Bibelots

a place for the curious

Staying blue

two types of cyanotype images on paper - one pale, washed out blue, the other a vibrant cyan blue

feeling a little blue

A bit of backyard science

A few weeks ago I was experimenting with a different sort of cyanotype – a digital image of an underground tunnel, printed on a clear transparency. I had captured the slow steps of someone moving through the low, dark space. I’d hoped to use it in a group ‘thing’. Unfortunately, it failed terribly. That is to say, the chemicals failed.

I’m used to photos not successfully translating to cyanotype, but this image seemed to have the right stuff. After a waiting through a week of rain and sunless sky, I was at last able to set up. I painted my paper, watched for a longish moment of late-winter sunlight and exposed the cyanotype in the usual way. A raindrop or two got caught with the sun, but as it’s a ghostly and indistinct image, I figured it would be okay. It looked beautiful. I rinsed the paper and let the chemicals wash away… and with horror watched the lovely blue image wash away too. I had managed to produce a damp, wrinkled, blank piece of paper.

A couple of weeks later, when the sun reappeared, I tried again in the somewhat futile hope that I’d mixed the solutions incorrectly. But, no. That image washed away, even after a 40 minute exposure – longer than needed in Australia at that time of year. There was no more than a hint of an image.

It turns out that the unmixed liquid cyanotype solutions have an end shelf-life. The best information I could find was ‘it should last a few months’. I did my googling, as any good internet citizen would, but couldn’t spot anything more definitive.

In case you’re one of the few who want to know, I’d kept the two solutions in separate bottles in a dark cupboard for about six months. One week they were working pretty well. A few weeks later, not so much. Obviously, I’ve had to discard the solutions. New chemicals have been ordered and I await their blue-toned arrival.

Next time I prepare the solutions, I’ll put a date on the bottles and track what happens. I’ll do one test strip a month, and keep a record of the date and changing sunlight. I’m sure can get a better idea than ‘a few months’. Data, baby. That’s what I want. Data. Failure is okay, so long as you learn from it and try again.

And that, my friends, is my little bit of backyard science. Science in the sun. Cool, huh?

Free-range thoughts

Etching of frog in front of toadstools

ruminating
frog

There’s a lot of stuff going on in here [taps head] at the moment. Ideas come and go. They burn bright and rush away. Thoughts loop around. And around. And around. It’s like a somewhat faulty fireworks display.

There’s advice everywhere about how to write more, or find new photos, or set challenges to create new things. That’s not what I need. I need a way to shut out all the new stuff, so I can find a more meaningful image or write a better story. It’s pinning the damn things down that’s the problem.

How do you do it? A mind bubbling over with great swags of free wheeling notions might sound like a good thing. But it ain’t always so. The question so often posed is ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ A more apt one might be ‘how do you stop them from getting in?’ How can you concentrate on just one thing?

That’s not to say I’m coming up with mind-blowing and original concepts. To say that would involve a level of ego I don’t even wish to aspire to. But a couple of them aren’t half-bad. What a shame that they’re buried in the clangor from a swarm of half-crazed, babbling gnats.

I’ll tell you one thing that I do, if you like. I may as well. There’s no getting anything done in this head right now.

I go outside. I sit in the sun. And I stare vacantly at the horizon. Sit, gaze, repeat. Then maybe, when everything is still and quiet, I find I can pick out one single thing. An intriguing notion or idea. Then I treasure it. Give it my full attention. And a little love. But I never, ever give it a deadline. I give it time.

Will this work for you? I can’t say for sure. Does sitting in the soft winter sunshine do you any harm? Nope. So, go on. Get outside. Take a moment from your day and set out to achieve absolutely nothing.

The well

a mountain in cyan blue

Dark and brooding:
Curman’s Los Molinos

I’m occasionally surprised by how dark my storytelling can be. As often as not, I’m happier when I write about a brooding, towering mountain than a little, yellow duck. When I open the big book of writing, there’s often a dank, mossy well to draw from. It’s deep and it’s far from pretty.

