A Hand-Made Halloween

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Over the past ten years in Melbourne the festival of Halloween has become more widely celebrated and seems to be getting more commercial with large public events in many shopping centres. The St Kilda Town Hall even has a hugely popular Haunted House experience. We are increasingly getting Halloween themed catalogues in our letterbox advertising elaborate and expensive decorations and costumes, as well as the usual treats. Before all this commercialization most local Halloween celebrations were limited to home parties where decorations and costumes were usually homemade and trick or treating was rare.

Magazines used to be the main source of ideas for making party decorations and costumes. We have that really old party magazine from the 1890s, mentioned in a previous post, which has a wonderful section on Halloween, as well as the more recent Australian Women’s Weekly Home Library publication, Perfect Parties. No one was expected to spend a fortune and it was so much more fun and creative to make things.

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As children Ellie and I had a Halloween Party. As there was little available in the way of decorations, except for plastic spiders and orange and black balloons, we invited some friends for a sleepover before the party and had a great time making decorations for the family room and garden. Out of black card we cut black cats, owls, bats, broomsticks and the like and hung these from sticks of bamboo to create mobiles.

In one corner of the garden we built a witch’s house against the side fence with a sheet of corrugated iron for the roof and bamboo poles (cut from the garden) tied together with twine to form the walls and a window. We painted a sign that said “Witches Hollow”. In front of this structure dad made a tripod from wooden poles and hung a cast iron camp oven for a cauldron over some unlit wood. These days you can have a fire in a metal fire pit. Probably one with a wire safety grill is best to protect from dangerous sparks.

A decorated table is a wonderful centrepiece for a Halloween party. You don’t need to buy special tableware. Our grandmother gave us a vintage tablecloth with embroidered black cats, but you could make a tablecloth from orange fabric or just use orange crepe paper decorated with cutout black cats, bats, owls etc. She also made us a beautiful cake decorated with black cats. It is easy to make cupcakes and decorate these with black cat sweets, jelly babies and snakes, together with orange or chocolate sprinkles on plain white icing. There are so many creative ideas around for making Halloween food these days, especially online. Fresh fruits and vegetables, like pumpkins, turnips and tomatoes make great table decorations and are a reminder of the autumnal origins of Halloween, even if it is spring here. And you can use them to make a soup or put them on the barbeque after the party.

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Black Cat Cupcakes

Only recently in Australia has it been possible to get large orange pumpkins to carve at Halloween. Supermarkets now have these to buy for the occasion. We had to make do with the green kind. Our grandfather carved a jack-o-lantern out of a pumpkin and fitted it with an electric light bulb to put on the front veranda. He also had a very old papier-mache mask of a skull and put a bulb in this as well. They looked wonderfully spooky to welcome the guests. Now front porch decorations seem to be becoming more elaborate and more common here, but you don’t need to buy frightening manikins that cost a heap. A homemade scarecrow could look just as creepy especially if you give it a scary clown face.

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Most people who came to our party had homemade costumes. I created one from a long white satin bridesmaid dress that I had worn the previous year. Over this I wore a filmy pale blue robe of my mothers and made a cone-shaped hat from white cardboard, stuck on some gold stars, attached a filmy white scarf from the peak and stapled some hat elastic to keep it on. With a wand made from a piece of silver painted dowel I was a Sorceress. Mum made Ellie a skeleton costume by sticking white electrical tape to a black polo neck top and tights.

Guest’s costumes ranged from the usual witches or ghosts, to someone dressed as a pea pod with green balloons for the peas. There were some very creative costumes, such as a hand painted skull and crossbones outfit and a witch doctor, who had lots of small handmade mojo bags attached to a belt. I remember we all had a great time dancing to pop music and playing Murder in the Dark, which still seems to be a popular party game. Of course there were prizes for the best costumes and little bags of treats for everyone to take home.

With a bit of creativity you can avoid a lot of the cost and over commercialization of Halloween and still have a great party. And if it is for just for adults, substitute more appropriate food, drink and entertainment. Be as crazy as you like. Why should kids have all the fun?

Kat

Probably one of the best songs ever written about a ghost is Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. The famous “red dress” video of this song has had many millions of hits on You Tube so here is the “white dress” version.

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Keeping Your Childhood Wonder

When you are a child it is so easy to find the world a wondrous place. So many things seem magical, especially the natural world. Everything is new and an adventure. I think that it is important not too lose this sense of wonder in life. If you become too cynical and apathetic it can have a negative impact on your creativity.

