Saturday, 30 March 2013

White Star Flower Painting

The White Star Flower painting is now finished.  And for a white flower, I've discovered that there's an awful lot of blue in it!  I think it's worked quite well although, to be honest, I'm not quite as heart-skippy pleased with it as the previous ones I've done.  Not sure why.  I like to do things well and, like everyone who creates anything at all, the flaws in the finished object always seem enormous to me.  I'm not entirely satisfied with the flower for some reason I can't quite put my finger on.  Perhaps I've been looking at it up close for too long.  Never mind, I'll show you some photos of it in progress:

Current work in progress
This was putting the first few colours on, with the original print out of the photo at the top of the board.  It's best to start with the darker colours first, then gradually add the lighter ones, before finishing with the flower.  Again, there are layers and layers and layers of subtly different shades all mixed in, using a dry brush (also known as 'scumble glaze') technique which after a few hours kills your shoulder muscles as it takes a long time using hardly any paint on a dry stencil brush using a circular motion to get the airbrushed effect.  I can only actively do it for an hour or so before I have to give my aching muscles a rest, it's that physical!

White Star Flower painting
This is the final painting and you can see if you compare it with the photo above that the background has been lightened, and darkened, and altered, which all takes time and patient observation and lots and LOTS of colour mixing.

White star flower painting finished! 29 March 2013
And this is it finally with the masking tape removed and the edges (where the paint managed to get under the tape) touched up with white paint.

All my flower paintings are done on A4 size acrylic paper (that is, paper designed to painted on with acrylic paints as opposed to watercolours or oil paints), which I've now got used to using.

And now I'm looking forward to starting my next flower painting.  I'm going for something more colourful this time - here's the original photo:

Bokeh Orange Flower

Bright, isn't it?  I'll keep you posted!!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Salvia in a meadow - latest painting

I meant to do this post the other day but got caught up in my blood pressure shenanigans so it got put to one side.

I've decided to concentrate on a short series of flower paintings where the background/foreground/both is out of focus.  I did one of these earlier in March (you can see it in this post), and I thought it was extremely effective so spent some time wandering around on Flickr looking for suitable candidates for the next painting.  I found several that I've favourited to make final choices from.

Anyway, I found a rather nice photo of a close up of Salvia in bloom, taken at a botanical garden in Scotland.  I can't post a close up of the photo due to fiddly technical issues but here are some pictures of my painting as I was working on it (I printed off the photo on two different printers, you can see the colour differences.  My painting is a combination of the two.  Don't forget you can click on the pictures to embiggen them):

Salvia - work in progress & finished (20 March 2012)

Salvia - work in progress & finished (20 March 2012)

Salvia - work in progress & finished (20 March 2012)

Salvia - work in progress & finished (20 March 2012)

and finally with the masking tape taken off (I've since touched up the edges):


It's turned out really well, and I love the colours.  I'm so loving this technique and it's really effective.

And, yes, I've started on another one!  This one is of a white star-shaped flower against a much darker green and near-black background.  It's only in its early stages so far and there are many more layers of subtle colours to be added and blended in yet.  It's interesting because even though the flower is the focal point of the painting, it only takes a fraction of the time to paint compared to the background.  I can easily spend 2 or 3 hours fiddling around with the background, and 20 minutes on the flower!

Current work in progress

Again, I started this latest painting before the fannying around with the blood pressure but I'm hoping to complete it over Easter - I'll show you when it's done.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Trying not to worry...


I'm trying not to worry too much because it's not helping things, as you will see.  You may recall almost exactly two years ago now I had my blood pressure tested at the doctors and it was a little high, so they made me do a fasting blood test, an ECG and take home a monitor for a week to test myself twice a day.  Well, after I did all that they never called me back in to see about starting medication so I assumed all was okay for the time being.  The readings were only ever borderline anyway.  However, I wasn't keen to start taking meds then so decided to change my lifestyle a bit, and start with upping my exercise, which is why I started running.  I also bought myself the same BP monitor that the surgery had lent me so I could keep an eye on it myself at home.

