Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

It has been a while since I last posted here. I think that may be because the last year was one of more “doing”. As much as I love filling Green Jam Jar with inspiring and informative anecdotes about green living- and I did so religiously for several years – about 12 months ago it began to lose its sheen. Weary from long stints sitting in a mental haze in front of a screen and keyboard, I wanted to spend less time on a computer. The day job is mostly digital orientated and after well over 2 decades of staring at a brightly lit monitor, the thought of using precious down-time to blog somehow lessened its appeal. I missed hand crafting. The tactile, slow work of making. To be lost in the physical act of creating instead of drunk on pixels.

So I did lots of experimenting, mixing and fabricating. In the kitchen and the garden – in other folk’s kitchens. Sporadic Instagraming filled the gap usually reserved for blogging. On the whole I didn’t record much of my play time (in hindsight, wish I had…), it was purely about the doing. I made more soap, baked some Yellow Dock seed crackers (interesting..), concocted roasted Dandelion root and Cleaver seed coffee (very drinkable..but really what you’d call coffee). I ground my own tooth powder, made moisturiser, started painting again and learned to make sourdough bread.


It’s good to have a friend with similar interests to egg you on. Mine is motivational-maker-and-baker pal Sharon, pictured above with Joe Fitzmaurice of Riot Rye.

Over a one-day workshop with bread hero, Joe Fitzmaurice of Riot Rye, the chemical process of fermenting flour and water was demystifyed. He walked us through simple step-by-step techniques for making our own bread using a rye starter. He talked about temperature, different grains and ways to score the crust. Each of us brought a dollop of the live culture home with instructions on how to nurture it. And I have been making bread ever since.

Working from a home office allows me to frequent the kitchen at any time. On bread-making days I zip away from my desk every half hour to fold the dough as it slowly proves. The velvety feel of dough on fingers is pure contentment. Watching the sticky mass of flour, water and starter expand over the day to a smooth, pillow-like ball and anticipating it’s transformation into a radiant, crusty loaf makes the work day glide by effortlessly. Somehow the discipline of half-hourly dough folding makes me more focused in the office and I tend to get more done. The slightly sour smell of baking rye is an added comfort, along with the reward of lunch being sorted. I enjoy the balance of hands-on baking punctuated with the humdrum of head work. Most of all I love the taste of organic, wild yeasted bread fresh from the oven. You’ll have to excuse me now- I’m off to give my dough a good stretch.

Check out the Real Bread Ireland website for more info on Irish bakers and bread makers.



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Apparently today is Yorkshire Day which is fortuitous as that’s exactly where I am. Sitting at the cafe in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park gazing out onto the Peak District with a brass band thumping out jolly tunes behind me. I’m sipping a well earned cuppa after a few hours meandering through curvatous Henry Moores, a stately Anthony Gormley and several totem-pole inspired Barbara Hepworths. Hepworth was born locally and is in so many ways the star of the show. I imagine her life and work initiated the idea of a park.

Map of Yorkshire sculpture park

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

One of many Henry Moore's bronze sculptures

One of many Henry Moore’s bronze sculptures

The park, known as YSP, won the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2014. It’s easy to see why. Located in the 500-acre Bretton Estate it houses over 60 sculptures throughout its grounds where sheep and geese are free to roam.

Many of the pieces are huge installations that nestle at ease in their wide, open-air positions. There are also several indoor galleries exhibiting art which has a connection to the natural world. Even though the Yorkshire populace have come here to celebrate their special day I still managed a secluded woodland walk by the lake before rejoining the crowds back at the YSP centre. Now that I’ve have my caffeine fix I’m off to find the work of Chinese sculptor Ai Weiwei on exhibition in the chapel. Spoilt for choice, the variety has given me food for thought on how to work with my substantially smaller patch of green at home. Hmmmm…..


