Janice Issitt                    Life and Style

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18 Jan 2018

Old Master Still Life Photography

Hi there, continuing my chat about taking still life photos in and Old Masters style, here's a few more images and some tips on how to get the look.

My equipment; Canon 5D MkIV camera, on tripod with a zoom lens, edited in photoshop, aided by some Florabella Actions.

Controlling the light.
I take these photos on a table next to a window, one that does not get direct sun, (the window is on the left). You don't want it too bright, nor do you want it lit from both sides so close off light sources on the opposite side to the window (right side). Sometimes I find the sun is strong at the other end of the house and this can lighten it too much, making it flat. So I pull the curtains to block the direct sun on the right so that my only light source is now on the left.

Sometimes for variation I flip the final image, so if you think the one below looks like the light is coming from the right that is why.

To control the light source on the left through the window, you need to tunnel the light, into a shaft (roughly), if that makes sense. I have shutters on this window that bi-fold and this gives me optimum flexibility.

The photo below shows how I have controlled the light to fall only on the front left corner of the table. Keeping the background in darkness. Remember that you don't need to see the whole of an object to tell what it is.  

The settings on the camera need to be on aperture mode, and as you are working in such low light you must be on a tripod. Here's where the new model Canon 5D MkIV comes into its own; the live screen with touch focus helps you to read the light at the brightest point and dial down or up how dark you want it to look.  

The more you use photoshop, the more you realise what you can change after shooting. As I'm old school I try to frame and shoot as close as possible to the final look as I can. But if you find that you can't quite get the drama then don't worry because you can tweak that in the editing. 

I shoot in very large format, often in RAW and then reduce the image after editing so that it's the right size for social media. 

Something else I've started to do more recently is getting into the shot myself and putting the camera on timer. It can take a bit of playing with and frankly it can be a bit hit and miss, but as we are shooting on digital, just keep going until you start to get the results.

Photographing smoke and steam is quite a challenge, steam is reliant on the temperature of the room and as it disappears quite quickly can be particularly hard to capture.  Smoke from extinguished candles however is a bit easier and adds such an atmospheric touch to a still life photo (I talked about it's symbolic meaning in my previous post). Some candles smoke more than others so track down the ones in your house which release a good plume when they are blown out. 

The background needs to be pretty dark for the smoke to show and the light needs to hit it just right so I tend to put the candles in the lightest area of the setting and move the window shutters so the light really hits them. 

Finally the editing. I open up the images in photoshop. 

I purchased a few sets of effects from 'Florabella Actions' some time ago, and while I tend not to use the filters and pre-sets any more, I do use some of the short cuts that come in it's actions list. It can be quite hard to learn photoshop when you are teaching yourself so these packages of looks can be very useful and also speed things up. There are other brands around so it might be a good idea to spend some time watch the video tutorials on those site.  

For this kind of drama I use the Dodge and Burn brushes to make the darks darker and bring up the spots of light if necessary. Watch out what this does to the colour though, because darkening can sometimes make the colour too vivid so you may want to then neutralise the area with a brush tool or turn down the saturation. 

Don't forget to follow me on Instagram to see more of these along with some daily chat and nonsense x


10 Jan 2018

Talking Dutch Masters

Happy New Year and welcome to my first blog post of 2018.  You haven’t heard from me for a few weeks as my broadband was down and it took the provider three weeks to send an engineer, the trials of modern day living enforcing me to have a holiday from the computer. So the rusty wire is now fixed and the connection resumed. 

My time is also being taken up with some life changes, which I’m not going to jinx by talking about them here but will reveal as they happen.  I’ve been having a good long think about what I want to concentrate on right now, what with all the other distractions, and it’s photography.  You may have spotted that I’m heavily influenced by art in my home and my work and as such want to talk about a genre of painting that I am beginning to explore as an influence in my photographs. It is also a good way to approach a subject from a different angle and a way to concentrate my mind and style. I spoke before about joining with Gloom & Glow - an online course with Me & Orla and this work is a kind of spin-off from that. 

