Monday, October 9, 2017

Filtered water, no plastic









Years ago a friend gave me a small piece of charcoal for purifying water. She was using this centuries-old Japanese technique and got her charcoal from her Japanese friend. I was excited to try it out with a small bottle and research it, but then I never got around to actually getting started on a bigger scale and buying more.

This summer I visited her and saw that she had taken it to another level by having two 5-litre Kilner dispensers of water with charcoal on the windowsill above her sink, which provide enough water for herself and her two children each day. She had me do a blind taste test comparing purified water with water straight from the tap, and the former tasted so much better. I told John about it, and he promptly bought one of these dispensers, even though he was sceptical, but he likes a project and unlike me, he is a doer.

I then ordered binchotan charcoal from this website, and we said good riddance to our plastic Brita jug with its wasteful and expensive filters - the jug was relocated to the potting table in the shed to use for watering plants. Each night we pour any water we haven't used into a glass jug and refill the dispenser with fresh water, so it is purified by the next morning. After three months you reactivate the charcoal by boiling it in water for ten minutes, and after a further three months you recycle it (there are various uses for old charcoal, from deodorising to gardening), so the sticks last for six months. We use three sticks (each approximately 12 cm and long and 2cm thick) in 4.5 litres of water.

Apart from all the above benefits, it is aesthetically pleasing - I never liked the look of the plastic jug sitting on the counter.

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Two new-to-me songs I added to my playlist this summer:
"Going home (Mythical Kings and Iguanas)", a strangely haunting song by Dory Previn, which was another late-night-radio-while-driving discovery

"A Rose for Emily" by The Zombies - I found this via the podcast S-Town, which I binge-listened to while painting rooms


Friday, September 29, 2017

Two cats








Last month, through sad circumstances, we became guardians of a 13-year-old, semi-blind, semi-deaf cat, for an unknown duration. We quickly fell in love with her. She teaches us mindfulness, as John puts it, since she moves in such a slow and considered manner, and it is lovely to have an animal sharing our home.

The day we were asked whether we would look after her we were hanging out with the cat in the second picture, whose portrait I posted to the cat-parents this afternoon  - a precarious walk along the prom to the post office in a gale that turned the parcel into a wing and lifted my dress (after all this time I still have not learned to dress for the weather). I got drenched - the parcel was waterproof, thankfully - but by the time I reached home, the wind had dried most of my clothes.

Usually I do not post pictures of commissions online before they have reached the recipient, but I am pretty sure that in this case they have no idea this blog exists; I never tell people about it.

This cat lives above a beautiful historic cemetery in London that includes the graves of William Blake and Daniel Defoe, so I had to use it as the background.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pink



 Three feet

Uncooked

Clouds

1|  Pink shoes you can walk in for miles (because they are Ecco), to the pub and back, for example

2|  Alternating cooking and eating apples from the garden in this apple frangipane tart

3|  I have photographed the view from the kitchen window in this house and in my old place so many times, always with grand plans to paint the particular colour combination of sky-land-sea, and I have done the latter four times in all those years. Sometimes we are in the car on the way to work or home, and the bay is sublime, and I make a mental note to get the morning or evening light down on paper or canvas or snap a hasty photo. One day soon those scribbled lines of 'fuzzy strip of indigo above pale blue water, flat sky' will be translated into paint.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Mapping time








When we were in Germany in June, John found this 1952 map of the Kattegat in the basement of my mom's house. It belonged to my dad, who died fifty years after this map was printed. He loved the sea and spent a good chunk of his life on the water. My mother was more than happy for us to give this map a new life, and we got it framed for our hallway.

I joined Spiddal library a few months ago and have been reading a lot of good books lately, from said library, from our own bookshelves, as well as new purchases, and quite a few of them about art. How to be Both was a gift from John, and it was such an immersive and affecting pleasure reading it. I loved Smith's reimagining of Francesco Del Cossa, whose disembodied voice narrates the first or second half of the book, depending on which version you have, the form of the book mirroring the exploration and reversal of the binary forces at play in the novel.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Bubbles, chickens, cider



Blowing bubbles - sketch of my nephews






A summer holiday visiting our family tends to come with good weather and thus involves a lot of outdoor pursuits for my nephews, including playgrounds, the inflatable pool and swing in my mom's garden, blowing bubbles, listening to the church bells (much more active than it may seem) and visiting chickens.

