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.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

video
Lajuana has sent me this poem and the picture of Santa which fit in so well with Dora´s greeting, I just had to share them with you.

TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS 
(BOXER VERSION)

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
The puppies were squeaking
An old rubber mouse
The wreath which had cheerfully
Been hung on the door
Was scattered in pieces
All over the floor
The stockings so lovingly
Hanging in rows
Now boast of a hole
In each of the toes
The tree was subjected
To many bright eyed whims
And now although splendid
Is missing some limbs
I catch them and hold them
Be good, I insist
They lick me, then run off
To find what they missed
And now as I watch them
The thought comes to me
That theirs is the spirit
That Christmas should be
Should children and Boxers
Yet show us the way
And teach us the joy that
Should come with this day
Could they bring the message
That's written above
And tell us that, most of all
Christmas is LOVE!!
~~ Author unknown
Merry Christmas, Dora.
Thanks, Lajuana!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Digital Christmas Tree

I´ve just about finished my Christmas preparations. I´ve posted all my cards and wrapped all my presents and either sent them off or put them under the tree. I´ve also hung all my baubles and beads on the Christmas tree although that´s always an ongoing project due to Dora. Unlike one of her naughty predecessors, she doesn´t wait till I´m in bed and then start to demolish it. In fact she always pointedly ignores it. It´s just that several times every day with one swipe of her joyfully wagging tail she manages to dislodge and scatter at least one bauble and, worse, cause the carefully draped gold bead garland to rat-a-tat onto the floor. Since I can´t tell her to take herself and her tail away and go off and be happy elsewhere, this is something I´ve had to accept. All the more reason to create this digital Christmas tree well out of reach of Dora and her wagging tail.
 
If you´d like to have this festive gift, everything you can see on the above tree is available for download here

 
As you can see from the preview, this is a DIY project as you have to assemble your own baubles. I thought it would be more fun and also more versatile to create separate layers so that you can choose which bow to add to your bauble - you could also alter the baubles´ transparency - or just use the bows themselves as deco.

Have fun!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Dora A Day...

A Dora a day may not keep the doctor away but she definitely keeps the blues away with her antics. That´s the reason I always order a Dora calendar for Herbert as a Christmas present so that even while he´s at work she can still put a smile on his face. 
I´ve just finished uploading a selection of this year´s photos. It´s such a difficult task to choose which I like best I always wish there were more than 12 months in the year. While I was uploading them I took some screen shots. Here are just a few which are so typical of Dora I thought I´d share them with you on a dull November day.

January shows Dora in an unusually sad and reflective mood because, for our playful Dora, a day without a ball is a day without sunshine, especially when she´s on holiday in Domburg.
In February she´s still in Domburg and she´s got not just one but two but she´s still not happy because her ball-thrower is more interested in reading his newspaper than playing with her.
It´s so typical of Dora that once she´s finally got her playmate to participate she does her utmost to make sure that he can only do so once...Notice the determined way she holds one ball down with her
paws and the other with her nose while the third is tucked right under her chest.
 
August shows Dora in a typical awkward situation where she´s got a hold of her ball-on-a-string and has dragged Herbert all the way down the lawn until she´s stopped in her tracks by the prickly bramble bush. (called blackberries by non-Scots) At this point Herbert knows that it´s stalemate and he only has 2 alternatives. Either he lets go of the ball and Dora is propelled backwards into the prickly bushes and then shoots off down the lawn as if she has a bee under her skirt, or he just keeps hold of it. This is not a good strategy as he could miss dinner that night and possibly even breakfast the following morning. Dora can be very determined.
As you can see by November´s photo, once Dora has got her favourite toy she´ll guard it with her life. Don´t be fooled by the butter wouldn´t melt look. Make one false move and the nose goes down and the front paws tighten up and you´ve no chance at all of getting it away from her until she graciously allows you to throw it for her again.
There are times though when a human participant can be essential not just as a ball-thrower but as a ball-retriever. To explain April´s rather strange photo, on her walks Dora has the uncanny knack of finding toys which other dogs have either lost or abandoned. Herbert lets her play with them for a while before putting them out of reach in a tree so that other dogs can also play with them or the original owner can get his/her ball back again. Sometimes when he forgets to bring a ball with him he resorts to picking these strange fruit. The way Dora looks at him in this photo says it all even without the caption.
The following photo is also typical of Dora although it has absolutely nothing to do with her favourite occupation. See it from her point of view. She´ll be lying quite happily on the lawn when I´ll sneak up on her with “that annoying clicking thing.” She´ll immediately turn her head away and put on her long-suffering here-we-go-again look.
As a last resort she´ll get up, give me a withering look and stalk off indignantly to her favourite retreat under the Russian vine where she´ll lie watching me quite convinced that she´s safely in hiding.
I´m so looking forward to the arrival of this year´s calendar but in the meantime I hope that Dora has brightened your day as she always brightens ours.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Fairy Tale Meadow Revisited

