Five on Friday

Path to the beachTall grasses in SicilyNoto cathedralNoto street, Sicily Noto rooftops, Sicily One of my all-time favourite blogs to read is CJ’s Above the River. She’s a brilliant writer, witty and wry, and her glimpses of family conversations never fail to amuse me. I particularly enjoy the weekly Friday posts, joining in with Amy’s series Five on Friday, and thought I would join in myself with a little rambling about five things from the week just been. So here goes…

  1. I discovered a few more photos I’d taken on our Sicily hol in my hubby’s phone this morning. The path and huge grasses lead to a hidden cove, a nature reserve with the most turquoise sea and white sand.  The town of reddish stone is Noto, right down in the southeastern corner of the island, mentioned in passing in our guidebooks and one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever visited. As we arrived, there was a Vespa parade through the main (pedestrianised) street, accompanied by much horn-honking and cheering. The scooters were all adorned with signs, proclaiming which local Vespa club they belonged to, and there were so many that the whole thing too a good ten minutes to go past us. I longed, once more, to live in Italy always.
  2. The reason the pics weren’t on my own phone, is that it’s properly given up the ghost. 18 months of manhandling by the sproglets has meant my camera is so ingrained with dirt and greasy smears that every photo I take looks as if it’s been sprinkled in sand and a dollop of vaseline. My contract has finally expired and I’m due an upgrade, but am busy debating whether I can really justify adding an extra £20 a month to my phone bill in order to get the massive iPhone 6s. Any thoughts?
  3. Said lack of phone camera has led to an enforced instagram break which, rather to my surprise, I have found completely liberating. I realise that I’d got a bit negatively addicted to instagram, checking it first thing in the morning, constantly scrolling through feeds of artfully styled flowers and floral scissors and Observer guides, and feeling a perennial pressure to be taking photographs as beautiful as those that everyone else seemed capable of. A few months off has been a good breather and I have a determination not to get so sucked back in once I finally return.
  4. I was out on Wednesday night at the launch party for 91 magazine, for which my friend Laura is the deputy editor. I had a lovely time, though had that thing when you’re in a room with lots of bloggers, where you’re not sure if you recognise people’s faces from seeing them online or because you’ve met them before. I swung between wondering if I was being anti-social by not saying hello to more people, or being a bit crazed fan-stalkerish chatting to people who had no clue who I was. Perhaps both at once?!
  5. I’m rather sunburnt as I sit writing this, after spending a day at Capel Manor, Enfield, yesterday, surveying a garden for our next garden assignment. The task ahead of me today is to draw up the plan on the computer, something that hurts my head severely every time. I’m trying to teach myself Vectorworks, the CAD program of choice for garden design, but it’s a slow, complex process, that frequently ends with me shouting at my laptop or slamming it closed in a huff. There is a special sort of rage, I find, reserved for technology that is supposed to make your life easier, but that instead complicates the most basic tasks.
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Behind the scenes

Photographing leavesI was sorting through some of the gazillion photos on my laptop this morning and I thought it might amuse you to see some of the behind the scenes “help” I get from the older of my two eager assistants when I’m taking photos for this blog or instagram.

The younger assistant, actually, is always so very eager to help — in the form of grabbing my camera or playing with whatever I’m trying to photograph — that I tend to ensure any snapping takes place during his naptime…

The oldest sproglet, however, is absolutely fascinated by the weird things I sometimes do, like arrange leaves in a pattern and then take photos of them. He always wants to join in, so we have a deal that if he stays out of the way while I take a photo, then it’s his turn next.

Photographing leaves

He’s got what you might refer to as a “distinctive” style – he’s a big fan of using filters and likes to include a limb of his own in shot. Ideally a foot. Basically, he’s your perfect early instagram user…

Levels of patience, though, are possibly even worse than mine when things don’t go well. I’m often distracted from whatever I’m trying to photograph by him screaming in frustration because something has slightly moved position or won’t lay as flat as he wants. Ah the artistic temperament.

Photographing leaves

The only problem is if I’m in a rush and only have time to get a couple of shots. I really wanted to photograph the beautiful patterns on this feather from our chicken, Ginger. (Or “fleather” as the sproglet calls them, as in, “flowers and fleathers”…) But with only a minute to spare, this was the best I could manage:

Feather and finger

Actually, that’s pretty cute too, isn’t it?

2016: a year with my camera

Puddle reflection | Wolves in LondonJust dropping by to tell you about an awesome new project I am doing in 2016: taking part in a (free!) online photography course for the whole of the year, called A Year with my Camera and run by Emma Davies.

