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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

With greater intensity

"The other Dona was dead too, and this woman who had taken her place was someone who 
lived with greater intensity, with greater depth, bringing to every thought and every 
action a new richness of feeling, and an appreciation, half sensuous in its quality, 
of all the little things that came to make her day."
(Du Maurier, Daphne: Frenchman's Creek, Penguin, Harmondsworth1962, p.96)

The joys of reading a book that someone lent you ("I thought you should read this"), the randomness of it - and to be reading it outside, in the last squeezes of summer sunshine. It just occurred to me how fitting it is to be reading about pirates when I have gone back to the illustrations for the children's poem about pirates (and maybe not a coincidence that the author of said poem lent me this?).

I cannot believe that I haven't read of all Daphne du Maurier' books yet. Frenchman's Creek reminds me why I love her writing so much. This is a romance-adventure story with a philosophical slant, about what it feels like to escape one's 'normal' life and its accompanying duties, and it contains all the elegance and dreamlike quality I am familiar with from Rebecca. The book is beautifully evocative in its description of the sea and Cornwall, and its two central characters are unforgettable.

Maybe I have been trying to make her books 'stretch', save some of her work for an undefined later. With Jean Rhys I gorged on all her writing within a short space of time and then felt bereft when it hit me that there wouldn't be any more. But then there are so many other writers still to discover and way more books I want to read than will fit into a lifetime, so from now on I shall just read, read, read.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Print racks: for artwork - and for records

Print rack in the studio (painting w-i-p on the right by John)

 Print rack for our small but growing record collection

A friend of mine, one of the lovely women from my Saturday class core of regulars, gets all her work on paper mounted, which is a great way of keeping it safe, and has built up quite the oeuvre - I am trying to convince her to have a solo show. She told me she had bought print racks to store and display them and recommended these ones from Jackson Art (shipping to Ireland is free. They also have bigger metal ones, the types you see in galleries, but I thought I would start small).

Since the skinny drawers I have can only hold so many mounts, I ordered two print racks, and John had the idea to repurpose one of them for our records. It makes it much easier to see everything and search for a print/drawing/record, because you can 'leaf' through them, and they display the artwork and records nicely.

It may not be feasible if you have a huge record collection, as my friend does, in which case you would need several of these, and they do take up more space than a corner of a shelf. But for our humble collection it is perfect.

Our studio is coming together, and this addition has made a big difference. Even though in the studio I am a neat freak just like everywhere else (a hindrance, no doubt - no creative chaos here), I like being able to see what I have - most of my materials are on open shelving and in open containers -, and these racks fulfill both requirements, the tidiness and the visibility.

As always, this post contains no affiliate links or otherwise sponsored material.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Yellow kayak, lilac skies

More proof that the best things in life are free: Kayaking, or watching someone kayak

This summer, John brought his kayak up from Wexford, and when the conditions are right, which has been nearly every day this week as we are experiencing an Indian Summer, he goes down a grassy path to the shore (it's the lower part of our road, interrupted by the big road), and drags the kayak into the water. It's not the best place to go kayaking in terms of getting in, but it is just a two-minute walk from our house. After a wild start, I decided to go with him every single time and anxiously await his return / jump in if needed.

I stand on the rocks and watch, and it is the picture of perfect happiness, a man out on the ocean - until he returns and tells me that it's difficult to manage the kayak and very different from the calm waters down in Wexford (where I have been brave enough to go kayaking myself). We are on the Wild Atlantic Way, after all. Yet he persists, and for me, watching, it is the most relaxing time of my day, once I have reassured myself he will not drown.

On Monday night the colours in the sky were changing rapidly, and on the way back we met a lovely man and his two dogs, for whom the above spectacle is just a few metres away from their garden.This display makes up for the inevitable winter storms. And what a wonderful way to spend part of the evening after work, out there with the negative ions.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Reset - fruitfulness

A couple of months ago, when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and flustered, a friend gently reminded me of the Pomodoro Technique, the virtues of which I had extolled in the past. It was the same friend who had given us the kitchen timer that gave this technique its name. I was still using the system on and off (setting the alarm on my phone), but her comment made me realise that I needed to make it my default way of working.

This week I am working from home mostly. It is not quite back-to-school for me yet, as I won't be starting work in the Uni again until the end of the month, and I won't be teaching before October, but there are various things I want to get done before returning to the externally scheduled part of my work, and these quiet days at home are a chance to do that and also look after the garden. So here I am with the kitchen timer instead of the phone beside me (although I am not sure whether the ticking noise will become a nuisance. It is supposed to add a sense of urgency, but I don't want to view this as a race against time), and it has been going well. 

I am finally (finally) revisiting the Pirates poem that I illustrated years ago, and hopefully it will be a physical book soon. Having given away several of the drawings and not taken good-quality photos of them, I had some sort of block about redrawing them, but it is high time, or the author's children will be adults by the time this gets published.

For my Pomodoro breaks I mainly do housework, which tends to be the biggest procrastination tool for me when working from home. I can avail of the bursts of sunshine to get clothes dry outside and race out to take them in when the next inevitable downpour starts. Today I also made use of some garden goodies during a break, making apple sauce and preparing beetroot for tonight's dinner.

For the longer breaks or the mornings and evenings, going for a walk or a run is a non-negotiable, and as of this week I have made yoga a daily habit. My sister got me started again when I was in Germany, and I was embarrassed to see how much of my flexibility has suffered. In the past year other things had taken over, between the new house and the garden, and my haphazard routine often meant I would only do ten minutes on the mat. Better than nothing, but it wasn't what I wanted. So now I put on Yoga with Adriene every day and do at least half an hour. I used to teach myself with books (I have never been to an actual class), as I thought I preferred peace and quiet and following videos would just be another version of screen time, but being guided is so helpful and ensures that I show up.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Beauty | Rituals and Rituals


Still water in a glass bottle

Sun protection on my mom's patio

I switched to aluminum-free deodorants a good while ago, but have switched back temporarily (to this one by Rituals), due to a holiday heatwave (although I need it primarily for fear sweat; the heat is secondary), while waiting for the launch of this natural deodorant cream.

I used to travel with a suitcase full of stuff when visiting home (there was a time I would bring up to ten CDs with me...), but now I have mastered the art of traveling light, hand luggage only, which isn't hard to do when you can have some clothes stored at your mother's house.

It means lightweight purchases if any, so when my sister showed me the natural cosmetics line at a German chemist's, I picked one of the smallest items, a nail and cuticle oil pen, which is lovely to brush on - a calming late-night ritual I had never really tried before. I like to keep it simple and limit the amount of products I use, and I am sure using oils and the hand cream I already have does the job adequately, but this is perfect for trips.

Something I wish we had in Ireland is still water in glass bottles. It may exist (restaurants have them), but I have never seen crates of bottles, which are ubiquitous here, and in Ireland you would pay a small fortune. Luckily, our tap water is safe to drink, but with the bottled water pictured above you know its mineral content, and it is suitable for my little nephews.