The North West

My work often takes me to the north west. Last week it was Derry. This weekend it’s Letterkenny. It usually takes about three and a half hours to drive up: M50, M1, across to Ardee, N2, Monaghan, Aughnacloy, Omagh, Strabane, and then this evening Lifford and on to Letterkenny. This afternoon the M50 was clogged and the M1 was slow so it took four hours.

To keep sane and awake. I listen to podcasts, music and or an audiobook. Rarely, now, the radio.

Today, for the first part of the journey, I listened to my new favourite, Lavinia Meijer, a South Korean born, Dutch harpist. I’ve always liked the harp. It’s an elegant instrument and I am consistently impressed by anyone who can play it or even keep it in tune. As an instrument, I love the mellow plucked sound. The other day I listened to Satie’s Gnossienne No 1 played on the piano and then listened to Ms Meijer play it on the harp. I felt a huge emotional connection to the softness of the latter.

Ms Meijer plays a lot of Philip Glass, beautifully. Have a look and a listen to this.

Hearing and seeing somebody interact with their instrument like this reminded me of Nicola Benedetti. I’m not a classical music buff and until I heard her play, I had thought all violinists were the same. But Ms Benedetti manages to coax the sweetest of sweet sounds out of her violin. I have to admit that this track has made my eyes mist over more than once.

For the latter part of the journey I listened to a variety of podcasts; Michael Palin and Naomi Klein being interviewed by David Baddiel on the Penguin books podcast, and an episode of my favourite podcast, Reasons to be Cheerful, a left leaning, positive podcast on political ideas presented by Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd. This one explored the pros, cons and myths surrounding taxing the rich.

I also did a fair amount of thinking.

My step-sister Judy recently expressed an interest in my moon on the sea painting. I quite like that one myself. The photo of it was flattering however and I felt that I’d like to do a better one for her. The original was done on black card.

I had a go at another one on scrunched up, flattened out and inked rice paper. It was ok but the wrinkles were a bit distracting …

… so I ironed it.

… and then looked at it with a mount …

Not bad but the original wrinkles have resulted in some vertical marks that don’t quite look right so I’ll have another go.

It’s both a challenge and a pleasure to create/make something with a particular recipient in mind. The things I’ve been most pleased about and proud of have been done this way.

I brought some paper, paint and brushes with me. I did these. Gold gouache on black card. Chinese brush. Not quite enough zen. I’m a bit distracted. But they’ll do.

Moving on

I found a can of white spray paint and sprayed the egg in which I had drilled holes. In the process, I knocked the egg off the bench I was working on. And it broke. Anyway, some of it survived.

While I was at it, I spray painted a twig and took a few photos of it, lit with the candle I made a couple of weeks ago. I like these.

Then I thought I’d have a go at an eye on a tea bag …

I’ve also been messing around with rice paper and the ukulele. Not at the same time though.

Eggsploration

Today is my birthday and I’ve been feeling the love of family and friends. Texts, messages, a cooked breakfast, gifts, hugs, kisses, cake. What more could a man want?

The week has been disruptive. I was in Derry and there were a few days in which I’d be hard pressed to suggest that I was engaged in creative activity. I thought about stuff and wrote down a few ideas but, although I brought some art materials to the north west I didn’t get anything on paper. That was frustrating.

Anyway, that’s bound to happen occasionally so I’m not going to dwell on it. This is not a prison sentence.

Today, I was exploring some ideas with eggs. The idea of drilling holes in them came from something I saw on the internet …

The wrapping idea was a result of finding brown paper strips in the recycle bin …

And I’m not sure what this is …

Six Months

It’s six months to the day since I resolved to do something creative every day.

At that time, the resolution was partly an attempt at distraction. So, therapy, in a sense. It was also partly an attempt to reconnect with my childhood and the intensely creative atmosphere in which I spent the first ten years of my life. And partly as a kind of valve that gave me mental space to scratch a creative itch (and mix metaphors).

