Thursday, 26 June 2014

Garden bird pool party

I thought I was doing well with remembering to post more frequently, but I see with horror that it's already well over 2 weeks since my last post.  It's alarming how the weeks flash past.  Not that I have much of interest to post.

I've found myself easily distracted over the last week or two with the amusing antics of the current broods of baby birds in the garden.  There's this lovely delicious stage shortly after fledging when they're out in the big wide world for the first time, yet not fully ready for it.  The stage when they fly in the oddest manner, more like bumble bees than birds - while they perfect the act of steering whilst in flight and hone the amazingly agile skills that adult birds demonstrate with jealousy-inducing ease.

 Please click on any of the photographs for a larger version.  You may be able to middle click to open them in a new tab at the size I prepare them.

 It's lovely to see so many bees in the garden, it always feels like summer when you can see their constant business and activity.

I did the RSPBs garden bird count earlier in the year - I try to do it each year, not only for the data this adds to the RSPB's efforts, but for my own interest too - I keep a copy of my count and like to compare it year on year.  This year I had a really good selection on the day of the count, but was aware that there were much fewer tits than I'd normally expect, yet more of the slightly rarer species like bullfinches - I had 6 (3 pairs) at the same time that one day.  Yet I only counted one each of blue tits and great tits, expecting more as they're usually a garden staple.

But hopefully that meant they were just elsewhere that particular day as I now have a good crop of youngsters of each species.  The garden has been alive with them - I reckon at least 8 of each at the moment - and they've given me more than enough pleasure this month to justify my bird food budget.


One thing that they've been up to that I can't say I've noticed before is a seeming fixation with water.  I have 3 different bird baths in the bird area and pretty much every time I look, there are baby birds in and around all of them.  In fact they've got such a pool party thing going on with various splashing and drinking that I'm having to go out and top them up at least once every day.

My neighbour has a little water feature in her garden that has a circulating body of water that falls as a little fountain into a pool - the baby birds have been having even more fun in hers - washing vigorously under the fountain part - that she's having to top it up daily too.  She also noticed that this seems to be a new phenomena this year.  Maybe the mild winter didn't kill off as many parasites as usual and they feel the need for more vigorous bathing this spring.

Being babies, there does seem to have been a lot of time perching on the edge of the water wondering quite what they should do.  There are often two or three at once, and it looks for all the world like they're trying to build up the courage to jump in and the others are offering the necessary encouragement.   I just haven't been able to catch a decent photograph of the action as the baths the babies prefer is in a sheltered spot in deep shadow.

This little fella stepped into the shallower of my baths and just stood there a while, testing the sensation on his feet, waiting to see if anything terrible happened.  He ventured to drink a little, paddled round a bit, sat down in it, paddled some more.  Stood looking around as if waiting for inspiration or help from above from a friend, then suddenly decided to just go for it - he flapped his wings vigorously splashing water everywhere, then sat for a moment, all fluffed up and wet, just taking stock of what had just happened, had he suffered any harm?  Deciding that he hadn't, he flapped vigorously some more and was gone to shake off in the sun.  I felt rather privileged to share his first time with him.

The gravel chippings in that garden seemingly make for a good sun trap when the sun is actually on them and I've seen a whole parade of birds this week lying with their wings outstretched, soaking up the rays, although it's the blackbirds I see most often.   Having lain for quite some time with his wings fully out, he tucked them back and rolled over a little, presumably to warm his tummy.

We managed one evening walk out this week and as we sat in the car contemplating coming home, were treated to a lovely sunset.  With sunsets of this nature, it always looks to me as though the intense colour of the sky is at the expense of the landscape, which ends up looking dark and colourless as the sun makes its departure, taking the colour of the day over the horizon with it.


Work this week:

I've had this particular connector idea in mind for some time and finally got to trying it this week after coiling some wire for another piece and it reminded me.  As is often the case with new designs, it takes a few 'prototypes' to perfect the methodology and overcome snags, but I am now in the regular habit of keeping a detailed design journal, so that once I have settled on a method, I record it in longhand detail and can easily return to the design to re-make it without having to re-think it each time.  As you make things, you might find that it works best to work a particular end first, or to hammer or polish a section before making up as you can't reach it later etc.  So keeping a 'recipe' for the workflow for any particular design, as well as measurements and gauges of wire used, has proved to be well worth the time and discipline it takes me at the time.

