zaterdag 28 april 2012

A modern twist on the traditional Irish crios

I seem to be leaning towards using various yarns at the moment, so in between crocheting a couple of lip balm holder necklaces and an ornamental crochet fish, I decided to make something traditionally Irish, but with a modern twist. Where did my inspiration come from? Well, (and now I'm about to sort of reveal my age - well I've earned these ever-increasing numbers of grey hairs, so that's ok!) back in the late 1970s, I and a friend of mine, proud of our heritage and eager to look "a bit different" used to wear the traditional Irish crios (belt) in our jeans. They looked cool (and also of course helped to keep our ill-fitting jeans in place! Well, those were the days when the only decent jeans we could lay our hands on were purchased from the hands of an amused male sales assistant in a men's clothing shop).

Anyway, I was sitting reminiscing about those days and suddenly recalled my long-ago thrown away brown and green crios. One thought led to another and I remembered that many years ago, while at primary school, we were taught how to weave one of these traditional belts by one of the nuns, and could vividly bring to mind just how it was done. I couldn't wait to try it again!

I decided to make a crios using colours which could be worn with a nice modern pair of blue jeans, so I opted for navy, royal blue, cream and grey. I chose acrylic yarn so that the belt can be easily washed at 30C and is light to wear. First I cut out long strips of cardboard (yes, cardboard - who needs a wooden loom?!?) 7cm wide and joined them together at the ends to make 1 long strip equalling the length required for the belt (in this case totalling 192 cm (75.5 inches), not including the plaited fringe. I found, by trial and error, that it was best to staple the strips together; I had at first tried sellotape but found it came loose while weaving.
All along both sides of the strip I cut 1 cm (0.39 inch) slits at 1cm (0.39 inch) intervals (for a finer weave you would make the intervals smaller). This was a laborious task but necessary and worth all the effort in the end!
The next step was to set up the weave (I'm sure there's a technical term for this, but can't bring it to mind at the moment - I recommend Google! :-)  Although I used acrylic wool for the next step I think in future it might be best to use a sturdier yarn to set up on, so as to avoid any splitting or tearing  (or gnashing of teeth!) while weaving. The warp (yes, I Googled and yes, that's the word!) needs to be tough and cannot, nay, must not, break or you can throw your weaving away and start again - BE WARNED!! The next photo (weaving side) shows how to set this up - the aim being to have something to weave through which can easily be removed from the cardboard when the crios is complete.

And this shows how to thread the warp at the back
of the cardboard.

It was important too to tie the end of the warp securely around the card at the ends, leaving a long thread which can be plaited in at the ends (explanation comes later).

And now the fun could begin!  Any combination of colour is possible of course. I chose navy blue to start, cutting a piece of yarn as long as the entire belt with about 22cm (8.6 inches) to spare at either end... quick calculation... 236 cm long (approx. 93 inches). I cut 56 strands in the colours I had decided on for the pattern, and started off with 3 strands of navy blue. Using a blunt, large-eyed needle I threaded a strand of navy blue alternately over and under the warp threads for the entire length of the belt:

leaving approx. 22 cm (8.6 inches) of yarn hanging at either end (to be plaited when complete).

Now that we're getting all technical we can start calling these threads the "weft"!

On the next row the yarn is threaded opposite to the 1st. i.e. under, over instead of over, under.

Then it's just a question of continuing in this way until the pattern is complete. Whatever pattern you choose it's essential to get as many threads of yarn as possible between the fringed sides of the cardboard, in order to make a nice tight weave. When we later remove the weaving from the card we don't want holes appearing or the warp thread to be too visible.
I made sure to make a pattern which could easily be added to at either side in case I needed to squeeze more threads in for this purpose.

So this is my symmetrical pattern: 3 strands of navy blue,  2 royal blue, 5 cream,  10 grey, 1 royal blue, 1 cream, 1  royal blue, 1 cream, 1 royal blue, 1 cream, 1 royal blue, 1 navy blue, 1 cream, 1 navy blue, 1 royal blue, 1 cream, 1 royal blue, 1 cream, 1 royal blue, 1 cream, 1 royal blue, 10 grey, 5 cream, 2 royal blue, 3 navy blue.

