Practical class: Medieval Manuscript Illumination

You know, I’ve always loved that glowing, golden Medieval manuscript illumination. Each time I’m at a museum I search them out. Something about the illuminated letters just makes my heart sing. Old botanical illustrations or old maps do that for me too. You know, huge books with torn pages and brown stains containing precious paintings.

Have a look at this 15C book page:

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I was thrilled to get into the Medieval manuscript decoration class, not only because it was something I had never done before, but also because here was my chance to learn about this from instructor Helen White, a master artist in illuminated manuscripts, with an amazing three decade long knowledge base.

The old Medieval artists used powdered earth pigments and real gold or silver, and I would have loved to mix my own pigments and use real precious gold leaf, but, again, this practical class was only 1.5 hour long, so had to settle for coloured card stock and metal based gold gouache paint from Winsor & Newton.

So, if you’d like to have a go at making yourself an illuminated letter like I did, then gather your materials, you will need:

Tracing paper
coloured card stock
gold gouache paint
white gouache paint
a hard, precise pencil, (I had an H)
black ink pen
a different colour to you card stock pencil or paint
two very small, very precise paintbrushes
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Putting this letter together was a bit like figuring out Celtic knots. Once someone shows you how, it’s really easy.

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Start with a square of coloured paper. The dimensions of the square I used are in the image above. The letter will sit in the middle of the square, so pick your letter first and them maybe cut your square.

I’m not sure what to advise you for the letter as we were given a printed page with the correct sized font, but for my next adventure, I’ll design the letter myself. Maybe you could have a look on line for a template or write to Helen; she might send you one.

But once you have a font, trace the letter on some tracing paper with a precise, sharp pencil, flip the tracing paper over and trace the letter to the back.

Now put the tracing paper on to the front of your card and go over it again tracing the pencil lead onto the card. I think that, except for an “I”, “T” or an “O”, you just can’t measure the middle and have to eyeball it, but it’s such a precise little painting that you’ll probably get it spot on in that space.

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Here is a breakdown of the steps with Helen’s demonstration, but I’ll take you thru them with my piece just below.

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Measure the central square, either according to the diagram above or according to your own wishes and transfer the pencil letter to it.

Here, if you had more time and supplies, you could use size and gold leaf, but I used gold paint. Outline the letter first and fill it in later. I know that I’m not a precise painter and so, to keep it extremely precise, I had to go slowly. If you are using a gold size and leaf, I would suggest leaving it till the end to apply; just draw the pencil letter on the card so you can do the decorating around it.

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Next, using your ruler and black ink, measure every 1/2 centimetre along the top and bottom, and sides and flip your ruler upside down, (so the flat edge is held a little above the card to prevent the ink from smudging), and draw black ink lines in a grid pattern taking care to miss the letter.

Now colour in each alternate square in the grid. Again, because of the time crunch, I used a pencil, but next time I’ll use some paint.

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Now get some white paint and a fine brush, and paint squares on each alternate square. Go slowly!!! Here, Helen is demonstrating on a large grid to make it easier. She applied the white to the red squares.

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I had a bit of practice on a scrap piece of card and preferred the white on the blue squares.

ARG! I can’t draw precise squares to save my life! This was a lesson in frustration. I joked with the lovely woman beside me that, if I had been a Medieval illustrator, my squares would have literally been the death of me!

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Once the squares are completed, I connected them with lines on the diagonal and used a bit more gold gouache for some dots in the red squares and to do a little golden outlining around the outside of my design.

And look! What do you think? I think it’s such a lovely art form to learn. Now I want to take my time and discover other designs and use gold leaf.

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Wouldn’t this lend itself so beautifully to Christmas cards or to one’s own signature on a piece of art? I think so.

Practical class: Felting 101

It took forever to drive to Waterperry House and Art in Action on the first day, (three stalled vehicles on the highway and crawling traffic.) The result was that the class I intended to take was booked up and so I opted for a felting class instead.

