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We’ve forgotten what a hobby was.  It was sewing, crafting, drawing, for the pleasure of it alone.

Maybe once in awhile a friend or neighbour offered to buy our latest crochet project for a little money.  We made things in our spare time at our own tempo. We kept making stuff which got given away or sold for a charity or sold so we could buy more supplies. It was a natural cycle of enjoyment, energy invested and a kind of gentle return on that. Sometimes it involved money, but it was about appreciation as well, and exchanging new techniques or materials with others.

Now every human with two hands and a knitting needle has dollar signs in her eyes it seems. Our society’s obsession with business has invaded even this homely domain. Now our knitter makes a ‘product’. In order to sell, she needs a logo, a label, a website, an Etsy store. She needs to be a good photographer to take images of her work to promote it. She must work the social sites, keep up with her Etsy contacts to make sure her work gets featured on others’ blogs, keep up with her networking. She needs to fill orders, set up an online payment system. She needs to become a good postal worker and get her products in the mail on time. The administration has to be done well and regularly. And soon she has to face it- she isn’t a knitter anymore, she is a retailer or depending on the product, a wholesaler. Her arm is hurting from staying up doing all that knitting to fill orders. Should she hire someone to do the drudge work?

Good grief, people. Keep your hobbies hobbies!  Keep part of yourself off line and out of the marketplace.

Here is my latest creation from my hobby of crocheting- fully copied from delightful Lucie’s generously shared instructions.

And it is so not for sale.

Decorative birdie

Decorative birdie

Oh,  but if you are interested, let’s see, it took around 5 hours, at 35 euros an hour- that will be 175 euros, thanks.

And, no, I can’t make 12 more.

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I treated myself to some new yarns, I love the heathery colours, or sky tinted sea pebble colours. I am missing a dusty pink shade which exists in my head but not in this particular yarn, though.  After a productive workday, I went out on the deck to crochet some granny squares. Not the most original, but relaxing. I just love how the skeins look like big squishy eggs in their nest. And with Lucie there as well and the horses in the background, on a quiet summer’s day, that about sums up my idea of heaven.

Will post some of the squares another time. I love my crafts, but I’m not your next Emma Lamb. I love those sites, Emma’s, dottie angel’s, and the Pinterest crochet crowd, but I just dabble  when the spirit moves me. And I find that despite all good resolutions, I eventually tense up and have to watch out I don’t get obsessive. And besides, all that sitting isn’t good for me. I don’t know how some of them do it, well, they are all dears in their 30’s, bless ’em. But if I had to produce this stuff as a product, to a deadline, it would immediately kill all the enjoyment for me. My rate is about 2 squares a day, I’m working toward a realistic goal of a cushion cover- about 25 small squares.

The local paper had an article about the new yarn shop where I bought my wool, and the workshops and knitting evenings there. The title was , ‘Knitting, Chocolate for the soul’.  I agree. And I love the community aspect coming into it now.

Sonia Demetriou’s new book

Sonia, whose blog I’ve been following for awhile now, has recently self-published a truly beautiful hybrid cookbook. It is a great mix of reminiscences as well as new discoveries of her family’s heritage on the island of Cyprus.

Androula’s kitchen, Cyprus on a plate, contains a wonderful variety of  personal anecdotes and practical information about current and lost ways of life on Cyprus. Sonia also follows up her passion for the island’s traditional skills such as pottery, weaving and basket making, letting us see current examples of the crafts through beautiful photos accompanied by informative explanations. You really get a taste of daily life on the island, and we haven’t even got to the recipes yet.

The second half of the book is given over to ‘Food glorius food”.  What makes it unique is the personal element- nearly all of the traditional recipes were either made in Sonia’s cousin Androula’s kitchen, or given by relatives and friends in the village. Where the recipes are more general, various friend-cooks give handy tips and snippets of history and anecdote to accompany the bread, soup or pudding being made.

I love to read cookbooks, and this one is my favourite kind to have- you get all kinds of background stories that put the dish in a context and add so much more to its enjoyment.

In Sonia’s own words….

