Artists in Residence

 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I decided that this would be the year I finally quit bemoaning my complete lack of skill in the drawing department, and take a sketching class.  The class is part of the Residential Décor program at Algonquin College, and focuses on sketching for the purposes of interior decorating.

I’m really enjoying myself so far, although I have a long way to go before I can illustrate on paper, my vision for a room.  For a little inspiration, I had a browse through Pinterest and Instagram to admire the works of designers and decorators who can proudly include hand sketching in their repertoire of skills.  Here are three stand-out artists whose renderings, let alone their design skills, are nothing short of breathtaking:

Michelle Morelan

Michelle Morelan is a British Columbia-based illustrator and interior designer, and in my opinion, is Canada’s First Lady of Interior Marker Renderings.  Her work has appeared in Canadian House and Home, Style at Home and elsewhere, and the blog she writes, A Schematic Life, is an endless source of inspiration.

Stephanie M. Sipp

Stephanie Sipp is an interior design professor at Florida State College of Jacksonville, as well as a published author of an instructional drawing book.  She also has a series of practical and encouraging YouTube video drawing demonstrations that are definitely worth checking out if you have any interest in learning some line drawing and rendering techniques.

Tiffany Leigh

Tiffany Leigh, is an interior design major and blogger who, even before finishing her degree in interior design, has already produced some of the most eye-catching hand renderings I’ve ever seen.  Her blog, Tiffany Leigh Interior Design, offers a fun mix of things from fashion to DIY, and of course, has a great collection of her drawings and design projects.  Clearly her talent has caught the eye of many – the image above is a rendering of a room design by Sarah Richardson, for whom she presently works.

Is drawing a part of your design toolkit?

Cranberry Coffee Cake

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For a couple of weeks now, I’ve had cranberry sauce leftover from the holidays sitting out on a shelf in the garage on the verge of freezing, because I didn’t want it taking up space in the refrigerator.  Just when I was about to toss it, I remembered that my Mum always used up leftover cranberry sauce from Christmas or Thanksgiving in a spectacularly delicious coffee cake that I have adored since early childhood.  I wish I could tell you the original source of the recipe, but it’s one of those that’s been floating around on a loose, well-worn sheet of paper for decades.  It’s not difficult to make, and it’s fantastic to have at the ready if you’re expecting weekend visitors to drop by.

I tweaked it a little bit to fit what I had on hand, but here’s roughly what you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (if you have salted butter, just reduce the amount of salt, below)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups of plain or vanilla yogurt or sour cream
  • 1 tsp almond essence
  • 1 cup (or more!) cranberry sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts, etc.)
  • 3/4 cup icing sugar
  • drop or two more of almond essence
  • water

 

Directions:

Cream the butter and gradually add sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add dry ingredients to egg mixture alternately with yogurt and the first lot of almond essence to make a batter.

Spread half the batter in a greased tube pan using a rubber spatula. IMG_1072Then spread half the cranberry sauce in the same way, breaking up any big chunks. 

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Repeat these two layers, then sprinkle nuts over the top.

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Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.

Mix icing sugar and a drop or two of almond essence with a few drops of water to make a soft frosting. 

Loosen the edges of the cake and lift centre section of pan out.  Drizzle frosting over the hot cake.

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Allow cake to cool for about an hour before turning separating from centre section of pan.

IMG_1088Enjoy!

 

 

Back to School

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As part of a New Year’s resolution, I’m finally following through on something I meant to begin ages ago: I’m going back to school.  It’s not a full-time commitment or anything, but  for a bit of creative stimulation, I’ve signed up for an evening Drawing Techniques class at Algonquin College.

I’ve always been so impressed by those who, when needing to describe something they’ve seen or imagined, can just casually say, “Do you have some paper and a pencil, and I’ll show you what I mean”, and then subsequently whip up a quick sketch.  For many years, I assumed that talent was needed to be able to do those sorts of things, and that stick figures and smiley faces would forever be the extent of my artistic renderings.  But I was encouraged to learn that, at least to some extent, drawing is a skill that can be learned, just like cooking, typing or anything else.  I can assure you that I will never have works on display at a gallery, but I suppose I might have the capacity to learn something about perspective, light, scale and colour.  (We’ll see, now won’t we.)