We are thinking of getting chickens, so we were interested to see how my mom's neighbours keep theirs, and how they deter rats (supervised feeding of small quantities. There are more elaborate methods, for example a self-service pedal-operated feeder). We got a box of fresh eggs, a cucumber and a fennel bulb from the garden, and my nephew was given a sunflower for my sister.

This year my mom is successfully growing tomatoes out in the open, whereas our plants didn't take off, despite our polytunnel. But the potato yield has been high, and we regularly have meals with three or four different types of produce we have grown ourselves, which is immensely satisfying, though I cannot take much credit for it. Last year we contributed a few boxes of apples towards a local cider-making project, and this summer a few bottles of the result appeared on our doorstep.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

On the easel | Three starts







 




1 |  A mini painting in preparation for a larger painting I want to do of Furbo beach

2 & 3 |  Hydrangeas (work-in-progress) for my mother-in-law, who is a wonderful gardener and was tempted by a print of pink hydrangeas a while ago, so I decided to paint some from our garden for her

4 |  A Full Table (John at the Kitchen Window), work-in-progress, though I quite like it sketchy like that

I got a commission framed this week that I cannot show yet, as it will be a gift, and while putting the finishing touches to it, I started the kitchen scene above. This is how I want to spend my time, and in these August weeks I am doing at least a little of what I thought would be my summer. Instead there were other commitments and a stream of (very welcome, I hasten to add) visitors, and together with housework, gardening and general day-to-day happenings, my time in the studio dwindled to windows of an hour or so snatched here and there.

It is so freeing to paint with no agenda, whatever takes my fancy. With all the space we have in this house, I have been thinking of going bigger and perhaps bolder. In a lovely act of synchronicity, a woman in my class gave me several large canvases she has no use for, which was so kind and generous of her. They are leaning against a wall in my studio, beckoning.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Creatures









1|  The view south - a new neighbour and blooming agapanthus in our garden

2|  We combined a long weekend in London with a trip down to Lewes to visit Charleston, which was wonderful - more on this soon. I came away with Angelica Garnett's memoir and this card with the dog Duncan Grant painted below the window of what was originally Vanessa Bell's bedroom, to protect her at night (above the window he painted a cockerel to greet her in the morning).

3|  Roger, a dog made by my talented sister for John. He is tartan on the reverse and lives in John's reading chair.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Garden delights









Summer in the West of Ireland has been a mixed bag so far - no surprise there. But the sunny balmy days obliterate a sizeable chunk of the memory of rain-drenched days (weeks), and we can pretend we are in the Mediterranean and set up our garden furniture (which amounts to a bistro table and two chairs), drink white wine and eat olives and temporarily move the lemon tree outside. The latter was ill and nearly died, but after receiving the right treatment it is blossoming with the most divine scent.

After visiting gardens in Wexford, including this one and of course my mother-in-law's (she is the gardening expert we turn to, and I must not forget to mention here that she has won prizes for the fruits of her labour), we are sketching ideas of how to turn our lawn into something more abundant. Most seaside gardens our end of the isle tend to be quite bare, with lawns, bushes and rocks, and while it isn't possible to grow as many plants as in the sunny South East, there are a lot of options, even for this tricky, mostly exposed corner. Now to find the time (and the money)...



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

On the easel | Irish landscapes







The first land-(and sea-)scape is a recent commission, which prompted me to paint another one in the same format. I look at the first one, and certain elements and colours make me think of the writer Ali Smith, whose Desert Island Discs I was listening to while working on the painting and whose book How to be Both I read a few weeks ago.

These formed associations can be strong and lasting - the painting or drawing will bring back memories of whatever I was listening to at the time, down to flashes of sentences. That's why I am selective in what I listen to in the studio (no radio apart from Lyric FM) or work in silence.

Which makes me think, my students have no choice - I can only hope that my playlists of 'mellow music for the art classes' (the general consensus seems to be that background music is desired) do not offend anybody's audio/visual synthesising.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

'Such incredible loveliness'








A favourite passage from Frances Spalding's biography of Vanessa Bell (Tauris Parke, London, reprinted 2016, p. 268) and a scene from our holiday at my mother's house - my nephews' hats (1 & 2, no. 1 made by my sister) and my sister's hat (also her own creation) lined up on the piano awaiting the next outing in the sun. 



