Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hyacinth in Spring

Spring is the only season whose arrival I anticipate with the unbridled enthusiasm of a young girl. I love the healing and moist warmth that follows the long icy-cold winter. I love the promise of summer that it delivers in small incremental doses every day as it melts away the barren white of winter and introduces the lush colors of summer. And most importantly I love the smell.

One of my favorite spring scents is the hyacinth, also known affectionately as “high-a-stinks” by my neighbor Elsa. Their aroma cuts through the stale air of any room, soothing my senses and relaxing my mind.

Before it’s warm enough for them to flower naturally outside, I always get some forced bulbs to add to my office and bedroom. To give them their proper presentation, I put the already budding 4” potted plants in decorative planters and add some Spanish moss around the base.

At work, I place the hyacinth in a location that I can see, touch and smell. It’s a great lift-me-up during the day and reinvigorates me with energy. At home, I place the potted hyacinth on my night table. It’s amazing how just walking into my bedroom and catching a whiff of the aromatic perfume puts me at ease.

It’s a special treat to fall asleep and wake up to the pleasant and healing scent of hyacinth. Purple-blue is my favorite color.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gourd-ous Gourd Bowls

Gourd crafting has become a great hobby. My initial efforts at making gourd bowls were a bit raw, but I’ve enjoyed the process of learning the craft and trying new things. When I first started making bowls, I used what I had on hand to color the gourds, which was wood stain. I found I could get quite a few different colors from the amount of stain I used and by using more than one application.

I had seen some gourds that had some beautifully rich finishes and wanted to learn more about that. Different colors, rich hues and stunning shine. So I looked into typical finishes for gourds and found that both leather dyes and gourd inks seemed to be the most common finishes used by serious artists. I decided to try gourd ink because it seemed easier to use and clean up. I purchased the ink from Welburn Farms, the same California gourd farm where I purchased some dried gourds.

I also wanted to try my hand at inlaying so I started with inlaying some glass beads in the bowl rims. I used my Dremel tool with a flex shaft which makes it easier to control. I’ve found that inlaying takes great attention to detail and I have to be very present when working on carving out the spaces where the beads will be placed. If I’m not, I tend to mess up and then the bead doesn’t fit snugly without gaps around it.

Here are a few of my most recent pieces. It’s amazing to see how the ink covers the gourd and decides what it wants to look like, with no help from me. The first gourd bowl is inked with sky blue, but the raw colors of the gourd itself made the finish look more like a mottled seafoam green/blue. The exterior was then finished with a coat of spray polyurethane. I left the interior natural with only a mineral oil finish. I like the look and it can be used safely with foods. I placed blue and green beads into the carved out areas around the rim and secured them in place with hot glue, which is transparent when dry.

The other bowl is inked with a medium brown color on the exterior. The hard exterior shell accepts the ink differently than the interior which is more of an exposed surface. So on the interior, I used the medium brown ink but mixed it with varnish. Combining the varnish with the ink makes the ink more closely match the exterior color while also protecting it. Otherwise the ink would be much darker when it covers the rough, exposed surface. The rim of the bowl has amber glass bead inlays. These were also secured in place with hot glue.

I think these gourd bowls are gourd-ous.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The True Harbinger of Spring – the Crocus

Many people think that daffodils herald in the spring season, announcing the warmer weather months with bunches of bright yellow flowers and St. Patty Day green leaves.

In my mind though, the true harbinger of spring is the ever-so-early-arriving crocus. Long before daffodils grow tall and strong enough to support their blooms, the short, colorful crocus pushes its head above the frozen ground to dazzle us with the splendid hues of purple, yellow and cream shaded flowers. You can almost breathe in the colors.

I love to walk out on my back deck, look down, and see the rich green leaves and vibrant flower petals emerge from the winter-warn brown of the lawn. It’s a sure sign that warmer weather is certain to arrive.

Every fall I add a bag or two of bulb plantings right into the lawn in the back yard. And, every year I am rewarded with a few more flowers that add to the spring carpet of color.

Thank Goodness the crocuses have arrived to wipe away the winter doldrums and reinvigorate us with energy and life.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Out of My Gourd

A lot of people have said that I must be out of my gourd, and now I think they’re absolutely right.

I’m exploring a whole new world of crafting with gourds and it’s proving to be a lot of fun. It started when I grew some gourds in my Dad’s garden in 2003. We must have had green thumbs because they really took off. I had no idea they required so much room to grow!

I didn’t do anything with them for the longest time. They just sat in my parents garden shed collecting dust and drying out (as gourds do). When my Mom thought she’d clean out a few things and wanted to throw them away, I finally decided to do something with them.

The first things I made were birdhouses. Different hole sizes for different birds depending on the overall size and shape of the gourds themselves. I drilled some small drain holes in the bottom and added a leather strap for hanging. I painted them with acrylic paint and then a top coat of spray polyurethane so they could be used outdoors. They don’t have perches because I learned that perches actually put the birdhouse inhabitants in danger. They make it easy for larger, more predatory birds to hang out on the perch and attack the birds inside.

When I ran out of my own home-grown gourds, I started buying them from Welburn Farms, a gourd Farm in California. Who knew people grew and sold dirt-encrusted dry gourds? With the gourds I’ve purchased, I’ve started making bowls. I began with low-rim bowls and used a Dremel tool to carve some shapes and lines. My beginner efforts were rather primitive, but that’s what gives them their charm. I used regular wood stain to color the interior and exterior. Like the birdhouses, I coated them with polyurethane for a finish. The poly, once dried, makes them food-safe for dry foods like chips or bread.

I really must be out of my gourd because now I have a bunch of gourds in various stages of completion littering my kitchen and workshop area. I’m finding it rather rewarding though. It’s very creative to figure out what to do with each design, very zen-like because I have to be present and pay attention to what I’m doing when I’m working on them, and very satisfying to end up with a useful piece of primitive artwork that I can use around the house or give as gifts.

Now when people say that I’m out of my gourd, I just say ‘thank you’.