Wednesday 29 June 2011

New things.

Late this Spring, the Elderflowers were out in abundance.  I decided it was time to try making Elderflower Cordial - something I love, but had never made before.  There are many recipes on the internet, but I decided on this one.   In my search, I also came across a number of recipes for Elderflower Bubbly, or Fizz, or Champagne.  Thought I had to try it and used this recipe.  Then, armed with a large plastic bag, I went out one morning raiding the Elderflower trees which can be found all along my regular cycling route.   

Back home, I had a lovely, huge pile of the beautiful, star-like flowers and I took a bunch of photos.  Unfortunately, in an attempt to clean up my computer's desktop...I sort of deleted them.  Hmmm.

Well, here's what some of them looked like at the bottom of a pot.

Both concoctions turned out really well.  The home made cordial is so, so much better than any I've ever bought in a store - and it's dead easy to make.  A whole different world and you really get the essence of this enchanting flower.

The bubbly has a cloudy appearance, which - according to what I've read - is natural.

The other new things lately are my Website and Etsy shop.

I actually opened the Etsy shop back in December, put a couple of collages up, and didn't tell a soul about it.   Hmmm.  Again.  (Self-promotion is not a strong suite of mine.) There are now a few different collages on it and hopefully more to come soon.

And the Website is finished.  That was a difficult birth, but my husband did a great job putting it together.  (He's a singer, not a computer guy, so it was all new to him.)  I'll put links here if anyone wishes to take a gander: Website & Etsy.  

This whole process of getting the Website and the Etsy shop together has been interesting and has raised a number of questions for me about the marketing end of an artist's reality.  I think it's fair to say that many of us who create have a bit of a difficult time promoting our creations.  Part of the problem might be captured in the expression I used above: self-promotion.  We aren't really promoting ourselves, we're promoting our work - yet as an artist - whatever manner of art it happens to be - the work is an integral part of ourselves, and comes from those deep and often private places within us.  (Guess that explains the squiggly, uncomfortable feeling in my belly.)

The other interesting thing was how much the stress of putting the Website together took me out of  a creative groove.   I was so focussed on the various things that needed to be done - the decisions to be made; the inevitable crises in the form of computer glitches as well as entire batches of photos that needed to be retaken and endlessly tinkered with to look anything close to realistic - that I was in no shape for creating anything: very little painting, collage, or writing got done in the past week and a half.  (Which might be another contributor to the squiggly, uncomfortable feeling in my belly.)

But now I'm ready for this.  To get back to work.  It feels almost like entering a new phase.  And I'm quite looking forward to it.


Friday 24 June 2011

Ashes, Ashes

I never win anything.  There was that pumpkin in a grade 3 school raffle, but that was it.  I don't bother buying lottery tickets, and - after loosing way too many quarters - I gave up making bets with my husband.

However, my luck seems to have changed.

For the past number of months, I've been following the blog of author Jo Treggiari.  I enjoy reading her witty and honest thoughts on writing and hearing about the process of getting her Young Adult book ready for publication.

It's out now.  The title is "Ashes, Ashes" taken from the nursery rhyme:

Ring around the roses
A pocketful of posies
Ashes, ashes
We all fall down.

I was lucky enough to win a copy of it through a contest Jo had on her blog.    

Although I have a huge backlog of books to read, this one has jumped the queue.  

Let me quote the dust jacket:

"Smallpox epidemics, floods, droughts -- for sixteen-year-old Lucy, the end of the world came and went, stealing with it everyone she ever loved.  Even the landscape of her beloved New York City is ever-shifting and full of hidden dangers.  As the weather rages out of control, she survives alone in the wilds of Central Park, hunting and foraging for food and making do with the little she has, while avoiding roving scavengers and thieves.  But when an unrelenting pack of vicious hounds begins to hunt her, Lucy is not sure she can continue on her own.  Then, suddenly, she is swept to safety by a mysterious boy named Aidan, who helps her escape the hounds and urges her to join a band of survivors.  Reluctantly, she finds him after her home is destroyed; however, new dangers await her.

An army of Sweepers terrorizes the camp, carting off innocent people and infecting them with  the plague.  Lucy and Aidan realize that it's up to them to save their friends, but Lucy doesn't know that the Sweepers have laid a trap -- for her.  There is something special about Lucy, and the Sweepers will stop at nothing to have her in their clutches.

