Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Step Twelve: Postcards from Nowhere...

Dear Fi,

I wish I could write more to share what is going on.
In a nutshell: crazy. busy. exhausted.
Do not want to describe my life this way again...
Instead of my usual post I'm sending you postcards from Nowhere.
Hope this will suffice.
Until the next time.



My paper is almost done.
I will send it in tomorrow before picking up my Mom from the airport.
Ah... life...
LOVE!!! your babushka :)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Step Twelve: Easter Painting Eggs-travaganza! :-)

 Hi Sylwi

Wow! What a day, so far?! I had no idea what I was going to do for my Step Twelve when I woke up this morning! My head was completely empty of ideas! :-) I wanted to give paper-cutting a miss this week, even though I really enjoy it. Sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing and after last week, I needed a rest.

I had a vague idea that I might bake some cupcakes. It's Sophie's birthday today (my rescue dog), so I thought my creative challenge might be to decorate the cakes with doggy fondant figures, or maybe Easter designs - bunnies and little chicks!

It's been a bit of a slog at times since we rescued Soph almost a year ago, so I wanted to make something for us automatic biscuit dispensers to enjoy and celebrate with! She won't be getting the cupcakes, but I don't feel bad! :-) She's done very well today, with a new collar, new bed and more treats than she can wag her tail at! No doubt, her doe eyes will wrangle a cupcake out of us later too! ;-)

So, that's what I set out to do this morning. I'd measured all of the ingredients and got a couple of eggs out of their box... and then, I had a sudden flashback to my childhood and a vague recollection of painting eggs at Easter.

As I was going to use the eggs for the cakes, it seemed a shame to waste the shells. So, I kept the cupcake decorating as a Plan B (in case the egg painting went terribly wrong! ha!) and went looking for instructions on how to paint an egg!

I had a quick look online for instructions on how to first empty and then paint eggs ... and ended up taking a slight detour, when I came across the Slovenian artist,
Franc Grom. Wow! I wish I had a tiny drill to try out his technique... but it's probably best I don't. :-) I think I would only have been terribly disappointed in my results (and probably ended up in the hospital emergency room too!)

To empty the egg of its contents, you prick a hole in the top of the egg and then a slightly larger hole in the bottom. It's surprisingly easy to do - just push firmly (twist a little, if necessary) and the needle will suddenly slip through the shell.

Push a long needle into the egg and jiggle it about to break up the yolk and then holding it over a bowl, blow through the small hole. The contents of the egg will pour out into the bowl. To clean the inside, fill the egg with water a few times and blow to empty. 

Once clean, harden the shell and dry out the insides, by placing the eggs in an oven at about 160 degrees celcius (fan assisted) for 20 minutes. You can fill the holes with Plaster of Paris and smooth down, if you like, but I didn't have time!

I began by covering the egg in three coats of white. I had planned to paint three eggs in co-ordinating patterns and colours, but my head was buzzing with ideas - all different styles and subjects. I was paralysed with indecision, so had to stop and write all of my ideas down to quieten my mind. With it all out in front of me on paper, my decision seemed easy. I would paint three babushka dolls. I quickly ran out of time though and only completed one! :-) 

I drew an initial sketch on paper with lots of details, but as I went along, I realised I didn't have small enough brushes for her tiny features. So, my finished design on the egg ended up being very simple.

To paint, I put a long pin through the holes of my egg to hold it whilst I was painting and sometimes propped it up on the egg box. 

The hardest bit is being patient. I should really have taken a couple of days to do this, but as I only had a couple of hours, I found I was smudging paint and making a bit of a mess! So, I got my hair dryer out and tried to speed things along! :-)

I used acrylic paint at first, but found it was annoyingly streaky... so, I'm not sure what the ideal paint would be for this project. Any advice? :-) In the end, I made do with a mix of acrylic, gouache (my favourite paint - but not brilliant for this job) and pens. 

Finally, she was finished. I would have loved to have added more details, but I simply didn't have small enough brushes! Although, I realise as I type this that I could have used a toothpick... maybe?

