Bee buzzy

Continued my experimentation with teabag art today.


The bee on this Turmeric Tea teabag suggested itself. Acrylic paint gave the body a bit of bulk and texture (click twice to get the full effect!):



I love old maps and when the creases and stains on this Sleep Tea teabag became apparent, I thought it would make a good background for a fantasy map. I found the map on Pinterest and I used carbon paper to transfer the outline to the opened out teabag. Then I coloured it with watercolours. I think it looks pretty good.




No. Not THAT teabagging. Painting on used teabags is what I mean.

I came across this on Pinterest. Using used teabags as a canvas for art: painting, stamping, embroidery even. Some beautiful examples exist. I’m not going to post any here though  because they’d only show up my miserable effort.

The technique is simple. Brew the tea, dry the bag, make a slit, empty the tea dust and spread out the bag.

At first, I thought that was it but I forgot, of course, that painting on the resulting bag surface would be like painting on blotting paper. None of the instructional videos tell you how to overcome this so I decided to experiment. I used acrylic matt medium on the bags to provide a grounding for the ink and paint, and stop it spreading like a blot. It seemed to work. I presume gesso would have the same effect although it might make the bags a little stiffer.


Here’s the idea



And the work in progress (I’m no artist)



And the finished product



As a first go, I think it’s OK. I like that it has atmosphere, that the tea stains on the bag provide texture and the impression of light and that the seams suggest a table. I have a few more ideas that I’ll have a go at, using bags with tags that provide a lot more surface area.


Cine films from the 1960s (Part 2)

I gave a bit of background to these cine films from the 1960s in an earlier post. Quite a lot of my earlier life was documented on film and my parents made quite a few short films as well. Usually funny, sometimes dramatic, but always short, snappily edited and interesting. The whirr of the cine camera is a strong childhood memory, as is the sight of my parents holding the developed reels up to the light to find edit points, cutting the footage ruthlessly and using a small contraption and sticky tape to stitch the edited film together.

I put a couple of these on YouTube a few years ago but over the past few weeks and this morning, I retitled them and freshened up the music. The films above all give a flavour of what my parents got up to when they weren’t working, and what I got dragged in to from an early age. ‘Dragged in to’ sounds as if it was a chore. Of course it wasn’t any such thing. In ‘Hats, How Are Ye?’ I was obviously too young to know what was going on. In most of the others (yet to be posted) I was a willing participant. I quite liked getting dressed up, acting in front of a camera and being part of a family project. Sure, what else would I be doing on a Sunday afternoon?




I didn’t really enjoy the this next one, to be honest. Someone had told me that being in a forest during a thunderstorm was dangerous. And, hey, guess what: part of ‘They Were Chaste’ was shot in Killiney Hill Wood during a thunderstorm. So, the scene of me (yes, that’s me in a wig, wearing a dress) crying, was me actually crying, in a state of terror. My mum, as a drama teacher, was always on the look out for conviction and authenticity in acting. So, she found it impossible to resist including that scene in the finished product.



Pickling Onions

My introduction to real pickled onions (and by real pickled onions I mean burn your mouth off, spicy pickled onions) came at the hands of my step-brother Tim. I can’t remember the precise circumstances because it was over 40 years ago, but I remember the onions. They came in a preserving jar, were about three times the size of those tepid vinegary silverskins you find in the supermarket, and they were served with bread and beer. They were superb: tasty, crunchy, hot with a long-lasting tang.

Then about twenty years ago, I asked my step-mother Jane whether she had a recipe for them because, like a first kiss, I remembered that first crunch and its accompanying sensations and I wanted to relive the experience. She duly obliged and I made a batch. They didn’t disappoint.

On and off over the years I’ve been looking at nets of shallots and thinking that I really should get pickling again. But I never quite got around to it.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, in the first flush of my ‘do something creative every day’ resolution, I finally pulled my finger out. Aside from the burst of manic, resolution-inspired activity, my motivation for this particular project arose from the easy and cheap availability of preserving jars in IKEA. The young lad, Edward, and I took a trip to Ballymun, availed of a ridiculously cheap and tasty lunch in the IKEA canteen and came out with about ten preserving jars and, as one does in IKEA,  a few other things that I hadn’t intended to buy and didn’t really need.

Jane, again, obliged with the recipe. I still had the one Jane dictated over the phone twenty years ago but I couldn’t read my own handwriting. This time Jane’s trusty 57 year-old Good Housekeeping recipe book (bought in Nairobi when she lived there) and a dash of digital technology delivered the original printed recipe to me in seconds.

