Friday, 27 October 2017

Why I'm not into Halloween

When I was a kid, we didn't have much to do with Halloween in Australia. It was an American thing. On the 31st of October, there'd be a piece at the end of the news with people in weird costumes standing around piles of pumpkins and that was just about all I'd hear about Halloween. It was an exotic custom that belonged to a different culture.

But not only that. Some years, kids would come around our house dressed up in white sheets and witches hats. (Never with their parents of course. It was a simpler time.) My Mum would give them a lecture on the Americanisation of Australian culture and then send them away. Any time Halloween was mentioned on TV or we saw a display of Halloween-themed merchandise at the supermarket, she'd embark on a rant about how everything American was over-running everything Australian.

With an upbringing like that, I'm sure you can imagine what I thought of Halloween. To me, it was just another overblown commercialised holiday designed to make money, like Valentine's Day. Plus, I don't like anything scary -- scary movies, practical jokes, haunted house rides, etc. Even mock-scary things make me feel uncomfortable.

It wasn't until I was older and did my own research that I found out about the older tradition of Samhain and how it's tied in to Pagan practices. I also learned more about the traditions of Halloween from a psychological perspective and how exposing yourself to mildly scary things can relieve greater fears. It was very interesting and explained a great deal, but I still wasn't into Halloween. While I have a different perspective now, I still don't think I can embrace Halloween the way everyone around me is.

I mean -- I live in the Southern Hemisphere. Why would I celebrate a harvest holiday in Spring?

Spooky Cheese.

The dissonance between my experience of living in the Southern Hemisphere and the Northern Hemisphere experience becomes particularly acute at this time of year. I've felt it especially in the last 5 years or so. I think it's due to social media. Whenever I log onto Facebook or Instagram, my feed is literally filled with photos of Happy Halloween graphics, pumpkins, Autumn leaves, carved pumpkins, people in Halloween costumes, pumpkin pies, Samhain spell suggestions, pumpkin spice lattes. (Seriously, people are obsessed with pumpkins at this time of year!)

We can't even buy pumpkins at the moment because they're not in season. And there's no canned pumpkin in Australia. It might not seem like a big thing, but it does have a tendency to make me feel isolated and out of step. (Not just the pumpkin thing, but the whole cultural phenomenon.)

So when I see the Australians around me wholeheartedly embracing Halloween, it's a bit disconcerting. I'm sure that Pagans who follow the local seasonal cycle will be celebrating Spring right now, so I can't help but think some of the people here who celebrate Halloween aren't doing it with the depth that would show a true respect for Samhain. I can't really begrudge them though and I don't want to sound like I'm complaining -- it does look like a whole lot of fun!

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Cyanotyping Workshop

Last weekend I went to a cyanotyping workshop, and it was brilliant!

The workshop was held at NOIR Darkroom, a new space dedicated to analogue photography and all arts with an emphasis on community participation. Husband and I were the only participants as the other person was unable to attend, so we had the full attention of our host Jess.

Cyanotype is a very early form of photography invented in the 1840s. It uses a combination of two chemicals: potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate. When mixed, these create a light-sensitive solution. Despite their scary-sounding names, the chemicals involved are relatively safe, and that makes the process suitable for children as well as adults. We mixed our chemicals together, after first preparing our paper. We were given several types of watercolour paper with different textures and shades, so we could see the results from each. Preparing the paper just involved tearing it into any sizes and shapes we liked.

Next, we painted the solution onto the paper. At this stage it was a light greenish-yellow colour. This should be done in a fairly low-light environment and the paper turned upside down straight away, to protect it from being exposed to sunlight too soon.

While we waited for our paper to dry, we played with some sheets that Jess had prepared earlier. There was a table of items of different shapes and textures to choose from, both natural and man-made. We arranged items onto clear acetate and laid the paper down on top, then a layer of thick cardboard. It's important for a clear image for the items to be touching the paper, so we used bulldog clips to keep everything as flat as possible.

