Saturday, 31 July 2010

Day 176-179-The Artists' Workshop

Many things kind of fell into place to make this a rather special room for me.  For the 1st time in my life,  friends painted for me. I was gifted paintings by Carolina as we went on a virtual art tour in India AND I made a new friend, Gagan -Of paisley or peacock-, who thought my work is interesting enough for her to blog about. Gagan's mum, who lives in India, paints as well. I felt like I was making this room to celebrate the art of these women  and so I put more of myself in it.

I finished assembling this room in 3 days, from Friday to  Sunday, 25/7/2010.  Preparations however started way before. Be it decorating a real life room or a miniature one, I often start with an item or a picture. For the artists' workroom, it was this picture in "Handmade In India" explaining the tools of "ganjifa cards" artisans, mostly women. I love that the colours are extracted from natural minerals and plants and I love the way the artisans used seashells for palettes. I knew then that I wanted to recreate a workroom in the Rolla's  artisans home for artists who paint these cards.

I decided that the only furniture in this room would be low tables. I needed 2 sets, one for the preparation of colours and another set for the work tables themselves. These  S$2 cane ones were from Daiso. They are perfect as  homemade traditional cane tables  of an Indian village. I distressed them by sanding only.

This is one of the preparation tables. According to the book, prominent colours used for ganjifa cards are rust, cream,  yellow, black, red and green. The "minerals" here are real stones I "stole" from mum's bathroom. She has a whole bottle of these in a glass jar. I took the smallest ones. Seashells were picked from the Sentosa beaches when I went running there one Sunday last month. 

For the work tables, I used miniature Chinese tables which I bought at a sale from Chinatown last year.   I usually age my furniture with mainly painting but this time, I decided to try mainly sanding. The table on top is the original one, I sanded it (see table on left facing you) and then painted  and sanded again (see table on right).

Here are the work tables. The one on the right have some completed ganjifa cards laid out to "dry". Ganjifa cards are Indian playing cards traditionally drawn by artists to depict Mughal  motifs or Hindu Gods. Sadly it is another one of India's vanishing art form. I scanned real cards from the web and sized them down. There is a full suit and half of another on the table and of course, they are laid out according to the numbers, lowest to highest.

The water jug was a  "Hello Kitty" porcelain jug after some very tricky painting. I used a glass primer for base, then sprayed "Terracotta" paint, then added the "smudges". It is critical that you wait for each layer to be completely dry , otherwise the paint won't stick. The final layer was acrylic varnish. I dropped the jug once but no paint came off.

It was much easier to work on the other "pot" which was  a rubber chair leg cap.  All it took was a layer of sprayed "Terracotta" and some naive "painting" with black fine tipped pen.

Do you know that today, hand painted earthen pots in India still look the same as their counterparts in 3000 BC? I have also just read a wonderfully moving story about a woman artist entitled "From Untouchable to Businesswoman". I loved how the woman pointed out to the reporter of the article that the cooking vessels of the 12th Dynasty of Egypt (from about 1800 B.C.)  at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looked exactly like the pots she used to cook dal at home. I hope you will take the time to read this article. It made me happy for a long time.

I painted a white metal cup to assimilate rusted enamel. It is clear that the "rusty" cup is of no more use except to hold unpainted card paper. Real ganjifa cards have cloth as backings. All the discs including the unpainted ones therefore have backings (another piece of paper) and are lacquered to look and feel  a little like cloth. 

I also "rusted" and "corroded" a white metal plate to cover this jug of water. The water is used for painting and washing, not drinking as no food and drinks are allowed in the workroom.  I made new rusty cans mainly to hold paintbrushes. This one holds used but clean brushes, a knife, 2 charcoal pencils and some wooden sticks for mixing colours. I added a cover for this can (explain how-to below) which my artist has also used as a makeshift palette.

This is a picture of real brushes used by Indian artists. I have read that they are "indigenous paint brushes that  are made of hair of domestic animals. A bunch of hair tied to the end of a bamboo stick make the brush. It is really a matter of wonder as to how these painters bring out lines of such precision and finish with the help of these crude brushes."  So 2 Sundays ago, Cindy and I experimented making these crude brushes, using my cat's shedded fur, twigs, flower wires and thread.

A small ball of fur sure can go far with these brushes. I made about 20 , no fun really, and these are the 4 "good" ones that the artist is using. The rest, in various stages of disrepair, are in the other cans. 