At the first session last night, just being in a classroom again was a thrill, and was relieved to know that it wasn’t all 19-year-olds.  Evidently there is quite a cohort of people who are keen to add a dose of something creative to their lives outside of work, home and other commitments.

The instructor herself is charming!  In addition to this drawing course, she also teaches fashion design and the history of furniture, and has an air of quiet sophistication about her.  She put us all at ease very quickly, and punctuated the lessons with a lot of humour and wit.  I was taken with her quick sketches on the classroom whiteboard (rendered in blue marker), but was horrified to see them disappear beneath the eraser almost as quickly as she had drawn them.

Key takeaway points from last night:

Use any given medium with the its appropriate foundation (as in, if you’re painting with watercolours, use watercolour paper);

Include a human figure or silhouette in drawings to show scale; and,

Periods in fashion and furniture are best contemplated together, as they relate to one another.

I’m looking forward to next week already, so stay tuned, and I’ll try to post regularly about my adventures in drawing.

Lived-In Living Room

Living Room

Does this ever happen to you?

Every time I think about tweaking a few things in our living room, I conclude that it’s simply impossible to change the pillows because I don’t have a budget for structural changes.  Huh?

It goes something like this:

A couple of new pillows for the couch and chairs would be nice.  What colour?

Well, it’s time to change those pictures above the fireplace, so once I have new artwork I can pick complementary pillows.

Oh yes… the electric fireplace… I keep meaning to paint that white…

Should it be white, or cream?  Cream, to match the background colour of the chairs.

But if the fireplace and chairs are going to match, they should be offset by a nice contrasting rug.

God, I hate that carpet that we said we were going to rip out when we moved in six years ago.  Why is it still here?  Oh right, because it’s adjacent to badly-installed and scratched up hardwood.

So clearly we need new flooring throughout.  But why would we lay new flooring when we really want to open up the living room to the kitchen?

Conclusion: Rip out two walls (one load-bearing), and then I can buy new pillows.

So for now, or until West Elm starts offering complimentary renovations when you buy a pair of cushions, I think it’s staying the way it is.

Happy Weekend!

 

Family Treasures

spoons

Do you have some old furniture or a few things around your home that used to belong to your mother or father, a grandparent, or even a great-grandparent? If they’re good quality, we say they’ve been “passed down”, but if they’re just ugly we call them “hand-me-downs”, right?

My parents immigrated to Canada from Britain during the 1970s, before I was born. My siblings were born in the UK, so I’m always referred to as the “true Canadian” of the family. Now that I have a family of my own, it’s really hard to imagine what it must have been like to pack up an entire life into a shipping container and move across the ocean, away from everything familiar and all existing support networks.

Understandably, not everything made the cut for the trek across the pond; practical considerations usually trumped sentimentality. So while I’m ever grateful that my parents made the decision to move to Canada (have you seen the cost of a house in the UK???), there just aren’t that many family heirlooms to fight over with my siblings!

The few items that my mother has passed on to me, I really treasure. For example, this set of three glass and silver apothecary jars used to belong to my great- grandmother, and are on display in my bedroom. They’re honestly too tiny to be useful for anything, so I appreciate them for the sparkle they add to the room, that is, when I remember to polish their silver lids. I’ve combined them with a couple of others I’ve found over the years to create a bit of a collection.

jars

shelf group

I also have this set of seven miniature ceramic horses. When I asked my mother about them, she said they had been a gift to her when she was little from a neighbour who used to travel the world as a purserette aboard an ocean liner. I’m not really what you would call an equestrian person, but who can argue with some whimsical objets d’art, all in white?

horses 1

I don’t often pull out these Noritake dessert plates because they are a little more gilded than my present lifestyle warrants They belonged to my grandmother though, and survived the trans-Atlantic trip back in the 70s, so I suppose I should bring them into service occasionally.

plates

And then there are these:

Oyster forks

One day, I really must find out what I’m supposed to be eating with these tiny forks and spoons (oysters perhaps?) and shine them up too.

And aside from a handful of photographs of relatives from the old country, that’s it. My mother’s wedding dress didn’t even make it to Canada, and my Granny’s wedding rings were stolen in a break-in at my parents’ house about ten or fifteen years ago (horrid thieves!).