There is a period in history of painting known as the Dutch Golden Age, around the 1650’s the Netherlands produced countless masterpieces in every genre, but the  style that most of us know as the Dutch Masters, is that of the dark and brooding, with varying subjects matters but with the one main theme of catching the light.  

The study of how light falls and can be captured was mastered by names such as Rembrandt and Vermeer, with Rembrandt specialising in portraits showing a brutal honesty particularly in his own self portraits where vanity was sacrificed for reality.  Vermeer was especially interested in light as depicted in his most famous work ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’.  He also liked to feature windows as here he could depict the light shining through in many ways never before seen in painting. His painting ‘The Milkmaid’ depicts a woman standing under a window pouring milk and the table is spread with fabric and breads, this scene is about nothing but the light from that window. 

Another name who was fascinated with the interplay between darkness and illumination was Terbrugghen,  not such a household name due to his short career, but crucial in the development of Dutch painting none the less. His scenes were of people lit by candles or fire, and giving a sharp contrast of the light in the darkness.

My particular influence though, is Willem Kalf who worked in what was considered the lowliest form of painting - still life.  I personally am drawn to still life for no other reason than that I have no people to photograph.  Not having children to capture on a daily basis has led me to do very little portrait photography, although I do really enjoy the medium and would love to do more.  Anyway back to Kalf.  Well it seems to me that he was drawn to quite a set selection of opulent objects, presumably  chosen to give  him the opportunity to work on how light falls on glass, fruit, china, liquid and metal, as well as the folds of different textures of fabric.  But further investigation also reveals there is more to still life than just this. 

It’s a shame that masterworks created by women have been undiscovered until later, although Rachel Ruysch achieved international fame for her flower paintings, and here we can learn a lesson in colours, again the delicate interplay of light and dark, as well as another valuable lesson - that of styling. 
So why the Netherlands?  It’s thought that during this age, this was the most prosperous nation in Europe, led by trade, science and art. The Country having been freed from Catholic cultural traditions, meant that Dutch art had to reinvent itself entirely, with paintings of religious subjects declining very sharply.  There was also a hierarchy of genres, where history painting was at the highest but as these were the hardest to sell, the artists were forced to produce portraits or ‘genre scenes’ of everyday life, and these sold more easily.  In fact, the demand for smaller paintings in the lower categories led the Dutch to produce over a million paintings in just 20 years and this I think is important in what we have gained as a legacy.

Technically these artists were of a very high standard on all subject matters, but it’s the skill they displayed in still life that most interests me, and the way the objects are displayed also. Several types of subject were recognised, there were ‘banquet pieces’  and the much simpler ‘breakfast pieces’. Virtually all had a moralistic message, usually concerning the aspects of life and death.  Whilst a skull has an obvious meaning, the half peeled lemon is saying ‘life is like this, sweet in appearance but bitter to taste’.  'Flowers wilt and food decays, silver is no use to the soul', an early term for ‘you can’t take it with you’.  

Initially the subject matters were quite mundane but this developed through the century to include more and more expensive and exotic objects, and became a sub genre in it’s own right with Willem Kalf leading the change and Pieter Claesz staying with the simpler subjects.  In all these paintings colours are muted, with browns dominating.  Flower paintings formed another sub-group and the Dutch also became the world leaders in botanical and other scientific drawings, prints and book illustrations.  Interestingly too there was also a fundamental unreality in the flower arrangements seen in paintings, as it was not common to display flowers in the home unless it was individual blooms placed into a delftware tulip holder. 

With regard to the different arrangements of objects I’m fascinated with the choices they made and where possible like to include these objects myself, the pewter ware, jugs and tipped over vessels. 