I started this project very stressed. I had no idea what I was doing and no firm direction. However, once I wrote and sketched all of my ideas out, I felt the stress lift and instead, felt blissfully happy! :-) I really enjoyed creating my babushka. I still have two more eggs to paint, but I'm not sure if I shall find the time - things are pretty hectic here just now! :-(

As a finishing touch, I glued on a teeny, polymer clay flower that I made a couple of months ago. I'm going to explore polymer clay for one of my Steps this year, so will leave it till then to explain more about how I made it.

I had planned to hang my eggs on bare tree branches with pretty ribbon, but there's no time left to thread this egg today, let alone paint the other two! Ha! :-) Drat! So many ideas and simply not enough time! :-) 

As always, can't wait to see what you've been up to! Especially this week, as I know you've been snowed under with school work. I can't imagine how you'll find the time for anything! Not long till your holidays now though, love! Yipee! :-)

Lots and lots of love, 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Step Eleven: Cute and useless...

Dear Fi,

I thought about today’s post on Sunday. I wanted to choose something easy, and totally opposite to “time consuming”. There are so many things going on right now in my life that I feel I’m on a spinning wheel, and the worst part is I don’t see a way of stopping this wheel. I dream about learning how to do nothing. Nothing, Dear Fi. Not even reading - one of my favourite things to do. I want to say “no” to thinking, “no” to doing. I want to say “yes” to being, and “yes” to breathing.

Last month I scheduled a massage appointment for last Sunday. I knew that it would be the most needed at that time. I don’t want to list all of the things I have been doing lately, because it really doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that I was able to relax for maybe five minutes of the entire {90 minute} massage. The remaining time I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I shouldn’t be having this massage {since there are thousands of things to do} and about all the things I should be doing right now instead of lying down and trying to relax. So, I couldn’t stop my mind from spinning, and I was mad at myself for not being able to do so. I think that in the end it will be much easier for me to say to my masseur to stop and let me go, than to say it in my mind.

If you wonder, my Dear Fi why I’m writing about this here, this is my explanation. My art is closely tied to my life. This is the way I express myself. So, that Sunday evening I came up with the idea for this post. I thought about creating a paper crown with the slogan “I am worthy” somehow incorporated into it. I simply saw a crown with the words stamped on it. In the end, the lost battle with my mind was all about that, not deserving to take the time for myself because there were important things waiting to be done. At the same time, reaching the point of extreme emotional exhaustion I knew that taking the time for myself was the only right thing to do. So, for some the crown I made today may be cute and useless, for me it is also a reminder: to take better care of myself, and to let it go and let it be.

There was a man whose words I really enjoy reading. Some call him enlightened, some call him a deceiver ;) I don’t care. He has a great explanation to my story, just listen:

"If you know how to relax then nothing can disturb you. If you don’t know how to relax then everything will disturb you - and I say everything. It is not really something in particular that disturbs you, everything is just an excuse. You are almost always ready to be disturbed. If one thing doesn’t disturb you, then something else will; you will get disturbed. You are ready, you have a tendency to get disturbed. If all the causes are withdrawn from you, even then you will get disturbed. You will create some cause. If nothing comes from without, you will create something from within - some thought, some idea - and you will get disturbed. But you need excuses.

Once you know how to relax, nothing can disturb you." {OSHO}

So, as for my project. Even though I did enjoy creating this cute little crown it was a time consuming endeavor. The problem was, once I had started I just couldn’t stop adding another layer, another bead or another dot to it. If not for the fact that the crown itself is totally useless and hard to display I might do more of them. I have ideas for at least another 51 of them ;) So, who knows maybe next year you will work on your cranes and I will work on my crowns ha, ha.



I couldn't resist ;) After all, maybe the crown is not entirely useless...