My workroom is a mess at present. Usually I diligently clear it up after I´ve finished each project but just recently one project has run seamlessly into another and searching through the resultant chaos for anything has meant that while looking for one thing I´ve been totally distracted by finding something entirely unrelated. My most recent diversion came when, quite by chance, I discovered this photo in a folder hidden under piles of paper and magazines. It shows my husband, Herbert, (front right) crouched beside his older brother, Manfred who´s next to their cousin, Karl-Heinz. The young man at the back is his oldest brother, Wolfgang. Herbert seems to have a mental blackout regarding the other children in this photo and just says vaguely that they´re “probably” assorted cousins though they “may” be just friends. He does, however, remember who took the photo, namely a close family friend the children called Tante Luzie. More about her later. Here´s the original photo which I scanned at 300 dpi.
I like this photo for several reasons apart from the obvious. First of all it´s the background which I find fascinating. It may look as if it was taken in a studio with a backdrop but what looks artificial is actually the view from what the children used to call “Die Märchenwiese” which translates literally as The Fairy Tale Meadow and, believe me, it really has an enchanted atmosphere. I know because I´ve been there and it hasn´t changed much in the years since my husband was a little tot. Its high up in a clearing in the Spessart Forest, quite a climb, but worth it for the spectacular view of the surrounding hills and woodland. Another interesting feature is that all the boys in the foreground, apart from the little fellow in the sailor suit, are wearing so-called Lederhosen, the typical leather shorts of the Alpine regions and Bavaria. In the days before washing machines were considered essential these shorts must have been a blessing to busy mothers when dealing with messy little boys, the cleaning procedure being just to wait for the mud to dry before simply brushing it off. I´m amused to see that the little girl is wearing a light coloured dress with puff sleeves which must have been difficult to keep clean while battling her way through the forest to reach the clearing. Ditto the sailor suit and the smart outfit worn by Wolfgang. The excursion was obviously planned in advance for the sole purpose of taking this photo. 

I find the photo striking as it stands. The very fact that it´s underexposed and faded adds to its vintage feeling of days gone by and the magical quality of the scenery. However, I still felt a need to add some contrast to the foreground while retaining at least some of the fading in the background. It was at this point that it dawned on me that this seemingly simple project was going to be quite tedious and time-consuming as the only way I could imagine doing this was by creating 2 layers and working on them separately. I do not enjoy making complicated extractions any more than you do. On the other hand there are people, mainly woman, who actually like ironing so maybe I´m wrong...Anyway, I digress. Before I could change my mind and restart my search through the chaos to find the project I´d originally planned, I gritted my teeth and made a rough extraction around the group in the foreground. I deliberately didn´t zoom in to do this otherwise I´d have been too meticulous and I´d have been at it all day! Then I feathered it and copied it onto a new layer. 
I tackled the new layer first by increasing the contrast and altering the tone a little. After that I tidied up some of the lighter parts around the figures I´d missed during the extraction and cropped the photo to remove the distracting edges. At this point I also used the clone tool to disguise some of the white blotches in the background Here´s how it looked at this stage.
As you can see this brought out a lot of the detail in the foreground but then the background was still so faded that the figures looked like cardboard cut outs so I darkened the background using Curves, adjusted the tone a little, flattened it and ended up with this.
I suppose I could have been reasonably happy with this result but anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I just can´t leave well alone. Something bothered me about it so I went away and unpacked a parcel which had just arrived and when I looked at the photo half an hour later with fresh eyes it was immediately obvious what was wrong. It was simply too much like a discoloured black and white photo so I added the sepia photo filter at 15% rather than the default 25%....and voilà!
I´m still not entirely happy with it but I´ve kept the layers so I may tinker with it a bit more when I have the time. Right now I´m off to play with my new toy robot which has been charging its battery while I´ve been sitting here agonizing over what to inflict on this image next. I wish this little robot could do my extractions and/or my ironing but it won´t. What it will do is the next best thing. It´ll whiz around the house sweeping the floors and probably giving Dora a nervous breakdown in the process! 

PS Almost forgot to mention Tante Luzie again. She was quite a character. I first met her shortly before our wedding and found her to be a delightfully eccentric and very sprightly 80 year-old. She always kept a hip flask somewhere about her person from which she took a nip of brandy every so often after which she invariably announced triumphantly in German, “Schnapps is good for cholera!” After the reception we all went back to my parent´s house where my mother was astonished when she walked past the open bathroom door to find Tante Luzie spraying her hair abundantly with air freshener. She didn´t have the heart to tell her and for the rest of the day the old lady went around taking swigs from her flask quite unaware of the fact that her hair was dripping wet and smelt strongly of pine disinfectant.
 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Mickey Mouth

Mick Jagger would definitely get no satisfaction if he could see what Frank N Furter has done to his face during one of his failed experiments. It serves you right, Mickey Mouth, for having refused to let one of our friends take a photo of you in the days when you looked a lot better than this!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Seventy Years Ago

My mother survived my father by 19 years. It´s sad to think that neither of them lived to celebrate the 70th anniversary of their marriage this year. I only have 2 photos of the occasion, one of which I´ve had for many years and another which I found at the bottom of a drawer after my mother´s death last Christmas. Mine is framed and in pristine condition. My mother´s is dog-eared, faded and worn looking like many of the old family photos. I´ve often wondered why this should be and have decided that it´s probably partly due to the fact that my mother, like her mother before her, lived for the present and didn´t dwell on the past. Also, although I often told her that she was remarkably attractive in all her photos, she always laughed and denied it. The only framed photos in her house were of her mother, her husband and her children, so being the selfless person she undoubtedly was, perhaps that reflects what was most important to her. 

