heart art

Heart made from berries, leaves and stones

I discovered some great little online courses recently, run by the University of Tasmania.  They’re all centred around art, health and wellness, each on a different aspect of art and design.  So far I’ve signed up for The Art of Wellness: Visual Arts and Health; Inspired by Nature: Outdoor Therapeutic Environments; and Creative Expressions: Storywriting, Journalling and Poetry.  Each of them has a couple of practical assignments, which I must admit I’ve not been very conscientious about doing.

The Art of Wellness covers photography, sculpture and drawing and I haven’t done any of those yet, although I have good intentions.  At the moment I’m working on Inspired by Nature, which has two practical exercises.  One of them is to design a community eco-arts intervention, something that leaves me feeling somewhat confused and confounded.  I might come back to that.  The other, however, is a bit more up my street – wildcrafting.

You may already be familiar with Andy Goldsworthy, who has to be the poster boy for this kind of thing.  He makes the most amazing, ephemeral sculptures out of natural materials such as wood, ice, leaves, and so on, and then photographs them.  They’re stunningly beautiful and exquisitely crafted.  This isn’t the only way to go with this assignment and you can interpret it how you like, but I thought I’d give this approach a go.

It’s amazing how difficult I find it just to go out and play.  I went out to the garden, thinking I’d look for inspiration and the first thing I noticed was last year’s dead stems, foliage and other debris crowding the border and threatening to smother the new growth.  An hour later, I’d cleared and composted quite a bit of it and thought perhaps I’d just do something quickly, to satisfy myself that at least I’d tried.  It felt frivolous and time-wasting and I had to push myself to do it.

Since it’s Valentine’s day this week, making a heart out of the proliferation of red berries on a tree that I don’t know the name of, seemed like a reasonable way to go.  A stone bench in the garden, covered in moss and lichen, offered a rather nice background – I thought the greens would contrast nicely with the red of the berries.  I made my little heart and duly photographed it, but it looked a little bit lacking.  I had the idea to surround it in little pieces of gravel and it looked a lot better.  Then I noticed the bright yellow leaves on the hedge and began to play with placing them around the heart.  Finally, I finished off by placing more red berries at the tip of each leaf.  Andy Goldsworthy eat your heart out!

It really was great fun and I could have spent hours out there, trying out different ideas.  I’d love to do more, but my inner adult is trying hard not to allow that, and it brought it home to me how hard I find it just to play, without feeling guilty.  In truth, I might not have done it at all if I hadn’t thought that it would provide material for a blog post.  That’s a little sad.  The other thing I realised is that it’s very tricky positioning little bits of things just so, and my admiration for AG has soared to even greater heights.

If you’re interested in any of the courses, you can find details here.  The first one- Art of Wellness – is free, and after that they’re each a very reasonable 20 Australian dollars (about £12 in UK money).

Heart made of berries, stones and leaves





good wishes to all

Yoko Ono, Tate Liverpool, 2012Yoko Ono, Tate Liverpool, 2012

I’m taking a break now, until early in the new year.  I’d like to wish everybody a wonderful Christmas – or whatever your festival or holiday is – and hope that 2017 brings you dreams come true, inner peace, and lots of love, laughter and abundance.


gone fishin’

spider's web with dew

Well, not quite – but I am going on holiday so no posts for a week or so.  And I missed this week’s tree post because I’ve had a viral chest infection that I think I picked up in London – seems to me the warm, fuggy air and coughing, sneezing people on the tube system must create a veritable breeding paradise for bacterial and viral nasties.

As you can imagine, I didn’t get out much this week, but early one morning on my way to let the rabbits out of their hutch, I noticed that the yew hedge was spangled with dew-dropped spider’s webs.  I couldn’t resist, so there I was in my dressing gown trying to get a few shots in before it all melted away in the September sun.

Normal service will resume in a week or two……….

52 trees – week forty-four

Tree shadow on the Thames, South Bank

Another one from my London trip – taken two weeks ago but only processed today.  The tide was out and it always amazes me how much of a proper beach the Thames has.  There were people down there creating sand art, kids playing, an artist painting at an easel, people strolling and searching for treasures, and everyone treating it just like a sandy beach, which indeed it is.  I wondered why I felt more as if I was at the seaside here, in the centre of London, than I did on a recent day trip to the Lincolnshire coast, and realised that it’s the smell – the Thames has that seaweedy smell that gives me the feeling of being by the sea and the Lincolnshire coast doesn’t.  Interesting how much difference the right smell can make.

