Tuesday, February 28, 2012

One Day

the flowers I decided to paint
Today I took a day off work.  Well, I did yesterday too.  Soon I will hit the road for some work travel and also, I need to use some leave days before the end of March.  So I scheduled to take yesterday and today off.   Today has long been planned to do a one day painting workshop.  The painting workshop was held at Viva The Flower Store, in Angaston (my home town !) http://www.vivaflowerstore.com/.  Viva has stunning flowers for sale and also other lovely things.  And occasionally hosts workshops.  Flower arranging, or sometimes painting.

This painting workshop was taught by my friend and art tutor Jacqueline Coates (for more info on Jacqueline and her work, check out http://www.jacquelinecoates.com/index.html ).  It was a one day oil painting workshop and the subject was painting floral arrangements from life.  We would each be completing a floral painting during this one day workshop.  Viva had an impressive assortment of flowers available for the workshop attendees to choose from too !  There were four big tables set up, each with 6 -10 vases of different sorts of flowers.  Vases full of stunning flowers--roses, delphiniums, hyacinths, lisianthus, orchids, hydrangeas, and more.  Easels were set up around the shop and we chose easels near the flowers we wanted to paint.  I quickly settled on painting hydrangeas, which are stunning and I love their form and moody colours too.  There were two vases near by, one with light green flowers, some tinged with mauve edges or petals. And just under it (shorter vase), a vase of older and richer coloured flowers with antique blues, greens and burgundy hues.

My initial composition and work before lunch
I focused in on the hydrangeas and decided my composition.  Jacqueline is an amazing teacher who is able to make difficult to master concepts very approachable.... and even though I have done many of her courses, I always learn something.  So this one day workshop was a great way to refresh my skills.  Even having done workshops or private art tuition wither, I listened, because I thought I might learn something I had not heard so well before, or master a new skill I needed to take on.

The technique today was to decide a composition based on the floral still life arrangement we each had selected.  And then to work to create a structure of it painting the negative space around the flowers, before starting with the flowers themselves.  After a demonstration, we all worked to do this before lunch.  Viva provided us lovely lunches from local cafe Blonde Coffee and we took them to picnic across the street in the park along the main street of Angaston (Murray Street).  Then we returned to start work on our flowers.

After lunch we had a demonstration using palette knife with oils to develop our paintings.  I have done this before, but again, there is always something new to learn and apply to improve one's skills.  I fact, I have done a painting like this, (also hydrangeas, painted from life) with Jac's instruction, before.  And although it was a credible effort, it execution was not all I would have liked.  Probably part of the reason to choose to do hydrangeas again.  Well, also, I do really them !!!  (and this time there were a different colour)

My completed painting,
next to the still life subject
So I hoped to have a nicer composition this time and also an execution I liked better (was happier with).  I must say today both were the case.  The painting worked out better on the composition count, and also it was painting with improved technique.  The technique used for today's workshop is quite loose, using the texture of the oils to help tell the story of the painting.  And very much alla prima (painted from life in a single session, not touched up later in studio).  It allows a freshness to the painting.  Because one does not embellish or touch it up, the composition is good to get right at the beginning, because one will not be doing it again or changing it.

My painting developed nicely.  Very happy with the flowers.  I had a couple goes on the vase.  Jac helped a bit on that.  She is amazingly talented at making a few strong marks and strokes of paint tell a story (that is something I need to practice more and learn better).  Before today I thought this pairing with thick impasto oil paint might be a technique beyond my abilities to learn.  Today I feel a bit differently.  I feel with more practice and confidence I can do more and better.  I am very happy with this painting.  While I see a few things I can improve on... but I don't feel it is so elusive a technique as before.  And I will be happy to have this on display.   I makes a big difference to have a success !  I am happy with the colours and also the sense of depth.  The marks felt quite impressionistic up close, while making them.  But from a bit of distance, they really came together.  This is important for me...because all I was doing was concentrating on what I saw and recording it as I could, in an expressive way with the paint.  I have found with painting, there is no substitute for doing...and no way to truly understand how to do something that to get it right (and realise what it was you did to achieve that, so you can do more of it next time !!)

