Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Joy of Stationery

Picture this; it is late August, it is your birthday, you have just opened a birthday card from your godmother and a crisp ten pound note has just fallen out onto your lap. School is about to start and you have in your possession the means to buy what ever pencils, pens, heart-shaped erasers and colourful pencil-sharpeners that your little heart could desire. This was pure delight to me as a little girl.

My mother used to bring my siblings and me into Roches Stores (which sadly no longer exists) on Henry Street in Dublin before school started in September so we could get our school supplies. I remember these times so well. There seemed to be shelf after shelf of regular pencils, colouring pencils, and markers in packets of 12, 24 or 36, all the bright colours lined up according to shade, fresh and pristine, begging to be used.  There were erasers shaped like puppies and kittens, rainbows and flowers, some even shaped-like and smelling-like ice-cream cones.

I loved being able to buy a new pencil case, after all, last years model was probably looking a little grey and dusty after a full school year of pencil parings and homework exercises. I valued practicality and prettiness in a pencil case; something that hasn’t changed to this day. Oh! Maybe I will make a pencil case for myself, a project for another day perhaps.

There was a section both my sister and I valued greatly; the ‘Fancy’ paper section or just ‘Fancy’ as my sister called it. These were small, medium and large notepads with decorative images on them and some were even fragranced. Again I can remember puppies and kittens were popular motifs. There were also very eighties illustrations of young girls on roller skates. The point of ‘Fancy’ was NOT to write notes on it or draw pictures on it, oh no, that would be sacrilege. The point was to own it, collect it, admire it, sort it and swap it. ‘Fancy’ was valuable eighties girl currency. My sister had an excellent collection; it was coveted by me and our friends. These sweetly smelling notepads of paper brought great delight to us in a time when we could naturally appreciate innocent and simple pleasure.

I still get a thrill in stationery departments and shops. My current stationery crushes are Paperchase in Arnotts on Henry Street, Muji on Chatham Street and Evans Art Supplies on Meeting House Lane. Stationery shops have a similar effect on me as haberdasheries; calming, inspiring and with an undercurrent of excitement. I get demented trying to make my choice for that days need and I have a deep longing to own every notebook, every coloured pen and every box of pencils in front of me.

Gary has often bought me presents of bunches of pens wrapped in ribbon instead of a bunch of flowers. Any present of stationery is welcome; I can never have too much. The thing I think I really love about stationery and art supplies are all the potential and possibilities they hold. Having good materials to work with is a positive step towards making valued and personal art. So I heartily recommend buying yourself a beautiful, even expensive, notebook but with the stipulation that you USE IT! Use the notebooks, use the pens, colour with the markers and create with the pencils. Clutch your paper bag of newly purchased drawing implements with the energy and enthusiasm of a young child who understands and relishes that self-expression is at her finger tips.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Taking a Day Off

In my experience, when you work for yourself there is an unending list of things that need to get done. There is always the potential to tick another job off that list so it can get increasingly difficult to justify taking time out to rest, to play and to do something other than just working.

But I find when I do take some planned time-out (even for a couple of hours) it inevitably improves my mood, my perceptions and my long term ability to work in a satisfied and creative manner.

I just seem to forget this every time I get immersed in a new project. Eventually I will go for a walk in some beautiful scenery, go to an exhibition or watch a new film and I will remember why all work and no play makes Sadhbh a dull girl.

Do yourself a favour (I’m also talking to myself here) - make a plan to do something lovely. I would say do something that is your kind of lovely, don’t worry about anyone else. If it feels indulgent to mark this time out for yourself, you are probably the one in most need of it. Every machine needs to be maintained and cared for in order to work effectively. Your mind and body are no different. I think the key is to plan it though, think of it like an important meeting; schedule it, commit to turning up and make the most of the opportunity while you are there.

On that note, I have been promising myself for a while now that I will take some time off and I have finally committed to taking a short holiday next week. Too Folk to be Cool will be quiet for the week also. So as ever, thanks for reading and hopefully I will see you on the other side.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Xcut Shape Cutter System

Last week I wrote a post about my journey to market and all the processes I go through to get my work looking professional and of a high standard. I mentioned this Xcut shape cutter system and I thought I would take a little time here to sing its praises.

For my birthday, I got the super deluxe fancy fancy gift set version from my lovely parents.  It contains: 15 shape templates, cutter carriage, and 2 blades. As it says on the box, the 15 shape templates can create 30 different shapes and also, frames in a variety of sizes.

I think the product is aimed at card makers and scrapbook makers but I have found it very useful for the labelling of my work. There are five different shapes: square, oval, diamond, circle and rectangle. They all come in three different sizes; small, medium and large. On the back of the box the set comes in, they give all the measurements to all the different sizes. Gary and I have found this information very useful when designing labels in Photoshop on the computer. Instead of guess work, which we employed lots of before, I can now hold the template in my hand and make a decision based on the information before me. Gary can then measure it up on the screen and we have cut out the stage of printing designs in multiple sizes trying to get the best fit.

