Saturday, December 18, 2010

Almost Home

And once again I've let the blog go for a few months before updating. I know, I know. I'm always apologising for this, but the truth of the matter is, I -have- been busy with some key things in life.

I've just been through a crazy three week period in which my first jewellery bazaar and my 2nd level Australian Kodaly Certification went head-to-head. I survived both with sanity a little less than intact, and passed my certification exams far better than I expected.

And got a bout of gluten poisoning/food poisoning to celebrate.

But this morning, some friends and I went to help out at a house - the little boy's room needed painting, and the mother needed the wire nettings on the windows changed and some water pipes fixed. It's hard to be a single parent, working as many hours as she does, and I really admire her. I couldn't stay long because my stomach decided to run riot, but I was very glad I could be there for even a short time to help clean.

One more week till I go home for a much-needed break. One more level before I finally get the full Australian Kodaly Certification I've been working on for two years.

In more than one way, I'm almost home. And it's a good feeling.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wednesdays with Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: Pizza Pizza!

I've been absent from my blog for a looooong time - most of this is due to life throwing up a lot of busy-busy-busy with very little time to do any jewellery or creativeness that way. Well, that and I've been travelling - this time, I've just come back from Vietnam - Hanoi to be exact! A few of us in the choir I sing with travelled there at the invitation of the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra to sing in a huge-scale celebration of Hanoi's 1000th birthday. The repertoire was Mahler's 8th Symphony, nicknamed 'The Symphony of a Thousand', making it particularly fitting (and challenging, but that's another blog post altogether. Hanoi deserves one of its own.)

The week before I left for Hanoi however, Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef blog mentioned something very exciting - Wednesdays cooking from her new book, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. If you don't know who Shauna is, she is one of the most inspirational people in the food blogging world that I know of. She's spunky, caring, innovative, and she's been one of the biggest influences in my life as far as being able to survive gluten-free goes.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to get hold of her book yet so I wasn't sure I was going to be able to take part in the Wednesday cooking sessions, and left it at that. However, thanks to Michael Ruhlman's interview with Carol Blymire of 'Alinea at Home' and 'French Laundry at Home' fame, I -was- able to participate in this week's Wednesday - baking pizza!

This is -me- of course, so I -had- to run into problems first reading of the recipe. Corn flour. in Malaysia, that's what I call corn starch. But corn starch had already been mentioned in the recipe so I was pretty sure that wasn't what was being asked for. A bit of slightly confusing research drew up an article that mentioned Southern cooking and the silky smooth flour made from finely-ground corn meal. Ahhhhhhhhhhh. That helped.

Except I didn't have any of that, and the nearest thing to hand was maize meal, rather coarse-ground. To heck with it, I thought about it for a moment, then grabbed the maize meal, weighed it out on the rickety contraption that -calls- itself a manual kitchen scale but in reality should be more 'Cook's Domestic Torment', and went right ahead with the recipe.

By golly, it worked.

I am not the world's best photographer so the first shot I got of the pizza coming out of the oven is cringe-worthy (and I forgot I had a camera tripod). But I was far, far too excited to even think about proper photography at the time - I had PIZZA. Glorious, safe, pizza!

(Rolling dough into a circle, however - that's another story. The adage that anyone who can draw a freehand circle will make a good artist? LIES. -MY- circle looked like someone patched together a 2-year old's sense of geometry and mangled it with a Picasso perspective. Thankfully, that's got no bearing on the taste of it or I'd be in trouble by now.)

This morning, I got some better pictures of the project that hopefully do the recipe a bit more justice.

1) I mixed up the entire batch of flour and realised that my small oven wouldn't contain a 10" crust, let alone anything bigger. So I halved it. I didn't need to do a thing to the recipe otherwise, apart from adding just a little more water to bind the dough properly when it was getting mixed together - and that likely because my measurement for the oil was a little off.

2) The dough was a bit wet and sticky to handle for rolling. When putting it between two sheets of parchment paper didn't work, I removed the top sheet of parchment paper and substituted it with plastic wrap instead. Once rolled out, I took the entire thing, parchment paper and all, and put it on my baking sheet as I don't have a pizza stone. I was afraid that not sprinkling the bottom with corn meal might make the whole thing stick, but as it turned out, I needn't have worried. The crust came off the parchment paper beautifully. I also will try rolling the dough out thinner and using a different flour to see if that makes any difference to overall texture; I might need to bake the crust for a bit longer to get it browner and crisper.