We laid out our creations outside in the alleyway behind the building. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day, and the photograms took much longer to develop than they would if it was a sunny day. Images are also clearer and more detailed on sunny days as the shadows are sharper. Here you can see prints in different stages of development. The solution turns from a light yellow to dark greenish blue quite quickly. In some there were shades of grey or red as well.

To develop the prints, we washed them in a tray of ordinary water. During the washing, the prints magically turned from greenish-grey to a spectacular blue within about one minute. The shapes often looked quite different after washing, too, so we never knew what we were going to get until the end.

After trying out several of the items from the table, we went for an art walk to find things in the neighbourhood to work with. We took a few sheets with us in envelopes made of black paper, and a couple of sheets of acetate and cardboard backers. Cyanotype is a very portable medium!

We used found items to make more prints, and Jess showed us how to attach sheets to things like a chain-link fence to take imprints of them. It was a lot of fun searching and looking at our environment in a new way. When we returned to the workshop space, we developed them in water and laid them out to dry.

At this point the prints are fixed and no more treatment is needed. Cyanotype is a very stable medium: many prints from over 150 years ago still exist. It can be done on almost any porous surface: fabric, yarn, dried leaves, walls. The possibilities are very exciting. I want to find ways to combine art and craft, so I'd love to try printing on something like a knitted or crocheted surface.

The workshop was a lot of fun as well as informative, and I would definitely return for more. Incidentally, NOIR Darkroom is also where the exhibition I'm involved in opens later this week, so you'll be seeing more of this venue in future posts.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

2018 Hobonichi Unboxing

I have to admit, I was very slack with my Hobonichi art diary purchase this year. Last year, I remembered spending the whole morning of the first sale day refreshing the website until I finally secured my order. This year, I completely forgot about it until I started seeing unboxing videos on YouTube. Thankfully there was still stock left and my Hobonichi arrived to me within 10 days. I then didn't have a chance to take photos and put this post together because I was so busy working on my upcoming exhibition. But finally I can present my 2018 Hobonichi Life Book unboxing:

This year the diary came in a parcel with a rounded top, which was slightly different to last year, but still had an old-timey feel to it. The box inside was a bright yellow colour, with a quote on it: "Don't just reach for a bandage, 365 days is plenty of time to fix things up right."

Nestled under a layer of brown paper, the my diary was accompanied by the customary gifts. I again chose the Hobonichi Cousin, which is the A5-size diary with text in Japanese.

Included with the Hobonichi were the Life Book guide book, the welcome book brochure, a multi-pen and a set of meal planner cubes. I was pleased to see that there were two copies of the welcome book brochure, one in English and one in Japanese. I can keep one and cut the other one up to use in my diary.

The welcome book brochure has cute drawings of various types of people and how they use their Life Books -- including dogs and cats!

The meal planner cubes are a set of two dice. One has 6 different types of meats (including vegetables), and the other 6 different ways of cooking the meal, such as steaming or frying. It's not so much a meal planner as a meal randomiser. I think this is such a cute idea and I can't wait to use them!

I have to admit, I've been lax in using my current Hobonichi the last few months. I've been filling in only a single day here or there and leaving weeks or even a month blank in between. I will of course fill up those pages with drawings and paintings eventually, but that will be a lot of work. Receiving my new Hobonichi and writing about it has stimulated my interest again though, and I'll start again -- tonight!

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Spring Garden Update

I took some photos for this post about 3 weeks ago, but didn't get around to posting it. Things have changed so much that I took a new set of photos and thought it would be fun to do a few comparisons. If I'd thought ahead, I would have taken them from the same angles, but I think there are some good shots anyway.

First is the nectarine tree. All of the fruit trees have finished blossoming now and are starting to grow tiny fruits. This tree in particular was afflicted with bad leaf curl last year and we ended up only getting one nectarine (yes, one!). I made sure to treat it in time this year (it has to be sprayed with copper sulphate just as the buds are forming) and it's looking much better. You can still see some affected leaves, but hopefully by plucking them regularly, the tree will perk up even more.

The roses have been growing steadily and flowerbuds are beginning to appear. I can't wait to smell their scent and see the beautiful colours again.