I’ve never felted anything before and I though, why not? Why not go and have some “crafting” fun. And here is the how to of this fun art form:

The tools which are needed are:
- wool felt
- a felting needle (careful, it has four sharp and barbed needles, and they will hurt you!)
- a foam support
- a needle and thread, scissors and, maybe some buttons or beads or other embellishments, (or not).

(What do you think of this cute felted fairy cake pin cushion? Don’t you love it?)

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The craft being made was a felted flower broach and here is the teacher demonstrating the beginning. She took a bunch of wool, formed it into a sort-of circle…

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…and began stabbing it with the felting needle. Her needle didn’t have a protective, retractable plastic cover, the student’s needles did.

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So I chose some colours and here is the beginning of my first flower. It’s really easy and fun actually and I think I had a smile on my face thru the whole procedure. In no time the wool began and to knit together and became a cohesive disk.

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And, in no time, I had three disks and two leaf shapes ready for my broach. I picked out some buttons and some red thread and began stitching it all together.

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And, here is my finished broach! (I stitched a broach pin to the back of it.)

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Look how well it looks on my little purse! I chose these autumnal colours because I’m looking forward to pinning it on my scarves later on in the year.

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This was a simple little thing to learn and I must say that everyone who saw it commented on how lovely it was. I think so too.

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But before you…or I…dismiss it as a “craft” take a look at this award winning Best of the Best Textile piece from artist Eve Kelly! Isn’t it amazing? It’s all felted, just like my flowers, and sold for 390GBP, (that’s over $700!). Here’s a link to another lovely website where you can see life-sized felted birds by Eve O’Neill.

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Happy felting folks. Let me know if you have done this and what you’ve made. :D

Practical class: Silk Painting 101

Here we go with the first practical class from art in action. :D

Have you ever wondered how to paint on silk? Have you ever seen those beautiful silk flags fluttering in the breeze or one of those exquisite silk paintings with the puffy backing and wondered about making one for yourself? Well, read on, because now you’ll be able to.

Painting on silk requires a few special products and a little practice and that’s all there is.

You’ll need special paints. The ones we used were already decanted into the little palette and so I couldn’t photograph the actual paint pot, but I know what they are. They are heat set paints and are called Silkcraft Iron Fixed Silk Paint. They blend like a dream, they rinse and thin with water and act a little like watercolours.

The special solution you need to stop the paints from bleeding together is called Gutta. It comes in a tube with a very thin nozzle for precise application.

The other things you need are:
- a piece of silk…obviously…lol
- a wooden support to pin the silk to, (I suggest going to your local thrift store, buying a tacky .99 cent painting on a wooden support, and tearing the canvas away.)
- and some pins to pin the silk to the wooden support (there are special pins with three sharp prongs that we were using, but I think any thin, sharp pushpin will work.)
- something to act like a palette. This paint is very watery so it has to be in little cup forms.
- a paintbrush or two, a jar of water, a piece of paper and a couple pieces of masking tape.

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So, the first thing to do is to pin the silk on the wooden support.
Then take your piece of paper and fold it in such a way that it fits inside the wooden support underneath the silk, then take the paper out. Now you have the paper the precise size of drawing surface.

Now draw something. :) (I had my robin drawing on my cell phone and so decided to replicate something like that. This class was only 1.5 hours, but you can take as long as you like.)

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE!!!
You will follow your drawing with the Gutta and, when you finally get to paint the colours on your silk, everywhere that lines do not meet, that is, everywhere where there is a little gap in the Gutta, the paint will bleed and mix together. So draw your design with that firmly in your mind.

When you have drawn your design, pour out some of the paints into your palette. A little will do, it goes a long way.

Now flip the wooden support with the silk pinned to it upside down and put your drawing underneath your silk. You will be able to see the design thru the silk. Hold the paper there with a couple pieces of masking tape.

Now flip the silk right side up and take your Gutta and trace the lines on your silk with the Gutta. You may like to have a little practice on a darker sheet of paper first, (newspaper, paper bag, your kid’s construction paper), to get the hang of how the Gutta flows.

You can see in my robin design, I intentionally left a space on the right side of the robin’s red breast area. I wanted to denote the red part, but wanted the colour to blend and bleed thru.

