Sunday, 31 March 2013

Day 382 - The Mixing Bench


And so it was that I set out to recreate the mixing bench, the work area I imagined the Old Man had and where he might have extracted that mesmerizing blue from the now forgotten stones. 




Everything I needed was already in the house and I was able to find a use for them quite quickly by following the instructions and some drawings in the journal. The Old Man gave a fairly detailed list of what, where and how. Even the stool with a moth eaten cover which appeared destined for a junkyard found a place in the eventual ensemble of the work area. 


The bench was small but the list was long. There were even instructions for flowers so I did a dry run  to make sure all the required items could fit onto the bench. It wasn't long before I realised that there was one big missing instruction. There was no space for the journal!


It took me a while to figure out that a book stand could be the solution and so I carved a simple one out of a piece of log wood I found. It was just a strip to prop the book up so that I could read and mix at the same time. It also saved quite a fair bit of space. 


The floral pattern for the book stand came almost instinctively. This was after all the sanctuary of an artist and a gardener. Little did I know then that this theme would pervade the entire way I decorated the house henceforward. 


Now that the book stand was in place, I was finally ready to begin the exciting journey of making colours. With linseed oil, beewax and resin and what felt like endless, constant kneading, I started to make blue. I think eternity must have passed and returned before I finally managed to coax some blue pigment out of the good quality lapis lazuli the Old Man had collected. 


Thrilled doesn't even begin to describe how I felt when I first saw the 1st thin film of ultramarine powder. I thought it the most beautiful thing on earth. The brilliant blue made me weak in the knees and I had to sit down. With the bowl in my hand, I stared and marveled at each and every particle, not daring to breathe. Cennini, may I congratulate and then paraphrase you by saying how you were absolutely right about this surpassing everything. I felt like a super being for having been able to create this miracle.


With that sense of empowerment, I began to make the other colours following the instructions in the journal. Every colour that came into being through my hands felt more. The red was fierier, the green fresher, even the yellow seemed more dazzling. 


Then I went back to making more and more blue, each time producing an ultramarine deeper and richer than the last. 


I even found some gold leaf and silver leaf to make the colour shine forth as Cennini suggested.  Each sheet was placed carefully in the plates and held firmly under two precious stones, chosen so the colour on the sheets could be preserved.


I spent so much time at this bench that it felt like I could do practically everything right there in and around this little island .It was a small space but for that few days, it might as well be home.  I even started to do things to cozy it up. I labelled the  jars with vintage tags;


I potted plants;


and flowers; always there were flowers. The pot of miniature lotuses was in fact the first thing I put on the bench right after I made the book stand. 


I no longer have enough words to describe how this experience affected and changed my life after that. Suffice to say that every time I felt a little lost, a little helpless, I thought of my mixing bench in this sanctuary. 



For in that small world where big magic could happen, all my troubles seemed a lot less daunting, all the pains a lot easier to overcome. 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Days 380-382-Colour Pigments Of Yore



When I first saw these jars of minerals, I hadn't the faintest idea what they were for. I thought maybe the Old Man collected them for their brilliant colours. I know I would. 


And then I found this journal which kind of explained everything. This is a journal about colour pigments used in ancient Persian miniature paintings. In the journal were drawings and handwritten notes explaining how these colour pigments were extracted from various minerals.


There was the obvious, like green from green earth, with footnotes on how the most famous deposits were found in mines located in Verona, Italy. Ro should be interested in this, I thought as I read on. So would Ewalina and Birgit and friends living in various parts of Europe because mines of the stones, celadonite and glauconite where green earth could be extracted were also found in Poland, Saxony and the Mendip hills of England.

The journal went on to give details about how orpiment gives you yellow, cinnabar produces red and charcoal, black.


A good many pages however, were devoted to the most prominent colour of them all, the one that in the medieval days, was described as a pigment more expensive than gold. It was the lapis blue or ultramarine. 

The Old Man had kept a small quantity of his lapis lazuli stones in a metal chest, probably even under lock and key at one time. Now they lay abandoned, like the other jars of minerals. Yet, despite being forgotten, one could still see beneath the dust how the stones kept that special blue, famous for its brilliance, depth and luxury.


