The Tree and Creative Family Celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kat

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

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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Blogging and Real Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kat

In Blogger Limbo

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I’m sure many of you know the feeling. You start writing for your blog and everything you do just doesn’t seem to work. You start again, write a few paragraphs and then scrap the idea. Then pick some photos from your library or download some from Pixabay only to dump them in the trash. I’ve had one of those weeks in blogger limbo. Often it is something unrelated to your creative work that is causing the problem and you need to deal with this before it becomes a major creative block.

In my case I realized what was wrong. I’ve been pushing myself lately with creative papermaking and other things and have not let myself have enough chill out time since our mother died. You should never underestimate the impact of a death of a close family member. It is said that the death of a parent is one of the most traumatic events in anyone’s life. In my case I suddenly feel anxious, really tired and lose the ability to focus on one thing.

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The weather has not helped because it has been hot and windy and there have been some terrible bushfires in our state, which are very unsettling. On Saturday night we could smell the smoke of the fires, which is always unpleasant as it makes you think of all those at risk. Yesterday extreme winds shook our house and there were gusts of up to 96 kilometres per hour, the kind that brings trees down. The side fence was violently rocking and in danger of blowing over. There is still a vacant block next door (who knows what’s happening there) with no structures to slow the wind. Ellie braced the fence with some old metal pipes to prevent it from collapsing. It seemed to work.

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All this has added to my feelings of unease and have been finding it difficult to think creatively. It is depressing to get bogged down with a creative work and just go through the motions when you are not really sparking. Not wanting to wallow in gloom, as this is not productive or uplifting, I have started reading fiction books and watching some decent television series and films. My song writing has also suffered lately so I’ve been playing some favourite songs on my ukulele and learning new ones until I get some inspiration. Music can elevate your mood and allows you to let go of your emotions.

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Probably the most important thing is to talk to people when you are feeling down and not bottle everything up. By this I don’t mean unleashing all your troubles on your friends, but just talking about things that matter to each other. You often find that they also want a sympathetic ear as well and usually you end up laughing with them. Through all the difficulties of losing mum, Ellie and I have kept getting together with our local ukulele group and this has kept us sane.

It is great to socialize and get out with others but you also need moments of solitude and relaxation to recharge the batteries. I find that pulling up weeds and doing a something in the garden makes me feel better. There is also nothing like a good cup of tea or coffee and a comfy chair while you read a book to escape from your worries.

Animals can make a world of difference as well. My dog always knows when I’m feeling sad and will get on my lap and lick me. Dogs will also tell you that it is time for some action and won’t let you wallow. It is hard not to smile when a Fox Terrier is pulling at you pant legs and trying to get you to play with him. My sister’s dog will jump on you lap and start barking at you until you give her what she wants.

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There are times when you need to look after yourself, especially when you’ve experienced a traumatic event. If you don’t feel like being creative all the time, it is ok and perfectly normal to want a break. I know that my ideas will flow freely again so I’m not going to put all kinds of pressure on myself.

Last night after the wind had died there was the sound of a cricket from somewhere in the kitchen. It was soothing after so much noise from the wind. When life becomes difficult we all need some restorative peace and time to heal.

Kat

(Unless specified theartistschild.com, photos are from pixabay.com)

Here’s a beautiful and classic song from the sixties, Catch the Wind,  by Donovan, performed as a duet with Crystal Gayle in 1981. Perfect as we go into Autumn in Australia.

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.