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Now you’re ready to paint your design.

I found that the paint colours were a little sharp for my liking. I mean, fuchsia, turquoise, minty green. lemon yellow…etc…, so I mixed them together to make softer colours and browns and oranges. I had a little practice on my sheet of paper.

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Now be brave!!!

What you need is loads of wet paint and dabs with the brush. For the robin’s red breast I used some red and yellow, and, while they were wet, they blended beautifully.

For his wings and tail, I mixed up a load of brown and, while it was wet, I added some blue.

For the background I mixed up a load of blue, (that wasn’t turquoise or midnight blue) and sloshed it on with the biggest brush there was. You can see how the brush wasn’t big enough for the blue sky and how it dried patchy.

But wait! Here’s a trick: SALT

I wasn’t sure how to describe the feathers on his breast. I wanted a dappled effect of soft brown and white. Our instructor, Julie, suggested I sprinkle salt on the area I want to disturb the paint. I used pickling salt, you know, larger crystals, but you can also use table salt. I presume it would give a bit of a different mottling effect. The best way to add the salt is to dump a generous amount on your work surface and then pick it up in your fingers and place it where you want it. The salt absorbs some of the paint causing a lovely mottled effect.

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I did the same thing with a second layer of blue on the sky background.

You have to wait till the paint dries and then shake the salt off.

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And, TAH DA! Here is my finished little silk painting. I love it and can’t wait to frame it. :D (Also, can’t wait to buy some supplies and paint some more.) This is the company I’m likely to order from here in the UK, but I’m sure that very similar products can be found all over the world.

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Here are a couple of designs Julie had as inspiration:

I’ve added the green arrows to show you how the paints will bleed into each other if the Gutta isn’t completely sealing the spaces.

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However, you can always do a crazy, zany design like this lovely one, and then it doesn’t matter so much at all. :D

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Happy silk painting.

First, Nathan Ford and the most brilliant idea!

As I was rushing thru the Painters marquee to get to the first practical class I booked myself in to. I saw loads of artists busily painting away or chatting to people in the middle of their stalls filled with paintings, postcards and posters, and then, I came to the stall of a young man named Nathan Ford.

This stall was empty except for a stool on which sat Nathan, a table with a box of used pencils and a large, toned canvas hanging on a wall.

He smiled at me and handed me a pencil.

I walked up to the canvas, completely overwhelmed, and drew a little ladybug on a small empty space, above someone’s heart.

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Then I stepped back and looked…

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and looked some more.

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And within two seconds of me moving away from the canvas, my position was taken up by more people with pencils, and then their position was taken up with others and so on and so on.

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And I stood there, took photos and watched, and it occurred to me that this is the most brilliant community project. Reflecting a community of people who share in the arts. Who are we there? We’re artists, and craftsmen, and laymen, and philistines, and children, and volunteers, and bored spouses, and ageing dreamers.

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And here, we’re all invited to make our mark.

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And, you know what? It’s irresistible. We all do. We step up to that canvas and mark it in our own way. We leave our own signature, or hand print, like a prehistoric man on the cave wall. It’s in our nature. I saw parents holding their children up to the canvas, I saw pensioners rolling up in their wheel chair, I saw strangers nudging each other, holding dog leashes, holding bags sunhats for each other, all for that precious mark on that wonderful canvas…connecting everyone.

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We’re royalty and we’re beggars, but we all come together to somehow celebrate art…somehow…in our own way, whether we disdain it and are being dragged along by our insufferable other, or whether we’ve flow half way around the world to be there. We are there, and we find something beautiful. And I don’t know if that something is simply the pretty girl walking past in the sexy sundress, or the amazing artistic expressions on display, we all find something, somehow, to admire.

And in that moment, we are all united. That’s the power of art.

By the way, Nathan won the Best of the Best award, chosen by all the demonstrating artists.

Art in Action 2014 part 1

Hey you!!!

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It’s Art in Action time!!!! :D

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Time to discover new things, learn new techniques.

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Have I got your attention?

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Are you sitting up in anticipation now?

