Exhibition : Van Gogh and the Seasons

A few weeks ago I went to see Van Gogh and the Seasons at the National Gallery of Victoria. It was a typical Winter day in Melbourne: sunny and clear but cold. There was a lot of excitement surrounding this exhibition, as it's the first time that many of the paintings have travelled outside Europe. I have to give credit to the NGV for securing agreements like this one in the last few years. It allows us on the far side of the world to see influential works of art without having to travel the long distances we would normally.

But back to the exhibition. I went with Husband and my Mum. She made a special trip down from the country and spent the weekend at our house in order to see the exhibition, so I was hoping it would be good! We purchased tickets online beforehand and I was very glad I did, as there was a long queue to purchase tickets, and a second, even longer queue to get in for people who already had tickets. Thankfully it moved quite quickly though.

The first room we encountered was a cinema showing a short movie of Vincent Van Gogh's life. I was looking forward to this as I'd heard it was narrated by David Stratton (a famous Australian movie critic) with the actor David Wenham as the voice of Van Gogh. I was too impatient to stay until the end though, I have to admit. Next, we had to negotiate a corridor with textual displays of biography and quotes which felt a bit like a laboratory maze, before we could enter the first room. It was rather slow going as we had to wait for space to free up in front of us each step of the way.

As is usually the case, the rooms were overcrowded and there was a wait to see each artwork. (Unless you wanted to see it like this:)

The first gallery contained prints of 19th-century European paintings and illustrations that had influenced Van Gogh, and the second Japanese prints. While these were interesting, it wasn't clear at first that these works weren't actually by Van Gogh himself without reading the information cards. In the end I bypassed them, as the wait to see them up close was so long and I believe most of them were from the NGV's collection so I could see them another time.

Finally, we reached the main event. Unlike most exhibitions I've been to, the artworks were arranged not chronologically, but by season, starting with Autumn. I found this very appealing as someone who has always been attuned with nature and the seasons. Van Gogh's emotions were always affected by the seasons, and he let this show in his work -- from the melancholic greys and browns of Winter, to the bright, joyful blues and yellows of Summer. Despite the distractions of tour groups, selfie-takers and pushy children, I found myself becoming entranced by this progression of the seasons. As we moved into Winter with its stark, bare branches, I started to feel melancholic myself, and longed for the lighter colours and blossoms of Spring. While a little incongruous with the Australian Winter outside, I'm glad the exhibition ended with Summer -- it would have been too depressing otherwise.

The final work was a self-portait, one of many that Van Gogh painted, but the only time his face is seen in the exhibition. Because of this perhaps, I found it especially poignant. Painted only a few months before his suicide, the sharp strokes of pink, yellow and blue paint seem to reflect a mind in turmoil.

Providing an almost absurd contrast, to exit I had to step over some children sitting in the doorway doing their Van Gogh colouring-in books, and found myself, of course, in the gift shop. (Those of us who know the work of Bansky like to think we do that ironically but in reality it's more like helplessly.) I came away with a catalogue, a fridge magnet and some postcards for my inspo wall.

While some of Van Gogh's iconic paintings were notably absent (Starry Night and Irises come to mind), I found the selection of works from throughout his career to be representative and satisfying. I'm certainly glad I went. While it was a struggle to deal with the crowds, it shows how much the artist's vision is valued today. Van Gogh died unrecognised and penniless. Not long before his suicide, his brother Theo wrote to him: "in the course of time they will become more beautiful and they will undoubtedly be appreciated some day."(1) I'm sure both brothers would be astounded and very pleased by how much Vincent's work is loved today.

My April

I've had a busy month. I started my new job towards the end of March, and spent the month learning everything and settling in. The typical dangers of working in an office also cropped up -- I developed a cold just before my birthday which continued for a couple of weeks. The weather also turned very cold quite suddenly. All of that meant I wasn't really in the mood to create much. Things improved a bit towards the end of the month, though.

What I've been working on ...
This month I joined the Creative Dream Circle. I had been thinking about it for at least a year, but lately I've increasingly felt I needed help in being motivated and inspired to create. Since the exhibition back in January, I haven't spent any time creating art at all, and very little doing crafts. I knew there was something holding me back, and it was starting to weigh on me more heavily. Since joining about 3 weeks ago, while I haven't created anything major, I can feel something changing. I'm becoming more open to possibilities. I've only just scratched the surface of what's on offer in the Circle, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the near future.

I actually made a mistake when writing in the festival dates:
the Marimo Festival begins on the 8th of October!

