Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dreams and Schemes

I've been working in the garden whenever I have a little spare time, which usually means early morning or just before sunset--the two most beautiful times of day.  We spread yards and yards of compost last week, and still have more to go on some of the beds, but I'm not rushing.  These are days meant to be savored.  As you an see, the fritillaria and 'thalia' daffodils are blooming this week, as are the primroses and grape hyacinths.  The tulips are just about to open, and in the woodland gardens, things like epimedium and lungwort are at their peak.

I've allowed myself to cut and bring inside just a few specimens for still lifes, as usual.  I always love photographing them, but I love them in the garden even more.  As much as I enjoy arranging large, elaborate bouquets (just wait until the dahlias and roses are blooming) I also love really simple clusters of flowers--not arranged at all, but just tossed in a dundee jar.  They say springtime to me.  In a couple of photos below, I've included my latest find, this sweet little watering can, which I bought at my friend Melissa's incredible garden-inspired shop here in Portland.  If you are ever visiting coastal Maine, a stop at Fiachre is a must!

Oddly enough, I had begun taking some shots of the watering can and flowers over the weekend, and then I saw my friend Kim's latest prompt in the Online Studio: Potting Bench!  Well, that was an easy one, since my shots already looked like potting bench-inspired photos.  As I took these, I thought a lot about my plans for the garden this year.  In the photo below, you'll see that my gardening journal is opened up to a page I sketched our first fall in this house.  Nothing really ended up as I'd planned it, of course, but that's not the point.  I love dreaming and scheming, and discovering surprises along the way.  Among the surprises in the garden this spring are the lady's mantles that have self-seeded, which I was hoping they'd do, but you can never plan for these kinds of happy accidents.  I'm also excited to see that the lilacs, which I've trimmed back hard for two years, are looking the best they've been yet.  Soon there will be blooms to share.

Have I told you that I'm devoting one of the raised beds to nothing but cutting flowers this year?  I can't wait to see how it turns out, but in the meantime, I am loving the elegant fritillaria, with their little checked blossoms, hanging like plum bells beneath the wings of the white daffodils in the early morning light.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Being in the Moment

End of the Day, Town Landing, Falmouth, Maine

Spring in our house always feels jam-packed.  The to-do lists are long, the days fly by, and suddenly, after winter's long semi-hibernation, I wish I only needed about two hours of sleep a night.  There just aren't enough hours in a day for us to do the work that pays the bills plus do the million and one house projects that somehow feel most urgent in spring plus keep up with the classes I'm taking, plus get my own writing projects done, plus see friends and family plus workout daily plus cook meals plus--and most pressing and exciting for me--work in the garden.

Just Before Dusk, Congress Square, Portland, Maine

I'm grateful for my iPhone camera, because it reminds me in the midst of all of these tasks and commitments (so many of which I love) to pause and breathe and just take note of what's around me.  My word for the year is "see," and I live in a part of the world where so much of what there is to see is beautiful.  But I see what's not beautiful, too, and I believe that's just as important.    

Early Morning on Moulton Street, Portland, Maine
So many of us feel rushed and stressed these days more than ever.  I think that as much as we love them, our technologies--our phones and laptops and various other gadgets and devices--play a big part in this stress and in this feeling of never being able to truly shut down, rest, retreat.  It's up to us to take charge and use this incredible technology for our own benefit--to determine how we use it rather than letting it gradually take over.  So, I love to use my phone to take photos of simple, quiet moments.  I share some, but many more I just keep for myself to enjoy.  I also make sure that when I go for walks or out to eat I don't always bring my phone with me.  Sometimes it's best to just be in the moment, no need to record it.  I don't need a photo of every pretty latte I drink or every gorgeous rose I see.  That makes the photos I do take all the more precious to me.

I'd love to know what you do to slow down and relax.  What helps you rest and recharge?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ordinary Objects and the Poetry of Salvage

Last weekend I climbed through many, many trailers of salvaged architectural bits and bobs, old stoves, rusted pieces of ceiling tin, faded signs, and corroded hinges to find a treasure in the rain.  My sweatshirt was soaked through and my boots were caked with mud as I climbed the rickety steps to the next-to-last trailer in the salvage yard.  I squinted into the gloom, took a few half-hearted steps across the sloping metal floor.  Nothing.  I didn't see a single object that sang to me in the way really special things do when you're on a treasure hunt.  I was just about to turn to head back out into the downpour when my magpie eye caught sight of a soft glint in the shadows on a shelf over my head.  I couldn't tell what it was, but I threw caution--and my fear of tetanus--to the wind and just reached up to grab whatever it was.

