Sunday, 2 November 2014

I've been to Africa!

And yes, like others before me, I've eaten great food, seen wonderful things and had an all round fantastic time.

Don't panic, I'm not going to bore you to tears with stories and photos. I'll just share a few things that strike me anew as I work my way through the (literally) thousands of photos I took.

First up, I took these photos of the flower market in Cape Town because, as you all know, I'm fascinated with colour, especially the colours Nature creates.

Who'd have thought there were so many different proteas?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

And more about the knitting...

Meanwhile, I've been going great guns on my knitting. It's amazing how quickly it grows, when you do a couple of hours every evening. I don't think I could knit much more than that - my hands would get too sore!

I've finished the back, the two fronts and one sleeve now, and I'm halfway up the second sleeve.
It's still unblocked, of course, hence the rolling edges but I wanted to show you how it was progressing. I'm glad I used the yarn this way, as I think it might have just looked like stripes otherwise. And one doesn't need to buy variegated yarn just to knit stripes. I could probably make a multicoloured striped jumper just from yarn I have on hand.

As one does, I've been looking ahead to the next knitting project, even though I probably won't get to it until next autumn, unless the weather stays very cool. I bought some yarn for dyeing a couple of months ago but that's waiting for me to get the dyes out one day. So in the meantime, I bought some of the new 1984 range in 8-ply Colonial yarn from Bendigo Woollen Mills in #286 Maroon. It seems to have been a hugely popular shade, because it's no longer listed on their website!

It's hard to photograph well! It's not really what I would call a maroon, as it's really closer to cherry. It's also not very close in colour to the maroon jumper I am replacing after years of sterling service, which is in a shade that's often called cranberry these days. I don't think I'd even seen a cranberry when I made it, so I don't suppose they had yarns called that, back then either!

Whatever the name, I love the colour of this yarn. I had a jumper in this colour back in the seventies, which I also wore to death, so I'm expecting great things from this one too.

(Is it really sad of me to be able to remember all the jumpers I've knitted and loved, in the past forty-something years? There has been a lot of knitting, as I was taught to knit at age 7 and allowed to knit my first actual jumper a few years later. I guess that amazing sense of achievement, the "I made that!", stays in the mind long after the creation has been worn to shreds.)

Friday, 15 August 2014

And while we're talking about books...

Here's a book I made for Fibrecircle recently, as part of a challenge I created for them.

Running challenges for that group is always interesting. We all work in very different ways and we pretty much know how we want to work, so there's no good setting a challenge that requires people to work in a specific way. Experimenting is one thing; making work is another.

The challenge was a Scavenger Hunt. Each person had to bring along:
a second-hand piece of paper - i.e. paper that has been used for something else, by someone else (not you). It can be newsprint, advertising, an envelope from a letter, a page from a magazine... whatever you like.

2. something from a plant - leaves, flowers, roots, twigs, fruit, tea leaves.... use your imagination! It has to have come fairly directly from a plant, without much processing - mulberry leaves are fine, mulberry paper isn't. You don't necessarily have to incorporate it into your work, but you do need to use it in making the work.

3. words - three words from your life during these three weeks, i.e a book title you've read during the time, a sign you've seen, a headline... anything from these three weeks. Be prepared to explain!

4. something, anything, blue

5. three embellishments: beads, buttons, metallic elements, small samples or embroidery, stamping ... to become part of your work. It doesn't have to be three of the same thing.

6. an insect. Any insect. (No, spiders are not insects.) This can be a picture, a fabric, an embroidery, a three-D model, a stamp, a real insect....

7. something long and thin. Yarn, ribbon, braid, paper strips, embroidery thread.....

The idea was to make something from your elements on the day, in whatever way you like to work. A finished item or a part of something else...

I brought along used envelopes, a twig, the words "dancing in silence", blue card, dragonfly and gold brads, a dragonfly punch and some wire. I also grabbed some net yarn that Helen was trying to rehome.

The cover was a monoprint from a glass board, using acrylic paints and drying retarder. I marked the paper size and painted quickly on the plate in blue, black and white paint, mixing the colours a little on the plate. Then I printed, burnishing with my fingers and a spoon. I touched up a couple of areas on the print while the paint was still wet.

I made the envelopes into book covers, with the patterned side out. I added a layer of gesso, which, I was told, can make the blue stand out more. 

I'm not sure it did, but it was an interesting effect, especially once I added a layer of folded blue card inside them. I made some signatures and used more blue card as a concertina spine. Helen, who had nothing to do, sewed the booklets into the spine with a simple pamphlet stitch.

