Thursday, 23 February 2012

Paint Party Friday...Driving Rain

Here is number three in the Nature's Magic - Rainy Windows series. I couldn't get it to photograph very well - it's a bit reflecty (which is a technical term):

Driving Rain

One of my aims for this year is to build up a portfolio of work and start approaching galleries locally to see how I go about persuading them I'm the next George Seurat. I should probably actually wait until I have a body of work but I'm impatient to get going so I Googled galleries in and around my town and Belfast city centre and started off by emailing one of them who suggested that they are always on the look out for new and emerging artists.

I typed up a big blurb about me and what inspires my work (which I probably shouldn’t have done until they actually said they were interested, come to think of it) and attached photos of my pointy pet portraits, rainy windows and some of my Walkies illustrations (as they also stock greetings cards). I had looked at the work of the artists that they had on their books and figured I might be in with a chance as it was diverse but there was nothing exactly like mine.

Turns out there was a reason for that as they replied to say that they were after a more contemporary style than my pointy portraits so they wouldn’t fit their gallery’s look but that the rainy windows were a possibility, if I ever did them on a larger scale, as the teeny tiny ones were too small to be exhibited. I’m taking that as a positive thing because I do plan to do larger rainy window paintings and I’ll be banging on their door once I’ve done so. I know I’ll probably need to develop a thick skin once I do start contacting more galleries as art is so very subjective and a piece I might be particularly proud of may not fit a certain gallery’s ideas.

Talking of subjective, we discovered a new show on TVon Wednesday night. Work of Art: The Next Great Artist – it’s produced by Sarah Jessica Parker and is based in New York. The concept is that 14 artists live and work together over a number of weeks and have to create their take on different ideas given to them each week in a variety of mediums.

Their work is then shown in a gallery each week and one artist will be let go. Very much America’s Next Top Model for artists. It’s so interesting to see how 14 different artists take an idea and come up with 14 very different pieces of work. Some brilliant, some conceptually brilliant but not that well executed and, some pretty rubbish creatively but coated in enough artistic pretension and emperor’s new clothes ideology to get away with it (which is something that makes me mad, truth be told). For example the guy who was voted best by the judges last night had taken a photograph and blown it up and did a bit of screen-printing over the top – to me that’s photography and photo shopping not art in the old fashioned sense of the world but I guess that’s why art is so very subjective, the judges loved it, so what do I know!

I'm linking as always to Paint Party Friday which gets bigger every week!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A versatile blogger...

I've been nominated for a blogging award!   DiomoGlass, is a very talented glass crafter who I follow on Twitter.  She left me a message a couple of weeks ago to say she had been nominated for the Versatile Blogger award and  had in turn nominated me.  The rules of this award are:

  1. Thank the award giver and link back to them - Thank you very much DiomoGlass!
  2. Nominate/award 15 other recently discovered blogs, let the nominees know and they then need to pay it forward; and
  3. Finally, share 7 interesting things that people may not already know about you.
So, in no particular order I would like to nominate:

  1. A Safe Mooring - a blog I discovered during my obsession with all things wedding but which isn't about weddings per se.  Just a very funny, articulate lady who often makes me laugh out loud on the train
  2. Arroz con Mango - a blog by a beautiful and interesting Cubanita in Miami with a gift for portraiture and a love for life
  3. Artsyville - a blog by a hugely talented artist with a gift for script and endless creative abilities 
  4. Carol King: Painting, Drawing, Complaining - a blogger I befriended when doing the Sketchbook Project a while back.  A very funny New Yorker who can really tell a hilarious story and an artist to boot.
  5. Drops of Jupiter - I just love this blog because its full of quirky interesting posts such as 'For the Literate' and my favourite 'Tattoo Tuesday' which showcases beautful photos of great tattoos every week (even if you aren't into body art the photos are delicious!)
  6. Heather Foust  - a fellow Paint Party Friday-er who creates beautiful works of art and has a wonderfully positive way of looking at the world
  7. Katherine Thomas - an amazingly gifted artist who inspires me with her incredibly detailed work
  8. Kristin Dudish - Kristin amazes me every week with her imagination and the ability to translate it into wonderful illustrations on any surface you care to mention.
  9. Love Maegan - an All American chick with a gift for style.  She blogs about fashion and style and makes looking good look easy.  Plus she has two adorable dogs!
  10. Natasha May - another Paint Party Friday-er, Natasha has a wonderful eye for the whimsical and a huge love of animals!
  11. Paint Party Friday - How could I not nominate Kristin and Eva's blog for an award.  It's thanks to this amazing blog that I have met so many like-minded folk and am encouraged to keep on being creative every week!
  12. Sandraws - Sandra, like me, is a secretary by day and an artist by night.  She's incredibly talented and it's only a matter of time before she can give up the day job!
  13. Sunshineshelle - A funny and talented lady from Australia with the most adorable imaginary friends ever!
  14. This Dish is Veg - a blog all about veggie food, animal welfare issues and the things that affect us and our planet - very interesting reading and while not strictly a blog written by just one person, all the different contributors bring lots of different things to the table.
  15. Wednesday Wandered - Carla is another Paint Party Friday-er who makes me laugh with her stories about life and who paints the most delicate watercolours.
Of course, there are loads more blogs that I love and follow but I had to narrow it down.