Our creative vision is most often stimulated by the wonder of things. When I was quite young I would do paintings and drawings with little difficulty. Often these contained images of plants and flowers, animals, mythical creatures, family holiday destinations, or characters from stories, films or history. There was a never-ending supply of subject matter. Here is a pastel drawing I did as a child of some Sea Lions, followed by a recent drone video of the colony at Seal Rocks near Phillip Island and The Nobbies. To me they are still amazing creatures to watch.

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My childhood drawing of Seal Rocks

Such things still make me excited like a kid and would not want to lose this feeling. One summer night not so long ago I went outside around midnight. It was still moist after a summer storm and suddenly a large Grey-headed flying-fox, Australia’s largest fruit bat (wingspan up to 1 metre or about 3 ft), swooped right over my head. I could have touched it. I had never been that close to one before and I was exhilarated. After this encounter I would look out for them and was lucky enough to see a classic scene of  bats silhouetted against the sky during a lightning storm. These creatures are wonderful and we are privileged to have them in and around our city. It is good to notice your local wildlife and remember that humans are not the centre of everything. My experience motivated this poem.

Flying Fox

Flying Fox, the beat of swooping wings

Above my head

A wild bat wonder

Flying Fox, across the lightning sky

I watch at dusk

No gothic horror

© Copyright theartistschild.com 2017

Here is a video of the colony of Grey-headed flying foxes at Yarra Bend Park in Kew, Melbourne, followed by another of the bats flying across the Melbourne skyline at dusk.

Reconnecting with your childhood imagination is an effective way to get ideas as an adult. Some people have entire careers reliving their early fantasies. Things that grabbed you as a child can still be inspirational. Collecting seashells at the beach was one of my favorite childhood pass times. Their shapes and colours were so beautiful and it was like finding treasure. The only time I ever bought a shell was a Cowrie shell as a souvenir from a trip to Sydney. These shells are uncommon in Victoria. I still have it and its strong colour has lasted because I keep it in a dark box. It is a lovely subject to draw with the spotted markings.

The excitement of being given or finding something unusual can still bring on a sense of childlike delight. My grandfather gave me a rock containing some fossilized shells when I was a child because he knew that I was interested in such things. I still love fossils and have collected a few mainly as holiday souvenirs. I still get a buzz when I see interesting fossils in museums or books. Prehistoric Ammonites with their spiral shell shape remind me of the shells of some freshwater snails. I carved one out of a small piece of talc stone with this type of shell so it is also permanently frozen in stone like a fossil.

The ingenuity of inventions might be what tickled your early imagination. My father had inherited an old Remington portable typewriter (1929 model) that fascinated me as a child. I would try to type things with two fingers but this was a slow exercise. When I got the chance I learnt to touch type and it has made the writing process so much easier, as well as using computers. Keep that childhood thirst for knowledge. Learning any form of technology gives you so many more creative options and it helps if you are keen to embrace new methods.

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Sometimes you find that when you get really excited about something there are always people who think you are strange. They can’t understand your enthusiasm. But if you lose your joyousness just because of what people think it would be very sad. Being indifferent means that it is difficult to get involved in the creative process.

I hope I will always be able to maintain the childlike passion of a David Attenborough when he describes fabulous wildlife and never become bored and jaded. There is so much in this world that is wondrous.

Kat

Here’s The Pointer Sisters who know how to get excited!

Wisteria and Witches

It’s October again and in Melbourne we are now in the middle of spring. As I mentioned last October when I started this blog, we have the strange combination of the Spring Racing Carnival and Halloween celebrations. There is nothing more typical of Melbourne than scenes of costumed witches, wizards or zombies mingling with the more traditionally dressed amongst the stunning roses at Flemington racecourse on Melbourne Cup day.

Over the last two weeks I have been busy doing some badly needed gardening. At this time of year the air is sweet with the smell of blossom. Our garden is full of the fragrance of wisteria blooms, which cascade from the branches like waterfalls of white flowers. They are fragile and could be easily destroyed by a spring storm so I have taken photos to remember their beauty.

With all of nature’s exuberance it seems strange to embrace the autumnal mood that surrounds the festival of Halloween. One of the disadvantages of living in the Southern Hemisphere is the topsy-turvy nature of traditional festivals. But at least daylight saving gives us longer hours of light in which to party during these celebrations.

