Carpets and Encaustics – Preparing Ground

Forces and Energies 2 Encaustic PofP DPagers IP 5 February 2016I’ve managed to find time and space in the current carpetting chaos to prepare a few more encaustic/Plaster of Paris surfaces to work on.

And in the process realised that in both cases, I’m preparing ground.

You can’t build anything substantial on poorly prepared ground.

I find that’s not an original thought: (Matthew 7: 24-27)

Funny how art echoes life, sometimes.

Forces and Energies 2 Close Up 8 February 2016I love the textures and patterns that arise from this process. I’ve described the process (which involves Plaster of Paris and encaustic) in some previous blogs. On top of this layer I’ve added a layer of Titanium White oil colour, which tones down the pattern, softens the colour.

Is your art echoing life at present? I’d like to know.

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Stitching a Ladder to Climb

Ladder Stitch I Recycled Sari Silk 3 February 2016January 2016 was not a good month. In some ways. I’ve been sick. We’re having new carpets fitted (an enormous upheaval ). I’m working surrounded by chaos.

I wound my way up to my little attic studio today, squeezing my way through the skyscraper-high piles of books balanced precariously on every stair. And then there is the junk that I seem to have to lug from place to place. It’s not even mine, some of it. I feel like Jacob Marley, doomed to wander the earth eternally, dragging his mass of chains with him. I am going to dump the junk. Not restore it to its home at the back of cupboards.

I have a lot of unfinished art and stories. Songs to be learnt properly. Half-walked walks. I suppose my Resolution for 2016 is to finish things. Do them till they are done.

And so I found myself picking up to finish some little Plaster of Paris encaustics – Forces and Energies – I started before Christmas. Adding stitching in fact, to some recycled sari silk yarn. The yarn is going down the middle of what I’m calling double-page spreads, like a bookmark set in a book at a place of special significance.

Forces and Energies Encaustic PofP DPage of Eco Prints 5 February 2016I’m not a stitcher. But, here I am, stitching. I decided to do little horizontal lines across the sari silk. I used embroidery silk – white, but that I dyed with tea.

I could have measured and drawn lines where the stitches were to go but decided to do it freehand. So the lines aren’t evenly spaced and some are shorter than others. I had to pull it out a couple of times where I went wrong.

It was like I was stitching ladder rungs, so I could climb into 2016.

I decided to stitch lines to echo the lines in the images on the pages. Lines of force.

When I finished I adhered the silk to the artwork with encaustic medium. It became translucent so instead of just the straight lines across the front, the diagonal lines on the back show through, making the stitching more dynamic. Lines of energy.

I’m a bit tired. I am stitching for myself the force and energy I need to climb into 2016. To begin all my endings. To become more substantial. I feel quite ghostly, formless, at the moment.

So I will climb the ladder stitch by stitch. And emerge.  I hope so, anyway.

How has it been for you, 2016, so far?  I’d like to know.



Posted in Art, Artist Books, Collage & Assemblage, Creativity, Eco/Natural Dyeing and Printing, Encaustic Art, Mixed Media, Photography, Stitch | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rhapsody in Red: Donn Taylor: Book Review

I’ve just finished reading Rhapsody in Red, a mystery and suspense whodunit.

Rick: Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.

On the very slight chance you didn’t recognise the above quote, it’s from the movie Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick has just encountered Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa for the first time in the movie.

Here’s a snippet from the beginning of Rhapsody in Red, where the heroine has just walked into the room of the hero and asked his help:

I was wishing Professor Thorn had chosen someone else as her witness, and I wondered how soon I could get back to my comfortable rut …  I should have known that wasn’t going to happen.

What did happen was that a corpse turned up at the beginning of chapter two. The rest of the book’s about how our hero and heroine solve the mystery of who committed the murder and why, in order to avoid having it pinned on themselves.

Yes, there’s a Rickness for me about Donn Taylor’s hero, Professor Preston Barclay (Press). Both of our boys have woman trouble. Rick is in mourning. He was abandoned in Paris at the beginning of the Nazi occupation in 1941 by the woman he loved – Ilsa – and at the opening of the movie he’s moved on to become the owner of a nightclub in Casablanca.  Press is also in mourning. He was abandoned by the woman he loved, too – Faith – his wife. He is a history professor on a university campus in the US. The book’s heroine is Professor (Mara) Thorn.