I will say that you do need a cutting mat for using this device at its best. I would recommend getting a cutting mat anyway though. They come in really useful in any craft or art work and save your surfaces from scratches. I use an A4 cutting mat and for this, it suits my needs perfectly.

So you are probably wondering how you use the bloody thing! Well, let’s say you have your printed label, measured and ready for cutting. You place your sheet of paper or card down on your cutting mat. You then place the template over the label you want to cut out. Sometimes it takes a little time to adjust it to the right position, but the result is worth your patience. For me, I find it easier NOT to have a guideline printed out on the paper itself, so then I can just place the template down and I don’t have to worry about trying to include or exclude the line in the cutting. I think if you can learn to trust your eye that is the best measuring tool you have.

The cutter is a small round device that sits down onto your chosen template. The handle can turn 360 degrees so you just press down and there is a small blade underneath that cuts your paper. You run the cutter around the template and VOILA, your label is cut out. It does take a little practice to get the pressure and your grip right but it is no hard labour.

The reason I wanted to share this with you is just to promote DIY marketing, labelling and self promotion. I love finding out ways people make things themselves from art to books to cards to cakes to magazines. Taking the risk and having some self belief that you can do a job yourself can be very powerful. Money can be a real issue for small businesses, cottage industries and makers of all varieties. Where do you spend your money? Printing and design work can be quite expensive but does add a professionalism to your endeavours. Maybe have a go yourself and see what you can come up with. I like when people use their skills and ingenuity to come up with new ways to leap over barriers they are presented with.

 I would encourage anybody to have a go at making their own labels and marketing material using your imagination and the message that is at the heart of your product. I used to use Letraset transfers and hand drawn designs on luggage tags for my labels before I got more adept on the computer with the help of Gary. In my experience, people really appreciate the effort and I find it can help to increase the value of the work you are explaining and supporting in your labels.  

Friday, 5 April 2013

My Neighbour Totoro

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Original Story and Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki

A Studio Ghibli Production. 1988

Main Characters: Satsuki and her little sister Mei, Totoro.

Studio Ghibli was established in 1985 in Tokyo. The studio was led by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki. It has produced over 14 feature-length animated films with titles including “Howl’s Moving Castle”,” Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke”.

A Personal Note: I want a Totoro, not a soft toy version, a REAL Totoro. Of course one could never own a Totoro but I would like to sit down with him and have a good old roar. I would like his help in my garden and then I would like to take a nap with him….well…..on him.

Before you think I have gone completely crazy, I advise you to get your hands on this beautiful, comforting film and have a look for yourself. If you don’t want to do all of the things I just mentioned, I worry for your inner-child!

Set in “an idyllic rural retreat” you get swept away to a world inhabited by adopted grannies, soot sprites, acorn seedlings, giant friendly trolls and a cat bus (not a bus service for the conveyance of felines, no, it is an actual cat, the shape and size of a bus with magical transportation capabilities).

I love the gentle unfolding of the story in this animated film. The conflicts that do occur are human and relatable. There is nothing that is too aggressive or too assaulting. The emotional journey you take with Satsuki and Mei is involving without the constant threat of peril and without a condescending all-encompassing resolution in the end.

The art work on this film is detailed and glorious. The character development, the landscapes and the family home are so inviting I want to pack up and set sail for Japan.

The underlying themes of respecting nature, the importance of the family bond and the magic and wonder of innocence are subtle but well constructed. I feel that rather being hit over the head with “message”, you feel nourished by a keen observation of tradition and a respect for the intelligence of the audience.

If you are feeling a little tired of pretty pink princesses and over-hyped, over-advertised 3D movies in super duper high definition, give the skilful animated world of Studio Ghibli a go. Hopefully you will be as captivated and enticed by this view into a different culture as I am.

Nerdy Fun Fact: Totoro is so awesome he makes a guest appearance in Pixar’s “Toy Story 3”.

My surprise 30th birthday cake

All quotes and information taken from The Studio Ghibli Collection DVD.
All images and characters copyright of Studio Ghibli.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Getting Yourself a Thesaurus

I’m just after learning something from reading the preface to my own thesaurus; “The word thesaurus comes from the Greek word thesauros meaning ‘storehouse’ or ‘treasure’.” Which in my experience, I have found to be very true. In fact, I would say it is a storehouse of treasure that I get value and joy out of every day.

I own the ‘Oxford Thesaurus of English’ and it was given to me a number of years ago as a Christmas present from my parents. It is a huge hard-backed tome. When I tore off the wrapping paper I let out a shriek of delight and hugged this giant book, much to the bemusement of the rest of my family.