What I've been drawing ...
Once I settled in at work, I started to spend my lunchtimes doing more creative things: going for walks in the park and taking photos, and drawing in my sketchbook either in the park on sunny days, or at my desk on rainy days.

What I've been reading ...
Having bought myself a Harry Potter boxed set for Christmas, I started reading the series this month. It felt wrong to start reading it in Summer, so I waited until the weather was cooler. It's just so more enjoyable with a blanket and a cup of tea! So far I've just finished Prisoner of Azkaban. I considered writing a series of blog posts with my thoughts and observations on my second reading of the books, but I realised that my first reading was so long ago that I don't really remember enough to compare. I found myself comparing to the movies, which I re-watched in Winter (August-September) last year. One thing I do remember, was that the movies started to diverge from the books a lot more starting from Prisoner of Azkaban (or at least had more simplified plots). I'm looking forward to revisiting the 'full' version of the story as the books unfold.

Selections from Instagram
I spent a lot of time in the park this month!

Op Shop Haul No. 1

Yesterday I went op-shopping (or thrifting, as it's known in many places) for the first time in a long time! The place where I work now has a large op shop right next door to the train station, so I decided to take up the hobby again (or habit, as Husband might say?).

I purchased two books: a fantasy novel about a unicorn and the enormous Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. (It was only $5!) My arm was sore from carrying it before long! I couldn't resist this pretty lavender floral tin, and I needed a drinking glass for work, so I chose this large tapered one.

In the manchester section I found these cute vintage coathangers. The set of 4 tapestry table mats were a bit of a splurge purchase. I'm sure I'll be able to find somewhere in the house for them; they might also make good backgrounds for photos. The floral pillowcases I thought might be good for a patchwork skirt. I was also looking out for something with lace on it to make into a skirt -- this huge tablecloth was a little more expensive than I would have liked, but it more than fits the bill. I think I might even be able to make two skirts from it!

Finally I got these fun dinosaur figurines. (Actually, I think some might be dragons!) I was looking out for figurines for painting on. I didn't find quite the type I was looking for, but the dinosaurs were 6 for the price of 1 (!!), so I figured they'd be good for practicing on.

The op shop that I went to is one that's familiar to me -- I used to volunteer there many years ago, before it changed locations, and visited quite a bit even after that. Unfortunately op-shopping in Melbourne isn't what it used to be. You're lucky to come across anything really good quality, and the amazing items that would sometimes come through just never appear anymore. There's a franchise of shops called Savers, who sell second hand goods, but are a profit company. They pay charities to let them take the best items to sell in their chain of stores -- and they don't pay very much. More people go there to shop because they have the best stock, even though most of the money is going into the shareholders' pockets. It's a sad situation. I do still want to believe that op-shopping can be fun and productive, and I did find some lovely things on my trip, so I'll keep going to the charity shops on pay day.

Temperature Scarf : Update #2

Just a quick post today to show you my temperature scarf as of today:

The weather has definitely cooled down, though it still fluctuates between around 17 to 24 degrees. I am still enjoying the project, and I look forward to finding out what colour I will be knitting with each evening. Hopefully there'll be more blues and greens and perhaps even grey next month.

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Temperature Scarf : First Update

Hello Autumn!

Finally, it's here! Autumn.

Autumn comes late in this part of the world. According to our Western calendar, it should have arrived on 1st March. And according to the equinoxes, it should have appeared on 21st March. The indigenous people of this region know better however -- Autumn doesn't show itself until the end of March, at the very earliest.

Lately I've been thinking more about the things that are important to me, how they tie together and how to appreciate them in my life. Honouring the seasons is important to me, but I don't follow the Wheel of the Year as many do. I've been thinking about how to do it in my own way. For the last few years, I've written a list of crafts and other activities to do each season, but after a while it started to feel like just another to-do list. This time I modified it to more of an inspirational concept, with a bit of calendar thrown in. I put it on my listography here. I'd like to find a way of presenting it so that I can add more photos, perhaps of finished projects, etc.

I've also decided to start doing a seasonal series of blog posts, as I love writing and taking photos, and my crafts, hobbies, lifestyle and spirituality are so intertwined that blogging about it feels like a spiritual practice to me. So here is the first one -- with all the things I'm looking forward to in Autumn!

I missed drinking tea so much! I suppose I could make iced tea in Summer, but it's just not the same. I think a yearly re-organisation of my tea cupboard is a good idea, as it certainly doesn't look as tidy as in this photo (taken a few years ago).