Over the next few days I assembled the ingredients (basically vinegar – I used a mix of cider and white wine vinegar – spices and shallots). I measured out the spices (chillies, mace, root ginger, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and mustard seeds) threw them into an enormous pot, poured in the vinegar and brought it to a just-bubbly hotness. Remembering that I had stunk out the house for about a week the last time I made these, I prepared the spiced vinegar in the garage with a camping gas stove, borrowed from the older lad Tom, perched precariously on my trusty Black and Decker workbench.

While the vinegar was cooling, I peeled the shallots, sterilised the jars and packed them with the crunchy layered orbs. When the vinegar was just cooler than lukewarm, I strained it and poured it into the jars, not forgetting to put into each jar some of the spices, especially the chillies. I sealed the jars and stuck them in a fridge. They’ll be ready at the end of November and I’ll save some for Christmas.


Here’s the process pictorially:


Can’t wait!


I love the idea of transforming a lump of wood into some sort of recognisable shape. With a knife. It appeals to that bit of me that loves messing around with rope and boats and fire and the outdoors. It’s not a huge bit of me, but every so often it needs to be fed, watered and tended to.

In fits and starts over the last few years, I’ve whittled and carved. A spoon here, a letter opener there, a decorated fish



and a small woman.



A bear? Now, there’s a challenge. I started my bear a bit before my current ‘do something creative every day’ phase, but it gathered quite a bit of momentum after 31 July, and I finished him last Saturday. You can trace his evolution below. Note the bloodstains. Three plasters were used in his manufacture.

He’s very much a bear of two halves. The photo is flattering: his other side is not great. But, as a pal said to me recently, ‘we all have a bad side you know’. Hmm. Interesting thought.



And, sure, while we’re at it, I said to myself, I’ll have a go at a Celtic knot. An easy one mind. Nothing too complex.


Now these are a little crude and not as neatly finished as one might like. But I’m no master carver and, for me (and that’s who I’m doing all this for), they’re grand. And the more I do, the better I’ll get.

Cine films from the 1960s (Part 1)

Both my parents were creative and my life as an only child, from my birth in 1960 until my parents’ separation in 1970, was a whirlwind of creative activity.

My dad had an 8mm cine camera which was used not only to record a lot of my early life, but also to create short films. I suspect my mum, who was a film buff before the term was invented, acted as the director and film editor. The resultant films were short, snappy and interesting.

As part of the ‘do something creative every day’ thing that I’m doing, I have been going through their old films (which I had converted some years ago, first to VHS and then to a digital format), topping and tailing the episodes with titles, putting music on them and publishing them on Vimeo. I’m just highlighting two of them here but, as I process more of them, I’ll include them in future posts.


Here’s my christening in 1960:




And here’s my dad and me in Dun Laoghaire baths in 1968 or thereabouts:





Preserving lemons (and limes)

I’m taking the broadest possible view of creativity in my resolution to do something creative everyday. So, it includes some culinary items, as well as art, writing and so on.

On the day I made my resolution (31 July 2018), I decided to preserve lemons. I used an Ottolenghi/Tamimi recipe from Jerusalem (augmented by some other recipes from the internet).

I couldn’t get unwaxed lemons unfortunately, so I had to dewax the ones I got. Not difficult but a bit tedious. I got the preserving jars from IKEA. And, really, the only other ingredient of note is salt.

These collages tell the story. There’s about 5 days between stage one and stage two. The jars are in the fridge now and they’ll be ready on 1 September.





Exercising the creative muscle (Lino Cuts)

On 31 July this year, I resolved (again) to do something creative every day. There was a particular reason for this which I may explain in a subsequent post. We’ll see how the resolution goes. So far I’ve managed to keep to it. We’re only two weeks in, however.

Today, it was lino cut printing. A few years ago, I had a go at this but, for various reasons I didn’t continue the experiment. But I had a little of the lino material left over and I had bought a simple tool in Evans, off Capel Street, with which to carve it.

The process is quite quick once you get used to it. Here’s what I made in 2016:



Last night then, I tried to take a short cut and it didn’t work. Instead of leaving the objects I wanted to print in relief, I left everything else in relief and tried to print with white ink on black card. The result was a mess, unsurprisingly. In any case, I didn’t have any proper ink so I used acrylic paint, which was too thin.



So this evening after work, I took a deep breath and did it properly. With a bit of application and concentration, the whole thing, from drawing the objects on the lino to washing the (proper black) ink off the pallet, took just over an hour. Encouraging. And also pleasing. The print is crude(ish) but I quite like the effect.

Here’s a drawing of the idea:

The carved lino:

And a print (I made about six or seven):



I’m pretty pleased to be honest.