Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Philosophy in prison

Many of the TED talks I see are very clever, inspiring, impressive.  This is probably one of the most thought-provoking I've seen.  It takes less than 4 minutes.  I commend it to you.  Seriously.

Haydn Seasons

We made a mistake a few weeks ago, but it'll all be over soon.  Our main choir, Royston Priory Singers, gave a concert in a local church, and the conductor had invited a couple he knows, a tenor and an alto, to join us to bulk up the numbers a bit, and I ended up standing next to this tenor.

We sang half a dozen anthems suitable for Remembrance, though a week early, then did the Fauré Requiem, all of which went off rather well.

At the end, the tenor turned to me and explained that his choir was singing the Haydn Seasons on 11th December, and did I want to come along, as they were a little light on tenors.  I've never been invited to help out like that before, and was sufficiently flattered to agree.

That was before I discovered that the choir was a good 45 minutes drive from home!  So on Tuesdays until the actual gig, Jenny has to catch a slightly earlier train home, I have to have the dinner ready by 6.30 and we don't get home until close to 11pm.

And the Haydn is hard!  Neither of us had even heard of it before we started, and we're not that keen on it, now we've met it.  Quite often, the tune you're singing simply doesn't go where you're expecting it to.   I've been bashing notes at home quite a bit, and there are still large sections I'm hopeless at. Fortunately, the man actually lied, and the tenor line up is quite strong, so it matters less that some of the time I'll be singing in quiet mode.

I'll be much more circumspect if I ever get flattered like that again!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Broken maquette

 This is a chalk maquette of a goddess I've been working on for the past week or so.  I always planned to carve the final version in limestone, but wanted to play around with the design in chalk first, as it's so soft and quick.

To be truthful, I was unhappy with the slot down the front, right from the start, as it makes her torso look too face-like, but I carried on, as I wanted to explore other ideas elsewhere, such as scooping out her thighs, which you can see I started to do on her left. 

Although conceived simply as an exercise to explore the shape, there had been times when I'd imagined finishing her to a decent standard, then consolidating the surface of the chalk with a liquid sealant, making her into an acceptable work of art that I could keep inside.

I was distracted this afternoon as soon as I started that scooping out, when I discovered a small fossil, possibly a fish, in the chalk right there.  After extracting that and sending Jenny an email about it, I carried on, but then fell foul of a personal characteristic I've brought forward from when I was very young.

I have always had a tendency to rush at things and try to make too much progress too quickly.  In this case, I'd carved my goddess to roughly final proportions, (still lots to do, of course) but was then too vigorous when I started to scoop out her thigh.  Too rough with the hammer and chisel, and after a while, I looked up and noticed that she'd cracked right across her waistline.

Well, bugger!  Fairly happy I know where I'm headed when I start on the limestone final, but actually rather sad to have wasted the maquette, which I was getting to like.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Awesome Octopus!

This is astonishing, but I'm bemused as to why exactly the octopus is doing this.  I'm indebted to PZ Myers, just for a change!

Printing problems solved!


This is the problem I've been having printing out a photograph of my new reclining nude carving.  The original photograph  shows the colours more or less as they are in real life, a rich red, and on the monitor, all looks good.  However, when I printed the picture out, the colours were completely different, and my beautiful nude seemed to be a dull brown colour.  It was driving me nuts!

I contacted Canon Customer Support, who recommeded I download and use something called an Adobe Colour Profile, but didn't provide any clue as to how I was supposed to use it once installed.   I wasted hours and half a small rain forest farting about trying to get a decent print, since there is a plethora of different settings both in Photoshop and on the printer, none of which seemed to make the slightest difference.

Not knowing what else to try, I stuck a sheet of glossy photograph paper into the printer, instead of plain.  Until then, the pictures I'd been printing had come out OK for my purposes, so it hadn't occurred to me the paper might affect the colours that were printed on it.  When I hit the tit, bingo!  Out came a photo with the colours not unacceptably remote from the original.

Now why didn't someone suggest that right from the start?


Monday, 21 November 2011

An Unsatisfactory Sunday

Yesterday was such a glorious day that we decided to forgo the pleasures of gardening and drive to Grafham Water to watch birds.  We'd been reading about the reserve in the Wildlife Trusts magazine, and it seemed a perfect way to use a beautiful day.

As we drove around the Papworth bypass, however, we found ourselves entering a bank of fog, with visibility down to less than 100m in places.  Well, not so much a bank of fog as an extensive blanket!

Still driving through fog, we stopped in the village of Brampton to buy lunch in a pub I've been to before, only to find it closed down.  We found the George Hotel in Huntingdon, where lunch was adequate rather than great, but then we had a bonus as they were running a special offer which we'd not spotted, and our two fish and chips lunches were £10 instead of £8 each.  Lunch with drinks for £16 was good value!

The fog had lifted a few millimetres, so we drove hopefully towards Grafham Water, but on the A1 it was as bad as ever, so we turned around at the first roundabout and went home.

At this point, we still had delusions of being able to visit Fowlmere as compensation for our disappointment at Grafham, but by the time we got back near home, it was already too late to be worth the diversion, and in any case, we needed a cup of tea!

Later, turning on my phone to check the calendar (I'm older generation - my phone stays off much of the time!) I discovered a message from my friend Pam, who had called at lunchtime to give us a lift to a choir practice.  Oh bugger!  We'd completely forgotten that was happening.  This was the second of two rehearsals for a concert in Southwark Cathedral on 3rd December, and we'd been unable to do the first as we'd had a visiting Swedish academic staying with us.  I made a grovelling apology to el Chef the conductor, but there's no way we can take part now.  Fortunately, he has enough bodies in the choir that he wasn't dependent on our being there.