I love wearing layers and lots of accessories, whether it be for special co-ords or just every day. Finally, I can start wearing scarves again -- though only light ones! These are just my light scarves: I have another hanger for my woolly knitted and crocheted ones. Those are still sadly waiting for Winter to arrive, but for now at least I can content myself with all of these pretties.

Listening to the sound of rain on our steel roof is so soothing. Snuggling under a blanket with a cup of tea and just listening is a wonderful way to enjoy the little things. It's also nice to not have to water the garden every night: just visiting and enjoying it is so much more relaxing.

I'm looking forward to having baths again, and trying out all the bath bombs and fizzies that I've colleccted. I love reading in the bath, and any opportunity to read more is also welcome. I'm not sure I'd bathe in rose petals again like I did in this photo from last year, but you never know!

hot meals
Husband and I still eat hot meals in Summer most nights, as we're not really into salad, but in hot weather we don't use the oven and try to keep stovetop cooking as short as possible. As the weather cools down though, we're free to make meals that take longer to cook, and of course, baking. I can't wait to make scones, hot cross buns, banana bread and more.

Autumn treasure box
I chose a few Autumn-themed items from my stash to add to the experience -- a tea sample and 'tea snails' (which sit on the edge of your mug and stop your teabag string from disappearing into your tea). Some gingham scrunchies in appropriate colours, a bath fizzy from Daiso, and some stickers for my Hobonichi art diary.

Autumn is my favourite time of year. Perhaps I'm biased because my birthday is in April! I also love it because of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which happens in the first 3 weeks of April. There's such a jovial atmosphere in the city, and I always look forward to watching the Comedy Gala on TV (it's on tonight!). Then of course, there's the Eurovision Song Contest in May, a chance for cooking, eating and drinking, and exploring other cultures. Autumn is such a magical time!

Indian Curries Lunch Review

My local Indian grocery has a permanent sale on a brand of packaged curries called GITS: 3 packets for $6. There are about 15 flavours to choose from. All varieties are vegetarian, and most are vegan and gluten-free. I chose three packets to have for lunch during the week.

The first curry I had was Punjabi Khadi: described as "deep-fried chickpea dumplings immersed in a gravy of yoghurt and chickpea flour". Turmeric, fenugreek and mustard gives it a mild but complex flavour. The spiciness rating is Medium, but I thought it was quite mild. I hadn't tasted this variety of curry before, and I liked it very much. Unlike the other curries I tried, this had no vegetables in it. The dumplings were a little dry, but the sauce made up for it. The number of dumplings was the same as in the photo, which I thought was amusingly accurate.

Palak Paneer is a mild semi-soft cheese in a spinach sauce. I've had this type of curry many times before and enjoyed it again. The spiciness rating was Medium, but again, I found it very mild. The spinach lends a smooth, green flavour and the serving of cheese cubes was not as sparse as I've had in other brands of curry. (Or even in some restaurants I've been to!) This was the least similar to the photo on the box, but it tasted just as good.

The last curry I tried was Aloo Matar, described as "fresh green peas cooked with potatoes and spices in a tomato and onion curry". I don't normally like peas very much, but I liked this curry. The spiciness rating was Mild, but I found this curry to be much spicier than the others. It was also a little oilier: some can be seen floating on top in the photo.

All of the curries I tried were worth purchasing again; I don't think I could pick a favourite! They were easy to heat up in the microwave, and they can also be heated in the pouch on the stove. The size is suitable for a lunch or small meal. If rice, flatbreads, etc are added, it could be a larger meal or serve two.

I'm looking forward to trying more flavours!

Temperature Scarf : First Update

I started my temperature scarf on 1st March. Autumn proper doesn't really start until late March here, and it feels strange knitting in 30-degree heat! I didn't want to wait any longer to start though. Here is the rainbow of colours I chose. They are all from my stash. Perhaps some of the colours don't quite match exactly, but I'm quite proud of myself not having to purchase any yarn at all.

[I apologise for the bad quality photos in this post -- I'm having some trouble with my computer and I wasn't able to edit them properly.]

My temperature scale is this (in celsius):
40+ : purple
37-39 : marone
34-36 : red
30-33 : orange
27-29 : yellow
24-26 : mint green
20-23 : grass green
17-19 : pale blue
13-16 : medium blue
12- : grey

I know Melbourne's temperature range well enough to choose the upper and lower limits, and choose a range of colours that will (hopefully) produce an interesting and varied scarf. Here it is at Day 19:

As you can see, the variable but mainly hot days of late Summer are visualised in warm colours, and I'm very pleased with it so far. I'm using the tube technique, and planning to pull the ends through to the centre with a crochet hook instead of having to weave them in. I hope it works out!

