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What a pleasure to visit Florence which made a change from the dynamic but run-down southern Italy. We stayed at the same youth hostel that I stayed at 18 years ago as a student. Either it had grown shabbier or I had grown up – but it was clean and safe and we enjoyed the faded glamour of an 15th-century villa. The girls made friends with the carved elephant banisters which they named ‘Elmer and Ellie of Florence’. I was delighted to see the Duomo which appeared like a dramatic black and white ink drawing and I loved its clean, sharp lines which contrasted with the colour and excitement in Florence whether it was the carousel, the ice-creams or the exuberant albeit slightly sickly pastries. It was fantastic to climb the 463 stairs to the top of the Duomo: its dome is made of two ‘skins’ (or domes) and you climb in a narrow space between the two domes to spectacular views.

Florence was our final destination before heading home after our adventurous holiday with many memories to process.

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We caught a train down to southern Italy which was  very run down and the train station looked a bit like Pompeii. Vesuvius, however, surpassed all expectations as there is something very raw and primeval about climbing a volcano and looking into its crater. We travelled up in army-like jeeps and then climbed the last 30 minutes to see spectacular views with the whiff of sulphur and hint of danger. The children kept wondering if it would erupt but we reassured them that it was monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and there was an evacuation plan for the area. (Most of the 800 thousand inhabitants don’t know the plan and without a great infrastructure how it would work in reality is debatable). I certainly wouldn’t live permanently under a live volcano!

Pompeii was interesting to visit as it was something I had always longed to do but it was so very hot and dry that we all wilted. All the artifacts are in the Naples Museum, so you only have half the story when walking around the site. I liked the fact that there are stepping-stones across the road so that when the roads were sluiced down of debris, the citizens could still cross without wetting their feet. You can also see the ruts between the stone made by the waggons and their width set our current day railroad gauge. Twinkling quartz stones set into the road acted as cat’s eyes. It was certainly a very advanced city.

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August holidays: and we went backpacking with the children to Italy, taking only what we could carry in our rucksacks we headed off for Rome, the Bay of Naples and Florence.

I’ve a kaleidoscope of impressions of age, grandness and decay. The English romantics went to see Rome’s glorious decay in the eighteenth century and 300 years later, it has progressed further. It was a shock to wander out of our apartment and look down our street to see mammoth pillars that are 2000 years old at The Forum and to marvel at how enormous they actually are. We rushed off to see the Sistine Chapel suitably attired as men, women and children have to cover their knees and shoulders. It was very sweet to see Isabel, aged 8, in one of my skirts. As we stood in the queue being harassed by touts, the realisation hit us that it really was a four-hour wait in the baking sun. It was a bitter pill to accept but I had to admit defeat and that I wouldn’t be able to see Michelangelo’s paintings. Water fountains are situated through the city and run with fresh water, courtesy of the Romans, so we cooled down and found a street cafe to eat delicious pizza which brought back the sense of contentment. I gloried in the colours and drama, graffiti and mess of this crazy city although Isabel took one look at the Colosseum and dismissed it, “It’s broken.”

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I walked into Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence and was admiring Michelangelo’s slaves when there he was. I was caught unaware and there was the incredible sculpture of David larger than life and towering over the crowds. After seeing so many reproductions and crass interpretations, the real thing took my breath away – it was a ‘wow’ moment. Many images of David have been depicted of when he is victorious and has slain Goliath – this one is different, it is the moment before. David’s hands are clenched and the tension is there in his body, in his watchful eyes, in his neck and in his veins. This is his moment and he can take it, he is at the cusp of the decision which would change him and he could choose to grab that moment, throw that sling and kill Goliath or let the opportunity pass him by. The man is not yet victorious, not yet sure of the outcome, he doesn’t know the end of the story even if we do. He can only choose to trust his God and the meagre tools that he has been given. He has been anointed a king but it is still a promise and not yet a reality. What will he do?

About this post: My 2014 resolution is to visit a creative place every month.
January – The Ashmolean: Malcolm Morley
February – Oxford School of Photography
March – The Ashmolean: Cézanne and the modern

April – The Jam Factory
May – Art in Ardington
June – On Form exhibition
July – Crossing Borders

First day of the holidays - 'suping' in Sweden (surf upright)

First day of the holidays – ‘SUP’ in Sweden (surf upright)