Both Rick and Press have wry humours. Press is wittier. Both movie and book are fast-paced and tense from beginning to end – I didn’t want to put the book down, which was good as I’ve been struck down with a bad cold and unable to do much but whinge-sneeze-whinge for a week.

I don’t want to give the impression that Red is based in any way on Casablanca. It simply isn’t the case. The plots in each are entirely different; as are the themes. Rhapsody in Red is a whodunit. Casablanca isn’t. And Red’s also a Christian fiction book. Professor Barclay’s wife abandoned him by dying of cancer, three years prior to the opening of the book. Thorn teaches in the department of religious studies and is a goddess-worshipping Wiccan. Each character has his/her personal ruin that is on its way to repair by the end of the book.

I’m not going to spoil the book for readers by detailing the plot and its Christian and non-Christian themes.  And if you think it’s likely to be a deadly-serious, bible-thumping proselytisation, think again. The plot’s a page-turner and there’s lots of wit and humour throughout Red. Its two main secondary characters are comic. There’s Dean-Dean, who is (you’ve guessed it) the university’s dean. His epithet has arisen from the fact that his first name is Dean, so he really is Dean Dean. His major characteristic is that he “… seems to think he can make the ship go faster by running along the deck.”  Then there is the university’s president, with the dickensian name of Cantwell and who does indeed cant well, for his speech is almost entirely made up of trite expressions, such as Go for the Gold, Run the Good Race, Blacken our Good Name. The capitals aren’t mine, they’re in the text.

Is there any romance in the book?  You’ll have to read it to find out.







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Shimacho 1 Wafuworks (Blogspot 2015)

Shimacho 1
Wafuworks (Blogspot 2015)

The image to the left, courtesy of wafuworks is of a page of a shimacho.

Shimacho (Japanese) means stripe book. They are fabric sample books. They have a number of purposes. Sometimes they are  commercial samplers. Sometimes records, created by weavers, of their designs.

Whatever the source of this one, it is fabulous. It’s inspired me to make my own sample books, made from fragments of undeveloped artworks. I’ve already started by making little encaustic butterfly pages (narrow landscape pages) of Plaster of Paris bandages (Mod Roc). These are like wafers and fragile.

Encaustic grounds in preparation, with blue note

Encaustic grounds in preparation, with blue note

I’ll call them Glimpses. As they are glimpses of ideas (walks taken and abandoned where the path has petered out).

When I saw the above image I couldn’t help thinking that the little diagonal strip of blue on the bottom right resembled the strip of blue in the image of my latest encaustic works-in-progress that I posted in my last blog. Uncanny, that. Another sort of glimpse – of blue sky.

A modern take on shimacho are the Keep Books (altered decommissioned library books) of Jody Alexander.

You’ll find lots of shimacho and other types of Japanese folk textiles at Sri Threads.

The art of thrift.

We are having new carpetting set down. The sitting room was re-carpetted today. The carpet fitters took up the old carpet and sliced it into strips before bagging it for disposal.

Funny how life and art can run parallel with each other.


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January Blue Note

Encaustic grounds in preparation, with blue note

Encaustic grounds in preparation, with blue note

I don’t do January at all well. The crescendo of Christmas and New Year has past. I am diminished. January is a grey note, repeated. I want to hibernate. Sleep till spring. Curiously, when I do sleep, I have colourful dreams.

This morning, I looked out of my window and saw blue, a patch of blue sky. My spirits rose. And in that moment I realised that for me, blue equals hope and promise.

As I was gifted this blue, I am passing it on. Spreading the hope and promise.  If you don’t pass it on, you don’t get to keep it you know.





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Happy New Year

Wishing You Food and Shelter – On all Planes – in 2016

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Walking into a Phenomenology of Christmas and Stumbling Over 654 Incantation Bowls

The Eighth Bowl

The Eighth Bowl (c) Ann Isik 2014

“Study hard what interests you in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.”
Richard Feynman

I started this post bemoaning the lack of proper Christmas weather and ended-up lost in the phenomenological domains of Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger. Oh, and Magical Literature. Did you know that the Sumerians were a witty folk?

