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Archive for October, 2009

001_grand_mere

Grand mere by Anastassia Elias

When I was a child I was a big fan of Tony Hart and the craft bits on Blue Peter. I never seemed to possess any double sided tape but we had a box full of all sorts of bits and pieces of household objects for when we needed to amuse ourselves. One of the best things I made was a pair of kitchen roll binoculars with deep purple sweet wrappers as lenses. I was very proud of them and would wander around my bedroom bumping into things through the purple haze.

Well, this week I discovered that things have really changed in the world of cardboard rolls! Yesterday –  inspired by some paper folding that I saw at Debbie Bryan’s studio and on Folksy – I picked up a couple of library books on paper art. I thought I would have a go at some basic techniques and maybe make a box or stork. My nanny taught me to make a simple two part box as a teenager and I was convinced that if I had mastered that so successfully then I would surely be able to fold an envelope and a couple of stars….

How wrong I was! I spent most of the evening getting more and more frustrated with bits of paper spread all over the floor. I ended up working my way through an entire TV magazine and having dark print colour fingers. Each time I would get so far with the steps and then find that I was  completely lost and have to start again. My cats on the other hand were quite happy at my failure, playing with the screwed up balls of papers and burying their paws under them. I decided that the books were at fault for not having clear enough instructions and so today thought I would take a look at paper folding on the internet.

As usual one thing led to another and before I knew it I had come across some amazing art! The first was by Japanese artist Yuken Teruya whose projects have turned everyday objects such as plastic bags, dollar bills and pizza boxes into works of art.  Particularly remarkable are his trees cut out of toilet rolls and books. I also discovered French based artist Anastassia Elias who amongst other things has created scenes inside toilet rolls.

So it seems the days of making things out of cardboard rolls are not long gone after childhood, rather they just got a bit more intricate!

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1029-vincentbousser

One of Vincent Bousserez's mini masterpieces

As I child I loved Mary Norton’s stories about the Borrowers – the tiny people that lived in the skirting board and made all their furniture out of household objects. I wished that they somehow could exist and I could get a tour of their house. I have always had a great love of tiny things starting with the doll’s house my mum carefully created down to tiny paintings and furniture. I also vividly remember a tiny postage stamp sized bound bible I had as a child and then miniature cookery books I hoarded as a teenager. This is probably why I am so fascinated by the miniature zig zag books by Alix Swan.

I was therefore really excited when I came across some of Vincent Bousserez‘s photography in the Metro today. He has taken the idea of tiny people to a new level with his microart photography and it just amazes me. I could sit and look at it all for hours, it has stirred up some great childhood wonder and imagination! Check out his Plastic Life – it’s well worth it. It makes me want to raid the nearest model shop!

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ladybirds and stars

Ladybird stitches

Ladybird stitches

One of the girls at work makes the most amazing cupcakes – they are light and fluffy with delicious frosting piled up on top. Recently she brought in a whole batch of lemon cupcakes which she had made for a practice run for her niece’s birthday. Needless to say they didn’t last till lunchtime. Today she brought some chocolate orange cupcakes into work sprinkled with tiny white and milk chocolate stars on top of rich chocolate frosting. Despite the danger of an early morning sugar rush I have already eaten one and am using extreme willpower to stay away from the kitchen! My sister in law’s 40th birthday is coming up this weekend and I have decided to attempt the lemon cupcake recipe to make her a tower of beautiful cupcakes.

Ladybird guide to purl stitch

Ladybird guide to purl stitch

As I was eating my cupcake I came across the Ladybird Print website where you can buy prints of illustrations from old Ladybird books. Many of my favourite childhood books were there and when I have more time I’m going to sit and look through all the pictures. I also thought what would be a better way to brighten up a wall than to buy and frame some of the lovely retro/vintage craft prints!

