Just Heads

Early this year I decided I was a bit tired of painting portraits that took five or more months to complete. So after I finished two big ones I set about doing some ‘exercises’ – small portraits that had the same dark background and close enough to the head that little clothing was included. I also decided, and I took reference photos, that I wanted the sitters to not look at the camera or have an open mouth smile and the post didn’t have to be front-on. I reckoned I could do one of these per month.

It proved to be great fun. While I do like painting backgrounds and clothes, minimising them meant I could hone my skill at depicting skin and hair and eyes. Being able to paint heads from the back was a rare treat, too. By December I had eight paintings, not far off one a month since I started them a few months into the year.

Now I’m wondering what to do next year. Keep painting my little ‘exercises’, go back to big portraits, or try something else? People have often said to me they like my underpainting, which I do in watery acrylic paint in either alizarin red or viridian green. I might try doing one intended to be the final piece, starting off with the usual big sweeping paint strokes then adding finer ones, perhaps layering alizarin over viridian or visa versa.

I’ll see how I feel when classes start again next year.

Retiring

I read somewhere that the average number of careers people have these days is three. That has been spot-on for me. I was an in-house graphic designer, cartographer, illustrator and occasional visual merchandiser first, then a freelance illustrator, cartographer and occasional designer second, and writer third.

The first paid a good wage but felt limiting and was not always fun. The second was fun but didn’t pay well. The third was enjoyable and paid well and has, much to my surprise, lasted the longest.

However, the third is causing physical difficulties that I’m barely managing to keep in check and will eventually force me to stop. I don’t want to stop writing, but unless some miraculous cure for diagnosing and treating severe neck pain is developed, I will have to. Probably in the next few years.

The difference between semi and full retirement is significant, not just in income. Scarier to me is the prospect of not having a big task or creatively fulfilling project to occupy my mind. Oh, there’s heaps I’d like to do, from a degree to pursuing art to smaller writing projects, but they, too, would be limited or prevented by the same chronic back problem.

The five month break I took last year proved to me that my back gets better when not doing the things that cause pain. By the end could re-introduce some activities I could do at the beginning. So the key may simply be time.

And That Time of Year, Too

End of year restlesness. Usually it doesn’t set in until after Christmas and is gone by New Year. Now it seems to grip me earlier and earlier each year.

Last year I got fed up with how much time I was spending on my phone and set out to de-phone my life. I made some changes that proved to be beneficial and became permanent, though I do still use it more than I feel is healthy.

This year I’m thinking about social media. Facebook in particular, but also social media in general. I would love to quit it all, particularly Facebook, which is the only one I use regularly now. I don’t like how it works or how it eats up my attention and time.

For years now I’ve looked at alternatives. I tried Ello twice, but there was never much happening there. Vero looks promising, but when I contemplate joining I realise that I’d likely just be swapping one data mining company for another.

I want to leave all social media completely, but I hesitate. So I’m going to consider what I’m afraid of losing, and see if it’s really worth worrying about.

1) The connection to friends and family.
My family doesn’t use social media, so I lose nothing there. My friends do, but they don’t share much about their personal lives, really. At every FB scandal they interacted less. I can’t help thinking that if my friends dump me because I’m not on FB they’re not my friends. There are other ways to keep in contact, even when you’re a long way apart. I have text and Messenger conversations with my closest friends. Yes, the latter is a FB product, but it’s not a social media.

2) The ease of organising events
But not the unreliability. Recently I tried to organise a couple of events within a group of FB. After getting only one response I checked the post to find that only that one friend had seen it. I asked in a general post if anyone else in the group had and a few people said yes but they hadn’t responded.

Not responding to event invitations or only doing so at the last moment is being noted as a new kind of rudeness. I suspect what happens is that when people can’t answer a question on the spot (say, they have to consult their calendar or spouse) they move on to the next FB notification and forget all about the invite. So no, organising events is not easier, in the long run.

3) The calendar reminders
To be honest, I’m not that worried about this. I bought a small diary last year and it has been so much more useful than the FB or phone calendar. It doesn’t, for one thing, lose past events. I note the birthday of friends in it who are close enough to me that I’d wish them well on or near the day. Not using FB would release me from those awkward moments on FB when you ignore a birthday notification because the person really isn’t that close to you.

5) A diary of your life
Yeah, nah. There are plenty of alternative ways to record your life. Even public ways. (Blogs, anyone?)

6) Showing people your holiday snaps, or other pics
These days when someone goes on a trip or has a party they put pics and anecdotes on an event or group page so as to not annoy everyone in their feed. It’d be just as effective to put them on a website and provide a link. I like to remind myself of a trip by looking through my diary and photos, but I don’t if they’re on FB. I write a physical diary most trips, which I read later. We don’t get around to making physical albums any more, however.