Step Eleven: Paper cutting, the final episode (probably!) ;-)

Dearest Sylwi

Oh my goodness, where is the time going?! I posted last week on Tuesday, then on Thursday morning sat down to comment on your beautiful post about your Magician's Head, got side-tracked and didn't comment... and now, all of a sudden, it's Tuesday again and time for a fresh post! Eek! :-/

This week's project has been a huge challenge for me! After your comment on my papercut last week, I realised that I hadn't explored the true wycinaki technique. I had simply used the way it looked as inspiration. When you explained how the paper would traditionally be folded and cut, I suddenly thought that was a much better idea! :-) 

As I was searching for a subject to use as a pattern for my wycinanki, I became very inspired by vintage lace! I found one particular lace placemat that seemed like the perfect template for a gwiazdy (medallion shaped) paper cut. So, I traced it, intending to create a Kurbie style (one colour only) wycinanki.

This is where it all started to go wrong... right at the start! ha ha! 

I began by tracing the pattern onto a template which was an eighth of my intended finished circle. I thought I could fold my paper into eighths, do a quick cut out and be finished. Did I mention I'm an optimist?! :-) 

I did a rough trial run of cutting out the pattern from one sheet of paper and it worked really well! 

Unfortunately, when I folded my paper into eight, it became impossible to fold and even more impossible to cut. So, I went in search of thinner paper. Tissue paper, however, was too thin. I ended up with sugar paper, which was thin enough, but unfortunately waayyyyy to fibrous and the cuts were very unclean and messy. It was too late by then, though. There was no other paper available in the shops and I was running out of time, so I had to continue with what I had! I decided to give up on doing this perfectly and just use it as a trial run and learning experience.

I folded the paper into quarters and struggled to cut through the four layers. I broke several blades and realised that the tiny details that I had drawn (teeny boxes that needed cut out) would be impossible. 

So, I decided to make it a Łowicz style cut, using coloured paper, stuck on in layers, to create the details!

The more involved I got, the more difficult and messy it all became. Along with having completely the wrong materials - the wrong paper, the wrong knife, bad light, etc, I made so many dumb mistakes, I could scarcely believe how stupid I was being! For example, I traced the template onto my folded paper at the wrong corner, so when I unfolded it, it didn't make a circle!! Doh! I had to redo the whole thing! :-)))

Finally, I finished cutting out the circle...

... and then the real fun began. Trying to find some nicely coloured paper. I went to two craft shops here and neither of them had any! They had lots of colours - but nothing clean and bright that would go well with the black background. So, I ended up buying some card in bright colours... which wasn't ideal to work with, but by this time I was desperate! :-) I really liked the colours the card came in and had great fun choosing a colour combination!

I had a hard time choosing, so I narrowed my colour choice down to three different combinations...

... and then chose a completely different combination when I actually began cutting the card out! ha ha! :-)

I began layering the coloured paper onto the black background, ignoring all of the squint edges, misaligned corners, ripped bits and mistakes I'd made! :-) By now, it was all about just getting it finished!

I could have continued adding layers and details for weeks, but stopped myself from making it too complicated. Thank goodness I had to post this today, or I would have continued on with the detail, cutting smaller and smaller pieces till I was positively cross-eyed. ;-)

I learned so much this week and although it was hard work, I'm glad I continued on to the bitter end! :-) If I ever do this sort of project again (that's a big "if"! ha ha!) I shall know exactly how to do it properly and what tools to use, etc. I still think this would be wonderful done in material for cushions or throws... {daydream}!

My friends thought I was mad. When they saw it, they said it was like a giant doily and didn't I know I could just buy them from the shop?! In packs of a hundred! ha ha! :-)))

I truly hope you've had an easier time this week with your project, than I have with mine! Really looking forward to seeing what you come up with this time.

Lots of love

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Step Ten: Magician's Head and other challenges...

Dear Fi,

Guess what time it is? 9:58!!! I know... nothing new. However, what is new is the fact that the Magician’s Head was actually ready last week. I painted it in a few hours last Wednesday (it was the deadline for this project - yes, it is true that I’m a “last minute woman”).

