Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Charmed Life

At last, a finished project! What was supposed to be a quick and easy project based on an on-line how-to took me 4 hours to get something I am happy with. Am I just super-picky or what?

The on-line project photo was artfully done. Even though all the charms were hung on a chain, they were splayed out nicely in the photo. Yes, I should know better than to believe the picture, since I am as familiar with gravity as the next person. And so when I put it all together, my beautiful, carefully selected charms and crystals just hung in a big clump in the center. Not quite what I had in mind.

So, after scrounging around my supplies for the daisy spacer beads, heavy wire, and a more robust chain, I came up with this solution. The spacer beads between each charm/crystal provide a bit of breathing room, but still give a lush look to the charm cluster. The necklace is fun to play with, too.

I am pleased. Finally.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Few Days in the Camargue

Gavin and I just got back from a few days in the south of France, in Saintes Marie de la Mer, a tiny village at the very southern edge of the Camargue. We drove there in the trusty Subaru, about a 5 hour drive each way.

We passed our time very pleasantly, just relaxing on the beach, sampling the local cuisine, wandering around, and plenty of just hanging out in general. The Camargue has a certain spartan beauty which may not appeal to many -- the land is very flat, with few trees or other greenery except grasses and scrub bushes, and cut through with streams, ponds and swampy areas. Gavin and I took a brief excursion on a steam boat, and also visited the ornithological reserve.

I took quite a few photographs, but didn't think too much as I was taking them, nor did I check them along the way. When I uploaded the pictures onto the computer upon our return, I was struck by their sheer mediocrity. ** sigh ** For example, every panoramic photo I took of the sea shore was dreadfully out of focus; I must have had the macro setting activated or something.

A few hours working in Photoshop improved a bunch of them. I cloned away wires from skylines, a napkin covering part of Gavin's chin, and some intrusive tourists. Levels and curves rescued some problems with lighting and coloration. I even hyper-sharpened a couple of seaside shots, which gave them a rather artistic look suitable for thumbnails (photo at top of post). But of course, Photoshop can't make up for boring composition, lack of a zoom lens, or other basic problems.

So with all that apologetica, here are a few of the most post-worthy. At least I did capture Gavin in a variety of moods and activities, which is surprising since he doesn't like having his picture taken these days.

I climbed to the top of the 12th century church (above), from where I took the picture below:

The next three were taken in the bird sanctuary:

Gavin had no interest in actually swimming in the Med, but he was irresistably drawn in anyway.

We both got a giggle over the name of this drink, Pschitt! (it's like Sprite). Those French...

One day I went to see the "courses de tauros", as the Camargue has a long tradition with the indigenous bulls and horses. We were assured that it was not a bull fight (though they also have bull fights there). Even so, Gavin did not want to come with me.

The "course" ("race" in French) works like this: a bull has little rings of string tied around its horns. (I wonder how they accomplish this.) The contestants, 10 at a time, have only a little rake-like tool in one hand that they use to try and grab as many of the rings as possible. The one with the most rings wins prize money. At the end (one course lasts about 15 minutes), the bull is winded from all the running, but is otherwise in fine shape. The guys are very fast and agile, as they leap over the wooden fence and hang off the white railings until the bull chases after someone else.

A fine metaphor for life, don't you think?

See my VIDEO here

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Creature Comforts USA - Art

Ever wanted to really know about art? Here's your chance...

Sunday, September 9, 2007

UFO Sightings

Yes, close encounters of the second kind! Genuine, documentable sightings of the little buggers! No, I don't mean little E.T.s or flying saucers. UFO as in Un-Finished Object.

I've come across dozens of UFOs as I rummage through my many packed boxes moved from the house. Each one causes a little twinge of ... something. Sometimes guilt, for not having finished it and no longer really wanting to. Sometimes pleasure, at finding a project that I'd really like to finish and had wondered where it had gotten buried. Sometimes wonder, as in "I wonder whatever I was thinking?" or "I wonder if I even remember how to do this technique anymore?" And occasionally, a feeling of failure, as I remember something that hadn't gone well, a perceived glitch, a realization that the finished product couldn't possibly turn out as well as my vision demands.

I would be embarrassed to list here exactly how many UFOs are entwined in my life. Suffice it to say that they run the gamut of my endeavors, from quilting, beadwork, knitting, to polymer clay, scrapbooking, and collage. I am a natural procrastinator, yet I suspect there is an additional dimension to this collection of UFOs.

Many crafters are similarly infested with their own UFOs, so much so that the acronym itself is well known (no, it's not original to me) and is often used on blogs, forums, and chat rooms frequented by crafty persons. My scientific research indicates for every crafter that claims to work on and finish one project at a time, there are 23 crafters who admit to having at least several projects in various stages of completion. Collectively and individually we ask "why?" -- why do we buy materials and start multiple projects, only to let them fall aside as we move on to other new, more exciting(?) projects? What's going on here?