‘…this book is a record of my journey in search of some of the island’s local traditions and crafts, which have been integral to the Cypriot way of life for centuries. It is a tale of the people I met, the food we made and enjoyed in Androula’s kitchen, and some of the Cypriot’s best loved recipes, which I collected along the way. The ancient history of Cyprus is well documented; I wanted to find out about the mundane life of yesterday and its place in modern Cyprus’.

This book is brimming with spices, landscapes, stories, characters, seasonings, sweets, art, and handwork, but most of all a lot of heart and soul. It is a  real gift, and it makes an ideal one as well.

No I’m not getting a cut, this is an unsolicited endorsement of a fellow writer’s worthwhile and beautiful creative product.

Cologne cathedral in morning sun

Cologne cathedral in morning sun

I had a great 3 day getaway last week in Cologne. I  went specifically for the centennial  recreation of the 1912 “Sonderbund Exhibition”-  ‘the single most important presentation of European Modernism’. Artists including Cézanne, Gauguin, Macke, Munch, Nolde, Picasso, Schiele, Signac and van Gogh were represented; and the Wallraf-Richartz museum has re-collected many of these Post Impressionist and Expressionist masterpieces from all over the world to recreate the original exhibition.

It was impressive, but I found the entourage cold and unwelcoming. And this affected my enjoyment of the paintings. I was actually glad to leave.

On the other hand, I accidentally bumped into the David Hockney ‘Big Picture’ show at the gorgeous modern Museum Ludwig, which had been originally shown at the Royal Academy, and this was worth the whole trip.  Hockney doesn’t permit unauthorised reproduction of his paintings, so I don’t have any images, but you can Google some.

The show was a total immersion experience in the art and life of this artist of stature. I’ve always liked Hockney’s work, but these huge composite canvasses of as many as 18 paintings making up one whole wall of landscape were just awe inspiring. It was a privilege just to see this work. I wish I had had another day, because room after room of paintings, watercolours, sketchbooks, videos showing him at work, videos showing a changing landscape, and more, were too much to take in on one visit. It was all good, all well drawn, all honest, all meaningful, relevant. And yet also decorative, unique and humorous.

I left the museum totally inspired. There is so much passion in his work, I feel an urgency there, that he knows he’s getting older and he still has so much- so very much to say. Being exposed to the collected works of someone like that works a magic in the viewer. The pure dedication, passion and mastery force one to ask,’What am I dedicated to in the same way?’, and ‘Am I using my time well to honour this?’. I came away with a renewed sense of purpose and the conviction that painting as a path is overflowing with meaning. That it is a worthy way to love the world and truly partake in this amazing dance of life.

market at night

Christmas market at night

Then there were the wonderful Christmas markets where people stood around socialising, with mulled wine and deep fried potato latkes bought from the stalls.  And the many Christmas wares for sale. The last picture is of a sweet breakfast café called Yummy, where you could put together your breakfast muesli from a bar with about 30 different cereals and toppings. It was very crafty and cute with great food.

I stayed at a fantastic new hostel around the corner from there. Check it out if you ever want to go to Cologne, a friendly, richly cultural city which I would highly recommend visiting.

stall

Market stall Christmas market

yummy1

‘Yummy’ muesli bar

some of my little craft products

I just read an excellent article about Etsty on the latest BrushBuzz newsletter. I won’t go into the details (it is long but worth a read), but the gist is that as sellers get more successful, they outgrow the Etsy profile- ‘independent handmade’. And some leave to develop their product for production-  letting others do the making.

Etsy is therefore looking at reforming their policy to allow people to be designers only and farm out the production work.
Obviously there are inherent dangers in finding others to produce your product – once profit becomes a motive, the jump to employing third world sweatshops isn’t a large one.

Additionally, Etsy wares will soon be available in shopping malls and other brick and mortar stores.  Interesting……..

Actually the issue I want to address here isn’t about Etsy policy as much as it is about the intent of creators. I’m not against having a successful business selling your art, I know that for many this is rewarding. I’m mainly concerned about what happens to the transformative power of art when business values take over.