Friday, June 30, 2017

More botanicals





1|  The rose campion a friend gave me a few weeks ago revealed its intense magenta flowers while we were away. Returning from Germany's heatwave and its abundant gardens to grey skies and the worst rain in months, we were in a funk for a day or two, but these pops of colour helped.




 2|  We also came back to a courgette the size of a baby and have incorporated it into every meal (and a cake). And we are eating tons of salad, but so far have only two varieties in our polytunnel. I want to grow chicory - I love bitter leaves, and the above is one of my favourite salads, chicory with orange, walnut, balsamic and apple cider vinegar and honey.

Search for the pioneering photographer and botanist Anna Atkins in Google Images, and you get lost in this sea of cyanotype blue - her work looks so modern.




3|  I was sorting through papers in my studio and accidentally formed this lovely juxtaposition of two of my obsessions - 'Las Meninas' by Velázquez (on a transparency I must have used for a presentation in college; I noticed the image is flipped horizontally here!) and botanical illustrations (this one by Edward Minchen, I believe). I am displaying them temporarily on a shelf in the hope they will spark an idea, or simply to enjoy them for a while.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Flower power



 Jasmine for the garden

 Florals on a jumper (from Part Two)

Peonies that never opened fully

Essential oils and tea from a local herbalist


Last week, on our way to the midlands to visit friends and family, we stopped at a lovely garden centre for presents and got a jasmine plant for our garden, which is a dream come true for me (if it survives the wild west of Ireland - the very helpful lady there assured us it would and gave us advice on how to plant it). The car journey for the rest of the day was an aromatherapy experience.

Sleeping with the window open and the intoxicating scent filling the bedroom may not happen for a while yet, unless I sleep in the shed, as we put the jasmine beside the door to the shed, where it is sheltered. Between the stock (another strong fragrance), the jasmine and the lavender, our garden is fast becoming a feast for the nose. 

Another favourite, though not as fragrant, are peonies. We have a few in the garden, but the ones in the photos came from a florist. They never opened fully, but I love the tight ball they start out with. 

John got me some essential oils and a specialty tea for clear skin (hint?) from a local herbalist. I had asked for neroli and rosemary, and he kindly added sweet orange oil, so I have been burning a lot of orange-focused blends to sweeten my time in the studio (it badly needs it, as a piece of furniture in there still smells musty from the damp in the last house - John calls it 'the smell of stale ideas' hovering in the studio, and I am determined to conquer it on both levels).


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

In the kitchen | Quark bread and coloured walls



 Kitchen work-in-progress

Bread-making work-in-progress.
Illustration by Heather Gatley in this book, which has nothing to do with the bread and which I feel ambivalent about.


One of the things I wanted to get back into this year was making my own bread. Ideally sourdough, but I haven't started the starter yet. I used to make wholemeal spelt bread all the time and have stocked up on spelt flour, but I wanted to try some new recipes as well.

The other day I had to use up some quark that was past its use-by date. I always pick up quark when I see it in the shop, as it is a German staple, but then I never know what to do with it apart from eating it like yogurt or the two ways our family used it - German cheesecake, and potatoes served with quark whipped up with sparkling water and chopped chives and seasoned with pepper and salt.

A quick search online yielded quark oil dough, which apparently is a well-known substitute for yeast dough. In Ireland you cannot buy fresh yeast in the shop, only from bakeries on request, if they are happy to give it to you, and I prefer not to eat too much food containing yeast and haven't bought any dry yeast in years, so I was interested in how the quark oil dough would turn out.

There are various recipes, all very similar, but I didn't follow any particular one - I used around 180g quark, 4 tablespoons milk, 8 tablespoons oil (rapeseed), 1 egg, 350g flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt to make a braided bread (updated to add: I bake it at around 160 degrees celcius for about 20 minutes, though it might take longer, depending on the oven; with our oven, if you followed the recommended time, you would burn everything). You can add some sugar and raisins to make it sweet. It was so quick to make - no waiting, unlike with yeast - and came out well, despite my half-a***d kneading and braiding (hence the rustic look). It took only a few minutes to put together, still tasted fresh the following day, and we loved it, so this is where any leftover quark will end up from now on, and it will be great for making pizza. It is fluffy and moist, and I can imagine substituting kefir for the milk (inspired by my sister).

