13 Mar 2017

Spring is finally visiting

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.    Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

I am delighted to see that spring has finally come knocking at my front door.  She hasn’t however just crept along timidly, hoping not to cause too much fuss, she’s banged repeatedly on the knocker and is wearing her brightest finery.  I even saw my first lambs yesterday, so that was a treat too.

It’s one of my very favourite times of year, when the usually scrubby patch of grass [read that as more moss than grass] outside our front door is solid with spring flowers.  I’m pretty sure that they’re usually more spread out, in that the snowdrops are usually past their best by the time the crocuses emerge and they then overlap with the daffodils.  But at the moment, they’re all in full bloom.  There are even daisies amongst them already.

In fact, I thought the snowdrops had taken a battering in recent storms and were certainly finishing blooming, but a whole raft of new flowers have emerged this week, so it seems that it was only the first flush that were done.  There are some, thankfully still in bud, yet to enjoy.

What could be more cheerful after a long winter than seeing this vibrant splash of colour and a bee busy at work.
What could be more cheerful after a long winter than seeing this vibrant splash of colour and a bee busy at work.

I must start keeping a record of what blooms when, as I’m sure it must vary quite a bit year on year, depending on how severe the winter weather was.  I’m also pretty certain that winters are nowhere near as severe as they used to be – I know that we get a fraction of the snow we have had in past years.

I’m not sure this is entirely good for nature, I think some species need a good hard frost as part of their cycle and I feel this may be why for the last few years, my smaller daffs, often flower just above the soil, without ever growing proper stalks and developing the height that they should.  It feels like they haven’t been allowed to sleep and then woken properly.

We had a lovely day earlier this week, when the wind finally dropped enough to try and take some photos – delicate flowers like snowdrops quiver significantly even in the slightest breeze.  I caught it just on the right day – the warm sun caused the crocuses to open wide and they were pristine and new and I was delighted to see several industrious bumble bees.  I wasted more time than was decent to try to capture one particular character who was very keen on the snowdrops, but he was a large chap and heavily laden with yellow pollen caught in his furry back (you can see him in the banner image at the top) and every time he landed on a snowdrop, his weight caused the flower to drop violently earthwards and dump him onto the grass.  He valiantly kept trying though.  The crocus shape was more suitable for him and I did manage to catch him visiting them.

Recent work and gallery:

Pink bronze earrings, initially inspired by a couple of my favourite jewellery designers; Archibald Knox and Georg Jensen. I started with an idea and before I knew it, it had taken on my own style anyway.
Pink bronze earrings, initially inspired by a couple of my favourite jewellery designers; Archibald Knox and Georg Jensen. I started with an idea and before I knew it, it had taken on my own style anyway.

My husband was working away for a few days recently and I consequently had a really exceptional time getting lots of work done. I was really in the zone and had few interruptions, so made significant inroads into my ‘to do’ list. It was a most enjoyable and satisfying time.

So I now have a pile of finished pieces and some fired metal clay components to make into something and I’m just getting them all added to the web site and for sale.

Having sold several polymer clay pieces recently, I decided that I hadn’t played with polymer clay for a while, so a session was long overdue and I already had some ideas tucked away that I wanted to try.

I decided to start simple initially, to get my eye back in and also used some old baked pieces to try carving designs into. I’d done some rudimentary carving on metal clay and to make texture plates, but carving into polymer clay is most enjoyable. It’s just the right texture and density to carve easily and smoothly, but hard enough that it doesn’t slip away from you too fast, as some of the softer texture plate materials can do.

I do however need some better carving tools, what I’m working with is decent enough to let me try it, but not fine enough to turn tight curves, so my designs are somewhat limited.

The blue green earrings in the gallery were made with a mix of clays to give rise to a semi-translucent clay with fibrous inclusions. I thought they had the look of carved jade and having looked at carved jade netsuke I saw that a lot were teamed with red beads, so I thought that this would be a nice way to finish these earrings, so have paired them with Brecciated jasper beads; a combination I’m certainly going to use again.

26 Sep 2016

The unmistakable signs of late summer

Fruits ripen, seeds drip, the hours of day and night are balanced.   Mabon Sabbat and Lore

This is a time of year that I both love and find a little sad too.  That point where the unmistakable signs appear that summer is drawing to a close and autumn is chasing its heels.  It’s sad because you know the long evenings are rapidly vanishing and there will now be more night than day and yet it’s still a beautiful time of year.