The following page is a memorial to both of my parents. It may look at first glance as if I had quite a few photos but in reality there really are only the two plus a couple of little sketches created using an action I made a while ago.

I created the above page using the kit I´m presently working on, unnamed as yet though suggestions would be gratefully received.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

Forgetting To Remember

My mother passed away last Christmas and since then I´ve thought of her practically every day and felt sad. I say “practically” because just recently there have been happy days when I´ve been so busy or so preoccupied that I´ve forgotten to remember her and then afterwards felt grief-stricken and guilty. Of course I know in my heart that I´ll never forget her. I´m sure that this occasional “forgetting to remember” is just a normal part of the grieving process. 

Then just yesterday I remembered this poem by Christina Rossetti which has comforted me because I know for sure that the last two lines express exactly what my mother would have wished for me. Here it is in its entirety. 

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad. 

So I´ve been keeping these 2 lines in mind and trying to leave the sadness behind by starting to create a new scrapbook kit in her memory and the first photo I´ve been building it around is the one I restored recently and showed in my last blog post...with one tiny difference which may be obvious only to me.
This project may take some time. It always takes me ages before I´m happy with any part of a kit, or with anything for that matter, though I´m trying hard not to be so ridiculously self-critical. I wish I had someone who´d slap my wrist occasionally and tell me to "leave well alone”. That was always one of my mother´s – many - favourite sayings when I was growing up which I´ll try to take to heart in future. Sometimes less is more and very often things are fine just the way they are.

(Maybe I should have heeded that before I messed with the photo....)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Grey Days And Sepia Photos

Most of September has been warm and sunny without the suffocating humidity of summer and, as usual, the garden has been calling my name and, as always, I´ve been responding. It couldn´t last of course but I made the most of it while the weak autumn sun was shining. The past week though has been mostly rainy with horrific thunder storms with a sound like large pieces of furniture falling downstairs. At the first indication of a storm I always raced around the patio grabbing my beautiful gerbera daisies and putting them in a sheltered place where they couldn´t be battered down by torrential rain. Ditto Dora who´s always reluctant to come indoors in any weather!

So much for outdoor activities. When the weather´s really bad like today I find the best way to forget about it is to do some photo editing.

Some of you may remember that I had to fly to Scotland on Christmas Day to arrange my mother´s funeral. It was a sad occasion made even sadder by the discovery of several photos of my mother which must have lain forgotten at the bottom of a drawer for many years. I brought them home and put them away and it´s only now that I can bear to look at them. There´s one I´d never seen before which I find particularly appealing in which she´s standing in a garden, obviously so aware of the fact that she´s been told not to move that she´s standing at attention like a little soldier. 

As you can see, considering how old it is, the photo is remarkably undamaged.
However, it´s very faded and has very little contrast. I´m no expert at photo restoration and usually have to resort to lots of tedious and frustrating trial and error (mostly error) so I was amazed when I immediately discovered that Auto Tone worked instantly by adding the necessary contrast.
Unfortunately, it also meant that the photo lost some of its vintage sepia colour in the lighter parts like the dress and the sky. Again I was amazed that my very first attempt, namely the use of the sepia photo filter, restored just the touch of the warm colour it needed while toning down the rest of the photo.
After studying it for a while with a critical eye it occurred to me that all those little spotty white dots in the foreground rather distracted the eye from the focal point. I used a combination of the appropriately named spot healing brush and the clone tool to edit them out...and that was it really. What I deliberately didn´t do was try to remove all the blotches and scratches, mainly in the sky, only those which were distracting as I´ve learned from experience that overworking an old photo can deaden it. Anyway, for better or for worse, here´s the final result.
I know that all vintage photos aren´t as easy to improve as this one – you may remember my struggles to edit THIS horror! - but if you´ve never even attempted to edit a photo I hope this will inspire you to at least give it a go.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Joy And Sorrow

August has been a month of joy and sadness, joy because I´ve finally found a doctor who hasn´t just named but is also able to treat the severe daily headaches I´ve suffered since 2012. After numerous consultations with various specialists and an equal number of misdiagnoses my last hope was the pain specialist, Dr Hein, who within minutes diagnosed my condition as “coin headaches” so-called because the area of the pain is the size of a coin. This, he told me was not only a very rare type of headache but was also his speciality. Coincidence? I don´t think so. To cut a long story short, as I´ve always maintained myself, he thinks that the pain originates in my neck and I´ve been prescribed capsules which prevent the headaches from starting. He also gave me a prescription for manual therapy which entails a very gentle form of chiropractic manipulation. So far after 3 sessions my neck has twice made a noise like a twig breaking as misaligned vertebrae have slipped back into place and I can move my head more freely at long last. Even if this treatment doesn´t cure my headaches there are various others which may do so including, as a last resort, Botox injections. For the first time in almost 2 years I´m feeling optimistic which in itself is a cause for joy.