Bowl Made from Beech with White Rot: Bernhard Hofmann

Bowl Made from Beech with White Rot: Bernhard Hofmann

Of course, the weather could change for the proper in time for Christmas and bring us those wonderful sub-zero temperatures and oodles of snow that we all so long for.

Unlikely. It’s eerily warm and sunny outside. But I want frost patterns on my windows,  a frozen pond to skate on; I want to have to wear boots and thick socks; I want to build igloos and snowmen. I want to roast chestnuts on an open fire.  Fly down a snow-covered hillock on a toboggan. Slug back bucketfuls of mulled wine under mistletoe in front of a roaring applewood fire. Sing carols at midnight in a church with flying buttresses.

Green Glass Bowl, V & A Museum, London

Green Glass Bowl, V & A Museum, London

The Victorian Christmas.  Of course, I only want to experience the idea of it. The reality would be far too uncomfortable. My top half would be laced into an over-tight whale-bone corset and my buttress would be buckled to a bustle apparatus complete with leather straps. My button boots would be fashionably too small for my feet and I’d have to pull the nasty tight little buttons through their holes with a hook. There’d be no room for thick socks and I’d soon be cold and wet from toe to ankle once the thin leather had soaked up the wet snow I’d have to trudge through to get to the draughty, musty church at midnight to sing those carols.  Mulled wine is too sweet, roast chestnuts are fiddly to peel and I would turn into a fossil (I’m close to fossilisation anyway, at my age) waiting under mistletoe to get kissed.

Glass Bowl Cream Blue YellowIt can’t be nostalgia, this Victorian Christmas thing. Nostalgia is a yearning to go back to a happier time. I’m not (quite) old enough to have experienced a Victorian Christmas. If not nostalgia, what is it, then?  I set off across a non-snowy landscape to find out and got lost in Phenomenologyland and discovered that what’s going on in my head is something like what is defined, in Transcendental Phenomenology as Empty Intention. It’s something to do with, as an example, looking at bowls. Now inside The Philosophy of Phenomonology ( if you intend to look at a bowl, it’s called intuiting it. If you intend to look at a bowl that isn’t there, you’re not intuiting it, but intending it emptily. Intend in phenomenological-speak doesn’t mean intend as we ordinary folks know the word, but more in the sense of reaching out to … in our example, a bowl. Don’t think you know what Intuition, or Emptily means, either. Though you might get clues from the latin roots of the words, where intuition is about looking, contemplating. Intention is about stretching towards something. Empty seems to have something to do with not meeting.

Now bowls are bowls. And these (654) incantation bowls I stumbled over or in phenomenological vernacular, have been stretching out to, contemplating, are intuited, i.e. they really exist.  They are from the Near East and date to between 5-7 AD (or CE). Most have incantations against demons written inside, in Aramaic and about 200 quotes from The Bible, in Hebrew. Here’s the exciting bit:

… over 90 [of the quotes] are not present on the Dead Sea Scrolls, which makes them the earliest witnesses to the original text of the Old Testament.

The above quote is from the academic and educational resource website – Magical Literature section – for The Schøyen Collection.

Incantation Bowl for Buktuya and Household, Mandean, Mandaic Language, Script, S Mesopotamia, 200-600 AD Ontario Museum

Incantation Bowl for Buktuya and Household, Mandean, Mandaic Language, Script, S Mesopotamia, 200-600 AD Royal Ontario Museum

On the left is an incantation bowl housed in the Royal Ontario Museum. Mandaic (see caption) is a variety of Aramaic.

I was interested to note that incantation bowls were placed bottom up to trap demons at the corners of rooms or buried under the thresholds in houses or at the entrances to tents.

I think I’ll  make one for the entrance to our house, which is beset with demons every weekend, after they are poured out of the local pubs and nightclubs.

Bowl with Cells and Seeds

Eighth Bowl with Cells and Seeds

The top image is of a mixed media and encaustic artwork of a bowl I began making some time ago. It’s called Eighth Bowl because in a development I included the number 8, which symbolically is a number signalling new beginnings – 7 representing a complete cycle.