Taste-wise? FANTASTIC. I topped this crust with tomato puree, spinach, black pepper smoked pork strips, green apples and parmesan. The one remaining crust in the fridge is going to get eaten soon; perhaps I'll try roasted eggplant, home-made tomato sauce and bacon. Either way, I would make this again in a heartbeat. Thank you so much Shauna, for this beautiful recipe!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Celebrations and Catching Up

So before this update gets even tardier, let me just set the record straight:

1) I'm back from China!

2) We won three Gold Diplomas - Gold IV in Folklore with the Young KL Singers, Gold V in Jazz with my quartet, Caipifruta, and Gold II in Pop, also with Caipifruta.

3) Overall the Malaysian contingent came back with their heads high - the MIA Ladies Chorus were the champions in their category, winning a Gold medal in the category for Female Chamber Choirs! Not only that, the Malaysian choirs scored a total of about 7 gold medals and 5 silvers - not a single bronze, how about that for hard work. YEAH.

4) I'm moving house so it might be another stretch before I update again. Hopefully not -too- long a stretch of time.

So, before I dash off to pack, let me leave you with a few photographs from China:

The Caipifruta Vocal Quartet, doing soundcheck for the Jazz competition.

More soundchecking! It was also 8am in the morning, so those smiles were partly for our own benefit as was kind of too early to be singing ANYTHING, let alone jazz.

The quartet just before the Pop competition. Twiggy pose!

Don't remember who took this photo, but here are the Girls being all model-like.

And we pose for a postcard...

All the above photographs (except the disclaimered one) taken by our amazing pianist, Tay Cher Siang, who is an equally amazing photographer. I mean, just -look- at those shots!

More updates when I finish The Move of Doom - but if you really do want to know what I've been up to for the last month and before, hop on over to the Caipifruta Blog for a more detailed explanation. There's even pictures!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Up, Up, and Awaaaaaaaaaaay!

Incredible how fast time passes, but the Big Day is finally here! I'm leaving for China later on to compete in the World Choir Games held from 15th - 28th July in Shaoxing.

I will most likely be internetless for the entire duration, since I'm not bringing Siggard in case of accidents (my laptop, not a significant other, just to set the record straight). Besides, a lot of sites are blocked in China so the only thing I might be able to access in a net cafe will be my email account.

Hello world. I'm coming to kick some serious butt, hopefully not my own.

Till the 28th, au revoir! (I might even have sketches to show if all goes well.)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Maille on the Brain, Maille on the Brain...*sung to tune of Pants on the Ground*

My wonderful brother, who has gifted me with more useful things than anyone I know, recently ordered me a pair of Eurotool Ultra Ergo Pliers from Blue Buddha Boutique, where I got my lovely aluminium and stainless steel rings. I made the mistake of wrecking my current wire-work pliers while trying to work with the stainless steel rings, and I figured it was time to get proper chainmaille tools if I was going to be weaving maille for a while (and since I seem to default to that, it may just be my Fatal Fascination.)

Well, they arrived, and I've been going bananas with 'em since. They are absolutely -wonderful-, and they stand up to 16ga stainless steel rings beautifully! I never knew what a difference good tools could make - sort of stupid admission there, coming from a chainmailler-in-training, but since they're not available here, I've never had a chance to work with them.

The results of my labours, in between choir competition rehearsals and teaching, are as follows. Yes, the stainless steel rings gap a bit; I'm still working on being strong enough to close them entirely and I'm aware it might be considered shoddy work amongst proper chainmaillers and elite of the elite. So if there are complaints on that score, yes, I know it already, and I invite you to try working with 16ga or 18ga 6.4mm stainless steel rings or any form of low-gauge stainless steel if you haven't done so before. Then come and bitch at me.

(If it seems like I'm constantly doing disclaimers, well, it's because I'm fed-up of back-biting and sniping and people thinking I might be trying to cheat buyers with such bad craftsmanship. If I don't think it's good enough, I don't sell it. End of story.)

