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.

Progress

It’s been quite a week at work. But otherwise some progress has been made and I’ve managed to do something creative everyday.

Yesterday, I received some brushes I’d ordered from China. With my low level of skill, I didn’t really think that I’d notice any difference between them and the ones I’d bought earlier from Cork. But, my goodness, they are very different. They hold a lot more ink and the moisture release is much more controlled. They keep their shape really well too, so that one can get the sharpest of lines with the biggest of them as well as a broad mark. I love them. Here’s the brushes and some practice sheets from last night.

I’ve been toying with my pebbles, working out what to do with them …

Not exactly creative, but I’ve been de-rusting these bad boys. The lower one is looking a lot better now … (click on the image to get a closer look)

And I’ve been going mad on the ukulele, practicing in the morning and the evening. I’ve learned all the major chords, most of the minor and 7th chords and a smattering of others. D and E major are hard. The rest are pretty straightforward. By playing songs, I’ve got used to the changes and can do them pretty quickly now (having played the guitar for some years in my late teens and early twenties has helped). I get Em wrong quite a lot but I’m getting there. The fingers on my left hand are in ribbons from the strings.

I wish I could sing better!

And I almost forgot. I’ve ordered wax, wicks and essential oils. I’m going to make some candles in old tin cans.

🙂

Busy

I took the ukulele out for a road test last night. Christine and I went to Ukulele Tuesday, a weekly event held in the upstairs lounge of the Stag’s Head in Dublin. We got there at about ten past eight and the session was in full swing. We had to push ourselves in and elbow our way into a spot big enough to strum and sing.

I had printed out the song book but the organisers project the lyrics and chord tabs onto a screen anyway. There were maybe 60 people in the room, about two thirds of whom had ukuleles.

It works like this. Songs from the book are suggested. One is chosen. The song is projected on the screen. The organisers start off and everyone joins in. It doesn’t matter what level of competence one has. It’s all about having a go and having fun, and the energy in the room was palpable. We stayed for about an hour and a half and had enormous fun. Is this creative? Of course it is. Music and singing are about creative expression and, my goodness, we expressed ourselves pretty loudly and creatively last night.

This evening, after a bit of kettle bell swinging (part of my attempt to regain some of the fitness I used to have), I blew some eggs that had passed their expiry date, and that Christine left out for me. I’d never blown eggs before although I’d often thought about it. Anyway, with the help of internet instructions, a pin, a cocktail stick and a lot of puff, I emptied them, cleaned them, and I now have 5 complete egg shells to do something with.

My third Chinese brush book arrived today and it emphasises the importance of regular practice of basic strokes using good technique. So, this evening, I had another little go at poppy petals and then I did some stroke work, concentrating on holding the brush vertically and painting from my shoulder.

Oh, and I bought these today. What are they? Little bottles of essential oils. What do I need them for? I’m going to make some candles and scent them with these and other oils. Sure, why not?

Better than TV

Came home from work, made the dinner (merguez sausages in a harissa tomato sauce with pasta) and raced up to the attic.

First on my agenda was to have a go at the ukelele (see yesterday’s entry for context). I found a short YouTube video which warmed me up by teaching me how to hold the ukulele, how to strum it and how to play the C, F, G and E chords. So I practiced those for a while and then I found the tabs and lyrics for Hey Jude. I used to play this song on the guitar so I kind of had the basics in my head. There are a few difficult chords in it, however, so it was a challenge. Anyway, I went over a few verses slowly and then I thought I’d video myself playing and stick it up on YouTube (as a private video). The playing isn’t great and the singing is dire, but I was very pleased with myself for having got that far so quickly. I’m going to enjoy learning to play this instrument. I know I am. I’m not going to link anything here until I get a bit better.

Next, pebbles. A bit ambitious this but if one doesn’t stretch oneself, one doesn’t learn. So, I traced a simple Celtic design onto a flat pebble and had a go at etching it out with the Dremel tool. It’s not fabulous but I’m OK with it. It’s difficult to keep the lines even and to know how deep to go. And it’s quite strenuous too!

These are the books I received in the post the other day.

One of them suggests strongly that best way to learn the brush technique is to copy good stuff done by other people. I’m good with that. Here’s what I copied today. First crickets, or grasshoppers. Not quite sure which.