The weaving was finished, so now it was time to plait the ends. I chose to make 4 plaits, making sure to plait in the ends of the warp thread as well at the same time. I made a knot in each plait at about 8 cm (3.14 inches) and cut the ends to the same length to neaten it all up.

Then, bending up the cardboard tabs with the loop of warp thread on them (see next photo) I carefully removed the belt from the cardboard. Again, making sure not to snap the warp threads or this would all have been for nought!
There are some loops at the sides at this point, but these disappear when the crios is pulled gently into shape. And voila! The result: a modern Irish crios (traditionally worn by the men of the Aran Islands), perfect for wearing (knotted at one side, ends and plaits dangling) with a great pair of blue jeans! Very cool!

vrijdag 13 april 2012

The last 11

Well yes, 11 more colours to go before the drawing was complete. I took a red violet lake pencil to fill in the damp leafy path between the trees, while raw umber and ivory black served for the smaller lighter and shadowy patches. The trees in the background needed to be kept vague and I wanted to  suggest distance so here I used the red violet lake pencil again, making sure to add lots of colour nearer the ground for the denser undergrowth and keeping it light nearer the sky. It was important not to draw clearly outlined trees in the background so as not to draw attention away from the main tree in the foreground. Leaving open areas of sky was also important, so as not to make the drawing too dense - really in the spirit of "less is more", to let the natural light in and bring things to life. I think in drawing and in painting, the greatest mistake is often in applying too much pencil or paint, rendering the work solid and "lifeless". It is essential to find a balance, to know when to stop.

Now my attention jumped back to the main tree. Using hard strokes I applied olive green to the mossy area down the left side of the trunk. Using lighter strokes I used the same colour on the trunks of the trees to the left. The path needed darkening so here I used some burnt umber.

At this point I had been drawing for 2 hours and 10 minutes, which is usually about my limit for one sitting, for two reasons really, the first being that "by-now-I-want-to-run-away-again-because-this-drawing-is-never-going-to-amount-to-anything" feeling, the second, I find from experience, that it pays not to do too much at once so as not to "over draw", as I mentioned earlier. Plus, when I do return to the drawing I return with a fresh eye.

This photo shows where I left off.

A couple of days later I sat down to complete the drawing. Between sittings I had a sudden urge to make Peruvian thread and wire earrings (as you do!) and have described all that in a previous blogpost.

But now it was time to get the drawing finished and so I brandished my flesh pink pencil (weird choice? We've had that conversation!) and applied it generously to the main tree trunk, also over the green areas, just to tone things down. Using gunmetal grey I made some vertical strokes, cross-hatching for the splits in the bark. These I emphasized with ivory black, adding more marks and splits. I then used silver grey over the purple areas in the path to create more shadow.

The area around the base of the second tree (on the left) needed some grass. For the darker parts I used mineral green and for the lighter areas water green. Then I made strokes using brown ochre, lemon cadmium, jade green and olive green. I was aiming for damp, partly withered grass here and so didn't want it to appear too bright.
For the leaves on the ground I applied copper beach, followed by more red violet lake to emphasize the path and background trees, making these darker towards the ground. Shadows in the leaves were created with burnt umber.

Again, out came the Chinese white - a layer over all the leaves. It's all looking a bit ugly at this stage, but the next layer of colour will (hopefully!) improve things.

The lower part of the tree on the left needed some brown ochre with flesh pink further up the trunk. Notice when drawing trees that not only is there usually a side of the tree which is damp and often covered in moss and lichens, but towards the bottom of the trunk there is often more discolouration, while the bark higher up is fresh and dry.

But back to the leaves on the ground! Using gunmetal grey I made dots and squiggles amongst the leaves, again trying not to be too precise here to maintain a vagueness. I did the same with mars black (a softer black than ivory black), putting more pressure on the pencil in the lower left (nearest) corner.
I used an eraser to rub out a few patches of light on the path and create a more natural look. Then I used light violet in the background and some chocolate brown in the leaves.