Coil on coil antiqued copper earrings with deep blue teal and amber topaz Czech fire polished crystals.


Downloading the latest photographs, I noticed that I was almost at image no. 28,000 in my jewellery photography camera.   I do take a lot of duplicates, even of the same view, variously for optional focus or exposure to see which I prefer.   So I did a quick tot up of how many of these images actually make it to finally sell the item - I think that I have now 'published' over 4,200 jewellery images (and each one is done at least two finished sizes), selling something like 800 different pieces, an average of over 5 images per item.  If I were to spend 15 minutes on each published image; taking, cropping, retouching, saving and uploading it - wait for it - that represents over 1000 hours of work, which is over 26 working weeks!  No wonder it seems like a perpetual task!

A longer version made with dyed blue jade faceted stones, spiral wrapped on polished paddle pins.  The earrings co-ordinate with the Y shaped necklace below which features a chunkier version of the 'coil on coil' wrap and a large faceted jade pendant.



Monday, 9 June 2014

It pays to look a little closer

Further to my previous blog on Simple Pleasures, this one isn't really much more than an update, on account of finding some more photos from the walks and leisurely evenings that I'd described.  We did manage to return for another evening last week and although the weather wasn't as perfect and there was a very stiff and distinctly cool breeze that forced us to eat our supper with one hand holding lightweight items down, it was still a lovely and valued treat.

We have always considered it potentially too breezy to eat al fresco if your crisps blow off the plate and if it hadn't been for the shelter of the car that we parked nose into the wind, that certainly would have happened.

Please click on any of the photos for a larger view - if you'd like to see them at the size I prepared them, you may be able to middle click and open them in a new tab or window without Blogger re-sizing them to fit.

Whilst it was a less sunny evening than on our last visit, we did get occasional blasts of evening sunshine through the trees and I took this slightly wider shot from the same spot as last week using a different camera.  I'd need to check the times, but in this one, the sun is obviously at a slightly different angle as the bottom of the trees are catching it too.

At this time of year, the hedgerows are filled with the lovely white fluffy flowers of cow parsley and at a glance, all you see is a cloud of delicate white umbelliferous flowers nodding in the breeze at the edges of fields, but they're certainly worth looking at a little closer.  Looking at it in full bloom, it's easy to see why one of its country names is Queen Anne's Lace.


The dome of flowers is understandably made up of lots of tiny individual blooms, but I was surprised to see that they weren't as uniform as I was expecting - they have 5 petals, of differing size; one large, two medium and two small.  The flower collectives look fluffy as each bloom develops and its stamens reach skyward like a cluster of flowery hairs.  It's always worth looking that bit more closely at things we think are familiar - sometimes they surprise us.

Recent work:

I've finished two large projects this week - two copper clay pendants.  One features another of my own faux cabochons, this one is Chinese amber, which has been leaf-set in a round pendant with lots of tiny leaves and the edges festooned with tiny copper balls.

It has a chunky bail comprised a single loop which overlaps slightly on the top rim of the pendant and is finished with more tiny leaves and balls.  The cabochon is a translucent polymer clay that has been hand tinted and features the dark fissures of a matrix or cracks.   It has been sanded and buffed extensively to a high gloss finish, then this has been locked in with a dozen thin coats of acrylic varnish.

When I'm working for a considerable time of a piece, I like to make the back pretty too and this one features some more tiny leaves around the ends of the bail and a swirl and leaf pattern on the back.  I find with each piece that I make that I have one little corner of detail that's my favourite part and the bail on this one is my favourite area of this piece.


This next pendant was one of those serendipitous pieces that just sort of happens.  Some pieces start as an idea that gets drawn as a sketch and often the bulk of the time given to a piece is the thinking through of the mechanics of it - what order to make and apply the parts, how to solve engineering aspects of the design etc.  And some you just can't overcome those issues initially and find yourself returning to repeatedly until eventually either the method presents itself, or you develop skills or knowledge that you perhaps didn't have when first considering the design - and sometimes you just have to write it off as unworkable.