Moon in a Barrel Earrings: Barrel weave, 18ga 5.6mm stainless steel.

Rebeca of Blue Buddha Boutique has a design called Crescent Earrings. Since the finishing rings of my barrel-weave pair were inspired by her design (and they do look like a crescent moon, the two different sized rings put together!) I've named the design 'Moon in a Barrel' as homage.

Pink and Indigo Blues: Barrel weave, 18ga 6.4mm stainless steel, 18ga 6.4mm anodized aluminium, 19ga stainless steel hand-hammered clasp

This particular mix of anodized aluminium is called 'Berry', but it didn't look very berry-like after it was all woven up with stainless steel. The name's the result of deciding Indigo Blues didn't quite cover that startling pink in the bracelet; it's rather lame I know but I didn't have any better ideas.

Candy Stripe Earrings: Barrel weave, 20ga 3.2mm stainless steel and anodized aluminium, glass beads

Why yes, I've been on a bit of a barrel weave kick, why do you ask? The AR (aspect ratio) of these little danglies didn't allow for a second anodized aluminium ring and while I wasn't too sure I liked it at first, they've grown on me steadily with a kind of old-fashioned candy charm. They looked like traffic lights until I added the glass bead. Then they started looking more like candy stripes, so Candy Stripe Earrings they became.

I'd also finished a necklace with a Japanese flower and chainmaille centrepiece a'la the chainmaille edition of Wirework Magazine, but I forgot about it, until it was too dark to photograph. End of this week perhaps, when I finish with the insanity of the Malaysian Choral Eisteddfod, for which I'll be teaching alto sectionals for the next few days. In the meantime, I'll probably throw up some pictures of some older projects that should've been up, but which got neglected due to life and other madnesses.

Fascinating Chainmaille, oh won't you stop picking on me!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Lunar at Night

One of my best friends ever visited me at the end of March. I've written about Jeremy before in another post, and he remains one of the only friends from my university days whom I actually -see- on a semi-regular basis. All right, so two years isn't really semi-regular, but given I haven't seen my entire batch of crazy US friends since 2003 - well, you get the picture.

In between juggling work and catching up, I sat through several RPG gaming sessions with Jer and the Bloke, and one day I actually brought along some wire to fiddle around with while we played. Not having a very clear idea beyond 'pendant', I free-formed it and wrapped away with a cheerful optimism that should have been an advanced warning.

Well. The pendant took about a week to complete because like a typical dimwitted ninny, I miscalculated the curvature of the two frames I was wiring together and it turned out lopsided. The result was an imbalanced piece of nicely wired crap which bugged the daylights out of me because it wouldn't hang straight. This lopsidedness got even worse when I wrapped the -heavier- half of it with silver beads (yes, very smart I know. What was I thinking --oh wait. I wasn't.) In the end, I had to add some silver beads to the other side of the frame to compensate - but even then it wasn't quite enough to offset the weight disparity. Finally, I ended up hanging a focal bead and a curved silver piece from the centre loop and that more or less did the trick.

Moral of the story: Calculate your frame right to begin with, and you won't wind up with a design headache like I did. Just saying.

Because I'd used anodised steel wire and silver beads for the pendant frame, I wanted to call it something Dark and Gothic and Night-like. When I put in the blue focal pearl, I thought it looked rather like a hanging moon - so in honour of the game, the character I was playing and the fact that I'd worked on it while gaming, the piece got christened Lunar.

Lunar: Anodised 18ga and 24ga steel, pewter beads, 20ga artistic wire, blue cultured pearl.

See how the frame gets lopsided? Yep, kids, don't try this at home. It makes you crazy. It still doesn't hang straight enough for me despite the fixes.

I thought I could get away with not wrapping the top loops but they looked too bulky and uncouth so they got covered up.

I'll consider this a prototype and see if I can't refine it any further. Anodized steel wire is a joy to work with; I should really give it a bit more attention.

And next time, I -measure- both frames and secure them -properly- before I start wrapping away like a crazed cat for cream.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Strange Attraction of Opposites

Some months ago, I was commissioned by a friend to make a bridesmaid's jewellery set. Her only stipulations were that it be simple, elegant and fuss-free.

