just an old-fashioned girl

Hello and welcome. I'm glad you dropped by. If you´re looking for something a little nostalgic of bygone eras with a timeless elegance and a little modern twist – in other words, something slightly “retro” – then you should feel right at home here in my shabby chic room. Month by month, there will always be something new to see so I hope you´ll enjoy your stay and come back again soon.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Christmas In August

As some of you may know, I spent much of the summer laid up with sciatica. The only place this condition was tolerable for me was in the garden where I spent a lot of time in a mainly reclining position alternately blessing my iPod and my ebook reader for providing distraction from boredom and discomfort. After a while though even that wasn´t enough for me so I hobbled back into the house, hunted out my needles, threads and patterns and started cross stitching some Christmas cards. I suppose it seems strange to even think of Christmas in August but even these little motifs take some considerable time to stitch, especially for someone like me who can never stick to the colours specified in the colour key or even to the chart itself.

Take this chart for example. It´s supposed to be an angel but whoever designed it seems to have got a little confused because it´s the only Christmas chart I have in which the angel is carrying a magic wand.
That was easy to alter with a wave of my own magic wand.
I liked the result so much that I ended up making several, though as you can see, I hardly stuck to the colour key at all. These are a few of the finished cards.

Another motif I enjoyed stitching was this one.
It offered so much scope for change that I got a bit carried away. First of all I decided to add a glittering star to each tree and also to add sparkly thread to the trees themselves. Unfortunately the effect doesn´t show up on a scanned image so you´ll have to take my word for that. Here´s the first one I made.
I went on to make quite a few after that simply because I enjoyed changing the colours each time. These are just a few of them all framed and ready to go.
Of course, stitching them is the fun part. Actually finishing them i.e. washing, pressing, lining, cutting them out and finally creating cards to frame them is something else again so I´ll draw a veil over the hard part!

Creating these little motifs was a sort of therapy for me. It helped me to feel as if I was doing something useful and not just self-indulgently lounging around on the lawn all summer. Which reminds me, even in November the lawn is beckoning me. Well, not so much the lawn itself as Dora who´s waiting there for me to join her in a game of her own invention called something like I-might-let-you-kick-this-football-but-only-if-you-ask-nicely. I always do and she usually does...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Surreal Blending Effects

I love creating photo collages and I particularly enjoy extracting parts of photos, adding them to others and experimenting with the various Photoshop blending options to transform them into something more interesting than any of the original photos. I find that many of these photo collages can turn into something quite spooky and surreal simply by changing either the blending mode and/or the opacity. Add to that my enjoyment of taking photos in Scottish cemeteries and the obvious conclusion is that many of my photos lend themselves to the creation of layouts that reflect the more sinister aspects of Halloween. Don´t get me wrong. I´m no ghoul but the ancient Celtic crosses to be found in old cemeteries are so intricate and beautiful in a stern sort of way that I can never resist the temptation of adding yet another to my collection of Celtic art. At this point I´ve got to say that I´m no expert and what looks fairly easy to achieve is often the result of painstaking experimentation. The Halloween collage in my previous post is a good example of this. If you´re a beginner and if you also enjoy the challenge of creating collages and would like to find out how I went about it, read on.

I started off with a white background to which I added the Lightning background paper from an old kit of mine called Fright Night which I long ago consigned to my virtual attic to – appropriately – gather dust and cobwebs. I´ve since blown off the dust and frightened the spiders away in order to use various parts of it in this layout, the following background paper for example.
I didn´t want it quite so dense and I also wanted to discard the colour so I altered the blending mode to Luminosity.
Then, from the same old kit I added a full moon.

Now I´m putting the cart before the horse because I also used the following very underexposed photo of the Glasgow Art Galleries...
...but I didn´t actually use it immediately. It was just a part of the ongoing experimentation process throughout this collage. Here I´m simply showing you the various layers in the order in which they appear in the finished layout so at this point it´s going to look strange and out of place. However, if you´ve got this far you may have the patience to stay with me a little while longer to see what effect this photo eventually has. After I changed the blending mode to Pin Light at 80% opacity this is what it looked like.

(Not impressive but I did warn you The surprising effect comes later.) Directly above that I placed the following FN background, Stonehenge which looks like this.

As you can see it has its own full moon which is why I placed the additional one from that old kit in the same position. Once I´d added that background paper I changed its blending mode to Overlay and the opacity to 50%.

Yes, I know that photo at the bottom still looks annoyingly out of place but I´m gradually, if infuriatingly slowly, coming to that. The next step was to add a photo of a Scottish cemetery which, luckily, included its own crow and, unfortunately, a huge ugly pylon.

