Painting the seasons

Wow! What a day! Beware… Reflections and emotional revelations are likely to abound in this post! 
Today i went on a day called painting the seasons-spring, at Hawkwood  college, Stroud. The day followed an anthroposophical approach, which includes (i think!) aspects of therapy and spiritual development. The day was run by liri  filippo and there were five of us on the course. We started by introducing ourselves, sharing something of our story and ideas about our relationship with spring. This was a really important part of the day as it helped us to get to know each other a bit before starting, and got me reflecting. For me, spring is a time of hope and the promise of new things. The ‘deadness’ of winter is replaced with abundant new life, and this gives me a hope that things  don’t stay the same in life. The ‘deadness’ of my depression can be replaced with an aliveness, though as the seasons are cyclical so also are my moods and my ability to cope well with everyday life. 

Other people reflected that for them spring makes them uncomfortable as it is such a powerful, almost violent and overpowering time when things  change dramatically and almost with no warning. I could understand this view and was really surprised I hadn’t felt it like that before. 

Our next task was to go for a walk in the beautiful grounds and think about our impression of spring, and later we would paint it. We got caught in an April shower, dashed in for a quick cup of coffee and a yummy spiced biscuit still warm from the oven before heading back to the studio to put paint on paper. 

Our resources were oil paints and linseed oil, and cotton wool balls and cotton buds, and our fingers! 

I was relieved that it wouldn’t matter that I don’t paint much or have great paintbrush skills! 

The impression I’d had of spring on my walk was that there is a lot of green (and brown from trees yet to bud) and then little hidden things (flowers) appear, often in little clumps. I tried to reflect this in my first picture as I got used to dipping in oil then paint and mixing on a paper plate. Here it is :

Next Liri suggested we try blending colours to reflect the idea that green comes from mixing blue that represents the earth and yellow that represents the light interacting with the earth and creating lots of green. My first piece I mixed the colours on  the plate and then blended them on the paper, and i was pleased with the variation in tones. 

Liri suggested I do another one and try mixing the colours straight on the paper. As I did this I wanted the yellow to come into the blue bringing life to it but then, as I  mixed, the green went back up into the yellow. Initially I was frustrated with this but when I looked at my picture from a distance I could see that the greens going up looked like they were growing and reaching  up to the light. I added some streaks of yellow going down into the blues and greens and was again initially frustrated that they seemed to move upwards, but then I  liked the impression they gave of  life bursting out of the earth! 

I quite liked the colourful mess I made as well! 

Finally before lunch liri suggested we play around with making pinks, as  we were going to study a magnolia tree to paint after lunch. I used the opportunity to try mixing in different ways and to play around with texture. 

We had a really lovely lunch and then spent time  looking at the magnolia tree. I found it overwhelming looking at it and knowing I was going to try to paint it shortly. If I looked close up I loved  the detail but didn’t think I could paint it accurately enough, but from far away I just didn’t know how I could do it. After a relaxing and fun morning where I had a lot of freedom to play without any real worries about how the end product might look (though with a momentary battle of dealing with jealousy and self doubt as i compared my pictures with those of the other participants) suddenly now I was feeling tearful, overwhelmed, pretty useless and disappointed (at the change in my mood). 

On returning to the studio we were encouraged to choose a coloured ‘essence’, rub it into our hands and smell it and then move our hands over our aura. I don’t hold to the aura thing and felt weird about the idea of trying that but I took some of a pink essence and rubbed  it into my hands and smelled it. Initially I didn’t like the smell but it grew on me with time. It turned out that this essence was supposed to help with self love and bring kind to yourself (others were for  energy, or joy and confidence). I found it more than coincidental that the one I chose was the one that made me feel uncomfortable. I struggle so much with being kind to myself and with loving myself. I tend to set my standards for myself way higher than I do for anyone else and then berate myself when I don’t meet them. I was about to cry but I stopped myself. With hindsight maybe I should have just gone with it… Liri  had already provided tissues as she was expecting emotions of some sort. 

In the end I tackled the whole tree, but i started with filling  in the background… At least there was now paint on my paper! 