Perhaps not so coincidentally, most crafters are women. I wonder, is this flitting from project to project a form of low-risk promiscuity -- a socially acceptable outlet for seeking new, exciting, challenging conquests without deception and broken hearts? (Does that perpetually unfinished Aran wool sweater pine for the caress of my fingertips on its unloved stitches?) Or are we all afraid of success? Of failure? Or are we really "process-oriented" instead of "product oriented" -- starting a new venture for the thrill of dreaming, planning and learning how to do something, then losing interest once the idea starts to become a tangible thing? Are we so used to multi-tasking that we delude ourselves into thinking we can do it all?

Below you see just one clue to my personal dilemma:

Nominally, this is "the sewing table" (see the machine, at left?). How much sewing happens here? You guessed it.

My uncounted, undone projects have weighed on my psyche a long time, and I imagine how free it would feel not to have them (or at least so many). Could I possibly finish them all, or will I have to bite the bullet and fling the more pathetic (or unfashionable) of them in the bin? So far I've been unable to do either.

But it's something to think about, surely, just as soon as I cut out the fabric pieces for this really cute baby quilt I'm starting for a pregnant friend...

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Remembering Entei

A week has gone by since Entei's death, a long, sad week for his "mama." A week spent in part reflecting on his sweetness, his simple loving nature, and of course, the memories of time we spent together. The best dog ever.

He was not an easy subject to photograph, however. Between his total blackness (save for his eyes and tongue), and his impulse to leap at the camera whenever it appeared, it is perhaps a tribute to luck that I have as many nice shots of him as I do. The one below is from his second day with us, when I began to learn how subtle photographing an all-black subject can be. I slept on the sofa upstairs those first days to keep him company at night. He slept on the puddle of bedding that invariably flowed off the sofa. A few other photos to make me smile:

I plan on making a memory album for Entei. But for now, seeing these few pics helps me remember that though Entei's body and spirit may be gone, he's left a lot of love in at least one person's heart. Goodbye, sweetie.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ode to a Certain Mom

Yesterday, I received a beautifully written (in laborious cursive) original poem from Gavin. I don't get much original poetry written for me, so this indeed is special:

Ode to a Cert
ain Mom

We are in the month of June,
Where birds are singing,
And bells are ringing,
In a most glorious tune.

But if you have not noticed
That something will happen soon,
A certain child's half-birthday
Near the night of the full moon.

He does not wish for very much,
But let me tell you this,

There are books out on the web
That would bring lots of bliss.

He swears by all that's
Golden, silver and bronze,

He also swears by the love
That children have for their dads and moms:

That this is not some sort of scam to get junk and toys.

A poem of a certain beauty, yes?

Compositionally Challenged

This is my submission for a challenge in the Yahoo collage composition group I belong to. By way of introducing ourselves, we were to choose one word that describes us and make a collage to post to the group that will then be constructively critiqued. Mine is completely done in Photoshop, as you probably can tell.

As the two images imply, I cannot decide which is the better composition of the two. It is easy to over-think such things, especially since I'm not truly happy with either one. (It's the flat line-art figure that bugs me, but it's the right pose, so I'm going with it for this exercise).

The flaming heart is my first attempt at "painting" in Photoshop, and I'm pleased with the hand-painted effect it has overall. (The .jpg compression for the web gives the heart a mottled effect here that it doesn't have at full resolution.) Painting with real paints is still easier, in my humble opinion, though I'd have to tear myself away from the computer to do that.

Critique from my loyal reader (?) welcome...

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Good Grief!

Finally, I think I'm starting to get over this hurdle, the idea of saving stuff "for good." You know -- where you buy or receive as gifts beautiful things and then stash them away in a closet for Someday, that special day that requires "good" stuff. I bet lots of people die before they get to use the good stuff.

My particular stashing includes fabric and other artsy-craftsy supplies. I guess I'm waiting until I feel I'm "good enough" at something to warrant using the supplies. Well, duh, how am I supposed to become even remotely good at something if I *don't* use the necessary supplies?!

Case in point: a set of silk painting dyes, a beautiful Japanese bamboo-handled brush, some gutta (a liquid resist used for clean-edged lines) and a white silk square scarf. I bought these little gems in Vancouver, BC, more than 15 years ago. Then I hoarded them for years, moved them across the Atlantic, and hoarded them another 10 years. Why? Not really sure.

Until today. Today I decide to try the dyes on some other silk I have, so I can do something fun with it (make fabric beads, another post later). Upon opening the box, I discover the instructions missing, the gutta completely dried out, and the dye-fixative turned a nasty brown gummy consistency. I toss the gutta. Now my painting will have to be soft-edged blurriness. Fine.

But no instructions? And what about the spoiled fixative? Hmmm... time to check the web. Googling leads me to a practical alternative for setting the dye without the fixative, plus expands my knowledge about silk paints vs. dyes (who knew?).