Sculpture by Ai Weiwei

Sculpture by Ai Weiwei

Sculpture piece by James Capper

Sculpture piece by James Capper

Giant Mosaic Octopus by Marialuisa Tadei

Giant Mosaic Octopus by Marialuisa Tadei

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I’ve seen this project so many times on Pinterest that I couldn’t resist jumping on the bandwagon. I use Sharpie markers for work so there are always have a few to hand and plain ceramics are easy to come by from second hand shops and market stalls. So what was I waiting for- time to get to doodle making!Sharpie_mug_projectSharpie_Markers

After the fun part of decorating my mug I left it for 24 hrs to “set”. Then I placed it in my oven for an hour at 200˚C. I have read some online projects that use a higher temperature – I guess it depends on the ceramic piece you are using. I have also read that the cheaper quality the mug the more permanent the design but couldn’t verify that. It’s important to place your ceramic piece in the cold oven and then switch up the heat so that it doesn’t crack with the sudden change in temperature. Just use a black Sharpie as other colours fade a lot and don’t appear to be as permanent. You can see from my before pic (above) and after picture (below) that the red has faded to a very light pinky brown after baking. I switched the oven off and let the piece cool down completely before removing. The mug is definitely wash proof but I would be nervous to put in a dishwasher and would avoid all abrasive pads on the design.

It’s a great project for personalising presents for friends and family or even for updating some of your own pieces to give them a new lease of life. Did I mention how much fun it is?

Illustrated mug

The mug is a present for my mum to thank her for all the lovely Beauty of Bath apples and Conference pears that have come from her garden into my kitchen. A token of my appreciation for all the crumbles, stewed and poached fruit that have been consumed in our household over the last few weeks. Thanks mum!


UPDATE: 3 months later the lovely design looked very raggy despite careful washing. So, I’m disappointed to report that the Sharpie method is not as permanent as I hoped. I also decorated the outside of a teapot and now almost 5 months later it doesn’t look so bad. This method is only really suitable for decorative ceramic pieces or those that only need occasional wipe.

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Springtime has me thinking of creative projects. An Easter themed lino print is just the ticket – mostly because bunnies and hares are great images to work with – but also it’s a fun way to make your own greeting cards or framed prints for your loved ones. Why not give it a go – when you get the hang of home printing a whole new world of crafty possibilities will open up to you! Here’s how I went about mine:

Transferring the illustration: First off I dug up a drawing I had done a while back featuring a hare bounding across a newly ploughed field. Pick a simple, black and white image with not too much fine detail. Then I mirrored the image by taping the drawing to a window, facing the glass so that the light coming through the paper enabled me to pencil over the lines on the opposite side. I rubbed the original drawing with a soft lead pencil. Placing the drawing over a piece of lino with the mirrored image facing up and the pencil-rubbed side down, I then traced over the lines again with a heavy hand, transferring the image onto the lino.

Carving the lino : this is the best bit- it’s very therapeutic! Using the various heads on my lino cutter I cut out the illustration. Please mind your fingers as the cutting tool heads are sharp. If you are using old fashioned lino block it’s may not be very pliable so heat it up on a radiator first to make it easier to carve. Bear in mind that everything that is cut away will not carry any ink and everything that is left will be printed.

Inking the block : Next up I squished some black water based lino ink onto a glass sheet and ran my roller through it several times before rolling a layer of ink onto my freshly cut lino.

Printing : I gently placed the paper (I used a quality textured tissue paper) on top of the lino and burnished it lightly with the back of a wooden spoon. Yes, nothing fancy pants – a good ole fashioned wooden spoon. No printing press is required. Then peeling it off – tadaah! -print number one is finished and put aside to dry. You can print as many as you like but make sure that the ink doesn’t build up and smudge your masterpiece – wash the lino regularly with warm water and dry it thoroughly before starting over. You can print onto any paper and most fabrics but heavier paper works best with oil based inks and fabric will require a fabric paint. It pays to play around with different materials.


Lino block, lino cutting tools, water based ink and Japanese tissue paper are all available from art shops.

Enjoy your Easter weekend!


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Happy St Patricks Day!

A little doodle for that day that’s in it. Wishing you all a very happy St Patrick’s Day!