Close up of my painting
The painting has thick oil paint marks on it, impasto style, but purely oil paint.  So, it will take awhile to cure and and dry.  When it has, Ian will put a cable on the back, so it can be hung and displayed.   By the time I return from my trip, it should be on display and will welcome me home too !

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Design & Styling

velvet over embroidered
in kashmiri chain stitch
It's a stinking hot late summer day today.  38 C (100.4 F).  Almost too hot to care to do much really. What to do, what to do, especially when a bit tired and needing to recover from a long work week.  I suppose you could say I was fluffing around a bit, not doing anything overly strenuous.  But I don't stay too idle, ever.  After some chores, I decided to make something.

close up of embroidery motif

Using a lovely piece of kashmiri chain stitch embroidered velvet I bought years ago in India, I finally made up the decorative bed throw cover I had always meant to make.  After searching about in my fabric stash holdings (which are now considerable in variety of choice), I found some sari silk, finely woven and of a colour perfect for backing the embroidered velvet piece.

the completed velvet & silk
throw, put in place
My creation took several hours, because I needed to piece the silk backing (it was not quite wide enough to do in a single backing piece).  And it being silk, was the usual tricky and slippery stuff to stitch up.  Handling this required careful pinning and repinning each step and seam to be sewn, to get things as straight as could be done.  Eventually the machine work was done and I had just a small bit of hand sewing to stitch up where I turned it all inside out.

Pookie won't get off the throw
 (I keep taking him off, he comes right back),
he likes the silk lined side too
I put it out to survey my work.  And immediately I had inspectors arrive.  Even though it seems way to hot to sit on fine textiles, the cats in fact really love to sit on velvet and silk.  I know this from prior experience, they particularly love the rustle and soft cool smooth feel of silk !  If ever I sew this by hand, they will come sit very close and feel the silk pass by as it is stitched in my hands, usually purring away quite contentedly.  Today, Pookie would simply not leave me or the new velvet & silk throw alone.  He just had to be on it.  Before long he was joined by Winston.
Winston's turn on the
velvet & silk throw

Displayed on the bed too are some lovely pillow covers I made out of linen prints.  Gorgeous cherub in soft aquamarine blue on natural linen, with linen coloured pompom trims.  And a gorgeous rose and raspberry print on a teal linen ground, with small velvet piping trim in a pale fawn colour.
linen pillow covers, my designs !

To complete my afternoon enhancing the aesthetics of my surroundings, here is a small vignette that sits in my office, on top of a small bookcase.  A vintage style clock, lovely encaustics paintings by Jacqueline Coates showing a day and dusk scene, and three old style paint brushes with green handles that I acquired in China a  year or so ago.
vignette arrangement on top of bookshelf

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

You Say Tomato...

We now have heaps of tomatos.  Here in Australia these are called "tom ah toes."  But I know in USA they are called "tom ay toes".  So any American readers, while you look at the photo here, imagine that these are a bumper crop of tom-ah-toes ;)

They are very pretty, shown in the photo piled up in my gorgeous ceramic handmade bison bowls (for more info on Brian Tunks' awesome ceramics check out http://www.bisonhome.com/ ).  I love my bison bowls and have been using them daily for over 10 years, after discovering them in Sydney when I moved to Australia.  Back to tomatos--slow to start this season, it is our first time planting a spring summer veggie garden here.  Ian brings more in each day, straight from the garden.  It seems like they are multiplying before my eyes ! I come back in the kitchen and more are waiting there, to join their friends in the bowls, ready for the next snack or meal.  We have red and yellow cherry tomatos, for awhile had some yellow roma/plum tomatos (the plant yielded to a tomato virus, sadly).  Also some funny scalloped shaped "santorini" tomatos (got that seed packet with a magazine, see photo of the tomatos in the blue bowl and the one on the table too).  They taste amazing, bursting with flavour !  And our neighbours have been away a few days and we are minding the garden, and there have been some tomatos from there too.  Let's just say, we are eating tomatos every lunch, and with or for dinner every night.  Last night we had chicken quesadillas served with cherry tomato and feta salad.  Bravo !
before:  mixed berries