Each period of the year has its own merits and I do so love to observe that cyclical rhythm of nature doing its thing.  As summer wanes, plants put forth their seeds and berries and animals and insects use the opportunity to feed up for the forthcoming winter.  Consequently, the hedgerows are full of those fabulous later summer structures full of summer energy ready to fuel a new generation. This colourful display is full of warmth and vibrancy and stunning natural structures, just as beautiful as the flowers that precede them.

Gallery:

Recent work in a new material:

I recently discovered a new brand of base metal clays from Australia – the appropriately named Aussie Metal Clay, only recently put on the market in the UK, which I have thoroughly enjoyed working with.  I intend to do a more detailed blog on working with the product, as there is little information out there yet, but I have one or two issues to resolve for myself first.

When I look at new materials or techniques, I often do a lot of research and reading to formulate a good idea of the features of the product to see if it will be suitable for my needs – this is very often blog articles from fellow users who kindly share their experiences.  Consequently, as this product doesn’t feature very much yet, I want to write some more about it and my own findings from making several pieces with it, to make my own contribution for fellow artisans.

In the meantime, in the gallery below are a few of the new pieces I have made with a couple of the medium fire base metal clays from Aussie Metal Clay to give you an idea of its capability, but I intend to write much more specifics in a future post.  [Article now written and the links above take you to it.]

Metal clay gallery:

 

22 Aug 2016

Roe deer bucks and late-onset allergies

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.  John Lubbock

I was rather mortified to find that it is two months since I last posted (I would have guessed at half of that), but in truth, I just haven’t had much to say or to show you.  Consequently, the photographs I’ll post in the gallery below will span a few weeks and several trips out and are rather a haphazard collection.  I’ll also add a second gallery of recent work, just to prove that I have been getting on with something.

I love the tall elegant spikes of Foxglove flowers.
I love the tall elegant spikes of Foxglove flowers.

My husband was taken rather poorly in July with what we initially thought was a severe tummy bug, but at the point where he erupted in a violent full-body rash (you’d think he’d been paint balling naked, his opponent armed with red paint – and no, I have no idea how that scenario might even arise either), I decided that it was rather more than someone just passing on undesirable germs, so called the doctor.  Through a bit of detective work, we speculated that it was possibly a severe allergic reaction to a portion of ice cream he’d eaten, containing chopped pecan nuts.  Thankfully, the suggested hay fever meds caused the rash to retreat very rapidly and subsequent blood testing confirmed a severe allergic reaction to nuts. Rather odd, when he’d both tolerated and regularly enjoyed nuts for over half a century.

So until he can have proper testing and can learn more (the waiting list is lengthy), we’re now manic label readers.  I already read everything for myself, as a diabetic who eats reduced carbs, but it’s surprising just how many seemingly unlikely products we ate regularly are now on the banned list.  Not only is our own supply cupboard looking very different, but it makes eating out, both commercially and in other people’s houses, a rather risky experience, especially when foods that have the potential to prove dangerous might seemingly have little outwardly to do with nuts (meats can be fried in nut oils, sauces thickened with nut flour, added vegetable protein and vegetable oils in recipes can be derived from peanut etc. etc.).  I can’t even begin to imagine what a minefield it must be to parents of youngsters with similar dangerous allergies.

As he already has several chronic and serious health issues, the severity of his body’s reaction to that very small amount of nuts has had a detrimental impact on his overall health, although thankfully he’s now showing considerable improvement.  Consequently, our weekends have been spent trying to recharge the batteries and return him to previous health levels, so we’ve made a point of getting out at any opportunity to visit favourite quiet places.

We might not go far or do much when we get there, but making a point of going out, even if you only sit and read for an hour and listen to birds and the breeze through the trees, enforces a detachment from real life for a while and removes you from temptation to just get on with chores.  The investment of time, we feel, is very well worth doing in this regard.  I’m certain that our policy of doing this regularly has paid dividends in his recovery and certainly does me good too.

Roe deer bucks – 2 for the price of 1:

Hence we found ourselves on Saturday afternoon, sat in the car to shelter from the very stiff winds and intermittent rain, with our books and flask of coffee, just enjoying the peace and watching a group of bunnies chasing each other through the grass.  There was a moment when one running shape registered as odd until my brain put it together and I realised that this was no bunny, but a roe deer, somewhat further away.  It ran the full width of the field in front of us, stopped and ate for a few minutes and then ran towards us diagonally and disappeared into the trees edging the field.

