Friday, 25 February 2011

Spring is tapping on the window

We had a lovely day yesterday. It started damp, misty and grey, but by 10:00am it was lifting and the sky brightening. By the time people were enjoying their elevensies, it was bright sunshine and pretty much clear blue sky.
Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

The trees still look bare, but there's activity brewing in them.

I wasn't going to waste it by being inside, so picked up my camera (I'm still extensively 'testing' my new one) and headed out for a walk - I wasn't going far, just one of my usual lunchtime walks of just over a mile. One route I do regularly has a steep hill, so offers more cardiovascular value, the other undulates much more gently, but has more scenic value. I opted for scenic enjoyment over workout in the sunshine, on this occasion.

I promised you some snowdrops.

There was very a very definite air of spring - I saw my first daffodils, heard birds singing like their lives depended on it, horses going daft being frisky, ducks canoodling and more people than usual out doing the same thing as me.

Not my best photograph, the ones flowering were in the middle of a large patch, so I had to take them from quite a distance. But it was lovely to see the first ones in bloom.

I chatted with the lady who lives adjacent to the memorial garden in one corner of the park and must maintain it - I think she thought as I bent to photographs the snowdrops that I was interfering with them, so sauntered over to check. She said it was official that spring had a arrived, as a pair of ducks that court in her pond before raising a brood, had arrived yesterday and tapped their beaks on the glass of her kitchen window to tell her that they've arrived and would like a welcoming snack please.

If you look closely you can see her husband nestled down behind the dead grass.

I remembered to take a drink this time and found a picnic table in the park in full sunshine and allowed myself the indulgence of 15 minutes sitting there doing nothing other than allowing the sun to soak into my face that was hungry for it and listening to birds and half-term children playing in t-shirts. It felt like spring, it looked like spring and it certainly sounded like spring.

The park is almost completely circled by mature trees.

I took this photograph at the weekend in damp, very cold, dark woodland, which seemed a world away today.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Christmas presents to enjoy some time later

Firstly, I hope you like the new look of the blog, I decided it was time I gave it a bit of attention and having passed 90 blogs, thought it needed some organisation, so I'll be working on that gradually in the next week or two, it's somewhat of a work in progress. But please do let me know if you have any problems with it after my tweaking.
Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

I'm still tinkering with my new camera and getting to know it and macro was the next thing I wanted to address, as it has a very long zoom range (30x) so needed some thought about how to get the best from the macro function. For this series of photos I was just thinking about abstract shapes and the gorgeous patterns you get to see when looking closer.

I've always had a particular fondness for spring flowers, I love to see bulbs emerging from the winter soil with their promise of warmer times and longer days to come; a welcome sight after a seemingly long, cold winter this year.

I'm especially fond of snowdrops, I love their delicate elegance and over the years I've planted more outside and they're now starting to naturalise and expand nicely - I'll get some photographs of those as soon as it stops raining and we get some light - as they're just about at their best now.

The structure of hyacinths has always fascinated me, the way all the little individual flowers bud and open and then curl back.

Each Christmas I am usually lucky to receive some of the bulb kits that you plant yourself and this year I have a pot of very delicate and paper-like white crocuses, some pink hyacinths and a scarlet red amaryllis - that has put out two flowers, but rather smaller than usual - but gorgeous nontheless - and each a slightly different colour too. They all seem to have peaked at the same time and I took the opportunity to grab some photographs before they fade.

I concentrated on this occasion on some abstract images from framing in tightly so that I could enjoy the lovely shapes and structures of the flowers. One of the aspects of photography that I enjoy is that you learn to see things differently and whilst working on a series of photographs like this, you simply look - and are therefore able to enjoy - that bit more. It gives you a legitimate excuse for doing so.

A promise of more yet to come - I love how the buds are all tightly packed together and gradually spread apart before opening. Their shape reflects how they were squashed together as they formed, before they relax and spread.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The best I could manage on a damp February Saturday

Apologies for yet another post of little worthwhile substance, but it's been a funny, disorganised sort of week and my mind hasn't sufficient capacity left for writing anything sensible or of value this week.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

On the perimeter of the reservoir are the remains of some workers cottages and farmsteads from before the valley was flooded. This shot was a blended exposure from two frames developed from the same raw image taken - it would have been impossible to get this much detail in the foreground shadow and good colour in the sky from a single in-camera image.

As mentioned previously, I got a new camera for my recent BIG birthday and haven't yet fallen totally in love with it - it's taking some getting to know and get the best from. I was concerned that there was actually a problem with it, I was getting a few totally out of focus shots, despite having focus lock confirmed, so I consulted fellow owners on a photography forum for advice.