Now, 7 interesting (we'll see about that) things you may not know about me....

  1. I jumped out of a plane at 13,000 ft once (attached to an instructor in a tandem sky dive for charity!)
  2. I want to get big old perfect American teeth if I ever win the lottery!
  3. I dream (along with S) of selling all our worldly goods, buying a motor home and spending the rest of our days travelling around like a couple of old hippies.
  4. I have 5 tattoos and am planning my 6th & 7th
  5. I broke my leg when I was 14 on a 3-wheel motorbike and missed out on a 6 week trip to Chicago because of it.
  6. I was a backing singer in a punk rock band called The Wax Tadpoles when I was 17.  We had three live gigs before calling it a day and going our separate ways (i.e leaving school!)
  7. I was a holiday rep overseas for 5 years and had to dance to big spender in fishnet stockings, dress as a chicken and sing, among other humiliations, at the reps' cabaret (Which I loathed and detested!)
Not sure if they're interesting or not but I can't think of a single other interesting thing about me!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Frostbite and Johnny Wine...

So, we got back from our Polish city break last Thursday but it's taken me a week to sort out the photos and get myself back into work mode.  It seems like ages since I last blogged and I've missed being part of Paint Party Friday so, in order to be able to participate this week, even though this isn't exactly a work in progress but rather one I did a year or so ago, here is a watercolour painting of Trojey Square taken from a photo from our first trip and below that is a photo of me standing in said Square on this trip!!

Trojey Square - watercolour and pen and ink

Trojey Square - me, freezing!
This is a pretty long post so feel free to just browse the bits that catch your eye or ignore the text that I spent ages and ages writing up and just look at the photographs!

Krakow is such a beautiful city.  The architecture in the old town is intricate and lovely with lots of gorgeous details that are so lacking in modern buildings. The old town is surrounded by walls and inside are lots of meandering narrow streets full of quirky buildings, the beautiful Wawel Castle overlooking the river, and a fabulous main square with an indoor/outdoor market selling amber jewellery and lovely wooden boxes and sculptures and loads of other bits and bobs.

We first went to Krakow in January 2010 for S's 40th birthday and, on that trip, we visited Auschwitz which was a truly humbling experience and one that I believe everyone should make in their lifetime, if only to put their own superficial worries into perspective. I don't think I'll ever forget the rooms with the suitcases and belongings of so many holocaust victims so we didn't feel we needed to go back there a second time.

Krakow is full of quirky wee streets and gorgeous buildings

Credit: S

Me being all arty and pretentious!
Credit: S

At Wawel Castle
Credit: S

Credit: S
Credit: S

Credit: S

Me trying and failing to get the blurry twinkly lights background, grr.

We went back to Zgody Square which is full of statues of large chairs.  This is where all the Jewish families were forced out of their homes with whatever worldly possessions and furniture they could carry, hence the chair memorial.

I loved how the old buildings were reflected in the mirror glass front of the new building opposite
Credit: S
Credit: S
A pinch of Salt
So this time we decided to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines which are about 30 minutes drive away from Krakow city.  These mines were created in the 13th century and they only stopped mining there in 1996 although they continued to produce table salt until 2007.  We walked down 800 steps stopping at three different levels, the deepest of which was 135 metres under the ground.  We saw 20 different chambers over about 2.5kms and, to put into perspetive how big the mines are, that was only a fraction as there are over 2000 manmade chambers down there!  Nowadays they have a special air regulation system which keeps the mines at a steady temperature of 15 degrees which was weird as it was -15 above ground that day!  Thankfully S had read the blurb on this before we went so we left the thermal undies off for that trip as it was pretty warm all that way underground!