In August it will be two years since we moved into this house, and we still have a lot of work to do. The kitchen is one of two rooms where we left the old floor, and we also kept the kitchen that was there, but painted it (as well as the airing cupboard, on the left in the photo) and took out all the hanging cupboards. It is the only room that has colour on two small areas of wall (everywhere else is some shade of white, pale grey or charcoal, or - half the house - still unpainted). A few weeks ago, with the help of John's brother-in-law, we finally connected a lamp to the cable that was awkwardly sticking out of the corner between the blue wall and ceiling. Usually there is a small armchair in that corner by the stove - currently in the sitting room, as we had visitors and not enough seats -, so it is now a reading corner.

Monday, May 29, 2017

At the table



At home

At my sister's house


I had a week of the three sisters plus husbands and toddlers, cat and donkeys (not to forget a walk with Emilia, the micro pig from the Burren Nature Sanctuary), swimming in the sea and only doing teaching hours and urgent e-mail, followed by meals with my Saturday art class, visitors and neighbours, all a reminder of the truly important things in life. We ate the first salad from our polytunnel and hope to say goodbye to supermarket salad for the rest of the year.

This morning was the start of my summer: a much looser, more self-directed schedule work-wise, which requires discipline amid the freedom. There is a part of me that wants to lock myself in, plough through the work-load and neglect my needs, when I know I will function so much better on good food, exercise and sleep, books and art. From my maternal grandmother I must have inherited the busy-ness, always jumping up to do something, and in combination with my racing thoughts it does not make for a serene life.

Happily I now see my daily yoga as a necessity rather than something to tick off a list. Throughout the day I find myself craving to get into a certain pose or just stretch part of my body in a certain way it has stored in its memory from my yoga practice. I will also switch off early in the evenings and read all the books that have piled up (we have a tiny library in the village, and from my first visit I came away with books on Edvard Munch, a memoir by Graham Greene's partner and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.)

Once I have my current work project finished, I want to paint colourful things from around the house and the garden, calm seascapes as a counterbalance, and do more drawings of my nephews.



Friday, May 12, 2017

Books | Continuity, meaning, value



Furbo beach, 12 May 2017, 8:30am


"With 'a brush, the one dependable thing in a world of strife, ruin, chaos', they could return, whatever the stress and discord of daily life, to that continuously absorbing interior world in which the struggle to record observations of light, colour and form, however agonisingly difficult and intractable, resolves into an enduring happiness. Here, where the artist strives to shape, condense and order thoughts and sensations until they take on a form that communicates, is the promise of continuity as opposed to decay, of meaning as opposed to senselessness, of value as opposed to pain. Vanessa painted, not in order to forget anxiety and pain, but in order to transform them into the permanence of art." (Spalding, Frances: Vanessa Bell. Portrait of the Bloomsbury Artist, Tauris Parke, London 2016, pp.225f.)

I enjoyed this book about Vanessa Bell immensely, and once you get over the dreadful snobbery (an even bigger problem with Bell's sister Virginia Woolf, whose writing I adore), you get to 'like' Vanessa, a complex and at times intimidating person - not that liking the subject is a prerequisite for enjoying a biography. Spalding recreates Vanessa's and Bloomsbury's world so vividly, and her writing about painting is achingly insightful.

While she experienced quite a lot of hardship and finances were not always as free-flowing as it seems, it can be tempting to yearn for the lifestyle that allowed Bell and Duncan Grant to paint all day, travel widely, with lengthy stays in France, and shut themselves off from the demands of society. 

I am struggling to arrange for one week of painting (or more likely drawing) with no interruptions, but it seems almost impossible in our day and age, and I don't even have children. On Inis Meáin recently I could picture an island stay with no technology, so who knows. 

And I have to remember that I am extremely lucky with my circumstances - I can create pockets of time at home working in my studio, and more of time management is choice than I have allowed for - I can choose when to let e-mail distract me, for example.

Next on my list is another art book by another Frances, Seeing Ourselves by Frances Borzello, a book about self-portraits by women artists. My sister gave me one of her books a few years ago, and I want to read my way through all of her publications.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Things that work | Silk and lace






I get overwhelmed by too much choice and too many decisions to be made, which explains why I can be found skirting the deli counter nervously (and possibly walking away hungry) and why our house will be all-white on the outside when the external wall insulation is completed.

While I doubt I will ever resort to a 'uniform' that eliminates the need for deliberations on what to wear - I love clothes too much for that level of minimalism - shopping leaves me frazzled, so finding well-made things that work and knowing that in the future I won't have to wander around countless shops before emerging with the item I need simplifies things.

