14 May 2012

Spring green – such an optimistic colour

Firstly, apologies, I did promise that my next blog would be on the stages that a piece of copper clay goes through, but I need to retrospectively take some photos on another piece, for stages I overlooked when making the piece to be featured – a decision I only initially made once I’d started and progressed with the piece.

But we did get out on Saturday for a nice walk and some very welcome fresh air and I wanted to post the photographs I took, if only so that I can find them again.  That is, if the new ‘streamlined’ Blogger interface will allow me.  If it’s as slow and tedious as the last post I made proved to be, I may well not include many images after all!

Please click on any photographs to see a larger view.  If your browser has the option, clicking to open in a new tab or window will allow you to see it at the full size I prepared it at.

My husband had commitments in the morning, but when he returned, the weather was looking pretty decent, so we hurriedly decided not to waste any more of the day and made and ate some lunch, got ready and packed some refreshments for later in the day and headed out to one of our favourite spots, at Beacon Fell in Lancashire.

The young pine trees were all exploding with vibrant new foliage.  Trees in the better light were further progressed, but those in deeper shadow still bore their little papery sheaths over the new growth of needles.  The green of the emerging needles was almost unnaturally bright and in stark contrast to the darker older growth.  As I understand it, they only grow in this manner as young trees, developing needles differently as they age?

It’s a Lancashire County Council run forest park with a visitor centre, toilets, cafe that also serves ice creams (we had one and made like we were on holiday), lots of car parking salted throughout the woodland (and even using the main car park only costs £1 GB Pound per day) and an infinite variety of walking, with miles of well made paths snaking and criss-crossing through the trees and adjacent moorland – meaning that you can walk as much or little as you wish – with many paths with disabled access, there’s something suitable for everyone.  It’s our default ‘day out’ location as it’s about 20 miles from home, has everything we need, is open all year and I suspect that we often head there, because the drive to it is a pleasure in itself.  Perhaps our favourite time is in winter; on crisp clear days, especially mid-week, when we often have the place much to ourselves.  Sunny summer Sundays, not so much.

This little group of beech trees were just opening into leaf and catching a ray of sunshine – very momentarily – through the dense trees.  The colour was pure optimism; the brightest freshest perfect green of a new generation, in sharp relief to the brown of their past-foliage underneath, which will go on to decay and nourish the tree for the future.

We’ve visited so often over very many years (Mr Boo was in a Scout party that helped lay some of the paths, over 40 years ago) that we must now have seen it in every possible weather and time of year.  But each time we visit, there’s something different of interest and each season has its own particular pleasures.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I am especially fond of the wild species that grow at this time of year  – and especially those in deciduous woodland – the small delicate flowers that blossom on the woodland floor before more robust vegetation will steal their light.  We rounded a corner to find this lone little patch of delicate pink flowers, amongst the fallen, moss-engulfed logs, which I think are Pink Purslane, looking a little like a Stitchwort, but pink.

This weekends particular pleasure was that gorgeous emergence of spring flowers and early foliage, when everything is at its most pristine, with the promise of summer to come, but before leaves have been ravaged by weather and insects – when everything is at the most perfect and the colours most intense and vibrant.

In looking through my wild flower books to identify the plant above, I was struck by the gorgeous names of old fashioned English wild flowers, such evocative and descriptive names as Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Lady’s Bedstraw, Nipplewort, Frogbit and Butcher’s Broom.

Most of the ground in clearings and path edges amongst the coniferous areas had a new bright green carpet of Bilberry bushes with their gorgeous, almost hidden, tiny bell-shaped flowers in a delicate translucent red – what my wild flower book called “nodding globular flowers”. I really couldn’t do them justice and was struggling to even focus properly on them as they truly were nodding in the very brisk breeze, whole branches moving several inches back and forth, so this is the best I managed.  They’re so pretty, it’s well worth bending down and turning back a few leaves to have a look at them – they look like berries at a casual glance.

After our walk, as it was drawing close to the time that they lock the gates on the smaller in-tree car parks, we relocated to one of the quieter road-side spots with a good view, to have a bite to eat and a warm drink and we parked next to a field with a handful of sheep, each with a single lamb.  They must have thought that we were ‘the man’ that brings their supper as they all came galloping over, baa-ing loudly for their supper and were a little put-out that we obviously weren’t who they’d hoped to see.