On the other hand, August has in other ways been a cause for sadness. All summer long I´ve seen only about half a dozen butterflies in my garden, by which I mean gaily coloured butterflies and not the destructive cabbage white. This is I think mostly due to a heatwave in April followed closely by a cold spell which killed all the less hardy butterflies which had been fooled into thinking that spring had arrived. During June and July I waited in vain for the usual brightly coloured fluttering around the Buddleia, commonly known as the butterfly bush. Only the cabbage whites appeared and I hardly saw so much as a hover fly or a bumble bee. August was my last hope but again I waited in vain. August is almost over and it´s rained practically every day. Many of my roses were struck by mildew as were the few lupins which had dared to bloom again out of season. Ditto my beautiful gerberas which spend the summer in pots on my patio. During the few sunny spells when I wasn´t busy spraying everything in sight with an anti-fungal mixture, I was lucky enough to manage to take several photos of, if not a butterfly, at least a few of my other favourite insects. This close up of a little hover fly feasting on a sunflower was a lucky shot. To me it gives an insect´s view of a beautiful alien world.
On an optimistic note, a rainy August hereabouts is often followed by a glorious Indian Summer. It certainly was last year though I couldn´t enjoy it when all the time I was just waiting for the painkiller to stop working and the headache to start tormenting me. The fact that it won´t happen this year is in itself a cause for joy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

One-upmanship

Recently a friend gave Herbert a book called Liebe Hunde, which translates as Dear Dogs, but which should really be called Hilariously Funny Dogs though I suppose that doesn´t exactly roll off the tongue. Unsurprisingly, there are several boxers in it as in my opinion the boxer is the king, or in Dora´s case the queen, of canine lunacy. Having watched Dora´s various antics over the years I´d imagined that she´d thought up just about every kind of silliness with which to entertain us...until I opened the above mentioned book and discovered that there was one trick that Dora hadn´t – yet (give her time!) - mastered, namely standing unsupported on her hind legs looking ridiculous. I couldn´t help wondering what Dora would think if she could see these clowns. (The little fellow with the enormous mouth and the ill-fitting turtle neck sweater isn´t a boxer but I couldn´t resist adding his opinion.)


As far as one-upmanship´s concerned I think it´s fair to say that Dora wins paws down.

By the way, no dogs were harmed with nicotine poisoning in the creation of this page. Dora´s impression of the famous cigar-smoking Sir Winston Churchill entails the use of a chewed up stick. Also, though it may look as if she´s devouring a black cat from the tail up, she really is knitting. She just hasn´t decided what it´s going to be yet....

Saturday, July 26, 2014

For The Birds

Of all the happy memories of my recent holiday on the North Sea coast the one that immediately springs to mind has nothing to do with the sun, sea and sand usually associated with the seaside. It´s the memory of the little family of sparrows which was always waiting for me when I came back from the beach. The first indication I had that there was a nest nearby was one morning after breakfast when a very thin and harassed looking female sparrow flew down onto the yard in front of the cottage and began to collect the bread crumbs I´d shaken out of an otherwise empty bag. The fact that she´d eaten none herself was a good indication that she had a family to feed which explained why she looked so pitifully skinny. Now I know you´re not supposed to feed wild birds in the summer and certainly not with bread but I couldn´t resist the impulse although from then on I did replace the bread with oat flakes which were small enough not to choke the babies. Soon the sparrow was joined by her mate, followed by a blackbird and a pair of thrushes. At first Dora watched this to-ing and fro-ing with vague interest and later with sublime indifference, that is until a very large and very clumsy baby thrush fell off the partition behind her and landed on her back...but that´s another story. This one´s about the sparrows. After about a week the foraging female sparrow brought 2 noisy babies down with her which delighted me as it was a sure sign of trust. 

This is part of one of the many videos I made of the little sparrow family. You´ll have to overlook the poor quality. I cut this from the end of a long video at a point where I´d held the camera at arm´s length for so long that I had a fit of the shakes and couldn´t even drink a cup of tea afterwards without spilling it down my front... 
video
As you´ll have noticed, at this point – 3 weeks on - the babies were already able to feed themselves but weren´t above choosing the easy option of harassing their mother with fluttering wings and frantic cheeping. Still, I was pleased to see that she looked a lot sleeker and after a while even flew off and left her babies to fend for themselves.

In memory of that holiday I thought it would be appropriate to offer you a freebie with a bird theme. No, not sparrows but seagulls which are more in keeping with the seaside.
If you´d like this little gift, you´ll find it HERE among the other seaside freebies.

I´m off now to make some more fat balls for several families of coal tits in my garden. Mmm, yummy! 

Have a lovely summer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

An Exuberance Of Lilies

I don´t know what the collective noun for lilies is but for my so-called black - though in reality dark purple – calla I feel it ought to be “an exuberance”. After it´s spent the entire dreary winter dormant and invisible in a sunless sub-basement, as soon as the first tiny green shoots force their way out of the dry earth and I carry it upstairs, water it and place it on a sunny window ledge there´s simply no holding it. It seems as if suddenly overnight its little shoots magically transform themselves into rampant foliage followed rapidly by an amazing number of flower buds which can hardly wait to burst open to greet the sun. No other temporary resident on my patio exudes such vitality.

I´ll be off to Domburg with Dora shortly and I only wish I could take my calla with me because its flowers are already beginning to fade and will probably be entirely gone by the time I return in mid-July and it´ll soon be time to carry it back down to the basement again for its winter hibernation.