I know they all thought I was a little weird to be so ecstatic over getting a book of words. But I had been writing as part of my art work for some time and I felt that I was sometimes lacking the vocabulary I needed to fully express myself. I’ve been a reader for a long time so my vocabulary isn’t bad but I was finding that I was a little repetitive in my word usage. I have also found that in terms of spelling I don’t have great memory retention so it helps to have an accurate spelling tool in the house.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my thesaurus. I find it genuinely helpful and so I do whole-heartedly recommend getting one. In my edition there is a brilliant Wordfinder section. It gives list of words, like Fascinating Words- e.g. ‘apple-knocker, US informal, an ignorant or unsophisticated person’, or ‘sternutator, something that causes sneezing.’ There are Archaic Words, words that are no longer in everyday use- e.g. ‘fandangle, a useless or purely ornamental thing’ or ‘rapscallion, a mischievous person.’ There are lists of all kind of animals and birds from an Adjutant-Bird to a Yellowhammer. There is a list of art movements from Abstract to Vorticism. There are lists of cakes from Almond cake to Zuppa Inglese. There are lists of insects from an Agrion to a Yellow-Jacket. There are lists of words for most categories you can think of, it is an amazing resource.

I know you are probably all shouting, ‘Nerd Alert! Nerd Alert!’ by this time but I honestly don’t care. Word power gives me great joy and I do think it is a great gift for anyone.

All that’s left for me to say is I wish you a happy, a content, a cheerful, a merry, a joyful, a jovial, a gleeful, a glowing and a rapturous Easter and I hope that you eat, consume, devour, gobble, nosh, put away, tuck into and scoff many, many chocolate eggs!

Friday, 15 March 2013

Collins Wild Guide: Insects

Author: Bob Gibbons

Published by HarperCollins

When working on a new project, you can’t beat putting your hand out and finding your favourite resource book to get you started. In the case of the Threadbare Bug Collection, I have used this guide book over and over again.

I have mentioned it before while discussing my process. My copy is pocket-sized (I suppose for easy transport if you are out on an insect hunt) and has a plastic cover, like a library book. Everything about it is practical, the photographs are not very large inside but there is a broad catalogue of insects. Flicking through the pages instantly gives you access to a whole range of inspiration.

I know in this technical era I could type “insects” into an image search and have a world of insects at my finger tips (I do use this resource sometimes). But I really do love having the book to hand. I like that I can draw straight from the pages, I can mark them and come back later on. I know things will stay the same and won’t be constantly reshuffling.

I have also found that there is helpful written information in these kinds of books. You can give yourself a brief education about your visual interest. You may find out that the female variety of insect has extra stripes or the male has a shorter body. This may inform your design decision-making depending on what you are trying to convey.

Sometimes I will see an image in the book that isn’t quite right for the current project I am working on but on another day it will be perfect. I will scurry upstairs, pull out the book and sigh with satisfaction. There it is, just waiting for me, a helpful hand disguised as paper, print and photograph.

I highly recommend investing in such books if there is a recurring theme or interest that develops in your work. A visit to your local library may also prove incredibly fruitful. I have bought some resource books that, on the surface, have seemed like they would suit my needs but in reality, they just sit on the shelf. By borrowing a book from the library, you can spend some time with it and see if you feel it would be valuable to have a copy of your own.

All photographs supplied by Natural Image
Artwork by Christina Hart-Davies  
Text and photographs copyright Bob Gibbons

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Secret Garden

Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The Secret Garden was first published in serial form in 1910 by a publication called The American Magazine. The entire book was first published in 1911 by Fredrick A. Stokes in New York and by Heineman in London.

The Main Players: Mary Lennox, Mrs. Medlock, Mr. Craven, Marta, Dickon, Colin, Ben Weatherstaff, and lets not forget The Robin.

Plot Lines: A terrible illness, a forgotten orphan, a sea voyage, the orphan meets the housekeeper, another journey, this time, across a moor, a distant uncle, a new home with its fair share of secrets, a hidden relation, a forgotten piece of earth, a nosy robin, new friends- of the two and four legged variety, fresh air & magic, some good advice, hard work & miracles and a family reunion.

A Personal Note: As I was showing you my “Ceremonial Passage” reading shawl on Tuesday, I thought I would recommend one of the books I used as inspiration for that piece. I bought a second-hand copy of The Secret Garden when I was a young girl. I still have it now; it is just a fairly regular Classics paperback with a sky blue trim and a picture of the famous garden on the front cover. I think this is one of the first books that made a deep impression on my soul. I loved the imperfect sad protagonist. I loved the old manor house with its mysteries and locked rooms. I loved the cast of characters who slowly got closer and closer to Mary. I think the thing that moved me the most was the story of transformation. A forgotten child discovers a forgotten landscape that mirrors her inner loss. She then lovingly tends to it and so, tends to herself. It develops & grows and she with it. A story of sour and spoiled grief transmuted into beauty and natural healing. I’ve also posted a drawing I made of The Robin with the slogan “Mary Lennox is my Hero”. She really is my hero. She, as a character, was dealt a difficult hand but she does not let it destroy her whole life. She works, she tries and she makes mistakes. With the help of others, she doesn’t close down, she becomes creative and engaged. She transforms her life from a dry and barren desert into a lush and growing garden. 


First book cover image copyright of Puffin Books
Second book cover image copyright of Jillian Tamaki, commissioned by Penguin Classics Deluxe
Third book cover image copyright of Penguin Classics
Fourth book cover image copyright of Puffin Classics