Wednesday 25 June 2014

Astronautical Inspiration!

I am in the middle of reading Col. Chris Hadfield's memoir. It is both enjoyable and very down to earth! I first heard about the book in a Brainpickings article in January and was determined to read it. The best way for me to read a book is to get it as a gift for my husband, so I did this at the earliest opportunity (our anniversary in Feb). I would highly recommend this book!

Along with millions of others, I first became aware of the Canadian astronaut (my proud Canadian self is rearing its head!) through YouTube videos, especially his version of David Bowie's Space Oddity

Col. Hadfield made lots of short videos while at the space station, check them out on his YouTube channel. Here is another of my favourites - showing what happens if you cry in space.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Elderflowers and Rose Petals!

Summer's here, hurray! Time to prepare for the winter, hahaha. We discovered a few years ago that as well as our annual blackberry foraging, there are things to do with flower petals that are very delicious. I help with the collecting, and my husband makes non-alcoholic cordials and wines from rose petals, gorse flowers, elderflowers and elderberries.  Catch the elderflowers before they are all gone. They only bloom for a few weeks in June, but they are versatile and magnificent!

My husband makes a beautiful wine and a non-alcoholic cordial from elderflowers. He has already made a batch of cordial (we drank one bottle and 2 other small bottles are in the freezer) and prepared a gallon of wine. But the weather has been so nice and the flowers are not gone yet, so we went out this morning and got some more bunches for another batch of wine (which tastes  similar to ice wine, verrrrry nice). For the cordial you need 6-8 heads of elderflower in full bloom, 1 pint water, zest & juice of 2 lemons and 175 g caster sugar. Stir sugar and water over medium heat till sugar dissolves; add elderflower heads and bring to boil for 5 mins. Remove from heat and add lemon juice and zest. Cover and leave to infuse 24 hours before straining and bottling. Dilute to taste (sparkling water or prosecco!). For the cordial the eldeflower heads are left intact and strained later, but for wine the flowers need to be removed from their stems or the wine will be bitter.

The elderflower wine recipe is a little more complicated (recipes are easily available online) but the ingredients are the same as for cordial - flowers, lemon, sugar and water!

Wild roses are also in bloom on hedgerows everywhere. This is our wild rose bush that we brought with us from Kerry in 1996 and now happily resides beside the fuschia hedge in our front garden.

I love wild roses. Ours are pink, but they also are abundant in white. The pink petals are preferable for a cordial just because the end product looks nice!

To make the cordial, you need about 2 generous handfuls of petals with bitter white "claws" removed, juice of 1 lemon, 500 ml water and 300 g sugar. Simmer water, petals and lemon juice for 15 mins. Strain and return liquid to pot; add sugar to the rose water and heat till sugar has dissolved. Simmer 5 mins before filling sterilised bottles or jars.

Add sparkling water to the cordial for a soft drink, or add prosecco for a sparkly adult drink. Better yet, make rose petal martinis and enjoy the great weather!

Wednesday 11 June 2014


I recently read an article by Morgan Meis relating to "No Regrets" an exhibition by Jasper Johns at MoMA, New York. As well as getting me thinking about a number of artistic issues, it also got me to thinking about encaustic painting. Jasper Johns was the main artist whose work I looked at in the 80s for guidance on this medium. Johns flag paintings from the 1950s, inspired by a dream, encapsulate the visceral tendency of pure paint: with encaustic painting the immediacy of each brushstoke is preserved.

On my first trip to New York while at art school in the early 80s, I would have come across Johns's work at either the MoMA or Whitney and fallen in love with the painterliness.

I was also interested in Johns's use of newsprint layers providing extra surface texture on the canvas.

I found out that encaustic is a mixture of beeswax, oil paint and turpentine melted and mixed together and I began my own experiments with the medium. The mixture is applied while melted and therefore still warm. Although I did a few paintings on canvas they do not exist any more, nor did I photograph them. The only thing I have left to show that I ever painted in encaustic is a photograph of a large triptych on paper. This hung on the walls of several of my apartments in Toronto, until, with all my moving around, it totally fell apart.

Last year, while participating in The Big Egg Hunt Dublin (fundraiser for the Jack and Jill Foundation) I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Niamh O'Connor, whose encaustic egg I had admired. On meeting me, I remember that Niamh was surprised to meet another artist who was familiar with encaustic. She might have found it amusing to see me delightedly sniffing the heady beeswax and oil smell of her giant yellow egg, reminiscing with myself about this wonderful medium.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Photography - Women with Attitude

Although most of yesterday was a beautiful day, as I was making my way to the DART train for Dublin it started to rain. In Dublin the rain was horsing down, and by time I made my way through Temple Bar to the Gallery of Photography I was soaked through. I was in Dublin to see the DIT (Dublin Institute of Technology) photography graduate exhibition. More specifically I wanted to see the exhibition of work by Grace Hall, whose final year project was entitled "Women with Attitude" - a project that my Mum, Georgina Whelan, has been participating in these past few months!

As Grace says on her website, "Women with Attitude is a body of work, which celebrates the older woman, her sense of style, and zest for life as she continues to manage the physical challenges that come with the ageing body. Nine women, aged between 60 and 90, took part in this collaborative project in which together with the photographer, they explored not only their sense of style, but also their attitudes towards their clothing, being older, being photographed in a studio setting and having themselves documented in what can be a very unforgiving medium, the photograph". Aged 90, my Mum was the oldest woman on the project. She thoroughly enjoyed taking part in this project - meeting, spending time and having good craic with the other women (only 2 of whom she knew previously). As well as some of the photographs on display, there was also a video, where each woman had a few minutes to comment on the project and photographs. A beautiful full colour book was produced where more of the photos of each woman were displayed. At the launch, my Mum introduced me to some of the other women involved and the photographer, Grace Hall - all of whom exuded pure joie de vivre. A wonderful achievement and memorable work!