And waves rolling through tree branches – well obviously I couldn’t resist.  Can you spot where the photographer’s doing her best to blend in with the shadow?

Jazz at Strays

I sometimes think photographers can be divided into two groups – those who like taking people shots and those who don’t.  I tend to fall into the latter category, although from time to time I do enjoy a bit of street photography, and I have been known to do the occasional portrait.  Last Sunday we went with some friends to an afternoon of live jazz at what is probably the best cafe in Newark – Strays. I’m not a huge jazz fan, but this was the kind of jazz I like – nothing too heavy,  a trio of two guitars and a drummer, with a female vocalist for some of the numbers.

Jazz at Strays, Newark on TrentThis girl had the most amazing voice – mature and sophisticated, and quite different from what her youthful prettiness would lead you to expect

One reason that I don’t do much people photography is that, if I’m going to indulge at all, I much prefer candid shots and I’m aware that not everyone likes being photographed when they’re not aware of it, so I feel I’m being a bit intrusive.  When it’s musicians, however, I don’t feel bad about it as being photographed goes with the territory.  I was sitting there wishing I’d brought a camera with me when I suddenly realised that I had – my little compact Fuji was lurking in the bottom of my handbag.  I don’t enjoy using this camera at all, not because there’s anything wrong with it per se, but because the quality is so much lower than a DSLR, it doesn’t shoot in RAW, and it doesn’t have a viewfinder.  It also has more shutter delay than I’m used to, which can be a bit frustrating.  But as they say, the best camera is the one you have with you, so I decided to see what I could do with it.

There’s something quite freeing about making do with what you’ve got, and trying something that you wouldn’t normally do, and once I got started I had a very good time indeed.  The impulse to start photographing in the first place came from one of the waitresses who was competently wielding a Nikon DSLR – it’s funny how just watching someone else take pictures can get you fired up yourself.

Jazz at Stray's, Newark on TrentYou can see how slow my shutter speeds were by the blurring of the guitarist’s fingers as he played

I’m not displeased with the results.  They have a fair bit of noise, thus losing much of the fine detail and reducing the potential for sharpening, and I couldn’t get the shallow depth of field I like to use, but that’s all part of the challenge.  I used the black and white shooting mode, largely because the singer was wearing the brightest orange jumper I’ve ever seen and it would have dominated a colour shot.  Everything’s a bit soft, but in the circumstances it was all that was achievable.

The performer I only got one usable shot of was the drummer, despite spending most of my time focussing on him.  He had an amazingly mobile face, with lots of great expressions, and was obviously thoroughly enjoying himself.  But because he moved his head and face a lot, and the camera has its limits, every shot I took bar one shows him with blurred features.  You can’t win ’em all.

Jazz at Strays, Newark on TrentThe only usable shot I got of this musician – he had such great facial expressions but slow shutter speeds made it impossible to capture them

Jazz at Strays, Newark on TrentThis chap’s expression didn’t change at all, but he was enjoying himself – honest!

The photographer being photographedOne time you definitely won’t be noticed taking photos is when the person in question is doing some photography themselves. 

ConversationGeoff and Paul in conversation during a break

 After I’d exhausted the possibilities of people photography, I then reverted back to type and took these two shots!

Elegant legs under a tableThis very elegant lady was the wife of the drummer in the band.

Reflection, Strays Cafe, Newark on TrentAnd I never could resist an interesting reflection, although this one was at the absolute limits of my zoom, and is a mite soft because of it

Under construction

Yes, I’ve finally done it! – changed to a new WordPress theme.  I’ve had the same theme since I began writing back in 2011, and it just didn’t hack it any more on a number of counts.  Things have moved on since then and these days blogs need to be mobile responsive – mine wasn’t.  I’ve also been frustrated by the fact that I had a maximum available width of 595 pixels for any photos I put on it, which isn’t big enough to show them at their best.  I can now post images at almost double the size – yay!

I still have a few glitches to iron out, and some re-writing and re-jiggling of sections to complete, so there’s lots more work to be done.  And because I’ve ditched the sidebar to get greater width, archived posts and such like things can now be found in the footer.  You can sign up for email subscriptions in the comments section after each post, and I hope to get an RSS feed option up and running before too long.