I'd made some long thin strips of finely rolled copper clay, intending to use them to bezel set a stone, but went with something different in the end.  So I spotted these strips and made a mental note to reconstitute the clay as I was unlikely to use the strips.  Later I was working in the garden and was looking at  stretch of trellis I have along one wall - erected some years ago to provide a veil of privacy from neighbours' upstairs windows.  Over the years, the vegetation using it to climb has grown significantly and the trellis is now largely obscured with an assortment of honeysuckle, vines, dogwood and a climbing hydrangea.  The latter of which is supposed to flower and after a year or two I mentioned to my green fingered Mum that it never had and she said it might take a year or two to establish.  Frankly, I think 11 years is now quite long enough - so flower damn it!


Anyway, I pondered if the bezel strips might be flexible enough to weave together - as it's COPPR clay which does have some flex to it when dry.  So the eventual size and shape of this pendant was determined entirely by the length of the bezel strips I wove together, then having put it on a base, I added curly tendrils, leaves, balls and a triple looped bail.  I've set it with a single citrine coloured cubic zirconia.  

In line with my plan to keep the backs interesting too, I gave it a wood grain texture and added a curly tendril.  Initially I was going to continue the tendril from the front as though it had just grown there, but I liked the shape of this one better and wasn't sure that going over an edge would look right from the front.



I especially enjoyed working on both of these pieces and I'd like to think that was somehow reflected in the results.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Simple pleasures

As mentioned in my previous post, my husband recently underwent a total hip replacement and whilst he's done incredibly well with it and is now back at work and recovering well, we did have a period of 12 weeks or so when we were restricted to where we could get to on foot - with him on crutches - so not that far.  I could go out on a bus if I chose, but buses aren't as much fun on your own and when only using them through necessity for essential chores.  

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

The scene where we settle for supper and to just enjoy being there.  6 days previously there hadn't been a single blossom on the hawthorns.

During that time, we were well aware that it was a temporary and necessary blip and it was a great comfort and motivation to us to have something to look forward to.  The time of the year helped enormously, having his surgery in February meant we were housebound in the least favourable season for weather and had the spring and summer ahead of us to enjoy once mobile again.  I feel sure it would have felt a little less palatable if he'd had surgery in late summer or autumn.

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I take great inspiration from the foliage that grows in the verges, it always fascinates me, especially all the different species of grasses.

As I've blogged about many times, one of our favourite spots is Beacon Fell in Lancashire, England - we've been going there regularly for over 40 years, long before we even knew each other.  It's a place that's very busy during the day, but once the teashop closes and the loos are locked up for the night, you only tend to find it frequented by locals and dog walkers and local cycle clubs who use the challenging inclines of the roadways.   And this is our very favourite time.

I've mentioned many times how obsessed I am with sunlight through trees and perhaps early summer evening sun is the very prettiest - with pristine new greenery and golden light.  I wish I could bottle how this makes me feel and take a sip whenever my spirits flag.

We've got into the habit in recent years of dashing up there at the end of a working day, whenever the weather is suitable, armed with a picnic and some reading matter.  We can usually manage to get there in time for a decent walk, then retire to a quiet parking layby which has fabulous views for a picnic supper from the back of the car, then we retire inside the car with coffee, a biscuit, some reading material and binoculars and stay till either we get cold, need the loo, or get driven away by nibbling insects.  We try and leave before dark because we often see good wildlife on the drive home at dusk.

We always stop and pause on this stretch as the bird song tends to be particularly good.  The woodland is mostly coniferous as it's a commercial plantation, but this area is mixed, so attracts a good selection of birds.

Maybe we're just turning into a pair of old farts, but there are few things I enjoy more - Mr Boo thinks that I'm a very cheap date.   Just as well, I don't think he could afford me otherwise!  It's at its most enjoyable at this time of year - the evenings are the longest, often still cool enough to be able to enjoy a decent walk, yet warm enough to eat supper in shirt sleeves and the countryside at its most pristine and enjoyable. 