With the mural as testament, it was easy to appreciate the mystique surrounding that colour; especially in the context of  Cennino Cennini's unreserved adulation which I also found in the journal:

Ultramarine blue is a colour illustrious, beautiful and most perfect, beyond all other colours; one could not say anything about it, or do anything with it, that its quality would not still surpass... Let some of that color, combined with gold, which adorns all the works of our profession, whether on wall or on panel, shine forth in every object.


My interest was piqued. What if I could do what many had failed to do? What if I could decipher Cennini's method and extract the blue of all blues, the purest, most genuine ultramarine  from the lapis, like what the Old Man had obviously done? 

Needless to say, I promptly forgot all the rules I had made before I returned to the house. It was more of the late nights, even more working, definitely all alone. It was also the embarking of one of my most exciting projects thus far. 

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Day 380- The First Paint Brush



This was the 1st paint brush I made. The 1st modern paintbrush, I mean. I had done some handmade brushes for my tribal house before but they were quite different.

I took these pictures before I cut off the end to show that I had used a toothpick. The bristles were made from the feathers of a feather duster. The rest were all painted.


 I wasn't very happy with it because it was too big. It was also quite a pain to make. So I decided  to shave pencils instead after this 1st attempt. 


Little did I know that shaving pencils was worse.  First, I had to slice the toothpicks into 12 parts due to the extra small scale. Next, there was the sharpening of the tips. Then I painted the bottom black and then the tips with all the different colours. 

After all that effort, the pencils stop being mere pencils. They became little precious stones such that when I accidentally tipped the cup over,  I went to great lengths to find each and every one of them. 


What of my first paintbrush? I have made quite a few since but this one, I must have dropped it somewhere. As at the time of writing this post, I only have these photos to show for and to remind me of how that first one was like. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Day 378-380- Going Back


Hardly a moment went by in that 4 weeks without something somewhere reminding me of the house that I too seemed to have abandoned. I could be in a museum or walking in a garden; even seeing an empty birdcage or an old man could trigger flashes of the House before me. I wondered about the flowers, thought about whether the roof was still green and imagined all the details in the mural that I never had the chance to really see. 

I began giving myself reasons to return. The flowers need me. The birds and bees need me! The House; it really, really needs me!! And that scare? Well, it was just me working too hard and too long. A tired mind playing tricks on a weak constitution. 

Going back was inevitable.


In order to avoid what happened the last time, I made  a few rules. Thou shalt not work thyself into a frenzy or stay beyond twilight. Definitely no sleeping over and try not to be alone. 

With that new resolve, I happily set out once again toward the house. This time, I brought only 2 things; an old copper coffee pot and my cast iron water kettle with rusty handle. I went prepared only to just enjoy the quiet and beauty with a good cup of tea. And if, no, the word should be when, when my friends should join me, even the coffee-only-no-tea ones, they too could have their cuppa. 


Upon arrival, I went straight to the inside of the house. Might as well confront my fears, I told myself,  and of course, to put the kettle on. The house was pretty much how I left it. It was messy and full of stuff. There were amongst many, books, jars of different types of mineral stones, bowls, pots and a whole load of paraphernalia for some kind of processing. There were also a few pieces of old furniture. I saw a good side table, one or two broken stools and two Chinese high tables that I really liked. 


And of course there was the ladder.

That ladder made me realise for the first time that this house had a second floor. It was in a really bad shape though and would need quite a major repair job. I could see that there were parts of the floor that had rotted and fallen off. 


Quite naturally, I started clearing the room.Slowly, leisurely and with often stops for my coffee and tea. I stacked the small items neatly outside the house and then I cleaned the high benches and side  table. 


By the time I left, the inside of the house no longer felt scary. It actually looked neat and quite habitable. 


I came back again the next morning with fresh sachets of tea and coffee and a bunch of colour pencils and pastel sticks. All I did that whole day was shaving the pencils, one by one, with a pen knife. Slowly, leisurely and with frequent stops for my cuppas.  