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visiting the mafia

Nottingham Craft Mafia shop's logo

Nottingham Craft Mafia shop's logo

The summer of 2001 I spent a month in Sicily with my sister. We toured most of the island including the slopes of Mt. Etna which had just erupted and was spewing a river of lava towards local villages. The highlights for me were the Aeolian islands,  a festival in Trapani and a special private tour of the ruins of Agrigento. Towards the end of our time we headed to Palermo to take a look at the city and its nearby cathedral at Mondello. It really is a fascinating but chaotic place of dilapidated once majestic buildings, fast moving traffic, beautiful architecture, colourful markets and an air of danger. It’s said that the mafia still run the city even when under lock and key and we could see the famous “mafia” prison as we made our way around…

So I was more than intrigued when my recent internet dabbling (mainly etsy and folksy)  led me by way of several links and clicks to the Nottingham Craft Mafia. As you can imagine the name conjured up all sorts of mafia and textile images in my imagination so I had a good look around the website. Their “Get Made” shop is located on St James Street in Nottingham next door to the Malt Cross and is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 am to 6 pm. This lunchtime I decided to go and pay the shop a visit. It was a treasure trove of amazing craft! I have long admired Amy Blackwell on etsy so was pleased to see her prints, it was also a great opportunity to have a look at Kate Broughton’s brooches which look even better in real life. I discovered some colourful textiles by Molly’s Mum and loved Alina Designs jewellery. I had only taken a few pounds out with me so couldn’t splurge and treat myself today but I did buy a Hello Sunshine Pin by Jo Want with a little bird house on it to brighten up my computer.

On the way back to work I popped into Chocolate Utopia to see if I could get a couple of cinammon chocolates to go with my afternoon cafetiere of vanilla coffee.  Sadly they hadn’t made any for a while so I decided to go for a dark mocha and a new madagascan chocolate (which looked like a work of art in itself). The dark mocha went down well with the coffee, it was deep and smooth with a crunchy coffee bean on top. The madagascan was like a chocolate with a hidden dimension which I couldn’t quite describe. I did a bit of internet research and it turns out that experts consider Madagascan cocoa to be one of the best in the world being both delicate and complex with a fruity flavour. So if you like dark chocolate I highly recommend trying it.

All in all a very inspiring Friday!

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coffee and biscuits

"Favourites" by Neil Smith

"Favourites" by Neil Smith

As I write this I am polishing off the broken bits of a box of Danish biscuits which have come to live on my desk. I really am a big biscuit fan and  firmly believe there is a biscuit for every occasion in life.  I usually prefer a custard cream as my hot drink accompanying biscuit of choice although I am always cheered up by a jammie dodger because of very fond childhood memories. I am quite partial to a fig roll at work and I have been known to be very disappointed when I lose half a biscuit in my drink. I have also ventured into the international world of biscuits – I discovered French Prince biscuits on my first trip abroad at the age of 14 and was introduced to Oreos in the mid-1990s by an American flatmate. One of my general biscuit rules is: chocolate covered biscuits should never be placed on a saucer next to a hot cup of tea for fear of melting them onto your teacup and then transferring that to your hands/face.

If you are also a lover of biscuits here are a few interesting websites:

Science of dunking

The Biscuit Appreciation Society

Dunkability.com

Nicecupofteaandasitdown

Today on my way through the newly named “Castle Quarter” of Nottingham I stopped for a quick peek through the window of the Nottingham Society of Arts Trust and saw a stunning biscuit picture by Neil Smith (similar to the one above). I just had to go in and have a closer look! It’s painted in oils and captures light and shadow to create a realistic yummy picture. By chance the artist himself was also in the shop and I got to chat to him about his paintings. Most of the originals are done in oils although a couple of them are in acrylics. Many of the paintings are available as giclee prints. He showed me his other paintings in the series – there is a tempting painting of Belgian chocolates, as well as coffee,  muffins and a fabulous afternoon tea. For those who love fine art, the details and the light in the still life paintings are remarkable.

I think a print of the biscuits in a chunky black frame would look great in a kitchen or dining room. Now to persuade my husband…

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extreme crafting?

glass rods used in glass fusing

glass rods used in glass fusing

I’m not much of a risk taker. Much to the dismay of my sister-in-law I’m the most boring & sensible person to play poker with and I managed to only spend £10 in  Monte Carlo’s casino when I visited – and most of that went on my vodka martini (shaken not stirred)!  Admittedly I have travelled alone a couple of times, broken my foot in a somersault flip when I slipped on some plastic, been gliding once and sang on a stage in French when I was 17 (aargh) but none of that was particularly extreme.  So I was quite excited when I read that the local college was offering a one day glass fusing workshop and I decided to make it my teatime challenge. I thought there would be heat and danger and I could live a little crazily and artily for the day.

