26 May 2009

Illustration Friday - Cracked

Here's my submission for this week's theme of 'cracked'. This 'cracked pots' collage was made from paper sprayed with water and brushed with watercolours which mingled on the surface. I then overlaid the paper with cling wrap and left this overnight to dry, which resulted in the cracked texture. I cut out little pot shapes and stuck these onto Japanese papers, then applied the title and tweaked the image a little digitally to try to find the original colours! The ultramarines after scanning seemed rather bright compared with the original and despite much fiddling, I still can't reproduce the same depth of colour here :(

25 May 2009

Trinkets from Oman. Part I

I promised a while back to show some pieces of old silver I collected when I lived in Muscat, in the Sultanate of Oman. This is the first installment in a series of 3 posts about these trinkets and the beautiful land they were crafted in.

The late 1980's was such a good time to be in Oman as there were still some lovely silver pieces to be found. Tourism was in its infancy and Oman was still a well kept secret! Things are rather different today - Omani women prefer fine gold jewllery and the traditional silversmith's workshop is a thing of the past. Much of the silver jewellery now on sale in the souks has actually entered the country from Yemen and is of inferior quality.

Omani jewellery had remained almost unchanged for many centuries and prior to the 1970's old pieces were always melted down to make new ones incorporating the same designs, quality of silver and methods of workmanship. Oil brought prosperity to Oman in the early 1970's and with it the affordability of gold. Traditional silver designs began to incorporate gold leaf or shapes hammered onto silver pieces but soon, those who could afford it, not only requested the addition of gold leaf or gold wash to their existing pieces, but also wanted items made in solid gold. The demise of the silversmith then began in earnest. Expatriates and visitors began to collect Omani silver jewellery and the disappearance of older pieces of Omani silver was also hastened by the dramatic rise in the price of silver on the world market. Women rushed to trade in their old fashioned silver and replace it with modern gold jewellelry. Some pieces were melted down and lost forever, though fortunately, in places, some women have kept their family silver as an heirloom and a few individuals have made comprehensive collections of silver, thus ensuring the preservation of at least some of Oman's silver heritage.

My collection is small, but beautiful and I love each individual piece! I have fond memories of the fun my friends and I had exploring tiny backstreet shops in the souks and rummaging around in tatty cardboard boxes and old baskets of junk for a piece of treasure! When one was unearthed it was usually pretty filthy, but it was all part of the fun to take it home to be lovingly restored to its former glory. Often such pieces would need a dunking in very hot water with a little detergent added and then a gentle workover with a toothbrush to remove years of ingrained dirt, before finally being buffed with a cloth and silver polish to reveal a handsome prize.

Silversmiths in Oman created jewellery with melted down silver coins such as the silver rupee and the Maria Theresa dollar (or thaler). Beautiful pieces with a high silver content were skillfully crafted. The sizeable hollow anklet pictured above is from Northern Oman and would have been worn by a married woman. In the Muscat area in particular, these large anklets were worn especially at weddings, as part of the bride's finery.

A matching pair of engraved bangles known as hagula, which are broad and hollow at the back, with a thinner and broader front section.

Two more bracelets. The spiky one is bossed and was known as a thorn bracelet. Some believe that these were originally fertility bracelets, with the bosses representing breasts. The other is an incised bracelet, probably worn by children, both boys and girls. It is likely that this was also worn as an anklet.

Here are some women's finger rings and babies' anklets or bracelets with little tinkling bells. Most women would have owned 10 basic rings, five pairs with a distinctive shape and style of ring being worn on each finger. I don't have a full set of these but those pictured here are (I think) as follows: the two outer rings with square decoration would have been worn on the third finger, while the ring with the red glass with Islamic star and crescent moon incised on the surface was worn on the 4th finger. The little ring with a pyramid of small, granulated silvers balls was worn on the 5th finger.

This decorative, delicate pendant is also very useful, as hanging from it are everyday implements - ear, nose and tooth picks and a little round container, possibly a perfume pot. The pendant rests on a traditional weaving of goat hair from Al Wusta in Central Oman.

This detailed etching of Omani jewellery is by my very talented artist friend, Judy Roberts. Do visit Judy's website where you can view her beautiful art. Judy is based in Dubai, which is where I first met her on one of her etching courses in the 1990's. She continues to etch beautifully, but I wasn't much good and never took it further! Nevertheless, we've been great pals ever since!

This is another lovely work by Judy entitled 'Silver and Tile'. A lot of Judy's work has an arabian theme. I love her beautiful limited edition prints . Judy is also well known for her detailed wildlife drawings and paintings - her butterfly prints are exquisite.

If you ever have the chance to travel to the Sultanate of Oman you will be enchanted by this magical land. I've scanned a few old pics (sorry, not the best quality!) to give you glimpse of this beautiful country - although the country has progressed in the past 20 years the spectacular landscape is little changed.

Click here to view larger

From the towering, rugged mountains and verdant coastal plains to the undulating splendour of the desert and barren interior plateaux, Oman's landscape is breathtaking.

Lush green oases are perfect places to explore. Swimming in the clear water pools or wadi bashing (driving along the dry river beds) in a 4x4 was such fun!

The undisturbed coastline is magnificent and the deep blue oceans are full of marine life - a diver's paradise. We used to camp out under the stars on this beach at Tiwi!

