potter’s case

There’s a wonderful pottery studio deep in the highlands, down a winding road that leads through the woods. I’ve begun throwing pots on a wheel there every week. Clustering round the wood stove, sharing cups of tea with some lovely potters, is very good too. I’ve so craved this work since I studied in England. I want it to be a permanent, regular practice. So, I pulled out my beloved old travel case, battered and stained from years of art materials at school, and fixed it up as a pottery toolbox for my devotions to clay.

potter's case

Clay tools are such appealing things, and a vintage suitcase is just the thing to organise them. There’s something about claiming a spot for tools and materials that is so affirming of any endeavour. The writing desk makes the writer, and so on. I think so. Like hanging a musical instrument on the wall, it is a declaration of commitment.

potter's case

I find that I am better at keeping a thing tidy, and using it often, if I think it is beautiful. With a bit of leftover milk paint, I stained the fabric lining from a loud red to a quiet grey. No doubt it will all be pleasingly clay-spattered soon enough. The make-up mirror puts me in mind of train journeys and face powder. Perfect for checking one’s reflection after a muddy day on the wheel.

potter's case

I’ve tucked my plaster sprigs and stamps into a pocket of the new potter’s case, and a linen apron, given to me by a lovely English potter, folds neatly on top.

potter's case

Quite important to leave space for tea, and for tins filled with snacks! Look out for images of my ceramic work soon, here, on instagram and other friendly places – I’ll be stocking my own, new studio shop.

kite flying

To celebrate our younger child’s birthday, we took her into the city to choose a strong and pretty kite, then wandered along a lane together to the best kite-flying park. The rest of the world can be quite still, yet this trusty spot will bluster enough to launch your kite, if anything is bound to.

kite-flying

Simple, joyful stuff. Physics, magic, as you like it.

flying kites

I’d have liked to have constructed a kite with my little girl, perhaps out of bamboo and silk as the first ones were in China, over 2800 years ago! But traditional games are such a pleasure, even if you don’t make the piece yourself.

kite flying

In fact, I once made a kite in art school, and flew it in this very spot. I built a large, transparent kite, and printed it with a life-sized image of me on it, as if I were flying. After three failed kite flying attempts and much consultation with our local, famous, 80-year old stunt-kitesman, who would talk to me about my kite/performance piece whilst flying three kites at once, I finally flew my kite/myself, high in the air. Pure joy! Where have those images gone? Hmm. The piece later informed my street banners, which lined Vancouver’s streets for the millennium.

Kiting has a long and varied history across the world:

The kite was said to be the invention of the famous 5th century BC Chinese philosophers Mozi and Lu Ban. By at least 549 AD paper kites were being flown, as it was recorded in that year a paper kite was used as a message for a rescue mission. Ancient and medieval Chinese sources list other uses of kites for measuring distances, testing the wind, lifting men, signaling, and communication for military operations. The earliest known Chinese kites were flat (not bowed) and often rectangular. Later, tailless kites incorporated a stabilizing bowline. Kites were decorated with mythological motifs and legendary figures; some were fitted with strings and whistles to make musical sounds while flying.

After its introduction into India, the kite further evolved into the fighter kite known as the patang in India where thousands are flown every year on festivals such as Makar Sankranti.
Kites were known throughout Polynesia, as far as New Zealand, with the assumption being that the knowledge diffused from China along with the people. Anthropomorphic kites made from cloth and wood were used in religious ceremonies to send prayers to the gods. Polynesian kite traditions are used by anthropologists get an idea of early “primitive” Asian traditions that are believed to have at one time existed in Asia.

Kites were late to arrive in Europe, although windsock-like banners were known and used by the Romans. Stories of kites were first brought to Europe by Marco Polo towards the end of the 13th century, and kites were brought back by sailors from Japan and Malaysia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Although they were initially regarded as mere curiosities, by the 18th and 19th centuries kites were being used as vehicles for scientific research.
In 1750, Benjamin Franklin published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm. It is not known whether Franklin ever performed his experiment, but on May 10, 1752, Thomas-Francois Dalibard of France conducted a similar experiment (using a 40-foot (12 m) iron rod instead of a kite) and extracted electrical sparks from a cloud.

Kites were also instrumental in the research and development of the Wright brothers when building the first airplane in the late 1800s. Over the next 70 years, many new kite designs were developed, and often patented. These included Eddy’s tail-less diamond kite, the tetrahedral kite, the flexible kite, the sled kite, and the parafoil kite, which helped to develop the modern hang-gliders. In fact, the period from 1860 to about 1910 became the “golden age of kiting”. Kites started to be used for scientific purposes, especially in meteorology, aeronautics, wireless communications and photography; many different designs of man-lifting kite were developed as well as power kites.