These 2 cans are placed next to one of the work table,  beside where the artist is sitting. The bigger one holds clean brushes and the smaller one, water for washing brushes.

I experimented with making water using glue. The 1st attempt was  the  cheap brown glue generally used in schools and offices.  I put in a bit of brown acrylic and stirred it . I really love the effect but it evaporated into nothing the next day.

This 2nd one is the epoxy and hardener combo. Before it hardened,  I stirred the mixture with acrylic paints to make "very dirty" water. The mixture solidified within 5 minutes with no bubbles. If you enlarge the picture, you can see some floating acrylic paints. I quite like that but preferred the translucent look of the previous one. I think I can achieve the effect if I used clear epoxy. This one was not.

I finally know why I told you in my post on the rusty cans at step 2 NOT to throw away the bottom piece of the tealight holder. It's a rusty cover! Cut the center circle out with a little triangle on one side so that you can glue it onto the can but before gluing, give the cover a jagged edge as if it had been hammered open.  Cindy showed me how to give the can "ribs" by drawing the aluminum foil with a round head pin punch.

These are the last 2 cans , the one with the plants (for extraction of colours) at the back has a cover while the one in front holds twigs for making brushes and spoilt brushes for recycling.


The work tables are right at the entrance. Perfect as a start point is the rug stitched by Carolina as part of the summer swap. I really love this rug, not only for my artist to sit on but also to welcome visitors. Thank you Carolina! 

Lined against the right wall are the paintings , everyone of them a gift from my wonderful friends.

This is a close up picture of yet another gift, a basket from Glenda I used it to store seashell palettes.

Here's the section of the workroom where the raw materials are stored, in the way that I would have stored or display them.

Can you recognise that the stack of paper on the floor are just the edges of newspapers? Newspaper is good art material whether in real life or mini.

Plants and herbs in shades of green and purple for extraction. Twigs for brushes.

Painting from Carolina and more minerals displayed as art. When I was a poor student, these were things I do to beautify my dorm room. I used practical  or found objects and display them as art. I still do this whenever I am on a beach holiday. You can really brighten up a room for nothing or cheap this way.

A perfect gift from Mother Nature. I love this mini coral in so many ways. I just realised that it has a sort of Mughal design as well.

And so this is how so many things fell into place for this room. A riot of colours, some order in the chaos, not apparently pretty and definitely not fancy or rich,  but hopefully with loads of heart and a fair bit of character.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Day 180-Rolla's 1st Inspection

The day has finally arrived  and everyone's excited because this is to be the Rolla's first inspection of The Rolla's House. Everyone except Sans! Understandably, she is quite the nervous wreck. Especially as it has taken her more than 3 months to finish only 3 rooms.

They climb the rickety stairs up and Rosanna walks straight to the last room. I have finished that room just the night before, said Sans! Let me explain how everything was done.... Before she can say "pastel and pestle" , coming from behind them is a thunderous exclamation of "my shoes!" 

"Bless you", Rosanna turns around to say to Walter. It is at that moment that she sees the pillows. She shakes her head and mumbles something about not right and my own.

She smiles however at the little bucket of toiletries. You are prepared for us, she says sweetly to Sans! Courtesy of Carolina, explains Sans! She made this, amongst others for the summer swap .

When they reach the embroidery room, Rosanna finds a comfortable spot and settles down. And then slowly and rather deliberately, she takes out a piece of her legendary embroidery. No one  breathes, it is as if time has stood still as all eyes are on the incredible stitchery that appears to be the work of the littlest fairies.

Please, it is only a work in progress, Rosanna says, and  close your mouth, Sans! Your drool will spoil it. There is general laughter and everyone starts talking at once.  Without a doubt, everyone knows  that when finished, this will be the most beautiful piece of embroidery that the world has ever seen.

You want to know what's her secret? See that fairy golden needle and the smoothest silk thread? That's Rosanna's secret. Now you know ...

Isn't that just to die for? In Singapore, this is what we call a "can die" piece. Let me see if I can explain this terminology. Like when I was telling Fafa, I must show you what Rosanna did, can die type. And after she saw it, she went, you are right, can die! You know what I mean? 

Here they are, my  fairy finger friend and the Queen of Embroidery, Rosanna and her Walter. I was so happy when I met them at the airport, I think I peed in my pants. I was 30 minutes late too and the poor dears were in a little bit of a panic. 

