If you’re ever watched the UK programme Fake or Fortune, you’ll know it involves experts investigating the provenance of little known works of art submitted by the owners in the hope that their find is a long lost piece by a Great Master.
Am I the only one who, by the episode’s end, is thinking ‘if it’s so hard to tell the difference between the real thing and this newly discovered offering, does it really matter?’ Although this admission might suggest I know nothing about art.
But the show gave me the idea for a topic to interest my Discovery friends at one of our recent afternoon get-togethers. Why not—
#109 Play around with Works of Art
—to see if we can reproduce them, for better or worse?
The brief was broad. Take any work of art you like and using materials of your choice, recreate it. Then show us a photograph of the original art work and your copy.
To allay any anxiety about the need to create something wondrous, I provided a couple of examples of what could be achieved with simple tools:
Everyone was given a couple of weeks to prepare their masterpiece, and they rose to the occasion with fabulous offerings. I challenge you to pick the original!
Despite the less than perfect results, our intentions were pure, so surely our imitations can be seen as flattery?
It’s not like a certain famous Swedish furniture company that recreated Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party and van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters so they could build the sets to advertise flat pack furniture no less!
The featured image is from a still life by painter Abraham Mignon (1640-1679). The bouquet to its right was gifted to one of our participants.
Growing up, I was lucky enough to live on a rural 5-acre property with a small pine forest as our back garden and a much larger, slightly spooky commercial pine plantation behind that.
So for my first eighteen years, obtaining Christmas trees was not an issue. My Dad would walk out the back and chop down a likely-looking specimen for us to decorate. But once I left home, it wasn’t so easy to find the perfect Christmas tree.
Should I search for a real one with its heady aroma of pine oils that scream ‘Christmas Time!’ but horrible habit of dropping needles on the living room floor before the entire tree browns and shrivels and ends up as an unloved discard on the front footpath in the anonymous big city? Or—quelle horreur—invest in an artificial tree?
#107Explore Christmas Trees and Decorations
Without children, it was easy for me to do nothing for years. And years. But in 2021, with house guests arriving over Christmas, it was time to rethink the whole Christmas tree shebang.
What decorations are in vogue these days?
I began by checking out the council-inspired and commercial offerings in my district:
Tolerable, but hardly avante-garde or wildly beautiful.
In fact, over in the US, a Fox News Christmas tree in Manhattan, (described by Fox anchors as the ‘All-American Christmas Tree’) so annoyed somebody with its ‘ho-hum’ appearance that it was set alight:
There’s always the problems with storage for decorations that are only used for a couple of weeks a year, so I decided any type of large artificial tree was out of the question.
External house decorations are fun to view on an evening drive:
But climbing up a ladder at my age would be just silly, so house decorations were out.
Then I came across a delightful Christmas tree in the neighbourhood made out of palm tree bark:
And friends of mine have made a clever ‘twig’ Christmas tree:
Top marks for artistic merit and clever design for these two.
I finally settled on a small [fake!] tree for the hallway pedestal, jazzing it up with some mood lighting and bundles of gaily wrapped presents at its base.
So happy days and may the New Year treat you well.
It was during one of our lockdowns, while looking for an entertaining gift to send to a friend in Sydney, that I came across a couple of Calligraphy practice kits on the shelves of the local post office.
They looked intriguing. Why not purchase one for my artistic friend who seemed at risk of going stir-crazy during her enforced imprisonment?
The chap behind the counter gave a suppressed snort as he scanned the box.
‘They still selling these?’ he said. (Bearing in mind he was literally selling the item to me at that moment, it was an interesting use of the word ‘they’, but no matter). ‘Twenty-odd years ago my dad ran the Post Office in [Tinyville] and I’d help him out sometimes. They stocked them back in those days.’
This suggested that the kits are either wildly popular and timeless, or the type of horribly out-dated stock a post office would hold. But it was his next words that clinched the deal.
‘You’re in luck.’ He sounded surprised. ‘They’re on sale. Half price.’
‘Wait a sec.’ I held up my hand. ‘Let me go and get the other one as well!’
And that’s how I came to:
#106 Try Calligraphy
After a friend mentioned that she and her sons had experimented with calligraphy many years earlier and the ink stains still hadn’t come out of their fingers, it took me a few weeks to even open the kit, and I wisely began to practice with pencil.
As the word calligraphy means ‘beautiful writing’ I went looking for a non finger-staining writing tool that might achieve this, reasoning that if I jumped into using the pen and ink provided in the kit, beautiful writing might never happen.
Enter pens created especially for the occasion. Brilliant!
The salesman in the small, old-fashioned stationery store seemed as surprised as I was that they stocked something called a “Calligraphy pen”, let alone with a choice of colours.
Time to test its ability to write in calligraphy style.