Jo Treggiari spins a thrilling tale of adventure, romance, and one girl's unyielding courage through the darkest of nightmares."

I've started reading it, and am completely enthralled.  The protagonist is a very human, very strong and capable young woman.  (Perhaps I should mention that Jo is a trained boxer.  No shrinking violet of a protagonist here.)  I'm also enjoying the annotations that she's added throughout: interesting comments and bits of background information.  

I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book:  a very well imagined and written account of hope and the amazing strength of the human spirit in the face of one of the worst possible scenarios. 

A book I can highly recommend.  

Thanks, Jo!  and wishing you much success with this book and your future writing projects. to buy a lottery ticket.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Return from Robin Hood's Bay

It's been the better part of a week since I returned from my week away at Robin Hood's Bay.  It was perfect.  I had no phone.  No internet.  I didn't now a soul there.  And the weather even cooperated.

While there, I took about a gazillion photos.  The place and the surrounding area is so beautiful that there are gorgeous views every which way you look.  Worry not, I haven't posted them all here, just a selection.

Here is the main road through town.  It really is as steep as it looks.  My self-catering flat was near the bottom.

The village has lost nearly 200 houses to the sea in the past couple of hundred years.  In the 1970's a sea wall was built, and in the year 2000, a reinforcing wall of boulders was put into place.  Walking around, one is so aware of the sea, its relentless presence, its offerings and its threats.  It's amazing to me to think of a group of people - as these villagers were, and to some extent still are - who are at the mercy of nature in such an existential way.  It's easy to Romanticize the sailor, the fisherman, the coastguards, the women and children of the village, but that's for good reason.  They were living with nature in a way that I as a comfy city dweller can only imagine.

At the foot of town is the North Sea.  At low tide, one can walk and troll for treasures: shells, feathers, stones, and fossils.

A cave typical of the area.  No forgotten store of smugglers' rum.   At least, not that I could find.

A path to nearby "Boggle Hole."  I had no idea what a Boggle was.  I do now: it's rather like a Bogart.  Afraid I didn't see any down there, not that they didn't see me...

On one day, I took the costal path to Whitby.  The walk consisted of about 3 hours of magnificent views; views of the sea to my right, and large, sweeping fields to my left.

The sea and the sky would change every few minutes.  And within the course of an hour, the sea's colours would go from black, to Payne's grey, to every shade of blue, and into greens, and even beige, and to white.   Mesmerizing.

A gulls' rookery on the very edge of the cliffs.  

Before I knew it, the silhouette of Whitby Abbey loomed in the distance.  It's the ruin of a Benedictine Abbey, established in the seventh century.

Unfortunately, by the time I reached it, my knee was out of commission.  (Didn't realize I had a knee issue!)  All of the steep downward climbing on the path and perhaps in the village seemed to have done it in.  When I got to the Abbey I was so miffed because of my knee that I didn't take a tour of it; I just wanted to find the nearest apothecary for a tension bandage.  To add insult to my injury, from the Abbey there is a descent down at least 100 steps into town.

Lobster pots on a Whitby dock.

In spite of the knee, I did wander around Whitby.  One of my aims was the Whitby Museum.  It has a small fascinating collection including prehistoric fossils found in the area, Victorian bric-a-brac carved from local jet, items pertaining to Whitby's seafaring past, taxidermied local wildlife.  Of course, one of the main items I wanted to see was their "Hand of Glory".  Photography was not allowed, so I'm afraid I have none to show.  (My camera was probably thankful for the rest.)  I'm one of those people who is fascinated by the macabre, but I'm also a complete and utter wuss.  I had to do my utmost to put said hand out of my mind as I tried to get to sleep that night.

Back at the Bay.

On my various walks, I found some stones and a clump of sheep's wool.

The closest I came to a fossil, was this rather interesting stone.  I have no idea what it is, but it looks organic and...well...fossily.