My work this week:

I worked on two significant – and rather different – projects this week – one was to create some more copper clay components for designs I have in mind.  It’s the sort of work where I have to work in sessions amongst other work, as it takes time to dry enough to handle for filing and shaping, then it needs a little longer to dry thoroughly until it can be fired – then that process ends a little drawn out as I do them in small batches as I’m torch firing – then pickle and polish etc. etc.  This is a batch of finished components between filing and firing; I can’t resist polishing them a little to reveal the metal appearance as it gives me a better idea of how they might look as finished.

I had a couple of orders for rings this week, so once I had my eye in and was set up for ring making, I made a few more to replenish my craft fair stock – going back to earlier designs that I haven’t made for a while.  I don’t know how I feel about making rings – I enjoy the process in itself, but worry about the whole sizing issue – perhaps because my fingers change size a dozen times a day and I rarely wear fashion rings for that reason.  So I worry about someone getting a ring I’ve made and not being able to wear it, even though I know it was sent the size they ordered – what if they measured wrong themselves, or their fingers swell as much as mine do?  Earrings a little longer or shorter than expected wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but a ring has to be spot on.

Of the designs I’ve made over the last few days, I think I might now offer a few of the more repeatable designs on-line and see how they are received.  I’m happy to sell them at craft fairs as people can simply try them on and choose one they like, but on-line has always felt more problematic and a little uncomfortable.  The wire wrapped rings are the ones I’ve sold in person in the past as they can be made with any bead with a hole and inexpensively enough for impulse treats.

I love the colour of these Czech pressed melon beads against the copper and have enough to offer these as made to order rings, along with the more delicate rosebud knot ‘stacker’ variant of my hammered band ring, as shown below.  I’ll see how I feel about them in a few days time.

12 Feb 2012

Birthday walks and extreme picnicing

My husband’s boss called it infantile – that he wanted the day off for his birthday this last week – “what are you; 12 years old, that you want a day off on your birthday?” he laughed. It’s something we’ve always done, try to take a day holiday for birthdays so that we can get to spend it doing something nice.

We’re not terribly adventurous in this regard, but it is nice to spend the whole day doing something that you choose, without feeling the need to get on with chores or meet commitments. Unless you’re actually away on holiday, probably not many of us actually spend days just doing what we want, so it’s a nice and much appreciated treat when we do – and all the more enjoyable for it.

When it was my own birthday in January, we had intended doing the same, but the weather was about as horrid as it ever gets and we were both laid very low with a terrible cough, so just decided not to squander a valuable day when we weren’t fit to fully appreciate it and it just wasn’t suitable to be outside.

So this week, when it was Mr Boo’s birthday, it happily fell on the most perfect winter day – deep clear blue sky (albeit starting foggy) and very crisp cold air. The snow of the previous weekend was still lying and frozen solid, so it wasn’t good underfoot, but we were determined to make the most of it and headed off to one of our favourite spots, with a picnic packed, including hot soup, freshly baked bread and pots of birthday sherry trifle that I made the evening before.

The area we visited had less snow, so although the ground was clearly very, very cold and walking on rutted mud that’s frozen solid is an odd sensation, the going was pretty good and we wrapped up in many warm layers, opened an air activated hand warmer and managed a decent walk. It’s always a treat to get out mid-week at this time of year as you often have the place to yourself and we only passed a few other ‘mature’ couples walking dogs or spending their days off doing the same as we were. So it was especially enjoyable and very peaceful.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

The cold did deter me from much photography as my hands were incredibly cold, despite the hand warmer and thick ski gauntlets, so I don’t have much to show for the day. But as I’ve posted often, I do have a passion for the sight of sunlight through trees and occasionally it caught some of the lifting mist, highlighting the shafts of sunlight.

It’s much easier to see in person than it is to capture well in a photograph, the light is much too subtle to freeze in a split second, but hand holding the camera I couldn’t really allow a slow enough shutter speed to do it justice. But they’re probably enough to show why it was such a lovely and enjoyable day.

