Books Read in 2023

Absolute Sandman Volume Four Neil Gaiman
Fabric Victoria Finlay
Absolute Sandman Volume Five Neil Gaiman
Amongst Our Weapons Ben Aaronovich
We Cry For Blood Devin Madson
Spin the Dawn Elizabeth Lim
Unravel the Dusk Elizabeth Lim

It was all going quite well last year then I just stopped reading – or at least didn’t finish the books I was reading – possibly around the time the 8-shaft weaving course was winding up. Then I devoured four science fiction books in a row, read during long scouring or dyeing sessions of the Maiwa course or in waiting rooms – but I think that was mostly after New Year so doesn’t count for this year.

It Never Rains But …

Having got my Mum settled into aged care, my Dad needed an urgent operation and has been living with us for part of his recovery. Along with his cat, Charlotte, who is cute but a bit naughty. The Maiwa Print and Paint with Natural Dyes workshop started at pretty much the same time Dad went to hospital. It’s taking most of my spare energy and time and I’m just keeping up with the modules. Not that I have to, since the lessons are available for three years after going live, but it’s giving me something to distract myself with rather than spinning in circles. When I get a longer free moment I will blog about it.

Pausing Can Be Exhausting

Almost everything crafty and arty here stopped a month ago when my parents caught Covid and at the same time I had a bad case of food poisoning. Mum wound up in hospital and then in a nursing home. When I finally saw her she was in a pretty bad state and it became immediately obvious that we were going to have to find a better nursing home. After a lot of emotional turmoil, encounters with amazingly compassionate and helpful people, and way more running around than I’m used to, Mum is in a good home. We still have a lot of tasks to get through, but if all goes well the main chunk of work and stress is over.

Before this all happened, I’d just finished making frames for the first batch of Nature’s Remnants paintings. And completely forgot to photograph them before I gave them away. They looked good though. I hope I can remember what I did when I come to frame the rest!

In the early days of the drama, I ordered a French dip pen, nibs and ink set from an eBay seller as a kind of me-present to cheer myself up. I got the usual emails from the post saying it had arrived, but there was no sign of it. So I reported it missing, and they called and said it had been delivered 3km away. They said they would try to retrieve it, but I suspect they never tried, it being a very busy time of year for post.

So when I’d given up on them and requested the seller seek compensation, I used a rare free morning to go into Zeta Florence and buy the set full price. It was, after all, supposed to be a cheer-me up treat. Trying out the different nibs and a non-natural source ink was interesting. The ink doesn’t like the notebook I’ve been writing and experimenting in – it bleeds drastically. The nibs are very different, some good for tiny writing, some better for larger. The handle was the main practical reason to buy the set because the handles I’ve got have rusted. I didn’t know I was supposed to remove the nib before washing it.

I also succumbed to a ‘flex nib’ fountain pen sold by the same eBay seller. I’ve been watching YouTube videos about fountain pens, and everyone seems to regard this one (Noodler’s Ahab) as smelly and contrary. The smell – some kind of biodegradable resin – reminds me of old 70s textbooks, but is faint enough not to bother me. The pen did stop working briefly, but I think that had to do with it having only a small amount of ink left in it at the time. It does make a nice variable line, and I think I’ll have fun seeing what I can do with it.

My interest in fountain pens came out of wanting to write and draw with ink while watching tv with less risk of ink drips and spills. I dug out my Lamy pen, which I used as my book signing pen. I’d changed the nib to ‘medium’ because a thicker line is better for autographs, but found that wasn’t so great for drawing and writing. So I bought a ‘fine’ nib and replaced it. Then I found two older Lamys – one of which had an ‘extra-fine’ nib – so that’s also been adopted as a drawing pen.

Paul dug up a fountain pen that was a gift and gave it to me, so I now have five fountain pends. I don’t intend to become a fountain pen fanatic. I admit I’ve looked up when the next Pen Expo is on in Melbourne (November 2023), but only with the thought of selling my oldest Lamy.

