Creativity and the New Year Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here is the video that inspired my project.

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

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

Carmine Pigment is fugitive in water colours.

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

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

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

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

Kat

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!

Happy 2019

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It’s a lovely sunny New Year’s Eve in Melbourne. It’s around 25 degrees Celsius and it is a perfect day when much of Australia is experiencing a heatwave. I don’t want to linger on the computer too long and miss it.

I just want to wish everyone out there a very Happy and Creative New Year and best wishes for 2019.

Kat

Here is one of the best celebratory songs to get you in the mood for a party or just to make you feel good.

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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The Heat is On

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While the east coast of North America freezes Victoria is melting. Today in Melbourne it’s expected that the temperature will reach 42°C and in the north of the state up to 45°C. In our house we have an old air conditioner and several fans so we do not suffer from the heat too much, but the garden is a different story. At these high temperatures plants will burn, so it is important to find some way to protect them from the hot sun. This often requires all kinds of creative solutions.

In 2009 when Melbourne reached 46° we threw old sheets over many of the camellia shrubs and this worked quite well. If it was going to be this hot I would probably do the same but 42 is not as fierce. One of the easiest ways to protect plants from the sun is to use umbrellas. This morning, before it became too hot, we put every sun umbrella we own, including market, beach, some of which are really old, over vulnerable plants. As the wind is picking up we tied these to a branch or structure so that they won’t fly away.

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Another useful item that can be quickly employed to protect the garden and house in a heat wave is shade cloth. We have pegged lengths of this to a clothesline to protect the fernery, put it over the pergola to shield our family room, and have draped it over some moveable trellis to shade some of our herbs. It may look strange but if it does the job, who cares.

We watered the garden really well this morning so we hope that the plants don’t get too stressed. The forecast predicts that from 6 to 7 pm there will be a gusty cool change with 90 km winds and the temperature should drop about 15° in minutes. Typical Melbourne weather, but really dangerous in these hot conditions if there are any bushfires. Let’s hope that there aren’t any.

It is a day of Total Fire ban for the whole state. This means that no one can light a fire in the open or use any equipment that might cause a spark. Fire restrictions seem to be something that is unique to Australia because when I Googled the subject the only results referred to our country. Living with the threat of bushfires has been a reality for generations of Australians and fire restrictions are an accepted part of life. This morning Ellie saw one of the Sky Cranes (water tanker helicopter) flying past that Victoria hires from North America every summer to work with our water bomber aircraft. One is called Elvis. The pilots are legends here and have saved many properties (and lives) by dumping huge volumes of water in the nick of time. It’s great that they are here but I hope they don’t have a lot to do!

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When the weather is this hot it is best to avoid activities outside, so it’s a great time to get on with creative interests indoors. Ellie and I have been cutting up old clothes to use from making paper. We are still waiting for the kit to arrive but when it does we will have enough material ready to start making rag paper. It is easy to long strips into small pieces while watching TV. I also find it quite meditative process, although you need to take breaks to avoid getting cramped hands from the repetitive action.

Whether you are experiencing extreme cold or heat it is good to come up with creative solutions for coping with the weather and protecting your garden. These extremes of temperatures also are a great excuse to get on with your indoor creative activities.

I hope that wherever you are in the world you can find your comfort zone to be creative.

Kat

Here’s the song that inspired the title of this post, The Heat is On by Glenn Frey.

 

Seasons Greetings

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Today is really sunny and I’m sure lot’s of Melburnians will be outside for their Christmas Holiday celebrations. December has been both very wet and warm this year in Melbourne and our garden has benefited. Everything is green.

Due to all the rain the Christmas Lilies came early and suffered a bit from the humidity but the Japanese Irises have gone berserk. Here are some photos.

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We did not put any presents under our tree for obvious reasons.

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Wishing everyone a very happy holiday where ever you may be.

Kat and Ellie

A “New” Recycled Christmas Tree

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At this time of the year I always like to cheer up our home with some Christmas decorations and try to be a bit creative by reusing old ones in a new way. I wanted a change from the music stand tree we have had for the last few years but buying a new one was the last thing on my mind, as recently Ellie and I have had a lot of expenses after dealing with our mother’s funeral costs. So what to do for a change without spending any money, as well as sticking to a recycling ethic?

I remembered that several years ago a small potted camellia tree had died because the roots had become pot bound and we left it too late to replant. It was a lovely shape so I cut off the dead roots and leaves and put it in the studio for a while to display some bird nests that had fallen in the garden. When I became tired of the clutter I put it in the roof because I did not want to throw it out. After some careful maneuvering I managed to get it out of the roof in one piece. Once the spider webs were removed I could see that it would make an interesting Christmas tree. If you have any trees with dead branches that need pruning these would work as well.

All I needed was a container to stand it in and found that it looked good in a white indoor plant container that we already had. Anything reasonably large would do like a ceramic pot, a vintage milk can or a huge glass jar or vase. I decided that as the planter had a wide opening I would put a narrower container in this to hold the tree in place. What to use that was the right size? I came up with a unique solution using an old WWI brass mortar shell case. Not something that everyone has kicking around but a tall jar would also do the trick. I put marbles around the tree trunk to stop it from wobbling in the shell case (you could also use small pebbles or sand) and packed newsprint paper around the container to stop it from falling over in the planter. A layer of white polyester stuffing for toys etc., that came from our craft supplies was used to cover the paper and hide the shell case. It simulates snow. Anything fluffy and white could be used, like cotton wool or you could use sand or pebbles, depending on your theme.

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Now it was time for the fun of decorating the tree. I used the same decorations that had been on the previous tree, but added a mass of aluminum butterflies that were in storage. All of these were bought on sale. Because I try to stick to a colour scheme of silver, white with a touch of gold, it is easy to add or make more matching decorations. We also have some large silver glass balls, but with dogs this is risky because they will go for any baubles of this shape. I don’t want to have these crashing to the floor and smashing into tiny smithereens so left them off the tree.

With stars, angels, tiny Santas and musical instruments, the silver fir trees and butterflies, a peace dove and a white horse, the tree looks really great. We don’t have any suitable Christmas lights, but at night the silver decorations really reflect any light in the room and the tree glows. These also reflect the bright sunshine of a summer’s day.

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In the front hall I did something similar by hanging a star and some embroidered butterflies on a single branch sitting in an ultramarine blue glass vase. Gold and white glass ornaments were placed on mum’s vintage aqua glass platter. The decorations look lovely with green and aqua vintage glass vases and a colourful Italian hand painted platter. These were found at op shops or were gifts. Again I just used what we had already.

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On the front door I hung a wreath made from a plaited straw circlet that had once been part of a Swedish Christmas mobile. I decorated this with some green and cream ribbon that came from a florist’s arrangement. It looks summery and cost nothing.

Reusing old stuff is a fun and inexpensive way to make the festive season brighter. Nature is also a great supplier of tree materials and decorations, from dead branches to evergreen leaves. If these can be found in your own garden so much the better. You can also put any vegetable matter back into your garden as compost or mulch.

Just because you don’t have a lot of money does not mean you can’t have a beautiful and fun celebration. Never forget that your creativity is beyond price.

Kat

One of the best Christmas songs is How to Make Gravy by Australia’s Paul Kelly. It is happy, sad and touching all at the same time. Here’s a live version.