 I also made an envelope as a place for more private things.
 I added some words from a song by Leonard Cohen that seemed particularly resonant.

I'm really happy with how this one turned out, which is unusual, since I'm usually not happy with things until a little time has passed!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Day 3 - finished!

Apologies for the delay - I was struck low by a Very Friendly Coughing Bug, who leapt from son to husband to me in as many days. I've been keeping myself to myself since it arrived, hoping not to let it leap to anyone else.

I have finally finished my little treasure, though I think it may need a little dab with the hot glue gun, as a couple of spots are determined not to stay glued. Me and glue... sigh.

First, the inspiration... this gorgeous little High Renaissance objet from the collection of the Walters Art Museum.

The manuscript dates from about 1550 A.D. and, at 1in x 7/8in (2.2 x 1.67cm), is so small that it's been mounted with a chain for wearing as a pendant.

It's made of gold sheet and an enamelling technique called champlevé. The stones are rubies or spinels. The artisan who made the book is unknown but it's "in the style of Giulio Romano", Italian, probably made in the years 1499-1546. The tiny manuscript inside (identity unknown but I assume a religions text of some kind, perhaps a Book of Hours or a missal) was created by Jacobus Romanus, (1515 and 1560). Sadly, this item isn't on regular display at the museum, though it has featured in several exhibitions.

Mine isn't that tiny, I hasten to add! Mine is roughly double size, 5cm x 4.67cm or about 2in x 1 3/4in and that was quite fiddly enough, thank you. And needless to say, mine isn't actually made from gold and precious jewels.

I photographed it with the catches open, so you can see that they actually exist and do work. That was the hardest part. Sadly, my "jewels" are the wrong colour, since the available options were a wishy-washy purple, this red or hot pink!
The hinges are actually brass. I was going to make piano hinges from paper when I found these ones, designed for jewellery boxes, at the hardware store. I even found tiny 12mm ones for the catches, although this meant that the catch shape couldn't be curved like the original.

The tangs for the catch are square brads, larger than I wanted but I couldn't find anything else small enough to suit.

I painted cartridge paper with a pale brown watercolour wash and cut it into signatures. Because of the size, I could only put three signatures into a pamphlet, so the book is made of 12 individual pamphlets, sewn together with pamphlet stitch. I attached the book block by adhering the front and back pages to the inside covers as end papers.

I painted the page edges with gold paint, as there seemed to be some traces of gold paint on the leading edges, perhaps from illumination on the pages. But no, I haven't yet illuminated my pages.
I like my little book, although it offered me quite a few challenges to make.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Day 2 - painting

OK, clearer now, I think? For such tiny things, they sure took a lot of painting... and drawing... and Treasure Gold... and Rub 'n' Buff!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

What did I make today?

Well, guess....
What do you think these are for?

The dimensions of the larger pieces are 5mm x 4.7mm - that's about 2in x 1 3/4in. It actually took me most of the afternoon to make them. The base is mat board, with glued string and then a paper overlay, to give the moulded shape.

Tomorrow, I'm hoping to paint them. Maybe things will be a bit clearer then?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

What's on my mind? Emeralds!

OK, most girls love a pretty piece of jewellery, but why are emeralds on my mind?

It started with the Fibrecircle ongoing journal challenge, Birthstones. Emerald is, of course, the birthstone for May. When we first started working on the birthstones theme this year, I found it really hard going. It isn't hard to find out information about birthstones and what people think is important about them, but I found it hard to see how that kind of information was going to inform my future artworks. Then I realised the pretty obvious thing - that nothing makes its way into what I make unless I have an emotional connection with it. Emotional links often come through stories, which I guess is another way of saying through people.

So I decided to follow what interested me about each birthstone. My interests include ancient history and archaeology. So it was a pretty small leap to start looking at the cultures who have valued each birthstone in a big way. For each birthstone, I've practised my skills by drawing my own images of cultural artefacts (you can see some of these drawings over on the Fibrecircle blog) and I've sought out stories and historical sources about people using that birthstone.

I started out thinking emerald would be the same. What culture loved emeralds? The Romans. Check out Roman artefacts, draw a picture. So far, so good.
I found my story too. Pliny the Elder, in a tone of disapproval, described Lollia Paulina, consort and third wife of the emperor Caligula of ill-repute, as, "covered with emerald and pearls interlaced and shining over her head, hair, ears, neck and fingers, the sum total amounting to the value of 40,000,000 sesterces." That's about 33,000 times the annual pay of a Roman soldier. She must have been a sight to behold! I hope she made the most of it, because she had been forced to divorce her husband to marry Caligula and then, not much later, was divorced by Caligula for failing to produce a child. She was later exiled and forced to commit suicide by his sister.