The only other bit of craft has been a little bit of sewing. I’d already cut out the pieces of a shirt before the drama started, and I took advantage of a few moments I had time and energy to put most of it together. And earlier this week I suddenly decided I needed to make Mum a fidget blanket. I’ve signed up for another Maiwa course and have been gathering materials and tools for that, but it doesn’t start until January.

Ah, 2023. I’ve had a lot of thoughts about next year too, but that should go in another post.

In the Frame

After a year of daily art, I have a LOT of artwork to frame. I decided October would be Framing Month. Then at the end of October I decided November and December would be framing months too.

Fortunately, not all of the themes are framable. The flowers, food, car, hands & feet, and faces artworks are all in books. I have cut a couple of pages from the cars book for people who wanted them, but the rest will probably just stay in there. The books I drew the faces and hands & feet in are only partially used, so I intend to fill them at some point in the future.

In October I concentrated on pet portraits and toys. All but three pet portraits went to the pet owners and were very appreciatively received. The other three were pets of Paul and I, so they went into an IKEA frame together.

Half of the toys went into $10 IKEA frames. Unfortunately the paintings are 10×10 cm and the mat that comes with the frame has a 12×12 cm hole. So I had 30 custom matts cut with a 10x10cm hole. The paintings in the IKEA frames get to have a fancy ‘double matt’ look, and the rest have been taped to the backs of the remaining custom matts and wrapped in cellophane ready to sell or gift.

In November I intend to tackle the chairs, Nature’s Remnants and kitchenalia themes. A friend wants a 3×3 set of the chairs, so I bought some black mat board and Paul found a black frame still in its wrapping from an abandoned project. A few weeks ago I bought a mat cutter partly with a voucher I got for my birthday. It’s rather nifty, I have to say. Makes the job very easy, but it has limitations. The guides only work for single hole cutting, so to cut the nine holes for my friend’s set I had to use it more like a ruler – pressing down and hoping the board didn’t shift mid-cut. But it worked just fine:

When I posted a pic to show my friends, another put her hand up for a collection – this time just five.

The leftover fifteen made a 5×3 grid, bigger than the first one, and to get them to fit in a standard sized frame I made the holes smaller, cropping each artwork to show only the chair and background papers. That meant I had to redraw two that were too large, so it took most of a morning. When it was done I wrapped it in cellophane.

Next I tackled the kitchenalia theme. Theses were much easier to frame because the artworks are all in sheets of six.

The Nature’s Remnants series is going to be a much bigger challenge to frame, involving a bit of woodworking. I’ve looked at the tools and accessories artworks and they’ll require the same preparation as the toys and kitchenalia. It’s makes sense to get them out of the way first while I have the right tools out, so it looks like I’ll be changing the order I’m tackling the themes again.

Pen to Paper

Part of the Maiwa ink-making workshop is a brief lesson on writing with a pointed pen. I learned calligraphy as a teen at my local library, which had a wing for pottery and art lessons. I also remember having a book-and-fountain-pen set of the sort that used to be available at newsagents. Mostly of what I learned involved a flat-ended nib meant for medieval style writing, and later I was lucky to learn a bit of sign and ticket writing at TAFE before computers rendered those skills obsolete – well, until the hipster revival, that is.

I’m not sure when I learned pointed pen calligraphy. I know the way I was taught to write at school had roots in cursive script, but with simplifications that made some letters look more like printed type. The ‘r’ in particular has really changed, and capital letters are much simpler. The result of all this is my handwriting is a weird hybrid of styles. While I didn’t expect the workshop to teach me anything new about calligraphy, I did hope it would iron out those inconsistencies.

The approach was more along the lines of basic principles – more an explanation of how pointed pen writing works than fussing over letter shapes – which you can apply to handwriting. There were seven Spencerian script pen strokes to practice:

I found the second ‘O’ felt quite awkward, which explains why so many capital letters feel wrong to me. But overall I find it quite meditative and have done quite a few pages of alphabet practise now, so the awkward letters are starting to feel more natural. A bit of research told me that a desk slope of 20 degrees is better, and since I am all about ergonomics these days I decided to make an adjustable ‘writing slope’. Fortunately, before I went to the trouble I checked to see if IKEA had something suitable and, of course, they did. Adjustable from flat to 20 degrees to 30 degrees.

