Janice Issitt                    Life and Style

travel, interiors, photography, home, crafts, personal style

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26 Mar 2018

rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb

What's the big deal with rhubarb then. Well firstly it's in the shops right now in March, although it's probably forced in hot houses, so I'm not entirely sure if it's seasonal or not.  This humble vegetable, yes you read that right, it's a veg and not a fruit (which I say with an element of surprise because that hadn't occurred to me before), is packed full of goodness.

A few facts about why you need to get cooking with these beautiful long stems of ruby. It's low in fat, low in calories, cholesterol free (my main reason), and high in fibre. Rhubarb also contains as much calcium as a glass of milk, (great for the vegans then)and also has vitamin A and potassium. Unfortunately because it is 'tart'to taste, it's easy to overdo the sugar, so I've tried to hold back on that and using brown sugar with stevia in it to reduce the calories. 

I've tried a few recipes to see how to get some variety but I'm not going to post those here, I just googled up some ideas and what you can see here is a galette and some 'biscuits'. The galette was perfect, so just find yourself a recipe for the pastry and then add the rhubarb. It seems like a good idea, according to most recipes,  to soak the cut rhubarb in some juice and a bit of sugar, although I'm not entirely sure what difference that makes. When you place it on the galette pastry don't include the liquid though. As the stalks are nice and firm, you can cut and arrange in lovely patterns. I sprinkled a bit of sugar and cinnamon on the rhubarb and pressed some flaked almonds onto the pastry crust. 

 The 'biscuits' weren't such a success story, I followed a recipe but something wasn't quite right on my part, they were basically sponge cupcakes without the paper case. All was not lost, I stewed the remaining stalks and then did a chef kinda styling thing with the soft biscuits, piling them up and placing the remaining stalks on top. To keep it healthy, I topped it off with a chocolate soya desert. It occurred to me that these soft biscuits would actually make a good alternative to a trifle type layered desert. 

As a novice I'm still experimenting a lot, and finding inspiration on instagram and vero from those much better than myself.

Here's some cool cooking blogs to check out ;
Figs and Pigs, who also sell kitchenalia www.figsandpigs.com and have so many mouthwatering recipes I don't know where to start.

For a much more sophisticated tart than mine check out https://www.twiggstudios.com/2018/03/rhubarb-lemon-rosemary-tart/ which might just be the next thing I try, the photos on both these blogs are really beautiful too. 

Because I'm cutting down on cholesterol I replace butter with benecol, which may well mean that the pastry isn't anything like it should be, but it tastes fine to me and the mister. 

So that's all I've managed to get up to recently while I'm waiting to relocate to my new base in Suffolk. My old suffolk cottage will be an Air bnb if all goes well so watch out if you want a lovely weekend break near Southwold. 

Love and rhubarb x


9 Mar 2018

amazing bundts and I cannot lie

I've got to be honest, until a few weeks ago I had no idea what a bundt cake was. I kept seeing these fantastic shaped, highly photogenic, cakes on instagram and vero, which after closer inspection, turned out to be this cake called bundt.

It seems, from what I can find, that a bundt cake is not any particular recipe, but just one cooked in a bundt pan, or tin. I think the tins are beautiful and as I do love a bit of kitchenalia, may have to get a few. Based on a European Gugelhupf, a bundt is more about the shape, always in a ring, with fluted sides. 

I followed the recipe I mentioned in my previous post, from eighty20nutrition for Rose and Pistachio bundt cake,  although I didn't have the dried ligonberry powder or the rose petals, but instead found some freeze dried raspberry bits. I do think the lingonberry powder sounds lovely, so may have to treat my baking cupboard to a jar.

I also had a bit of a mis-hap with the rose essence, and perhaps will be sure not to overdo it next time. 

The topping is a bit naughty but incredibly tasty, not too sweet and adds to an already moist and fluffy cake. It uses coconut cream which opened up a whole debate over whether coconut oil is good or bad for cholesterol. My good friends on instagram/vero - Alternative Ageing (who is a nutritionist) and Jax both sent me links about how,  although coconut oil is high in saturated fat, it does not create bad cholesterol. If you look on the 'Trust Me, I'm A Doctor' website, you will see that in tests the group who had coconut oil had no increase in the bad cholesterol, just a minor drop in it. 