Grasses catching evening sun, as pretty as any 'conventional' flowers.
Grasses catching evening sun, as pretty as any ‘conventional’ flowers.

I was struggling to get decent photos through the slope of the car windscreen, but was able to get out of the car fairly invisibly as there was a sign nearby that I was able to walk in line with and hide behind to get some better photos.  It was a considerable distance, so the shots are significant crops (see below), but you get the idea.   I’d managed to remain unseen by it until two cars tried to pass in the single track road and one revved in frustration and this got the deer’s attention, at which time it must have seen me as it is looking straight at me in the photograph.

A few moments after it disappeared into the trees, we spotted what we thought was the same deer a few yards from where I’d first photographed it, but it couldn’t have got there in the time, or without us seeing it, so we were a little perplexed.  It followed exactly the same route over the field and disappeared into the trees at the very same spot.  I took some more photos through the open car window and it was only when reviewing these later that I could see that it wasn’t the same deer at all.  The first roe deer buck looks to be about 2 or 3 years old with 2 tines or points on his antlers, where the second buck not only has three tines on his antlers, suggesting he’s probably a year or so older, but he only had one antler, his left one being missing.

It was odd that they’d followed the same route across the field, both into view and again out of it, but as it is their rutting season, I wonder if the older male was following the scent of his younger rival, with a view to demonstrating his greater status – and perhaps that’s why he only has one remaining antler, maybe he’s already put it to good use.

 Gallery:

Recent work:

Just to prove that I haven’t been entirely sat on my bottom drinking coffee and gawping, these are some of the new designs added to the shop recently.

 

29 May 2016

Garden birds and daft squirrels

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.    Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

I think this time of year may well be my favourite – long days, warm sunshine without humidity and excess heat and with pristine new foliage and plants emerging with all the summer ahead of us. I love that point, usually in mid-May, when the natural world just explodes into life.  There’s often a period of warm sunshine and spring showers and that combination of light and water seems to conjure up some magic in the things that grow and we go from the hint of things about to develop to being surrounded by lush bright green foliage and an increase in bird song and insects buzzing.

I have several bird feeders in the garden and when I fill them and the clean the bird bath (just what do birds do to get the bottom of it full of grit every time I top it up?!) I make a point of standing still nearby until the birds return to them, so that they’re used to me being there and associate me with the supply of food.  I decided to put this to the test by taking my camera outside one day when the area was in sunshine and hoping that they’d tolerate me taking some photos and many of the frames below are as a result.

One particular supposed ‘squirrel proof’ feeder has been in use for many years and the lid long since became dis-attached –  a combination of rust and persistent efforts by the squirrels to remove it.  I’d had it wired on and this necessitated unraveling the wire and replacing it tightly each time I filled it.  On a couple of recent occasions, the lid was either loose or had been completely removed and I wasn’t sure how a squirrel could get it unwrapped so easily.  Until I saw him in action – his technique comprised getting his nose under one edge of the lid and using brute force to lever the lid back, away from the opening.

I walked past the kitchen window the other morning and something moving outside caught my eye, but took several seconds before my brain could compute what I was seeing.  This supposed ‘squirrel proof’ feeder was swinging violently and there was a mass of grey fur protruding from the top.  The silly squirrel had only entered it nose first to get at the seed, which was quite low in the feeder and had seemingly got stuck.  He extracted himself after a struggle and as he stayed put on the adjacent branch, I grabbed the camera, hoping that he’d find the proximity of the seeds too tempting, which he did.

He just shimmied into it until his mouth met seeds and proceeded to eat until I took pity on him and took him some seed of his own out.  He again had a heck of a job backing out of it and then sat on the branch above, not three feet from me, looking at me as though everyone tackled their breakfast in the same way, so what was I laughing at.  I love how squished his ears are and I wonder where his front legs are, as he’s only seemingly hanging on by his back legs.  I’ll need to wire the lid on especially tight, as I don’t want to be responsible for him getting stuck in there.

Gallery:

You can click on any of the photographs to see a larger version and then run through them in sequence.  There are captions to accompany each photograph.