Wednesday, 21 March 2018

As our time was so limited in Iceland, we had made a schedule of things we wanted to see and do. We were faithful to our schedule! So having been to Thingvellir to see the tectonic plates on our way to Laugarvatn, and spending a few hours stargazing at the thermal baths of Fontana Spa on our first night, we were up early the next morning to check out the Kerid volcanic crater, which was less than a half hour drive from our apartment. 

It was a beautiful day -- sunny and bright -- but it was COLD and WINDY. There was a path leading down to the lake, which is at water table level, not rain-filled. 

It doesn't look like it in any photo, but this lake is completely frozen over. The idea that there is wave action is an illusion; this is ice!

The spots on the lake are fallen debris from the crater, probably caused by the high winds. As I said, this lake is completely frozen. Apparently it is not a deep lake (when liquid) and the ice was quite solid. While we were there, someone did walk out to the centre; there was really no worry about the ice breaking. 

For our elevenses, we drove back to Laugarvatn to go on Fontana Spa's "Rye Bread Tour". The nearby geothermal station heats all the buildings in the village and its surrounds.

Fontana Spa (which also has a restaurant) makes use of the hot shoreline, not just for the spa, but for baking bread!

The bread dough is sealed in a pot and buried in the hot sand. It takes 24 hours to cook, so they dig up a loaf and put a new pot in twice daily.

This traditional Icelandic recipe is delicious! As part of the tour, we returned to the spa to sample the bread warm with wads of Icelandic butter. Oh that was a really good elevenses!

After filling up on the rye bread, we went for a walk by the shore (being careful not to walk in any steamy sand). This jetty leads out from the spa, and on days when it is not quite so icy, spa-goers can go directly from the hot baths to a dip in the lake.

The view of the lake and surrounds from Laugarvatn is gorgeous.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Iceland 1

The beginning of March brought with it a collision between Storm Emma and "the beast from the east", resulting in huge snowfalls in Ireland, closing Dublin Airport for a day and most annoying of all, disrupting my holiday plans! Though the airport had reopened in time for my plan to take off on the Saturday morning, there was no way for me to get to the airport -- my estate was snowed and iced in, roads in my town impassable, and no bus or train service till that afternoon (too late for me!). After re-scheduling the departure for the earliest date -- 3 days later -- I got to have a whirlwind trip to Iceland. It was beautiful & cold, the sky a pure blue, and lots of mountains were visible. This is the view ahead, driving on the Golden Circle road towards Laugarvatn, from Kevlavik (Reykjavik airport).

As both a stopping point and a site of interest, we went to Thingvellir National Park. Driving up to the park, I was amazed at the oddness of the lake view. It struck me like a frame of a film of a lake --  I could see motion in the water, but it was stopped. The lake was frozen. 

The land is rugged and there are trail pathways for explorers. However, it was just too cold to do more than an hour's wandering at a time.

Thingvellir is where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet visibly, and actually pull apart at the rate of 2 cm a year. There is a valley pathway between the plates.

Just before sunset we arrived at our accommodation on the outskirts of Laugarvatn: The Golden Circle Apartments are a complex of three private buildings of comfortable, self-catering apartments.

Inside our apartment, we were especially delighted with the view from our main living-dining room. The flags on the right mark the location of Fontana Spa, a one minute walk away. Of course we headed down there once we were settled and enjoyed an evening of hot and cold relaxation. The night sky was incredible from the luxury of the spa.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

pastel drawings

I have been busy with a lot of writing lately (poetry, short stories, art criticism). At the end of January my short review of William Crozier: the Edge of the Landscape at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) was published as part of CIRCA magazine's This Matters Now series. I saw this exhibition a few months ago, and blogged about it here, but you can read the review here. I was also delighted that my short story, Prayers for My Children was published a few days ago in the online journal, Tales from the Forest; you can read it here.

Last week I decided that, even though I hadn't finished cleaning up the studio, I wanted to do some visual work, other than ceramics. I pulled out some chalk pastels and heavy grey paper and began drawing.

As may be apparent from my prints and handmade books over the past year or two (see here, here, and here), I am inspired by my times of "shinrinyoku" (walks in the woods for good health)

and by walks along the seaside where I become obsessed with pebbles at the shore (also see here and here).

I really enjoyed drawing with the chalk pastels as I was able to lay down shapes and colour to effect quite quickly.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Szechuan cucumbers

Kung Hei Fat Choy! This is the Chinese new year greeting, easy to remember, as The Year of the Dog begins (Feb 16 2018). My friend from Hong Kong assures me that the new year's celebrations traditionally go on for two weeks, so there is plenty of time to include this easy-to-prepare and absolutely delicious Oriental pickle to accompany any meal.

Ingredients: 3 cucumbers (washed but not peeled); 3-4 garlic cloves (sliver); 4.5 tsp salt; 4 dried hot red peppers*** (I haven't been able to get whole dried chillies in years, so I just use a few tsp chilli flakes); 4 tblsp sesame oil; 6 tblsp white vinegar (I use white wine vinegar, but if you have rice vinegar that would be great); 65 g/2.5 oz sugar.

