Birthday cake, Katrin’s drawing challenge, and a little tutorial

I have three children and they were all born as very special presents to me. Jonathan, my oldest, was born in July, and I took him home from the hospital on my birthday. Kerstin, my middle child, is a February baby, and I took her home on Valentine’s Day, Chloe, my baby, was born on Easter Sunday. All three had their favourite birthday cake which I always handmade for them. For Jonathan it was usually tiramisu, for Kerstie, it was fruit flan, and Clover wanted black forest cake.

But it’s still February, so we will focus on Kerstie’s birthday and and I’ll tell you what I used to always do for her.

Kerstie’s favourite flowers are violets; so much so that she named her middle child Isla Violet, and, here in the West Coast, they come up around her birthday. As a special treat, and if spring was threatening to be late, I used to cover and force a few buds, pick them, and candy them to add them to her birthday cake.

You all know that loads of flowers are edible, don’t you? And you all know how dead easy it is to do this, don’t you? Of course you do, you’re flower savvy like that. :D

So it’s been years since my girl has been home for her birthday…she’s the mom of my three precious granddaughters and rather busy these days, but because it’s February, and because it’s tradition, I decided to candy some violets anyway for the next time I see the gang.

So here we go, this is all you have to do: Grab some violets from the garden. Equally easy to do this with violas, pansies, rose petals, borage, calendula…the list goes on. Grab a very fresh egg, and some super fine sugar. Grab a small paintbrush and your manicure scissors.

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You only use the egg white, but what’s the point of separating the egg for the infinitesimally tiny amount you use? And, besides which, you’re going to scramble that delicious egg for breakfast tomorrow anyway, aren’t you?
Just get your brush and brush a bit of the egg white on the flower. It doesn’t have to be all Martha complicated….sheesh!

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Now sprinkle some super fine sugar on it. Don’t have/can’t be bothered with super fine sugar? No problem, use ordinary sugar, just not icing sugar or you’ll obliterate the violet.

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Now put it on a dry plate and snip off the stalk.

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It takes almost no time at all, since we’re all a crafty and clever bunch, to get a whole plate full of sugared violets.

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Now they just need to go in the cupboard overnight to dry. Then they can go into an airtight container where they’ll keep for a while. Not sure how long because they just never last round here. They look and taste so great on everything from ice cream to creme brulee.

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But wait! This is a drawing challenge. :D

I’ve been dying to do some more lino cutting. I’m not that good at it, and the more I practice, the better it gets, so, in honour of Kers’ birthday, violets it was and a hand made birthday card to go with the cake.

I drew some little violets on a piece of transparent paper, copied them to the back of the paper, and traced them onto a piece of lino. The pencil mark really transfers easily.

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Then came the hours of cutting and decision of crossed lines and how to handle the edges…etc.

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Then the exciting part: the first inking and pressing to see what I got!!! :D

I’m always so anxious and excited to do this. Like a kid in a candy store!

Aaannd…there it is: mistakes a plenty. (shrug)

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But, after all, this is a handmade birthday card, so out came the inks, my funky plastic tray, requisitioned for an ink mixing surface, and my small roller.

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Please bear in mind that I have very little idea of what I’m doing…and I should really go and bug our Patrice for some advice…either that or learn reduction lino cutting…but I have a very limited amount of patience…and inks, and so I decided to mix a few inks and go for a sort of green.

Then I decided to wipe off the green from the violet blossoms.

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Now what? I don’t have a super small roller, can’t be bothered with figuring out how to make a mask, so I dragged a firm oil brush into some purple ink and applied it to the blossoms.

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AND: Voila!

One ink mess on the tray, one bespoke violet birthday card.

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Come help blow the candles out on Katrin’s cake and wish her a happy birthday and then stop by the gang and share a slice!

Happy birthday dearest, thank you for a fun and wonderful challenge. May this next year bring you happiness and joy. :D

The important thing is the rhythm.

Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.

But our annual grow your blog time…that has a rhythm of its own!

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Hello everyone, my name is Veronica. Welcome to my world.
It’s full of art. All kinds of art.

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I was born here in Prague,

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and now live with these two: Robert: mad genius, inventor, engineer, builder of brilliant machines which race at 200 mph, and Chloe, communications expert, saver of the world, bilingual blogger extraordinaire,

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in this quirky 1950s cottage in Oxfordshire, England,

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and this 1920s cottage in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

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That means I log a lot of travel time, can pack a suitcase in my sleep, and am experienced in the fine art of jet-lag survival.