Willem Claesz. Heda’s 'breakfast' pieces were stunning examples of still life, showing perfectly draped fabric, an assortment of fine glass and metal wares along with food. He achieved an unbelievable level of realism.  He began to include the crinkled napkin and knocked over vase, and later introduced more colour and fruit. 

Kalf’s work included a lot of small scale rustic interiors and still life. Being dominated with groups of vegetables, buckets, pots and pans, with figures only appearing blurred in the background. His work influenced the French painters, who would not have pictured these objects normally. It’s the objects that make his work instantly recognisable.  A damask cloth or tapestry is draped on the table, on which there is tableware in silver and gold and almost always, a chinese porcelain bowl with the fruits tumbling out of it. Again the symbolism is that of ‘vanitas’ - meaning ‘emptiness’ and refers to the Christian view of earthly life and the worthless nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. Oh dear, not very cheerful is it?  But I do love symbolism in art, and have a particular morbid fascination for objects that talk of death, like the Victorian jewellery containing hair of a deceased loved one ‘memento mori’.  Here the symbols speak of death and decay, remember that you have to die, consider the vanity of earthly life and be reminded of mortality.

There was, of course, also some good old Catholic guilt going on here, and the painters needed a justification for painting attractive objects, so the 'underlying message' being of life and death gave them an excuse.  The appearance of smoke, watches and hourglasses remind us of the brevity of life and musical instruments of the ephemeral nature, illustrating the time passing and slipping away.

So generally speaking, the painter was also a story teller, was trying to convey a important message, a reminder about our time on this earth.  In a similar way I believe that, although seen as less serious, our photographic diaries of simple objects are not only a technical practise in capturing the light as it falls, but a record of our lives and a meditation in appreciating the small things. Perhaps our instagram photos will one day be seen as a time capsule to every day life.

So if you are wondering what I’m up to, then in a nutshell this is it, you can follow my daily progress on Instagram, which will probably change along with the seasons, and I will be back here blogging very soon, much love and peace for 2018.

16 Dec 2017

Finding Motivation with Gloom and Glow

Recently I've really lost my mojo when it comes to taking photos, I needed a kick up the arse and so when I saw that Me & Orla was running a seasonal tutorial I decided to join in and see if that helped.

So I've made my lists of tasks and started to experiment a bit, with some whimsy, and whether it's a hit or a failure, everything you do is a learning experience anyway. Embracing the lack of light, the low levels of the sun and revelling in the dimly lit, has been quite a fascination of mine for sometime now so I'm really enjoying this module and the camaraderie of working with a group.

Bloggers and the self employed spend a lot of time on their own and everyone will have their peaks and troughs of motivation, so a good way to combat this is to use whatever community you can to bolster yourself up and share your doubts. 

So if you fancy a treat for yourself then have a look around at some online tutorials or books with tasks and tips. As I've mentioned, Me & Orla (Sara Tasker)has photography and instagram based modules but if you fancy a book of winter motivation and lovely craft, then check out "Making Winter" by Emma Mitchell (also known as Silver Pebble). 

And so, Christmas is suddenly upon us, it seemed to creep up really quickly this year, and although mine seems to get quieter every year, I'm fine with that.  I like the specials on the tv and Christmas movies, some extra special foodie treats of calories that I don't normally allow myself, and a cozy old time in general with lots of candles and fairy lights. 

Sending you all lots of love and best wishes, and if you are on your own over the holidays then message me on instagram or twitter any time if you want to chat. Love and peace x


9 Dec 2017

Be Home Free - Christmas Winners

In my countdown to Christmas, I thought some reading and shopping recommendations would be handy as I do like to share the love, particularly with small businesses and individuals.  You may remember that I was gifting a beautiful Christmas tree to one lucky winner of the 'Be Home Free' competition and the winner is announced at the bottom of this post, along with links to the other entrants. 