I sometimes wonder where my ideas come from, but I really haven’t a clue. I doubt anyone does. I guess it’s a matter of ‘take life, stir and turn up the heat’. What boils over isn’t reality. It’s something else and when it arrives it’s barely controlled. It’s easy to go too dark. Just as it’s easy to get too silly.  However good or bad I am at this, I know that telling stories isn’t merely about trying to come up with ideas. It’s about control. Watch the beast grow, give it a name in the night and see it come to life. A realistic life. Does it look real? Can you smell it? Taste it? Touch it?

If you can you see the strings, I’ve probably done it wrong.

Every creative endeavour seems to be a little like this. There’s a freedom and beauty to creativity, but there’s also a lot of precision. Capturing the moment just once might take no effort. But do it again. And again. That’s what they call practice. Ultimately, it’s also a fine-tuned level of control.

Next time the ideas come calling, be they dark, be they feathered, be they scaled, I’ll be there. And one day perhaps I’ll even be ready.

Marginalia

Or, writing in books

the words "Oh, how I love Nina George right now. Thank you." scribbled on the page of a book

a reader’s message


A filthy notion, discussed in the open

I write in books.

Not ‘I write books*’, but ‘I write in books’. I write in the margins of books. Not just text books. Bookish books. Fiction books. Non-fiction books. Beautiful books. Books. Are you with me? Or are you shocked? Some might say it’s akin to an act of graffiti, except more so. Because I don’t put in any old thing. I put in words. Right next to the words the author put in for me to read. Imagine it if you can. Pick up the pencil and . . . Bang! One word. Then another. And another. And before long, there you have it. A margin full of words.

The person to blame is an author, of course. Wherever there’s trouble, you’re bound to find one at the bottom of it all. In the middle of his book Trafficking in Old Books, under a delightful section titled ‘A little heresy’, Anthony Marshall implores the reader to take out their pen and write in the book. Right there and then. He makes clear he will be rather disappointed if you turn the page without leaving your mark.

I’ll admit I use a pencil, rather than a pen. An archival quality pencil that will outlast any pen. Of course, any future reader could decide to erase the comment. There’s no way I can stop them. Just as there’s no way an author can stop me from writing there in the first place. Books are for words. Put them in. Take them out. Do as you see fit, so long as you revel in it.

So, as Anthony did for me, I’m going to do the same for you. Go on. Next time you have a book, a papery book and one that you own, take out your pen and write in it.

Write what you feel, angry or sad. Write how grateful you are for the existence of those words. Or how sad you are that the story might soon be ending. Write what you like and, just as importantly, write what you don’t like it. Argue with the characters. Make nonsensical comments. Make music, leave marks, have fun. Think not of the purity of the form of the book, think only of how the words make you feel. Leave your mark for the future. Think about it for a moment. Haven’t you ever found a mysterious comment in the margins of a dusty old secondhand book? How do you think it got there? Someone like you put it there for you to find.

Write something in the margins that will have future readers bewildered or stunned at your words. Leave little treasures that one day might be uncovered by others. Or perhaps they won’t. It doesn’t matter – you’ll never know.

Make today the day. Pick up a pen, a pencil or even a crayon and just do it. Day time or night, leave your mark. Feel no shame. If you’re to do it, do it proud.

After a little while, you’ll find you can’t stop. Sometimes I even do it in public. In plain sight, where anyone can see. Sitting on the train. In a cafe. Anywhere the story calls me to it.

Someday, if you see a madwoman with a pencil, hurling words with merry abandon, take a second look. It’s probably me. Or someone just like me.

Maybe one day it could be you.

 
* Actually, I’m trying to do this too, but that’s another story. Literally.**
** These largely unnecessary footnotes brought to you in memory of Sir Terry Pratchett.

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