I added more and more detail to the background before I eventually plucked up the courage to paint on the trunk and branches. By this point it was time for a tea break. When liri suggested we put all our paintings alongside each other against the wall so we could look at them from a distance I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see how my picture was going to be any good and just didn’t want people looking at it. I shut myself off from everyone and didn’t pass comment on their paintings. 

I left to get a drink and another look at the tree. Suddenly I saw the tree differently. I’d  wanted to get a ‘feel for it’ this time, so i could add life  to it. I saw detail I hadn’t noticed before and really enjoyed looking at it. Suddenly I was inspired and went straight back to start adding the blossoms. This was a fun part and the picture really started to take shape. I felt bad that I’d previously shut myself off from the others but now there was no time to talk as we focused on what we were doing. Now I was willing to accept help and guidance from liri which she happily gave me. Like from this first photo she suggested I think about where the land ended and sky began behind the tree and add green to the gaps where land would be. She also suggested I add more blossoms to the bottom right to soften the hard looking edge of the tree, and add darker blue to the top of the painting to balance out the shadow under the tree (which I added a bit later). Also to add more of the darker pink to the bottom of the tree to heighten the shadow effect. 

I’m so pleased with the differences those bits of advice made 

And now I could love  myself, but only because I was actually pleased with my painting, proud that I’d given it a go and encouraged that I’d learnt something about myself. I wonder when (or if) i’ll be able to love  myself just because I am, not because of anything I do or achieve? 

Then, before we  went home we looked at each other’s creations. It was fascinating to see how we had similarities but also huge differences given that we were all given the same brief. We could all find things to admire  in each other’s paintings, and i think we had all bonded  well as a group. I was glad I had the opportunity to be more open and friendly after having been so freaked out and shut off, but in a way I regret not sharing something of the difficulties I went through. I avoided that because I didn’t want to cry, but i wonder  if expressing what was going on and letting out the emotion at the same time might have been more healthy and helpful than keeping it bottled up in myself? 

All in all I’ve had a very enjoyable, enlightening and fun, if rather exhausting day. 

Daisy chain

So I know it’s not the greatest creative act in the world but yesterday I made a daisy chain! Well, it wasn’t just me but me and several reception and year one children over lunch time. The weather was nice enough for us to go on the field at school at lunchtime, and as  always the children started picking daisies. I asked if they knew how to make a daisy chain, which they didn’t. After I explained that we needed daisies with long stems I started to make the holes with my thumb nail and the children took turns posting their daisies through the hole. Together we made one big daisy chain which they decided I should have! Then we made another one which was later presented to the teacher in my class! 

There was something lovely about the fact that several of us were focused on and contributing to the same creation. There was always a small group of children watching and waiting for their turn. I really like the idea of collaborative creations, and am excited by the prospect of joining other people who could each  make a square of patchwork that could all be joined into a larger quilt and given to a children’s charity. I’m not sure what it is about it that I respond to so much other than several people working together to achieve the same thing. 

With the daisy chain some children kept going all lunchtime and others just added a couple of daisies, but all of them contributed to the whole (maybe that’s part of the point of Jesus’s story where all the workers get paid the same amount no matter how long they worked for… All are working to expand the kingdom of God,where each person’s role is valued equally no matter how big or small?). 

It was lovely to connect with the children in this way. But also I was constantly busy because every time one daisy was threaded another one was there! My role was the repetitive one of carefully making holes in the stems and holding them steady to be threaded through. This repetitive act was calming and therapeutic, and had a certain rhythm to it. I was reminded of something the recursive girl said about how repetitive (recursive) acts like sewing etc help to calm her. I recognised what she meant while doing this. 

Yesterday gave an unexpected  creative moment. Today’s is more planned. I’m off to a day of painting my response to spring on a course. I’ll update you on how that goes later on! 

Shopping spree

Today after work I treated  myself to a leisurely browse around a craft shop. 45 minutes later I came home with a bag  full of goodies! 