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I photograph pretty images for stock agencies, but all the photos you see here on my blog are all for you. I’m big on sharing.

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I’m also big on learning, and love of learning and sharing means that I post a lot of how-to posts. Everything I’ve tried, from enamelling to silversmithing to wood carving, every one of the practical classes or lessons I’ve taken can be found here, usually under the “Try This, a Tutorial” tag. If you find that you want more info than what I managed to show in a post, then just ask. I’ll tell you everything I know.

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I have a love for vintage, exploring, gardening, and often you’ll find us somewhere far away at some car boot sale, thrift store, specialty rose grower, botanical garden…museum and so on. I also love anachronistic British cars, and, with Robert’s generous help, have restored a vintage Austin mini, and a series 3 Land Rover, (which were both saved from the scrap yard). I love to drive my cars.

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And, along with saving bits of the past, I save old papers from the recycling bin, and give them beauty and new worth thru art.

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Mostly I like to use paper which is close to or more than 100 yrs old, but in reality, I’ll paint on just about anything, and, when I get my act together, you can find little bits of art or silver in my Etsy shop.

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So won’t you stop by for a cup of tea with me and say hello while you’re here? That way I can come visit you too.

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I’m here most days. :D

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2013 grow your blog link

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About the January drive for fresh, new, spring, clean

You know what I do when I need to clean up?
I buy flowers!
And what’s better than one hyacinth? Two! :D
At the moment they are gracing both sides of the kitchen sink, but they might want to move to follow me around the house.

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So I swept the floors and got to the dining room floor and suddenly the cat hair and dust stuck to the hardwood. I thought, “what the heck?” I thought it’s my miracle orchid. It tends to drop sap drops from its blooming spikes. So I washed the wood underneath it and kept going.

Imagine my surprise and then imagine my horror when I discovered sap under my saved palm! “Oh, oh”, I thought, and had a good look and my worst suspicions were confirmed. The dreaded scale!

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Oh boy! I’ve thrown plants out for less. But this palm is already four feet tall and luxurious and I actually love it. But scale is so hard to control…and there was a huge infection! Right here is the reason I don’t really do house plants! So what to do? Save or compost?

Oh alright then…Save!

I got a large (2′ x 3′) plastic tub and filled it with warm, soapy water, stuffed newsprint into the pot to stop the soil from falling out, and tipped it sideways into the soapy suds and grabbed an old toothbrush and scrubbed the living daylights out of each and every piece of that palm for over an hour!

After the palm, I really wanted to put away the few Christmas decorations which got missed…

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…but ended up playing with Morgan instead. She commandeered the box anyway.

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Last night C took down my spotlight and vintage tripod to take some photos for her work.

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She finished her photography and said, “Mom, I think your spotlight might have an electrical fault because it really smells like it’s burning.”

Oh no! Not another thing wrong round here! :D

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Then we investigated and guess what we found!!!
A wasp nest? What? A little wasp nest was burning under that super strong light bulb.

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Well, that makes sense. I haven’t actually touched this spotlight since since last May or so. (Counting back, May and June were fine for light, summer I was in E, and since Sept there has been that other bit of nonsense happening…so that makes sense)

I should really get back to work, but today is cold and rainy, and so we all feel like Morgan looking out into the drippy world. Well, maybe I’ll put the rest of those decorations away since Morgan is out of the box. :D At least I will have accomplished something today.

Boy, I really have to get back into my strong work ethic.

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Mostly Ameliorated

There was an idea circulating around my Facebook.
An idea of part silliness, part self help, part inspiration, part community togetherness…one of those warm and comfortable ideas which comes around at this time of year.
The idea of finding a one word to focus on for 2015.

I thought about what this might mean to me.

As I read some of my friend’s reviews and some of the other lovely participants ideas and words, it seemed to me that 2014 had kicked a lot of butt!!! I mean, seriously! Not a lot of people are reflecting on 2014 with happiness and satisfaction.

And still we all carry on, trudging along in the muck of life, our Dunkirk spirits, our chins held high; we are all hoping for something a little better, a little softer, maybe a little kinder from 2015.

There were some wonderful words settled on. Words like, “trust” “grace” “release” “light”, but I kept coming back to AMELIORATE.

I like that word.