If you have some old things lying about your home, do you consider them to be hand-me-downs or heirlooms?

Getting a Handle on Hardware

I can feel the end of our mudroom/laundry room project coming into sight.  The cabinets are up, counters have been ordered, and though it took a while to get there, this past weekend I finally found myself ready to choose cabinetry hardware.

Photo courtesy of Yelp.ca

Photo courtesy of Yelp.ca

Excited at the prospect of picking out what is sometimes referred to as “the jewellery of a room”, I popped by Lee Valley Tools, and was astonished by their impressive selection.  Not only do they have an enormous variety of au courant knobs, pulls and handles, they also carry an abundance of specialty hardware, in case you’re looking to find a match for the latch on your grandmother’s heirloom dresser, or you know, replace the hinge on your 18th century Stradivarius violin case or something.  Their selection is that vast.

Our front-load washer and dryer have a titanium-colour finish, which led us to select cool metal tones for the doorknobs and hinges in the room.  We knew we wanted to keep the cabinetry hardware in the same finish, but alas, until this weekend, I was unschooled in the distinction between satin nickel and brushed chrome!  I mean, I knew of the existence of both, but when faced with the same handle in both finishes side-by-side, I was at a complete loss as to which we already had on our existing doorknobs.  With a 50-50 shot at getting it right, I took a guess, and of course, got home and found it to be wrong.  (You can see the discrepancy below.)

After a second trip back to Lee Valley, I exchanged my brushed chrome for the satin nickel versions, and all was right with the world.  image-3

You may think that’s the end of this story, but metal confusion is not the only element of this saga – there’s also a romantic twist:  After many months of online hardware dating on Pinterest and Houzz, I was ready to be exclusive with just knobs, or so I thought. But when faced with the array of eligible hardware options at Lee Valley, I found I just couldn’t commit!  There were just so many nice-looking handles.  So I came home with knobs for the cabinets and handles for my, ahem, drawers.  I know, I’m such a floozy.

But it’s the 21st century – it’s okay to mix it up!  If you don’t believe me, here are some of my role models who couldn’t commit to just one kind of hardware either.

 

 

 

Pysanky: Ukrainian Easter Eggs

Canada is home to a sizable population of Ukrainian-Canadians, many of whom must be feeling great angst and sorrow over the violence that has flared up in Kiev,  Simferopol, and other parts of Ukraine over the course of the winter months.  Truth be told, I don’t know a great deal about Ukrainian history and culture, although I would love to learn more.

What I have come to learn though, in general terms, is that the arts are often a hidden casualty when there is conflict within, or between countries.  Creative contributions, places of architectural significance as well as artistic traditions are, at best, overshadowed when times are tense, and at worst, can be totally obliterated, such as the destruction of a number of ancient markets (designated World Heritage Sites), in Aleppo, Syria.

It may seem trite to talk about during such uneasy times, but one thing I just love about Ukrainian culture is the tradition of making pysanky – ornately designed Easter eggs decorated using a dying technique.  In fact, about ten years ago, I had the pleasure of taking part in a wee workshop at the Nepean Museum that led us through the step-by-step process of making a pysanka.

Using the flame of a candle, wax is melted through a tool called a kistka, a tiny metal cone at the end of a stick.  Black lines of melted wax are drawn in beautifully intricate patterns over an egg, and then the egg is dipped into various colours of dye.  The sections of the egg not covered by the wax take on the colours of the dye through a layering process.  After the egg has dried from its final dip, the wax is melted off by holding it close to the candle, and wiped with a clean cloth, revealing all the colours in the design.  It is truly an exercise in steadiness and patience with stunningly beautiful results.

There are many traditional motifs and symbols found on pysanky, such as sheaths of wheat and chickens, but nowadays, there are also many lovely contemporary examples as well.

As I keep an eye on the news about Ukraine, hoping for a speedy and peaceful de-escalation of tensions in the region, I thought I would take a moment to share some of my favourite examples of this breathtaking tradition.