Fun costumes make both race days and Halloween parties more enjoyable. I am a big fan of DIY costumes for both the creativity and uniqueness. As I have mentioned before, you don’t need to sew or spend a lot of money to wear a great costume. A good eye for a bargain and for reworking existing items is invaluable. In the past I have created my own Halloween costumes from clothing found at op shops (thrift or charity stores), weekend markets and by using fabric offcuts, cardboard and paper scraps to make accessories.

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Illustration by George Cruikshank for The Witches Frolic by Thomas Ingoldsby

Items that can be reused with different accessories are worth collecting so that you will never be stuck for a costume idea. Witches or wizards costumes are a favorite for Halloween and easy to create with black clothes. Using the same long black dress and a charcoal grey cape found at a weekend market, I can transform into the medieval witch Morgan Le Fey or Samantha Stevens from Bewitched wearing her flying costume. All this requires is a change of headgear.

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For the Morgan Le Fey costume I made a type of hat known as a Hennin (seen in gothic paintings) from cardboard covered with black silk fabric and gold paper. It was decorated with gold braid, glass jewels and gold glitter glue from a craft store. I pinned an old black silk scarf as a veil from the top of the hat. To turn the outfit into Samantha, a blonde wig (try to find a better one than mine as it itches) and a witches hat from a party shop are all that is needed to change the look. Black boots complete both costumes.

A simple way to make a witch’s broomstick is with a length of thick dowel and a pile of flexible twigs or thin bamboo (whatever is easiest to find). Just divide the twigs into four equal bundles and tie each securely with some twine. Place the bundles around the dowel and wrap them all tightly together to form the broom. You can wrap ribbon, fabric or raffia over the twine to hide it. Then you’re ready to fly.

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Whether it is spring or autumn, these are great seasons for festivals and celebrations before the weather gets too hot or cold.  And if you live in the Southern Hemisphere or a tropical location, enjoy the contrast of the light with the “Darkness” of Halloween. You will have the best of both worlds.

Kat

Ukulele virtuoso, Taimane Gardner from Hawaii, taps into the Halloween mood with her haunting instrumental, Rings of Saturn, although she lives in the tropics.

It’s something to do with the Light

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African Coral Tree, Melbourne spring 2017

Every place has a certain quality of light and this has long inspired visual artists and writers. Just think of Monet and Turner. Their work was all about light. Descriptions of light levels can set the mood of a story or poem. Just the words “sunny” or “overcast” put a picture in your mind. Where ever you live or travel the light has a big influence on how you feel and view the world.

It’s beneficial to have an awareness of how the light effects your environment so keep a visual or written record. If you keep a journal it is helpful to record the weather each day and your emotional response.  The light in southern Australia is softer than in the northern regions. A Japanese friend once told me that she could not get over the sky in Australia. She said that it seemed closer which I found quite enlightening. I’m now always conscious of the sky here and wonder if this is true for others elsewhere.

In Melbourne we are lucky to experience definite seasons and the sky can vary from a deep azure blue to pale violet and everything in between. The light can change by the moment and this is especially obvious at the beach or a park. Here are a series of photos taken by Ellie, some on the same day, that show the different qualities of light in our area, from the intensity of summer days to the hazy light of autumn and the brooding cloudy sky of winter.

Summer Scenes

Autumn Beach Scenes

Winter Scenes

It is now spring and everything looks fresh and new. I love this time of year despite the hay-fever attacks. It’s easy to be creative in the spring and is a pleasure to take photos in Melbourne’s soft light. I went out and took some photos in our garden because the light was so beautiful and I loved the way it played on the flowers and plants. The last camellias are out in our front garden. I wish I had a better camera to do them justice as they have a beautiful soft texture and subtle variations in colour.

In the back garden the Aralia fruit has turned black. I took a photo with the sunlight streaming through a dense cluster, which created a halation effect and makes the photo sparkle. The action of bright light on a camera lens can really enhance an image and with a digital camera it’s much safer on the eyes than looking at the sun through an old film SLR.

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Taking close-ups in this spring light shows up the details. Wisteria flower buds, Japanese Yeddo Hawthorn buds against dark green leaves and a small ground creeper with tiny flowers all seem infused with the radiance of the sun. In summer with the harsher light that creates stronger contrasts it will become more difficult to photograph the small things with my basic camera. Then I will go for the big picture.

Where ever you may be in the world and whatever your art form, try to notice the quality of light. How it varies from once location to another and how it makes you feel at different times of the year. After all sunlight is creative energy.

Kat

(I’m going to take a couple of weeks off blogging to take care of other things that need doing. Thank you to everyone for the likes, following and for visiting my blog. It’s much appreciated. See you soon).