History is all around you in Oman - ancient forts and castles have been carefully preserved.

The Omani people are charming and their country is exhilarating! This is a shot of the Nizwa Goat Market which is still held every Friday in this old town. I had an SLR camera in those days and hadn't a clue how to use it out of automatic mode!! I'd love to go back with a digital camera - the photographic opportunities are no doubt still amazing!

To be continued.......

24 May 2009

Pretty in Pink Edited

I made another mosaic from photos of my garden. This is how it was a few weeks back when all the orchids were blooming - wonderful! Sadly both orchids and bougainvillea are taking a blooming break at the moment, so the garden isn't as colourful :(

I then decided that the 1st mosaic was an overload on the senses so I swapped the pics around, cut a few out and I think I prefer this smaller version - what about you?

Flowers really do intoxicate me. ~Vita Sackville-West

22 May 2009

Breast Cancer and Mammograms

Click on article to enlarge print

Could this device to detect cancer cells at an early stage, invented by a Malaysian Doctor, be the end to the barbaric, painful clamping we women have to endure each time we undergo a mammogram? This article appeared in a Malaysian newspaper yesterday and I thought it would interest many of you ladies out there. Clinical trials are about to start in Britain and China - keep everything crossed that they are successful!

19 May 2009

Colours in my garden

I thought I might try my hand at making some mosaics from photos of my garden. Here's a colour themed one with red, green and white. It's quite fun to do - I've used a programme called Mosaic Maker (funnily enough!) by Big Huge Labs, but did find it a bit frustrating as you can't easily move the pics around to get them where you want.
I'll try another when I have a few hours to spare!! P.S. It's possible to see close ups by clicking on the links at my
Flickr site.

Illustration Friday - Contagious

Here's my submission for this week's Illustration Friday theme - Contagious. A quick pen and coloured pencil sketch of some unhappy pooches - looks like a dalmation's spots are contagious now!

I was too late for last week's 'Parade', but thought I'd post it here, anyway. My version is a red carpet parade collage.

And last, but definitely not least, I was honoured to receive this award beautifully painted by the lovely Laurel of Studio Lolo. Thank you so much and apologies for the delay in posting this Laurel! If anyone's blog is uplifting it is definitely Laurel's - be sure to visit - it's a delight to read and there is always wonderful art and photography to enjoy.

10 May 2009

Tulips from Amsterdam for Mother's Day

For the past 11 years KLM has flown in tulips from Holland in time for Mother's Day here in Malaysia. Each year the flowers are sold in aid of various charities and yesterday, co-sponsored by RABO Bank, the tulips arrived and were sold to raise funds for the Children's Cancer Fund. This non-profitable fund is run by a team of dedicated volunteers together with the staff of the University of Malaysia Medical Centre Paediatric Oncology Unit.

These are some of the stunning parrot tulips that were on sale and now adorn my studio.

9 May 2009

Tea Party!

I love Chinese tea and tea sets! Here's a lovely Malaysian hand crafted set . I love the deep blue glaze inside the cups and the textures on the tray which has been imprinted with leaves.

In contrast, here is a delicate little blue and white porcelain Gaiwan or 'Chong' (lidded bowl) and pitcher set from Hong Kong.

I learnt a little about the art of making Chinese tea when I lived in Hong Kong. Here are some basic steps to making a good cup.

First you must choose your tea! Green, white, yellow, red, black, or oolong; the variety is enormous!

I've chosen a Jasmine Green Tea and have heated the water - filtered is best. Having first warmed the tea ware, I measure out a scoop of tea leaves and place these gently into the pot with bamboo tea tools. The leaves need space to unfurl so don't pack too tightly; the pot should be about one fifth full.

Now water is poured onto the leaves - the temperature of the water will depend on the type of tea. This is below boiling point - as a general rule use a lower temperature for greener, smaller leaf tea and a higher temperature for browner, tightly rolled tea.

Now, using the lid, I'll pour away the first water. This will remove the bitter taste.

Next I refresh the leaves with more hot water and allow to steep a little - not too long as the tea will be astringent and bitter. You can adjust the timing or use less tea to suit your taste. The tea is transferred to the pitcher, again using the lid to retain the leaves in the pot, so that they can be re-steeped for a second and third brew.

Serve the tea in small cups, sip and enjoy!

Here is a tea pot bought many years ago from the Ming Village factory in Singapore. It's a replica of a piece from the Chinese Ming or Qing dynasty (not sure which) and it has a beautiful, hand painted blue and white phoenix design. Sadly its little matching tea cups have all been all broken over the years by our various not-so-agile cats!

A glass pot is ideal for this lovely Flowering Fairy tea. These are the little balls shown above which bloom when hot water is added!

Another little cup and a pretty
black and white tea pot.

As a change from Chinese Tea I like to make my own infusions with a handful of chopped fresh mint or some grated ginger (good for sore throats).

Fragrant Lemongrass also makes a delicious infusion which can be sipped hot or cold. Here is the recipe:

Take 2 or 3 Lemongrass stalks, remove the tough outer layers and slice into small pieces. Place in a saucepan with a kaffir lime leaf (fresh or dried) and 500 mls of water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Allow to stand for a further 5 minutes, strain the liquid and either serve hot, or allow to cool first, before chilling and serving as a lovely refreshing drink.



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