In other words, pure joy.

pen & ink

Until a dozen years ago I wrote a lot of letters by hand. Even now I handwrite daily, scribbling in little writing books and sketchbooks with my beloved fountain pen. This autumn we spent a day in a 1920’s schoolhouse in the village museum, and I watched the children learn to write with nib pens dipped in ink. I came away determined to revisit the old fashioned pen & ink.

pen & ink

Like so many technologies, writing using a metal nib with a reservoir dipped in ink has progressed rapidly from exciting innovation through to common practice, finally retiring as an art form. Like stone lithography, turning wood on a pole-lathe, throwing pots on the wheel, composing on a typewriter, hand-stitched books and hand-spun wool, I am ever so fond of the obsolete art form.
calligraphy practice
No surprise then, that calligraphy took my heart. Practice, practice, when to dip the pen, touch it to the edge of the bottle to release excess ink, how to hold it, the pressure, the angle;
pen & ink & blotter
Remembering to clean the nib on a scrap bit of cloth, when life interrupts. I’ve used pen & ink as a drawing tool, but as a writing tool I am enraptured with it.
calligraphy with pen & ink
What elation. No, I will not cook dinner! No! I will not sweep the floor! I only want to write and write and write. The best sorts of materials result in beauty even in drips and splashes, scratches and mistakes. This ink is beautiful but takes an age to dry. I think of blotters, and I wear stains on my fingers. I love the idea of a person’s ‘hand’ and that one can recognise it. Forgeries, postcards, old documents, accounts. I gaze at the old things as on a painting. I deeply appreciate the digital age for its effortlessness, but oh, I adore the beauty of the handmade. Slow? Yes! Messy. Indeed! Can there be a balance?
I’ll devote a spot at my writing desk (first the poor desk must recover its legs, heartlessly broken off on its journey to Canada!) to the nib pen, its leather inlay was designed just for this. So were loveletters – though I fell in love with my sweetheart at the dawn of ubiquitous email, and most of our writing is digital. As my sweetheart is far away in England just now, I think the odd messy, handwritten, ink-splashed letter might be just the thing for us. And you?

papermaking

Making paper is such simple pleasure. A little circle of friends made some together today. We began, like bread bakers, a day or two in advance, ripping a dozen sheets of paper into small pieces and leaving it to soak in a few cups of water. One family cooked theirs up and spun it through the food processor to get a fine pulp; the others just rubbed the soaked paper for a few minutes, til the fibres came apart, to make a rough, porridgey texture.

papermaking-screen

You’ll need a screen. We had ready-made screens and homemade screens. An embroidery hoop with a pair of fine tights stretched across it works surprisingly well. You’ll also need a tub wide enough to accomodate the screens, and for good measure, a bit of mesh and a sponge to help press the water out.

papermaking-flowers

The children ran round the garden collecting flowers and leaves to add to the paper;

papermaking © elisa rathje 2012

Plucked the petals from their stems and threw it all into the mixture in the tub, with a bit of extra water.

papermaking © elisa rathje 2012

Ready? Here we go. Slip the screen (screen-side-up) under the pulp, and lift it up to catch a layer of paper. If you don’t like the effect, tap it out and try again.

papermaking © elisa rathje 2012

If you choose to, lay the mesh over the pulp on your screen, and press gently with the sponge to release water, frequently squeezing out the sponge. I’m not sure it is necessary, but we admired the look of it after.

papermaking © elisa rathje 2012

Set the papermaking screen somewhere warm to dry for a few hours. It’s far too miserable to leave ours outside, sadly. We’ll pry up our homemade paper with a butter knife, and show you later!

pitcher

Although I have several projects on the verge, none are quite finished to show you. Boat-building is almost done, and I was delighted to get the proper foot for free-motion quilting on my antique singer. A few ceramic pieces have been bisque fired, but must wait through the spring break to be glazed. Even the earth seems to be just bursting, almost there, tiny green leaves dotting the hedges. So, an almost-finished project.

homemade jug © elisa rathje 2012

I may have shown you my first jug, I’m ever so proud of throwing this one. I love it for wooden spoons but I may swap them for daffodils now that the hundred-odd bulbs I planted in the autumn are beginning to bloom.

country jug

I came across a gorgeous jug and got it for a fiver at a country fair a year ago. I have been dreaming of making one inspired by it, ever since. I love its flamboyant curves and the elegant handle. My tall girl loves to fill it with her lemonade and edible flower concoctions. Just now it is holding more utensils that I must keep out of cupboards, where the mice still reign.

homemade jug © elisa rathje 2012

A raw clay jug, finished today, a study in reference to the country jug. It is a little more reserved and its spout was a struggle, but I think it should serve us well. One can never have too many pitchers, particularly on beautiful spring days like this one. Such a week of illness we’ve had, I’m keeping it simple as I’ve been devoting lots of time to helping the children feel better, and eating good, cleansing food. I hope to have some finished things to show you in April. In April! Have a lovely weekend.

(Update: If you loved these pitchers, have a nose around the shop, or if you’re in Victoria, BC, come by the lakeside studio & shop to see my latest work.)

bird bath

Bird baths in a garden are such beautiful, useful things. I’d love to have an old ornate one, in a spot where birds can bathe safely, where we can entice birds into the garden to observe and sustain them, and contribute a little to a balanced ecosystem.

bird bath © elisa rathje 2012

We visited a friend’s garden that provided clean, clear pools of water in a pair of bird baths by a fishpond. Tiny birds would swoop in to clean their feathers, drink, and nip off into a tree to preen. They feed on bugs and pest in the garden. Supporting wild creatures by planting varieties of flowers that honeybees love, building beehouses and bat boxes, leaving old wood for hedgehogs, I like these ideas. Instead of trying to get rid of pests, attracting creatures to balance the others. Nosing just a tiny way into permaculture.

bird bath © elisa rathje 2012

(Of course, now I’m thinking about making one, but that’s a project for another day!) Like a pet’s drinking bowl, bird baths need to be cleaned and filled now and then. I love that they’re such peaceful things to sit by, as spring appears. Spring! Catch great seasonal things you’ll love in the appleturnover postcards.