I decided to have a tinker with the camera’s built in panorama feature. I love taking panos, but usually take my own frames and stitch it myself, but the camera has the ability to take 120, 180 and 360 degree panos (in any direction) – giving rise to a reduced resolution but pre-stitched and finished image. It was too cold for messing to take my own frames, so I mounted the camera on the tripod screw my father added to my walking pole and just spun it round slowly to take this 120 degree frame of the woodland. The resulting image was rather poor quality at pixel level and almost entirely lacking in colour, but with a little work, I made something acceptable from it, although it isn’t good enough quality for anything further than viewing at this scale.

We relocated the car a couple of times during the day to enjoy the best light and views and as sunset approached we settled in one of our favourite laybys to catch the sun setting over the Fylde coast (Lancashire England) and we had a little snooze in the car before heading back. As darkness drew in, the light went very cold and the atmosphere grew misty again and diffused the last rays of light from the sunset, leaving these three closest trees in relief against the mist and pastel coloured sky. Not a bad way to end a lovely day.

15 Jan 2012

Frost and blue sky – perfect for a walk

First of all, may I wish everyone a Happy New Year and I hope that it will be kind to you.

I’m pretty horrified to see how long it is since I blogged – I hadn’t realised it had been so long over the festive holidays. Mr Boo and I have both been laid pretty low with a bug – not sure how to describe it, it was a severe cough with flu like symptoms. Not a cold as such, just a rotten, exhausting cough. I came off pretty lightly in comparison, but Mr Boo had a pretty miserable Christmas – it’s tricky to manage a very robust, spasmodic cough when you’re waiting for surgery for an abdominal hernia.

Thankfully, he suddenly seemed to improve over the weekend, so when we saw how good the weather forecast was for today, we put together our stuff yesterday evening so that we could get out for the day today and we managed a walk and in-car picnic at one of our favourite places; Beacon Fell in Lancashire.

I suspect half of Lancashire had the same thought too and for the first time ever, we couldn’t find a space in any of our favourite car parks, so settled for a roadside spot we’ve used before, a little off the beaten track and walked a slightly different route – which worked out perfectly and proved to be a blessing as it was a smidge quieter.

Please click on any of the images for a larger view.

There was thick haw frost in the shade near where we parked, so we wrapped up warmly and set off in lovely winter sunshine and I took my camera along, as always. Unfortunately, whilst I had all the right equipment with me, I seemingly failed to engage my brain. I didn’t take many photos, for a variety of reasons, from the bitter cold on my hands, to meandering children within the frame and those photographs that I did take ended up lacking in technical competence, like totally failing to notice the very slow shutter speeds and consequent lack of sharpness. So this is all far from my best work, but the best I have to offer just at the moment.

I think I’ve almost certainly shown similar scenes to these before as I just love sunlight through trees and as we walk the same paths often, largely for this reason, I’ve surely taken these same shots before, although I’m pretty sure that I haven’t done them with this particular camera, so I’ll treat them as new images.

This is certainly a favourite spot as the shadows falling across the path always give rise to lovely curvy abstract shapes and even at this time of year, the sunlight is a deep golden colour as it dances through the trees.

I was also grateful for the nice spell of weather before the weekend when I managed to get out for a decent walk at lunchtime, having been held inside for a few days by the ferocity of the cough and an indecent amount of wind and rain. I had my camera with me then too, but the shots I took were specifically to test something out we’d been discussing on one of the camera forums, so this was as interesting as it got.

The camera I was using is the Fujifilm HS20 EXR – the EXR designation refers to the ‘extended dynamic range’ feature – one that I really do love and one which works well for the type of photography that I do. It allows you to capture a good range of tones in contrasty scenes like this. Most non-EXR cameras would burn out the sky and that white house if you exposed the foreground in the same way. This shot doesn’t look anything unusual, as this is what your eye saw and it just looks right, but the range of tones captured in an image like this is pretty fabulous and I love that I can get results like the two below with minimal post processing and confident in knowing that I’m unlikely to blow highlights like white cloud detail. Even the examples above with the trees show the same feature at work – one I’m becoming very fond of.

Apologies for the lack of worthy content in this post, I’ll aim to do much better next time.