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I was saddened to hear of the death of conservationist Éamon de Buitléar earlier this week. As Ireland’s best known wildlife filmmaker Éamon de Buitléar was a pioneer. He was the first man to bring the Irish countryside into our living rooms and to instill an appreciation of the natural environment in so many people. My earliest memory of his work was the TV programme Amuigh Faoin Speir (Out Under the Sky) which he co-produced with Dutch artist Gerrit Van Gelderen. As a young child I was so transfixed by Gerrit’s wildlife drawing and Éamon’s easy manner that I hardly noticed that the programme was bi-lingual. Having had our fill of Irish in school any Gaeilge would normally have us running for the hills. De Butleir’s down-to-earth presenting endeared him to the nation. We ambled through bogs, over mountains and, my favourite, across seashores guided by his unassuming commentary. His knowledge benignly shared with us so that we too could acknowledge the beauty in our surroundings and the need for its preservation.

Illustrations by Gerrit Van Gelderen

Illustrations by Gerrit Van Gelderen

Amuigh Faoin Speir went out on RTE every Sunday evening for about ten years, its remarkable success acclaimed with a Jacobs Award in 1967. In the mid 70s the duo went their separate ways. Both remained heavily involved in the world of wildlife filmmaking with Gerrit presenting a follow-up programme To The Waters and the Wild. This was a similar format to Amuigh Faoin Speir. Now Gerrit was both commentating, in his softly spoken Dutch accent, and working on the show’s visuals. He continued to  employ his signature “live” drawing – hugely fascinating to me as a seven year old aspiring illustrator! In his 1985 biography Gerrit writes that the “live” drawing was inspired by a film he had seen in which Picasso created a similar effect. He goes on to explain how this technique worked. A large glass panel was installed in a door frame. One side was covered with a sheet of news print and backlit. Gerrit then stood behind and, using a fat felt-tip marker, drew his observations from nature. The whole process was filmed from the front. Gerrit quickly became expert at mirroring text so his audience could read it.

Sadly, Gerrit passed away in 1994. Both men have contributed so much, not only to willdlife filming but also to the attitude of the Irish public towards our environment. By entertaining countless Irish families over the years our eyes have been opened to the significance and beauty of our flora and fauna. Their work has truly helped spawn a more environmentally conscious society. For that, Éamon de Buitléar and Gerrit Van Gelderen, we will always be grateful.

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The act of carving pumpkins at Halloween has ancient origins. The Celts held the night of October 31st sacred as the eve of the pagan new year. To celebrate, it was customary to gouge out turnips and light them from within using a lump of burning coal. These lanterns were then placed in windows to welcome in the spirits of loved-ones that had passed away but also to protect the household from more malevolent forces.

These days Halloween has lost its spiritual significance and is seen more of an excuse to dress up in spooky costumes and terrorize the neighbors. We do this because….well…we just do! The act of making lanterns from natural material is still popular. Far from lumps of burning coal in turnips, pumpkins are now our chosen lantern material. Bigger and more tender they are much better suited to carving and great fun to decorate.

I had never carved a pumpkin before so this year to celebrate Halloween I decided to get creative. For starters I rounded up my materials:

A healthy, reasonably-sized pumpkin, a pencil to draw a rough face design, a really sharp knife to cut the “lid” off, a dessert spoon or simlilar to scrape out the insides, a scalpal, lemon zester, and a lino cutting tool (like one used for lino printing) to do all the tricky, arty bits. With tools lined up I set about creating my pumpkin face. You can find lots of designs on the internet to transfer onto your pumpkin but I just drew a freehand face.

Pumpkin carvingWhen I scraped out the contents of the pumpkin I washed the seeds, picked off the inner stringy bits put them to one side while I got down to sculpting my masterpiece.

This is definitely not a project for the kids as very sharp implements are needed. I liked the idea of using the lemon zester and lino-cutter to just cut away the outer peel of the pumpkin which allows for some of the candlelight to come through. I also found it useful to turn the pumpkin upside down on its cropped top so it was easier to steady. It probably saved one of my fingers….

carving a pumpkinI was quite pleased with the results- for a first attempt. My reward was a  snack of freshly toasted pumpkin seeds. Tossing the seeds in rapeseed oil  I sprinkled them with salt and placed them in the oven at a temperature of 200c for 20 minutes and sat back to admire my biodegradable halloween lantern. Yes, it should definitely scare the ghouls away!

Halloween Pumpkin

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