It’s all for a mix of crafts. So i bought a book that was in the magazine section which gives ideas of different crafts and instructions on how to do  them, which I thought  would be good for expanding my creative repertoire! 

I’m not sure about the tea blending, but we’ll see! 

I also bought some funky materials (something I never thought I’d do) and a patchwork ruler, with the aim of making a patchwork pillowcase… Maybe for me, or maybe as a present, I’m not sure yet. I’d  started off picking up a fat quarter of fabrics with birds on but when I saw these I couldn’t resist their brightness, so i put the bird ones back. I couldn’t find the perfect bluey green cotton for sewing them so I got this really cool variegated cotton which I hope will look cool even if my stitches show. 

I bought some fine line drawing pens to go with a small sketchbook I have, as I want to try drawing some birds  over the Easter holidays. 

Also a book of different patterned papers for another idea I’ve had for making pretty pictures,and some new sharp scissors. 

And finally some black cards with some oil pastels for an idea I’ve had for making cards (the fixative is to stop the pastels coming off when they’re touched, and the pens are for writing in the cards… I hope they work-I’ve yet to find a reliable metallic gel pen that writes smoothly). 

I thought that was my final comment but look! 

I just went to put my materials away and discovered that one of them has  little elephants on… It’s even more gorgeous than I already thought. 

So, my current focus is my crochet scarf, but after that it could be any of a number of projects! Have I got you excited about what might be coming up on my blog in the near future?! 😊

Frustration! 

This is a photo of my next crochet project… Or at least what i want the next project to look like! But unfortunately it turns out the pattern is written incorrectly! The first time i followed the pattern i discovered that each row increased dramatically in length resulting in a very frilly effect… Not what i was after! So i unravelled it back to the end of the first proper row and changed the pattern to what i thought it should  be! 

Second time around i realised that in doubling the length of the chain to make the scarf wider i hadn’t taken into account the mathematical aspect of the pattern. Needing a chain that was a multiple of 7 with 5 added wasn’t going to work by doubling 33 to 66. Unravelling number 2, this time back to the chain! 

This time i started with my chain of 61 and thought things would work better but several rows in i ended up with this 

It looks pretty but it’s not what I’m aiming for. I might have carried on with it if the edges were going straight, but they were definitely not! 

So now, once again, my crochet looks like this 

I’m not sure if i need to go back to the chain yet. I’m also not sure whether to just use some scrappy wool and start with a chain of 33 to work out what to do, or try working it out on paper with a crochet pattern. I certainly don’t want to unravel this wool again… Each time it’s getting fluffier. 

Anyway, the interesting thing about this is that I’m crocheting it as a prayer scarf. I came across the idea in debbie macomber’s book ‘back on blossom street’, part of a series of fictional books set around a wool shop in America. The idea is that you crochet a shawl and pray for the person you’re making it for as you do it. I decided to crochet the scarf for someone whose life is not currently following the plan she had for it , and she’s trying to work out what to do next. I realised in the work I’ve done on this how  frustrating and disheartening it is when things don’t work out how you think or hope they will, especially when you’ve done things the way they were ‘supposed’  to be done. The sense of frustration is huge, and I’m only dealing with it over a short period of time. But it takes time to change plans and see if they’ll turn out better. The experience has fed into my prayers for her, as she works out whether to keep going with things as they are, or ‘unravel’  and start again. I’m praying for her perseverance, as well as an ability to deal with the frustration she must feel. 

And then, in writing my blog post i tried to put a photo on, and it did the highly annoying thing of wiping my whole post so i had to start all over again. But i persevered and here’s the post! I’ll keep you updated on how the scarf progresses. I really want to figure out the correct pattern so i can contact the people who published it and let them know how to fix it…and so that the scarf looks like i want it to! 

Getting back to it 

Yesterday, after a week of having no time at all to do any craft i ended up making two things! 

In school in the morning i made 2 roly poly birds from the roald dahl books the enormous crocodile and the twits. 