 

 

 

 

 

Store Profile: Images on Bank

Images on Bank - Exterior

When my husband and I moved into our first condo together in 2007, the first brand new item we bought for the place was not furniture, or a coffee maker (which might have been slightly more practical), it was instead, a print by Gustav Klimt I had seen hanging in a custom framing store window downtown, around the corner from where I was working at the time.  We hung it proudly above our fireplace, and I remember feeling quite grown up to have something other than posters adorning the walls.  This is to say nothing of the aging effect of the mortgage itself!)  Although we left the condo years ago, the Klimt print is still with us, now hanging down the hall from the front door in our current home.  In fact, it’s the first thing I see when I walk into the house.

Klimt’s work is ubiquitous – found on everything from art prints to paper napkins.  Some may even say it runs the risk of being tiresome; however, I have not grown bored of my Tree of Life print, and I think part of the reason for that can be attributed to the way in which it was framed.  After falling for the picture in the window, the staff at Images on Bank took such care in helping me choose a frame and mat that would complement, and not compete with the artwork itself.  Seven years later, I still find myself pausing to look at it.  The picture reminds me of the milestone of buying our first home together, and I’m glad that our keepsake of that milestone is an investment that will last us a lifetime.

Images on Bank - Interior

A couple of months ago, I decided to frame some new David Milne prints I had bought from the Art Gallery of Ontario.  I went back to Images on Bank and once again, I was so pleased with the result.  I love to support local, independent businesses in the city, particularly when the purchase demands a little artistry and craftsmanship.

Images on Bank - Frame Selection

Being in the store again got me curious about the place, and the ins and outs of custom framing.  After telling them about this little hobby blog I have, Lindsay from the store, was kind enough to answer some questions that hope you will find useful if you’re thinking about having something framed yourself.

How long has Images on Bank been around?

Images on Bank has been around for 25 years, since 1989 to be exact.

What services does the store provide?

Our main service is creative custom framing.  We also offer lamination onto board in a variety of styles, print ordering, standard sized ready-made frames, and we have a constantly changing selection of ready-to-hang pieces on display.  Finally, we are known for our wide range of unique and artistic greeting cards.

What are the advantages of having a piece custom framed?

Frame 1

Art print by David Milne

Choosing custom framing allows you to bring your own personal style into your home or office; with the help of our knowledgeable and friendly staff, the client is involved in determining every visual aspect, from the glass type, mat colour, layout and size, all the way to the frame itself in order to obtain the desired effect.  As well as complementing your image, framing protects your artwork, special memories and accomplishments, and we have many options available for conservation framing, depending on the needs of the individual piece. Custom framing is also necessary for items that are not standard sizes or for certain artistic mediums that require special treatments such as stretching or shadowboxing.

What should a customer consider when selecting matting, glass and framing?

The most important thing is to always choose matting and framing that suits the piece itself, not necessarily the space in which it will be hanging.  Custom framing isn’t something you redo very often, and most likely you will either move, repaint your walls or relocate the frame to another room before reframing the piece itself. The other main thing to consider is what sort of archival treatment the piece might need, depending on the medium.  All of our matting is acid free to prevent discoloration over time, and we have a variety of types of glass, including two types with UV protection.

Art prints by David Milne

Art prints by David Milne

Are there any new trends in the world of framing or how people are hanging pieces that you’ve noticed lately?

Stacking multiple frames together to create a one-of-a-kind look specifically for your piece is something that has become more popular lately as it allows clients personalize their frame even more by adding an extra punch of colour or texture.  We have also been doing a number of floating mats where the mat is elevated above the work to create depth and a more dynamic look.  Generally there seems to be a move towards more daring colours and finishes, and a mixing of styles to obtain a unique look that suits both the artwork and the personality of the client.

Do you have any advice regarding the selection of artwork such as how large a piece should be for a particular location in the home, what lighting it gets, etc.?

This is a difficult question to answer because so much comes down to personal aesthetic taste and the desired effect each individual wants the artwork to have.  What one person might find overwhelmingly large, another might find makes just the right bold statement.  A few guidelines would be that generally the artwork should not extend horizontally past the edges of the piece of furniture it is hanging over, the lighting should be diffused or not directly pointed at the piece to avoid harsh glare and uneven illumination, and most importantly, the artwork should give the client a good feeling; This may sound simplistic, but art is about personal enjoyment and it should be chosen and hung accordingly.