They've taken the decision this last winter to thin out some of the coniferous woodland to allow more light in to encourage more forest floor growth.  Being planted as a commercial crop originally, it was densely packed and very little light permeated.  Hence there are more spots now where the sunlight streams through, giving rise to these gorgeous treats.

So,  we sat on Saturday evening, supervising the hay making down the valley through binoculars, listening to nothing other than the breeze through the trees, evening bird song, lambs baaing for their Mums, Curlews in the field adjacent and the distant hum of the farm vehicles.  We were passed all evening by a grand total of two cyclists and three cars - although one of those did go past twice.

The drive up there is a significant part of the pleasure for us, through delightful English countryside, much of which is farmed.  We'd love to have somewhere we love as much a little closer to home and although we have other places we like to go, nowhere else has quite all the right ingredients.  On the latest journey there we spotted a record haul of wildlife en route; a hedgehog snuffling along the verge, a hare eating at the roadside who stood up tall and gave us a good looking at as we passed; three different owls, hunting earlier than usual and several close encounters with curlews, variously in flight or perched on fence posts.

This particular area seems to be especially abundant with varieties of grasses at the verge-side, from tiny little low ones with feathery seeds to tall exotic looking ones that sway in the breeze.  I think they'll be at their most fabulous in another 3 or 4 weeks.

So it was the very thought of these such evenings that kept us going during our enforced immobile period at home.  We knew we had the very best of the early summer ahead of us to enjoy it and it was an absolute joy to get back there last week after looking forward to it for over 3 months.  And it didn't disappoint - it was all the more delicious for having to wait and being deprived of it for longer than usual.  We enjoyed it so much, we've spent 3 evenings there in the last 2 weeks.  I'm already watching the weather forecast to see if an evening this week will allow us visit no.4.


The mild winter this year has meant that the garden has survived rather better than usual and I already have a decent show of colour without any new planting, with annuals from last year not only surviving, but already flowering again - I don't think that has ever happened before.  I have a couple of good sized lavender plants and they are thick with busy bees.  Mr Boo is fascinated watching them - he wonders if they're all the same bees returning, or lots of different ones.

Recent finished work:

I've now entirely lost track of what I've already published and what is new, so I'll just show a few photographs of pieces that I know I've finished very recently.  The pendant below is double sided and the front features a cabochon I made in polymer clay which is a faux lapis colour and has been finished to a high gloss with many coats of acrylic varnish.  The cab has been set in a round pendant and held in place with lots of tiny individually sculpted leaves.  The reverse features an appliqued design of a daisy and a triple loop bail with tiny leaves and balls.



A large kite shaped and dyed piece of top drilled agate that I've made into a simple pendant with a wire wrapped bail and decorative folded poppy cap - taken from a tutorial design by on-line friend and talented fellow jewellery maker Keirsten Giles and her tutorial for Happy Mango Beads and I offer it with her permission.   Her version was in sheet metal, but I modified it to be made in copper clay, creating a custom texture sheet for it so that I could give it a border.   It proved to be an ideal solution for some oddly shaped stones in my stash.  I already had an idea in progress for it, but I like this one rather better.

I often find that once I make a particular design, I get a smidge fixated with it and make quite a few on the same theme.  It's also true to say that once you get into a flow with something, it's worth continuing to work once your eye is in.  Hence I made quite a few different versions of these rosebud knot wrap earrings.  I sell a lot of earrings in this price bracket, so it makes sense to offer a decent selection.

Now, let's see that weather forecast for Thursday again . . .


Sunday, 11 May 2014

I do so love spring

I have been truly appalling at keeping my blog up to date recently and I do apologise, yet again, for my tardiness.

In my defence, the last few weeks have been a little odd and my routine disrupted somewhat, as my husband underwent a much-needed full hip replacement in early February and has been off work recuperating since then, only returning to work a few days ago.

With the mild autumn, my summer bedding lasted longer than usual, so I was rather late planting some new tulip bulbs I had and consequently, they've appeared rather late too and have been a welcome burst of colour as the weather has warmed and allowed me to be outside enjoying them.