My tree from Lekto (those clever eco log providers) is just so lush, you can get one in the size of your choice over at ; https://lektowoodfuels.co.uk/products/lekto-premium-nordmann-fir-christmas-tree
so if you don't have time, or a car, to go and collect your own, then order one of these to be delivered to your door in lovely clean packaging and save making a mess of your own vehicle. The tree is really fresh and thick, so lustrous that it doesn't need many baubles.

The competition to win a tree saw some really pretty seasonal images as the decorations start to build up in our homes. Fires are being lit, wreaths being woven and fairy lights switched on. 

@bbutterscotch @and.mead @ceramicmagpie

@lewesmap @incredibusy @thegelfis @geoffreyandgrace

Also, in case you may have missed it, Reclaim magazine is celebrating it's second birthday. Last year I joined with Tamsyn Morgans and Alice Roberton in making a series of features for this magazine that we are very proud of. We have had some adventures, I can tell you.  We froze our toes off in Wales, boiled on the hottest day of the year in a greenhouse, spent late nights making decorations and drove a lot of miles across the UK with cars full of props. Our favourite magazine is running a competition to win a subscription, to enter post a photo on instagram with the tag #reclaim_birthday and show your image that says 'party'.  If you can feature the magazine in the photo then all the better.  The six chosen photos will also have their entry printed in the magazine! 

We made some fab things for the latest issue, Alice showed us how to make your old tin cans into lanterns, Tamsyn made baubles from old book pages, and I added a twist to my dreamcatchers, with small lace snowflakes to hang in a window. 

Here's my recommended reading and shopping blogs and sites ....

Incredibusy ; http://incredibusy.com

Geoffrey And Grace ; http://geoffreyandgrace.com

And so, onto the winner of the Christmas tree ..... drumroll please ... a beautiful fir tree is winging it's way to Melanie and Bailey, also known as Geoffrey & Grace, and if you have a look at Mel's instagram feed you can see how to get a personalised jar of marmite!

Love and peace to all, Janice. 


29 Nov 2017

Christmas Tree Competition

In my countdown to Christmas I thought we definitely need a recommendation of where to get a tree, and maybe even how to get a free one delivered to your door. Well, wait no more because I have the answer.

You may have read in my posts before that I get my fire logs from Lekto Wood Fuels, who supply a different range of compressed eco logs, heat logs and birch wood logs, firelighters and kindling. 

For the month of December Lekto will also be able to supply you with a real Christmas tree, a Premium Nordmann Fir Christmas Tree, those lovely lush ones of deep green soft and plump needles that don't drop and don't prickle.

If you choose a weekday for delivery then it's free and it comes all wrapped up and moist. I would suggest that while you are placing your order then do add some wood logs for your fire or wood burner, once tried you will never go back.

My tree here is a 5ft - 6ft tree and it is so perfect that I didn't want to overload it with decorations so I've chose my favourite vintage baubles and added into the mix the 'moon and stars' garland and battery wire lights from Rose & Grey. 

So here's some exciting news - if you live in the UK you can get one free by simply entering my instagram competition.  All you have to do is follow Lekto Wood Fuels and add the hashtag #behomefree_tree
to any of your photos.

The competition will run for the next 10 days so get your skates on and start tagging. Lekto start their deliveries from the 1st December.

For the moon and stars garland check out Rose & Grey who also have the battery operated wire fairy lights.

More Christmas decorating ideas coming soon, cheers you lot. x


26 Nov 2017

Boho Christmas Styling Ideas

Continuing my final countdown (ok I won't burst into song again), to the season of candles and fairy lights, I've put together another alternative look using the lovely items I chose from Rose & Grey click on this link for their Christmas shop .............https://www.roseandgrey.co.uk/christmas

I love these feather decorations in rich opulent colours. I had some dried hydrangea heads in very Chrismasy colours and so instead of a wreath I have hung them like a bunch with the feather baubles. Add to this either side the individual feathers for a garland look. All of these feather decorations could also work very well on your tree, or a tree alternative.