After practising for a while,
the ink in my brand new calligraphy pen began to fade, which I put down to its age, imagining it had probably been sitting in the stationer’s fusty store for years.
But on re-reading the instructions in the kit booklet, I came across this admonition:
So it was time to give the real pen and ink a whirl:
Then it hit me. While doing calligraphy is a relaxing, meditative hobby, I wasn’t going to live long enough to become adept at it, and anyway, wasn’t that what fonts were for?
Medieval monks had to spend their lives writing laborious decorative epistles because they didn’t have access to Word programmes on their computers, but we do.
So I went looking for fonts that matched the concept of ‘Beautiful Writing’ and came up with a fabulous assortment.
I can see where this is heading. I might just become a contestant on Mastermind whose special subject is—Calligraphy Fonts.
The blame must be placed squarely onto lockdown. When you’ve exhausted all the decent shows on every streaming service you have, and when your brain can no longer hold the intricate, weaving plots needed to enjoy another Scandi thriller, you find yourself reaching for some trite, mind-numbing Guilty Pleasure.
Like Bargain Hunt.
#104 Turn a Guilty Pleasure into a Treasure Hunt
In case you haven’t sunk quite as low as I have, Bargain Hunt is an inexpensively-made UK show where two competing pairs of Very Ordinary English People with teeth Untouched by Dentisty are given £300 to spend. Under the guidance of an antique ‘expert’ each team must buy three items at a flea market before on-selling these ‘treasures’ through a reputable auction house.
The team that makes the most profit wins the money they make, and in true British style, this averages out at about £2 per pair. If they’re lucky.
Sadly, I’m hooked on the show. I love shaking my head at their purchases and muttering ‘You’ll never make a profit on that piece of junk’, or yelling, ‘Yes, it’s a lovely vesta case, but £150? Really? ARE YOU MAD?’ Six months ago, I’d never heard of vesta cases, but now, I’m a self-appointed expert on English antiques.
So when a team purchased a Chinese painted blue umbrella-stand recently, I sat up and gasped, ‘I’ve got one of those. Somewhere!’
And so began a treasure hunt to find it and to re-examine all the pieces accumulated throughout a lifetime, from grandparents, parents, or purchased myself on trips overseas. How exciting to think that some of them might be hidden treasures.
Cue Google searches to learn more:
The search became more and more involving as I discovered Grandad’s green hand painted vase might be a Bohemian antique:
Then there were his old fashioned lustre vases:
Every time one of the experts on Bargain Hunt comes across an item with silver detail, they whip out their magnifying glass to decipher the silver hallmark. So I tried to do the same with a small cut glass bath salts jar I’d bought many years ago on a trip to the UK.
Things got more interesting when the small bronze statue I’d fallen in love with at an outdoor art market in London back in the early 70s —
had a legible stamp of the maker:
So I went searching for G Schoeman and what should I find but this:
Oh, my! I’d been at the right place at the right time to purchase a small work of art from an emerging artist!!
By this stage, I was becoming quite invested in Giovanni, so was sad to see he’d died at the relatively young age of 41. What had happened? A tragic illness? A ghastly motor accident?
Then I came across this small snippet:
On no! My lovely sculptor had moved to the US and clearly been innocently caught in the crossfire of the US culture of arms and hitmen. That such talent should be lost so early. Poor Giovanni!
The police found the hitman, a Walter Mitty type “from the dark side”. He was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life in prison where he remains to this day.
However, there’s an even stranger coda to this story after I found additional news items:
So my new sculptor friend was a diamond smuggler AND a purveyor of lead-shot-filled fakes?
Now I have to wonder if my little bronze statue is quite what I think it is.
Almost everyone has a special skill, although sadly, many of us don’t acknowledge it.
Praise someone who can sing in tune, and they’ll shrug and say ‘anyone can do that,’ but for those of us who are pitch imperfect, that’s just not true.
In a similar vein, people who can arrange flowers to look effortlessly gorgeous don’t understand how some of us struggle to coax a single rose to stand up in a narrow specimen vase.
So a recent opportunity to
#102 Learn to Arrange Flowers — in an Ikebana style
with a group of friends was too good to pass up.
Ikebana is the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging and is governed by 7 Principles: silence, minimalism, shape & line, form, humanity, aesthetics and structure.
As we were good friends teaching ourselves how to cut and measure and determine correct angles using videos and Youtube demonstrations, you’ll understand that the first Principle of Ikebana went out the window in no time.
But we embraced the concepts of minimalism, of using simple shapes and lines (based on a triangular pattern) and eschewed busy-looking, heavy, symmetrical Western designs with gusto.
Just as pleasing was discovering that the small metal, spiked flower base many of us found at the back of our vase cupboards—
is a specific device used in Ikebana called a kenzan.