To prepare cucumbers, slice half lengthwise and using a teaspoon, scrape out the seeds. This is easy to do. Though it may seem wasteful, this part of the cucumber is mostly water - I usually drain before putting the seedy pulp into my compost bin (if you are using an outdoor compost, you don't need to bother). Cut the cucumber halves into approximately 1 cm slices (as below). Place in a container and sprinkle with salt. LEAVE FOR ABOUT 4 HOURS BEFORE CONTINUING.

Drain, rinse, drain, and maybe rinse and drain again. Place cucumbers, garlic slivers and chillies in a serving dish (not plastic as you'll be adding hot ingredients to it!). Heat up sesame oil in small pot on high heat till it begins to smoke and pour over mix. Heat up vinegar in same pot and pour it over the mix too.

Add the sugar and stir the whole lot well before adding to a container for refrigeration. Again leave this for about 4 hours before you plan to serve. This recipe will last a week in the fridge (though it has never lasted that long in my house!).

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

spectacular failure!

Last month there was a very welcome surprise at my house, in the form of a florist bearing a magnificent bouquet of yellow tulips. The flowers were a post-xmas treat from my husband's uncle in the US and yellow tulips happen to be my favourite flower. To round the treat off, the bouquet was in a gorgeously simple white ceramic vase.

When the flowers had run their course naturally, I set about to design a composition to be glaze painted on the vase. I was hyped up by the previous success of my glaze paintings on pre-made ceramic tiles. I took measurements and did an idea sketch.

To me, the vase was a surface just waiting to be re-born in my ceramics workshop. But who could have suspected that the white glaze was, in fact, not a white glaze...

I had decided to make the tulips larger in my final design, and set about glaze painting the vase.

For the inside, I continued with some of the outer glazes, allowing them to spontaneously drip over the white. I spread glass pieces (stained glass left over from a mosaic commission of ten years ago) over the inside bottom of the vase for a big splash of colour.

When the kiln was opened after the firing, the glass on the bottom seemed to have survived...

...but the rest of the glazed decoration had turned to dust! What seemed to be a white glaze on the vase was probably just varnished paint. When it burnt off in the high firing it took the glaze with it. All is not lost, however -- there is still a fine ceramic vase beneath the wreckage. After a clean up and sanding, I will glaze paint my design again. I can deal with the déja vu, and may even look forward to it.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

New work // old work

 A few weeks ago a huge, beautiful bouquet of yellow tulips arrived at the door - a cheery post-xmas gift from my husband's uncle in the US.

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that yellow tulips are my all-time favourite flower. I have recently been looking through some old sketchbooks for inspiration from my various flower sketches. This crayon and graphite sketch depicts a bouquet in front of one of my abstracted yellow tulip paintings. The sketch is from 1982.

Another sketch from 1982 of the same bouquet in front of another abstracted yellow tulip painting. I remember perfectly well that the dining nook in my apartment in 1982 (in Scarborough, Canada) had three wall spaces, each of which had a large abstracted yellow tulip painting on it! The vase that the tulips are set in is also my work, a ceramic slab wrap-around vase.

It was either in 1981 or 1982 that I began drawing and painting flowers with a vengeance. This particular pastel and graphite sketch is of a bouquet that a friend gave me after my wisdom teeth were removed. One of the four teeth was impacted, so I was laid up for at least a week.

This is a crayon and graphite sketch of a close-up of a really vibrant red tulip from that same period (more than 30 years ago!). The great thing about having all these flower drawings is that they provide references for the glaze paintings I have begun on ceramic tiles. The recent bouquet of tulips arrived in a gorgeous, simple white glazed ceramic vase. I am planning to do a glaze painting on that in the near future.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Hand-painted ceramic tiles

Towards the end of last year I came across a box of white ceramic tiles, leftover from tiling the bath/shower area a few years ago. There were 30-40 square tiles in the box, and I wondered if I could make use of them in my weekly ceramics workshop.

First a test tile had to be made so that I could see how the available glazes reacted with the pre-glazed tiles. I was pleased with the result and thought I could proceed with the idea of doing paintings and/or
drawings on the available tiles.

A chart corresponding to the glazes used on the tile test is a necessary and invaluable tool! The available glazes are numbered mostly with Roman numerals, and I left out glazes that I definitely would not be using for this project (e.g., white and clear glazes).

I dug out some of my sketchbooks that had floral drawings and focused on images that I wanted to reproduce on the tiles and re-sketched them to the tile size. I also made a small chart so that the watercolour pencils I was using corresponded with the glaze test tile.

I used this sketch as a model for the finished tile that is the first image above.

I decided to do five testers to see how painting the glazes on tiles would work. It was a meticulous task, as the glazes are being painted on a glossy, smooth pre-glazed tile.

This is an image of four of the completed tiles in the kiln before firing. The fifth tile is on another shelf.

These are the same four tiles, still in the kiln, after the firing. I am pleased with the results and now can confidently do more of these paintings with the other tiles in the box!