On which my glass slab fit nicely, giving me a deeper writing surface so I can get my whole forearm onto it.

The last module was about making ink from anything. There were lots of tips and a few recipes. One was white ink, and since I happened to have just bought some Titanium white pigment with the intention of making gouache, I mixed some up. At the same time I’d bought some ground walnut to make ink out of, but haven’t tried that yet.

The question of what to use all this ink for is constantly in the back of my mind. Last week I took the indigo and carbon black inks to life drawing class and they were really nice to work with. I’d like to do more pen and ink drawing, too.

And I snapped up seven notebooks with dot grids at the local trash and treasure for $15 – perfect for pen practise, but also they’ve got me thinking… maybe I’ll use one to give journalling a try.

Daily Art: Kitchenalia

The final theme for the Daily Art challenge was kitchenalia in oils on canvas paper. Though I had decided on that, I didn’t have a picture in my mind of what I would do until a day or so before September started. Continuing with the previous three month’s format of a small picture in the centre of an A4 page didn’t appeal, and would mean taking more canvas paper with me on holidays. A grid of squares would be a nice change. And then one of the friends we stayed with suggested circles. I looked at the roll of masking tape I was using to stick the canvas paper to boards and knew exactly what I wanted to do.

It would mean painting smaller images than I’d planned, but I was determined to only use the two small long flat synthetic brushes I’d bought specifically for the challenge. When they were new, it wasn’t hard to get lines and details, but toward the end of the month the hairs began to curl. I bought a third brush in the same size and tried to be gentler when washing but it, too, started to be like painting with a toothbrush. I even cut off the curl-ended hairs and then only wiped the brush clean after a quick tip in solvent, but the same problem occurred. So maybe it wasn’t abuse but the brushes themselves.

During the month the same pattern of exploration unfolded. I paint the same way for half the month, then suddenly want to experiment. In this case, I tried a black and coloured backgrounds. I started using short, small round brushes for details once the long flats started going curly, then stopped for the last six. The first twelve subjects were random – whatever I had around that appealed – but after that I began selecting items that formed a group and making sure the circles lined up.

By the time the last painting was done I knew what I wanted to do in October. As much as I’d like to continue painting daily to a theme, I need a break. I’m now attending art workshop during the week, and I have projects to do at home that I’d like to work on daily, but not feel obliged to finish on the same day. Hopefully I will end up painting most days anyway.

Overall it’s been fantastic. I’ve learned a great deal, truly woken up my visual artist brain cells, had something to bond with friends over, and got a whole lot of artwork to show for it.

Sew & sew

Lately my morning routine has been: daily art, morning tea, final project for the 8-shaft course. After lunch it varies depending on how much energy I have left, from ‘adulting’ matters like wrangling tradies to a bit of sewing or gardening. The sewing is easy because I’ve made the items many times now – skivvies and leggings – and don’t have to think my way around fit and alteration, though I did halve the height of the skivvy collar for a bit of variety.

I also made a chocolate brown skivvy one but it looks like I didn’t take a photo. Just look at the green one and imagine it brown instead.

A few months ago I saw a woman wearing a denim dress and decided I rather fancied wearing something like that. So I searched for patterns and landed on the PatternReview website, where I found one that had been picked as the best pattern of the year of its type. I ordered a copy.

Then a little while later I picked up a large amount of pinky-red cotton knit, and figured this was a good opportunity to try another kind of dress I’d been thinking of making for a while – the wrap dress. This time I went straight to the website and found a pattern that had also been awarded best pattern.

I haven’t made either yet, but they are next in line. Probably the wrap dress while I’m familiar with the behaviour of stretchy fabric.

Before, Now, Later

I know how it looks. All this art and no craft. But you’ll have to trust me – craft IS happening. It’s just not being finished.