While I know the designs we created are not true examples of Ikebana (hence I’m calling this blog post in an Ikebana style) we were thrilled with the results, marvelling how creating an elegant flower design doesn’t have to be a daunting task after all—even in the middle of winter with sparse pickings.
Another bonus of this activity was discovering a hidden flower growing among my narcissus in the back garden at home.
Called an Erlicheer jonquil (not an obscure Latin term, but named because it’s an early-flowering specimen guaranteed to cheer you up in winter!) it’s a new favourite.
I’m imagining a mass planting of this fragrant beauty in my front garden next year!
This pandemic has challenged us on so many levels over the past—how many?—months, but there’ve been unexpected rewards along the way to compensate.
For example, the realisation that owning a dog means escaping lockdown whenever an excuse is needed to leave the house was a lightbulb moment for many. Similarly, it’s been a real eyeopener for many businesses to discover that all workers don’t have to battle peak-hour traffic twice a day when they can work effectively from home.
As the world contracts and international travel fades into memory, one way to extract the best out of life is to:
#100 Appreciate Small Discoveries
Parking in a side street a couple of weeks before Easter, I came across this cute rabbit painted on an inconspicuous wall.
It brightened my day no end:
Another unexpected offering appeared alongside the entry to a car park. This sunny butterfly frieze greets passers-by like a welcoming smile, so thanks, Kristina and Albury City:
Its personal significance was enhanced exponentially when a matching beauty landed in my garden a couple of days later:
The pandemic threw up another joy recently whenWarburtons,a UK company that bakes much loved crumpets, released their secret recipe to comfort suffering compatriots during the depths of winter.
With a rallying cry of
who could resist giving it a go?
My first batch, cooked in a pan on the stove top, resulted in terribly mismatched crumpets, until the idea of repurposing my pie maker into a crumpet maker seemed a worthy experiment.
Have a look at them cooking:
Here’s the adapted recipe if you want to give it a try:
An innocuous visit to my GP this week threw up another new and exciting discovery when the doc asked me if I’d like eScripts sent to my phone instead of handing me the usual paper ones. (She’d noticed I was using earpods in the waiting room, she said, so assumed I was tech savvy. 🤣)
Heart thumping, I agreed to the eScripts, not wanting her to know the truth about my dread of technology and its propensity to go bad. Of course, the minute I walked out of the surgery, I checked my messages, convinced it wouldn’t have worked, but to my surprise …
So now all I have to do is show the pharmacist the super trendy eScripts on my mobile to get them dispensed.
There are so many wonderful small discoveries to be found at our new Harris Farm Market that I don’t know where to start, but the little lime-green kale/silverbeet/herb stripper has to be up there with the best. It rips out the pesky central stalk in milliseconds.
Harris Farm sells assorted native finger limes, too …
And what this means is that I can now amass any and all ingredients needed for my latest craze: the home made poke bowl with added crispy kale and finger lime bubbles topped with sriracha mayo.
And a final discovery has been the talented Marsh family from Faversham in the UK, who’ve been coping during lockdown by repurposing songs and posting them on YouTube.
The longer I’ve lived, the more the years have merged into each other, especially since ceasing work.
So if you were to ask me what I got up to in, say, 2013, I really wouldn’t have a clue unless I checked my photos and bank statements.
Today, I’m taking the bold step of predicting that in the future, not one child or adult living on earth at this moment will ever forget what they were doing in 2020.
My generation has been lucky enough to miss a World War, and life has been mostly smooth sailing for us. That is, until a novel Coronavirus reared its ugly little genetic parcel of RNA and decided to inflict Covid-19 on the world.
#87 Plan for “The Year of Living Safely”
It’s going to be extremely tough for so many people, as jobs dry up, money disappears into the ether, and our lives are physically restricted. But maybe we should be relieved that no one is dropping bombs on us, there are unlikely to be food shortages, and no mastermind is trying to exterminate an entire race or entire religion. Even if we have to stay home for a year, if we help and support each other, we can probably muddle through somehow.
Planning for the next however-many months of my life at home has made me realise that the past 7+ years of writing this blog has been the perfect preparation. Embarrassingly, I’ve discovered that my life in retirement has been almost entirely home-based. (I saw a meme once that suggested the trajectory of your life is determined by the song that was top of the hit parade in your country on your 14th birthday. Mine was Tom Jones’ Green, Green Grass of Home!)
So rather than re-invent the wheel, I’ve prepared a reminder of some of the fun and frivolous (and generally inexpensive) activities previously featured in this blog. As we’re urged to restrict our shopping, a few of them may need tweaking, but they’re all amenable to this.
A few other ideas spring to mind now, such as ‘Learn how to cut your own hair’ or ‘Move the furniture around to pretend you’ve renovated’. But I’ll leave other, more qualified, people to give tips on exercising-in-situ, virtual travel and the best books to read.
Meanwhile, stay safe and please, for the sake of our wonderful health professionals, as well as all our fellow travellers, stay home!