After discussion of focus and exposure issues, I took it out for a walk yesterday - I needed to stretch my legs and get some fresh air and the 2Km reservoir walk we chose is local, has a good car park and provides just the kind of scene I've been having difficulty with.

So armed with some ideas to try and warm clothing I put it through its paces and whilst the scenery was very post-winter and drab looking and the weather very changeable - from bright low winter sunshine to big dollops of cold rain, I came away with a higher percentage of successful shots than I had been doing.

I shot these in a raw unprocessed format which is my usual practice with my DSLR and I think this will be the way to go, I was much happier with the image quality (at pixel level, in terms of sharpening, contrast etc.) and it fits nicely with my preferred work flow for post-processing images - I like working the images to my own taste rather than just accepting what the camera gives me.

My new camera has a wider wide angle than most digicams (24mm equivalent, where most are 36mm or 38mm) and this was one of the reasons I chose it, as I do like to take very wide angle shots like this. I use a 12mm ultra wide angle lens on my DSLR.

I did however have to question one previously published theory - that dogs always carry the largest possible stick they can lift with their jaws. I was passed by a golder Labrador with a very trim stick in his mouth - it was about 2" in diameter and about 15" long - with very clean saw marks at each end. I suspect his owner, fearing for the safety of their shins, or perhaps having already come off badly after an encounter with the dog's favourite walk-buddy - decided to create a stick of his own that was perfect for carrying and throwing and ensured rather less bruising. Mr Boo and I both spotted it simultaneously and pointed, laughing; the owner must have thought we were bonkers!

There's often little water in this race which feeds the reservoir, but after several days of heavy rain, the waterfalls were more lively than I've seen them before.

To paraphrase a quote by Ms Dolly Parton - 'if you want to see rainbows, you have to put up with the rain'. You can just see that this was a double rainbow and actually was a full arc on both sides too.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The ingredients of a good walk

I apologise for posting several recent blogs on a similar theme, but it just so happens to be what I've taken photographs of - and where we've spent time recently.

It was my husband's birthday earlier in the week and as he has a few days of annual leave to take this financial year, he thought that he might as well take a few days around his birthday, so that we'd have a choice of days on which to try and get out for some fresh air, should the weather not co-operate on the actual day. As it happens, Tuesday proved to be the best day of the week and an ideal one for wrapping up warm and heading out to stretch our legs.
Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

The summit of Beacon Fell. the very grey and misty start had thankfully lifted to the most glorious day.

We were talking in the car on our way home about what a nice day we'd had and listed some of the highlights and decided that these were often the ingredients that went to comprise the more enjoyable days. So these are the bullet points that seemed significant and entertaining - to us:
  • It was quiet - although we went to a popular and favourite beauty spot, it always feels like a bonus to go mid-week when you often get the place pretty much to yourselves.
It had rained relentlessly for the previous 3 days and it was rather squelchy underfoot in places, but sunshine after rain of that nature does provide a rather special atmosphere.
  • We only really passed the occasional dog walker and other mature types like us taking advantage of a day off or enjoying their retirement. We passed grandparents with a cheerful small dog and equally cheerful young grandson, wearing the most fabulous fleece hat adorned with dinosaur spines. When admiring said headwear, he provided a suitably loud dinosaur roar, just in case we weren't certain what type of beast he was. He advised us that he was looking out for real dinosaurs and bears, so we were more vigilant from that point forwards. Just in case he was lucky.
I must admit to looking a little more carefully into the dark corners once I knew there were dinosaurs and bears lurking. But thankfully the only wildlife we saw were some squirrels chasing each other along the branches, obviously thinking spring was in the air.
  • This encounter left us with a question - why do dogs always prefer disproportionately long sticks to carry? What primeval instinct drives them to drag one along, seemingly far too large for them, causing passers by to swiftly take evasive action to save their shins. You'd think that there would be an optimal size of something like 4 times the width of the dog's skull - but not so, it would seem, dogs, even quite small ones, will valiantly persist in carrying a stick or branch several times their own length. And for some reason, equally unfathomable, Mr Boo obviously sports the look of a man who would be good at throwing said sticks and he often finds himself with a stick at his feet and a hopeful looking dog attached.
I have posted photographs of this fabulous carved snake before, but the light made the fabulous textured carving on his head rather more visible and we approached it from a different angle. It might just make you jump if you didn't know it was there.
  • Talking of dogs, whilst we had our favourite car park almost to ourselves, there was one other very small car parked nearby and our lunchtime entertainment took the form of an extremely large (sans stick, presumably he never found one quite large enough) Irish wolfhound that had to be shoe-horned into the aforementioned very small vehicle before departure. I was so sorry that I'd put the camera away at this point. But I had to admire the fact that he'd clearly done it before and knew just what was required to cram himself into the inadequate space. Clearly his daily walk was worth that effort.
I'm not keen on snakes, I certainly wouldn't have got this close to a real one, but he does have a rather lovely face which is beautifully carved from a massive hunk of timber, with lovely and very tactile textures.
  • I saw my first lamb of the season - very small and still wearing its protective plastic coat, presumably only born in the last few days.
  • We had a very brief and fleeting encounter with a barn owl. As we were driving back towards home, we must have disturbed it on a fencepost at the roadside. It took off and flew alongside the car for a few yards and by the time I'd tried to get my husband to take appropriate action to allow me a photograph, it had veered off to the side and was now behind us, but the close proximity of another rather impatient driver close to our tail meant that we were unable to stop quickly and by the time we'd extricated ourselves from the traffic, the barn owl had seemingly settled somewhere out of sight, despite returning and carefully scanning the area he'd last been seen. I was gutted not to have got a better look or an opportunity for a photograph.
You always know that it has been a good day when you drive home to a sky like this.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Cufflinks born on a woodland path

