Saturday, 27 April 2013

SwiftWatch 2013

Every year I keep an eye out for the first returning swift of the season and today was the day for their return!!

UPDATE - and that was the only swift I saw until this weekend!  I don't know where the others had got to and I was getting a bit concerned, thinking they'd all taken a wrong turning somewhere and had got lost but, no, finally, FINALLY, everybody else arrived yesterday, and I can now hear them all squealing with delight as they meet up with old friends circling high above my house.  Bliss!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Achievement unlocked - half century attained!

 **Warning - gratuitous overuse of the word 'lovely' in the following post.  Apologies in advance**

Yesterday was eventful at Jones Towers.

I turned 50.  I'm not entirely sure how it's happened but I don't seem to have done anything more than just staying alive for the requisite number of years.  And there's been at least one occasion when that might not have happened.  But here I am, made it to 50 years and one day.

I don't feel 50 at all, more like 25.  And, rather gratifyingly, there was more than one Facebook comment yesterday expressing surprise that I'm as old as I am, which was rather lovely and good for the self-esteem.

A friend asked me how it felt to have reached half-a-hundred years old - I told her I wasn't sure yet but the beautiful weather has helped a lot and, frankly, being 50 is better than the alternative.  Sadly I know a few too many people who didn't manage to make it this far, through illness or stupidity, so, on the whole, I'm really quite pleased to just keep buggering on.

It was a quiet birthday - about a year ago I was pondering whether to try and have a 50th birthday party, but then realised (and this isn't a self-pitying whine, I'm just stating a fact) that I don't really have that many friends and most of my relations live a long way away and just wouldn't be able to afford hotel accommodation, etc., so there was no point in having a bash.  Which, actually, I'm okay about, because I would have only stressed about it to an enormous degree and, consequently, not enjoyed it much!

Yesterday was, of course, a work day which meant that The Lovely Husband was out at meetings all day, so I would have to entertain myself.  My mother rang to sing 'happy birthday' down the phone at me, which was lovely - she and my step-dad are off to visit relatives in Holland so I won't be seeing her until the beginning of May when she'll give me the incinerator that she got for my birthday!

Yep, that's right - one of those shiny galvanised metal dustbins with a small chimney on the top.  Absolutely awesome for burning garden prunings in.  The one she bought me for my birthday several years ago (do you detect a theme here?) has now practically rusted into dust and I really couldn't think of anything that I absolutely needed when she asked, apart from a new one of those, so that's what I'm getting!

She did, though, also get me a surprise orchid which she gave to me last week.  I collect orchids as I seem to be able to keep them alive quite successfully by pretty much ignoring them - always useful in a plant, I find.  I'm now restricting myself to only getting unusual colour combinations because I've got white ones and pink ones and pale purpley ones and scented ones, but she found a very pretty pink and green striped one that I found a purple glass orchid jar to put in, and it's now happily with the others on my windowsill:



I had a few birthday cards in the post, my very favourite of which came from The Lovely Husband:


And, as I mentioned, lots of lovely birthday wishes from Facebook friends and relations, which made me feel very smiley.

As it's a 'big' birthday, this means a 'big' birthday present from my beloved.  For my last big birthday, 10 years ago now,  I got the most stunning 5-stone diamond ring.  So, for this one, and knowing my love of sparkly bling and that diamonds are always the answer when asked 'what do you want for your birthday?', my fabulous man got me a pair of diamond solitaire stud earrings, totalling 1 carat (i.e., half a carat each).  *screams*  I KNOW!!!!  How utterly, gobsmackingly wonderful is that?

For the last 10 years or so I've been wearing a pair of Diamonique (i.e., good quality cubic zirconia) stud earrings but now I've got the real thing!  Plus this means that when the Zombie Apocalypse arrives and the Petrol Wars cause civilisation to fail, I've now got portable wealth that can come with us when we flee to safety!  Hooray!