It was another good day.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Day 379-Making A Cast Iron Water Kettle



My love affair with Japanese traditions started since I was 13 years old. That year, I was selected to study a 3rd language on top of English, our first language and Chinese, our 2nd. I could pick either Japanese or French and I chose Japanese. We were taught by a Japanese lady whose face I still recall quite clearly  although I have long forgotten her name. The language too is but a distant memory but my love for some things Japanese lingers till today. 

One of those things I love is the tetsubin or the Japanese cast iron water kettle. I love it for its sturdiness, the rural feel, that fact that it looks deceptively simple but is really a work of art. The kettle alone however is not what makes the magic for me. It is the sight of it hanging over a charcoal pit from a roof beam in a farmhouse, evoking at once an air of elegance and warmth that few other images can achieve for me. I see hot tea, good company and earthy conversations. I see bliss. 


In contrast to that, we have this. This was me when I first started buying dollhouse miniatures. This particular piece was bought from MMoT during my 1st trip, maybe some of you have it too. I had thought it would fit into my Maharajah's Palace, a palace which I have yet to build. Now I can no longer see how a filigree teapot can fit into any of my setting. So I decided it should become a tetsubin. A tetsubin in the true sense, strictly cast iron, no enamel on the inside so that the water boiled in it will have the properties of the iron which in turn will enhance the flavour of the tea. 


So I took out my matt white nail polish, which ironically was for my French manicure, and started painting the pot till all the holes were covered. After that, I spray painted the kettle black and then just to make sure no one thought there could be any enamel lurking in there, I added dabs of rust on the handle. I know you may not see the connection of how rust on handle means no enamel, that's why I have to tell you: 

rust on handle= no enamel.  


Of course, it has to be an old tetsubin but one that still has a few good years of use in it. Soon I will put the kettle to boil so please, do come by and have a tetsubin cup of green tea with me.

Good company, great conversations, bliss. 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Day 377 & 378- The Old Man



It was more than 14 days after Taiwan before I found the courage to return to the Abandoned House. That made an entire month that I had not been there. 

I was afraid to go back because something inexplicable had happened the day I first saw the inside; something that spooked me so bad that I had thought I would never want to see that house again. 


Remember that one incredible week? The one that resulted in those amazing flowers transforming the once godforsaken facade of this house? I still cannot explain how I did what I did. I was working so long and hard that I was in a daze after a few days. In that time, I didn't even see the inside of the house or at least remember any of it. The inside was so dark and dinghy that I just wanted to stay outside all the time. 


How did I keep warm? Where did I sleep? Did I cook my food? All these questions that I could later piece the answers to only after I saw what was inside the house. 

Like this old stove.


Or the ladder that reached the window.


A portrait of an old man?

There was no doubt in my mind when I saw the portrait that this man must have been the owner and builder of this wondrous haven. You know what I mean, don't you, when you knew something purely out of instincts; something completely void of logic but you knew in your bones to be true. I knew too that  he was the artist who had painted the murals. The carpenter, the plumber, the engineer. He was the House. 


I saw the chair last and that was when I knew he was also the gardener I met 20 years ago. Chills ran down my spine and suddenly snippets of our long conversation that afternoon came rushing back at me. 

My dreams, my loves, my sanctuary. Things that should matter but which I have pushed back to such a deep, dark corner of my mind in the past 20 years that I have forgotten they were what could make me really happy. A sense of waste and deep despair came over me and I began to sob uncontrollably.

I ran then, confused and sad, never once looking back at the house. 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Day 374-MMoT& Dinotopia-Treetown


Is this life or what?


Well, that was but one evocative detail  of a multitude of such depictions in another Bill Lankford's creations at the Miniature Museum of Taiwan. 


Dinotopia-Treetown was commissioned to celebrate the museum's 15th anniversary. A slice of heaven where homo sapiens live in happy harmony with dinosaurs.


I stood and stare as my life in an alternate universe unfolded.


This is where I can paint;


and I can fly.


My home.


My work.


Flying in to my office.


Always aerial transporting.


Wooooooweeeeeeee!


 A Wonderful Life.


Just some reasons why this one was my favourite.

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