Given that the bridesmaid dresses were fuschia and white, I thought Swarovski pearls might add just the touch of elegance necessary. I also wanted to use whatever I had on hand in the interests of keeping costs reasonable, and also because I've been trying to exercise more creativity in the reinvention/upcycling/recycling of materials that might not otherwise be seen as 'jewellery components' at first glance.

My friend is a big proponent of recycling and being environmentally conscious. Digging through my stash of stuff, I discovered I had leftover metal washers from a previous project, and enough headpins and eyepins to last about fifty years (all right, I'm exaggerating, but I've got quite a bit of those things lying around). I also had a sheet of aluminium that's been crying out to be used for a bit since I got my jeweller's saw at the beginning of this year. I'd been wanting to experiment with texturing as well, since I've got a chasing hammer that's only been used for flattening metal up to this point.

The result was aptly named 'The Strange Attraction of Opposites' in honour of pearls meeting metal washers. I gave it an adjustable 52cm (approximately 20")chain that could be set to either matinee or choker length, depending on the dress. The earrings measure about 6.5cm (just a little over 2.5") and the pendant is 2.4cm (approximately a little over 1") in diameter.

The Strange Attraction of Opposites: Swarovski pearls, rhodium-plate jump-rings, silver-plated eyepins, metal washers, hand-cut and textured aluminium pendant.

Pendant detail, with a bit more of the texturing visible.


Earrings, another (slightly more artsy) view.

Oh yes, my friend loved it. Even better!

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Dream and the Dreamer

Once upon a time, when dreams were plentiful and less prone to being blasted out of existence by reality, there was a little girl who loved to sing. Morning, night and noon, she'd be warbling like the birds from sun up to sun down, and all manner of hours in between.

What do you want to be when you grow up, the teacher asked at the end of each school year, and made the class write it down. The little girl wrote 'Singer' for maybe three of her twelve-plus years in school, before she was told that fairies weren't real, that believing in fairies couldn't make you fly, and that dreams couldn't sustain you in reality.

The little girl became a big girl, and her dreams drifted further and further away, like lost balloons - till she hurt her voice so badly that she didn't think she could ever sing again. So she buried that particular dream, and went on with the process of growing up.

Years later, the big girl joined a choir, never thinking that it would be anything more than something to pacify a ruined dream. What she didn't know was that even broken dreams could repair themselves and grow bigger and bigger, till they became reality.

The choir got stronger, and the big girl kept singing just because she loved it - until one day, she was asked to sing with her friends in one of the biggest events in the world, and she couldn't believe it till she actually saw the invitation.

And that is how the little-girl-turned-big-girl came to rehearse and get ready for the Day of Choirs at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, China - and also to compete in the World Choir Games with her adult choir, and the quartet she'd been singing with.

And that is where I've been for the past few months, preparing for the competition and raising funds for the trip. Which is why my updates have been so infrequent, and may be a little more sporadic than usual. Still trying to register that we'll be singing in Shanghai, I keep having to look at the invitation to believe it's real!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Deconstructing Pipas

My nearest and dearest are pretty unanimous about the fact that I've got an inherent tinkering gene - I can't ever leave well enough alone. This holds true for cooking, for music improvisation, and also jewellery.

This is also usually a recipe for some sort of disaster. Just so you know.

Many moons ago, when I was starting to learn that there is this thing called WIRE! which you can play with and shape, I got to know Corra of De Cor's Handmades. I was - and still am - in awe of her abilities to PWN wire with the best of them, and bought a couple of her tutorials to try and convince myself that maybe I could reach that level of skill.

One of the tutorials was called the Pipa Knot. My first attempts at it resulted in this mind-numbling embarrassing -thing- which has since been mercifully consigned somewhere out of sight except in photos:

The sheer magnitude of shame kept me from pursuing the Pipa Knot any further, until my mother's silver earrings two years ago. This time I stuck (more or less) to the original tutorial, and things went (more or less) just fine. That is, if you don't count the many wire breaks I had to hide due to my inexpert handling of the silver wire, and a misplaced belief in my ability. I gave them to my mother with the disclaimer that, should she ever lose them, I'll never make another pair. Cracked, bleeding fingers may have had something to do with this proclamation.