I end up particularly fond of some of the pieces that I make that have more of a story behind them - some feature that makes a piece unique to me - either the way it evolved, the materials used or the thought process that inspired it. Some pieces just end up more personal than others.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

I saw a TV program many years ago where a sculptor was making big metal structures in a barn attached to his home - one of his comments really struck a cord with me and I think of it very often.

He said that the work he did reflected his daily life and he didn't worry too much about always trying to make it perfect. If he woke in a bad mood and his tool marks went a little deeper that day, then his mood was embodied in the work. If his cat came along and rubbed his head against his arm as he was working and the nudge caused his tool to make an additional mark, then that mark was a permanent declaration of his cats love for him. His life was an important character in the development of the art.

I really like the idea that a piece of work reflects our lives in this way - they become personal and organic and much, much nicer than something impersonal churned out in the thousands from a machine.

I have always been fascinated by fir cones. I simply cannot resist picking them up and putting them in my pocket when I walk - they're perfect little natural sculptures - I love the regular geometry of their appearance and the spiral patterns of the open scales. I have a house full of cones picked up on walks, little tiny wee ones still on their branches and even one mahoosive one (well over a foot long) that I saw drop from a specimen tree in a stately home garden. I figured that as it nearly brained me, it was fair game to keep it.

I have favourite trees that I know drop particularly pretty cones and even though I have more than enough cones to decorate my home, I still can't resist picking a few up when I pass by. They even get to play a part in presenting my jewellery.

So it was a natural progression to me to encapsulate the abstract of them into an etched design. I have spent some time since I started making jewellery, trying to figure out how to bring my love of cones together with a jewellery project. I had the idea that using the regular geometric shapes of a cone I could make an abstract pattern for a texture to etch. Not necessarily obvious as a fir cone image, but a unique texture inspired by one.

I picked up a long cone from the path as we walked through Beacon fell in Lancashire, a place I've mentioned several times in my blogs - they had been doing a lot of tidying of trees and there were a lot of cones and trimmings on the path edges. I also took some nice needle-clad branches for the same purpose. Once home, I took an assortment of photographs to use as my reference and settled on one particular cone photograph that I thought would lend itself well to making a texture and set about digitally manipulating it into a two tone image that would be suitable to etch from.

For etching, the image needs to be just black and white - not a black and white photograph, but the image must only have black and whites - white is the area to be etched and black protects the copper surface and prevents it being etched. If the image is recognisable, like a photograph, the image needs to be both mirrored and made into a negative, as the white areas within the image will be removed from the copper surface and once oxidised black, will be the darker areas that form the image.

So I worked several versions of the photograph, until one looked like it would work as I hoped, which I then mirrored and made a negative of it, ready to apply to the copper sheet for etching. Whilst it is now very much an abstract from the original photograph, I hope you can still recognise some of the structure of the pine cone bracts.

I wanted to make this design into a pair of cufflinks for a gift, but was working on them far too close to Christmas to have time to get suitable fittings in a copper finish (appalling winter weather had seriously impacted on postal deliveries) - so I had to design and make my own. So I settled on a short chain and toggle bar for fitting them in wear. I attached a small D loop to the back of the etching and a couple of links of chain, to a two part toggle bar, much as I make for my toggle bracelet clasps.


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