I’m still weaving the tea towels on the Lotas. When I tried finishing the Theo Morman inlay project that had been on the rigid heddle loom I struggled with the sticky warp for a bit before deciding the inspiration was gone. The fine warp came off and I’m now weaving a plain white scarf from the ground warp.

Most of my weaving has been class samplers, and I’m not going to post about those again until nearer the end of the course. Which I’m starting to look forward to finishing. It’s not that I’m over the weaving and learning, but just a bit tired of doing a course. I’ve been thinking about why, and I reckon it’s partly because I’m tired of uncertainty. Will my health take another dive? Will my parents suddenly need all my attention? Will WW3 start? I have a strange itch to get it done while I still can.

But then, maybe it’s just because I’m really enjoying art at the moment. Life drawing classes have restarted and I tried doing a nude from life in oils the other day and was surprised to find I could do a reasonable painting in the time we had. Aside from a few back issues, my daily art practise is still going strong. It’s amazing me how all these finished pieces are building up. I’ve gone from two portraits plus a handful of pet paintings per year, to potentially 365 small artworks.

Of course, I already know that dedicating an hour or so a day can accumulate to big achievements because that’s how wrote the first draft of my last few books. The question I’m asking myself now is… what else could I tackle in this way?

That’s another reason I’m looking forward to finishing the weaving course. I want to put what I’ve learned, both in weaving and art, into practise, but I have only so much energy to spend, and a good part of it is taken up (sporadically) by classes and weaving samplers. I am, however, looking forward to doing the final year project, which is a finished object woven using one of the techniques we’ve explored.

That might just take the edge off.

Books Read in 2021

Hollow Empire Sam Hawke
We Lie With Death Devin Madson
Clariel Garth Nix
Goldenhand Garth Nix
Mask of Mirrors M. A. Carrick
Rivers of London Ben Aaronovitch
The Bone Shard Daughter Andrea Stewart
Moon Over Soho Ben Aaronovitch
Whispers Underground Ben Aaronovitch
The Fabric of Civilization Virginia Postrel
Broken Homes Ben Aaronovitch
Foxglove Summer Ben Aaronovitch
Mystery of a Hansom Cab Fergus Hume
The Hanging Tree Ben Aaronovitch
What Abigail Did That Summer Ben Aaronovitch
Colour Choices Stephen Quiller
The Furthest Station Ben Aaronovitch
Steal Like An Artist (re-read) Austin Kleon
Absolute Sandman Volume One Neil Gaiman
The October Man Ben Aaronovitch
Show Your Work (re-read) Austin Kleon
Absolute Sandman Volume Two Neil Gaiman
Sapiens Yuval Noah Harari
False Value Ben Aaronovitch
Absolute Sandman Volume Three Neil Gaiman
The One Hundred Nina Garcia
Tales from the Folly Ben Aaronovitch
Atlas of the Heart Brené Brown
Keep Going Austin Kleon

29 books! Compared to 15 last year and 13 the year before. The year before I read 20, which was the year I took five months off so proves that when I don’t write I read more.

The best fiction books of the year was The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart, the best non-fiction was The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia Postrel, the best conversation starter was Atlas of the Heart by BrenĂ© Brown, and the most motivating book was Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon – which was well worth revisiting.

I’ve given up defeating my to-read ‘pile’ (which fills a small bookcase) and now read whatever catches my eye and keeps me enthralled, though I’m only buying books to complete series. I’ve actually stuck with one author until I’d read everything, which felt like a luxury because I used to only read the first or most loved book or series of an author in order to sampling as many different examples of my field as possible.

I still have enough of a professional interest that I want to try new authors – particularly female Australian authors of fantasy series. It’s exciting to see how far we’ve come in the last 20-30 years.

Projects of 2021

In January I took up the offer of a fresh indigo dyeing workshop with Amanda of @theweaversworkroom which was great fun. Later at home I had a play with indigo that I’d grown.

I ran a pin loom workshop at the Guild. Though I told myself I wouldn’t put in the crazy hours of preparation I did for the rigid heddle loom workshop the year before, I still overdid it. Still, it was an excellent reason to try some ideas I’d had, like tiny squares woven from wire.