That's when it all got a bit derailed. I read about the Mons Smaragdus, the Emerald Mountain, from which all the Roman emeralds are believed to have come. Some say it's the earliest known emerald (or strictly speaking, beryl) mine, operating since 1500BCE. It's more likely that this is mixing up emeralds with amazonite, and the Mons Smaragdus was really just from some time after 400BCE. In either case, where was this fabulous mountain? Well, it was in Egypt.

That set me scratching my head. I didn't learn about this in school or university, when  studied Ancient History and I didn't remember learning about it when I studied Egyptology.  Egyptology is mostly studying Pharaonic Egypt, not Graeco-Roman Egypt. Or maybe I did and I stored it away as an interesting byway of history (which it is!). Either way, an ancient Egyptian emerald mine sounded intriguing, especially as it turned out to be located at Wadi Gamal and Wadi Sikait (Jabal Sukayt) in the eastern desert, near the Red Sea. If you take the trouble to look on Google Maps, you'll see what an isolated and unfriendly environment it is.

It turns out we know quite a lot about this area from several sources. The first is a French explorer named Frederic Cailliaud (1787-1869), who was sent out to rediscover the emerald mines by the Ottoman ruler in 1816. I found Cailliaud an interesting man, because he not only travelled widely in Egypt and the Sudan, describing what he saw, but he was interested in everything, the plants, the animals, the culture, the history, the geology. His Voyage a l'oasis de Thebes and dans les deserts situes a l'orient et l'occident de la Thebes (Travels to the oasis of Thebes and the deserts east and west of Thebes) described the mines as, "perhaps a thousand excavations" with long underground causeways, wide passageways and even stairs. He also found a village of about 500 houses, basically intact, with "stone grinding mills still waiting for grain", fragments of vases “of beautiful form” made of both bisque and glass, ancient wells with brackish water …an entire town “hitherto unknown to all voyagers, which had not been inhabited, perhaps, for 2,000 years and almost entirely standing".

For many years, Cailliaud was dismissed as a fantasist who saw what he wanted to see, as many explorer types like him did. Most subsequent visitors said the mines were just open cut scratchings in the earth, apparently without actually going inside. Then, in 1951, a survey by the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority actually went into the complex of mines. The report said, "some mines are very elementary, the galleries are narrow and torturous... other mines are nearly perfect, walls...cleanly cut, shafts and levels were systematically dug, tunnels and wide and high that it is easy to walk through...steps were carved in some inclined tunnels." So it turns out that Cailliaud wasn't such a fantasist after all.

What about the intact village? Was there such a huge village near the mines? Cailliaud drew pictures of classical temples with intact facades. Surely he made those up? Well, no, it turns out he didn't. A US-Dutch team have been excavating in the area since 2000, mostly because these days, tourists can visit the site from the Red Sea towns. Where tourists go, sadly, damage follows, and so do archaeologists. It doesn't help that this area is geologically active as well.

The team reported, "Sikait, the southernmost of the three settlements and by far the most impressive, preserves at least two identifiable rock-cut temples." One of these temples includes hieroglyphs, Greek texts and a Christian cross. They mention the existence of other rock cut structures which haven’t been investigated yet. You can see modern images of the temple and the surrounding area here and here. A lot of damage has been done over the intervening years, especially to the façade, but you can see the basics of Cailliaud's illustrations are still there.  The archaeological team has built temporary pillars from local stone to support the remaining structures, but they can't replace what's been taken away by visitors.

What the team found was the remains of a huge Roman-era industrial complex over several valleys. They found wells, the walls of buildings and the foundations of many more with doors, alcoves, and pantries, a settlement of several hundred structures with a beautiful temple to an unknown god.  As well as arrowheads, coins and armour, they also found jewellery and toys, indicating that whole families lived there.

It must have been a tough place to live, though. The archaeologists reported that, in summer, there were days when their thermometer simply didn't go high enough to register the afternoon temperature and even in the winter, daytime temperatures were 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) and 30 degrees F (-1 degree C) overnight. There are traces of what were probably gardens, watered by the wells, though most food was probably brought in. And not all the miners had lovely wide galleries to work in.

So we're back to people again. I'm not quite sure how this will find its way into artworks, but I feel a sense of connection with those ancient people, the ones slaving away in the mines and the ones wearing the emeralds. We know enough about those wealthier women through mummy portraits, like this one in the British Museum, the life of Lollia Paulina and in the emerald jewellery found at Pompeii, to know that their lives could be just as tough and short too.

OK, enough now! Thanks for joining me on my emerald journey.