It conjures images of hidden Parisian streets harbouring tiny shops containing all manner of long forgotten artisanal works, like hand painted marionettes lying on a dusty bench, or glimmering, lacquered trays adorned with olde world photographs.
So now I have the time, why not give découpage a try?
#79 Découpage a Table
Put simply, découpage involves cutting out pictures, gluing them to an object and then coating the pictures, and the object, with layers of varnish.
But exploring this activity has led me to the realisation that there are two distinct forms: the Art of découpage and the Craft of découpage.
The Art form involves exquisite design and a dedication to perfection. Beautiful pictures are chosen, meticulously cut out and then pasted onto a surface in ever increasing and overlapping patterns. Layer upon layer of varnish is applied, with careful sanding between coats. I’ve been told up to 70 applications might be in order. This results in a finished design that shines with a glorious lustre and depicts a three dimensional scene with depth and colour the envy of any Renaissance painter.
The Craft form, however, involves cutting out a pretty design, pasting it onto a surface, then coating with—oh, maybe five or six applications of varnish. This form of découpage has any number of YouTube and Pinterest and Instagram examples. I quickly realised that this was my level of découpage.
Step one: Select your surface
I had an old Queen Anne dressing-table stool of my mother’s which no longer had its dressing-table and so cried out for conversion to a small side table. After removing the cushion insert, my talented Bunnings Buddy was able to make a solid table top for it. All it took was a coat of paint to make it ready to be découpaged:
Step 2: Chose your pictures
This is where the artistic skill comes in. Choosing a montage of photos I’d taken over the years, my original plan was to stick these on before varnishing:But it was pointed out to me, by someone with more artistic skill than I, that this was looking like a table littered with old weekend magazines. Not quite the image I was after.
Then I thought of using a photograph of a bunch of gorgeous flowers a dear friend had sent me recently, after she stayed for a weekend: So lovely, but could this be enhanced even further to incorporate the idea that a découpaged piece should have hidden depths behind the picture?
Step 3: Increase the level of complexity
It was then I hit upon the idea of turning this photo into a photomosaic, using dozens of smaller pictures from my photo album.
So I turned to a clever website that allows you to instantly turn your photos into photomosaics. Simple to use, and free—or, if you’re after a higher definition, relatively inexpensive—the image it produces can then be copied across to a USB for printing at a photo shop.
Step 4: Glue and varnish and sand, glue and varnish and sand …
After a few days of glueing and varnishing and sanding the photomosaic, the final result wasn’t half bad:And if you look very closely at the picture …No, go in closer…you’ll see the entire picture is made up of hundreds of tiny snapshots of a life.
It’s a sad fact of life that there are always massive gaps in one’s eduction, and the most glaring one for me is in the field of art.
Thinking back to my school days, I have no recollection of any enjoyable art classes and no instances where I learned any techniques or tips about either art execution or art appreciation.
So it’s only recently, thanks to hearing about the Escher exhibition in Melbourne, that I gained a minuscule understanding of design principles, which has now made me to want to:
#75 Learn to Tessellate
Although I didn’t make it to the exhibition myself, several friends raved about it, so we had an Escher afternoon where photographs were shared and we discussed various aspects of his life and work.
Being more scientifically inclined, I chose ‘Escher and Mathematics’ as my topic. Talk about naive. Escher is mathematics! Why was this information never explained to me in those rudimentary art sessions I had in primary school? Or in the more complex maths classes I enjoyed at secondary level where they didn’t bother to mention there might be a functional aspect to recurring decimals? Like I said—massive gaps in my education.
It turns out that “Mathematics as it applies to Escher’s work” is a topic way too complicated for a ten minute dissertation over afternoon tea.
How on earth did he conceptualise something as glorious as Sky and Water I ?
So the best I could come up with for my contribution to the afternoon was a short demonstration on how to do a very basic tessellation, also known as how to cover a surface by repeated use of a single shape, without gaps or overlapping. The technique can result in an endless array of mosaic designs and gives one a certain modicum of personal satisfaction.
There are some excellent YouTube tutorials on making a tessellation here and here so I followed one of these and managed to produce something that might scrape a pass in an art exam in grade two or three. Quite an achievement!
I began by cutting out a small square 10cm x 10cm and drawing a curvy design along one side like this,
before cutting the shape out precisely, sliding it across to the opposite side of the square and aligning it perfectly before taping it down like so:
Then I drew another design on the adjacent side of the square, cut it out, slid it across and taped it too:
This little brown template was then used to trace a design onto a larger sheet of paper repeatedly, and
… thanks to the magic of design and recurring patterns, it fits perfectly into itself—over and over:
All that’s needed is a peaceful 30 minutes to colour it in and to add a few markings.
Presto! I had an original design—
This is possibly the most artistic thing I’ve ever managed to create.