Well, it turned out to be the frame that you see in the photo above.  A Victorian beauty, completely intact, with wonderfully worn gilding on its inner edge.  That had been the glint I'd seen.  I had to make it mine.  I cradled it in my arms and went in search of the salvage yard owner.  It turns out he had just placed the frame on that shelf earlier in the afternoon.  When I say "placed," I don't mean displayed.  It was just sort of lying there on the top shelf, nearly out of sight in one trailer out of several that were packed to the gills with jars of springs, boxes of brackets, and bins of rake handles.  

When the owner offered to sell me the frame for the little bit of cash I had in my pocket, I knew two things immediately: 1) I will buy more treasures from him, and 2) this frame was going to be important for me, for my photos, for the vision I have of where I want my work to go.

I believe in the stories that beautifully made things can tell us--in the texture of history, the poetry of ordinary objects.  That is one of the aspects of still life photography that appeals to me most. This photo is the first in what I hope will be a series of photos featuring my newly found treasure.  I believe this old frame will help me dream up countless stories in the weeks and months to come.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

April Rains--A Garden Update

The April rains have come, and with them the green and red buds on the trees.  Out in the garden we've had crocuses--then snow--then then more rain and even more crocuses, sprinkled with some snowdrops.  We have raked and tidied the beds, made way for the grape hyacinths, the buds of which are tinged with purple at their edges.  The tulips are midway up, as are the daffodils and fritillaria.  The lady's mantle are everywhere, pushing up their tiny pleated fans through the soil, and the pulmonaria are showing off their polka-dotted leaves.  I've even caught sight of the first secret frills of red where the bleeding hearts grow at the edge of the woodland border.  Out along the edges, the shrub border is filling with color--the red twig dogwoods and the Hakuroo-Nishiki willow are scarlet red, covered with buds.  I'm thrilled to see that all the hard cutting and pruning I've done on the lilacs these last two years is paying off.  They are looking stronger than ever--and they are loaded with buds.  

Chores for the coming couple of weeks include dividing some of the day lilies and spreading the three yards of compost that we're having delivered this weekend.  No bed will be left out.  Everyone will get a top dressing to start the growing season with a bang.  I'll also be starting many, many flower seedlings for the new cutting garden I'm planning to grow in one of the raised beds this year.  And then there are the dahlias.  They will be emerging from their winter sleep down in the cellar.  I'll chit them out until the soil is warm enough to put them in.  For the past couple of seasons I've mixed them in with other plantings, letting them grow with all the other flowers.  This year I think they may get their own bed.  We shall see.

Spring came late here in the Maine this year, but now that it's here, every plant seems to be rushing to put on a show.  I am relishing these cool days, especially the ones when the sun puts in an appearance.  It's too cool yet for the mosquitos, so we can just be out there in the mud, spreading grass seeds, trimming limbs, and dreaming up new garden plans.  I hope your spring is shaping into a beautiful one. If you garden, I'd love to hear what is blooming right now and what you're up to in your garden.  More soon--plus pictures of the early spring garden!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Spring is like a perhaps hand

Spring is like a perhaps hand

E. E. Cummings, 1894 - 1962


Spring is like a perhaps hand 
(which comes carefully 
out of Nowhere)arranging 
a window,into which people look(while 
people stare
arranging and changing placing 
carefully there a strange 
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps 
Hand in a window 
(carefully to 
and fro moving New and 
Old things,while 
people stare carefully 
moving a perhaps 
fraction of flower here placing 
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Just Do it Yourself, Magpie Girl!

I have wanted a beaded wrap bracelet for ages, but I just can't bring myself to pay the prices I see in stores and online. A Chan Luu one at Garnet Hill costs $168!  That's a bit much for a bracelet that probably won't last forever, I think. 

So, I finally just made one over the weekend, and guess what?!  It was incredibly easy. I was standing in the artsy craftsy store, oohing and ahhing over the pretty beads--the way we magpies tend to--and on a whim I looked up a couple of wrap bracelet tutorials on my phone. Turns out there are about a million of these tutorials online, so I won't give any instructions here.  I looked up "Chan Luu bracelet" on Pinterest, or you could Google the instructions, if you feel like making one (or 100--I think it would be easy to get addicted to making these).  

