Truly Inspired by A Guy Called Bloke

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The Three Graces (detail)

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.

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.

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.

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

When Everything Comes to a Stop

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Sometimes life deals you a blow and you are forced to drop everything to get through a difficult time. The past three weeks Ellie and I have been dealing with the death of our mother after a long illness. I don’t want to go into all the details but I will say that our creativity has helped us get through this distressing period. Ellie and I did all the planning for the ceremony and wake ourselves and if it wasn’t for all the creative organizational skills that we have learnt over the years, I doubt that we would have coped.

We decided to have a wake at our place and got on with the preparations. In this type of situation it is extremely comforting to separate yourself from everyday life. I did not want to talk to too many people because explaining what had happened became exhausting. Instead I practiced some songs Ellie and I wanted to play at the ceremony. This was very soothing and made us feel a lot more relaxed.

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The wake was to be held in the late afternoon and to limit the amount of work and stress we outsourced many of the necessary tasks. We ordered sandwiches, party pies and quiches from a local cake shop in advance and ordered wine from a local supermarket that also supplied the glasses for free. As we were having this in our home cleaning the house and moving around furniture kept us busy without being mentally or emotionally taxing and we put out some of our mother’s crockery and a tablecloth as a reminder of happier times.

As the front Japanese garden was in a bit of a state we had a gardener do all the weeding and pruning. Luckily I had done most of the back garden so it only needed a bit of spruce up and some quick fixes that did not require a lot of effort on our part. We put some tan bark mulch over the bare area that needs to be paved and shoved some pots of herbs where the garden surrounding our lemon tree had been destroyed by the dogs. We covered the old outdoor furniture with tablecloths and cushions to make it more inviting for those who wished to go outside.

Writing the eulogy and gathering photos for a slide show at the wake was very cathartic and gave us both something to focus on as well as bringing back a lot of happy memories of our mother. This was where my love of writing really helped. It was good to remember some of the amusing or unusual episodes of her life, as well as her achievements. I would have found it much harder to write the eulogy if I had not been writing regularly.

It also made a big difference having had performance experience with the ukulele. I was not nervous about the public speaking or singing aspect of the ceremony. This would have terrified me in the past but when it came to the day Ellie and I were both able to stand up and honor our mother’s memory without falling apart.

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You never know when you will have to hold an event under stressful circumstances so if you have creative and organisational skills it makes a big difference and reduces panic. For such an occasion things don’t need to be perfect and a lot of what we did was smoke and mirrors, with the mulch, pot plants, the textiles and lots of flowers inside (most were sympathy gifts).

At such times it’s funny how you notice the little things. I heard this beautiful bird song and looked out the window. A Song Thrush was singing in a Manchurian Pear tree outside. I had not seen one of these in years. It was glorious and uplifting to hear.

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When you feel sad it is good to go outside. Melbourne has been having a long hot spell and the sun has been shining nearly every day. The foliage looks green from recent rain and it is wonderful to enjoy the outdoors before it gets too hot. On the way to see our solicitor we had time to spare so stopped outside the Melbourne Botanic Gardens. Ellie and I sat on a park bench near a huge Moreton Bay Fig tree. These are one of my favorite trees, which I always wanted to climb as a child.

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We did not have enough time to walk around the gardens but sitting under the trees outside was pleasant. Butterflies were flitting over some Agapanthus plants nearby and it was very peaceful, even with lunchtime joggers passing by every few minutes. After about a quarter of an hour we headed off to the city to deal with the more mundane aspects of life and death, but I kept that tree in my mind. Strong and full of life no matter what happens as the days and years pass.

Kat

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