Every Thursday, the participants get an email from Emma with some tips and advice and a project to complete over the course of the week.

There’s a Facebook group and an Instagram hashtag (#ayearwithmycamera) to showcase your pics and, seemingly, thousands of participants to give you feedback!

grass

I love this idea because I’m hoping it will give me the shove I need to get out there and take photos (with my proper camera) far more often than I manage at the moment. I plan to carve an hour a week to go and take a few snaps and just focus on improving one thing each time.

The first project this week is to choose something to “collect” over the year – an item you will photograph frequently to create a collection by the end of December.

I’m torn between a few different thoughts. The dilemma boils down to whether I stick with something I already do and try to improve that or whether I pick something new that I would like to do more of?

In the first camp: all things botanical, probably with the macro lens, which I already do quite a bit but would like to improve more. (I dream of creating beautiful images like this by @zuzu365 – whose whole feed is full of stunning botanical photography – and this by @thislittlecorner which uses the branches in the foreground to give extra interest to that stunning background…)

In the second camp, I have seen quite a few awesome puddle reflection photos recently on Instagram (@camerashymomma is my absolute favourite for this with her #creatingliquidlandscapes series) and I’d love to try and get some great shots of my parts of London reflected in puddles.

Hawthorn | Wolves in LondonPuddles | Wolves in London

The problem with trying something completely new with the puddle shots is that I simply might not get the opportunity to keep that up regularly (if it’s not raining, or if I don’t go anywhere new with interesting reflections in that week). But then just sticking to botanicals isn’t really stretching me to try out anything new and surely it’s a good idea to take the opportunity to stretch myself?!

I went out this morning to get started and decided that, for now, I will photograph both of them and see how it pans out over the course of the year.

January sky | Wolves in London

I will mostly be taking part over on Instagram, I think, so do follow along there if you’d like: @wolvesinlondon. (The Facebook group is terrifying me at the moment, as it seems to be full of “blippers” a term I had never come across before, but have discovered is someone who posts a photo every single day on a website called blipfoto, and who seem – to me – to be essentially as good as professional photographers already and keep sharing these utterly amazing and technically perfect shots, so I am feeling a bit intimidated of putting up my own distinctly more amateur take…)

Anyway, if you also fancy joining in, then you can sign up here: A Year with my Camera.

And do drop me a comment to let me know if you’re taking part (and especially if you’re on that terrifying Facebook group too, ha ha, I’d love to see some friendly names out there!)

Cabbage flower, deconstructed

Cabbage flower head | Wolves in LondonCabbage flower dying | Wolves in LondonCabbage flower stalk | Wolves in LondonDead leaf tip | Wolves in LondonDeconstructed cabbage flowerNo, not the name of the winning dish in a Masterchef final, but rather my growing obsession with endlessly photographing lovely dead crap.

There is a new market stall at the end of our road selling flowers on Saturdays and Sundays for pretty bargainous prices and I just can’t resist when I walk by.

I bought a nice bouquet a few weeks ago, including a single stem of a purple cabbage flower. I’m a big fan of the cabbage flower (I had one in my homemade wedding bouquet even) and I can never resist buying one if I see them.

This one lasted for a week or so, and then the leaves started to turn brown, shrivel up and drop off. But still, I couldn’t contemplate parting with it, because it became even more beautiful than before. Just look at these amazing veined patterns! The transition from purple to brown! The way the leaves have curled up as they’ve dehydrated!

I told myself I might as well hold onto the leaves until I had taken a photo, but now that I’ve done that, where will they go? Currently, there is just a big pile of brown dead leaves sitting in front of the TV. Not, it must be said, displaying them to their best purposes.

The hubby keeps trying to put them in the bin, but I feel sure I could use them for something. Something. But just what?!

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy: possibly one of the best things I’ve ever seen in a gallery

Ai Weiwei at the RAOne of these days, I’ll become one of those organised and useful bloggers. The kind who share Christmas tutorials in November, so you’ve plenty of time to make the craft before the big day. The kind who don’t have photographs sitting on their hard drives for months on end before writing the accompanying blog post. The kind who go to amazing, inspiring art exhibitions on their opening weekend and tell you about them when there’s still months left to book a ticket.

But, erm, I’m not yet that kind of blogger, I’m afraid, and so it is I am posting about the utterly amazing and unmissable Ai Weiwei exhibition a mere few days before it closes (at the end of this weekend, Sunday December 13th).

On the other hand, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you about it in the first place, since it seems to have been the big ticket show of the year; the one that’s been thronging with people since it opened.

I visited last week, on a wonderfully sunny, though bitterly cold day.