I spent about 20 bucks on beads and cording (I still have plenty left to make a second bracelet), and then settled in at home to craft for a couple of hours. Easy peasy. This one wraps around my wrist three times, and I attached a mother-of-pearl button I had in my button jar to keep it closed. 

Just thought I'd share this wee bit of magpie inspiration today. It couldn't have been easier once I got started, and I always like saving pennies while fulfilling my desire for sparkly things. 

Hope you all have a beautiful week, my friends!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chasing More Light

I wrote in my last post about chasing the light.  It's true, I spend much of my time when I'm shooting pictures watching for certain kinds of light, hoping for clouds to pass--or to appear--depending on my needs and whims.  There's a corner in my study/studio/hideaway with a small window that  I love for its northern light.  It's never a warm, glowing kind of light.  Daylight coming through a north facing window has a coolness to it that makes for moody, slightly melancholy photos.  That's just what I wanted when I took the above shot.  And it's something I really accentuated as I processed it in Lightroom.  I desaturated the photo quite a bit and added some graininess.  The three kinds of tulips in this photo were all incredibly vivid; I wanted the richness of their colors, but not necessarily the intensity.  I also wanted the light coming from the side, so that the curves of the petals would be traced by it and there would be a sense of shadow just off to the left of the photo--not darkness, but a gentle fade into shadow.  

I actually shot this at the very end of the day using only natural light (I use natural light almost exclusively).  I kept the ISO at 200 because I wanted to be in control of the grain during processing. I also let the photo be a little on the dark side, knowing that I would lighten the exposure later.  This let me take a lot of shots in the fading light, and as the room grew dark around me, the photos got better.  This is one of about 30 shots I took during that hour.  There are more that I will share sometime soon.  I'd been sick all day, fighting off a flu, but I told myself, "You've got one good hour of light left.  DO something with it."  I'm so glad I ignored my headache and chills, and did a wee bit of light chasing.

This shot was something else entirely.  I took it the week before the tulip photos in response to a lesson from the fabulous Kim Klassen in her Be Still--52 class, in which she asked us to do a backlit shot.  For that assignment, I set up a small table in front of a south facing window in my bedroom, and I took a series of photos in the mid afternoon when the sun was quite intense. Southern light is usually much brighter and cheerier--more golden than northern light.  It can also be very intense, especially in a backlit shot.  To soften the possible harshness of the afternoon sunshine and to block any trace of the view outside the window, I stretched a piece of cheesecloth across the window.  I  wanted the cheesecloth to have a bit more texture and some shadows, so I poked several white feathers into it.  Because the focus of the shot is on the silk flower, the feathers don't read as feathers; they read as texture.  I added the organza ribbon to give the image one more layer that the light could play with.  I was especially happy that I could get some shimmer off it in the right side of the frame while on the left the ribbon intensifies the feeling of shadow.  

Beneath the flower is a very old, very worn and faded piece of Irish linen that's printed with large cabbage roses.  I love using distressed fabrics in my photos.  The more worn the better.  I especially love using things like linen and burlap in contrast to light gauzes and tulles.  As with the tulip photo, I took out a lot of the saturation when I processed this.  

I think light is the single most important element in photography.  It has everything to do with setting mood and tone in a picture.  Many things can be played with in processing--cropping, composition, saturation, exposure, etc.--but light quality (I'm referring less to the how much of it, and more to the type of it) is essential from the get go.  It's more important than having a fancy camera (mine is not particularly fancy) or a bag full of expensive lenses.  Those things are wonderful and helpful, but you can take gorgeous shots with your phone or your point and shoot . . . as long as you're willing to chase the light.

P.S. I want to thank Kim Klassen for featuring my above tulip photo on her Instagram feed over the weekend, along with photos by three wonderful photographers.  I also want to thank her for featuring the silk peony photo on her blog a couple of weeks ago as one of the selections for the Still Sunday competition.  It was an honor to have my work included alongside such gorgeous photos.  

I am blessed to have found an incredible community of writers and picture makers and takers over the past six years that I've been blogging.  As that community grows and friendships deepen, I discover new opportunities for learning every week.  I can't imagine a greater joy.  

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