Still, I won´t dwell on that but rather on my preparations for my holiday and the anticipation of a few weeks of sun, sea and sand. I know for sure that I´ll get the last two but the Zeeland peninsula juts into the North Sea so it isn´t exactly what you´d call tropical so just wish me lots of the first!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Not A Good Day...To Put It Mildly.

I´ve been writing/telling practically everyone I know who´ll read/listen how I´ve just spent the most frustrating and infuriating morning ever at the doctor´s surgery. Sat for 1 1/2 hours in the waiting room until it was entirely empty but for me. Had no breakfast due to a blood test which didn´t actually get done until 11.30...meanwhile my blood sugar was so low I was about to pass out. When it was eventually done it just had to be Miss Impertinence herself, a sort of medical Wicked Witch Of The West, who did it, complaining all the while about how inconvenient it was for HER at this late hour(!) I could have said that I arrived before 10 but enjoyed sitting in the waiting room so much I told the receptionist just to leave me there for a while, but I couldn´t be bothered and, besides, you don´t argue with an irrational woman with a needle in her hand no matter how irritating she is. Nobody - apart from me and, of course, my doctor - knew I had to have various other tests and nobody thought to just ask the doctor so they weren´t done at all. In fact they wouldn´t even have done the blood test if I hadn´t looked so threatening when I said through clenched teeth that I hadn´t gone without my usual 3 cups of coffee and my croissant just to have a torture device (soon to be explained) strapped onto my arm. I´ll have to get the problem of the undone tests sorted out on Monday at my next appointment. I eventually left the surgery shortly before 12 wearing one of those portable blood pressure torture gadgets which buzzed frantically and grabbed my arm in a vice-like grip every time I had to do something which required not only concentration but full use of both of my arms. Just try overtaking on a fast main road with the feeling you´ve got a noisy boa constrictor wrapped around your arm. Need I say more?

It took 2 cups of coffee and a croissant before I started to feel human again. The frustration started to build up all over again when I decided to change my clothes - having got wet to the skin during the short sprint from my car to my front door – and discovered that Miss Impertinence´s absent-minded colleague had attached the torture device to my bra in such a way that I couldn´t take it off. I do mean my bra by the way and not the torture device! And, no, it didn´t even occur to me to simply snip through a strap with scissors. I paid €60 for that garment only a couple of months ago. I had to wait until the next loud buzz forewarned me that it – the torture device, not the bra! - was about to go through its boa constrictor act again and immediately it let my arm go I quickly unplugged it, untangled my bra from it and plugged it in again. Of course without my underwear to support it the cable is completely out of control and impedes just about every movement I make. What I really needed was a long relaxing soak in a hot bath and that of course was a definite no-no. Miss Impertinence´s colleague had actually found it necessary to tell me not to shower or have a bath which was about the only time I laughed today. No, I tell a lie. The second time was when she told me it had been known to happen.

I was just thinking that the worst of the day was over when I opened an email from a friend in Scotland who told me that my alma mater, the beautiful Mackintosh Glasgow School Of Art, was on fire. That was such a catastrophic piece of news after such a horrible morning that I finally broke down completely. It took a while before I managed to pull myself together, wipe the tears from my face and get on with it. Then there came another email with a story which I found so incredibly touching I just had to share it with someone, you in fact, assuming you´ve got this far in my tale of woe.

In central Glasgow there´s a statue of a fireman and some person unknown has hung a notice around his neck which in immaculate Mackintosh style script simply says “Thank you.” As my friend said, “How lovely and how Glasgow.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Faking It

When it´s raining, which it´s done practically non-stop for the past few days, it´s frustrating when I can´t spend any time in my garden, especially at this time of year when so many plants are beginning to burst into bloom. The next best thing is to look through my photos. I often think that the most interesting part of photography is the – for me inevitable - editing in Photoshop. Well, at least by constantly telling myself this it goes some way to compensating me for the fact that if I´m not a great photographer at least I can usually improve on my under/over exposed blunders. It really is about time that I at least attempted to master the mysteries of HDR but I´m far too spontaneous (or lazy) to be bothered setting up a tripod (assuming I actually had one) and taking 3 almost identical photos by which time my favourite subject, namely Dora, has already stopped doing whatever it was I wanted to capture. Besides, I tell myself that so far I´ve managed pretty well with just one photo and a little help from PS. Usually I find that the auto features do most of the work for me or, failing that, I can always fall back on Curves, my favourite standby for bland pics with little contrast. But sometimes it seems that nothing works and that´s when I start experimenting. Now this is a really good idea for 2 reasons. First of all it distracts me from the pile of unironed laundry toppling over in the room next to my workroom feebly calling my name and secondly it sometimes actually works! However, it has its downside. I get so totally carried away with trial and error that when I eventually discover, usually quite by accident, a technique that transforms a bland photo into a little work of art, it´s taken so long that I´ve totally forgotten exactly what I did to achieve this and I´ve completely exhausted the History function which has given up in despair at about the 30th step. Well, I´ve learned my lesson from that. Nowadays before I start experimenting I give my project a name and start recording it as an action. If it doesn´t work I simply delete it and start a new action. In this particular case I optimistically called my experiment Faux HDR. I say “optimistically” because I really had very little idea how to do this. I´ll draw a veil over the following 3 hours or so and show you what I eventually came up with.