High blood pressure runs very strongly in my family line - my maternal grandmother started having heart attacks in her 40s and it was her 5th or 6th one that finally got her when she was only 64.  One of my aunts had a stroke in her 50s.  My father died of his first sudden, massive heart attack aged only 55.  I'm turning 50 in less than a month.  I want to live to see my 56th birthday at least (and many more beyond).  If your family history is full of high blood pressure then there's a genetic element that no amount of lifestyle change will help (although giving up smoking, cutting down on caffeine, salt and alcohol, losing weight and increasing exercise are all Good Things).

So, last Thursday (21 March) I realised I'd been feeling a bit breathless and I could feel that my heart rate was up.  It's that feeling you get sometimes after you've eaten an enormous meal, like at Christmas.  I hadn't been eating especially enormous meals so I knew it meant my blood pressure was up.

Over the last two years I've tested my BP from time to time and it's always been less than 140 for the systolic reading (the top one, that measures the pressure of the blood as it's squeezed out of the ventricles of the heart and along the arteries, and is always the higher number) and less than 89 for the diastolic reading (the bottom one, that measures the blood pressure in the heart between beats, so when it's resting.  If the number is too high then the heart isn't resting enough).  The average normal readings these days are about 120/80.  So, yeah, mine's been a bit higher than normal but still just about OK.

I tested on Thursday morning (the machine takes three readings and averages them), and it was 134/90.  Which was a bit concerning as it was the first time I'd seen it go to 90.  On Friday morning, the reading was 126/90, so one improved, the other not.  I've been told several times that it's the diastolic, the lower figure, that's the most important, so that's the figure I've been concentrating on.

I decided to test again on Friday evening because BP is normally higher in the morning so I wondered if there'd be any improvement come the evening.  Short answer - no.  Reading was 144/91.  Hmm.  Okay, try not to worry too much.

Saturday morning's reading was 128/93 and I woke with a thumping headache.  My period had arrived overnight and she usually brings a thick, hormonal headache with her these days so it could be that, but could, just as likely be from the raised BP.  But 93 is not good.  I was, however, also a bit stressed out due to shenanigans surrounding a family get-together that was happening on the Saturday and I'd been a bit piggy-in-the-middle which always stresses me out, but I didn't think it was enough to have raised my BP that much in such a short space of time.  I didn't tell my mum about my BP concerns as she has enough on her plate just now but did take the opportunity to ask if she was on BP medication, 'oh yes', she replied, airily, 'have been for years!' so that's another tick in the immediate family box.  *sigh* - you can see where this is going, can't you?

Yesterday (Sunday) morning's reading was 141/97.  I am now officially alarmed.  What the fuck is going on?  I wondered whether the machine's calibration had gone to pot but reminded myself that I am actually feeling a bit breathless and can feel my heart racing (oh, I've forgotten to tell you the pulse rate - take it from me it's higher than it should be).  Something is most definitely up, especially as it's gone up so rapidly in such a short space of time.

Today's reading?  Well, it's ridiculous - 142/101 with a heartrate of 90bpm.  I'm seeing the doctor this morning at 11.30.  If he/she doesn't suggest it, I think I'll ask to be put on meds to get this current spike under control while I change my lifestyle even more, and see if I can get it down low enough to come off meds.   I am, however,  resolved to the fact that I may have to stay on them for life and if that keeps me out of an early grave, then I'm happy with that.

Wish me luck and I'll keep you informed.

PS.  High blood pressure is known as the 'silent killer' because usually there are no symptoms until you suddenly suffer a stroke or heart attack.  If you're reading this and are over 40 and have never had your blood pressure checked, I would urge you to do so.  It doesn't hurt, takes only a few minutes but may just save your life.  Please do it.


The doctor thinks this is a blip and actually nothing much to worry about.  He did the average for the last 7 days' readings and it came out at 130/91 and said that was actually ok.  At the surgery, they don't start considering meds until someone's average is 135/85.  I said I'd always thought it was the lower number that was the most important but he said it wasn't, the systolic number is the one to watch out for and, looking at all my figures for the last year, it was fine. 

He asked if there was anything particularly stressful happening in my life at the moment that could account for the raised BP, but there isn't.  Only usual minor stressors and nothing that I could think would raise it so dramatically so quickly.  He said peoples' BP fluctuated anyway and it was hard to diagnose properly raised BP until the raise is consistent over a longer period.  I asked if it could be my thyroid, and mentioned that the fasting glucose/full blood panel I'd had 2 years ago hadn't shown anything bad; he looked it up and agreed, also saying that although my cholesterol level was a bit high at 6 something, my overall Q ratio figure (which is something to do with cholesterol + something else, and is an indicator of the future risk of the patient developing heart disease) was extremely good, but he suggested that it wouldn't hurt to do the blood test again to see if anything's changed in the last 2 years.  So that's been booked although the soonest they could do it was 15 April. 