Lottie Doll Unboxing

Last Christmas I received a Lottie doll, which sparked my interest in dolls again, and led to some research on the best ways to photograph them. I tried it out with a simple background and using my daylight lamp, for the unboxing of my Lottie Autumn Leaves doll. Actually, I've had this doll for a while. I first saw it when I was looking up Lammily doll reviews, and saw a photo of them together. I immediately thought, "Emmy needs a little sister!" At the time, the only source I could find in Australia was an online shop called Gumnut Toys, though I believe they are available in department stores now.

The Autumn Leaves Lottie is one of the earliest produced. The later versions are more diverse and have more defined themes (such as the Fossil Collector Lottie I'll be reviewing in future). I chose Autumn Leaves mainly because of the clothes, but also because of the hair colour. As you can see, the Lottie doll is boxed in a carrier-style cardboard box with a handle. There are windows in the front and sides through which to view the doll. The box can be opened without damaging it, and can be re-used as a carrier for the doll and her accessories. On the back, there's a short but cute story about walking through the forest.

As I was lifting the doll out of the box, I suddenly knew her name would be Alice. Unboxing a doll and naming it is such a magical experience: I understand why people have such large collections! Alice was attached to the backing board with twist ties and plastic around her forehead, and her accessories came in little plastic bags attached to the backing board. Alice's coat was held closed with a stitch which I had to cut. I was worried I would damage her coat in the process as it was a delicate operation. A child certainly could not have unboxed the doll without help.

The Lottie doll stands 18cm (7 inches) tall. According to the manufacturer, the doll's body is modelled after that of a 9-year-old child. Aside from the head, her proportions are realistic. Her head and eyes are slightly large in proportion to her body, but not enough to be very noticeable. The head moves from side to side, the shoulders and hips have ball joints and the knees have click joints. She can sit with her legs straight out in front of her, unlike the Lammily doll. She can stand up with shoes on, but not very well barefoot. The overall shape of the body is very elegant.

Alice's hair is soft and silky and lovely to the touch. It's a little crinkled from the twist tie around her neck, but hopefully that will drop out over time. Alice's face is just darling, and I love looking at it. It reminded me of another doll I'd seen -- the Licca-Chan doll from Japan. I don't have one ... yet! It's on my wishlist.

Alice's clothes are just beautiful, with different textures and fine details like tiny buttons. The coat is lined with a blue polkadot fabric. All of the clothes are very well made. They fasten with velcro and are very easy to put on and take off. The adorable flocked boots have a split in the back so they are also easy to remove. Many of the clothes in the Lottie range have a cohesive style -- with leggings, mixed bright colours, stripes and cute motifs on the tops. The motif on Alice's jumper is attached with velcro, allowing it to be swapped with others in the range. I thought this was a clever and a really cute detail. In the later dolls in the range however, the motifs are printed on. It's a shame that they can't be swapped, but on the other hand I guess I could make my own motifs for Alice.

The only piece of clothing I don't like is the hat. The concept of the hat is very cute, with its animal ears. However, it's made of stiff felt and sits high up on Alice's head. The printed paw motif is set off to one side, and that irks me. At first I thought it was a mistake, but when I saw photos of other dolls online, they were all the same. I wish the motif had been in the centre of the front instead of offset like that. The colour is very similar to, but not quite the same as the coat, which looks rather strange. It's only a small niggle though, and overall I love my Lottie doll to bits. I can't wait to unbox her sister!

As I mentioned in the beginning, I ordered my Lottie from Gumnut Toys, which is a small, Australian family-run company selling educational and wholesome toys. I've placed several orders with them and my experiences have been 100% positive. They are my Lottie provider of choice!

My February

Once again, February whizzed by, and it was well into March before I even had a chance to look back on the month that was. It became much warmer towards the end of the month -- real Summer weather! I decided this month to focus more on things I want to do, things I won't have a chance to do once I'm working again, and not worry about whether they're 'productive' activities or not. Aside from doing a lot of crafts, I did some drawing and decorating of my Hobonichi art diary. I also watched a lot of Youtube videos, played games and caught up with friends.

I finally got around to setting up my new (well, new-to-me, anyway) phone. I didn't have a smartphone before, so I had to carry my old phone for communications, my ipod for music and my ipad for taking photos and playing Pokemon Go. It's so much more convenient to be able to do all of that on one device! I'm looking forward to getting some cute covers for it.