Finally, satisfied with the background, I added some finishing touches to the main tree by applying some fir green and olive green to the moss, particularly close to the left side of the trunk. It took about another 50 minutes (3 hours in total), but there you have it - there are 22 colours in the woods!

woensdag 11 april 2012

22 colours in the woods

It's hard to believe, but there are 22 colours in the woods... at least there are in my wood, seen with my eyes. I didn't know this, I just came to this conclusion as I went along. It was only when I put  pencil colour 22 that I was satisfied (well, as satisfied as I could be) that I'd achieved what I had in mind. As it turns out, I actually kind of veered off course with this drawing. I usually aim for realism, and I sort of did with the bark of the tree, but I opted for a more expressive style for the background so as to draw more attention to the tree in the foreground, with it's beautiful bark full of splits and marks and lichens and moss. It's of course yours to decide if you agree, but I'm fairly content with the result, even though a drawing is rarely exactly what I envisage in my head. I guess perfection doesn't exist, or at least, my skill doesn't match up to my imagination.

Anyway, like I said, there are 22 different colours in the woods. I started off with a few flesh pink patches in the bark of the main tree. Yes, flesh pink! And I know it's not skin, but I looked at the minute detail of the photo and that's what I saw, so get used to it! I then added some olive green down the mossy side on the left and some areas of mars black in the background areas. (I should probably mention here that I always use Derwent Artists coloured pencils - to me, far and away the best kind. They have a great range of colours, are soft enough for blending and, sharpened to a point, perfect for achieving a vivid result.) The next 2 photos show how the drawing looked at this point and the next step after that.

At this point I added just a few hints of terra cotta on the bark of the tree. Then I took a gunmetal grey pencil and did some of the finer lines in the bark and sketched in some of the trees in the background and to the side of the picture. Then I added just a hint of deep chrome. The next step, and one which seems a bit drastic and completely counter-productive, was to  cover the entire trunk of the main tree in Chinese white. It's good to apply plenty of pressure to the pencil at this stage to burnish the surface. This practice not only blends the colours together nicely but also gives more depth to the drawing, at least once more layers of colour have been applied. Having used the white, the drawing appears duller, but applying more colour on top brings everything to life again.

I used ivory black for the sharper details in the bark and then fell mist (grey/green) for the highlights along the trunk and to blend all the colours together. To capture the brightness of the moss I now applied mineral green and jade green. It never ceases to amaze me just how vibrant and vivid the moss on the trees in a damp wood - nature is miles better than any paint brush or pencil for producing real colour. That's it, now things are beginning to look the way I intend! By now, that wanting-to-run-away-screaming feeling has ebbed away in the process of drawing and is now changing into something closer to excitement. I can't adequately describe the exhilaration when a part of what I'm drawing gets close to what I have in my head. It's a real buzz and it's what keeps me wanting to do more, to try to get a better result.

Another layer of Chinese white to tone everything down. This time I apply it horizontally, but also in a vertical layer over the bark to get a better texture. Now out comes the eraser to remove some areas of colour where the bark is paler. Ok, ok! You will keep asking stupid questions! Why didn't I just leave those areas without too much colour? Well, it's not the same thing, and that's just how I work, ok?! (Sorry, just a little tantrum there). It's actually more effective because it ensures subtler, softer edges in the colour. The paler areas would be harsh if left entirely colourless and with obvious edges.

Well, that's 11 colours - only 11 more to go...

zaterdag 7 april 2012

A wire and thread diversion

My Etsy shop calls. It's time I made something new to add to the collection. I've been thinking about making some Peruvian wire and thread art earrings. Ok, I admit, I discovered them while browsing around the other shops on Etsy, but they look like fun to make and so I'm going to learn. My first pair will be straightforward and maybe after a little practice I can vary them and give them my own slant. But, first the basics - one may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time. (What is that with me and mountains lately?!?)