He also wanted me to do the clinic's BP monitoring programme, where I test twice a day, write down the numbers and then add 5 (I did it 2 years ago), and he was happy I use my machine.  He said this would give us a better idea over a longer period.  Basically, the upshot is he doesn't think whatever's going on is bad enough for me to start BP meds because, as he says, once a person's BP is bad enough for meds, they most usually never come off them again.  What TLH and I are going to do is try and lose some weight - I could stand to easily lose 30lbs, as could he, and I'm also going to see about getting my cholesterol down.  I'm also going to start running again - I've not done much this year (last went out mid-February) because the weather's been unrelentingly shite here and then there was the flu that knocked me back for a couple of weeks.  Actually, I'm wondering if the flu didn't 'leave' something behind that's caused this reaction, a bug of some description.  I may well take myself off to Quincy, my Traditional Chinese Medical practitioner and see what he thinks.

Anyway, the upshot is nothing to be too concerned about at present but we'll do more tests just to see if there is anything to keep an eye on.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Not so different after all...

I'm feeling almost normal this morning, which is a grand thing, especially as we're off to see Harry Hill tonight and Julian Lloyd-Webber tomorrow.  One will be larking around with a giant inflatable sausage, the other will be playing Elgar - I'll leave you to guess which.

So, to catch up a bit more - I've been 'doing a thing' or two, both jointly and severally with The Lovely Husband.  When his last contract finished at the end of last year, I made a list of the exhibitions in London that I rather fancied going to, in the hope that we'd get to at least one or two of them.

One of them on my list that I was most definite about seeing was the new Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum.  I'm a member there so I get to see all their exhibitions for free, which is always a bonus!  On 15 February, we drove up to London in the Smart Car again.  I think this will now be our preferred method for getting to London because, of course, the rail fares went up again in January and it is now most definitely cheaper for us to take the car.  Which is bloody stupid, but there you are.

My plan originally was that we would park somewhere very central, then hop over to the Hayward Gallery to see if we could get in to the Light exhibition that they're currently running, then grab some lunch in the small Wahaca restaurant in the shipping containers on the South Bank, then trot over the bridge to the British Museum for the Ice Age exhibition.  Good plan, non?

Except, like eedjits, we didn't prebook tickets for the Light Exhibition and the queue was waaaay outside the door.  We didn't feel like waiting around for a couple of hours so decided to come back another day - it's on until 28 April so, theoretically, there's time yet.  Walking back to the bridge, I noticed that the rather fantastic tugboat hotel was still sitting perched atop the Queen Elizabeth Hall:


As it was mid-morning it was much too early for lunch so we decided to head off towards the BM, and swing past a Cass Art shop (for some supplies for me) on the way.  We went to the one in Soho, then decided we might as well go to the Covent Garden Wahaca instead for lunch, where we arrived at about midday and just got seated before the queue started forming up the stairs.

We accidentally drank margaritas and beer:


And ate lovely, lovely Mexican food.

We then had a quick wander round Chinatown as TLH wanted to replenish our Ramen stocks.  It was still wearing its finery from New Year celebrations (I'm sorry the pictures are so dark, not sure why this was as the day wasn't especially bright...):


Then off to the BM we went.  The exhibition itself is in the space upstairs from the Reading Room (which, I believe, is going to be returned to a reading room again when the new BM extension is opened) which confused me a bit as I went round the central area a few times trying to find the entrance!

The exhibition had only been opened a few days when we went and was, needless to say, quite popular.  It was just about okay, though, if you were prepared to wait a few minutes in order to get close up to a case in order to get a really good look at something.  Which I highly recommend.

The artefacts in this exhibition are portable art.  In other words, small items that could be easily moved around, rather than cave paintings.  The exhibition is small, which is only to be expected.  The oldest of the items on display is 40,000 years old, and the most recent probably about 15-20,000 years old.  And, let's face it, you aren't going to find much stuff around that's that old now, are you?