So overall, not a very satisfactory Sunday. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Inventing new foodstuffs

We lifted the chilli plants from the greenhouse last weekend, and picked all the remaining fruit.  These plants, bought from the local garden centre, were a bit of a dead loss.  Although they fruited quite heavily, and needed minimal care, the fruits were so mild, they were barely recogniseable as chillis.  In fact, we used quite a lot in place of green peppers, though they were a pain as they were so small.  Jalapeno fiery chillis my arse!

Anyhow, I decided I'd roast them and make a sort of pepper aquivalent of passata.  I started halving and deseeding them, then realised that as I was going to sieve the result, I didn't need to do that, so just cut the stems off and removed any damaged areas.  (We discovered we had a couple of snails resident in the greenhouse!)   I drizzled olive oil over them, seasoned with salt and pepper and gave them an hour in a roasting dish at 180°C. 

While they were cooling, I went and bought myself a food mill so I didn't have to push the pulp through a sieve with a spoon.  I now have a small bowl of chilli paste, and amazingly, the roasting has drawn out the chilli heat quite a lot, so now it really does have a bit of bite.  It's not excessive, but definitely useful.  Hoorah!

All is not perfect, however, as I was using a mixture of red and green chillis, so the result is a rather unappetising brown colour.  And I have yet to work out how to store it.  I guess it would freeze OK, so I just have to stick it in the ice tray and I'll have a small pile of 2.5cm cubes of chilli paste.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Art Exhibition

Well, the Reclining Nude is as finished as she's going to be for now, though there are still things I could do to improve her.  This is what she looks like now.  This photograph is not the most thought-through composition I've ever done;  I just cleared the mantlepiece in the living room and stuck her up there for the photograph.  She'd not even central, and the lighting's rubbish, but there you go.

I've taken the three pieces up to Curwens and installed them there, and now the sixth formers from Freeman College in Buntingford are hanging their pictures.  I didn't spend long there as I'd just have been getting in the way,  but what I saw was impressive, and I'm looking forward to getting a proper look at the private viewing on Wednesday.

Later.  I still have the problem of how to clean my hands.  When I applied the first, sealing coat of French polish, I neglected to wear any disposable gloves.  The grain of the wood, despite my wiping it down with a damp cloth, still retained quite a lot of wood dust which, mixed with the French polish, stained the resin a deep red.  

That went onto my hands, winkling its way into all the cracks and crevices, where it remains.  My hands look a complete mess!  I've scrubbed them with meths, the standard way to dissolve shellac, without much result, so now I'm pretty much resigned to waiting for the stain to grow out.  Lovely!

Friday, 11 November 2011

A busy week

Last weekend I suddenly realised I'd only got a week to finish the sculptures that are going into Curwens, the High Street solicitors on Monday, so had to get a bit more focused, rather than smooch idly about doing a bit of sanding, then sloping off to the nature reserve for a bit of birding!


This one is called Tooth Fairy and is carved from a piece of wood I collected from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute when I worked there.  They built a new block, starting in 2002, I think, and the process of clearing the land in preparation involved felling a few trees.  I'm not sure what wood this is, as the tree was already down and cut up into logs by the time I became aware of it.

Although I finished carving it some years ago, I've only just made the black plinth for it.  It's been standing in our hallway, but really isn't stable enough without the plinth to go into a public space.  I'm quite sure the solicitor would not let me exhibit it there as it was.  So it's actually standing on the plinth while the glue sets, then tomorrow I'll up end it and drive half a dozen long screws into it, just to make sure!

This is Untitled and is a bronze casting I made in 1998.  It sat outside in the garden for most of the time since then, and when I started polishing it ready for this exhibition, I discovered I'd never really finished polishing it all those years ago.  I used 500 grade wet and dry to sand out all the old scratch marks left by the random orbital sander, then put a polishing mop into my power drill so I could polish it up nice and bright with tripoli.

The third piece I'll be exhibiting is not quite finished, so I'll have some work to do over the weekend, which is why there's no photo of it.  I finished shaping it a couple of weeks ago, and have spend much time since then sanding and smoothing it, but today it got its sealing coat of French polish.  That has to dry thoroughly, then I'll sand the whole surface with very fine sand paper, as the French polish lifts the grain a bit, and I'll have to remove that before giving it another couple of coats.

It's carved from a piece of African hardwood called paduck, which is a beautiful red colour, which the French polish really draws out.   The whole thing is late, because when I started sanding, I found that many of the concave curves were slightly rippled, which is simply not acceptable, so I've spent a lot of time over the past few days scraping away with a metal scraper, to get them smoother.  Still not perfect, but whether I'll find the motivation to work some more on it when I get it back from the solicitors in a couple of months' time, I have no idea.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Restoring riverine environments

This is really good news, even though the river concerned is far away.

I've been really busy of late, so haven't had much time to check out my usual favourite blogs.  I have a few sculptures going on exhibit in a local solicitors office in the High Street next week, and they're not all finished, though they will be!

This video was posted by PZ Myers some time ago, but I've only just seen it.  I'm not against all dams, but I do know quite a few were built for rather dubious reasons and without much thought for the local wildlife, so when someone decides a dam has to go, it's really gratifying to watch the time-lapse video of the destruction.  I hope someone posts a second video showing it taken through to complete removal, as this one only goes so far.