My favourite beach related instrumental is the classic Gunnamatta by Melbourne singer/songwriter, Paul Kelly. Gunnamatta Beach, a popular beach for surfers, is south of Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula and the following film shows several enjoying the sparkling waves on a sunny day back in the 80s set to Paul Kelly’s music

Vision: Seeing Things or Not

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Photo by Ellie

The human brain is strange. Sometimes it allows you to see things and sometimes it doesn’t. You can look at an image for ages and not really observe it clearly and at other times you can see things that aren’t even there. This can be both annoying and great for your creativity.

In my last post I put up several photos of Ellie’s and was so focused on the images that I did not notice there were some hand blurs at the edges of some of the pictures. It was not until I saw the photos on a larger screen that I saw the problem, which I have now corrected. I was so busy looking at the main scene that I could not see this detail. Sort the opposite of “not seeing the forest for the trees.” It was a definite case of selective vision that can happen to all of us at times.

This got me thinking about the way we see things. If you want to go into the art history and cultural side of this John Berger’s seminal book Ways of Seeing (1972), based on a BBC TV series, is a good place to start. What I’m talking about is more from the personal creative side. One person can look at the same thing and see something totally different and our individual vision is what gives us original ideas.

I was looking at some of Ellie’s old photos and found the one at the top of this post. It was accidentally snapped when she was holding her phone and she had completely discounted the shot. But I saw this as a wonderfully evocative image with her hair floating out from the dark silhouette of her hat against the bright cloud filled sky. She saw it as a mistake but I saw a quite beautiful scene. Always take another look at what you have done. You might be surprised.

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Ammonite Fossil

Seeing things in another way can provide inspiration. We have an unusual polished ammonite fossil that was bought on a holiday as a memento. It was not chosen because it was the perfect specimen, but when you view it from a particular angle it looks like there is the head and torso of a Shakespearian Gentleman wearing a puff sleeve jacket and a neck ruff. Can you also see him?
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This ability to see things that are not really there can lead to interesting artwork. I have a small piece of driftwood, that when you stand it vertically, is like a tree that resembles a figure. This inspired the following ink drawing in my sketchbook.

 

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Dryad, Pen and Ink Drawing by Kat

The brain often sees figures and faces in trees and foliage because we are wired to recognize the human form from birth. Using this concept I did a pen and ink drawing of the imaginary faces that I could “see” in the trunk of a vine-covered tree. It is called Spirits of the Forest, and depicts some of the scary and strange beings that may be encountered out in wildness of the Australian bush.

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Spirits of the Forest, Pen and In Drawing by Kat

The human mind is sometimes selective and we can miss seeing the obvious but it can conjure up all kinds of images if we see with both our eyes and inner vision. Just keep looking.

Kat

A great feel good song is I Can See Clearly Now. Jimmy Cliff did a terrific version in the 90s but I also love the 70s original by Johnny Nash.

Inspiration is Closer Than You Think

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Sometimes you imagine that you need to find inspiration in exciting far away places. You know, that “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” It is wonderful to travel but it is not always possible and inspiration can be closer than you think. Your local area can be full of inspirational locations if you take the time to look. Often when you visit the same location over and over it can be a great source of creativity.

We don’t live far from Port Phillip Bay and one beach in particular has been a source of inspiration. At various times over several years Ellie recorded this beach on a simple phone camera. This series of images show the changes of season, light and mood, often from the same angle. Such a location never stays the same and can keep giving you new ideas. There are pictures of the scene with a sandbar, still water, and the exposed rocky shore and at different times of day. Sort of reminds me of Monet’s obsession with Rouen Cathedral that he repeatedly painted under various light conditions.

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In each of these photos you can see the City of Melbourne’s skyline, which is ever-changing. A couple of the images are from 10 years ago and there are now more tall buildings that can be seen from the beach. The beach itself has undergone development with new board walks and is less peaceful than it once was so it is great to have it frozen in time in these photos.

It is also inspiring if you can collect interesting items for your creations at a favorite place without damaging the environment. The same beach has provided me with interesting material for some of my found objects that I have in the studio. Over several years Ellie and I would pick up sea glass of various colours from this beach. A vintage milk bottle was filled with white glass to give it a milky appearance and I arranged a lot of the coloured glass in layers in a large old spaghetti storage jar to form an interesting sculpture. It sits on my work table and the light from the windows makes the glass glow.