The image to the right here is a further development of Eighth Bowl to include seeds and representations of cells, both of which symbolise new beginnings.

My work with bowls is to do with my overarching art project Below the Line. There’s something to do with music in there too; so it’s also a Singing Bowl.

The other images are shots I took  a while back of bowls housed in the V & A Museum (London).

We’re a week away from a new beginning, Christmas being about an historically-significant birth. Perhaps my phenomenological and magical walk was to remind me of this.

I shouldn’t complain about the weather. Shortly before Christmas Day I will be digging up potatoes planted in September.  Aside from the potatoes, on our plates on Christmas Day will be our own brussels sprouts, kale or chard.

Potatoes are also seeds.

If Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code) gets to know about these Incantation Bowls; or  George Lucas (Indiana Jones) …


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The Schøyen Collection
The Grammar of Matter
Archaeologies of Text


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Singing In Trafalgar Square

‘Tis the season. I’ve taken a break this week from my work (and blogging) as I’ve had a lot of practising and rehearsing to do for tomorrow’s Eltham Choral Christmas Concert, at Holy Trinity Church, Eltham. It’s also a Christmas Fair (mince pie scoffing, the raffling of hampers, quoffing of mulled wine – the usual stuff) so there are carols to sing, as well as the Handel (Coronation Anthems) and the Britten (Ceremony of Carols) one of which I’ve not sung before; this one above, which is from medieval times.  There’s one more rehearsal (tomorrow afternoon) before the concert in the evening.

Carol Singers Trafalgar SquareOther than that, I’m singing at three other venues before Christmas, the last of which is under the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square on 22 December.

That will be a fun adventure. We will make a day of it, lunching in the Members’ Room at Tate Britain, then after roaming London a bit, taking coffee and cake in the Crypt Cafe at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields (opposite Traf Square) or maybe in the National Gallery.

The Traf Square gig is for the charity Making Music.  Here’s its mission statement:

As the membership organisation for amateur music in the UK, we support, connect and champion everyone who makes, performs and presents music on a voluntary basis.

Lots of charities are carol singing in Trafalgar Square. Each gets a one-hour slot. Ours is between 6-7 pm. So if you’re going to be in London on 22 December, I hope you’ll come along. Make yourself known. I’d love to meet any of my Internet friends.

I will be wearing a Santa hat and I might be drunk.

Did you know where the Christmas tree in Traf Square comes from? Since 1947, it’s been an annual gift of Norway, the people of Oslo, by way of thanks to Britain for its support and friendship during World War Two.

How is your Christmas Season going? I hope it is full of adventure.




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Adding Flesh to Bone to the Accompaniment of Flesh and Bone

Pile of Plaster of Paris Prepared Panels and Canvases 3 December 2015It’s funny how you find yourself drawn to collect without a clear idea in mind of what you’re going to do with the goodies.  You find you just have to wait for a future to turn up that  reveals all.   Time-space Intrigues. Time-space intrigues me.

One such future arrived, a couple of evenings ago, when I found myself preparing grounds. At last, I had something to do with my assorted stash of battered,bruised, abandoned kids’ board books.

I gutted some of the books of their inside pages, leaving just the back, front and spine. I sanded the surfaces to remove gloss and image/text. I added a reinforcing strip of Plaster of Paris bandage (ModRoc) to the spines, front and back. I then added the same to both pages, front and back and set them aside to dry. I also sanded and ModRoc’d the guts – the cut-out pages. So – nothing wasted.

Pile of Plaster of Paris Prepared Panels and Canvases II 3 December 2015Aside from the board books, I also prepped with ModRoc some small and medium-sized deep canvases. These needed no sanding, so the job was quicker.

In all, I prepared 11 surfaces. It was a job of several hours. I might have given up out of boredom had I not been watching, at the same time, back-to-back episodes of the 2015 TV series Flesh and Bone, grâce à Amazon Prime.