What they did show was extraordinary.  The oldest object is a flute made from the bone of a Griffon Vulture.  So people had music then.

Just look how delicate this thing is. This is the original.  A reproduction has been made and proved to be playable.

The other thing that totally blew my mind was that there were ceramic figurines in the exhibition.  Human forms shaped from clay and fired in, well, a fire.  This means the first ceramic artefacts made by humans were art objects and not vessels.  Just think about that for a minute.  They used clay to make art and not cups or bowls.  Of course, there is the proviso that absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence, it may just be that there are cups and bowls older than these figurines that haven't been found yet.  But these items were special - they must have been to have lasted so long.  They were kept as a precious object and, in some cases, buried with their owner.

This ceramic female figurine is between 30-20,000 years old.  The observation of the maker is so good they've even included rolls of back fat:

Ice Age Art exhibition, British Museum. Feb 2013

Also about the same age is this extraordinary sculpture in mammoth ivory of a pregnant woman.  She is six inches tall and incredibly delicate.  Picasso was obsessed with this little figurine:

Ice Age Art exhibition, British Museum. Feb 2013

The fact that some of these items are found as grave goods indicates that people at the time had a concept of death and an afterlife.  Other questions that I asked myself as I was going around the exhibition were who made them? Men? Women? the elderly?  There are indications from modern anthropological studies of modern hunting societies that, in fact, there is a lot of 'downtime' involved in hunting, a lot of leisure time, sitting around waiting for the animals, so there would be plenty of time for observation and practising drawing/carving.

Also there was no paper at this time; the only surfaces available to paint and draw on were cave walls, flat stones, antlers, bones.  But these items/drawings are accurately proportional, and drawn with an economical use of line.  They are perfect.

The animal figurines are tiny and just beautiful, lovingly carved and professional.  They are very confident and practised - the sculptors knew these animals well, and respected them.

This mammoth ivory figure of a female bison ('The Zaraysk Bison') is about 22,000 years old and is exquisite.  The care taken in carving the head and muzzle is just amazing:

Ice Age Art exhibition, British Museum. Feb 2013

Ice Age Art exhibition, British Museum. Feb 2013

This little diving water bird is just under 2 inches long, made from ivory and about 32,000 years old:

They even had what could loosely be interpreted as toys for children.

This is made from mammoth ivory and is a jointed puppet of a man.  It is also over 20,000 years old. There are holes where the limbs could be attached and, presumably, made to move.  How amazing is that?

Ice Age Art exhibition, British Museum. Feb 2013

As I'm getting older and closer to menopause I'm finding myself becoming more emotionally overwhelmed by things.  This has come as something of a shock to me as I've always considered myself to be very controlling of my emotions.  I found myself moved to tears at the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood exhibition at Tate Britain back in January by one particular painting.  I've sniffled through the odd orchestral symphony.

But there was one piece here which practically had me sobbing.  Totally unexpectedly.  It's not one of the main pieces, not highlighted in any way, in fact, blink and you'd miss it.  But it really connected with me.  This is it:

Ice Age Art exhibition, British Museum. Feb 2013

Like I said, not overly exciting at first glance.  If you look closely you'll see that it's a ptarmigan that has been engraved on reindeer antler.

This is a ptarmigan:

So I was looking at the antler piece, thinking that it looked like a really modern sketch, something I would do, and I envisaged myself drawing it, observing the bird, attempting to make the mark of the smooth curves on the surface of the antler and I suddenly, joltingly, 'connected' with the artist who had drawn this and I realised that, despite the distance of 30,000 years, we weren't so different after all.

It was almost overwhelmingly emotional for me and totally, totally unexpected.  I started to well up and knew that if I didn't stop thinking about this too much I would break down in wracking, heaving sobs!  Fortunately the exhibition is dimly lit so I could surreptitiously find a tissue and get control of myself.  But this was an extraordinary piece of art.  I'd go back again just to see this one little piece of antler again.

Needless to say, I would urge you to RUN to this exhibition if you get the chance - these items are more precious than rare jewels and it's such an opportunity to see them all in the same place at once.

And take some tissues.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

March already?!

Gosh, I'm a Mrs Tardy-pants, aren't I?  Well, if you've been reading my blog for any length of time you'll know I'm a bit cavalier about updating.  Then I always come back and apologise.  I should stop apologising, shouldn't I?  So, I will.