So, today the head was ready, the pictures were ready, but I wasn’t ;)

I wanted something more from this head. I knew what I wanted but to be honest I am so exhausted by all the challenges I took in the last couple of weeks, that even though I had really cool ideas I just wasn’t able to do them today. So instead of making a decoupage teacup with a cute plate and my Magician’s Head glued to them with meaningful quotation added I decided to draw one as an example. I didn’t bother with drawing a T-shirt, or printing a postcards, or stationery either. I cut out the head from the picture and then I added a few quotations in photoshop but it is not how I wanted them to look. I probably won’t work on this head anymore, but I know that I could do a few cool designs by using this head and fonts. Anyway, it’s late and the only thing I want to do right now is to go to bed.

There is a great story “attached” to this head, and I wish I was in better shape to tell the story tonight. I will try to do my best, but I also want to keep it short and vague. So I don’t guarantee that you will understand what I am talking about ha, ha ;)

Whose head is this, and why did I choose it for this post? Isn’t this question bothering you a little Dear Fi?

This head is from Bosch’s painting, and I actually didn’t paint it for this post. A few weeks ago I was approached by a charismatic person and asked to be a part of a project he was putting together in his community. I had known this person for about 30 minutes, from a speech he gave during our class. We had a little talk and I learned that he spent five years in Warsaw while he found out that I finished art school. He told me about this project and at first I was very skeptical. He wanted me to choose one of the heads from Bosch’s painting and copy it. There were other artists who were supposed to do the same, so that all the heads from Bosch’s painting would be done. The final project was to be a three dimensional piece hung in the community church. I promised him that I will check Bosch’s painting at home and if I found a head I like I would paint it. The only head I wanted to paint was the one I actually painted. First of all, I liked the hat. Because of the hat I started to call my piece a “Magician’s Head”. However, I also liked his facial expression, even though it is hard to see it, I had the feeling he was probably the only compassionate person (except Jesus and the woman with the closed eyes) in the entire painting.

I agreed to paint his head even though I suspected that it would be a disaster. I agreed to paint it even though I wasn’t sure if I liked the whole idea of recreating the painting in three dimension and hanging it in a church. And I agreed even though I don’t go to church anymore. I agreed because I wanted to be a part of this project, and to do something for this community. The person who approached me is a very passionate man and this is a value I really admire in people. I like to be close to the people who live their lives with passion and wholeheartedly, so for sure it weighted heavily on my decision that he asked me to join the project.

However, there was another, more personal, reason why I said “yes”. I wanted to challenge myself artistically. I knew that if he asked me fifteen years ago he would get a much better painting from me, because fifteen years ago was probably the last time I painted a man, a face, a body or a still life. Since then I mostly do “crazy” things and for some people it even doesn’t look like art. So, my goal was to challenge myself and to try paint this damn head as good as I could.

To be honest, I am content with the end effect, even though I know that there are many people who would paint this head at least ten times better. But it wasn’t a contest, and the only person I was competing with was myself. I wanted to show myself that if I want to I can. I am not interested in painting faces, landscapes, still life etc. I have my own world to paint but it was a really valuable experience for me Dear Fi. It was an empowering experience, because not only did I paint the head and was not ashamed to bring it back to the community, but I was also asked, as the rest of the artists who participated in this project, to speak about my experience in front of many people. It was the first time in my life when I was actually more excited than scared about public speaking.

So this Magician’s Head is for me a great symbol, and has nothing to do with Bosch’s painting, a community project, and a charismatic leader anymore. It has to do with the amazing feeling of challenging myself and doing things I had never planned to do. It has to do a lot with the feeling of being empowered, and feeling alive, and learning about myself. This is why I decided to play with the head and the quotes. I wanted to use this head as a symbol, my private symbol which would remind me that challenges bring great lessons and great discovery especially if they are approached with excitement.

I want to believe that as George Santayana said, and I’m not sure if you can read it easily in the first picture, “It takes a wonderful brain and exquisite senses to produce a few stupid ideas”. ha, ha ;)



I’ve noticed that the more challenges I am taking the more excited I become, and it doesn’t matter what area I am challenged in. I am sure that the whole Magician’s Head experience helped me to boost my self-esteem for the interview I had yesterday. I wouldn't expect this but it was a really positive blast. So it looks like I don’t need to worry about my practicum placement anymore ;)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Step Ten: A step back and then a step foward with Wycinanki!