The last of the skeleton trees

Tree skeletons

Yes, I promise, this is the last of the skeleton trees for now.  This week’s sunshine has caused all the little leaf buds to burst, and now it’s all turning a lush green.  Spring is here, and I’m going to have to put my obsession with bare tree branches to one side until winter comes again. (And no, I’m not in any rush for that!)

I’ve always enjoyed the possibilities that post-processing offers.  Sometimes, when I’m not inspired to go out and shoot, post-processing old photos is a very satisfying alternative.  I enjoy the way you can take the basic material and play with it to get the atmosphere and effect that you want. I like the fact that you can take the same image and give it several different interpretations.  I subscribe to Edward Weston’s view:

My own eyes are no more than scouts on a preliminary search, and the camera’s eye may entirely change my idea.

Often when I see what’s resulted from a photography session, it’s not quite what I expected to get but it inspires me to try something new.

These photos were taken on a very bright and sunny day, and of course if you want to avoid totally blowing out the sun and ending up with a big white blob, you have to under-expose quite a bit.  Even that wouldn’t have been enough if I hadn’t hidden the sun behind the tree branches.  When I  opened the images up on the computer, my first thought was that it looked as if they’d been taken by moonlight, so I thought I’d run with that, and rather than brighten them up with fill light, I went darker and moodier.

All this dark and moody stuff I’ve been doing lately is a bit of a departure for me.  Till recently, almost all my shots have been bright, colourful and sun-filled, and I’m a little puzzled as to why I’ve – without intending to – gone down this road.  Perhaps there’s something in me that wants to explore my dark side for a little while.  For me, they don’t feel ominous or threatening, and to me the darkness is the friendly darkness of a moon-filled night. but I could see how they might appear differently to someone else.

I’d be interested to know – what feelings, if any, do these shots inspire in you?

Skeleton trees

Skeleton trees

Bare branches, looking up

Skeleton trees

Skeleton trees

Skeleton trees


My 200th post – and a new start

Orchard under snow, Canterbury

You might have noticed a few changes around here!  It’s part of a general overhaul of my blog (and my life!) that’s been a long time coming.  After almost three years of regular posting, I more or less stopped writing back in early 2014 as I was suffering badly from photographer’s block, which I thought was going to be a lot shorter-lived than it turned out to be.  I knew I needed a change of direction but I couldn’t figure out what it was and in the meantime my blog and my photography languished like  forgotten pot plants in a winter greenhouse.  It seems appropriate that this should happen to be my 200th published post, as it marks my comeback, which makes it sound a lot grander than it is but is nonetheless true.

For a long time my teaching and my thinking on photography haven’t lined up properly.  Most of the workshops I’ve been teaching have been about learning about how the camera works and what the settings are for.  There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s very useful and I’m very happy to teach this to people.  However, my real interest in photography has always lain in other areas – how it helps us learn to ‘see’ and how that enriches our lives, how we can find a creative outlet through photography, how every photo we take is in a sense a self-portrait and what that can teach us about ourselves, and how issues in photography are also issues about life in general.

There’s a branch of photography called contemplative photography which is much more in line with my own photographic ethos.  I’ll be saying more about what this is in later posts but briefly, it’s a way of using photography to slow ourselves down, to become more aware of the world around us, to enable us to better express ourselves through photography, to develop our creative potential, and to concentrate as much on the process as on the end result.  This is the direction I’ve been wanting to go in for a long time and I’m busy making plans.

  • I’ll be starting a regular Contemplative Photography group in Newark, and developing day workshops around this theme
  • Eventually I want to offer these workshops online, both as self-directed courses and as taught classes
  • I’ll be writing more about photography as a way of life and how learning to see doesn’t just help you take better photos, it also helps you enjoy your life more
  • I’ll be writing more about the psychology of photography, how we use it, and the benefits it can bring us – photography as therapy, in a broad sense
  • I’ll continue to write about other photography-centred issues that interest me and, of course, about my own projects
  • I’m going to retire my ebook from sale and will offer it free to anyone who subscribes to the blog by email – the book’s been around for a long time and although I’m proud of having written and designed it all myself, it’s not the book I would choose to write now.  Actually sorting this out may take me a while as I’m slightly fazed by the technology involved in swapping an email address for a free download.
  • I’ll be adding many more articles for free download which will cover a lot of technical issues and other areas I don’t tend to write about in the blog.  I’m going to add a Donate button to this page, and if anyone gets value from the articles and feels like buying me a coffee as a thank you, they’ll be able to do that.
  • I’m hoping to integrate the galleries on my website into my blog so that I only have one site that covers everything.