Other bits of archeology are washed up on the shore. Fragments of old patterned china and earthenware look wonderful in interesting old glass jars. Did these shards wash into the bay from storm water drains or were they tossed from ships? It seems that eventually all rubbish will end up on a beach somewhere and some of it not good. At least these items do not affect the eco-system and can once again become something to enjoy. You never know what you will find.

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Whether you live near the sea or a lake, a park or nature reserve, hills or mountains or a desert, there is sure to be some special place that will keep attracting you. Don’t ignore your local environment. Familiarity does not have to mean contempt. It’s all about paying attention to details and changes, which are in themselves inspiring.

Kat

I have included my favourite 80s beach song (I love that era for music). It is one of the few girl beach songs, as most of them are by boys. Echo beach by Martha and the Muffins is full of nostalgia and is about enjoying the beach on your own as a place to escape the rat race.

The Joys of Silliness

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Silliness is undervalued. By this I don’t mean stupidity but having uninhibited fun. It is the opposite of pompous and stiff behavior or calculated coolness. Adults are able to get away with being silly playing with children and pets but in other situations it is usually discouraged. Well silliness in its true sense makes us happy and has inspired all kinds of creative artworks. It is an antidote to gloom and unpleasant situations. We should never repress our innate silliness.

From school age we are told to “stop being silly.” But probably the best moments of school life were the ones where someone was being silly and these were often anxiety relievers. Those crazy conversations had with one’s peers, the jokes, the funny sayings you will never forget and the mad games you made up together. And there was always a classroom clown who could crack everyone up with some really silly comment. It may have annoyed the teacher but it was usually a breath of fresh air, especially in a boring class.

Once grown up many people become afraid to behave in a silly manner in public. It is frowned upon and subject to authoritarian disapproval in numerous walks of life. The entertainment and arts industries are usually the only acceptable areas where it is actually encouraged. Comedians, cartoonists and writers of humor spread their joy into the world and make us laugh at silly scenarios and the foibles of human nature. They have a license to be silly.

We should celebrate the local eccentrics in our communities. They put us in a happy mood with some of their silly antics. Often they are performing the function of a medieval court jester and poking fun at the government like Lord Buckethead did in the last UK elections. Or they are creative people who love to live a flamboyant lifestyle like Melbourne’s famous milliner, Richard Nylon, who delivers his hats on a Penny Farthing bicycle. We need people like this in the world. They turn silliness into an art form.

Everyone should be allowed some silliness in their lives. When you are engaged with crazy, whimsical thoughts or actions this can inspire some very creative ideas as well as making you feel better. Don’t leave it to someone else to give you this feeling. Get out and do something silly. Ellie and I play the ukulele with others and sometimes sing very silly songs. There is an amateur drumming group who get together in a local park and have fun on weekends and a group of people who go to the beach some mornings just to laugh for the sake of it. One of our friends does tap dancing and has performed in stage shows and in parades and has had a great time.

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Vintage Snakes and Ladders Game

Being silly can be as simple as playing some board games with friends. Just don’t be too competitive or it will spoil the fun. Or you could make a kite and fly it in a park. Ellie and I did this as teenagers. We got it airborne but it eventually crashed and broke. It was fun while it lasted.

You could also make really silly sandwiches, with multiple layers just for the hell of it and serve these to guests. Wear a crazy scarf, patterned socks, colourful shoes or something slightly silly to work just to brighten up your day. But remember there is a fine line between silliness and annoying. You know, like the awful office comedian (think Ricky Gervais as David Brent in The Office). Don’t force the silliness. Keep it natural.

If you like to dress up in costumes there are Cosplay events in most cities. You can become a fanciful fictional character. Some of these are quite silly in a good way. One summer’s day Ellie and I attended a costume picnic with about a hundred people in a city park. On the way to the event we may have had some strange looks from passers-by, but lots of people did smile, as it is not something you see everyday. It was great to be with so many happy, creative people laughing and enjoying the moment. There were people with bubble makers producing giant bubbles, lively drummers and some knights having a sword fight. This was not an official event but organized by some local costume enthusiasts online. We need more of these types of things these days with groups of people making their own entertainment. There is nothing like getting together with like-minded people for some harmless silliness.

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Whatever you do there are many others who also long for some silliness in their lives and are more likely to smile than frown and will want to join in on the fun. You will feel less stressed and come up with all kinds of ideas.

Kat

I love bands that aren’t afraid to be silly. The Australian group Mental As Anything did some great songs in the 80s with some silly videos, like the whimsical If You Leave Me can I come Too.