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Good, then follow me… :D

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Over the next few days we’ll peek into some of the 30 marquees to discover new arts,

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We’ll invite ourselves into free classes,

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We’ll pick up tips for using new tools,

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We’ll learn new arts and new techniques in the practical classes,

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We’ll marvel at new designs and new ideas,

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We’ll see things we never knew could be done,

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We’ll flip thru artist’s sketchbooks, try our hands at artist’s designs,

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And find new ways and new products to express our art. :D

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I know I’ve posted about this wonderful adventure in years past, and, each year I visit, it’s newer and fresher and more inspiring than ever.

This year I’ll tell you everything I learned about silk painting, sculptural wood carving, mixed media, felting, illuminated manuscript illustration, freedom to draw exercises, woodcarving printing, and much, much more.

And, if I can do it, so can you. :D

So grab a cup of tea and join me for this year’s extravaganza.

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What’s that? Carole’s wonderful drawing challenge

The other day Robert and I were out in the field test driving my Land Rover and our neighbour Polly came to see and ask if we wanted some fresh eggs from her chickens.

We were delighted and walked with her to the chicken coop.

We looked in on the girls and I said, “what’s that?” It looked like a shiny black bead looking directly at me from under the steps of the coop. It blinked and revealed itself to be the eye of a rat!

This rat wasn’t going to give up his eggs for anyone…oh no!

But we had Polly’s huge dog with us, (and he wanted an egg), and so eventually the rat saw the game was up and hopped away giving us the middle claw.

And me without my camera. :(

Today, I took a piece of lino and carved that daemon rat on it to show you exactly what he looked like…to the minutest detail!

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I printed him on a piece of newspaper with the article, “The Value of Disrespect.”

It seemed to fit…lol.

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Also yesterday I took this photo. Any idea what that is?

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It’s the after effects of a huge military jet from a nearby RAF base disturbing a cloud. Cool, isn’t it?

Sharing with Carole and all the gang. :D Pop over when you have a chance and see other wonderful interpretations of the theme.

Inner Eye, Susan’s wonderful drawing challenge

Last week, Ariane announced that Susan had offered “Inner Eye” as this weekend’s drawing challenge.

I happily jumped at the chance to participate. Inner eye, how hard can that be?

Turns out that it was pretty hard for me. I don’t mean difficult as in technique, I mean difficult as in feeling satisfied with an image to depict the subject.

I think I drove Robert crazy with the constant reevaluating.

At first I broke down the inner eye, the third eye, the Sanskrit Ajna, the Shiva Hakini, three petals of the white lotus, moon and sun, my yoga practice…there’s too much, you know? In the end I was most satisfied with the white lotus, and that’s what I started to draw and then paint.

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The painting evolved any old way along my favourite “as the cell divides” method. I used pencils and inks and pens and acrylics and watercolours and charcoals.

I still have Mucha in my mind and so it took on a somewhat Art Nouveau bend. I still have Klimt in my mind and so some of Klimt’s colours and shapes popped in. And, by this morning, I put this painting down and had a big sigh.

I’m not satisfied with it.

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The more I looked at the white lotus on that yellow, golden background, the more I wasn’t satisfied with it, the more I came to Poe.

The lotus reminded of my favourite Poe story, Silence, a Fable, and the following:
“The waters of the river have a saffron and sickly hue –and they flow not onwards to the sea, but palpitate forever and forever beneath the red eye of the sun with a tumultuous and convulsive motion. For many miles on either side of the river’s oozy bed is a pale desert of gigantic water-lilies. They sigh one unto the other in that solitude, and stretch towards the heaven their long ghastly necks, and nod to and fro their everlasting heads.”

And, while I read it, I looked at the amazing art of William Heath Robinson.

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And this afternoon I picked up a page of Chums; a boy’s magazine from 1910.

I started to draw the white lotus again, ghastly and ghostly in it’s sickly hued morass, sighing, unto the others.

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This time I’m satisfied. :D

Come have a look at Susan’s site and our friends’ wonderful ideas about this challenge.

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Last day in Prague

You know what?