After cropping this photo and using the clone tool to remove the pylon, I placed it on the layout using the Multiply blending mode.
Now at last you can see the effect of that annoying photo which now appears to reflect the light cast on the tombstone by the full moon. I suppose I could have left it at that but I can never leave well alone and, besides, I wanted to add one of my favourite images, the angel which appears in another Halloween layout.
Luckily, I´d saved the original extraction (always a good idea, especially for image hoarders like me) so I erased the tombstone, softened the outline a little and added her to the layout as a forlorn little ghost using the Exclusion blending mode at 30%.
At this point I added the crow on the left which I´d extracted from another photo. For him I used the Hard Mix blending mode at 80% opacity. Then I thought that another crow flying across the moon would be a good idea in order to lead the eye down to the main focus of the page, ie the tombstone and the ghost, so I dug around among my various bitmaps until I found the perfect crow silhouette and added it at 90% opacity with the Soft Light blending mode.
Again, I could have left this as it is but it was a Scottish cemetery after all so I really wanted to add a Celtic cross. Here´s the finished layout with the cross added using the Overlay blending mode. I didn´t even have to alter the opacity in order to allow the lightning to strike right through it.
If you´ve got this far I admire your patience and perseverance! On the other hand, I find that these characteristics are exactly what one needs in order to actively enjoy experimenting with these wonderful PS blending modes. I hope that any beginner reading this will be inspired to try them out. It´s a good way to spend a dreary overcast day. I´m off now to do the ironing, not the best way to spend any kind of day, dreary or otherwise. I´m so glad that I´ve got Stephen King´s Pet Sematary in my iPod to distract me from that tedious chore.

PS You know, after reading the book I´ve found it almost impossible to spell that word correctly without using the spell check....

Saturday, October 31, 2015

All Souls´ Night

The origins of Halloween, also known as All Souls´Night, lie in the Celtic festival of Samhain, (a Gaelic word meaning summer´s end) which marked the end of summer and the harvest. Bonfires were lit, often to provide light for those bringing in livestock from the fields or mountains to be slaughtered for winter. On this day, the Celts believed that the door to the underworld was opened, letting in spirits. They would hold a feast, setting a place for any deceased relatives, as they were believed to visit home on this day. Malevolent spirits entered the earthly realm as well and people would dress in costume in order to confuse these spirits. This evolved into the custom of visiting houses to collect food for the feast while in costume, a precursor to trick-or-treating.

I don´t know exactly when Halloween became sanitized, commercialized and family friendly but a poem written by the American Edith Wharton in 1903 seems to indicate that it still retained its most sinister connotations around that time. Read the first verse and judge for yourself.

Edith Wharton

A thin moon faints in the sky o’erhead,
And dumb in the churchyard lie the dead.
Walk we not, Sweet, by garden ways,
Where the late rose hangs and the phlox delays,
But forth of the gate and down the road,
Past the church and the yews, to their dim abode.
For it’s turn of the year and All Souls’ night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.

I wonder if she had something like this in mind.

By the way, if you´re a beginner and would like to know how relatively easy it was to create the above collage, watch this space and I´ll show you.... 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Advice From A Cow

I´ve been missing in action, or rather in inaction, since July when I was struck down and brought to a standstill, or rather a lie still, by a particularly vicious bout of sciatica. At first I resigned myself to lying around on the lawn alternating between reading and enjoying the garden but after a while reading began to pall, the garden and the house began to look neglected, the laundry remained unironed and I began to fret. It was around that time that I came upon this poem...

When life seems one too many for
Go and look at a cow.
When the future’s black and the
outlook blue,
Go and look at a cow.
For she does nothing but eat her
And sleep in the meadows entirely
Refusing to fret or worry or
Because she doesn’t know how.

Whenever you’re feeling bothered
and sore,
Go and look at a cow.
When everything else is a fearful
Go and look at a cow.
Observe her gentle and placid air,
Her nonchalance and savoir faire,
Her absolute freedom from every
Her imperturbable brow.

So when you’re at the end of your
Go and look at a cow.
Or when your nerves are frayed
to bits,
And wrinkles furrow your brow;
She’ll merely moo in her gentle
Switching her rudder as if to say:
“Bother tomorrow! Let’s live
Take the advice of a cow.”

