The Festive Fox

Foxes are related to dogs BUT they have a feline trait – they can retract their claws! They can also make 40 different sounds; that’s impressive.  And unlike normal foxes this fox isn’t smelly. Foxes are mischievous, opportunists, playful, curious, clever and wise and are often part of folklore and children’s literature, especially in Europe and Asia. What springs to mind is the word cunning. Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox and Aesop’s Tales, oh and then there is Michael Morpurgo.

My festive fox was made as my Christmas card design. I wanted to make something strong in contrast- that is when mosaics are the most effective I believe. I wanted to also emphasise the tail so I designed it crashing in to the opus border. It is a still life technique used to create a quirky composition.

I am particularly pleased with the mix of shiny and matt tiles and the cornflower blue shadow.  His eyes are made with irregular vitreous gold veined tiles so they refract with different lights. Again photography does not do these pieces justice, they need to be seen in the light to appreciate the subtle differences in tile and glint with the changing light. He would hang beautifully in a hallway.

Tell me what it reminds you of.

An ode to the Christmas pud!

A Christmas pudding is the spirit or symbol of Christmas, but how many of us still eat it? Is it just a token Christmas card on the mantelpiece? Not many of us. We are always too full to eat the pudding, but if we have it, we eat figgy pudding. Those of you who know the history of our cats know that Figaro (cat) would always make an appearance.

It was first served as a porridge in the 14th century made from mutton, wines, spices to hide the flavour and dried fruit and eaten for breakfast. It sounds disgusting doesn’t it! The Puritans banned the eating of pudding and by 1650 it had changed to a plum pudding; more like what we know today.

Thanks or perhaps not thanks to the Victorians it is part of the festive table today.

Who still places charms in their pud? We do! Let’s look at the symbolism of the pudding. The lit brandy flames represent  Jesus’ love and power whilst the holly is supposed to represent  the crown. Or was it just used as one of the greens still alive in the garden at this time of year with a lovely red berry? Complementary colours?

The favours, such as the silver coin started off as a many sided three-penny bit, but earlier was a dried pea.  The Victorians created more symbolism of course. Finding a button would mean you would stay single and if you were a woman and drew out a thimble that too would demonstrate that you would stay single.  Why were the Victorians so hooked up on marriage and spinsterhood? Emily Pankhurst didn’t come soon enough!

My mosaic contains beads, copper gold tiles, porcelain tiles for the pudding, cut up china with gold edging for the plate and finally smalti to create the different colours of the blue flame. 38 x 35cm.  A little festive decoration heirloom keepsake that can be displayed year on year.  £180

In a bit of a fluster.

Return to sender – a salutary tale.

A Salutary Tale

Prince of Wales feathers or Fleur de Lys? These two symbols that are interchangeable- so I thought – however from a bit of research I find it is a common mistake. Both form the same overall shape and stem from a central bejeweled coronet and are used in heraldry. But that is where the similarity of the two stops.

Did you know we hold a Prince of Wales feather in our pocket every day; the two pence coin? Many are still in circulation.

I am going to flesh this out a bit now. The Fleur-de-Lys is based on a lily and stems (excuse the pun) from the court of the French monarchs. It also forms the symbol for the scouts and in Mauritius it holds a sinister context. Slaves were marked with this symbol if they tried to escape.

The Prince of Wales’s feathers, along with the leek is also an adopted symbol of Wales, and of the Welsh Rugby Union; although Ich Dien doesn’t feature.

BUT this isn’t the logo of our native Welsh Prince but from Edward, the Black Prince in 1330-1376.  

As Alice in Wonderland says…’curiouser and curiouser…’

Where do the feathers come in then? Ostrich feathers were an Egyptian symbol of strength and purity and were often found in children’s graves- a symbol of re-birth. They were first adopted and used in European French court in 1486.

Minted coins have an Aberystwyth connection too.  Wiki says,’ During Charles I times, feathers appeared on coins because, Charles I didn’t have access to the Royal Mint. He therefore transferred the mint to Shrewsbury and Oxford. There is a mosaic below the war memorial on Aberystwyth seafront showing the coins being minted.

Why was my mosaic returned to sender? I decide to make a gift for HRH Prince Charles KG, KT, GOB, OM – and send it to Clarence House, only to have my package returned to sender! Perhaps it is because of coronavirus restrictions or that he does not accept gifts. A little surprised by this rebuff, I consequently read online that there was a big clamp down on the usage of the Prince of Wales feathers. (Wales Online November 2018) It appears that letters were sent from Buckingham Palace (2007) asking businesses not to use the logo. The logo is the personal property of The Prince and is protected from misuse.

Ah, I may have offended him anyway, should he have accepted my gift. My desire was that this mosaic stayed in Wales and I still aim to achieve this. If you have a business or Royal warrant, I would like to gift this to you; all I ask is that you pay for the postage. Just contact me.

The plaice for a fish

The plaice for a flat fish

I couldn’t avoid the pun, sorry. This has been made for a Lazy Susan –  a table centre piece. 