Yesterday, some demon of perversity drove me to revisit the Pipa Knot once more. Except this time, I decided I was going to deconstruct it and see what I could come up with, using more or less the same technique. This time I didn't refer to the tutorial, I just went on a vague sense of memory and lots of glue, hope and sunny cheer that it would turn out SOMETHING resembling ok.

The results are...still somewhat embarrassing due to the fact that I mucked up part of what I thought I remembered. Note to self: USE TUTORIAL next time, memory at my age is a bad gauge of accuracy. I'm sure this would ensure better results.

(I told you I was a tinkerer. I never said I was a GOOD one.)

Behold, the Deconstructed Pipa - just for you, Corra, for old times' sake!

Deconstructed Pipa: 20ga and 28ga artistic silver wire, fire-polish Czech glass beads, amethyst bead. Approximately 1.2 inches (3.5cm).

I tried two new wire-wrapping techniques that I'd seen but not used before, and I think they turned out fairly decently:

The Whole Shebang in Close-Up Technicolour, hanging from something:

So...I still have a long way to go to master this gorgeous knot (so Corra won't kill me when she sees how badly I've butchered her beautiful design.) However, looking (and shuddering in horror) back at what I -used- do to in the name of art, I think I've improved some and that, at least, is worth the embarrassment of keeping old photos.

If nothing else, I've learned to handle a camera better at least!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Eternity and the Eternal Watchguard Against Impurity and Poor Morale

If I appear to have vanished off the face of the known radar blips of existence, well, I have. For a time at least. Creativity has been practically non-existent, struggling and gasping in between work, rehearsals, recording, frustration, and chafing at the non-productiveness of it all. I've been very close to giving it all up because I'm just so tired of fighting the malaise.

But then, Life decided to have a say and I had to listen.

My 98-year old grandfather passed away on 13th March, 2010 at 6.40pm.

I'll write about this some other time. There's too much that's still churning around inside at the moment, from the abruptness of it to the mixed feelings. Another time, yes.

The Sunday after his passing, I felt the urge to pick up my wires and play again after months of anguished, disgusted inactivity. The end product didn't matter; what was important was the process. And so, with a little inspiration from a good friend's jade Alchemical out of the White Wolf Exalted game, this little bit of nothing coaxed itself into being.

Eternal Watchguard: 18ga and 28ga artistic silver wire, fire-polished Czech glass beads, aluminium washer. Approximately 1.5 inches (close to 4cm) in height.

I've been aware for a while that my wire-weaving skills are on pair with an elephant attempting to dance a tango in stiletto heels, so this was something of a practice piece. You can see where all the kinks I mucked up made for uneven little bits in the wrapping. Perhaps I'm overly paranoid, but I've seen far too many diatribes on how most self-styled wire artists can't handle wire worth several tons of crap, and many complaints on how most people shouldn't call themselves 'artists' if they can't master their material. Well. I'm an artist in -progress-. I'm not an expert, and that's why I don't write tutorials, and will continue to refuse to do so. I'm my own worst critic, which is more critical than most hard-core critics anyway, so here's my disclaimer: if there's going to be comments on how badly that wire's kinked and out of control, and how the wrapping is shite, please rest assured that yes, I know it already, and thank you. I'm not going to be selling this piece for obvious and some not-so-obvious fundamental reasons, so I won't be cheating anyone of their hard-earned money either.

Ahem. Just had to get that out of my system, it's been brewing for a while.

This isn't a work of staggeringly heart-breaking genius. But I'll always believe that perhaps, just perhaps, it was my grandfather's last gift to me - that spark of inspiration to -do- finally, after so long.

And for the people who've kept on believing faithfully in my abilities, despite me being incredibly doubtful, thank you. You have no idea how much it means.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Big Red and Blue

Between the purchase of a jeweller's saw and the heady joy of being able to custom-create any shape of metal charms lies the murky depths of Survival, Rent, and Necessary Finance.