This is a new plant that I planted last year. I wanted to wait and see if it would take before debuting it, and it has! It's a French lavender. Isn't she beautiful? I asked the garden gnome to look after her and I think he's done a marvellous job so far.

I also planted these two daisy bushes along the front fence. It took them a while to settle in, but I was so pleased when they finally started to flower. They still look so tiny though. Sometimes I think I'm not patient enough to be a gardener!

Finally: my beloved fern is unfurling its fronds again.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Anxiety and Being an Artist

This post could be about anxiety and doing/being anything, really.

Seeing Hedgefairy's latest vlog about her insecurities inspired me to write about it, too. I think it's important to talk about all the parts of our lives, not just the shiny or exciting parts.

I've had anxiety all my life, and I think I will probably have it for the rest of my life. I didn't know what was wrong with me until I was about 25 and was talking to a friend one day about her experiences. They were eerily similar to mine. I finally knew what was wrong. I went to my doctor and a counsellor, and things started to get better from there. Even still, I've missed out on so much because of it: things I've lost, never had nor never tried for, all because of anxiety.

Many other people have talked about what it's like to have an anxiety disorder much more eloquently than I could. To me, it's like when someone comes up behind you and scares the willies out of you. For a split second, your heart is pounding, you feel hot and sweaty, you're terrified, you think you're going to die. You want to jump up and run away. Imagine that feeling lasting for 20 minutes or more, and there's no reason why it's happening. There's no-one behind you -- it's the thoughts in your head that are scaring you. You learn, like Pavlov's dog, what situations might trigger that feeling, and you instinctively avoid them.

So what does this have to do with being an artist, or any other kind of creative? Or even a small business owner?

You need to get out there, sell yourself, promote your business, be on social media. You need to believe in what you do. You have to be able to face any problems that arise.You need to have resiliance and be prepared for failure or rejection. You need to ignore the haters. Anxiety makes all of these prospects so much more difficult and frightening than they might be otherwise. Anxiety is like a hater in your own head.

Drawing attention to myself is the last thing I want to do -- because I know it will lead to situations where my anxiety will rear its ugly head. When I posted on my blog and facebook page about my upcoming exhibition, I winced throughout the entire thing. I've told a few people I'm an artist, but not many. I'm absolutely dreading going to the opening night. Yet these are the kinds of things I will have to do if I want to live a creative life.

I've tried to arrange things so I don't feel too much stress and can go at my own pace. I made a deliberate decision not to give up my day job, so that I'm not under pressure to have an income from my art. I don't have to open an online shop straight away if I don't want to ... or at all. If I don't make art that people like and buy, it doesn't matter. And if, because of that, people don't think I'm a 'real' artist, it doesn't worry me. It just takes the pressure off even more. I also like being an archivist and don't want to give that up.

Lately I've been trying to act on my impulses more and do things before anxiety takes over and shuts down my plans. I try to think things through logically and decide if it's feasible or not based on objective reasons rather than just whether it's too scary. I'll announce some of these things soon, when they're ready (when I'm ready!).

If you're struggling with anxiety or depression, know that you're not alone. Please talk to someone about it. It will get better.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

My September : A New Exhibition

Last month I applied for and was accepted into an exhibition called Piece of Me. The theme is the price we pay when connecting with other people. As someone with social anxiety, the theme resonated with me. It opens at the end of this month, which isn't much time to create 5 pieces! So this has been my main focus for the last few weeks.

Included will be my first work on wooden panel. I've had to research the best kind of wood and sealant, buy them and have the panels cut. I bought three so I'll be able to practice on them. I chose wood rather than canvas for this work for a particular reason, which I'll talk about in a future post. For now, here is the rather boring background:

Here are two paintings on canvas which I began in the last few days:

I'm also making a work on paper, which I'm unofficially calling Mind Map right now. It's a hodge-podge of all the things swirling around in my head. It's only recently that it's occurred to me that I can express the way I feel through art (I know, that must seem strange!). Making this piece involves vulnerability, but I'm prepared for that because that's what authentic art is about.