He had been in debilitating pain and with much reduced  mobility and was looking forward to the surgery and hopefully the improvement it would bring and it has truly been a blessing for him.  He underwent the surgery under local anaesthetic, which I think was a rather surreal experience for him - he described it as like being placed on the table in an operating theatre and a screen put in place so that you couldn't see what was happening, then the theatre staff appeared to dismantle and re-model the theatre around you - at least that was what it sounded like with all the sawing and hammering.  He wasn't sure it was an appropriate time for undertaking a bit of DIY!

This batch of tulips were meant to be assorted colours, but they ended up all coming out yellow - but they've been totally gorgeous, with this deep gold colour and frilly edges.

But once back in his bed a couple of hours later, he felt great - absolutely no pain, hungry as all heck and between you and me, a little doolally from the meds.  He was home a few days later and went from strength to strength and whilst it has been a tricky time while he had -and continues to have to some degree - reduced movement, his recovery has been incident free and he was immediately better than he was before - just getting rid of the pain in itself was enough justification for the surgery.

 After all my lovely daffodils finished, I've had a second burst of deep yellow with these fabulous tulips - it's amazing how a few blooms can lift your spirits.

At his post-op follow up with the surgeon the doctor declared that all had gone very well indeed with fully successful surgery and that he'd be able to rock climb in six months. "Wow, that's absolutely amazing, I couldn't rock climb beforehand!"
 
The fist open flower I spotted of wild garlic growing along one of my favourite local walks.

So the last few weeks have been a little odd - when you can't bend much in the middle (necessary to prevent dislocation whilst the muscles holding the hip in place heal), it soon becomes evident how many routine tasks require you to do so.  Like washing your legs, putting on undies, trimming your toenails etc. etc. so I have had some odd wifely duties to perform - not to mention hauling a daft 'old lady' shopping trolley the mile or so from the supermarket.  And when you're on crutches, even the simplest of tasks take military planning as you can't carry anything you can't stuff in your pockets or hang around your neck.  Whilst we thought we'd planned well for this period, it was the little things we hadn't considered that took up so much of my time in assisting.

But we're gradually returning to something like normal now and progressively lowering all the hospital-loaned seats to more normal sitting heights and we took the bed off its stilts yesterday - which has had the rather disarming effect of making me feel taller - which is rather a nice sensation when you're only 5' tall.

 I love to see woodland in spring, when the pristine greenery first emerges and you get carpets of early flowers like bluebells.

The one thing we have managed to do well during this period - and to be frank, when you can't go anywhere by mobile transport it was our only form of outside entertainment  -  was walk.  So weather permitting, we've been out most days, just walking from the door and have watched the spring emerge - more like erupt - from the dark blandness of winter.  And it has been a particular joy this year when your world has become quite small, you really do appreciate that little bit more just what is right under your nose and you perhaps otherwise take for granted.

When you stop and study and area of woodland like this, there are dozens of lovely delicate species of flowers - this patch mainly features pink purslane and bluebells, two of my very favourites.

 So whilst it has been an odd time for us both with this rather strange routine we needed to adopt, it has also been a blessing in many ways too - we've spent more quality time together than we normally manage around work and has allowed us to evaluate what matters and spend our time more wisely.  The downside to that is that I've been tardy with things like blogging. I hope that you'll forgive me.

I love the buds of Hawthorne before they open, they make perfect little white globes before the petals burst open.

Him having returned to work this week, I have had a blitz on getting pieces finished and photographed and onto my site and these are a few of the pieces I've finished lately.

 I haven't done any chain maille for ages, so enjoyed working on this Full Persian bracelet with a chunky copper clay toggle.

 Faceted dyed jade wire wrapped antiqued copper bracelet with copper clay leaf shaped toggle clasp.


Carnelian wire wrapped bracelet with copper clay toggle clasp.  The texture on the toggle loop was my own, created originally from a photograph of a fir cone, made into a two tone graphic from which I made some texture sheets.  It's my current favourite as I think it looks like tooled leather.



Rosebud knot spiral wrapped rondelles of Snake Skin Jasper.  I love this method of making beads into earrings, but it necessitates two pieces of wire passing through the bead and not many beads come with a suitably sized hole.