Hi Sylwi

I didn't sleep last night I was so unclear about today. Yesterday, I was racking my brain, trying to come up with an idea for Step Ten, but I couldn't think of one. Worse still, I had a nagging feeling that maybe it was all a waste of my time. Suddenly, it all seemed very luxurious, taking this time each week to play with paper, knives and glue! :-) I don't know what triggered it, I'd been really enjoying it all in the weeks before. 

This morning, I still had no clue what I was going to make, but had to quieten the voices in my head and just begin something! These deadlines on a Tuesday are very good for that! Once I've posted tonight, I'll probably have another think about why I feel this way, but until I've actually created something and got the photos online, I have to focus on the creating, not on the reasons for! :-) 

A while ago, I saw a clear image in my mind of a scatter cushion, decorated with layers of felt cut into shapes of flowers and then another layer of detailed stitching. I think material is where I'm ultimately heading (perhaps?) with these paper cuts, although I have to admit, I'm loving the almost meditative qualities of spending a few hours cutting paper. I really enjoy it.

I recently came across some photos of Wycinanki - you may be more familiar with it than me! ;-) Wycinanki began when Polish shepherds would cut designs out of tree bark and leather, but the art form graduated onto paper in the mid 19th Century and has since been used as decorations and gifts. 

I found two distinctive types of the Polish wycinanki which vary based on region. The Kurpie region wycinanki is typically a one colour paper cut, whilst the Łowicz region tends towards layers of coloured paper. Both are beautiful, but this week, with designs for my cushion in mind, I chose to try out some Łowicz wycinanki.

I returned to work on some flowers that I used for Step One! They are flowers that were inspired by Indonesian tjaps and I drew them in a frame. Once sketched, I knew I liked the frame, but didn't like the contents of it. Time was beginning to fly past, so I decided to only do the frame today, just to try out this new technique. I didn't even know if it would work! 

I cut the basic shape out of black paper and then added layers in colour. I don't actually have coloured paper, so used old envelopes and scrap paper. Whilst it worked as a trial run, if I try this technique again, I shall buy some pretty paper specifically for the job. Some of my scrap paper was quite fibrous, which made cutting hard. The corners did not cut very cleanly (you get left with little threads of paper) and the paper also began peeling into layers as I was sticking it all together! 

I also need to buy a bunch of new blades - cutting with a dull knife gives you finger cramps! :-)

I ended up choosing a mix of pinks and a mint green, which looks a lot better than in the above photo! I need to learn how to capture colour well in photos! Even outside today, I was struggling to get a true representation of the colours!

Anyway. Wycinaki (Łowicz style!) is so much fun and totally addictive! I expect I'll be doing more of this over the coming year! 

I'm very intrigued now to see your Step Ten. Are you doing the magician's head this week?! :-)

Lots of love

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Step Nine: Finding a home for my soul...

Dear Fi,

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.
Matsuo Basho

It’s 10:12 PM, and I just sat down to write this post. It took me until now to finish my project and unfortunately:
1. I have ugly photos because it is dark and gloomy ;)
2. The scan doesn’t look better because the buttons are too thick so the paper wasn’t flat.
I might came back tomorrow morning and replace these pictures. Would that be considered cheating? Ha, ha.

I planned something totally different for today. It was supposed to be a Magician’s Head on plywood, but it is a long story and I don’t have the time to go there today. While I was procrastinating my work on the Magician’s Head I checked on Lis’ blog and as soon as I read the title of her weekly reflection I knew that the head had no chance today. So “off with his head” I said and I went on a journey called “Finding Home”.


I was sharing my thoughts on immigration with a Wise Woman last year. During our conversation I discovered that I’m tired of repeating my story again and again. For the first time I realized that I have a “story”, and I’m not saying it in a positive way. I’m talking about my attachment to a particular story. The story goes like this: immigration is a difficult process, I couldn’t speak, nobody understood me, poor me blablablablabla bla bla blabla, but I was brave and look at me now balblablablabla... bla!