Make a little better each time. That’s what I would like for 2015. Small increments of improvement in my whole life. Not a massive MUST CHANGE EVERYTHING rush (which, for me, always leads to disappointment and self berating for not being perfect and achieving that change), just a gentle, imperfect, and perfectly wonderful amelioration.

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So, this morning I picked up a page of the 100 yr old Chopin. A page which has been torn twice and taped together. Probably a difficult page to master if it was so well gone over. Such is life I thought. Somewhat difficult to master, yet we keep going over it again and again.

I sketched my free spirit. I sketched flowers and swallows. I sketched mountains and fields.

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A perfectly imperfect little sketch, possibly the beginnings of a future painting.

So here we go, small changes for the better, like substituting a buttery croissant for my morning toast, I plan on having a mostly ameliorated year. :D

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Cookie, Stefanie’s drawing challenge

Stefanie says “cookie is a nice word, isn’t it?”

Oh it SO is!

I’ve done so much of the painted cookies in the past, that I decided to do something completely different.

So when is a cookie not a cookie, but still is? When it’s a little silver cookie necklace.

Here is a little fortune cookie with a fortune to keep you happy and lucky all the time you wear it.

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I had something in my mind, and as usual, I took the approach of, “how hard can it be?”

I cut out a small disk of silver, which I then bent and hammered out and bent and hammered out about a half dozen times. (yes, that is a hockey puck, we are Canadian after all :D ) Anyway, turns out, bending a small silver disk in two opposite directions is bloody hard! But, after heating it red hot, it became a bit more pliable for a few seconds, but that was enough to get a good bend.

Then I cut a little fortune in which I engraved, “Love is” one one side and “you” on the other.

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Then I punched holes and soldered jump rings and chain, and pickled and filed and polished and polished and polished.

And then I got a certain freckle faced girl to model it for me.

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I’m really happy with it.

Come visit Stefanie over the weekend and check out other cookie enthusiasts, and please pardon my absence till Monday afternoon, I’m getting out of town to a friend’s cabin for our Thanksgiving weekend and will not have internet, but I’ll be around just as soon as I get back into town. Sending big chocolate chip cookie hugs your way. :D

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Hello from Monday night (Can’t get my act together these days…lol)

It’s been a quiet, low-key weekend round here.

Nice for a change.
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But we did have Kerstie, Adam and our little girls come for supper.

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Mom came too, and we had a lovely visit.

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Jonathan was missed. He originally said he would love to come for dinner, but double booked himself with the new girl friend, (who we know nothing about 8O )

Oh well, we had a lovely time.

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Today dawned bright and sunny, and, after I did some laundry, I got into my silversmithing studio.

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I turned on some Bowie music and contemplated an ancient flint with a hole thru it.

And, although I haven’t finished that piece yet…
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I did make some earrings for Clove. She was admiring some earrings similar to these at Blue Ruby and another chic little boutique and they cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $50, and I thought, “are you kidding me? There’s like $5 worth of silver and a half hour worth of work!”

And you all know my motto: How hard can it be?

Not that hard as it turns out. :D

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Now it’s evening and everything’s quiet and calm and I’m trying to resist the urge to get back out into the silversmithing studio tonight.

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Japan, Nadine’s wonderful drawing challenge

Finally! It’s time for the drawing challenge.

Nadine took the lead for the first one after the August break and her inspiration is “Japan”.

Last month I bought a sort of “grab bag” of goodies from the London Embroiderer’s Guild.

I wasn’t sure what I would do with any of these little bits, but, being half magpie, fell in love with the sparkly richness of it all and had to have it. The bag includes a piece of a 1920 shawl, postcards, bits of lace, threads and some sort of patterns. (Not sure at all what one does to transfer these sorts of patterns onto cloth…maybe iron? If you know, please tell me. The hallmark on the side says they were produced by a company which closed in the 20’s.)

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I was looking at the pieces and decided that for this challenge I would try to draw with a needle and thread and everything I used (with the exception of a beading needle) had to come out of my little grab bag.
I’m not much of a seamstress or embroiderer, but I’ve been a huge fan of sashiko for a few years now and so tried to do a little of that myself.

There was a little piece of green-flip-red taffeta and I enveloped it around a not-so-attractive piece of black, sparkly felt and some layers of rough cotton.

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Then I took some of the orange silk thread and stitched the sun in the middle of the rectangle.