It was never my intention to create an outcome or an object every day. Just to spend some time with creativity. There has been less than a handful of days in which I haven’t fulfilled the resolution. Sometimes but not that often, I’ve spent the better part of a day doing a creative thing. Others, it might be five or ten minutes. Yesterday, for example, I knew I was going to be busy. I woke up frustrated that I might not be able to get my creative fix. But I found five minutes in the morning to work on a wood carving project I started some time ago, and another five later, to sketch (poorly) part of an indoor plant. That was enough.

From the start, I’ve taken the broadest possible definition of creativity. For me it’s about fashioning something out of something else. So, yes, it has covered painting, working with wood, macrame, linocut printing, making candles, carving things in pebbles. It also covers writing, verse speaking, make-up, masks, blogging, creating and editing video, making music, cooking, preserving and so on.

The point has never been about the output. While I have created some things specifically for others, most of this is about the process, not the end product. I have used meatpunkspit as a sort of diary to record what I have been doing. It’s not secret or hidden (how could it be?) but I haven’t broadcast its existence. I know that there are a few people who look at every post and that there are others who dip in now and again. That’s fine. Much of what I put up is experimental or unfinished or just attempts at things that have taken my fancy. I’m not an artist. But I do art.

My converted attic, where I do most of this, is littered with daubed-on paper, egg shells, used teabags, wood shavings, tubes of paint, brushes, chisels, gouges, pens, pencils and all manner of other materials. I’ve made/created lots of stuff, far more than I have ever put on this blog, and most of it isn’t great. But it’s mine and I’m happy that I’ve done it all. And I’m going to continue to do it because, as well as still being partly about those things I mentioned above, keeping this resolution is now also a source of significant pleasure.

Just as a kind of summary, here’s some of the things I’ve been doing …

 

And some more …

Candle Making

It’s very straightforward. You need wax, wicks, a few containers, some sort of double boiler, a jug and a thermometer.

I bought my wax and wicks from NI Candles. Cheap and incredibly quick service. It’s soy wax so it’s sustainable and clean. You need to calculate the size of the wick you need, based on the diameter of your container. I’m using tuna cans at the moment and the diameter is 8cm, which is pretty wide for a candle, so the wicks I ordered are quite big.

You calculate the amount of wax you need by measuring the ml capacity of the containers, multiplying that by .77, and expressing the answer in grams. You then melt the wax in a double boiler/bain marie and heat it to about 85 degrees, let it cool to about 57 degrees, and pour it into the containers, into which you have placed wicks. The latter proved to be a bit problematic.

The guides suggest that you need to secure the wick tabs to the bottom of the containers with a dab of hot wax. That’s OK but the problem is that when you pour hot wax into the container, the wax holding the wicks to the bottom of the containers melts and the wicks fall over. To try to prevent them falling over, the guides suggest using chopsticks or lollipop sticks to hold them in place. I tried this but, of course, the hot wax also melts the wax that keeps the wicks rigid, and they fall over anyway. I faffed around a bit and eventually folded the wicks over the chopsticks. That seemed to work but I’ll have to come up with a better solution because the wicks in my candles are probably not centred enough. Anyway, for these experimental candles, they’ll do.

Here’s some pics of bits of the process. First, the wax melting …

The containers and wicks …

The containers filled with wax and my improvised wick securing solution …

Cooling …

And here the are, cooled. I need to leave them to cure for a couple of days before I trim the wicks and try them out.

I Made a Bench Hook

A bench hook is a device that one can use on one’s table/bench/desk, that holds a piece of work steady while one works on it. One end of it has a piece underneath that hooks on to the bench and the other has a piece on top against which one can rest the thing being worked on.

A bench hook is made of wood and it has to be a hard wood if one is using it for carving. It’s a while since I bought a plank of wood and I was surprised by how few shops sell such things. Luckily, not very far from me is a place called Woodworkers that does. On my second visit (don’t ask), I managed to purchase an off-cut of mahogany for a fiver. That actually proved to be the hardest part of the process.