Now I'm set. I tack the small silk square scrap onto the wood frame, squirt out some dyes onto a plate, and start painting. What fun! How nicely the colors run and bleed together! At least the actual dyes hadn't spoiled over all this time. Tomorrow I will try the steam-set method I found on the web, and then maybe pull out something, anything, else I've been saving "for good" -- tomorrow will be a good day for that.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Teach Me To Fly

I started this digital collage about 11pm last night, not usually the best time to start new projects. I was up until 2:30 am looking for just the right images, and then finished it this morning. ATC size (what's an ATC?), done in Photoshop CS2, with the sky photos from stock.xchng and all the vintage images from one of my Flickr groups.

For fellow Photoshoppers who might be interested, here's the process I went through for this piece:

1) I started with the road map and the eclipse line drawing (in sky), thinking they'd be good background material. At this point, I had no theme or message in mind -- just wanted to play!

2) Next I found the B&W aviator photo. I liked his broad smile and imagined him as a barnstormer at the frontiers of aviation. (Maybe the goggles reminded me of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, fresh in my mind after a week-long Bullwinkle video marathon with Gavin.) He was extracted from his original background, levels corrected, de-specked, and face brightened. For some reason, I knew right away he needed a color gradient, and chose this one.

3) The aviator suggested a flying theme, so I searched for some other images to do with flying. The swift was an obvious choice, and when placed in the upper left corner, the aviator seemed to be admiring him.

4) I found a clipart advert from the 40's with an airplane and "Learn To Fly". But when placed in the composition, I found it didn't work so discarded it.

5) I had an old drawing of detailed bird wings, and I turned two different wings into brushes. Though I'm tired of all the winged ladies and children in popular art these days, I thought one of the wing brushes added a nice level of detail when used with a brown color and the level's opacity reduced.

6) At this point, I liked the elements but the composition still needed work. Remembering the "Learn To Fly" clipart, I changed that idea to "Teach Me To Fly" as a theme: the aviator looking to one of nature's premier flyers for guidance.

7) After finding images of gyroscopes, astronomy maps, etc., it was very late and time for bed!

8) In the morning, adding more line drawings (like gyroscopes and astronomy maps) seemed like way too much detail. I had a brainstorm about blue sky with fluffy clouds fading into a starry sky, and found some suitable photos on stock.xchng. The photo merge effect was achieved with gradient layer masks (had to consult my Scott Kelby book to refresh my memory on this technique!) and was so pleased with the result that I then blended in the background road map at the bottom too.

9) Now with the dark sky at the top, my original swift and eclipse drawing were too dark and got lost. I fixed that by inverting the coloration on the swift (that so rarely works successfully, but I liked the somewhat ghostly result this time) and changing the black lines of the eclipse drawing to a gradated white to dark grey.

10) Looking good so far! But the lower left still seemed to need something, and some of the road map lines didn't jibe right with the lines in the eclipse drawing. I moved the map around until I got a major road line to lead up from the left to the center of the eclipse drawing -- it seems to add movement and draw the eye inward.

11) I wasn't sure about adding the words "Teach Me To Fly", but tried out some ideas and fonts just to see. I like this version following the shoulder line, in a casual almost hand-stamped sort of font. Black was way too dark, but a nice mauve-grey made it blend in much better.

12) Serendipity: a layer with my "reserve" copy of the swift was peeking through the background layers, forming a little shadow under the green swift and better defining his lower wing. (I usually have a reserve copy of each image in the document until I'm sure I like what I've done with the original layer, then delete the unused copy layers at the end.)

13) Finally, I added a very narrow frame all around the image with the Stroke option, and gave it a slightly metallic blue-grey bevelled layer style... just because I can in Photoshop.

Friday, May 25, 2007

If I'd had my camera today...

I could post a picture of the 2 hour traffic jam I was stuck in while driving to Lausanne to pick up Gavin. And pictures of Gavin eating a chicken kebab sandwich with great relish. And pictures of the baby cow nursing, the red poppies along the edges of the wheat fields, and the stormy clouds over the lake.

But I didn't.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Magnetically Yours

Just a couple of past polyclay experiments. These got turned into magnets today for my humble desk at work (where my one opportunity for some personal expression is my magnetic desk divider). The star is my first multi-color Skinner blend, with a Paula Best texture stamp. The heart uses a jelly roll cane and a commercial heart mold.

Inspired by: Lisa Vollrath's Amazing ATCs and Paper Art Dolls How-To CDs

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I finished a craft project (the first in a long time), this polymer clay charm bracelet for summer. Pretty cute, if I do say. The disks are made from canes I did when showing various friends how to work with clay and the concept of making canes. This last time (pink flower with spiral center), I got a bit more experimental with the petal cane, adding a triangle insert and a partial black wrap for a different outline effect.

This is about as far as I've ever gotten with polyclay -- time to branch out! But first, to finish off at least a few of my many UFOs (Un-Finished Objects) before beginning new projects ...

Inspired by: Julie Arkell's charmingly funky papier mache creations