From Rotten Tomatoes: A troubled young dancer lands a job with a prestigious ballet company in New York City, where she deals with a mercurial artistic director …

When I was little I wanted to be a ballet dancer. It was my earliest ambition. I have hazy pre-school memories of a dancing class; carrying and wearing black ballet pumps. Alas, it was not to be. It was a case of Billy Elliott but without the support group that scraped together his bus fare to London, to take up his scholarship with the Royal Ballet. (I admit to watching on occasions, in tears, the very end of the last scene of the Billy Elliott movie, over and over).

Flesh and Bone however, bears no resemblance to the stories of ballet dancers, as in Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes or the tale of the aspiring ballet dancer serialised in my childhood weekly comic for girls: Bunty. I wonder where all my drawings of ballerinas – usually in arabesque position – went to?

And that first ever painting – a ballerina in arabesque – I did in grammar school? As usual, I had failed to get the extended leg (aka working leg) anatomically correct. “Are shadows black?” asked my art teacher – I’d included beneath her supporting leg, an ominous black shadow. I could have answered in the affirmative, but I was too young for metaphysics. My art teacher had clearly never come across the subject.

I like the larger of these panels. There is a flaw running right through it, which, like David Hockney, I will make the most of.

I like the larger of these panels. There is a flaw running right through it, which, in the manner of David Hockney, I will make the most of.

Flesh and Bones is full of black shadows beneath the arabesques. It’s not an easy watch.The foul-mouthed, back-biting members of the dance company are all (yes, all) troubled. (For troubled you can read psychotic, neurotic, psychopathic). So far (and I’ve watched all but the last of the 8 episodes) there are only two characters one can warm to. One is the flawed heroine – Claire, the aspiring ballerina.

There’s obscene language, drug-taking, sex scenes of every nature excepting bestiality, seedy settings, mafia-like personae, prostitution and sex slavery. Flesh is kind-of soap opera, but there are aspects which, like Black Swan, places it within the genre of horror. I’ve had to put my hand up to black out the screen on occasions.

Who, you ask, is the second character one can warm to?   Check out the series. It’s rivetting. Alright, here’s a clue:  think Lear’s Fool.  And if the actor who plays the role doesn’t win some kind of accolade, I’ll eat my ballet shoes. Well, I don’t have a pair now, so I will have to eat my Merrill’s, or my size 3 builder’s safety boots, though I would insist on spitting out the steel toe-caps and heels. (How many builders can there be with size 3 (35) feet, I wonder?)

And so, as I prepared to gut out and re-flesh the bones of my art supports, I came across Flesh and Bone. (Ha! to coincidence). What am I to learn from this encounter? Something about arabesques, for sure. And more. I will devote some time to reverie over this, Bachelard-wise.

I’ve already added the first coat of encaustic to half a dozen of the grounds (see third image). Is this the equivalent of sinew over bone?  Now there’s a metaphysical word worth fleshing-out.

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Snowflakes Keep Falling on my Screen, Britten and Pears

It’s turned midnight. It’s now December first. WordPress has switched on its snowflakes. They’re teeming down my screen. It’s officially the Christmas Season then.

Here’s Britten’s There is no Rose, from his Ceremony of Carols.  I’ll be singing Ceremony (as well as Handel’s Coronation Anthems) with Eltham Choral on December 12th. If you’re in the area, come along.

And if you keep listening, the next vid just happens to be Britten and his life partner Peter Pears, performing Purcell’s I Attempt from Love’s Sickness to Fly, which I also sing, or as I prefer to say, “… have had a go at.” It’s from The Purcell Collection/Realizations by Benjamin Britten/50 songs.

I have the book. It’s published by Boosey & Hawkes (hence the American spellings) and it’s deliciously big and fat. I’ve had a go at quite a few of the songs, especially Fairest Isle.  There’s an article by Britten in the front, On Realizing the Continuo in Purcell’s Songs. He writes of his and Pears’ concert tours, the nice acceptance of the Purcell songs they included, by foreign audiences, mentioning “… the appreciative giggles at the end of ‘There’s not a swain of the Plain’ in Fauré’s home town … ”

Fabulous voice, Pears.  There’s also, on You Tube, an entertaining video on Britten and Pears by Patrick Stewart (Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek, The Next Generation).

Keeks, Snow, Beechmont 2010I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Season. Keeks is hoping for snow, as long as she is inside looking out on it.



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