Monday, November 28, 2016

The beauty that surrounds you*

Cottage at the bottom of our road

November morning kitchen view

Early morning commute view from the car

* John likes to sing this line from "Limerick You're A Lady" when we are in the car, accompanied by dramatic arm gestures pointing at the sunrise on the beach as we drive past, which prompts me to position his hand back on the steering wheel. While driving to work isn't fun generally, we are lucky to have such a picturesque commute (and it isn't long, 25 minutes). Whoever is the passenger (in the morning it's usually me, after one too many cringe-inducing driving incidents while at the wheel) marvels at the views and the light and tells the driver what they are missing. 

November has been kind but cold, no storms so far. We had a mouse, which made its way into the cutlery drawer and gnawed on our only pair of chopsticks. We think we have found and blocked the hole it came through and hope it didn't have a family.

Christmas is approaching way too fast, and I am busy wrapping up work projects and commissions, preparing for our (very small, thankfully) wedding, which is in December as well, and trying to paint at least one more room before the holidays, among countless other things. 

I haven't picked up any yarn in months, but with the dark evenings I think I will move from the studio to the sitting room (and the fire!) after dinner and do some knitting or crochet, something big but easy like a moss stitch blanket. It will probably have to wait until January, since I won't have many evenings at home between now and then, with all the Christmas parties. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Seaweed bath time

This week has made me crave hot showers. Even better is a seaweed bath. You can go to a spa, buy dried seaweed, or, if you live near a beach, get fresh fucus serratus, which is what we do occasionally. Afterwards we put it on vegetable beds in the garden as a fertiliser. This article about using seaweed and its miraculous properties in the garden also addresses how to collect it, as there are laws and rights (of course as individuals we only ever use a tiny amount, a small bucketful). It has become big business in the food, health and beauty industries, and it is important to harvest it in an environmentally sustainable way. During the Famine its consumption saved lives, and adding seaweed to meals is a simple way of upping your nutrients.

In a bath it is moisturising, extremely relaxing and soporific, healing and detoxifying, with a cocktail of vitamins and minerals. Some people feel squeamish about getting into the tub, as the seaweed is slimy, and while I do my best to avoid it when swimming in the sea (but more because of a fear of getting my legs entangled in it), I think it feels lovely to let yourself sink into it in a bathtub.

After scalding the fresh seaweed (or rehydrating the dried version for 15-20 minutes), it is added to the bath, which is filled with warm water. It releases its oils and also keeps the water hot much longer than usual. The body absorbs it easily, and your skin is wonderfully soft afterwards, and if you submerge your hair, it is better than any conditioner. Towards the end of the bath, which should take at least 30 minutes to get the full benefit, it is a good idea to scrub your skin with a handful of the seaweed. Apparently the seaweed can be reused, which makes the price tag of the dried seaweed  you can buy a bit less shocking (seaweed products tend to be expensive).

Baths are an absolute luxury, and we don't have them that often, as we try to be mindful of how much water we use. I am also strict about showers and never stay in there longer than necessary, turning the water off while applying products or exfoliating, so my hot showers are not of the wallowing type, but rather a short cathartic boost. Another (no waste) way of temporarily relieving a feeling of heaviness is doing this Yoga Rinse.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Paying attention

"The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes. If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you invest in beauty it will stay with you all the days of your life." Frank Lloyd Wright

"Pay attention. It brings such peace."
Charlotte Mendelson in the Guardian, 15/11/16

Predictions differ as to what kind of a winter this corner of the world will see this year, and it may not end up as stormy as last winter, but in any case we are making the most of the beautiful golden days and soaking up the light that October and three out of five November days so far have brought. Gradually more of the back garden is revealed as we clear away briars and nettles and free the stone wall, and the donkeys are taking care of the overgrown field behind it.

The writer Charlotte Mendelson keeps cropping up, and her non-fiction book Rhapsody in Green, about growing an abundance of food in her tiny urban garden, is on my reading list. There was a beautiful piece about her visit to Tolstoy's country estate in the Guardian recently.

I feel the need to slow down while trying to get things done that cannot be put off any longer. Late nights at work and at events or entertaining alternate with days we go to bed at 9pm. Thanks to Yoga with Adriene, I have been maintaining an almost-daily yoga practice, and I feel so much better for it, physically in myriad ways, including a stronger back and better posture, as well as mentally and emotionally. I had a bad headcold a couple of weeks ago and started burning peppermint oil while doing yoga and in the studio, and it has improved my breathing and my concentration.

Recently I started taking this skin supplement, mainly to prevent breakouts and cold sores (I stopped taking other supplement a good while ago, in the optimistic belief that I get everything I need with a good diet, and this is hopefully just a temporary aid for a stressful few months). I started with a low dose and still haven't gone up to the maximum, but it seems to be working. Then again, when you make a few changes at the same time, you cannot say which individual thing is responsible for any improvement you see, and I tend to introduce several changes simultaneously. This coincided with the beginning of my more serious yoga routine and remembering to take apple cider vinegar regularly.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Sketchbook | Baby and cat

While I really need to dedicate time to finishing a collaborative project, I have been sketching ideas for my first solo book project (if it all goes to plan - it's very early stages). In fact, this will most likely be a book without words, so there is no writing for me to do.