I did a quick scan around the internet and found a ton of tutorials. This one (thank you Sue!:-)) seemed a good one to me - clear, step-by-step and with photos. Of course, I didn't follow it exactly - that's just me - but it would be perfect if you wanted to do that. I just have a congenital allergy to following instructions or lessons to the letter. I hasten to add that's not because I think I can do it any better, it's just that I like to experiment and come up with my own solutions to any problems that might arise (not always successfully I might add, but you live and learn and all the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind and all that twaddle!).

Anyway, get on with it woman! I took 2 lengths of aqua blue coloured coated copper wire (22 gauge as opposed to the 18 gauge wire recommended in the lesson (14 cm each in length) and fashioned two teardrop loops, crossing the wires over at the top and marking where they crossed by denting the wire slightly. This I did according to the tutorial, then I ventured out on my own. The instructions told me I should use a Coil Gizmo - don't have it, don't know what it looks like, won't wait to get one! - time to improvise. I found my slimmest knitting needle, a 2mm metal one and wound thick silver wire around the needle to form a coil. No, I don't know how thick the silver wire is! - it was just a coil I had lying around, but it's a good bit thicker than the 22 gauge copper wire. I thought I'd use silver wire instead of the suggested 22 gauge copper wire, as silver wire is sturdy and also flexible enough to bend easily around the needle using my fingers. I'm not one for using pliers and tongs when I can use my fingers. I like to feel what I'm doing.

So, I wound the silver wire (about 80cm long) around the knitting needle to form a coil, making sure to push the wire together with each turn so that it was evenly spaced. This was done surprisingly quickly because of the soft quality of the wire.

Leaving a few cm unwound at the end I removed the coil from the needle. As per the instructions, I then carefully pulled the coil, spreading it gently so that it equaled the length of the previously cut copper wire loop. I then threaded the copper wire loop into the coil, crossed the ends of the loop once again, tightening the coil and wire together securely to form a loop, leaving a piece of wire a couple of cm long sticking straight up (this is needed for attaching the earring loop later on). The result, a fairly decent-looking frame for the earring, although I say so myself!

Next step, was the thread-weaving, fun part! I chose a nice deep aqua blue embroidery thread. I split the thread and cut 4m (yes, it sounds a lot, but it is necessary)  of 1 single thread. I tied this with several knots around the top of the earring (we don't want it unravelling and messing everything up!). Then I brought the thread down to the halfway point at the bottom of the earring and looped it between the coils. After that it's just a question of bringing the thread back up and inserting it in the coil to the right of the top, then back down to the coil at the left of the middle, then back up and 1 to the right, then back down and 1 to the left and so on... It's important to try to keep the thread fairly tight but not to pull the teardrop out of shape while doing so, so pay attention!

After a short while you'll find you are back at the middle point again. Then all you have to do is bring the thread back up to the top and secure it, again with several knots. Easy peasy!
I got so caught up here I forgot to take more photos, but you get the jist I'm sure. The earrings needed a bit more colour so I added a little layer of aqua green thread in the same way at the bottom, starting as before by tying at the top of the earring, then bringing the thread down to the middle point again and then over to where I wanted the new colour to start. I continued this time until the right and left sides were at the same height. Then I repeated the whole process for the second earring, and this was the result:

To finish off,  I tied a few more knots in the threads at the top and cut off any long ends. I took a large patterned metal bead and slipped this over the wires and threads to hide all the ugly bits and added a few drops of transparant glue inside the top of the metal bead for extra security. The last step was to fashion a loop with the silver wire that was left sticking straight up at the beginning, fixing a silver-plated wire earring hook to the loop. I made sure here to attach the earring loops in the right direction, as these earrings have a proper back and front ( the back has vertical threads from the halfway point to the top, while the front does not).