Over the past few months, I have been very much inspired by Milly's beautiful blog: drawings from nature.  She collects items from her sea-side walks in the lake district of England, and makes gorgeous coloured drawings of them.  I did my thing with some pencil sketches.   There is nothing like drawing an item from nature.  I am reminded of a quote by artist Alan Lee  which I came across somewhere - I'm afraid I forget where - in which he talks about how the act of drawing a tree (I think it was) is an act of deep reverence to the tree and to all of nature including the observer.   Must look that up - it is a beautiful, beautiful quote.

And when I wasn't out walking along the coast, or trolling the beaches; I trolled the three second hand bookstores in town.  To my delight, they sold copies of Agatha Christie mysteries very cheaply.  They are the old "Fontana" editions which I love the feel of and the cover art of.   I read this stack in the evenings.  Nothing like murder to get your mind off a Hand of Glory skittering its way across the floorboards.

Theodora Goss, on her wonderfully inspiring writing blog wrote about Agatha Christie a while ago.  I remember smiling as I read it, as I also enjoy Ms. Christie's books, no matter how outmoded they might be.  (There are also, unfortunately, moments of racism and classism in some of her books which a reader must, if they wish to get to what's good in the books, ignore.)  Her plots are usually admirably tight, her wit sharp, and her observations of human nature so cutting and spot-on that I often find myself mentally nodding in agreement.   Here's one of my favourite covers.  It's from "Sparkling Cyanide" and features a lady's handbag, a class of Champagne, and a dose of cyanide.  Elegant and lethal.

And, as I promised myself, I did a bit of writing of my own.  Here's the photo to prove it.

Well, not that that actually looks like writing, but it was.  Really.  I needed to get an overview of the chapters and scenes of my manuscript - which is closer to being done, but not quite finished yet.

I had a lovely time away.  Away from the distractions of day to day life.  A real retreat.  I find I need solitude fairly regularly in order what?...I think it's to allow myself to listen to the quietest voices within.  This was the luxury version of it for me for which I am grateful.

Now, I need to take a bit of time each day to reflect on the trip and allow the impressions to filter through and - with luck - make their way into my work.  Not something which can be forced, but something which I want to try to think about now that I'm back in the rhythm of the day to day.

It is good to be back, though I do miss the sound of the waves and of the gulls keening overhead.

Sunday 5 June 2011

A little bit of this and that.

A quick post.

Long ago, I watched and enjoyed the movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's".  I vaguely knew that it was based (very loosely) on a novella by Truman Capote.  He is an author whom I knew practically nothing about, other than that I had it in my head that he was somewhat more of a celebrity than an author.

Last week when I trolled the meagre pickings on the English language shelves at our local library, I found this book which includes the novella, and three short stories.

How wrong I was about Truman Capote.  According to the wikipedia article, at the age of 11, he committed himself to writing.  And it shows.  His stories are masterful.  His observations of human nature shockingly true and compassionate.  I would highly recommend this collection.  (Kristin, thank you for asking for more recommendations!)

On the art front, over the past two weeks, my husband has been building a web-site for my paintings.  It's been an interesting and sometimes grueling process as he's never really done anything like this before.  His patience for non-sentient creatures (meaning the computer, not the paintings) is awe-inspiring.

Having taken photos of my latest series, I starkly realize that I've had the sea in my heart these past few months.  It's been trickling into my thoughts and my painting and even my writing.

Where this is all quickly leading to, is that tomorrow I'm off to the North East coast of England for a week's holiday.  I've chosen a place which I've never been to before - Robin Hood's Bay.  It's a tiny, former fishing / smuggling village built into the rocks overlooking the sea.

The call of the sea has been strong lately.  I don't quite know what that means, but I'm looking forward to a peaceful week alone with it.  I plan to do lots of writing, walking, thinking, and drawing.

When I return, I will post some photos and perhaps some thoughts on what the sea has whispered to me.

Wishing a good week to everyone.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Into the Green

Last week - craving green - we went for a walk through a place we hadn't been before.

In the centre of Munich lies a beautiful cemetery: the Alter Sudfriedhof (the Old South Cemetery).

One can walk along the paths which cut through the long, narrow acreage

and admire the many, many ferns

and see fascinating old trees rippling with character

or contribute to the dandelion population

one can be awestruck by the force of nature as mature trees muscle tombstones out of their way

or be touched by the attentions of the living to the dead

some so long dead that wind and rain have removed all traces of writing

reminders of nature and time and the wonderful common road we walk along.