I usually find that the higher my expectations of something, the more likely I will walk away disappointed, but, despite my already high expectations, I was absolutely blown away by the show.

The art was beautiful, which is a brilliant start. So much of it tactile, made of wood or marble; natural visceral elements. The construction was also awe-inspiring. Ai Weiwei works not only with materials that have a long history in China, but also with craftsmen who use traditions that date back centuries.

Stools at Ai Weiwei Stools at Ai Weiwei

Inspecting one of my favourite pieces, the circle made of three-legged stools, which on first sight I thought were probably glued together, I realised that a leg of each stool became a leg of its neighbour as well. The entire piece, in fact, carefully joined into one.

Fragments by Ai Weiwei at the RA, LondonFragments by Ai Weiwei at the RA, London Fragments by Ai Weiwei at the RA, London

Or the huge sculpture, Fragments, made from salvaged beams from demolished Qing dynasty temples: the sculpture takes up the whole room and you can wander through its arches. Apparently random as you see it from the room but from above, it makes up a map of China, though – of course – you can’t see that viewpoint in the gallery.

Bicycle chandelier by Ai Weiwei at the RA, London

Also breathtaking, the final piece is a huge chandelier, made from crystals and bicycles. The crystal (and chandeliers) used by the wealthy. The bicycle, of course, the chosen method of transport for many in China’s vast cities.

What I hadn’t necessarily been expecting (partly because I hadn’t read up on it in advance of visiting…) was to be so moved by the politics of the work.

I knew, of course, that Ai Weiwei is a political dissident, detained frequently in his own country and not allowed to enter the UK to curate the show. But I knew little about the specifics behind those stories.

Straight by Ai Weiwei at the RA, London

Straight by Ai Weiwei at the RA, London Straight by Ai Weiwei at the RA, London

My favourite room was the one housing Straight, a sinuous giant sculpture made of straight rods, laid out in lines, the end of the rods creating a curving shape that moved throughout it.

The accompanying videos told the story behind the piece. Earthquakes in Sichuan province in 2008 brought down many buildings, but it was the schools that were the worst affected. As government-built properties, they had suffered from shoddy building work, lack of foundations and poor building materials (bribes and corruption said to be to blame). Thousands of children died, but the government refused to release a full list of names.

In all of the buildings, mangled rods, supposed to protect the integrity of the buildings, were left sticking out.

Ai Weiwei gathered and bought the rods as scrap, and his team painstakingly straightened every single one, so that they looked as they would have done before being used. They are arranged on the floor of the room with a full list of the names of everyone who had died written on the walls.

Powerful stuff.

More info

  • The show is open until the end of the weekend and — due to the overwhelming numbers of people wanting to visit — the gallery is open 24 hours a day for Saturday and Sunday. So, if you still want to visit and you’re close to London, then get over to the RA! More info on their website here: Ai Weiwei exhibition.
  • They also have a fascinating round up of 13 of Ai Weiwei’s most important works.

Defining your Signature Style: a few photos

When I first moved from print to online journalism about, oooh, 15 years ago now, everyone was abuzz with the “immediacy of the web.”

Print is dead, they raved. (Okay, I might have raved a little bit as well…) Gone are the days of waiting to hear the news the day after it happens in the newspapers. We can read stuff now immediately on the shiny new internet.

Well, here I am today to show you the complete opposite; writing not about something that happened this very morning, but, erm, almost three months ago.

Hydrangea | Wolves in London

Yes, the not-so-shiny-new internet is still as fast as anything, but this old human dolt can still move as slow as can be.

Back at the start of November, I went on a photography and moodboarding weekend workshop, with Emily Quinton (of Makelight) and Gudy Herder (of Eclectic Trends).

The course was all about defining your signature style visually – through your photos and through moodboards.

It’s something I’ve thought about quite a lot when it comes to this blog. My photography is slowly starting to improve but I’d love to get to a point where you could look at a photo taken by me and think, “oh yes, that’s a Wolves in London photo”…

bowl and ribbon | Wolves in London

The first day of the course was focused on photography. We looked at three distinct photographic styles (minimalism, moody, and bright/colourful) and talked about how to take that sort of photo.

I was drawn most to minimalism: all white backgrounds, clean lines, simple arrangements and so forth. (I’ve got a few newly-discovered instagram accounts to share with you another time as well, for some gorgeous inspiration…)

vase | Wolves in London

So, off I went to practise and took a few nice minimalist(ish) photos and then, with the sun going behind the clouds, I took a few moody ones as well just for good measure.

Some of the pics I was more happy with are scattered through this post for your delectation.