This is a photo, not of my garden but of part of a hotel in Domburg. This hotel is in a style I call Loco Rococo and has had all kinds of highly romantic and whimsical bits added on to it since it was first built which was probably around the time that the Brothers Grimm were writing their fairy tales. My favourite feature is this tower from which I can easily imagine Rapunzel letting down her hair. It´s probably lucky that I always rent a cottage while I´m in Domburg because I know that if I lived in that tower room I´d spend the entire 3 weeks just dreamily gazing out of the windows - and growing my hair. The original unedited photo is flat and boring to say the least and has none of the subject´s magical quality. The second one I personally feel has a definite WOW effect with lots of detail and a wonderfully over the top sunny summer sky, the kind of sky which you could only see if you were magically transported into one of those above-mentioned fairy tales.
(These are all a lot smaller than I´d like them to be but if you´re at all interested you can view a larger size by clicking on them.)
The next photo is one of my favourites of Dora simply because it always makes me laugh. Again the original is bland and boring, something that Dora definitely isn´t. I thought that this one deserved a completely over the top treatment to go with the subject so after my Faux HDR I went several steps further by increasing the saturation, intensifying the contrast with Curves and then adding the Dry Brush artistic filter to produce an almost cartoon effect.


The following is a photo of an absolutely stunningly coloured duck which I took one autumn when we spent a weekend at an apartment complex in Domburg. Just about everything with feathers used to waddle around on our patio every morning begging for breakfast leftovers. This gaudy fellow deserved some special treatment to bring out his magnificent colours. First of all I removed all trace of his wife´s tail feathers and gave him the Faux HDR treatment plus a dash of my favourite Curves for more contrast. In the third version I added some texture and definition using the Poster Edges filter. Gorgeous, isn´t he?
Now to my garden...Last year I laid a “wild flower carpet” next to some rose bushes at the side of the house. I love these sheets of seeds because I never know what will appear. The answer to that is lots of different wild flowers including a spectacularly coloured perennial mallow. The original unedited photo just didn´t do it justice. The Faux HDR and Curves made it far more vibrant and finally the addition of the Smudge Stick filter darkened and intensified the colour.


Last year I had pots of pansies, marigolds, purple verbena and a very pretty daisy-like flower which I still haven´t identified on the wrought iron table on my patio. I went a bit overboard with plants last year and some also had to sit on the matching bench. (No great loss as it´s more decorative than functional. Give me a padded recliner any day.) The original was all that a flower photo shouldn´t be so I´ll hastily skip to the edited version. As usual, after the Faux HDR effect I went several steps further with, yet again, Curves. Then I added the Poster Edges filter which heightened the various textures marvellously, not only of the flowers but also the wrought iron and the wood.

 
Now the ugliest plant in the world spends the summer looking hideous in the far corner of the patio and hibernates in my living room all winter taking up an amazing amount of space which normally it wouldn´t deserve BUT for the fact that for just a few weeks every summer its lethal prickles are adorned by the most spectacular blossoms ever. Imagine a little Christmas cactus and multiply by a thousand...It´s the only one of my experiments that deserves 4 versions. I´ll rush through them quickly. The original is pretty but boring. The second has the usual Faux HDR plus – guess what – right, Curves then Poster Edges. Ditto the third with a slight alteration of the Poster Edges values. In the last one I did almost exactly the same but with the addition of HDR Toning. I don´t care much for the presets so I experimented and this is what I came up with. I think I like it best as the colours are more natural.


Last but not least a far earthier subject and a less than pretty one compared with the flowers. Last year a friend brought us some organic potatoes from a nearby farm and they were so delicious we kept a couple back, buried them in the vegetable plot behind the hut and, out of sight, out of mind, completely forgot about them until Herbert noticed their wilting leaves and dug them up in September. The colour in the original photo is entirely accurate including the colour of the soil adhering to them but boring, boring. The second version (Faux HDR, Curves;Poster Edges) I like a lot because it has an almost 3D look to it and the colours and shapes reflected in the dimpled glass patio table have a nice abstract textured look. The third version is more like a painting than anything else and although no potato was ever that colour it still has the essence of a potato and, again, I really like the reflected colours and textures. For this one I used the usual 2 effects plus another HDR Toning. It took a lot of experimenting but I´m really happy with the result.


The purists among you will no doubt say that most of this, maybe with the exception of the tower though even that´s fairly OTT, has got very little to do with photo editing as such and you´d probably be right. Many of these experiments look nothing like a photo but I think that many of them capture something that the camera – in my hands anyway! - has failed to capture and that is the spirit of the subject be it comical and carefree in the case of Dotty Dora or brightly coloured and totally unassuming in the case of the duck.

Right now. Experiment over. It´s time to read up on real HDR without the cartoon effects. What a bore. I think I´ll tackle that pile of ironing first.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sketching Guinea Pigs?

One rainy day recently I was looking through my photos when I came across this one of my cousin, Brian.
I´m sure it must be a studio photo and for some reason the photographer gave it a slightly faded vintage look. I thought it would make a lovely pencil sketch, in fact the ideal photo to use to test a sketching action I´d been playing with. 