I prefer my clothes to be made from natural fabrics*, and one of my favourite materials is silk. Currently about half of my underwear consists of silk and lace sets from this range. I don't care that it is a celebrity line; it is beautifully designed and the sets are extremely comfortable and light, so suitable for everyday wear. They are machine-washable, and they last. I am sure there are various other silk options online, but I can buy these locally, which is a bonus, and the old-school department store assistants are always so lovely and chatty.


 *though I have a few polyester pieces that are years old but still look like new, so I don't rule it out


Friday, April 28, 2017

Springtime of the year



 Apple blossoms in the garden

A better world - my sister asked for a scene like this


The cherry blossoms have come and nearly gone and now the apple trees are in full bloom. This is always such a beautiful and sad time, and this year in particular.

The right music can be so cathartic, so today I spent nearly all day painting with two new-to-me songs on repeat.*

I must have been living under a rock not to have come across these before. John played me John Spillane's 'The Dance of the Cherry Trees' last night (it took him three years to play me one of his favourite songs), and we tried to find a word to describe the sentiment in that heartbreaking  'well done' line (all I could come up with was 'bittersweet', but it is so much more). It just destroys you.

The other song was one of those late-night car radio discoveries that are always heightened by the atmosphere of the night, but judging by the amount of views on Youtube the world has been aware of this song for quite some time: 'Emmylou' by First Aid Kit. (also, Emmylou Harris listening to 'Emmylou', and a cover of 'America' with Paul Simon in the audience).

* and last night was treated to this passionate violinist in concert, playing Gubaidulina (also previously unknown to me) - such a tour de force

Friday, April 21, 2017

Reading | Art as Therapy










De Botton, Alain and Armstrong, John: Art as Therapy, Phaidon, London 2013


This book was published a few years ago, but I only bought it last month and am enjoying it immensely. You've got to love a book on the purpose of art that has The Tiger Who Came to Tea as one of its examples.

De Botton and Armstrong highlight the ability of art to rebalance and to restore our frail, incomplete selves, and this book is a call for a radical rethink about how museums and galleries present art to the public, focusing on the psychological, therapeutic function of art. When de Botton applied this thinking to an actual museum, he was ridiculed for it, but I have a soft spot for his work and his empathy and don't agree with the majority of the criticism levelled against him. I admit to being a bit wary after all the hype, both positive and negative, but I was positively surprised.

The part of me that worries at times about being so obsessed with tidying was reassured to find Ben Nicholson's abstract piece used as an example of a work of art that embodies the 'pleasure of organising things' (p.54), showing a kinship with 'quiet domestic tasks' and similar acts of 'happy concentration', which should be taken more seriously. Likewise, a beautiful Chardin honours and celebrates the ordinary and 'recognises the worth of a modest moment' (p.56), thus encouraging us to be kinder towards ourselves and enabling us to make the best of what we have. 

There are so many instances of recognition when reading this book, and the works discussed include several of my favourite pieces (Las Meninas!). It even takes in interior decoration, suggesting that rather than showing off, our concern with what we place in our homes involves 'a far more interesting and human process', using objects 'to communicate our identities to the world', as in, '[this] crockery [...] is like my deepest self' (p.43). The writers are aware of how exaggerated this might seem, but there is so much truth and humanity in these observations, and they are able to articulate and distill feelings we all have and voice our non-verbal, often visceral responses to visual art.

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Brain Pickings has an excellent article about the book.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Three









1. A recent commission for a concert hall that has been renamed after this lady (they kindly gave me a photo-op backdrop banner with my drawing on it). Apparently no photos of her as an adult exist bar one small photograph in a newspaper article, hence the request for a portrait based on that image.

2. Evening light in the studio and the beginning of the 'layout wall' for a new book, a collaboration with John. The studio is one of the colder rooms in the house, and many times during the winter I would move my work to the kitchen table, but in the last few weeks it has become the space I spend most of my time. I have been working in and on the studio (the walls still need painting, but it is much more homely now) - more on this soon.

3. My cousin made the envelope for a wedding card out of this, and I put it in a frame, as I love the sentiment the title evokes and it is a beautiful piece of music. In my head it is a synonym for 'Kinderspiel', the figurative meaning of which is 'piece of cake'. Along with my tiny Laughing Buddha and other pieces it serves as a reminder to lighten up and not take life so seriously - a good word to look at when heading out the door.