In other words: I've been busy with work, rehearsals for main choir, lesson plans and more rehearsals with quartet and chamber choir, and the weather hasn't wanted to be cooperative when it comes to taking photographs of the few little bits of new stuff I've been piddling out. The pictures will come hopefully this week - my balcony is not the best place to take any sort of photos, though I've managed with some squeezed ingenuity so far. I've managed a metal pendant, an acrylic pendant, a necklace/earring set with pearls and metal washers (which I've titled 'The Strange Attraction of Opposites) and a new chainmaille bracelet with a Byzantine Cross centrepiece. Not a lot, compared with most other crafters, but there you have it - I take whatever in-between times I get.

During the sporadic bits of time when I actually -don't- have to lesson plan and the designing work starts to frustrate me to the point of screaming, I've been watching Hellboy and reading up some of Mike Mignola's other work. Mignola is a comic book artist who does amazing things with black and white - I think I like his black and white work better than the coloured pieces, honestly. It reminds me of Marcos' work - yes Marcos, I LOVE your stuff! I mean...Miss Trouble, who could ask for more?

Which led to this weird, somewhat contemplative and random journal entry. Yep, I'm officially on a Hellboy kick; I'll have to hunt up 'Seed of Destruction' soon the next time I hit Kinokuniya. It's been a while since I drew anything - as much as this is blatant derivative, it felt good to be using markers again.

The one and only Big Red Paranormal Investigator with the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Development (B.P.R.D), Hellboy himself, and his blue amphibious friend, Abe Sapien. Abe came out horrible, but I'm putting that down to me-artist-fail. Ah yes. This utilised the famous Grunge Eraser Alphabet Stamps which I mangled some weeks back.

Friday, January 08, 2010

2010: Send Me Out Into Another Life...

...lord for this one is growing faint
i do not think it goes all the way.

-- 'Words from a Totem Animal', W. S. Merwin

Carpe Anno - My first personal art journal entry since 2002 - a new beginning, a new skill. My old journal pages were usually for other people, I don't know why I never did any for myself. It turned out better than I expected, certainly. And, amazingly, I loved being able to be messy - something I should do far more often I think.

New year, new post - a bit late, I know, but I think it's not too late to pick up from where the last year ended, and forge on.

A year. Four alphabets which cover 365 days, which ought to be so much longer than they work in reality. A blink and 2009 is over. Hullo 2010, will you be taking a side order of Challenges with your order?

Because that's really what 2009 has been all about, on a personal and not so personal level. Leaving a source of steady income to teach freelance, taking vocal exams, preparing for an incredibly difficult choir production, embarking on singing as a career - I can't say I was ready for any of them when they fell on me like Newton's proverbial apple. And yet, here I am. It's a testament to grace, and grace for the journey.

And then there were the Big Things - starting Dawn Studio Creation on faith, hope and a gritting of teeth, beginning the 3-year process that will give me the Australian Kodaly Certificate of Music Education, struggling through finances that never seemed to rise above anything but a mere lukewarm negative some days. Creativity blocks, comparisons, competition, insecurities - I'm not sure I would have chosen any of these to be constant companions for an entire year, frankly. And yet, I don't think I'd trade them for anything; if I did I'd lose some of the most precious things I've had to learn in the process.

Faith. Hope. Love. Courage.

So here's to 2010, where Courage tilts her head and says, Come on out into the water now, you've been standing on the diving board for too long. Time to grit those (stained and incredibly dentist-neglected) teeth and forge the rest of the journey that began last year. Here's to faith, where sometimes everyone but you believes that you CAN do it, and when people around and dear friends may be the only ones who keep your dreams alive by reminding you that you're not alone.

Here's to hope, when that last damned niobium jump ring breaks and there's no way of getting another order from overseas for another month due to shipping, and the commission's due that weekend. When the -next- set of pliers you break might just mean that you can handle -most- gauges of wire, but not stainless steel - but you will, someday.

Here's to love. Loving what you do, loving what you want to be and what you want to create with every fibre of your heart even though it can hurt so much to do so. When passion seems an exercise in endurance, and nothing seems worthwhile any more, but it's all you have and it's all you love, and you have something to say so you say it anyhow in whatever medium you can.

Here's to you, all the wonderful people who've been there for me when nothing seemed like it could ever get better past the catastrophe stage.

Thank you. Happy 2010, everyone - Carpe Anno!