Using fabric for a failed all-in-one-piece woven jacket project, I sewed a vest.

In February the sewing continued, resulting in two tops made of woven fabric.

And a skirt to jumper conversion. This became my go-to at home cosy jumper over winter.

I wove the “Owl & the Moustache Scarf” and started the “Wiggle Scarf”, both using drafts I designed after the Denise Kovnat Echo and Jin and Deflected Doubleweave workshops the year before.

In March I converted an ugly old 80s coat into the Flying Fox Coat.

In April I made a pattern from a corduroy shirt I love, and sewed a new one. And a chemise to go with a costume for a Regency Picnic.

I also returned to weaving rag rugs, making two twill flannelette ones and a t-shirt one to use up the warp.

Jeanette at the Guild ran a blended drafts workshop that was fun and a good workout for the brain.

June had me taking two pink flannelette rag rugs off the floor loom and another t-shirt one.

And a clasped warp scarf from the AKL.

Then I sewed a series of skivvies, long-sleeved tops and leggings. And another corduroy shirt.

The sewing continued into July. More leggings, more tops, and a jacket made from an old skirt and jumper.

At the end of July I started the Certificate of 8-shaft Weaving at the Guild, just in time for the long lockdown to begin. I also wove a shadow weave kit.

And finished lengthening a vest.

September saw me finish making two indigo space-dyed chenille scarves and a cowl.

In August I bought a new sewing machine, an overlocker and a coverstitch machine, so in September more garments were made.

Some slubby cotton was woven to reduce the stash.

I also did a seven day sketching challenge, and decided to start a daily art project in which I make art every day for a year, to a theme that changes each month.

In October I wove a pinwheel scarf.

The first daily art challenge was ‘flowers’, painted mostly in watercolour but with a bit of gouache.

Since online shopping was unreliable and the post very slow, I decided to make as many Christmas presents as possible. I sewed some sunhats for my parents.

Inspired by a ‘weaving with handspun’ Zoom meeting with the Guild, I wove two twill scarves.

November’s daily painting theme was ‘toys in gouache’. This was much more time-consuming than the flowers, but I was making much more ‘finished’ pieces that could be sold one day. I haven’t painted in gouache much before and it’s now one of my favourite mediums.

By December I was having health problems including pain and weakness in my left leg. I was only able to weave one of the sets of tea towels I intended to make as gifts.

But the daily art theme of ‘hand and feet in pencil’ was much faster and could be done at night while watching tv.

(Sorry about the terrible photo!)

Between Christmas and New Year not much craft was done but I made a warping mill and yarn stand.

Overall, it was a year that began low and ended high both in mood and levels of stress. That kind of balances out.

Though restrictions had eased, I began the year feeling depressed. Eventually I decided that teaching weaving didn’t suit me – at least not as a regular thing. The summer school workshops I’d done were good but too exhausting and, weirdly, put me off the kind of weaving I taught for several months. Occasional one on one lessons would be fine, I think.

So it was with a different intent that I began the 8-shaft course. The pursuit of knowledge was now for my own benefit only. Meanwhile, the long lockdown brought art classes to an end, and questioning why I didn’t paint at home led to the daily art project and the realisation that art would suit me as a regular thing – so long as I didn’t turn it into work.

Then at the end of the year I learned I have a rare condition that can be quite crippling and might explain the neck pain flare ups that sometimes come out of nowhere and forced me to retire. It made me consider a future in which what I can and can’t do may be very limited at times, and how I might change my surroundings and expectations to allow for that.

Despite this, I am ending 2021 feeling happier than I began it. I am ready to let the past go, and the future no longer seems lacking in purpose. There will be some tidying up and simplifying to be done in 2022, but there’s no hurry. I can only do things at a pace that my body can cope with, and it’s still impossible to predict how Covid will affect everything anyway.

What I do know is, whatever happens, good or bad, there’ll be art and craft in my life in 2022.