Then poppies. They’re not delicate enough but I’ve started to get the hang of loading the brush with two colours and to understand the importance of controlling the moisture in the brush.

Moving on a bit

Very interesting morning. I’ve been thinking about doing things with pebbles for a while. Two things actually. One, drilling holes in them in order to string them together, either as sort of hanging cairns or interspersed with drift wood, as wall decorations or mobile hangings. And two, carving designs into them (see below).

So, this morning, despite a rather severe hangover*, I took myself off to Killiney Beach where I knew there would be lots of pebbles of all shapes and sizes. Lovely morning, at about 10am anyway.

I didn’t spend all that long there, but I got a good haul of suitable stones.

(*The hangover, by the way was entirely my own doing. In Casino Royale, James Bond makes up a cocktail that he later calls a Vesper, named after his love interest in the book. It’s made up of 3 measures of gin, 1 measure of vodka and a half measure of Kina Lillet. I rather took the measurements too literally and ended up with a glass full of very strong alcohol. I don’t like wasting booze, so I drank it. It was lovely but I paid for it this morning.)

My next port of call was Killiney Hill Park. I entered by the Victoria Hill gates

and walked up to the obelisk (built in 1742) noting, en passant, how unfit I felt.

I took in the air and the views and started down the other side of the hill towards the car park.

Dalkey Island, Muglins, Sorrento Terrace and, in the distance, the Kish Lighthouse
The lead mines in the distance

For several years I’ve had a piece in my head. It’s a carved wooden ladle and in the bowl of the ladle are coloured stones, set in something that looks like liquid, that’s spilling from the ladle. I have the stones. I know how to simulate the liquid (epoxy resin, this information gleaned from a model railway website) and so I’ve been looking, but not that hard, admittedly, for a suitably shaped piece of wood from which to carve the ladle. This thing in my head is quite a large piece. So my visit to Killiney Hill Park had a purpose.

On my way down the hill, I was just starting to think that there didn’t seem to be much in the way of fallen wood, when I spotted a bough lying on the ground that fitted the type of size and shape I was looking for. I had brought a camping saw and so I cut the bough into manageable pieces and returned to the car. On my way down towards Killiney Hill Road, I looked at the path I was on and reflected that it was paved with the same concrete that my childhood feet had walked on about 50 years ago. So I spent a moment with my childhood self and then walked on.

Morning wood

Seeing as how I was in the Killiney area, I thought I’d pay a visit to Jane, my step-mum who I’ve mentioned before in this blog. I gave her a buzz just to make sure that she was home and that she’d be OK with me popping in (she was both) and I drove to her house. Over a cup of tea we caught up with each other’s news, activities, plans, reading activities and so on.

I’m not sure that I’ve mentioned this but, on the bus into town on New Year’s Eve, Christine and I …

… met a woman who was on her way to a ukulele event. The woman showed us her ukulele and taught me a couple of chords. (Turns out that they were the easiest chords – C and Am, each involving just one finger.) She told us about a regular ukulele event called Ukulele Tuesday, held in the Stag’s Head pub each week. I was kind of sold.

Last year, Jane bought herself a ukulele, planning to teach herself to play it. Unfortunately, an arthritic finger (yes, that one) hampered her plans and her beautiful ukulele has been sitting in a spare bedroom, unplayed, for a few months. With characteristic generosity, Jane offered me the use of it if I wanted to pursue the Ukulele Tuesday idea, with the possibility that it might become a birthday present. I accepted her kind offer and so, the ukulele is now in my attic space. I had a little go on it today, and managed to struggle through a verse of House of the Rising Sun. My sausage-like fingers are going to be challenged to fit onto what is a very small fretboard. But I’m going to have fun trying. Thank you Jane.

The other project I’m going to work on (not forgetting the Chinese brush painting and all the other stuff that I will keep on doing) is gently restoring a couple of French 19th Century bayonets that I kind of inherited from my mother. They are Gras bayonets, both dated, and both in good condition, save for some significant rust on the scabbards and the handles. They are not all that rare, or valuable, but I think they’ll look a bit better without rust. So, I’ve done a little research and I’ll de-rust them gently over the next while. (I’ve started on one already.)


Oh, and this. Well, it’s a start.