I made the bench hook today. Here’s how I did it:

I’m pretty proud of myself!

Breakfast and other things

Yesterday morning, Christine and I breakfasted in Cinnamon in Ranelagh. It was an expensive but unexceptional breakfast. You can read about it here.

Today’s creative efforts included writing that blog, playing the ukulele and practicing some strokes with the Chinese brushes. I had this notion, inspired by something I saw on Facebook this morning, that I would scrunch up some rice paper, flatten it out and colour it in various shades of grey and see what it would look like as a background.

I quite like the look of this. The highlights on the left hand side are more subtle and better for it.

Pebble Revisited

When I had another look at the actual pebble that I painted on yesterday evening, rather than a photo of it, I kind of re-evaluated my view of it. The photo distorted my view of the size of it and, in the photo version, the blocky-ness of the blue was very evident.

The pebble is pretty small in reality. Here it is in my hand, and compared to an egg.

When I looked at it in its proper size context I kind of wondered how I got all those dots on it. Then I realised that, when I was painting it, I was in some sort of zone. The pebble, the paints and the brush were all there was. No other thoughts. So, I’m happier about it now. It’s not disappointing. I’m quite pleased with it really. Some of the things I do end up looking crap. But this isn’t one of them.

I’ve mentioned sleep before in this blog. Sleep and I have an uneasy relationship. I’m a light sleeper. Noise, temperature, light and my bladder all potentially wake me up. Most of the books and articles I’ve read about sleep talk about trouble getting to sleep. I don’t have trouble getting to sleep. I read a bit, get sleepy, turn out the light and I’m gone pretty quickly. Staying asleep is my problem. If I wake up during the night, my mind clicks into action. It could be an art idea, or a work issue, or a ukulele chord, or any number of other things. When that happens, it’s very difficult to shake myself out of it, stop thinking and get back to sleep. Often, if I can get my head around it, I’ll read a bit and that usually does the trick after half an hour or so. Sometimes, if it’s after 5, I’ll just hang on in there until the alarm goes off shortly after 6. I’m less worried about it now than I used to be. Age rather than shortage of sleep affect my energy levels but the more active I am (physically, mentally and/or creatively), the more energy I seem to have. Although, sometimes I just crash and have to do nothing or go to bed. But that doesn’t happen often.

On a Break

Taking a break from my Chinese brushes. Just a short one mind.

We were out for a walk the other evening and there was a full, or nearly full, moon. Down by the weir on Lower Dodder Road, the effect of the moonlight on the river was quite magical. Christine suggested that I paint it. My painting skills are improving but they’re not that good. This morning, however, I had a look at a YouTube video of a very talented Australian artist who was demonstrating how to reflect moonlight on water. He was using acrylics and a very dry brush. So I thought I’d give the technique a go with gouache on black paper. I tried a sea scene rather than a river. As a first go, I’m reasonably pleased with the result and it’s good to know that I wasn’t as terrified of the prospect of trying to get on paper what I saw in my head (with a little help from a photo I found on Pinterest) as I would have been a few months ago.

I’m still keen on the idea of using pebbles in various ways. I painted on one this evening. It’s a little too clinical and the blue colour on the wings is too blocky. I’m a bit disappointed with it but there’s no shortage of pebbles to use as canvasses.

Trawling through Pinterest this morning, I found some other ideas for egg shell paintings, and I came across a reference to red bamboo (there’s some mythology around this) and Chinese brush painting with gold paint on black paper. There’s no end to the stuff one can have a go at. Oh, and my wax and wicks arrived in my office this morning so candle-making is very much going to happen soon. Just waiting for the delivery of some essential oils from the US. The US! The simple fact is that, even allowing for postage, it’s far cheaper to order them from the US than buy them in Holland and Barrett or anywhere else in Dublin.