As usual, one thing led to another and I finally ended up with not just one but two actions, one entirely automatic and the other requiring some individual input. One worked best with landscapes and the other with portraits though both required a little tweaking. Again, as usual, I had to go – at least! - one step further. I thought that some of the resultant sketches would look good with a little colour and I found the easiest way to do this was to make a sketch into a brush which would give it the necessary transparency. After that I created a new layer beneath it and used a soft brush with a fairly low opacity to transform it into a water colour. Using this method it was easy to delete any colour which went over the lines of the sketch. In fact it was almost exactly like digitally painting by numbers with the added advantage that you don´t need a steady hand when applying the colour as it can easily be edited. I think it turned out quite well but you can judge for yourself.
I´ll probably be selling these 2 actions in the store sometime, both for PU and CU, but if you´d like to have them as freebies you can....though with some strings attached because what I really need is at least one tester. I´d need you to try the actions out and send me a couple or three of your sketches telling me which version of PS you used and what, if any, editing you did. Anyone not known to me already can find my email address HERE, otherwise just make your request below. By the way, the actions don´t work well on PSCS2 so I don´t need anyone to test them on that version.

Any guinea pigs?

PS No pun intended though some action is definitely involved here! Dotty Dora Dog has made a remarkably quick recovery after her knee op. The stitches came out a while ago and have left hardly a trace and now that her hair is beginning to grow back again it´s as if it had all been a bad dream. As I said in a previous post, she started doing her doggy aerobics incredibly quickly and, if possible, with even more enthusiasm than before. I´ll be lounging in the garden reading when she´ll zing past me like a bumble bee on elastic, throw herself onto her back on the lawn kicking ecstatically then buzz back again to repeat the performance an hour later. All´s well that ends well.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Rolling For Joy

I said recently that when Dora started doing her daily doggy aerobics on the lawn again I´d know that all was right with her world. No sooner said than done. On Sunday, just 4 days after her operation, to prove to me that she was feeling well and happy she trotted purposefully towards the lawn as if she had an urgent appointment and then threw herself down and started rolling ecstatically among the daisies.
By this time her Santa trousers had already been reduced to just half a leg after they´d started sliding down spewing cotton wool at every step and gathering in folds around her thigh. Herbert cut part of them off and hoped that the next ones would remain intact.

Yesterday when he took her back to have her bandage changed the vet was astonished by the fact that she was already walking on all 4 legs. Herbert told him that she only uses 3 legs when she runs. The very thought of any dog actually running 5 days after such a serious op astonished him even more. When he examined the wound on Dora´s knee he said he´d never known a dog to heal so quickly and that she was quite remarkable. Well, that doesn´t surprise us as we´ve always known that Dora was remarkable.
 
When Herbert brought her home I was amused to see that her disreputable looking Santa trousers had been replaced by something that looks very like the Scottish Saltire.
After another couple of aerobic sessions that pristine white will be dingy grey but I won´t mind her abusing my national flag in such a good cause. I´m just so relieved that she´s already back to her old happy self.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Home Again

Dora got back home in the late afternoon yesterday looking dazed and confused but struggling gamely to walk without help. It was a warm day and I´d already laid out her rug on her favourite spot on the path to the garden and she headed straight for it and lay down. As you can see from the photo she looked as if she´d borrowed half of Santa´s trousers and I didn´t know whether to laugh or cry.
She had that look on her face which means she feels hard done by and she knows exactly who to blame for it. It´s always directed at me, never at Herbert, and it always makes me feel guilty. Of course that could just mean indignation at having a camera shoved in her face when she feels she looks slightly ridiculous and can´t do anything about it. We let her lie outside for a while so that she´d know her beloved garden was still there and then Herbert carried her indoors where she stretched out and instantly fell asleep. When I got up early this morning she was lying in front of the bedroom door and started wagging her tail as soon as she saw me so at least I knew she wasn´t feeling as bad as I´d feared and had also forgiven me. Dora´s never been one to hold grudges. When I went into the kitchen I saw that at some time after I´d gone to bed she´d eaten her dinner and that made me really happy. Dora´s not a greedy dog and doesn´t eat if she´s feeling unwell so that was a good sign.
She´ll have to keep Santa´s trousers on for the next 6 weeks and have the bandage changed every second day then her leg will be X rayed by which time she´ll hopefully be back to her old self. I think I´ll only be convinced of that when she starts doing her daily doggy aerobics on the lawn. Then I´ll know that all´s right with her world again.
Get well soon, Dora.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wishing Dora Well