Rosemary | Wolves in London

The following day was all about moodboarding with Gudy, which was really fascinating to me, since I didn’t – if I’m totally honest – even really understand what moodboarding was before. (Well, you know, it’s that thing they do in the Great Interior Design Challenge, of course, but I hadn’t thought of it in a wider context than that…)

Gudy showed us lots of examples of different types of moodboard, which I discovered needn’t just be the obvious such as pictures stuck to a background, but could also be collections of objects arranged on the floor, or even 3D moodboards including bits of furniture / paintings / vases of flowers and so on. I got loads of inspiration for things I might try and incorporate on the blog at some point in the future.

Then, in the afternoon, we made our own moodboard for our blog (or website, brand, whatever). For some reason, I completely neglected to photograph mine, but you can see it — along with everyone else’s — over on Gudy’s blog here: a workshop review.

Shells | Wolves in London

All-in-all, a really fun weekend, where, as is so often the case I find, one of the most enjoyable parts was meeting all the other people on the course and seeing the really creative things everyone else got up to.

If you fancy going yourself, Emily and Gudy are running another day next summer. You can find out more info as well as reading a (much more detailed) overview of the day on Emily’s blog here: Moodboarding and photography.

On the mantel: October

October for me is usually a month to stay at home, tucked up warm with my slippers on, or out and about in wellies, tramping through the fallen leaves.

Wolves in London October mantelpiece
Flowers, pumpkins, books and invitations: what more could you want from a mantelpiece?!

This month, though, has been one of celebrations and parties; with two invitations up on the mantelpiece.

First, my Mum’s “second 50th” (eg, she’s not letting on her actual age) – a lovely afternoon spent lounging on the balcony of Court Gardens House in Marlow, looking across to the river and enjoying the unseasonally summery weather. After I gave a speech (slightly nerve-wracking) we all sang happy birthday and then members of my Mum’s ukulele group played a few songs, while I got a rare chance to dance with the hubby as the kids romped around with their extended family. The 50 50 card on the mantelpiece was our invitation.

Then last weekend, we were down to Somerset to celebrate my sister-in-law’s wedding. She was married in the utterly stunning and ancient church in Shepton Mallet (I’m not religious, myself, but I do love a good church) and then a fantastic reception in a nearby local hall.

Hand-stitched wedding invitation | Wolves in London
This was the hand-stitched front of the invitations.

She’s as fond of a crafting opportunity as I am and everything was handmade, from the invitation that you can see here, to the table displays, order of services, cakes, food, decorations… I was chuffed to have a part to play too: advising on and collecting the flowers from Covent Garden flower market. These blue monkshood and white lizzies in the vase were some I bought when I went to check them all out.

Blue monkshood | Wolves in London
Just utterly beguiling, I think…
monkshood veins
I love the amazing veins on the flower heads
White lisianthus | Wolves in London
I has these in my bouquet too, last year

I just adore going to the flower market. Firstly, there are just loads and loads of flowers, for extremely cheap prices. Secondly, you feel like you’re someone in the flower industry, which is real dream job stuff for me…

The bouquet was made up with these two, along with some purple lizzies, white astrantias (my favourites, actually), thistles, wax flowers, viburnum berries and rosemary and eucalyptus leaves from her garden. Just heavenly. (I think it ended up even more beautiful than the one I did last year for my own bouquet, actually…)

Portuguese bag | Wolves in London
Isn’t this a fabulous bit of packaging?

The glorious Aloma bag was brought back by the hubby from Portugal, after he spent four days there for work one weekend. It was filled with egg custard tarts. They may be one of my favourite, but it’s not enough of a sweetener to make up for the horrors of solo parenting (even with my Mum’s help)…

Underneath, a James Baldwin book that I have been meaning to read forever, but which is finally making its way to the top of the list: Go tell it on the mountain. I read the utterly mesmerising and haunting Giovanni’s Room many years ago now, which must rank as one of my top books ever. I have high hopes for this one.

Pumpkins | Wolves in London
The obligatory October pumpkins

The pumpkins, well, they’re self-explanatory, aren’t they? Actually, I am a bit sick of seeing pumpkins all over instagram now, so I apologise for adding to the pumpkin spam. I roasted these after I took the photo and added them to a really delicious beef shin stew. Now that is a good winter feed…

Of course, I haven’t managed to paint the mantelpiece still, despite my plans to do so last month. Nor have I switched round the painting, but hey ho, the days pass by and somehow nothing manages to ever get done in the way I’d like it to.