Although these wonderful creatures live all over the world, the European plaice live on the sandy continental shelf in about 10 metres of water and are able to survive low salt saturation so can come ashore.  They spawn on the easterly  North sea and float amongst the plankton. The infant plaice start with the eyes on each side of their head but their double eye migrates around to the top of the head but they remain right-eyed! Turbots on the other hand are left-eyed!  Nature, blimey it is a freaky world isn’t it?  To make my plaice more easy on the eye, I used florist beads instead of creating the rather unnerving fish eye. They really are beautiful creatures. The distinctive nature of the plaice are the orange spots. To emphasise those, I used iridescent beetroot tiles and copper gold tiles and to complement these orange tiles and give the iridescent tiles the best opportunity to sing. I used matt cinca tiles for the background is a lovely pale dusty pink peppered with iridescent glass tiles, so the refraction of light gives the mosaic a lively appearance.

It strikes me, why was a Lazy Susan called a Lazy Susan?  It was named after Jefferson ‘s daughter as she always complained about always getting her food last.

So we have here, a piece that is 54cm in diameter, can be cleaned and is a real table statement. £300 it is yours.

If you wish to have a piece made for a specific place let me know; this can also be a winter barbecue protector.

Are we being a wuss about lockdown?

Are we being wusses?

Another lockdown – are we being wusses about this; or is it one long battle?

Last weekends’ news from Boris Johnson and Michael Gove has been pretty shocking for all; the effect and impact it has on us in Wales is not to be taken glibly. Our lockdown overlaps England’s lockdown. The curbing of pour freedom means we need to keep mindful. It is a perfect time to do a mosaic, a nice mindful activity that can also be a present.

I know, first-hand what an impact it has having on three generations of my family. My niece who has just delivered a baby girl on Halloween in the North-west of England, no-one can see the baby and support the mother; my partner who is an introvert is actually missing people! and my daughter who is in lockdown studying in Liverpool. Where is this all going, I hear you ask?

It’s about focussing on being logical, keeping off the news streams, understanding the reasoning behind the lockdown; setting goals that are achievable to keep us busy whilst we endure another forced hibernation – making sure we look after ourselves so we can look after and be strong for others.

I have been reading diaries from the people in lockdown during the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 – The Smithsonian Museum has released some letters and diaries, if you are interested. My thoughts were initially; are we being a bit of a wuss about all this? Surely those of the population that lived through the First World War coped better with a the isolation of the pandemic? – well not really and reading others’ lives puts our issues in to context. Where am I going with this? Many people made diaries during the 1918 pandemic as a way of keeping mindful, reflecting upon a situation they had no control over – and yes, even then they doubted the government’s decisions.

Obviously in 1918, they hadn’t the freedom we have today, which is what makes us feel trapped, but even the dark thoughts we mull over like, ‘will I have forgotten to socialise after all this?’- is a perfectly rational thought.

Christmas is looming, many of us have had our wages clipped, how do we cope with the festive expense? Making do; I will be making my own home-made gifts and special sauces bottled up in ribbons, salad dressings, mustards, flavoured gins, and biscuits for cheese. I can enjoy looking for old tins online or Etsy etc to make the gifts special or creating small mosaiced boxes for keepsakes. The activity of making and mosaicing is mindful as well as knowing  that your gift is made with thought, love and time, and of course less costly on the pocket.

Keep up that diary and set of tasks, however small. The activity of crossing off those tasks allows you to be in control. Weekly, monthly or daily is all appropriate.  To maintain safety, mountain climbers look for the next step and not the top of the mountain. If you are thinking about learning a mosaic in the next lockdown, my course is still available to enrol through Lifelong learning https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/lifelong-learning/online-learning/  and is £45,  not including materials. It is self-paced, lots of feedback, lots of demonstrations and advice on design, what to make, what tiles to choose etc,  The course  finishes in March 2021, so lots of time to really get to grips with it.

I have now started my new ‘ in conversation with..’ series of chats with fellow mosaicists. They will appear on this blog from time to time.

A walk for well-being can give inspiration

Inspiration from found objects

This is a term used for ‘found objects’ is object trouve. Mosaic designs start from many sources; commissions, childhood memories, colours, or just the tiles themselves. Just recently I purchased some gorgeous velvet beetroot iridescent tiles from Bath mosaic supplies. For me this is like coveting a pair of high heel shoes. I HAD to have some!  They have already been used in a Lazy Susan Plaice circle design.

So it is with this theme that I talk about three mosaics, created from using objet trouve.

Catenary – a piece of old nylon blue fishing rope discarded on the beach.  This is from my cat series. A play on the words with cat in the title. My cat was a great prowler at the time. He was brown and fawn. The ginger tiles matched the blue rope that makes this mosaic sing. Catenary means a wire suspended from tow structures – a bit like a tight rope. I use this image for my ‘Night on the Tiles’ walk.  He prowled the streets at night, elegant and composed.

Covid chameleon was made during the pandemic lock down. It started with finding a shell lying there discarded on the beach; when my daughter was younger we used to call them mermaids rings. This had the hole pierced in just the right direction to form a chameleon’s eye. The rainbow at the time was being used widely to represent the NHS and I decided that it would be a good metaphor for us all adapting to the new normal. Just like the chameleon.

And today I found an unusual pebble – a mixture of quartz and not sure what the other stone is – it will make a great eye. Watch this space. What will it be?