I was really pleased with what could be achieved with a ball pool ball, some pipe cleaners, feathers, a pom pom, googly eyes, a piece of foam and a hot glue gun! I have to say it totally came to life when i added the beak and eyes, and the children have loved  playing with them and retelling the story with them. I love the different character you can get by twisting the neck to different angles! 

I also took inspiration from another blog (I’ll share her original post in a moment),  and used sharpie markers to decorate a mug for my friend hannah who had her last day as a teaching assistant in another reception class in school today. 

In the end i was pleased with the effect of the simple pictures of her with children all holding hands, and the blocks of colour, even though it generally looked better from further away! I think i might try more designs on plates next time. 

To fix the design you bake the finished product in the oven at 140c for two hours. 

Cookery school

Last night mark and i benefited from our Christmas present from my parents:a cook and dine event at hart’s barn cookery school. I thought we were going to learn how to make pasta and then eat a 3 course meal that included our pasta but it turned out to be WAY better than that! 

We were offered complimentary drinks on arrival so i opted for hillside brewery’s pale ale, pinnacle. Yvette farrel was very welcoming and once the third couple had arrived she took us through to meet the lovely erin baker, our teacher for the evening. Erin was enthusiastic about the Italian food she was going to get us to cook and got us started with tiramisu so it would have time to chill before we ate it. 

So we worked in our couples to separate eggs (who knew that to fish out bits of egg shell you can use the shell you are holding to cut through the egg and pick up the little piece…. It’s almost like a magnet!), whisk  up egg whites, mix the yolks with sugar and mascarpone cheese (mark and i had fun pretending we were on master chef and made quinnels with it… or at least an attempt at them… before adding them to the mix). Then we folded it all in together and put it in a piping bag. We soaked our biscuits in coffee with amaretto (brandy was on offer as its the traditional soaking alcohol, but i couldn’t resist the amaretto!) and layered it all up with the biscuits. It was fun as there was usually a job for each of us to do at similar times so we worked as a team to make our desserts. 

Next we moved on to watching erin knock back the dough for the foccaccia, and then we made our pasta. Pasta flour and an egg was all that was needed, then lots of work to bring it to a soft play dough consistency. 

WWhile the dough was resting we shaped our foccaccia, adding some yummy leeks that erin had already cooked, to the top. 

And then we had fun with the pasta machine, rolling and folding several times in the widest setting, before gradually rolling it thinner and longer on narrower settings. Mark and i opted for a team effort on this too, with one of us holding the pasta and guiding it in, and the other making sure it came out of the machine nicely without folding up. 

Then we used the cutter on the machine to make strips, coated it in flour and twisted it into little nests. 

And then we were allowed to eat!! 

Yvette had made a lovely salad of red and yellow beetroot, with gorgonzola cheese, toasted walnuts, blood orange and rocket. I didn’t think I’d like the orange in it but it cut through the richness of the cheese beautifully. It was kind of funny sitting close to the other couples during a valentines meal, but there was a nice mixture of mainly couples’ talking time and occasional comments  shared around the table. 

Then we were back in the kitchen to make our carbonara. I never knew you could just crush a clove of garlic and cook it in the butter for a bit to flavour it before taking it out. That worked really well, as did adding a teaspoon of salt for every litre of pasta boiling water! 

We mixed up our eggs and cheese, fried off the pancetta (yummmm), cooked the pasta then mixed it all in with the eggs (and a teeny bit of pasta water)  before garnishing it with more cheese (nope, there’s no cream in a traditional carbonara!). And our main course was ready, with the foccaccia which was now baked. 

Oh my word! It was yummy! The pasta was unbelievably different, even from the ‘fresh’ pasta you can buy in the supermarkets, the foccaccia was light and airy, and just yummy with the leeks and rock salt on top. But it was rich, and sooooo filling! We all manned up though, and had room for pudding, though i couldn’t finish it. I just got to a point where i realised i could not eat another mouthful. Sad as i was to leave tiramisu (one of my favourite puddings) it was the right decision!

We were stuffed but happy at the end of the evening. I’ve come away having had fun working with mark to create a meal together, and having learned techniques and recipes that i can use at home. It was a great way to spend  valentines evening. 