Besides original and reproduction artwork, what are some of the less conventional things you have framed at the store?

Many of the unconventional items we have framed over the years have been done in shadowboxes.  The list includes but is not limited to: a bike fork, ladies underwear, locks of hair, a pair of child’s overalls, dog collars and toys, a cassette tape, dolls, a Taekwondo belt and broken board, many different sports jerseys, cutlery, plates, part of a beehive, seashells and starfish, .. If you have the object, we’ll find a way to frame it!

Besides the terrific collection of prints available for order through the store, do you have any other favourite places to find original or reproduction artwork?

A favourite online source for both originals and reproductions is etsy.com.  Another neat site is society6.com/prints.  For more traditional art prints, the National Gallery of Canada has a good selection of Canadian and international fine art posters in their boutique, which can also be accessed online: shopngc.ca/boutique/en/product-en.

Laundry Lag

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about progress on our renovation, so I thought I’d offer a quick update.  As I write this, it is currently -28 degrees in Ottawa, so to say that we are enjoying our newly finished garage is a bit of an understatement.  Our contractor, D.E. Kinkade Konstruction, has finished all of the interior work on the garage, right down to painting the walls and installing a garage door opener for us.  The exterior front of the garage is still awaiting its masonry, but like I said, it’s -28 degrees in Ottawa right now, so come on.  I don’t need anyone losing fingers on account of my renovation.  The bricks can wait until Spring, if need be.

On the inside of the house, we’ve also really been enjoying the mudroom space, especially during these snowsuit-imperative months.  As you can see, the vinyl flooring has been laid, walls have been painted and trimmed out, and light fixtures have been installed.

Jan 21

The two closets at the far end are wonderful.  The left-hand one is for coats and boots, and the right-hand one already houses my vacuum cleaner, the ironing board, mops, brooms and buckets.  I feel so spoiled to have all this space, and the room isn’t even finished yet!

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The carpenter has built our bench to sit on while we’re getting our boots on and off, and a shelf to house baskets of mittens, hats and the like.  We deliberately left out coat hooks at this stage, because we have a DIY project in mind, but coat hooks will eventually materialize in this corner too.

January 21.2

Despite all the work that got done before the holidays, we’ve kind of hit a self-inflicted lag in progress.  Between Christmas, travel for work and other obligations, Chris and I were dragging our feet a bit on getting our cabinetry ordered.  This past weekend though, we had a very productive meeting with a kitchen designer at the Home Depot, and I think we have a plan:

Plan

While the picture doesn’t show it clearly, we have front-loader appliances that will meet the height of the countertop.  We may tweak this plan a bit before we submit our order later this week.  Then we will have a 4 – 6 week wait before they’re delivered though, so that will be tough!  If we had just gotten on with things back in early December, they’d be getting installed by now!

Have you ever found your momentum waning during a reno?  Leave me a comment and let me know how you pushed through it!

Metallic Musings

Over the holidays, I found a bit of time to paint our dining room.  It went from a sort of tired putty colour to a dramatic grey.  Aside from… ahem, a few unintended smears on the ceiling, I’m really pleased with how it turned out.  The colour choice hails from the fabric I’m using for new drapes, which I found at Tonic Living:

 

The fabric has a few metallic threads running through it, and it just dazzled me when I saw it.  At one time I had contemplated a green colour palette in the dining room, but I’ve abandoned that idea in favour of silver and gold, given how flexible the combination can be in accommodating other accent colours.

Also contributing to my silver-and-gold-inspired dining room is a four place-setting set of vintage brass bamboo cutlery that I have yet to polish up and start using.  I bought the set for a song years ago at a flea market and knew it would make for some lovely table jewellery once my dining room lost the Thomas the Tank Engine placemats.

As I’m still piecing together the other elements for the room, I’m not quite ready for a big reveal yet, so in the meantime, I thought I’d share some of my other metallic-themed inspirations.

These gold frames on grey walls combine an old-world feeling with a contemporary edge:

 

This bold wall was done with a combination of flat and metallic paint, and presumably a whole lot of tape:

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t immediately recognize and adore this metallic wallpapered dining room from Sarah’s House Season 1:

And can we take a moment to admire these lovely metallic accents?