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I drew some lines with my chalk art pencil to guide my hand with some quilting.

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And I used a lovely silk chord to stitch the quilt lines. This is fascinating thread. It changes colours from a soft green to a soft purple. I love it.

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Then I drew myself some cherry blossoms with the chalk and stitched them with a fine gold thread (which is apparently supposed to be added to another kind of thread…oops…good thing I don’t know much about much.)

Lastly, some little gold beads made up the flower centres. I love it! Not sure what to do with it now, but maybe a central panel for an evening clutch? Any ideas?

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Anyway, I’ve missed the drawing challenge for the August break and am happy to be back with my lovely bunch. Come pop over to Nadine’s site and check out every one’s interpretation when you have a chance, and if you’d like to join, visit our Rose Ariane for the list of who is next. :D

All work and no play? Don’t think so.

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Oh boy oh boy oh boy! We’ve been major energizer bunnies round here.
We’ve been building the carport, and removing stuff to the tip, and collecting plums, and chopping wood, and burning branches, and digging out a huge and ugly privet hedge for a deep perennial garden along a back fence, and we’ve been at it hammer and tongs till our legs are scrapped and bruised and we look like the walking dead.

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All this work has left very little time for art, but I’m happy to report the beginning of a carving.

My friend William, (who lent me his father’s chisels), gave me a piece of maple to have a go. OK, so, maple must be the biggest joke wood in the world! It’s as hard as rock!!! In fact, I can’t imagine oak or mahogany being harder.

So, very quickly it became very apparent to me, that I wouldn’t be the owner of a lovely maple woodcarving of a wildflower meadow with a wren. :(

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I’ve been thinking about carving a wooden spoon and asked Robbie how I might go about doing this. He looked at me and gave me his jig saw. LOL So I drew some designs on my maple and decided on the one I liked and set to it.

I cut out the wooden spoon with R’s jig saw, (R helped me cut the handle), and started carving it with the mallet and chisels.

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This is how far I got after about four hours of carving time, plus you can see the scale of this spoon. It’s a big one! :D

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So far so good. More work on the bowl, and, of course, I only have chisels instead of a draw knife for the handle and curved blade knife for the bowl, but I’m getting somewhere.

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Where was I…oh yes…fun…

So R got a phone call from his optician to say his contacts were in, so we drove to pick them up, and R surprised me with a day out visit to one of our favourite towns, Wallingford.

This is a beautiful market town of old brick and flint houses and postage sized courtyards and tiny little streets…like this one, called Mousey Lane, where we could hardly walk beside each other.

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We had a little lunch and tea and a good mooch around the antique emporium.

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I fell in love with two handmade teddies, some old chisels and a beautiful painting of a very curvy nude, while R fell in love with a gas mask, (which he wants to wear instead of goggles to drive his new project Medusa). We bought the gas mask, a chisel, and the handmade teddies for Binky and Bunny to play with, but, unfortunately, the beautiful nude was pricey and painted on wood, so very difficult for me to ship back to Van.

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Late afternoon, on the drive back home, R did a u-turn and we parked up at a little hill called Wittenham Clumps for a walk. It’s a special place which has inspired many people, from Victorian poets to contemporary artists. Here is a very interesting site about an artist who dedicated his art to the place.

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Run by the Earth Trust as a wildflower meadow, this chalk hill has the oldest stand of beech trees in England.

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We walked all the way around the clump…

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And looked out over our Thames and over our beautiful South Oxfordshire.

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Who says we don’t have any fun. :D

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Woodcarving 101, another practical class

You got to love the Victorians, don’t you. They had such a quirky sense of style, or keen sense of humour…which ever way you look at it. It seems to be a combination of ornamentation and colour and pattern and import-anything to the max and then push it a step over the edge and beyond! Like grab anything and everything and especially if it’s imported and expensive, and throw it together, and there you are! :D

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But the heart of ornamental Victorian fancy was probably started a century before, with one man, Grindling Gibbons, (1648-1721), and his contribution to woodcarving.

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I’m such a big fan of art and learning new things and I’ve always admired wood carving.
So when the opportunity came up to take a practical class I jumped at it.

You know, I love the way that some carvings look as though they are floating above the wood beneath. You know what I mean? Look at the holly leaves above. Yeah, like that. That’s what I thought I wanted to try to learn how to do, (in an hour and half!!!). I’ve has a couple requests to show you the practical class in woodcarving, but I had to borrow a friend’s chisels to finish my piece, so sorry it’s coming in so late after Art in Action, but here it is.