I've also bought myself a Fuggler.  Yes, that's right, a psychotic, flick-knife wielding 'teddy bear' with fake human teeth.  Because who could resist this face - I know I can't:

Should you decide you can't live without your very own Fuggler, then hurry on over to Mrs McGettrick's Fuggler Emporium on Etsy, and adopt one of your very own!  I first saw the Fugglers on the intertubes about a year ago and they touched my blackened, stoney heart so much that I decided I would order one for my 50th, and so it has come to pass.  I'll show you pictures when he arrives.

Birthdays also mean a good meal out and we decided to try somewhere we've not been before - a rather fancy Italian restaurant in Godalming called La Luna.  We're not massive fans of your usual Italian food - far too much emphasis on tomatoes, pasta and pizza for our liking - but we're aware that there is good Italian food out there, you just have to find it.  And La Luna has the reputation of being a really good restaurant, if a little pricey, but, hey, you don't turn 50 every day!

I'm going to do a Katyboo here and give you a restaurant review!

We were surprised to find the place about three-quarters full, which isn't bad for a Tuesday evening, when we got there for 7.30pm.  Nice interior, dark wood floor and tables, mushroom coloured walls, lighting not too bright.  Proper Italian waiters too.  Only slightly odd touch was that the music being played was Nirvana!  But the menu was fantastic.

This is the sort of proper Italian restaurant where it's naturally expected that you will eat four courses - Antipasti (starters), Primi (pasta), Secondi (main), and Dolci (puds).  Which is exactly what we did as it would've been rude not to.

We had a couple of gin and tonics to start off with.  Then for antipasti I had the Calamari Fritti (squid rings in tempura batter) which came with a little pot of parsley pesto and mayonnaise for dipping.  It was good - the calamari rings, although quite chunky, weren't at all chewy.  TLH had beer battered zucchine with a tomato guazzetto dip - this was long thin pieces of courgette which had been battered and deep fried, with an utterly delicious tomato and basil dipping sauce.  I have to say his dip had more flavour than mine, but as we tend to eat communally and share everything, we each got to enjoy both dishes.

For our Primi course, we ordered small dishes of pasta - I had the orecchiette (ear-shaped!) pasta with pancetta, broccoli, chilli & garlic.  It was ok but the flavours could have been a bit more robust, I think.  Beautifully cooked and the pasta was properly al dente.  TLH had the Neapolitan spaghetti with king prawn, courgette, and basil pesto - his tasted quite basil-y to me, which isn't a bad thing at all, and he said his king prawns were yummy.

For Secondi, I ordered the Pan fried halibut supreme, with capers & Amalfi lemon sauce and steamed samphire but they didn't have halibut that day, it was Turbot instead, which was fine by me.  TLH had the South Downs rump of lamb, minted broad bean & courgette, with Bagna cauda (Piedmontese hot dip sauce).  The lamb was cooked using the sous vide method which involves putting the meat into an airtight vacuum sealed plastic bag and cooking it in a hot water bath for many hours in order to retain as much taste as possible.  It did look amazing - lean and slightly pink in the middle, soft and easy to cut.  The Bagna Cauda sauce was a belter too.  My fish was very nice but, again, I think I somehow managed to order a dish with subtle flavours rather than something a bit more gutsy.  We ordered a side dish of steamed spinach with chilli and garlic (no spuds for us at the moment) which was, frankly, the best spinach I've ever eaten (and we always order it if it's on the menu).

Finally, for the Dolci course, I had 3 scoops of homemade Italian sorbet; one each of lemon, raspberry and pear.  This was utterly orgasmic.  Strong, zingy flavours and the pear sorbet was totally to die for.  TLH had the Madagascan Vanilla Panna Cotta, with rhubarb compote which he also thought was incredibly good.

We were very good and only had one bottle of red to accompany the lot, and didn't bother with coffee because, well, TLH doesn't like Italian coffee very much and I don't tend to drink very much coffee anyway.

We were right royally stuffed and agreed it had been a very good meal indeed, and I expect we'll be back.

Then, to top it all off nicely, I got home to find that The Guardian had liked a photo I'd sent in to them in response to an assignment they'd issued to the general public so much that they wanted to publish it in a picture gallery on the front page of their online edition!  Bloody hell!  The link to the picture gallery is here and my photo is number 9, of a woodland waterfall and a pond.  It's credited to Boudicca23 in the text underneath and Kaz Jones in the bottom right - they're both me!!