Not only did I find this advice a-moo-sing but I started thinking about it and realised that I was worrying needlessly and spoiling a lovely peaceful summer by feeling guilty about neglecting my chores. I don´t mean that I took the advice literally and just lay there chewing the cud and staring placidly into the distance but I finally started to enjoy my enforced inactivity rather than brooding on it. I´ve since had the first appointment with my osteopath and feel a little better already. I´ve even managed to sit rather than recline for long enough to swap my book for needle and thread.
So this page is my tribute to the wise old cow and also my thank you to Diane who gave me her permission to use a photo of her beautiful Lilly with her first calf, the equally beautiful Gabby. Hope she´ll forgive me for altering that perfect photo ever so slightly to give it a painted look to go with the background. 
Try to take that advice to heart. Enjoy what´s left of the summer and leave the chores for a rainy day.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sitting Pretty

I love and treasure all my old sepia photos. I find it incredible that they´ve survived for so long and how amazingly detailed they are when you consider how relatively primitive old cameras were. Of course they´ve faded somewhat over time but Photoshop can bring them back to radiant life with just a few mouse clicks and any little imperfections can be just as easily camouflaged. Something else I like about them is that it´s such fun to imagine what they´d look like in colour...and then just go ahead and use any colour I want. When I colour sepia tinted clothes it reminds me of the dressing dolls I used to play with as a child and it´s so enjoyable that it goes some way to making up for the fact that in many cases I´ve no idea where and when the photo was taken. In the one below all I know is that it´s one of many I have of my Aunt Lucas – in case you don´t already know, that´s the elegant lady sitting at the top of this blog – but I have no idea who her friend is, when or where the photo was taken or by whom. I think that she´s wearing the same coat as above, but as I haven´t a clue what colour it really was, I´ve made it green this time though I suppose I could have used purple or brown or anything else that took my fancy.

(And, before you ask, yes my aunt was really called Lucas. All I know is that it´s an old family name and I can only assume it was originally Lucasta which apparently dates from the 17th century and means pure light.)

So here she is, my elegant aunt and her friend, sitting pretty and trapped in a brief moment in time (can it really be?) over 3/4 of a century ago.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Thursday, April 9, 2015

You Were Right, Joyce

Joyce Grenfell, 10 February 1910 - 30 November 1979, is known and loved mainly for her comic monologues. Her most famous catch phrase, “George, don´t do that!” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXhHFgDRNBQ ) is instantly recognisable to all her fans. What I didn´t know until today is the fact that she wrote some of the most beautifully evocative nature poetry I´ve ever heard. I say “heard” because the following poem was never published and I´ve only just heard it on BBC radio. Luckily, it was on the Listen Again feature so I was able to write it down. I´m sure you´ll agree that it captures the very spirit of Spring.

Taut as a tent the heavenly dome is blue,
Uncrossed by cloud or tossing twig or plane,
A measureless span infinitely new,
To fill the eye and lift the heart again.

Deep in the wintered earth the shock is felt.
Glossy sweet aconite has shown her gold,
And strong straight crocus spears where late we knelt,
To lodge their bulbs are waiting to unfold.

The ragged rooks like tea leaves in the sky,
Straggle towards the earth with awkward grace.
A robin in a silver birch nearby,
Thrusts up his carol through the naked lace.

I´ve known this day for thirty years and more.
It will go on as it has done before.

You were right, Joyce. It has.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Not Just Graffiti

One day recently my friend, Eileen, and I were walking back from a morning spent visiting, and in some cases revisiting, a few of Glasgow´s many historical sites (including its oldest house, built would you believe, in 1471..but that´s another story) when I was stopped dead in my tracks by one of the most amazing murals I´ve ever seen. I say “mural” advisedly because although it´s painted on crumbling walls at the rear of a parking lot in Ingram Street it´s certainly not just graffiti. Here are just a very few close ups so that you can see the astonishing photo-realistic detail in it.

I later discovered that it was commissioned by Glasgow Council in celebration of The Commonwealth Games hosted by the city in 2014 and was painted by graffiti artist Sam Bates aka Smug. 

I found it frustrating not to be able to photograph many parts of the mural as they were blocked, not surprisingly, by various vehicles. However, I was lucky enough to find a couple of less cluttered photos on the Web. This one of a kilted figure among autumn leaves and fungi is particularly ingenious. Note the shadows which imbue this part of the mural with a trompe l'oeil 3D appearance. It´s hard to tell which of the leaves are part of the tree and which are painted. I also love the way the leaves and the fungi are a recurring theme throughout the entire mural.

This part depicts a lovely selection of Scottish wildlife including a black grouse, a red squirrel and a robin. There are even a few scattered rowan berries from Scotland´s most prolific tree, a source of winter food for many species. I, like many Scots, have one in my garden. Traditionally, the rowan is supposed to ward off witches. I haven´t seen any since I planted it so it seems to work... I love its inclusion in the mural. 

Coming upon this stunning work of art simply confirms what I´ve always thought about my home town. Glasgow is a wonderful city full of surprises.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Off To Scotland