A lot of the miners were religious so many of the chambers and carvings were of saints and biblical scenes. The fact that they were carved out of salt by the miners themselves is pretty awesome. The only part I didn't like was the fact that horses were used to turn much of the heavy mining equipment and because it was so difficult to get them down there in the first place they actually brought them down as foals and the poor creatures spent their whole lives underground never once coming up for daylight.

Actual salt on top of the wooden supports in the mine (yes I licked my finger and dabbed at it for a taste!)

Even the chandeliers were carved out of salt
The only photo of the two of us together the whole trip!

Add your own caption!
Whilst we didn't have to climb 800 steps to get back to the surface I wasn't that relieved to hear we'd be taking a lift instead.  A tiny little thing which 9 of us had to squeeze into (I made a point of hanging back so we could squeeze in last and be beside the door although it turned out that wasn't the door that opened to let us out) and the lift itself was a sort of cage with tiny little holes to look out of.  There were a stack of 3 lifts so ours had to travel up beyond the point of exit to let both the lifts below our disembark first while we hovered above in the darkness before coming back down and being disgorged (awkqardly as the door opened inwards) into the relief of the fresh air. 

As S will tell you, I am extremely claustrophobic but not because of enclosed spaces as such (being over 100 metres underground didn't phase me as the chambers and passages were wide and airy). It's people stealing my air and my space that freaks me out which is why I have to have an aisle seat on the plane (so poor S always gets stuck in the middle seat) and why I rushed S through the souvenir shop at the end of the trip to get back to the minibus first so we could get the same seats closest to the sliding door and not end up at the back of the bus with lots of other people hemming me in.  My dad and sister are exactly the same so if ever we went on a family trip we'd all be sitting in aisle seats!
The Vegan Abroad
I have to say a massive thanks to S.  He isn't a vegan.  He isn't even a vegetarian.  But, he plotted out all the veg-friendly restaurants and cafes that Happy Cow Guide advised were in Krakow.  All 6 of them (count 'em Belfast, you have a long way to go!)

We went to all of them over the course of our trip.  The Green Way was my favourite - their mexican tofu stew was out of this world and we went there three times for lunch during our 5 day stay and even S said how amazing the food was.  Also incredibly cheap, as they all were, a massive plate of food and a drink came to approximately £3.50!! You couldn't even buy a sandwich for that in most eateries in Britain or Ireland.

The ice was on the inside!
I loved Cafe Mlynek for its quirky design - our table was an old sewing table and there were old antique relics dotted all over the place. They also offered to 'veganise' any meal that had egg or dairy in it.

Me trying and failing to be all arty with my herbal tea!!
(That's a fur coat hanging on the coat stand btw - in a veggie restaurant!!)

After lunch in Cafe Mlynek one day, we went straight on to Momo purely because they were both in Kaziemierz (the old Jewish ghetto area) and we wouldn't be back that way again.  Momo was a real hippie hangout.  Basic and simple but they did vegan cake! I had the chocolate and S had the apple pie (which I ate half of - so much for the healthy vegan diet!!)  While we were there we met this adorable little dog who came over to our table and, completely unbidden, sat up on her hind legs and begged! So adorable (and I'm guessing other folk didn't mind as it was, after all, a vegetarian, pet-friendly establishment.

A whole lot of cute!

We went to Vega for dinner one evening - this time I had vegan goulash while S had a typical Polish dish of Pierogies - stuffed dumplings.

Cafe Karma was an organic coffee house which also offered vegan cake - we went there for soy lattes and banana cake one evening - lovely!

Finally, we went to Glonojad - this is the name of a type of fish that eats algae in case you wondered why there was a picture of a fish on a veggie restaurant sign!! It was lovely there too.  We didn't have a bad meal the whole time we were in Krakow.