I love Art Deco! I think I want to redecorate everything Art Deco. Art Deco and Alphonse Mucha. Alphonse Mucha and Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau and Gustav Klimt. (sigh)

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(sigh)

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Today I was very excited, because I was meeting my second cousin Marian, (son of my cousin…is that how you say it? Second cousin? I never know), for lunch. I have him on my FB and we’ve known of each other for a few years now but never managed to meet, but I went to see his brilliant performance last night.

I got a sneaky idea. I stole gently borrowed an image from his FB from the production last night so you could get the feeling. (Hope you don’t mind Marian) That’s Marian and his leading lady Andrea.

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Well, we finally met last night after the performance and we spent the whole afternoon walking around Prague and getting to know each other.

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We stopped for lunch and then up here on this roof top for a drink and then I spied the tower where he preformed the play. I didn’t have a chance to see the view from up there last night and so we decided to go have a look.

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This is the view down the tower where you can see the small marble and slate cobbles the sidewalks are made from. The streets are made form much larger cobbles.

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And that ancient tower is so tall that one can see over the whole city in 360 degrees.
The view to Hradcany, (the castle district), with that huge Gothic church is my favourite view. Can you see how pink the light is?

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Sadly, all things must end, and so we hugged and said goodbye and promised to keep in touch, and, after a little rest, I headed back into the evening town to do a bit of shopping.

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Stood in front of the Orloj and heard it strike nine pm, and I walked and walked around some more till night.

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I love Prague. I love Prague in the sunshine, and in the rain.

A big piece of my heart is right here. Safely cradled in pink light and shinning with gold.

Right here.
Right now.

And forever.

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Third day in Prague ended up being a long and wonderful one

Holy smokes, where is the time going?

The time is just running by and it seems to me that all I’m doing is walking round from place to place, cross town and back.

Mornings in Prague are the loveliest. Just as the sun begins to warm the ochre walls and light up all the golden decorations.

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That’s also the best time to peek into every church and thru every doorway without the summer tourists getting in the way.

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Then I got on the metro and tram system…

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…and made my way to Vyšehrad, a 10th Century fort and cemetery.

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Came to find Neruda, Dvorak and Smetana.

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Also came to see the view over Prague. Do you see Prague Castle over there in the distance? That’s how far I’ve come,

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It’s a bit less city here, more garden.

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And then I went to the other side to find my grandparents.

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Here they are. The block marble plaque on the crypt translates as “members of the Alemann family”, and in the crypt are my great grandparents (grandfather’s side), my grandparents Karel and Anna, both of his sisters Maria and Ella, his brother Emil, and his sister’s companion Zora.

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Here is the church below the cemetery. This is the church my great grandparents were married in.

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And now for something completely different, a combined photo titled V and the magpie feather because…

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I’ve made my way back to Prague to the Dali Exhibit!

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I so love Dali. Everything about surrealism, expressionism. crazy, zany-ism. Love it.

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Left: self portrait with cod piece… :D

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Rows and rows and rooms full of Dali.

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And on a floor right above Dali is Alphonse Mucha.
You must know this Czech painter and illustrator, or at least know his style. It’s so iconic.

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And, how lucky are we? On the floor above is a Warhol exhibit! Our cup of soup runneth over. :D

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Yeah, me too.

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And, in the evening, I went to the top of the tallest Gothic bell tower in Prague, called Jindrisska, up those little stairs, to sit under three ancient bells named Maria (1518 and 500 kg), Jindrich, (1680, and 3350 kg), and Dominic, (1850 and 1000 kg), and watch a dramatic performance featuring a friend of mine, the son of my cousin.

It was the most unforgettable experience.

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One more full day in Prague and off to E on Sunday. :)

Nude, Patrice’s wonderful drawing challenge

I’m all over the place right now, but I couldn’t miss Patrice’s wonderful drawing challenge “nude”, so I prepared this digital art earlier.

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This is my first try at digital art. Layers of my photography, old postcards, old maps, old letters, a couple of free stock images, and a bit of manipulative work with Photoshop. If anyone wants a through breakdown of the system, I’m happy to tell you all. :D

Don’t forget to come by Patrice’s site and check out the other fabulous artists.