So, while I'd been googling about whether I should or should not have coconut oil, some of the reports were not entirely accurate.

Back to this gorgeous recipe, the great thing about the coconut cream is how it stays looking perfect and doesn't sink into the cake and it also gives a lovely look to the decoration, running exactly where it is poured. The ingredients are free from flour as the recipe is nutritionally very good, containing dates, ground almonds, olive oil, apple cider vinegar ... so many good whole food ingredients. See the site http://eighty20nutrition.com 

I can honestly say this is one of the most delicious cakes I've ever tasted, even after a few days it was still moist. I'm actually not a lover of cake normally, I find it too sweet and I don't want to consume butter and sugar in large quantities. If you are looking for a healthy alternative to normal cake then this is the one for you.

I also think that the shape of the bundt lends itself perfectly to decoration, fill the centre with fruits and sprinkle nuts and dried fruits on top of the coconut cream.  

I've got my eyes on a bundt recipe using blueberries and yoghurt but I will definitely be going back to this one time and time again. 

On the Eighty 20 nutrition site I've also seen a beetroot and chestnut soup, oh hello!  Two of my favourite ingredients. 

If you have any cholesterol busting recipes then message me the link over on any of the social media platforms - Instagram, Vero and Facebook.  I will happily give it a try and feature you on my blog, (you also get to keep photos of what I've cooked if you like!).

Happy Baking .... Janice Issitt

3 Mar 2018

Spice up your Pears - Poached in Cider

I never thought I would get so enthusiastic about cooking but the promise of a lovely new kitchen when I move, and the influence of some amazing cooking photographers and bloggers ... I couldn't resist.

Every time I see a photo of poached pears I think 'oh I really must remember to try that' and immediately forget. They look so gorgeous when ruby red, poached in wine or port, but I really didn't want to open a bottle of wine just to poach the pears, so I rummaged in the wine rack and found something that I guessed might work.

I read a lot of different poaching recipes to get the general idea, some of which were for mulled wine, with cinnamon and other spices, and so I guessed that my random left over bottle of un-opened Heston mulled cider would probably be just as good.

Unfortunately no longer available for sale, maybe it will come back on the shelves again at Christmas. It's an oak aged Herefordshire cider that is spiced with cloves, cinnamon and ginger. Great, I thought, seeing as I don't have any cloves or cinnamon sticks in the cupboard, this should do the trick.

I peeled the pears very carefully, leaving the stalks intact, and slicing just a bit off the bottom so they can stand up. However I didn't poach them standing up, but laid them in a saucepan with a lid and covered in the cider, some sugar, and a chunk of fresh ginger. I also added a dash of vanilla and maple syrup.   

Simmer the pears for anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes, some recipes say longer but personally, I think they might have fallen apart if I'd left them too long.

Remove the pears from the saucepan and leave to one side while you boil up the leftover cider to reduce it. I had no idea how it would taste so it was a complete guess.  Served with a dollop of fat free greek yoghurt and a drizzle of the cider reduction.

Eh, voila! A beautiful warming way to get one of your five a day!

So I mentioned on Vero that I would feature some of the great accounts I have found there. I'm about to try a recipe for a Bundt cake from the www.eighty20nutrition.com which is the website of Donna Crous, if you see the photos there you will want to make everything, and they are not only healthy but also use things like the nutribullet to whizz up the ingredients (which was a relief as I don't have any gadgets). 

More of that bundt cake coming soon ... don't forget to find me on vero love and pears xx


27 Feb 2018

Vero True Social

Hello Vero ! or Vera as I keep calling it, that or Viro, I am the original Mrs Malaprop (although I'm nowhere near as bad as my Mister, who had a head injury in a RTA and constantly says the wrong words).

Anyway, here's my thoughts, for what they are worth, on Vera, sorry Vero.  Well she's a temperamental old bugger at the moment, a bit slow and sometimes fails to make an appearance at all. I see her as a grumpy old caterpillar waiting to burst out of her cocoon, all shiny and perfect. Fingers crossed. It is improving rapidly.