The only thing I couldn't quite get my head around was the people (usually ladies of a certain age) who came into the veggie restaurants wearing real fur coats.  They were everywhere in Krakow maybe the different culture or generation means that the ethics and cruelty involved doesn't register with older women for whom fur is both functional in such a cold climate and also for whom it perhaps still has that misguided appearance of wealth.  Even S couldn't believe how prevalent it was.  But to wear fur while abstaining from eating meat just seemed beyond strange to me.
Water off a duck's back
The temperature was between -9 and -19 while we were there and we were very glad we'd packed the thermal undies, I can tell you. The river was frozen over with only a small area left unfrozen and this is where all the swans, ducks, seagulls and other birdy wildlife congregated in a great noisy, feathery, mass of feathers and beaks by the banks while kind folk came along with bags of bread. I think it was what they call a feeding frenzy!

Credit: S - how amazingly clear is this shot!
A couple of swans find time for a bit of courting during the feeding frenzy!
No point getting his feet wet when he can hitch a lift on a swan's back!
Back at the main square there were stone seats all around the square and at two of them there were vents that hot air blew out of. All the poor pigeons were huddled round these vents trying to keep warm.

A very cold pigeon
I think this is my favourite photo that S took - poor wee things trying to keep warm.

Photography and frost bite
Because it was so cold and despite, I might add, the expensive 'wind proof' gloves that S bought me before we went, I was only able to use my camera for a couple of minutes at a time (with my gloves on) before my fingers felt like they were going to fall off! The cold also drained the batteries in a similarly brief length of time so I constantly had to change them and warm them back up in my pocket to use them again later. 

This made it very difficult to mess about with the settings to try to get the professional shots we'd been shown at the photography workshop.  Mind you,  even indoors I still couldn't manage to get the wonderfully artistic compositions that I had in my mind to make the leap to my camera.  So, for the most part I stayed on auto point and press after all.

S however is made of sterner stuff; his fingers managed to rebuff the cold for longer and he obviously paid more attention in photo class as he knew what settings to use and got some really fabulous shots, some of which I have borrowed for illustrative purposes and have credited him for so you can see how much better his photos were than mine!

We came across a bridge with hundreds of padlocks attached to it.  I'd heard of this before - they're called 'love locks' and couple inscribe them with their names and lock them to the bridge and throw away the key.  Apparently it's been happening on bridges all over Europe since about 2000.  Would you believe the best photo I managed to take all trip was of these padlocks and a snowball!!

Love Locks
I did the blurry thing!!

Johnny Wine
There's a restaurant/bar in the main square called Sioux.  We spent a lot of time there on our first trip and nearly as much time there on this trip, I even had their veggie fajitas twice.  The main reason for our frequent visits this time though was for their hot mulled wine.  S asked them how to say it in Polish (it's Grzani) and the closest approximation we could get was Johnny Wine and so, that's what it became known as.

Our regular Johnny Wine haunt
S enjoying the Johnny Wine in Dobrey Kumpel underground bar
If you look closely you can see my reflection in the glass as I gaze lovingly at the Johnny Wine!

We ended up with four of these mugs

It's probably a gazillion calories a mug because it was so sweet but it was the perfect thing for warming us up from the inside out and thawing our frozen fingers cupped round the gorgeous wee clay mugs they were served in.

In fact, we loved the wee clay mugs so much that, after searching every shop for them to no avail, we asked our waitress if we could buy some from them - we ended up with four!

My only other successful blurry background shot - of a snowball!
Thursday was my birthday and the day we flew home.  We had a last breakfast (which was really quite good if you eat meat and eggs). However I was really glad I brought my vegan margarine with me although I'm not sure what the folk at other tables thought as I lifted it out of my bag along with my fruit tea bags and vegan parmesan sprinkles every morning!

It snowed a lot that last day so we went out into the square for some final photos before being super efficient and allowing lots of time to get to the airport.  We were there 50 minutes before the check in desk opened.  Then when it opened the cold kept making the conveyor belt break down.  We then had to get on a bus to travel to the plane even though it was close enough to the terminal to hit with a snowball!

Once on, the doors were left wide open while they refuelled. Bear in mind it was -16 outside so we all sat chittering and shaking with our hats, coats, scarves and gloves still on. Then they discovered that the mechanism to lock the back door for take off had frozen so they turned the heating on full blast and got a blow heater directed at the door to thaw it out!!  After an hour of being first freeze-dried and then parboiled on the runway they finally got it sorted and we were able to take off.

So that was our second trip to Krakow and it was every bit as lovely as the first time we were there.  We both agreed that somehow the cold weather adds to the wonder of it.  That's not to say it wouldn't still be a lovely city in the summer but there's something a little bit magical about Krakow in the snow.


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