During the last trip I deliberately didn’t put anything on FB, and it felt weirdly liberating. It was like saying “FU Facebook, you won’t be earning money from this bit of my life.”

7) Another way to contact friends in an emergency.
If you can’t get in touch via a phone call or text, then perhaps you shouldn’t be relying on that person in an emergency.

8) Promoting myself for work
The only reason I didn’t leave Twitter completely last year was because it was the only way readers of my books could contact me, once I had to shut down comments on my blog to stop the endless stream of spam. But I don’t use Facebook for work (not for lack of trying… long story!) so there’d be no loss there.

Well, that’s a fairly thorough examination. I’ve decided to do what I did with Twitter: take Facebook off my phone so I only use it on the desktop computer. I only turn my desktop computer on a few times a week. That means I’ll have Facebook-free days. If I don’t miss it between now and New Year’s Eve I’ll delete it completely.

Lava Cowl

A few months back a friend surprised me with a lovely small handmade gift for my birthday, so I decided I’d give her something I’d made for her’s. Trouble was, I couldn’t find anything I’d already made that suited her. That wouldn’t be much trouble normally, as I don’t usually need a nudge to make something new.

However, I’d come down with a virus. Vertigo, headaches and fatigue weren’t exactly helping me find my creative mojo. But after a rustle around in the craft room and a flick through a book, I decided to Keep It Simple and just weave a quick scarf out of some graduating yarn with 5ply burgundy cone yarn for warp, using my weaving sword shuttle.

As it turned out, I had some red warp still on the Knitters Loom from when I’d been doing some variable dent reed experimentation earlier in the year. Not enough length for a full size scarf, but fine for a cowl. I added more of the same yarn to widen the warp then got weaving. A few hours later I had this:

I rather like how the warp and weft interact. The red warp stops the overall effect being too burgundy-ish.

It was a good short project, done in a day. In the meantime, I’ve been slowly working out the specs for a table runner a friend requested. It’s going to require some sampling, as I haven’t seen the particular mix of techniques I’m planning to use.

That Time of Year

No, not the pre-Christmas craziness, as that’s only just starting. It’s Spring that is the culprit. Whenever I have a spare day on a weekend I end up weeding for a few hours, after which I want to rest.

The result: very little craft happening.

However, I have managed to fit in a bit here and there. I’ve made progress on the mosaic clock.

And after volunteering to host the extended family Christmas gathering I realised I don’t have any decorations. Not wanting to buy more plastic crap, I whipped up this ‘tree’:

And I’m thinking of making salt dough decorations, so they can be tossed in the compost heap after the event.

Eye of the Needle

I worked on this piece for a couple of years. It was the project I’d take on trips or work on while listening to a speaker and an event. It was also the test piece I worked on after my eye op.

I have to confess, I didn’t enjoy it much. It may be that I didn’t because it hung around so long and I got bored with it. Struggling to work on it post-surgery turned that lack of inspiration to discomfort. There’s some irony in that my last fine embroidery project is an eye, when my eyes are the reason I stopped.

To get the eye finished quicker, I decided not to do the eyebrow and an area of shadow under the eye. The lines were done with the orange-based cleaner on a printout method. I’ve washed these sorts of lines out before, but this time it was hard work scrubbing it off, and I wasn’t entirely successful. Maybe because they’d been there for a few years. To hide them, I painted the piece with Procion dye while at the weaving retreat.

I do like how it turned out.

I just need the perfect frame for it.

Not long after I dyed it I got a fortune cookie at a friend’s birthday party:

I laughed and laughed.

Social Isolation

We just got back from a short holiday on an island. Well, not an island with palm trees and resorts and beaches but an island with farms and mountains and beaches. And not all holiday either as we were there to help a friend who lives on the island celebrate her birthday as well as take a few days to look around.

It was exhausting. And relaxing. I wasn’t there long before the real world and my life at home felt like a distant thing I couldn’t easily bring my mind back to. Yet where I was felt dream-like and unreal. I was a visitor, welcomed by those who lived there, but I wasn’t at home.

The people there are isolated but social. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone looks out for everyone. Everyone gossips about everyone. That’s so different to where I live, in a city with lots of people but I’d have to drive for 15 minutes to an hour see any of my friends and I’ve only talked to three neighbours since I moved here four years ago – and only once to one of them.

I’m not sure what I’d prefer.

Because to be honest, I’m not that much of a people person. Oh, I like people, some very much… so long as I get to spend heaps of time alone. It’s curious to me to come back from such an isolated place all peopled out.