What I see happening with Etsy saddens me, because I thought Etsy was part of a wider movement to democratise art by eliminating the gatekeepers; and to make handmade goods carrying the qualities of care, craftsmanship, Read the rest of this entry »

Following on from the previous post, ‘Limited space and no time..’, here are 5 things you can do anywhere anytime which will help to get you  creating again. I find that if I’m antsy and want to get materials in my hands but don’t know what to do, or am not feeling inspired, these little gestures can trick me into getting more involved than I intended to when I sat down. And if they stop with just the first part of the assignment (which only take a few minutes), fine, give yourself credit for accomplishing one creative act that day.  (This last idea is from Eric Maisel’s. ‘The van Gogh Blues’  Highly recommended to support your creative self at all times).

Assignment (Step) 1

Cut out a 1 x 1 inch (2.5 x 2.5 cm) square from a magazine, any magazine, part of a photo or part of the text.  Paste it down on a page of your sketchbook or another sheet of paper. Be selective where you paste it- in the middle is good, but so is on top, bottom or side. That’s all. Done.

If you are moved to continue, add more squares letting the first one inspire you either by color, theme, or design.

Assignment 2

Draw a small shape on a piece of white paper and color it in with anything you like- watercolors, felt tips etc. Done.

To continue building on this,  draw a 3 x 3 grid of these little shapes and color each one in as you like. They can all be dotted, striped, in one color, different colors. You can fill them in with bits of cut paper (old postage stamps are good), use pastels, whatever.

Now do one more 3 x 3 grid.

Collage and oil pastel

Assignment 3

Ok, take one of the grids from Assignment 2 and cut it up and rearrange it on another background. Done.

Assignment 4

With scissors or a knife cut a small shape out of some not too thin white paper. Color that shape in with pastel or soft colored pencil or graphite.

Shape cut from some scrap paper

Place the shape on a white background sheet of paper, and rub the pastel you applied to the shape out to the side so that it creates a shaded outline of your shape. Lovely.

Inspired?  keep applying pastel, oil pastel or some other soft medium to the shape and keep placing it on the background and rubbing the pigment onto the background with your fingers.

multiple shapes

Assignment 5

Take soluble watercolor crayons or any other media and just make stripes of different colors across the top of a white page. One row is fine. Done.

Want to do more? fill the page with little soldierly rows of stripes using any colors that strike your fancy. If the rows start to change or the strokes start to change shape follow that development and see where you end up!

(Optional follow-up assignment)

Combine any of these techniques and make a new mixed media piece on any of the given themes:

a city, fantasy animals, strange beings, cosmic landscape, secret garden, castles, towers, abstract forms, mystery alphabet, underground cave, deep sea scape, …..

Keri Smith’s ‘How to be an explorer of the world’ is a great resource for finding creative moments almost anywhere, anytime.

Hands-on and happy

July 22, 2012

I’ve had some time this summer to play with materials and do a small wall painting I’d been planning.

After painting all those flowers on harpsichords, I thought our home deserved a little bit of that decorative cheer. More on that further down.

First, though, here is a sheepy button I found at a textile fair: the little feet dangle free on tiny ropes.

Happy sheep button

Actually, I couldn’t resist making him wearable, so I made a brooch:

Needle-felted hill with embroidered heather, and a needle felted cloud on a wool felt blue sky

I like to think of someone smiling as they put this on and discover the flower on the back

Next I decided to tackle two ugly oil stains on a favorite pair of workpants. Ok they are work pants, but still.
I’d bought a scarf for 50 cents at a rummage sale and cut out some designs from it. I sewed them on, wrong side up, which made the colours more muted and matched the faded trousers better.

Cutting up the scarf

Patched

Happy black drawstrings

And finally, there was a small, neglected bit of wall just inside our back door, outside the bathroom (WC for our UK readers).  I’d been wanting to jazz it up for a long while.

Unjazzed

Voila, a piece of summer garden to welcome

Sweet pea detail

This was done with tempera on wall paint, which worked like watercolours.  I was ok with it when I stopped trying to get the deep rich colours of tempera on beautifully prepared sound board wood.

The work, by the way, was back-breaking, it took about 8 sittings, painting over parts several times where I didn’t like the curves.

I’ll choose a wall where I can stand and sit normally next time.

For photos of a mural I did years ago, on a slightly different scale, see below and click here .

Starting the waterfall for Jeroen’s Jungle