I decided to immediately end with this story, detach myself from it once and for good. So, I shared my golden thought with the Wise Woman and she was happy for me. But then she said, “It looks like you don’t feel at home”. I thought that she misunderstood me. I said that I don’t miss my country all that badly, and that I created a family here and...” It turned out that it was me who did not understand. The Wise Woman said, “I wasn’t talking about your home/place, I was saying that your soul doesn’t feel at home”.


Yes, she got me. It hit me very hard, even though I always knew that home is not a place, or not only a place, or that to say “I am at home” you don’t even need to have a home...

But there is a difference between knowing and feeling and between thinking that you know and truly knowing.

A huge difference.

So, I still search for my home, Dear Fi.




Cheating or not I replaced the pictures. Now, since the sun is out I can even add this ;)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Step Nine: Paper Cutting, The Sequel! :-)

Dearest Sylwi,

This week, I was inspired again by more wonderful paper cutting artists. It's hard not to be inspired when you have artists like Julie from Famille Summerbelle. I just about fainted when I saw her awesome Paris paper cut map. She sells beautiful prints of it in her shop, but oh, if I could only own the original paper cut of this map! [sigh!] :-)

Not only is she extremely talented, but her blog is brimming over with beautiful inspiration and eye candy - well worth a browse! 

She also has posted a wonderful video, if you'd like to see her cutting her beautiful New York paper map

Okay, enough drooling over Julie. Let's just say she inspires me! ha ha! :-)

So, I initially had big plans to create a fancy card, but as I got into this week's project, I realised I'd chosen quite a complicated subject - a peacock! :-) I don't even know why I chose it, but I wanted a bit of a challenge this week. Maybe it was too big a challenge, as I was actually afraid to sit down and begin today!

I had no idea how to draw a peacock and no idea if I could then cut it out of paper. So, I had to switch off the voices in my head that were telling me it was too hard and just stumble on through! :-)

I looked up some pictures of peacocks for inspiration and then I was ready to begin. After I'd sketched it roughly, I was fairly surprised that my bird looked like a peacock. I've not really drawn anything since school and even then, my art teacher used to laugh! ;-) 

Even once I had drawn the bird, I was sitting there staring at it for a few minutes, wondering if I had possibly chosen the most difficult subject on earth to cut from paper! 

Finally, after a cup of tea, I summoned my courage and began to cut. As I was cutting, I really wished I'd spent more time on drawing the design. I realised I hadn't drawn the tail feathers very thoroughly and there were lots missing. :-/ Too late though. I'd already started and it was getting wayyyy too late to change my project for today. :-)

Once I'd completed the tail, I began to feel happier thinking I'd done the hardest part...

Unfortunately, it wasn't the hardest part! :-) The body was. I'd like to spend more time working on a technique for feathers. 

Anyway, as a first attempt, I was happy. Although, my cutting hand is a bit stiff and my forefinger has gone completely numb!

I'm captivated by the shadows that paper cuts throw. They really are so striking.

Next time - if there is a next time :-) - I'd like to spend more effort on the design before I begin cutting. It would be fun to create one within a frame, maybe one that tells a story, or mixed with text.

One artist who uses text in her work is Julene Harrison. Her paper cuts are simply beautiful. I just love her San Francisco, 'This must be the place' cut. Her work would make such a great personal gift.

On a smaller budget, if you're looking for a personalised paper cut card, check out The Storey Shop on Etsy! So much fun and Helen, who owns it, is the sweetest. She came up with a brilliant design for a Valentine's card for my husband and her customer service is wonderful! 

My husband is always complaining about how much time I spend on my computer... so this seemed like the perfect card for me to give to him! ;-)

Anyway, enough paper cut madness for one week! Can't wait to see what you come up with! More stamping? Or something completely different?! It's very exciting not knowing! :-)

Lots of love