So why do we need another social platform. One word which sums it up for most people is 'algorithm' and second is probably adverts. If you manage to be in the first wave of users signing up then the platform will be free, after that it will be a small subscription so that it can remain advertising free. I'm so on the verge of leaving sarcastic comments on the terrible adverts I see on instagram right now, but biting my tongue. I would happily pay Instagram a yearly subscription to not have adverts and bring back the chronology with the promise that all of my followers see all of my posts. 

I can't be the only one is is getting depressed with the Jekyll and Hyde Instagram. It started out for me as a real life saver, meeting new 'like minded' people, on line and in person, and being inspired by different creatives from all over the world. But then, just when we were all really enjoying it, the nasty side appeared. It stopped showing posts chronologically and decided to show us what 'it' thought we wanted to see. And if you don't work it just right you disappear from sight and don't even know what you've done wrong. The whole thing is so bloody unfair, some of us really make an effort to take good photos, spend time liking and encouraging others on there. It was like that time we really enjoyed our job, and then they brought in a new Boss. The new hashtag top nine is rubbish, although I do like the hashtag follow feature which is a great help to us who started tags (like my #behomefree) in order to run competitions and improve interaction.

So for a lot of us Vero could be a new start and a relief from the frustration, a level playing field at last.  Of course, we don't know what plans they have for change, but if nothing else, perhaps facebook and instagram will be forced to review their unpopular changes if enough people move across and sign up. It's a bit like tactical voting. I think we have to review whether the free platforms are worth the annoyances or not. 

There was a time when the small independent maker, like I once was, had no access to free advertising globally. If you wanted to sell your pottery or macrame you booked a stall at a market and sat there all day trying to flog your stuff. I did it for years. Advertising was extremely expensive and trade fairs also. Social media changed all that and I saw some potters who sold out the minute they posted something on Instagram. But, of course, they cottoned on to us making a 'living' or trying to, and whack, hey no-one will see your facebook page unless you pay to boost it.  

From what I can make of Vero so far, (as the overwhelming popularity has made it incredibly slow, a victim of it's own success), I feel we may have something to look forward to here. Perhaps because the users will be paying will result in the platform listening to their customers instead of treating us like a commodity to be managed. Yes, it's fine for them to reap in millions but not for us to make a few quid.  Hey who remembers My Space?? just saying. The social platforms should take nothing for granted, moving over has a snowball effect ... my point, nothing on the virtual world lasts forever and we need to make ourselves heard - we don't want to be treated like sheep.

Vero seems to me to be a combination of Instagram and Facebook.  You have different levels of interaction with people, so you can build your list but mark the people on it as; close friend, friend, acquaintance or just follow. There are two levels of interaction. So if you are having a bit of a rant about your personal life you may just want to choose your close friends to see it, but if you have a really good book recommendation then you can make it public to followers. 

The only slight disappointment for me is the aesthetic of the feed, which has become a ridiculous obsession for us all on Instagram, and perhaps we need to learn to chill a bit more. But I'm driven by the 'look' of things and so the way my feed looks is a bit annoying, as I don't like the words to show. However, it's never stopped me being on facebook and that looks like a right old jumble sale over there.
Having said that, now I pop back to instagram it looks a bit dated, compared to the all singing all dancing vero.

There is one great feature and that's collections. It's a different way to view your stream and the posts of everyone you follow. So if you only want to see your friends photos, or links you choose which collection to view. They can view your profile similarly, by either your photos, links, books, films etc. 

If I click on books I can see these have been recommended by the people I follow. So it's good to follow as many people as possible, as the more you follow the more interesting the platform will be. I'm not judgy about other people's content and I don't like superiority in any form. If I want to shortcut the main feed then I look at collections of photos and with the grid format can see the ones which most appeal to my interests. 

So I'm going to let you find your own way round the platform, once it works at normal speed, this will be a hell of a lot easier and if you have any questions about it, then I can give it a go and if I've worked it out will be happy to help.  I expect further down the line I will be discovering things all the time with it, and expect that Vero itself will tweak it's format. I shall continue to update here and already this week they seem to have sorted our their server glitches.

I'm just hitting the buttons and testing it out, following as many people as possible and getting some interaction going with new groups. As any platform is only as good as it's users I'm following as many people as I can so that my stream is nice and full. If you have any account recommendations for me, including your own, then don't be afraid to give me a nudge. I think at the moment the people at Vero are a bit too male in their choices of recommendations so if you see this Vero, how about some females in your recommendations??