Whew! – lots to do and I need to get on.  The hardest thing I’ve found is getting back into a routine of writing regularly – having got out of the habit, it’s surprisingly difficult to get back into it – but winter is a good time for this.  It’s a time for planning, for preparing, for work to be going on underground and out of sight, so that things bear fruit later in the year.


Happy 2015!


Happy 2015 to everyone, and I hope this new year brings many lovely, good and worthwhile things to you all.

Like quite a few people I know, I’m more than glad to see the back of 2014. It started out well with a move to our new house in February, and I had a few enjoyable months decorating and buying and upcycling bits of furniture.  My photographic mojo also came back – slowly at first, but then gaining momentum.  Sometimes I think these dry spells are necessary for future growth, and although this one looked like it was never going to end, now that it has I feel more motivated and inspired than I was before.

So that’s the good news. The bad news is that Geoff has been out of work for the last six months or so, and our financial situation is getting very worrying indeed.  I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire, and lots of plans, but nothing that’s come to fruition yet and even when it does my earning power isn’t enough to keep us going on its own.  We’re very much hoping that 2015 will turn out to be a much better year for us and that work for both us will turn up in the near future and allow us to get back on our financial feet again.

Early in the year I let my blog go and have barely posted anything since then.  I’ve missed it, and I’m aiming to get back in the groove again with regular posts.  There may be a few changes in the type of content I include – I have a lot of plans for new directions I want to go in and will be writing more about some of these in the next few weeks.  Till then, let’s hope 2015 is a good one for all of us!


A guid New Year tae ane an’ a’!

Cocktail glass with berries

Some of you will know I was born and grew up in Scotland. Hogmanay (seeing the New Year in) is a big event in Scotland – bigger than Christmas.  At this time of year I sometimes miss the customs we grew up with, like making sure your house was cleaned on the last day of the year so that the dirt in it didn’t carry any existing bad luck into the new year (maybe I should try that one), and the way that all the ships on the Clyde and out at sea would sound their foghorns on the stroke of midnight to scare the evil spirits away so that they didn’t follow you into the next year.

And of course the well-known tradition of ‘first-footing’ where, ideally, a tall dark man should appear on your doorstep just after midnight, holding a lump of coal to symbolise the wish that you always have fuel for your fire, and handing it over with the greeting ‘Lang may yer lum reek’  (Long may your chimney smoke). This one, understandably, was usually set up in advance and often involved a member of the Hogmanay party being propelled out into the cold five minutes before midnight, clutching a lump of smokeless fuel or the nearest anyone could get to real coal, and not being allowed back in until the chimes had sounded – but at least when he finally got back into the warmth he’d be greeted with a ‘wee dram’ of whisky, so there were compensations.

But one of the things I most miss about Scotland, and the Glasgow area in particular, is its humour, and that often comes out strongly in its choice of New Year toasts.  This one is probably my favourite:

Here’s tae us!  Wha’s like us?  Damn few, and they’re a’ deid.  Mair’s the pity.

(Translation – Here’s to us! Who’s like us?  Damn few, and they’re all dead.  More’s the pity.)

I’m also rather fond of this one:

May those who love us, love us; And those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts; And if he doesn’t turn their hearts may he turn their ankles; So we will know them by their limping!

But I’ll offer you something with a little more gravitas as a wish for a wonderful 2013 for everyone (translation follows at the end!):

May the best ye hae ivver seen be the warst ye’ll ivver see.
May the moose ne’er lea’ yer girnal wi a tear-drap in its ee.
May ye aye keep hail an hertie till ye’r auld eneuch tae dee.
May ye aye juist be sae happie as A’ wuss ye aye tae be.

And in English –

May the best you’ve ever seen be the worst you’ll ever see.
May the mouse ne’er leave your grain store with a tear drop in its eye.
May you stay full hale and hearty till you’re old enough to die.
May you always be as happy as I wish you all to be.

Happy 2013 everyone!