Last month our vet said that the limp which Dora had was caused not only by arthritis but by a damaged tendon in one of her hind legs which might require surgery. He made an appointment at a veterinary clinic for her to be X rayed. At the clinic Herbert was advised to leave her there and they´d phone late in the evening once the sedation had worn off so he was surprised when they contacted him only a few hours later and said he could collect her. Apparently she had been so calm and well behaved that sedation hadn´t been necessary in order for her leg to be X rayed. However, that was the only good news. Apparently, while examining Dora the vet had discovered a lump on one of her front paws and had taken a tissue sample to send to the laboratory because she was certain that it was a malignant tumour. An ultrasound scan had not shown any traces of cancer in her internal organs but the cells might still be too small to be apparent. Only the results of the biopsy would tell whether the cancer was still only localised or was at a stage where it had already metastasised. The vet said that in any case the least which would have to be done was a partial amputation of Dora´s paw and asked Herbert if he wanted to leave her at the clinic for immediate surgery. Herbert, in a state of shock, said he´d rather wait for the lab results. A week went by with no word from the clinic. After that Herbert phoned every day for another week and then contacted our own vet who phoned both the clinic and the lab only to discover that there was no trace of either the tissue sample or the report. I won´t describe how we felt after 2 weeks of constant anxiety. If you´ve ever had a beloved pet you´ll know without being told. The vet immediately took another sample himself and sent it off to the lab with instructions that it should be given priority. When he eventually phoned with the results we were both so stunned we could hardly believe it. The "cancerous tumour" was in fact a simple case of inflammation with not a trace of malignancy. The relief was indescribable.


As for the surgery, in a strange kind of way our 3 weeks of anxiety have paid off. Our vet had originally intended to send Dora to the veterinary clinic in nearby Mönchen Gladbach because he has great respect for the expertise of one of the surgeons there. Unfortunately, the surgeon in question was at the time attending further educational lectures in Washington. By the time the cancer scare was over he had already returned from the USA and we were lucky enough to get an appointment with him. I can´t tell you how relieved we were to hear that Dora would be in such good hands as we know from experience that vets who train in the USA are the best in the world - but that´s another story.

Dora´s surgery is taking place as I write. Herbert has just returned from the clinic with a very favourable impression of the surgeon. What particularly impressed me about the procedure is the fact that while he was explaining exactly what the surgery entailed, Dora was gradually falling asleep after having had a sedative so that she wouldn´t experience the trauma of being parted from Herbert and led away by a stranger. The surgery consists of the bone on Dora´s “knee” being split and a metal wedge inserted. This will strengthen her leg and take the place of the damaged tendon. 

We are naturally a little anxious about her but confident that this is all for the best and that very soon Dora will again be doing all the mad things that Dora does best such as... 

...and later on while we´re on holiday in Domburg..

...and, of course, her very best trick...
Of course the best news of all is that she´ll be doing all this with all 4 paws intact!

I´m sure you´ll all join me in wishing Dora well and tomorrow I´ll add a PS to this to let you know how she is after her surgery.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Easter Bunny Freebie

I´d like to give you this little gift early because bunnies aren´t just for Easter. In my Easter Bunny Freebie you´ll find bunnies for many other occasions too. There are 9 sets of the little rascals including a bunny in love for Valentine´s Day, a gardening bunny digging up – guess what - right, carrots of course. There´s a cute little ballerina bunny and a bunny snuggled up in bed with his teddy bear, sorry, I mean his stuffed bunny and, oh what´s the point of describing what you can see for yourself.

If you´d like to have these bunnies in good time for your Easter layouts or cards, you can catch them HERE, that is if you can run faster than the average bunny...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Changing Rooms

Recently my cousin Neville emailed me asking if I could make a picture for his wife Margaret from the header on my blog. As some of you may know, the elegant lady sitting on the couch is Neville´s mother, my Aunt Lucas. I have many photos of her, mostly studio portraits from the 1930s in which she´s immaculately groomed and stylishly dressed. You´re probably thinking that the photo on the above header is one of them. Not at all!
 
As you can see, the photo was actually just a snapshot. According to the writing on the back, it was taken in March 1932 in the small Scottish town of Balloch on – to quote our national poet, Robert Burns - “the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond” - and shows that Lucas didn´t only dress in her best for her many studio photos but also for a day trip to the country. You could say that she looks just as immaculate sitting on a rock as sitting on the sofa in my header.

Anyway, that´s just the history of the photo. Back to Margaret´s request...I was wondering how I could possibly transform my blog header into a picture for her to frame when I suddenly remembered that I already had one. Years ago long before I started this blog I´d created a series of fantasy rooms one of which had been the inspiration for my header. I dug around in my folders and finally unearthed it.
It included the table, the vase of roses, the oval picture and Lucas seated on the sofa which are all in the header too. And if you look directly to your left, you´ll even see the china ornament which I´d placed on the table. I was tremendously relieved to think I´d found the perfect picture and wouldn´t have to start from scratch. That is until Neville sent me a photo of the frame...
 ...and I realised with dismay that 30.5 cm x 30.5 cm into 19 cm x 24 cm won´t go. I tried cutting the image down to size but that resulted in chopping the large oval picture on the wall right down the middle. It looked as if I might have to start from scratch after all. Then I had a thought that sent me scurrying back to the folder where I´d found the jpg and there, amazingly, was the original layout in psd format with all its layers intact! With some resizing and a little manipulation I finally ended up with this.
I was about to send it off when the thought occurred to me that since Margaret and Neville live in far distant South Africa the chances are I´d never get to see my work framed and hanging on the wall. On the other hand, since I´d already extracted the frame, there was no reason why I couldn´t have a preview of the finished picture on my computer screen.
Looking from the frame to the picture and back again I was just thinking that Margaret couldn´t have chosen a more beautiful frame when an idea occurred to me that made me smile. 
 
Maybe I should have called this post “Spot The Difference”.
Can you?
Will Margaret...
...and which one will she choose?