While a lot of people are saying they don't have time for another app in their lives, just think, maybe you only need one. Vero intends to add business and if we can do all our stuff in one place, wow .. Imagine facebook, instagram, etsy all smerged into one. You don't need another app, you just need THIS one.

I'm quite excited to see how they handle business, especially if it's a one click link to buy, book, listen. I will be adding my new venture there as soon as it rolls out.

Like with any new thing, there's a bit of 'scaremongering' about various aspects of Vero. I hate this sort of stuff, it's so out of context and lacking perspective. In my varying careers I did work with some unpopular famous people, and in my experience, the nasty stuff was usually unfounded and written to sell papers or other motives. We are all far too led by fake news on facebook, as I've said before, sharing information that is incorrect.

Firstly, the stuff about them 'owning your content' is bollocks, they have to put this into their terms in order to run the platform, if they weren't allowed access to your content then how could they share your photos to the world. Sorry, but I studied law and I get right annoyed when small print is misunderstood. It's exactly the same as you already have on all your other platforms, there's no trick here. Personally if a multi millionaire wants to steal my photo then he's welcome to it.

Secondly the owner. Well seriously, who gives a shit about who owns it anyway, really!!! Do you actually know about the owner of every single thing you use in your life? Really? No, nor do I. Will we refuse to watch every film that Weinstein was involved with, will we  stop going into Oxfam shops because their workers did something wrong, I dunno. I'm all for doing what I can to support the victims of injustice and abuse but we can't be suspicious about every single man in power. 

To launch a platform like this you need a LOT of money, so it's a guy with a lot of money who is listening to the complaints about Instagram and Facebook and taking that on board. We haven't paid him any money yet, so unless he starts funding a war with the proceeds of the monetised side of it, then I can't see a problem right now. 

It's social media guys, get a grip. If we don't like it on Vero then we move somewhere else. You need to speak with your actions not just your words, which is why I'm supporting Vero, as a protest to Instagram about how their users are manipulated. Only this week one of my photos would not show up in a hashtag feed no matter what I did. So I posted it again and it worked the second time, I'm suspicious about the machine at work there.

Rant over, I'm trying to form some communities over on Vero and for photos with a dark aesthetic I've gone with the tag #verodark and also #darkmoody ... please join me with your dimly lit moody shots.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, I am trying to move house. Hurrah, real life stress.  Fingers crossed we hope to be running photography and music retreats from our Air bnb near Southwold. The accommodation is fantastic, a 16th century cottage with no neighbours! a big old garden which we may put a Yurt up for the more adventurous, and a music studio where you can come and be recorded, or play the drums, or have a jam with the mister. 

I'm working on my culinary skills, which will be vegetarian, and will have a house full of quirky old props that any budding still life photographers may want to come and play with. So watch this space, and facebook and Vero and Instagram, to find out when this all gets implemented. 

In the meantime, please do find me on Vero, it's just; Janice Issitt, so shouldn't be too hard to find me and.

If you want to find out more opinions on Vero then have a look at https://meandorla.co.uk/whats-the-deal-with-vero-and-is-it-worth-the-hype/


18 Feb 2018

Be Home Free Dark - new instagram tag

Over on Instagram I've decided to extend my #behomefree tag to highlight the dark photos that I've been moving toward of late, and also to add another tag for that community so that we can find each other. There are several good tags already running, particularly #ihavethisthingfordarkness by good instagram friend Tracy Goldfinch Elson, who features in my round-up below. 

@bobandmarge @julejulson @thrumylenseye @chez_chic
Here's a few of the dark photo community tags I've found this week; 

#behomefree_dark #ihavethisthingfordarkness #darktablemood #darksideshow #gothictonic #dark_captures #_edp_ #fiftyshades_of_darkness #darkgrammer #gallery_of_dark_arts #artofmystery  #emotional_dark_pictures #darksouls #dark_still_life #slowdownwithstills #darkphotos #darkmood #flowerslovethedark

@trish.sweetnellie @tamsynmorgans @masks_of_the_moon @karen_barlow

@goldfinchelson @nicki.at.the.cottage @ann0esjka @filomenacocchia
It's hard to define why we are drawn to certain aesthetics, I find the dark photos restful, the colours become more jewel like, and there is mystery in the depth of the unknown black.  