And with that, we went to bed, having had no room left for the cake I'd bought earlier in the day (and which we won't now be touching until Thursday as we're both on the 5:2 Fast Diet - and doing very well - and today is a Fast day).

It was a really lovely day!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Purple Cosmos Painting

I put the unsatisfactory orange flower painting away in my portfolio and started looking for a new photo.  I found a really rather lovely photo taken in Vietnam of a purpley-pink Cosmos flower on Flickr.  I can't link to it directly from this blog because the photographer has disallowed it, but I managed to print off a copy of it to work from, and this is it (click on the pictures to embiggen):

April 2013 - Purple Flower (work in progress)

It's a little different from my previous pictures in that the focal point flower is much larger, and to the forefront of the image.  I chose it because it's a nice, simple, uncomplicated shape, and the background is a better colour choice than the orange flower one.

With all my paintings, I start by using masking tape to mask off a border on an A4 sized piece of acrylic paper.

I then looked carefully at the original photo and picked on a mid olive green shade as a suitable mid tone to start with.  A mid tone is the best to use because you then add lighter and darker tones afterwards.

I painted over the whole of the masked off sheet with this olive green wash, let it dry then drew the outline of the flower:


I then started working on the background, scumble glazing (i.e., dry brush technique) various shades of green.  You can see where I've been testing colours on the white border of the original photo - there are nine blobs there, and I will have used about three-quarters of them in my painting at this point.  But it doesn't look like there are six different shades of green in the painting, does it?  That's what I mean about the amount of colour mixing and effort that goes into getting the background right!


So this is it a bit further on, with more colours added, just to the background:

April 2013 - Purple Flower (work in progress)

I'm now more or less happy with the background, so it's time to concentrate on the flower.  In order that the green doesn't show through, I decided to paint the flower out completely white (which is actually quite effective as it is!):

April 2013 - Purple Flower (work in progress)

April 2013 - Purple Flower (work in progress)

Now it's just a question of painting in the petals.  Again, I started with a pretty pale mid-tone shade of pink and then added darker and lighter shades:

April 2013 - Purple Flower (work in progress)

April 2013 - Purple Flower (work in progress)

Then added the central bit where all the stamens and pollen are, etc., added darker shading where necessary, added white highlights and finally went round the edges of the petals with the thinnest black lining known to humanity:

Purple flower painting finished

And this is the final version, with the masking tape removed and the edges tidied up:

Purple flower painting finished

And I'm thrilled with it!  This one turned out way better than I could have hoped for and definitely makes up for the slight disappointment of the orange flower painting.

The next painting I'm thinking about is of a tulip but I may change my mind so watch this space!!

Orange Flower Painting

Bit of a catch up.

My last post had a picture at the end of it of an orange flower against an out-of-focus background:

Bokeh Orange Flower

I started the painting about a week after finishing the white star flower one.  And I'm not sure that I like the finished result all that much.  But, hey, I'm getting ahead of myself a bit - I've a series of photos to show you how the picture progressed.  As I've said before, in these paintings that I'm currently doing, the background takes far longer to do than the focal point, the flower.  There are many, many different colours layered over each other, often physically ground into the acrylic paper in order to give an airbrushed effect.  I chose this particular photograph as I thought the colours were bright and the background kind of interesting.

Anyway, here's the progress:

Orange flower painting

Orange flower painting

Orange flower painting

Orange flower painting

Orange flower painting

And finally, with the masking tape removed and edges touched up:

Orange flower painting

I can't quite put my finger on what's not quite right with this painting.  It's the colours, I think.  The background colours are too bright and the orange flower doesn't 'pop' enough.  Also, in the photo, the flower is practically neon orange and I just couldn't quite bring myself to paint it as bright as, I think now, it should have been.

I tried photographing it against a different background but it just seems a bit 'flat' to me -


Never mind - it's all good practice.  It just means this is definitely one I'll be putting in the Cranleigh Art and Crafts Society's October exhibition in the hope that someone loves it more than I do!