What I've been making ...
I finished off a couple of smaller craft projects: a scarf and cushion for my dolls and a rabbit plushie trackable. The scarf was actually on my list of projects to rip, but when I looked at it, I saw that all it needed was the fringe on the ends, so I decided to finish it. The doll cushion, as I wrote about in this post, was on my Top 5 crafts list. The rabbit was very easy to make; I used the technique from this site.

I also started my Temperature Scarf on 1st March. There isn't much to see yet, so I'll post a photo in a few weeks. Perhaps I'll do a monthly update.

Where I visited ...
I went to the Melbourne Zine Fair early in the month. It has exploded in popularity over the last few years! There were over 200 tables and it was incredibly crowded all afternoon. I spent way more than I should have, but it's only once a year. If I'm organised enough, I might even set up my own table for next year.

What I've been working on ...
We had a huge harvest of plums this year! I didn't write a separate post about it as I wrote about making plum jam last year. It got to the point where I was despairing a little on what to do with all the plums! I made about 1/3 of them into jam, but ran out of jars. Then I made stewed plums, and even using the large pot I still had quite a lot left over. In the end I made plum puree by cooking them in the slowcooker all day. I was thoroughly sick of de-stoning them by that point, but with this technique they are put in the slowcooker whole. All I had to do was fish out the stones with a slotted spoon. The puree tasted very strong and caramelised. I put it into ziplock bags and froze it. Later I'd like to try making plum sauce or perhaps a marinade.

Selections from Instagram

My Hobonichi Art Diary 2017

I have a big confession to make ... I didn't even open my daily art diary until the 20th of January! But it's okay. I'd been feeling quite meh about filling in my old Hobonichi throughout most of December last year, and I was mainly focussing on my work for the Flare Up exhibition. In fact, it was probably the first thing worth noting that happened to me for the year anyway. I also felt a sudden urge to keep a garden diary -- noting down the activities I do in the garden each day, and I thought I may as well do that in my Hobonichi.

Oh, and sorry for the quality of the photos. I'll try a different set-up next time.

This year I bought the double-size (A5 size diary), and ever since placing the order I'd been kicking myself. It seemed intimidatingly large -- how am I going to fill up so much space every single day? The moment I started working in it though, all that dropped away and I was glad of the extra space. As you can see, I usually write quite a lot, even when I didn't have a very eventful day. It's fun to record the little things that happened. In the spread above (left), I was feeling lethargic after working at the shop, so I just drew some of the products I'd unpacked that day.

I went to the Melbourne Zine Fair, which was incredible. Several of the subsequent pages record my thoughts about the zines as I was reading them. The next day, we went to a new cafe in our suburb and had gluten-free Lebanese style pizzas. They were amazing so I had to draw them!

Last weekend, we went and bought a new bed! It doesn't arrive for 2-4 weeks as the base is custom-made. We got to choose the colour; we chose a seafoam green to compliment the lavender-coloured wall in our bedroom. I can't wait until it arrives! The linen set is entirely from my imagination, by the way.

I had been thinking about how my art has changed since I've been working in different media. In my art journal I use a lot of collage, especially layering long narrow strips to create borders. I wasn't doing that at all in my art on canvas, and I must have missed it because I started doing it using washi tape and stickers in my Hobonichi.

A few days ago my friend had a baby! I printed out the photo she sent to me and pasted it into my diary. She is a genuinely cute baby.

A couple of times, I've printed out batches of photos from my Instragram to decorate my diary. I decided to do this after seeing one of the youtubers I watch who has one of those cameras that prints polaroids on sticker paper. I went the cheap route instead! It took a little fiddling to get the size settings right, but it's been worth it. The only downside is that if I want the photo to be on the page of the day it corresponds to, I have to break out the printer just to print one photo. It's much easier to print them in batches, but I have to stick them on a different day. It's still fun though.

My old Hobonichi from last year is still not finished. I skipped quite a few days when I was tired, etc. Plus there are a lot of pages at the beginning and end which have monthly and weekly calendars, etc and I would like them to be decorated to before I can declared it finished. So I have the two diaries side-by-side and work on both of them together most nights. I covered the old diary with some leftover wrapping paper, using this method from Sailor Mimzy (video). It doesn't require any cutting or glueing, and it's very easy.

To help me fill in my old diary, I've been doing this drawing challenge. I don't draw every day, just when I feel like it, and I don't worry too much about making the drawing very complicated if I don't feel up to it. I'm currently on Day 5 and it's been fun.

I've been watching a lot of youtube videos for inspiration. My favourites are Sailor Mimzy and RainbowholicTV. Rainbowholic has a new feature where if you post your Hobonichi on Instagram with her hashtag, she features a few at the end of her videos! If I can take some good photos, perhaps I'll enter.