Anyhoo, since I last posted there's been more art done, a couple of visits to exhibitions in London and some illness.

Yes, Jones Towers has been visited by the Flu Fairy who really seems to have been busy this winter.  I thought we'd managed to avoid it but no.  The Lovely Husband has had it MUCH worse than I have - he had the full panoply of fever chills and high temperature.  He's now much better but is still coughing a lung up from time to time.  I've managed to get away with aching joints, lethargy, bit of a scratchy throat and an annoying headache that's been around for about 5 days now.  I do know people, though, who are on antibiotics and a friend of a friend that's ended up in hospital with pneumonia and septicaemia so I think we got away lightly!

Anyway, let's look at some art, shall we? 

A few weeks ago, in class we were being shown how to do scumble glazing to create an out-of-focus effect.  To do this you need to get a stencil brush or two, or (if you can afford it) a Da Vinci pastel brush.  You use what's known as a 'dry brush technique' which is exactly as it sounds - you don't wet the brush AT ALL.  You dip your dry brush into the paint, then blot most of it off again.  Then apply the brush to the surface gently.  It gives a sort of air-brushed effect.  Kim (our tutor) gave us a large A4 printout of a photo that she wanted us to replicate - it was of a tree trunk in close up on the left of the picture, then the rest of the woodland behind it out of focus.  She also showed us how to use gel and matte mediums (media?) applied with a palette knife to create texture on the tree bark.

None of this I'd done before and was a little daunted but found that I absolutely loved it, and it worked really well.  This is my finished picture of the tree trunk in woodland (NB. the photos of mine that I downloaded from Flickr seem to be cut off a bit on the right - if you click on the photo it will open up to the proper size):

Final version

The week after that, Kim showed us how to do a stormy seascape using the same techniques.  We did a dry brush scumble glaze for the cloudy sky and she showed us how to paint the sea using glazes and flicking a toothbrush for sea spray.  When I got my one home, I decided to use white matte medium to add some texture to the crests of the waves, and I think it worked:


So now I'm a BIG fan of the scumble glaze, out-of-focus thing and I realised that, several months ago, I'd saved a photo that I'd found on Flickr that I thought would make a really good painting at some time, and the scumble glaze technique is EXACTLY what I needed to be able to make the painting work, so I had a go.  And it's currently my favourite painting.

The original photo is the one on top, and my painting of it is below:

Meadow flowers painting

A close up of the painting:


Needless to say, I'm now trawling through my own photos and those on Flickr to find similar pictures that I can have a go at!  I'm loving the bokeh (which is, apparently, the photographic term for shallow depth of field, or deliberate out-of-focusness - you know what I mean).

I've found pictures of flowers in meadows (similar to the one I've already done) but I'm also rather liking city night lights as well.  I may do a series.  And, yes, I am going to have to get rid of some of these - I was going to try and put some in Cranleigh Art & Crafts Society Spring Exhibition to sell but I missed the deadline for submission, so they'll be in the next one in the autumn.

I hope people like them enough to buy them, but we shall see.  If they don't then friends and family are going to start getting a lot of artwork from me for Christmas!

Finally, I've started work on the project for the end of this current term's art classes - a large landscape that's supposed to take 3 weeks to do.

I've chosen the picture - it's a photo I took myself from the top of The Trundle, an Iron Age hillfort just to the north of Chichester, right next door to Goodwood Racecourse:

It has some decent sky, and there are nice lines in the composition.  All I've done so far is to sketch out where everything goes.  This is always a good idea because, if you look carefully, you'll see that there are bits in my sketch that aren't quite right so I now know I'll have to watch out for them when I come to do the painting proper:


Anyway, I've not done any painting this week and, in fact, am not going to class today as this bastard headache refuses to go and I'm left with a head full of cotton wool.  This also means that I'll tell you about the visits to the exhibitions in a later post but just to whet your appetite, I'll tell you I went to the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum; 'Death - a self-portrait' at the Wellcome Institute and finally to the Grant Museum of Zoology (taxidermy!  things in glass jars! skeletons!) and there's LOTS of photos to show you.  But you'll have to wait....

PS.  I'm also knitting a scarf in the shape of a tentacle because, you know, tentacle.