during, mixed berries and sugar plus lemon juice,
being cooked to gel/set point

Meantime, got my cute new half pint jars....and made some Mixed Berry Jam.  It is really delicious (even I got a teensy taste).  Predominantly strawberry, with some blueberries and raspberries mixed in.  1.1 kg of berries.  I was VERY careful making it.  Because last week I did the blueberry batch and had a dud batch !  Overcooked it.  It was yummy, but came out hard as taffy.  Will only come out of the jars if microwaved first, to soften it.  I will use it, for something.  filling for fruit tarts ?  Fruit leather ?  Still working on that.  It was a small volume batch  and I just missed recognising the set/gel point  (that is a bit tricky, still learning...), kept going, and then overdid it.  Happy to say it did not happen with the Mixed Berry batch.
After:  Taste Test !
Mixed Berry on left,
Red Plum on left
Both Delicious :)

Jam making over for a bit, until after my next work trip.  In autumn I plant to make Rose Hip Jelly, using rose hips from the hundred or so rose bushes we have here.  And in winter I have my heart set on making Blood Orange Marmalade.  For now, time to tidy up the garden.  It is hot out.  I have been getting workouts in (and have lost a good amount of weight since late Sept--over 10 kgs, more than 22 pounds !)  The roses need a late summer light prune, to put on an autumn flush of flowers in April.  This weekend's job.

Ian under the patio/pergola,
outlook shows garden views
(stone retaining walls have gardens at 2d tier,
 the 1st will get landscaping soon)

Paving with large "capuccino" coloured pavers with
rough tumbled edges.
Looking towards driveway and Ian's workshop

Last but not least, a quick look at the paving under our patio/pergola, photos just above.  Looks so good.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

St Valentine

In my break between split (early and late) work shifts we got out to have lunch in the lovely Clare Valley, some 105 kms north west of here....and while in the area we went to a small boutique/arthouse sort of cinema in the country Blyth Cinema see a French film My Afternoons with Magueritte. (for a review, follow this link) The movie was good, a lovely story with a surprise ending that was very sweet.  Bit of language practice for me and subtitles for Ian (I read them at times too, while not trying to think or work too too hard this afternoon !).  And we enjoyed the Blyth  Cinema (link with info on this cinema) venue too, set in a former Masonic Hall that has been nicely fitted out as a cinema, something of a unique feature in the small town of 400 (Blyth, SA).

We also looked at a nice vintage/antiques shop.  And, on our way home, we called in at Skillogallee Winery ( http://www.skillogalee.com.au/ )  and tried some of their offerings in the cellar door.  Really lovely wines and we did not agree on our favorites, but marked the ones we liked on their order form for future reference.  We brought a couple home today and will definitely be back for more !

Pookie helped me capture a Valentines Greeting for you.  We had stunning roses from our garden.  He looks lovely on the mantel, he likes being photographed anyhow and is pretty tolerant being posed and fussed over (for a cat).  However, I wanted to get the flowers and the silver letters I have propped up there, plus the little white china birds, AND Pookie all in the shot and arranged just so.  Oh yes, also the painting we have (Hydrangeas by Jacqueline Coates, for more info on her work, see http://www.jacquelinecoates.com/).  If you have ever done a photo shoot with a cat, you may find the following sequence amusing.  And if you haven't...just know this is what it is like getting a cat to pose for a photograph.  Involves some a nice setting, good lighting, a good tempered animal (bonus if it likes being photographed as Pookie does, he is generally rather lovely when the camera is out !).  Plus timing and luck !
Pook, don't move !
Look back over here Pook
( imagine sound of fingers snapping,
trying to get his attention)
Noooo...Come back (please !!)
Let's try again, ears pushed back, look funny
Oops, an awkward pose
(it looked better when you were sitting)
Well Done.  Gorgeous.  Just Purrfect
Happy Valentines Day

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Peachy Keen

Kim's Peach and Pink Garden Roses
in front of Nik de Masi abstract painting
You may recall I had a lot of fruit to  use, courtesy lovely gifts from some friends who had bumper crops in their backyard orchard.  I made peach tartes and two crust pies, red plum jam, and a lot of fruit has been eaten for snacks.  Mostly by Ian, I am still on a strict weight loss regime...perhaps living vicariously through food preparation.  Because I do not get to consume all the goodies, for sure.  And I cut up nectarines, peaches and plums, and have frozen some of the fruit in freezer bags to use for crumbles or pies in months to come (when stone fruit no longer is in season).  But still we had some more peaches.  I put the last lot of them in the fridge in bags, but needed to use them lest they go overripe.  I had such a good result with red plum jam and felt I needed more practice at jam making.  So I set about to use the last 1.2 kg of peaches to make jam.