Here you can gaze at the result of my labours...ok, they're not perfect, but I'll get there! Next time I think I might try a different shape...

vrijdag 6 april 2012

The hell that is blank paper

Having sketched everything and being fairly satisfied with the result, it's time to take the next step. It sounds strange but now I go about erasing (well almost erasing) the sketch I've just made. This might sound a bit counterproductive (or just plain weird) but it's actually very necessary. I've found that if I leave too much pencil on the paper it dirties the coloured pencil and spoils the result, so I all but entirely erase what I've drawn so far, leaving only the lightest of lines to help me fill in everything in the correct place. "Why didn't you just draw very light lines in the first place?", I hear you ask. Well, I have no good reason, except that that is just how I work, that's all! (And stop asking silly questions! :-))

I'm still wanting to run away at this point. I know this sounds affected and I'm wanting to bang my head on the wall for even mentioning it (not in any physical way of course - that would hurt, and I'm not brave), but it is the truth. I could pretend that it's not, maybe even not mention it at all, but I'm trying to tell the whole process here. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who recognize the feeling... like the mountain climber before he tackles the mountain, the car mechanic before he takes the engine to pieces, anyone in fact with a huge task ahead of them. Blank paper is, for me, akin to Mount Everest. Blank paper with a few sketch lines, only marginally less daunting. I mean, look at it!...

Now, tell me you have no sympathy. Well, ok, you probably don't, and that's ok, because now I get to use the coloured pencils...

donderdag 5 april 2012

From blank page to drawing

I've decided to make a coloured pencil drawing. This time, as is often the case, the subject will be trees. I love to draw trees - they're such amazing things; huge and strong they stand firmly anchored to their spot while life moves around them and invisibly within them. It might sound silly, but to me, there's something wise and protective about them. The bigger they are, the older, the more they are to be cared for and respected. Their appearance changes with the seasons but basically they stay the same. Though it's not my thing to hug trees, I can fully understand why someone might feel the inclination! I do love to walk in the woods however and to take lots of photos of the trees and their bark. There's usually at least one shot amongst them that serves as inspiration for a drawing, and the drawing I'm about to make is from just such a photo.

This drawing is going to have the trunk of a tree visible in the foreground, with a few more trees at a distance in the background. I particularly liked the look of the moss on the bark and the black splits and marks down the trunk and wanted to make them the dominant feature of the drawing. A few thin trees are scattered to the left to give depth to the drawing and the background will remain vague and suggested so as not to detract from the foreground. Let's see if I can achieve my aim...

I've taken a sheet of wood-free (I could pretend I did this as a mark of respect to the trees, but that would be a fib - it's just from a drawing pad I had at hand!), 120gr. drawing paper. It has a fairly rough surface which is good when you're intending to add layers of colour. The next step was to measure out the drawing area (20.7 x 24 cm) and to sketch in some outlines with a 2B pencil. At this stage I'm hating the paper, I'm thinking the drawing is never going to be a success and I want to run away screaming! It's always like this! I keep looking at my computer screen (that's where I have my photo for reference purposes) and switching to my Facebook page, my Etsy shop, my email... anything to get away for a second.

But it has to be done. I feel the urge, and there's no ignoring it! I wish I had a pure love relationship with drawing, and could sit peacefully and contentedly drawing away for hours, but it's actually a real love/hate relationship every time, and the love stage has not yet arrived. That comes later, hopefully....

The idea of this blog

I've been thinking about starting a blog for a while now. My intention is to write primarily about all the creative things I like to do, though I may sometimes just ramble on about whatever comes to mind.
I've decided it's time to spend my time (or at least as much of my time as is practically possible) making and creating useful and/or decorative things, and by means of this blog, telling how I arrive at a finished article. Drawing in coloured pencil is the thing I love to do most, my real passion. My style is somewhere around realism/hyperrealism blended with my own love of vibrant colour and light. But I also enjoy many other handcrafts - from making one-of-a-kind jewelry to creating original Celtic knotwork drawings and everything in between.

I set up a shop on Etsy in October 2011 as a place to sell all the things I make and I thought that this blog might help to show where all those items come from and how they were made. Like I already mentioned, I may get sidetracked from time to time if something else grabs my attention, or just on a whim! I don't pretend to be a brilliant writer, in fact, this is as much an experiment to see if I can write anything any way decent, as it is to elaborate on my experiments in creativity. So, yes, experimental indeed, but I hope you'll bear with me and pop by from time to time for a little read. You're very welcome! :-)