And yet it was a great trip. We really enjoyed ourselves. I think I have a bit of culture shock, though. In a good way. Travel lets you see other ways of existing and surviving and seeing the world. Before we left I was a bit wistful, thinking that in a few days life would be back to normal, but now I’m home I just want to settle so I can get the things done on my to-do list.

Though I suspect the to-do list felt just as overwhelming before we left anyway.

Finishitis, Stash Acquisition & Stinky Yarn

The Guild recently held their annual Textile Bazaar. I rocked up right as the doors were open and left with almost more yarn than I could carry. No cones this time. I wanted two things: rug yarn and maybe some knitting yarn to use on the machines if it took my fancy. I found both.

However.

Most of it stank of moth balls. The stinky yarn got wound into skeins then soaked in woolmix and left to dry and air. The big batch of caramel brown knitting yarn came up fine. The rug yarn utterly reeked, and while it was drying the whole house smelled like a chemical factory. I had to put it in the bathroom, turn on the fan and leave it for a day. Thankfully it’s much better now, though still with a faint mothball odour.

In the meantime, I’ve leafed through my books, to-do list, stash spreadsheet and visual journal and felt only a few little sparks of interest. Whenever I’ve had time for craft I’ve fallen back on existing projects. I’m all out of inspiration.

I got to wondering if am in the throes of a very long bout of finishitis. So I decided to go with it. I finished spinning the yarn on my wheel – some lovely camel fibre – and I plied some banana fibre I spun a while ago with some overlocker cotton.

The third iteration of the twill sampler came off the loom. When I labelled it I discovered I’d completely missed one of the drafts. No idea how that happened. I’m not going to warp up the loom for one 10cm sample, though. I’m not even sure if I want to finish the chapter, to be honest. I have all the two-colour warp ones to do – 27 in total. The realisation that it would take me 20 years to get through the book at this rate was rather off-putting. Maybe I should do something more achievable, like picking ten drafts from each chapter.

All I have left on the WIP list is the mosaic clock. It would be nice to wipe the slate clean, I suppose, but it would also be nice to feel the excitement of starting a new project. For the moment, however, I’m giving my creative brain a rest. It will fire up again when it’s ready, I’m sure.

Red at Night Cardigan

It’s taken me months to sew this up. I’d do a seam, find a mistake, unpick it, sew it again, find a mistake, unpick it, sew it again, spend the next few days with a sore back, forget the jacket exists, remember it exists but don’t want to stuff up my back again, finally get the courage up again to work on it and… repeat.

But it couldn’t last forever, and last Friday I finally finished.

Yarn: Bendigo Woollen Mills 8ply Cotton in pomegranate… and a darker, purpler shade of the same yarn from a very different dye lot.
Pattern: Seaview, with a plain collar and a garter stitch row added to the cuffs and hem.
Notes: If I made this again I’d do the body in one piece. I like the structural support side seams give, but the fronts are pretty narrow so I could have relied on just the collar seam for that.

It’s very comfy. I think I’d like some sort of closure. There’s a small safety pin holding the fronts together in the photo.

It pilled like crazy under the arms the first time I wore it. I hope that isn’t going to be an issue. It’s made me reconsider my idea of finishing off the rest of the Bendigo Cotton on the machine. The new ball was noticeably lower in quality to the old, with some very thin spots in the yarn in a few places. I’ll be watching for holes.

Well, if I do machine knit some more summer clothing, it’ll have to wait a while. We have some guests staying soon so will need the dining table clear for a while.

A Filling in Time Saves Nine

Or so we hope!

During a recent trip to the dentist for a checkup and clean I was listening to a happy commentary about how great my teeth were when there was a pause, and then the apologetic news that a filling had fallen out and I needed a replacement.

Yeah, well, stuff happens, and often seems to happen in clusters. I’d rather have a filling than back surgery, though there have definitely been times at the dentist when I wished for a general anaesthetic.

I’d noticed that the dentist’s tools came wrapped in plastic, so I asked if they threw them away at the end of each day. No, thankfully they are sterilised then repackaged. Later I asked if he had one past its use-by and would be thrown out, as they are very handy for manipulating stitches on a knitting machine. He popped out of the room and came back with three.

So that weekend I gave them a try on the Addi Express. Oh, so much easier than the little plastic needle supplied! I cranked out the above hat using tuck stitches – which is a simple technique where you make the machine skip a stitch.

The yarn is something I picked up at Bendigo Woollen Mills. It’s labelled as ’16 ply recycled yarn’. Which is about as thick as I’d go for these machines. It makes a nice, cushy hat.

But it definitely is too warm for hats here now!