Ok, so I was a little bit misguided!  I quickly realised this as I sat with the other equally ‘non-risk taking looking’ participants having a coffee (from a vending machine!) We would spend the day learning about compatibility and cutting up glass but wouldn’t even get near the hot kiln, I let the disappointment sink in as I waited for my smouldering “drink” to cool down. Then the teacher came to take us to the workshop room, she was very friendly with a great Scottish accent and I began to feel more positive. We sat around a large table where she gave us a talk about the different types of glass and showed us some samples of artwork. After a quick overview on how to cut glass, we were allowed to put on hideous goggles and have a go.

We started by cutting basic clear glass into the backing for our pendants. It was very tough and took a lot of scoring until it broke in half. After a while hacking away I finally had a couple of rough edged rectangles. Next came the fun bit of decorating the glass and making pendants. The teacher produced boxes of brightly coloured pieces of glass, glass rods, dichroic glass, glass chips, different wires and beads.  We could cut the coloured and dichroic glass into pieces and snap the rods to various lengths then everything would be glued into place on the backing glass ready for firing.

I thought that I would have a go at black patterned dichroic glass but it turned out to be a lot harder to cut than it looked. After a while I got a bit frustrated with it and decided to just heavyhandedly snap it. Within two seconds a tiny ribbon of blood was streaming down my palm and I decided that I needed a plaster.  Once I had been checked for glass splinters and been suitably plastered I was allowed to return to my pendant making. I continued on to make a variety of different pendants with dichroic glass and then set to cutting up the glass rods and arranging them in bright modern patterns. During that time I managed to acquire two more plasters but I was too engrossed in my creativity to notice the pain!

After lunch we made wall plaques out of the copper wire, rods and glass beads. I wrapped copper wire round light and medium blue rods and placed them onto a smoky brown glass to create a plaque in blues and browns to match the colour scheme in my bedroom. Next I cut out squares of orange and black and sprinkled them  with tiny red-orange glass chips to fit in with our lounge colourscheme. I was particularly proud of the lounge plaque as it looked like somethng that hotel chocolat would have on sale to eat.

Before all the pieces were glued down I sanded around the edges of the glass to make them smooth. It was an interesting process involving a wet sanding machine, a tap and some hosepipe. Glass is ground on “metal sandpaper” which is kept wet by a stream of piped tap water and it makes quite a satisfying noise! I had a good go with all of my pendants and then when I started to do my plaques the water pressure dropped. Unfortunately I didn’t notice it at first and managed to send a spray of fine glass chippings all over myself from my neck to my chest.  Luckily for me I was wearing my gorgeous goggles and my face was fine but as I began to brush the glass off my neckline I realised that I was cutting myself with tiny splinters in the process. In the end I had shake my clothes of all the bits and wash my neck and chest.

By the end of the day I was exhausted by my creativity and what had turned out to be a slightly more dangerous activity than I anticipated at the beginning of the day. I left about 10 pendants and two glass plaques to be fired ready to be collected a month later. I was very proud to show off my plasters the next day at work.

Several weeks later I got an email to tell me that my glasswork was ready to collect. I was particularly excited about my living room plaque and one of the pendants so got the bus out to the college to pick them up from reception. The receptionist handed me a bag of my artwork and I sat down to take a look at them. To be honest I was a bit disappointed after a month of waiting! The pendants were ok but the glass rods had melted around the backing making sharp points, the wire in my bedroom plaque looked old and rusty and there was no sign of my lounge plaque.

I asked to speak to an art teacher about my missing glasswork. We rummaged around in the kilnstore and managed to find half of the lounge plaque. It looked amazing – except the break and the missing bits – and the teacher could find no reason why it might have broken or indeed where the other half was. After a while considering my husband’s reactions, I decided to ditch my bedroom plaque as I couldn’t see me ever wanting to use it and the college could have it as a sample piece instead. I then spent half an hour sanding down my remaining pendants without a single shower of glass, I was very pleased. Unfortunately the sanded edges looked matt and had lost their lovely glassy shine but that could only be remedied by refiring them. I would still be able to make one or two of them into pendants.

That evening over a cup of tea and a cake I decided that glass fusing was probably not for me as it required a great deal more skill and equipment than I had but I’d enjoyed my teatime challenge immensely. I still fancy a go at the excitement of proper extreme glass blowing – and am currently researching into how to have a go…

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