It is also quite a hard look to accomplish and often needs a fair bit of editing afterwards. I find that I am drawn to photos that have a reasonable level of photographic skill and good styling, but that's because I need to be inspired to improve. 

You don't have to be a genius at photoshop though as there are now good phone apps which can do a remarkable job. I was introduced to 'Snapseed' by Sara Tasker on her Gloom And Glow course and below you can see the results of one of its functions, for double exposure.

My inspiration for this photo of my friends daughter was 'the death of Chatterton' a pre-raphaelite painting by Henry Wallis. I have long wanted to do a version of this and will certainly try again when I have more time. Also my next house has the right sort of windows to replicate it, so that will be future feature. However, the subject matter seemed a little too dark and morbid for a young girl, so I changed it up with double exposures as you can see. 

The sunrise and the snap out of an airplane window are perfect for this, so sometimes it's just good to have a few of these snaps in your phone.  It was a happy coincidence that the airplane photo of clouds and sun was placed is just the right way to illuminate the head of Tippy. Because the original photo of her has a lot of darkness it makes the double exposure more effective as you have lots of negative space for the new image to lay on top of.

I'm hoping that more new people will come along and join the tag, it's great to network on instagram, so I welcome along the dark photo lovers from all over the world. To use my tag just add 'underscore' dark like this ; #behomefree_dark

See you all soon x 


8 Feb 2018

book reviews and a bit of a rant.

Apologies, I'm not able to post so regularly at the moment, life getting in the way, so posts aren't as frequent, and a bit erratic. 

So although the photos don't reflect the words in this post, I will just whack a couple in here for decorative purposes while I talk about a few books I've read recently, or should I say, heard recently as I listen to books on Audible (not sponsored just thoroughly recommended) and if you haven't tried it then do, because it's thoroughly enjoyable, you can listen while doing other things like driving, knitting, washing up or falling asleep, and I find it takes the tedium out of those things to be swept away into another world, another time and to learn.  Learning to me is like an addiction and I'm going to talk about addiction further on, I constantly research facts, and soak up information about history, medicine and life. 

I've been listening to Russell Brand quite a lot as he reads his own book on Audible about addiction, so I've got him in my head ranting at the moment which may come out in my post here, it certainly did come out in my phone call to an old mortgage provider earlier, insert laughing emoji.

The first book I want to recommend is The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman. What I particularly love is that it is based on the real life story of French Impressionist painter Camille Pissaro. Like I said, I love to learn new stuff, so when a book or film has non-fiction elements, I find it all the better. This is an interesting concept, the historical novel, a work of fiction based around true events and real people. 

The book concentrates on the mother of Camille Pissaro and his early life growing up on St. Thomas, which came as a surprise to me as well as to the author, that he wasn't born and raised in France. The painterly way the author writes fits perfectly with the subject matter, the colours of the exotic island made me hop on to google and look at pictures of it. I like this idea that from the historical facts and the paintings of this incredible artist, Hoffman has woven together such an interesting book. Life is actually stranger than fiction. 

My second recommendation is Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I found this a light hearted look at what, underneath, was a very dark subject.  Without giving the plot away, we find it quite whimsical and entertaining to see life through the eyes of Eleanor, a character that I hugely empathised with. I kept thinking, "God, I'm just like that", and I loved her naive observations on social situations, which I also find grating and difficult at times. 

The story of Eleanor, who leads a double life of what the outside world sees, and what is happening behind closed doors is a stab to remind us not to judge a book by it's cover. I particularly like her obsession with a wannabe rock star, who is quite a familiar type of character to me. A narcissistic failure of a musician who constantly tweets about how life is against him, but sadly Eleanor cannot see through his excuses and the juxtaposition of the socially inadequate Eleanor and the attention seeking musician is very amusing. 

These two books are the ones that stand out to me in my list of recently read, I have a long list of those I've listened to but whose stories are so familiar that they haven't been much more than a passing distraction, which was fine at the time, but didn't leave a lasting impression.

