Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Busman's Holiday

Twice in the last two months I have taken a week off, but being of a control-freak-must-achieve-something-at-all-times disposition I didn't take the time off to laze about. I sometimes suspect I only work to have a rest as days off generally include to-do lists and large amounts of exercise. But this time I had something bigger in mind, namely the hideous 70's fireplace in our lounge:

That photo was taken before we moved in, because a week after that event the delightful object above was in a skip. Sadly we are still living with the shag pile carpet and nasty floral curtains, but one thing at a time...

Firstly we had to have the gap enlarged to fit the little wood burner we acquired on ebay (if it doesn't come from eBay or Ikea it is unlikely to be found in our home), and a nice man charged us a mere several hundred pounds to raise the lintel. Then boyfriend made the concrete hearth and rendered the fireplace with lime plaster, which despite him being trained in such things was a nightmare and more fell off than stuck on. The hoover was permanently out, but eventually it was ready. 

Short pause for discussion about what to tile the hearth with (I won), as I fought to have old fashioned red quarry tiles.  My triumph was short lived as the chap in the tile centre told us you can no longer get them. But can't is not a word I understand so we headed for the reclaim yard up the road and I got what I wanted.

A longer pause then occurred whilst we had another discussion about my idea of making a mosaic around the fireplace. Boyfriend was against this in a big way, his horror when I said it was going to be red too was great, and he reminded me of all those shows on tv when someone has done something mental to their home, de-valuing it instantly.

I stuck my nose in the air, reminded him I was a professional artist and dug my heels in. He gave in and to his credit once he had agreed he resigned himself to it and said not another word. My confidence was somewhat faked though, as I still hadn't come up with a final design, and starting with a little tile I had aquired along my travels dead centre, I basically started making it up as I went along.

Despite wanting my own way with the house, I am sensitive to boyfriend's hatred of anything floral, girly or too ornate so I started with a simple geometric pattern of circles, avoiding too much sparkle. I toyed with squares, but it didn't seem to work and a pattern of decreasing circles in beige, blue-grey and dark brown from the usual mix of broken crockery, tile and bits and pieces emerged.

I took the idea of the gentle curve along the top from the shape of the glass panel in the stove. It was then a matter of filling in the background with some warm red tiles that were hanging about the place, and boyfriend helped by cutting some tricky curved shapes. Then it was just a matter of time, back-ache and wondering why I had started and would I be finished before the new year...

Eventually the tiles were applied, but not yet grouted.  Then it was time for the nice man to return and fit the fire, relieving us of more money. The crazy thing is we were more than capable of doing the work ourselves, but it was cheaper to have a fitter do it (and certify it as safe) than to apply to building regs for inspection.

 The mosaic wasn't finished, but we couldn't resist lighting the fire, and as if by magic, Gimlet appeared and showed his approval.

 Boyfriend, whose taste can always be relied upon (to offend), found us this delightful wood bucket. I think perhaps we can do better... (Back to ebay again)

 Finally it was time to do the grouting, always tricky with such an uneven surface, but I have been making mosaics for years and took my time.

 And there it was finished, boyfriend likes it, I only said 'I told you so' a couple of hundred times and the teen was delighted. She has been banned from touching it, having a love of fires that is a little too worrying. She argued her case well, but I reminded her that people who include the word pyromaniac in one of their email addresses can't expect to be handed matches.

Of course it won't be to everyone's taste, but we are really happy with it, and to have a fire at night to supplement our rubbish boiler is heaven!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Piranhas... 2D

I like to make paintings and prints with sea related themes, but of course everyone gets bored of seahorses and beach huts after a while. So it was clear where I needed to go next... Piranha!

If there is one thing that usually gets me back to the print workshop quicksharp it is an impending exhibition; namely the Gainsborough's House Printmakers at the Edmund Gallery in Bury St Edmunds in December.

Normally I avoid text on lino prints because the fact that you have to engrave the text onto the lino backwards, combined with a graphics program which doesn't have spell check (most of them don't) has in the past led to bad stuff happening. But this time I felt the need and my Piranha prints were born:

Some were put onto printed blue backgrounds...

Some straight onto white paper...

And one, in a new experiment, onto a painted watercolour background:

This worked amazingly well and is more colourful in real life than the photo shows.  I loved the way the colour variations showed behind the flat colour of the lino. Rather than working in layers and cutting away the block (reduction printing) I tried a much faster method of applying the red ink to the lino with a paintbrush. This also worked better than expected, and I now have two new techniques that I will certainly be using again.

Whilst researching Piranha I discovered some interesting facts:

* There are over 50 species of Piranha and most of them are vegetarian (like me!).

* More people eat Piranhas than Piranhas eat people.

* Pirahanas do not generally attack large healthy animals (or people) and are fairly shy, although they can give a nasty bite.

* Piranhas travel in packs, not so they can drag unsuspecting hollywood actors under, but for protection against predators. Yes, stuff eats them (carefully, I suspect).

* Their evil reputation comes from an article President Roosevelt published after a trip to Brazil. The locals wanted to give the president a show, so they blocked off a section of the river, filled it with a shed load of piranha fish, starved them for a few days and shoved an old (and bleeding) cow in the river. The rest is history and the PR of the piranhas has never recovered.

Anyhow, I am pleased with my fishes; fish with teeth are undoubtedly cool! All that was left was to photograph them for internet sale, and to frame one of the best ones for the upcoming exhibition.

In addition to the internet and exhibitions, I will take a couple of these prints to the craft fairs I am attending in December, I think there is a shortage of items at such fairs that appeal to men and boys, and I think my Piranhas might just fill the gap!