Next month, though, there will be great changes to come and witness! For, we are the proud new owners of a mantelpiece mirror. I’ll show you more in November, though I have a feeling it might make the photography a little more complicated…

Joining in with a few other lovely blogs who have been showing their monthly mantelpiece decorations: Tales from a Happy House and A Quiet Corner.

Photographing trees

Earlier this year I resolved to spend lots of time this summer photographing (and identifying) trees for my Instagram feed. (See A love of trees for more.)

Now, if you follow me on instagram you can’t fail to have been struck by a simple fact: you haven’t remotely been spammed with hundreds and hundreds of tree pictures.

Why not? It turns out it’s really tough to photograph a tree; decent camera on your phone or not.

Myoung Ho Lee trees
© Myoung Ho Lee

Recently, I came across a wonderful South Korean photographer called Myoung Ho Lee who manages exactly what I couldn’t succeed in doing and I had to share these images with you.

He takes the most awe-inspiring photos, each tree with a simple white sheet hung behind it.

Myoung Ho Lee trees
© Myoung Ho Lee

I never fail to be impressed by trees. Of course, flowers are really great too. They’re pretty and you can arrange them in a vase and suddenly even the dingiest most hovel-like room in your house is transformed into a place of beauty. But there’s something about the immense majesty of trees – their sturdy immovability, great age and refusal to be brought indoors – that makes them my plant of choice every time.

Myoung Ho Lee trees
© Myoung Ho Lee

If ever I’m feeling glum, or bored, or just out-of-sorts for whatever reason, a short walk to the park and a stroll under the canopy of ancient trees always, but always, brings a spring back to my step.

I think that’s why I love these photos so very much. They seem to say: Here it is,  just a tree, on a white background.

Who needs more than that?

All photographs copyright Myoung Ho Lee. See the website of the Yossi Milo Gallery in New York for more photos from the series.

August break 2014: the last week

August break week 4 | Wolves in London
Prompts, top to bottom, left to right: memory, nature, lines, love, small, adornment, morning, something new, nature (again)

So, a whole month has passed, just like that. *Clicks fingers*

Much as I love participating in projects like the August break, or my monthly garden moodboards, I am often put off by the side effect of an increasing awareness of time passing.

You start out thinking, oh yes, a photo a day for August, how lovely! And before you know it, you’re writing about the very last photo, August 31st, and the month has gone, poof, disappeared in a puff of smoke, and you’re sure you barely had time to get out of bed and brush your teeth.

Perhaps it’s something about marching, inexorably, towards my 40s that makes me rather reluctant to notice the passing of the days / weeks / months, but prefer to just live in them.

Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in this August break.

I’m fairly proud of a few of my photos. I’m slightly embarrassed I posted a couple of them (two proved to be slightly out of focus when I looked at them on my computer screen rather than my phone). I struggled to think of a decent interpretation for a few of the prompts. And I’m constantly surprised by which ones prove the most popular on instagram.

(Of all the photos I took, the one from the first week, of my feet on my bathroom floor was the most popular. A great photo? Erm, probably not. Just some very lovely tiles. All credit for which surely is due to Fired Earth for making nice tiles and not to me, photographer and feet owner. Ah well…)

And so on, into the first day of September and I am already missing a daily prompt to make me think, take a few minutes to decide on my interpretation and head out there, armed with my little phone, to try and get a snap of something.

Related articles:

  • It’s all over for this year, but you can read all about it (and get ready to join in next year?) on Susannah Conway’s blog: the August Break 2014
  • And, of course, I’ll still be sharing pictures on instagram, so do follow me there if you fancy

August break 2014: week three

August break photo collage | Wolves in London
Prompts, left to right, top to bottom: bookshelf; black and white; treasures; peaceful; shadow (twice)

Well, another week over and another weekend reached. Tick, result, breathe…

It’s started to feel a bit like that as I’ve been battling not only toddler daytime meltdowns but toddler and baby lack-of-nighttime-sleeping this week.

I just keep trying to remind myself that one day I will look back on this time and remember only the cute adorable bits, completely forgetting the sheer exhaustion of sleep deprivation and the frustrations of dealing with someone too little to understand reason who would really like to jump on top of his baby brother right now, irrespective of said baby’s need for a nap. (Cue one hour meltdowns all round…)

Anyway, the phone was about somewhere during it all and I managed to snap a few pics for the August break. Not my finest, for sure, and I missed a day for the first time too (the prompt was “jump” and nobody I spent the day with can do that yet!)

Here’s the montage from the last week. As ever, if you want to see anything larger, just click on the pics and zoom in…

Already feeling more relaxed, half way through the bank holiday weekend. If only every week had three days respite at the end!

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