Copper clay pendant featuring a central section filled with filigree scrolls and a set Padparadscha coloured cubic zirconia stone.


I remember clearly the evening that I drew this design, early last summer, sat in the car, at sunset after a lovely evening walk and a picnic supper in one of our favourite quiet spots.  That particular area of countryside at that particular time of year was full of different verge-side grasses, with different shapes of seed head and all moving rhythmically in the warm evening breeze and I was fascinated with them and wondered if I could capture something of them in metal.


Saturday, 30 November 2013

Congratulations Dr Who

I did sit down to post this last Saturday, on the 50th Anniversary of Dr Who, but time ran away with me as always.

As I'm sure you'll realise, if you've read any of my earlier posts, we do like to spend as much time as possible in the English Lake District.  Largely for holidays, but we also thankfully live close enough that we can just visit for the day too. 

Until 2 years ago when our favourite place to stay became unavailable, it was our habit to spend Easter up there - it was always something to look forward to during the shorter cold days of winter and was a lovely time to be there; with new lambs, daffodils and the first signs of spring.

So, in 2007, we were staying up in our favourite place and whilst out and about one day, saw the oddest, surreal thing.  I never did find out anything further about the incident and it remains a delicious mystery to this day.

We were traveling over Kirkstone Pass, a slightly wild, high and barren moorland stretch bridging the gap between the Troutbeck and Patterdale areas.   As a passenger, it is my habit, when not nodding off to sleep, to look out of the side window at the scenery etc and I always scan tree-lined areas for deer. 

As I passed this particular item just off the road, there was a two or three second delay whilst my brain did its best to comprehend what my eyes had just seen.  When it did, I asked my husband to stop and as there were no other cars, to reverse back to what I thought I'd just seen.  Nope, I wasn't imagining it, there was Dr Who's TARDIS nestled amongst the boulders. 
When we saw the opening sequence of The Day of The Doctor last weekend, where the TARDIS was 'parked' on some moorland, for a brief moment, we thought this was the scene we had witnessed, being filmed.  Until common sense took over and we realised that was 6 years ago and on watching it back, it wasn't the same stretch of road, even though initially, in our excitement we thought it might be.

But at least we know where The Doctor takes his Easter holidays.

I've lost track of what I've been up to lately work-wise - I seem to spend a lot of time re-making older designs as I get orders for them, so my new designs take a back-burner sometimes and I work on new stuff in short bursts between looking after customers - and my productivity hasn't been helped with a recent root canal issue - the tooth was as painful as anything I've ever experienced and it seemingly triggered frequent migraines too (in that they've stopped now the tooth is better, suggesting that was the cause).  Thankfully, after several hours in the dentist's chair and doing serious damage to my credit card balance, it is all fixed and feeling significantly better.   So I'll just post some of my recent work.

This ivy leaf design was a birthday gift for my Mum - it has 4 independent leaves, two in copper, two in bronze, each riveted to a backplate which allows it to be worn as both a pendant and a brooch.  The back ended up much more of a task than I was anticipating - largely because I'd decided to rivet the leaves in place, which precluded some of the pin ideas I had in mind as I needed to allow space to rivet in 4 places, then position the pin. It looks simple enough, but it seemed to take me a while to get there.


I wanted to set the pin slightly off to one side, so that it could be worn horizontally, as well as vertically, without flopping forwards away from the garment at the top-most edge - if the pin is down the centre, it will tend to pivot forwards due to the weight of the metal.  Now that I have it sussed, I have some more leaves ready to make another to sell.

I also made a pair of earrings with the same copper ivy leaves on teardrop antiqued copper hoops.   The photo I uploaded looked rather better than this - Blogger seems to have decided that it knows better than me how my photos should look and is seemingly adjusting the 'exposure' as I upload them - it's bad enough that it takes me several attempts to add each photo - and therefore an age to make each blog post - without them looking horrible when I'm finally successful.

This coral and copper bracelet was made as a birthday gift for a friend - featuring a large copper clay leaf toggle and red coral beads.  I have a few more like this, with different beads, coming through to sell - when I can magic up the time to work on some photos, that is.  Was it ever thus!

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