mythology and folklore, other cultures, history, movies, fiction etc. help to stimulate the imagination and provide inspiration.
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These are mainly my own thoughts on dealing with multiple interests. We are all different and one person’s experience will never be the same as another’s. If you want to pursue several dreams, it is not impossible. Just believe you can and do the work, no matter how long it takes.

Kat

Here’s ELO with a great song Hold on Tight (To Your Dream) and a very weird video.