I brought them home so they could change and freshen up. They were so excited and oohed and ahhed like I told them to in my email. But really, they are super easy to please. Look how happy they were in the picture and it was only plain water I gave them . After they changed, we brought them to try some foot reflexology but the queue was too long, so we went to have a beer instead. By chance, when we were walking home , mum was just bringing little Nathaniel to meet his dad and we saw them.  I am very proud of my 5 year old nephew for saying to Rosanna "May I shake your hand?" How did he know about those precious hands? I think he is psychic! 

The magic hands at work again. These two have never used chopsticks before! And here they are fighting over one peanut like a pair of Kung Fu Pandas. 


The last 2 pictures were taken at Jumbo Seafood Restaurant where we had chilli crab with fried buns, cereal butter prawns, Malay fried noodles cooked Chinese style, kale in garlic sauce , spicy sour  little squid and steamed fish. We then brought them to Mustapha to change money but Walter fell in love with the place and did not want to leave.

We reached home and after about an hour, Walter called it a night. Rosanna and I chatted until past midnight and we opened each others' presents. They brought something for everyone, including mum. You have already seen the piece of beautiful embroidery by Rosanna. That was just one of many minis which you will see in due time. She also gave me a beautiful porcelain plate from Provence, a real life mezzeri made by an artist and miniature ones made by her. She even made Walter buy me 4 beaded boxes from Tunisia ! Rotten , I am, thoroughly and rottenly spoilt!

It is soon time for bed and Rosanna hesitates , then says apologetically, I hope you don't mind, Sans!  But I am used to only my own pillows. 

Darn darn darn ! More can die pieces! If only I can darn like this, I too will only want my own pillows! 

This morning, Walter and Rosanna went on their own to Little India and just like someone who has lived here for a long time, they went shopping at Mustapha. 
1st chopsticks and now Mustapha!
I am very proud of my friends.

It is 1.35am now in Bali, Singapore as well. Time for bed again.

Sweet dreams, Rosanna...

While I continue to admire....

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Day 175-My Friend, The Royal Portrait Painter

ONCE UPON A TIME , IN A LAND FAR FAR AWAY, lives my friend, the royal portrait painter. Her name is Helene and although we have never met as she is so very far away, she has become  very dear to me. 

While Helene and I may seem worlds apart- she loves to sing, I can only dance, she bricks her Lego one by one when I can only bash- we both bonded at first through our common love for the colour blue. Most importantly, we share the strongest passion for all things small. 

I have only known Helene for slightly over a year now but my friend already knows what  are some of my favourite things  and often spoils me rotten with many, many of them. 

Twice, I swear she could hear my stomach growled for moments later,  the doorbell rang and  lo and behold at the door were some fine breads from Christel Jensen,  compliments of Helene.

She is generous almost to a fault. Look at this uniquely beautiful earring, it is one half of a pair.  I wonder how she can bear to part with it but she told me it reminded her of me because there's a Tree of Life

One day if you should be at an airport, and see 2 ladies wearing one big Tree of Life earring each , please understand that we know it is no longer in fashion. It's just the only way we can seek the other out. In the meantime, she says I can use mine to make a table and she may hang hers on a wall. Whatever it is, halfway around the world, we both have the same one earring, just like childhood friends.

Helene knows when I am happy for I would tell her in my mail but what is really special, is her when I am down.

Like today when I was at the peak of stress, I received her box of cheer. I opened my  parcel of  treasures and oodles of joy just bubbled. Amongst all the many goodies you saw on this post is  a darling Helene's original. 

My royal  portrait artist had painted me  " My Maharajah", the cutest man to me. And precious, precious Helene even gave him glittering robes!  Let me tell you, like a good girlfriend, she thinks he's hot too. 

Helene, you are so lucky to be so gifted. Just like Vincent with his Starry Night,"My Maharajah"  too will go down in history because with this post, it will be preserved for all eternity.

How will history remember, I often ask myself? Perhaps only very remarkable things and  only if they are terribly  special.

ONE DAY, A LONG, LONG TIME IN THE FUTURE, if someone will chance upon this humble blog,  I hope they find in my records, the remarkable stories of how a group of strangers  had bonded through their  extraordinary passion, talents and loves. And I hope they will see, like I do now, how these terribly special  friendships can make the world a truly wonderful place.
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