It is the story of the special bond between my nephew and Branwell the cat from their initial mutual wariness to the games they play together and their shared adventures. 

My sister (a pencil version of her is in the first picture above) has started a blog, which I am very excited about. She creates the most amazing things (see also our Etsy shop) and now has a place where she can document and share them, as well as writing about her life with her little family in rural Ireland and her love of books.

I am looking forward to my first free weekend in a while, to new books (borrowed from my sister - this one, a sequel to Rebecca, since I am in a Du Maurier mood) and maybe a half-day trip. And to time in the studio - I have been getting a few commissions, and there is nothing like a deadline to focus you, so I am in the zone, and everything in the studio feels warm and active instead of stale and dead. All the tubes of paint are handled, pencils sharpened; the candle and oil burner are on rotation, and drawers get pulled out and easels adjusted. It is funny how using objects makes them come alive. I can see certain people rolling their eyes, but there is a lot of wisdom in Feng Shui.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

White walls, small lights

Wall lights and art on an as yet unpainted wall - the beautifully delicate dried flower 
hanging in the first photo was a gift from a friend; the drawing is by me. 
The wonderful painting of Roundstone in the second picture is by Jaany Ravenscroft.

My workload varies throughout the year, but at the moment I work six days a week, including two days I don't get home until 9:30 and 10pm respectively. Unsurprisingly, the week feels much calmer when I am organised and prepared. The lack of the latter has resulted in near-disasters (not in the grand scheme of thing, but in the actual hot-flush-panicky moment) recently, and I am determined to prevent anything preventable from happening again and sail through the days enveloped in serenity, that elusive quality.

I mentioned the Pomodoro technique in a couple of posts. It is great for staying focused on the task at hand. For the bigger picture, i.e. knowing what to do when and planning ahead, I have found the perfect diary system - the bullet journal. It is genius and simple. It works. And it has the added benefit that over time you get to recognise the things on your to-do list that aren't that important and you become aware of your patterns, having a visual representation of them.

So I am getting things done. And other things are left undone, like painting rooms in the house. After an initial enthusiastic DIY burst a few months ago, the energy deserted us. I just about keep on top of the general housework. The garden still brings new unexpected joys - a yellow-flowering bush, the last of the raspberries - before going into winter mode, but I stopped consulting The Gardener's Year in September. I feel like hibernating. And we quite like the first-coat white on the walls.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Two recent commissions | Buildings

In the past two weeks I did two paintings of buildings, both of the campus and both commissioned as retirement gifts for University staff. They are acrylic on canvas and measure 30 x 40cm. I often forget to document the work-in-progress, but with these I took a couple of photos along the way. 

With most of my paintings I start with a random underpainting. Before I got a wet palette to keep acrylics wet I would use up any leftover paint and smear it onto a new canvas, and now I do that when there is very little paint left in the wet palette (I also often paint over old paintings I no longer like). It makes me incorporate colours I might not consciously choose and gets rid of the fear of the blank canvas while also providing impasto. One deliberate addition tends to be some bright, almost neon pink, which will then peek through the top layers.

In the picture below the first random layer is already covered with more paint to roughly sketch in the shape of the clock tower:

Then I blocked in more colours. I almost prefer the below to the finished painting, but then I love the unfinished look:

It was a very similar process for the second painting:


I like to paint buildings in a slightly wonky and messy sketchy style, with light and colour from the underpainting coming through. There is something relaxing and mesmerising about painting architectural elements, with all the repetition and geometry. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Donkeys, apples, yoga

A couple of weeks ago four donkeys appeared at the back wall of our garden - it was the moment all my dreams came true. They returned (for apples, fresh grass and cuddles) every morning and evening for about a week and then this pattern stopped. We thought they had been moved to a different field, but yesterday they were back.

When I was younger, possibly influenced by Pippi Longstocking's co-habiting horse, I always had this mental image of a light-filled room with a donkey sticking its head in one of the windows. Donkeys like breaking out, so there is every chance they will make it over the wall and into our garden one day. I am secretly hoping they will.

The apple yield is huge this year, so apart from feeding them to the donkeys, we have turned them into every recipe imaginable, frozen tray-loads of apple pieces, and done late-night trips taking boxes of them to the next village, where they are picked up in the morning by a guy who is making cider.

We got blinds for some of the rooms, so we can now use the studio on sunny days, and I also feel more comfortable on the yoga mat, as anybody coming to the front door would have got a good look of me in twists - although it is funny how spending a year without blinds and curtains has made us care so much less about being seen, almost to the point of exhibitionism.

When the house doesn't smell of apples baking (or occasionally the septic tank - something we need to address...), a blend of lemongrass, geranium and cinnamon essential oils has been in the oil blender this week - hopefully also covering any septic tank smells. In the studio I burn a soy candle with a citrus blend, as it helps me concentrate, and in John's map room, where I do yoga, a soy lavender candle. I also put a hot wet face cloth with a couple of drops of lavender oil on my face in Savasana. I should be immune to the benefits of lavender by now, but it still is the one oil I always have in my bag.