These richer coloured decorations work really well with the small honeycomb christmas trees, which can hang or stand. They are very light in weights so perfect to hang anywhere around the house, or stand amongst your other things, but don't forget they are paper, so not too close to candle flames.

As mentioned in my last post, I have been making my own candles to re-purpose some old glass containers, if you don't have time to do this, then check out The Botanical Candle Company, where I frequently buy their Ball Jar soy wax candles. I've also put some sparkly tea lights in champagne coups/cocktail glasses as they look so good given a bit of height, these are another thing to keep your eyes peeled for in the charity shops. 

I found some fabulous Christmas plates from the 1970's in a charity shop. Collectable plates from famous makers, in presentation boxes often find their way to the charity shop so keep an eye out, I got these for an amazing £3 each. 

Battery operated wire lights are a must have, get lots of them, you won't regret it.

Watch out soon for a competition coming your way and info about where to get a tree.  Happy decorating xx


16 Nov 2017

The Twelve Days of Christmas ...

It's the final countdown, ta da da da, ta da da da da ...ok I know it's early but thought I should give you a chance to get planning.
My lovely friends at Rose & Grey asked if I would like to choose some products from their Christmas range to play with, I of course, jumped at the chance to get some new decorations and here's what I've done with them, I hope it gives you some ideas.

Every year I say, ok I've got enough Christmas decorations, I've bought new ones every year for the last couple of decades!! Sadly when I moved in with the Other Half the fragile thin glass ones disappeared one by one due to the world's most clumsy Taurus. 

Truth is, I just can't help myself, I love trying out new and different looks every year and adding to my vintage bauble collection or going with the latest trend. I'm going to try a pastel pinky theme I think this year but it's a work in progress.

I've created a few different looks, one for the dining area and one for the lounge, and in this post I'm showing a few ideas for the table on the days leading up to the holidays, more a 'start of party  season' feeling, which looks light and whimsical but not too obviously Christmasy.

darker evenings equals candles and fairy lights
Pretty cake stands with mince pies and biscuits for an afternoon snack or just to pick on if you are feeling naughty. 

Several years ago I fixed a hook above my table and it has come in useful on so many occasions.  I've hung planters full of hyacinths for spring, candleabras with real candles, hoops with decorations and small jars hanging from it (similar to the one in Reclaim magazine this month), and different lanterns depending on my theme. 

I've fixed it so that it takes a reasonable weight but if you do this and think it won't handle anything heavy, then these light paper decorations are perfect.  I particularly fell in love with the strings of moons and stars on this 'mini garland on a spool'. I think this would look so pretty winding it's way all across the room.

Rose & Grey also sell the wire lights that I've put in a glass vase and they are super adaptable. The lights are battery powered so they can go in places where you don't have a plug socket and great if you don't want wires trailing everywhere.  

I've been making my own candles so that I could re-purpose some glass containers that I had in the cupboard. I bought some soy wax on e-bay and also some fragrance to drop into it. It's super easy to do, you melt the wax the same way you would melt chocolate, in a pan within a pan. You boil water in the larger pan and then place the smaller bowl, jug or pan inside that making sure the water doesn't spill over. Then melt the wax and when it's clear, take it off the heat, let it cool very slightly and then add the fragrance drops. Glue your wicks to the bottom of the vessel and support them in an upright position while you pour the wax in.

I'm making a few as gifts as well for friends who like a hand made present.

And finally, I made the effort to actually arrange some flowers rather than just plonking them in the nearest vase, actually it only took a short while to do, we picked some autumn branches from the road side and mixed with these lilac roses and cabbages. The florist sold me some 'oasis' which you should soak for a good long while before using. I left my metal urn in the garden by accident and it has the most wonderful rust on it now, so I'm pleased, as it tones so well with the autumn leaves.

Watch this space for next week so see what I've done with my fireplace.  Don't forget to hop over to Rose & Grey for some great alternative decorations their Christmas section is https://www.roseandgrey.co.uk/christmas

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