And so onto Russell Brand's book 'Recovery, Freedom from Our Addictions'.  

If you don't think you are an addict, then you are totally wrong. We are all addicted to something, it is the age of preconditioning, where consumerism plays on our two biggest instincts as humans - fear and passion. You probably don't even realise you are addicted, or that you have sub-consciously programmed yourself to behave and react in certain ways. This book is a revelation.  It is truthful and honest, it's neither preachy God bothering or bible bashing, nor new age airy fairy nonsense.  

Brand takes the twelve step programme that works for drug addicts, and makes us see that this can work for everyone no matter what your level of addiction. Admittedly my addictions to social media, shopping, caffeine, shopping, oh did I say that already, yes it's that bad, don't seem on the surface life threatening, or not as life threatening as heroin maybe, but if your bad self programming and failure to confront your addictions leads to suicide then perhaps it is just as harmful. 

I have fallen victim to the consumerism that targets my deepest insecurities. I stopped buying 'womens magazines' some 30 years ago, I think around the time that really skinny models were the fashion. I could neither look like them nor could I afford the stuff that was supposed to make me look like them. I hated myself for that, so I tried to remove myself from the temptation to be duped. But it's still there, only now I can afford to buy the cosmetic surgery, the expensive accessories, the make-up and hair products, and I still hate myself, because I am ageing.  

If you've made it down this post to here then you are still with me, good, Russell puts it much better than me. See what he says about happiness, not sure I've totally found it yet, my little brain keeps putting the spanner in, no no you're not supposed to be happy you did this, she said that and on and on.

So I don't mind admitting that I'm fucked. I acknowledge that, and I often think 'could I not be fucked'.  Well I thought I could sort it on my own, but really I can't and if you watch below you may find out why. So even if Russell is my only friend in this 'un-fucking' I will attempt to open up the topic with people I know. He talks about the inventory and I'm not sure I can actually write the list, but trust me, the list is in my head, it's there every day. The boy that didn't fancy me, the woman that hit me in the face in my work place, the backstabbers in another job, I've allowed them to contribute to my programming. 

The fucked up patterns need to be recognised, we all have the patterns whether you want to admit it or not. You are the person you were told to be. Russell's acknowledgement that present day culture plays on our lowest instincts, the fears, desires and lusts, in order that we will be good consumers, and ignores the facts that we can be kind, loving and generous, is such an important point to recognise. Try your hardest to sweep away the constant futuristic bombardment of advertising, maybe detox from social media. Personally I like social media as it's how I communicate with friends but perhaps we need to start being honest there more often, start our own topics of conversation rather than click bait sharing of what an advertising algorithm wants us to think.  

I posted something to this avail on my facebook page, and honestly, I don't think that it's being shown to my friends. The algorithms that control now what we do and don't see are frustrating me to the point of depression, because I'm addicted to getting likes, and comments and love hearts to my photos. 

Can I just say, give it consideration, in trying to un-fuck ourselves we can only benefit others, with kindness, with apologies, and just generally not dragging them down by contributing to their pattern of self-hate. Just think, if know-one had ever been nasty to you, how different would you be. I know I would be, my relationships would have been a hell of a lot better with partners and friends. Although I'm not sure that the 'enlightened' me would have succeeded in the world I worked in where I fuelled consumerism, played the media games, adhered to the structures of the corporation.  In Russell's book he talked about working at MTV, a place I was very familiar with in my line of work, and amazingly I never ran into him during my time in the 'music business' or time working in Camden. 

I expect that part of what fucked up Russell was that environment and the game they are all playing in these companies,  where music, an art form, is being treated and worked as if it were a tin of beans or a packet of fags. Where chart positions are deemed as important as a doctor working in a hospital. I several times voiced my opinion in meetings 'come on guys we aren't saving lives here, get a grip, it's not a life or death situation' when a band had failed to get on a tv show or reach a place in the billboard chart. And this resulted in me twice being sacked. 

Like a lot of people with mental health problems, I over analyse and this is a double edged sword. While it protects us from the bullshit it also drags us into some dark depths. 

Perhaps by having a listen and consideration to what Russell is talking about here can help us hone our bullshit monitor and dismiss our self destructive one. It's got to be worth a try.


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.
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