The practical class was being offered by a master woodcarver and he brought all the tools for the students to use. You can basically see what you need: a G clamps, mallets, chisels, and a wood vice. And, of course, wood for carving.

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When building a relationship with tools which are capable of slicing thru wood, it’s probably the best idea in the world to learn how to use the tools safely.

The most important rule to remember is both hands on the tools at all times. This is relatively easy if you’re using a chisel in one hand and a mallet in the other, but not so easy if you’re only using the chisel, because, if you’re anything like me, the temptation to move some wood shavings off your piece, or to readjust the piece under the clamp, while you’re working on it is overwhelming. DON’T DO IT!

Always clamp the piece of wood either to your work surface using a G clamp, or into a vice.

This is the hand hold you want to have on your chisel. Chisel away from you, from your body/arms/legs at all times.

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Chisels come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. As a matter of fact, there used to only be four types of chisels and then the Victorians discovered woodcarving and suddenly dozens of different chisels were in circulation. But actually, you only need about four. They are, a small V wedge for making fine lines, two U shapes (a small and a large one) for gouging out the wood you want to get rid of, and a fishtailed or straight ended one for undercutting or making straight cuts.

Also, chisels with a good steel are a bit on the pricey side, so it’s a good idea to take care of them and keep them in holders so they don’t clank together and dull. It’s also a good idea to take care not to accidentally hit the metal vice with your chisels.

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The wood we used was linden. This is a soft wood and very easy to cut. I hope, if you try this, that you find a lovely piece of linden as your first woodcarving.

I drew a simple leaf design.

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With woodcarving, much like lino or stamps, it’s important to cut on the outside of your drawn line to keep your design the shape you intended. A V shaped chisel makes the best first line in the wood and it’s easy to control.

I had a little trouble at first not burying the chisel in too deep, but soon got the hang of it. If that should happen, just come at the line from the other direction. That will cut the too-deep gauge away and you can crary on.

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Here is my initial first cut line and so far I’ve only used the V shaped chisel.

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The next part is pretty monotonous. With the large U shaped chisel, I cut away the outside-of-my-design wood quite substantially. This took the longest time, and, I soon figured out that the linden wood was so easy to carve that I put the mallet down and simply dug away at the wood holding the chisel with both hands and using a bit of extra pressure. This gave me (and, by now, my shaky, weak hands) a break and more control.

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I kept going down into the wood, further and further until I was happy with the relief of the leaf.

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Now the class was only 10 minutes from ending and I was concerned with learning the next and final steps and so I didn’t stop to take photos. (My bad)

But the next step was to start giving the leaf a real-life contour, and so I drew some contour lines on the leaf; kind of like contour lines on a map might look like, and started trying to imagine and cut away some valleys and hills on the leaf. At this point I must admit that having a leaf there to look at would have been the best thing, but as it is, I imagined how it might bend and lay and tried for that.

Just as the class ended, I asked the instructor to show me quickly how to undercut my leaf so I could continue and finish it at home, and he did. You can just see the beginning of an undercut on my design.

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Here is a closeup of the three chisels I used to get this far in this class, in one and half hours.

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So home at West Cottage, and I borrowed my friend William’s chisels…

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…and started to undercut the leaf. William doesn’t have a fishtailed chisel, but has a flattish one I could use. You can see how I cut into the side of the leaf and to an angle so it goes underneath.

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The next cut comes in from the underneath to (hopefully) meet up with the top cut and take a wedge of wood out. I felt fairly successful with this, but had a problem not really knowing how to handle the tip of my leaf, and so took extra care in that area because it seemed pretty fragile.

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When I thought I did the best job I could, I grabbed a little bit of sandpaper and gave my leaf a brisk sanding. I know I could sand it completely smooth, but I liked the hand-made feel of the chisel marks.

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And here it is, my completed wood carving. It’s not a Gibbons…lol…but I’m pretty proud of it.

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William has given me a piece of maple to have some fun with. I’m looking forward to carving something else now that I’ve got the hang of it! Hope this is a little inspiration for you to try it. It’s not that hard, and it’s very satisfying. :D As soon as I wax or oil this carving I’ll take another photo and show you.

Let me know how you do or if you have any other questions.

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!

IMG_8710 copy copy

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.

008 copy copy

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