I borrowed a huge stainless steel stockpot from a friend for jar sterilising and processing.  And I was a bit handicapped by size of jars available for which I had proper lids to create a properly processed jam.  Never mind, I forged ahead anyhow.  I found several recipes and settled on Peach and Rosemary Jam, which allowed me to take advantage of some sprigs from our huge rosemary hedges in the back yard (growing along/above the stone retaining walls).  Peaches got stones removed and then peeled.  And got put in a big bowl with just over 1 kg of sugar, lemon juice, and four generous sprigs of fresh garden rosemary.  This all was left to macerate half the day, and I turned it over with a good stir every hour on the hour.

skimmed off foam in bowl left of jam pan
peach and pink foam in boiling ja
As before, it took forever to boil all the water needed for the sterilisation, since it is such a large pot !  I did not start the jam cooking until it was half way to boiling.  The jam took a fair bit of time itself, and it foamed up  a lot more than the red plum jam had, which required me to skim a lot of thick peach sugar foam off the surface.  I was surprised to see the foam to be peach and pink coloured, it was very pretty actually.   Eventually the peach mixture reduced and I tested it for a set and found it seeming pretty good.  By this time the jars were ready.  I managed to get them out of the sterilising bath and filled them, using a funnel I made from an empty 2 litre milk jug.  I only had enough to fill one 500 ml jar and a bit under half of the next one, but hey...learning here and clearly need more supplies !  Still, the processing seemed to work OK, though the part full jar would not set down in the boiling water bath, and bobbed around the pot.  I had to manage to keep it away from edge and other jar too.  Eventually it came out, sealed.  And then the full one as well.  So success.

White Nectarines and Peach Syrup over
Vanilla Ice Cream
Peach Syrup and
Peach & Rosemary Jam
When I looked at the bowl with the skimmed off foam, I saw I had a lot of peach syrup underneath.  I skimmed off the foam from that, and sterilised one more jar I had...not intending to seal it properly for longer term keeping, but just to cleanly bottle the syrup for Ian to have with ice cream in the coming week.  I made it up for him tonight, over vanilla ice cream and white nectarines.  And he seemed to like it well enough (wanted to know if there was any for tomorrow's dessert--a good sign).

And on the subject of peach and pink coloured objects, just happen to have stunning roses in the garden in these colours, and ready to bring in for a vase.  I put them in a pretty clear blue glass vase.  And photographed them to add the shots to my photo reference library (for art and artistic inspiration).  I believe all the flowers in the vase to be David Austin varieties.  Two are known by name and two are not.  The warm mid pink on upper and far left and peachy at middle are Eglantyne and Evelyn respectively.  The peach on right are believed to be one of the D. Austin Leander group, and I am not sure which exact name they are (A Shropshire Lad ?  William Morris ?  those are my best guesses).  They are on a shrub that wants to climb and the flowers are in clusters and weigh down the ends of the branches they are on.  The arrangement here has another (just one, on lower left, more cup shaped and cooler pink hued bloom) pink rose which has a heavenly scent and whose name I do not yet know.  I am still working out what varieties and names  roses we have in the legacy collection here (some like Eglantyne and Evelyn had small metal ID tags, but others do not, or their tags have gone lost).
same roses as above in front of
Hydrangeas by Jacqueline Coates

again, roses in front of abstract painting
by Nik de Masi

I have not before thought to photograph flowers in front of some of the paintings we have, using the paintings as backdrops.  Today this just happened, by accident.  But I liked it.  Two of the shots (top and below) are in front of a stunning abstract painting in greens and orange I have in my office, by Nik de Masi.  The second is in front of Hydrangeas, by Jacqueline Coates.  I like both of these paintings as backdrops for this arrangement.  Very much in fact.  (hard to choose which I like the best).  Inspired compositions !