Thank you yvette and erin for a really enjoyable and educational evening. 

Felting a blue tit

Before Christmas i went to a couple of felting workshops at Gloucester art and craft centre with the lovely Sue. First she helped me to make a brightly coloured bowl as a present for my sister (over two sessions and about 5 hours) 

I loved the process of taking different colours of unspun wool, pulling them apart and layering them up. I also loved how often the colours appeared more vibrant once felted. 

After the bowl i decided to try making a wall hanging with 3D effects. If seen sue’s creations of bird wall hangings, especially her barn owl one (scroll down about 3 photos on the link to see it).  I knew i couldn’t make anything as amazing as that but I fancied trying a blue tit as  it would be really colourful. I chose to work with an image from my childhood where they used to perch on milk bottles, peck through the silver top and steal the cream from the top. I made the base layer, then made a brown and red piece of felt that i cut into bricks to felt on top. After that i built up layers of felt in decreasing sizes to make the milk bottle and blue tit. Then i brought home a piece of green felt that i cut into ivy leaf shapes and felted on. 

Today i went back to see Sue as i had not got enough green felt to finish off the leaves, and she was going to show me how to needle felt on the hanging to further bring out the 3D parts and add definition. After  an hour i had a piece of green felt to bring home 

And my blue tit was already looking more defined, and had a gorgeous white stripe on his wing. Sue has kindly lent me more needles, a large piece of foam, and some  pieces of different coloured wools to add details to the leaves. So i have lots of work to do on it over the next few days or so, but it was exciting to use the needle to add definition and see just how much that changes the overall effect. 

Next i need to sort his beak, eye and eye-stripe out, sort things out around his tail, and add legs and feet. And i need to work on defining the milk bottle more. 

Also i want to add more definition to the leaves. I already put some insulating material down in between the leaves and the base, so parts would remain free to curl out from the picture, but look at the difference between these leaves once i’d used the needle to create the line down the middle of the leaf

I’m excited about the prospect of bringing this picture to life during the next week or so. I’ll try to take more close up before  and after photos and hope that they show the effects well. 

No way! I programmed a computer game! 

I’m not quite sure how to write the words in my head…. Something like hahahaaaaaaa! Or ooooooooh! I’ve just used scratch to programme a computer game where a fish tries to catch starfish while avoiding killer octopusses (octopii?). 

Mark does programming for his job, and has  wanted to introduce me to it for a while. He was researching coding books as a birthday present for our niece and we decided it would be cool if i had one too! She’s gonna be 7,I’m 40,but never mind ! So this afternoon I followed the instructions in carol vorderman’s computer coding games for kids, which wasn’t particularly creative in a sense,  but helped me to learn about giving instructions for each character or object on the screen. But i got a bit more creative when i decided to change the colour of the octopeee(!) before she suggested that as an afterthought. Then the computer wouldn’t play the sounds that i told it to, so i got more creative and made the fish say yippee! when he got a starfish, and ow! when he hit an octopus and died. 

I look forward to being more creative with it in the future! 

As I’m tempted to feel very clever and intellectual as a result of doing this i just have to compare my book with the coding book mark was reading alongside me! 

But actually, i like the fact that my book has pictures! 

And finally… The ‘turn it off and on again’ mantra worked, and now the computer plays my sounds-hope you can hear them in this video. 

Hope you like the post, even though it’s a bit different from drawing, crochet and paper cutting! 

Remedying mistakes

Today i remade the square i unravelled yesterday, which was a bit unnerving given that I’d already cut the ends, but the wool lasted just the right amount! 

Then i unravelled the oversized square back to the centre circle, and reused that wool to make a square that is now the right size. It’s funny that given that I’d added an extra 17 stitches to the second coloured round i still had only just enough wool to complete the round. The next round was the same. But then the final, outside round had tons of wool left over. I expected that, given that the square had  started bigger, it’s just weird that the other rounds were presumably smaller but didn’t use less wool. 

Anyway, i feel happier knowing I’ve completed the set of 8 and they’re all even now. I may need a different project for a bit of variety!