Early morning swims

Early morning swims

Canoeing, exploring and picnics

Canoeing, exploring and picnics

A dream treehouse with pulley system to kitchen

A dream treehouse with a pulley system to the kitchen

Cousins

Cousins

An arty sessions

An arty session with Granny Lin

We have recently returned from a fantastic visit to Sweden to see my brother, Anna and their children after three long years. It had been such a hectic and emotional time with the end of the school year and when we got there we could stop, breathe and unwind. When my children woke up early they crept out into the dappled sunlight to find a dream treehouse built by Andy for his girls. They climbed up and explored. Elva woke up and called out, “Papa, papa there are people in my treehouse.” “They are your cousins!” Nomi who is only three then asked plaintively, “Papa, papa where are MY cousins?” The children reunited and we all relaxed in beautiful Sweden enjoying the incredible sense of clear blue skies, open horizons, outdoor living and our wonderful family.

crossing1 crossing2 crossing4crossing3With hectic work and family commitments, I thought I would not be able to make it to an exhibition this month but an exhibition came to me. While waiting at Arlanda airport in Stockholm, I was able to enjoy an exhibition at the airport. What a cool place to display art and so much more satisfactory than browsing through a bookshop or tourist tat while waiting to return home.

An airport is a place where people who travel across borders meet and pass through. This exhibition depicts portraits of Swedes who work or have become famous outside their own country and included diplomats, musicians and athletes. Their work took them away from Sweden over geographic borders but they also broke barriers and borders in their spheres. The exhibition has crossed borders by being at an airport which challenges our perspectives of where we expect to find art and the ‘boundaries’ we place on an airport’s function.

I love viewing photography where the image reveals more about a person and is not trying to capture the ‘perfect smile’ or a glamorous pose. This challenges my response when I see photos of myself that I feel are not flattering. I also found it stimulating to see the reflections of the airport, of planes and travel paraphernalia on the glassy surfaces of the pictures creating new dimensions and breaking the borders between art and its surroundings.crossing5

About this post: My 2014 resolution is to visit a creative place every month.
January – The Ashmolean: Malcolm Morley
February – Oxford School of Photography
March – The Ashmolean: Cézanne and the modern

April – The Jam Factory
May – Art in Ardington
June – On Form Exhibiton

Paul3I have recently completed a catalogue for Paul Kessling, a well-known abstract artist who exhibits world-wide. He also happens to be my neighbour and got fed up with trying to make the layout program InDesign work for him! Two of his paintings were being exhibited overseas by the Cube Gallery in London and they required a catalogue to depict his other work as well as describing the concept behind his work. I produced a 48 page catalogue plus cover to showcase his art. The brief was to keep the design as clean as possible and use lots of white space. The artist and gallery were delighted with the results. Have a look at Paul’s work on his website www.paulkessling.com.

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My brother Andrew Kerr has spent the last 8 months working on an app where children ‘choose a colour’ on an iPad or iPhone and finger paint a dinosaur. They can then pose and take a photo of themselves with their dinosaur that they have just painted.

Please download this free app and rate it and help make it happen so that the ratings and comments do well on this weekend’s BIG Launch. Just click on Let’s-paint-dinosaurs.

The first three dinosaurs are free and for this weekend  T-Rex is free as well.

To rate it – you need to download it, then go back to the link, and you can write something and give some stars. This follows his first dinosaur app Dinosaur Zoo a couple of years ago which consistently won ‘Best kid app’ awards and got five-star ratings on the Apple App store.

The photos are of my cute little nieces ‘playing’ with dad’s dinosaurs.

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Asthall12lr Asthall14lr Asthall15jlr Asthall13lrAsthall17lrThere were so many details at the On Form but I limit the images on each post so didn’t include these, but I thought you may enjoy seeing more of the On Form Exhibition. There are still two more weekends when you can visit for a marvellous day out.

On Form is at Asthall Manor from June 8th to July 6th, 2014.
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 12 noon to 6pm
www.onformsculpture.co.uk

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Asthall lr Asthall2 lr Asthall3 lr Asthall4 lrAsthall9 lrAsthall6 lrWe rushed in at 12:00 on the dot for my daughter to attend the children’s carving workshop and I was overwhelmed by the sculptures, the flowers and the manor house. Once Isabel was sorted out, I could slow down and celebrate the On Form exhibition. On Form is a top priority to visit in June and is a fabulous biennial exhibition of sculpture purely in stone. The glorious setting of the seventeenth century Asthall Manor and beautiful gardens surrounded by the Cotswolds set off the sculptures to perfection.

My favourite sculptor this year was Tom Stogdon who uses roughly cut stone pieces to create organic shapes. They remind me of stone walls where there is much thought and skill in using individual pieces to create a satisfying whole. I love the way his sculptures interact with their surroundings and especially Stone Overlap which frames the countryside, is reflected in the pool and draws people towards it. Tom Stogdon has also created abstracted cityscapes inspired by London and Oxford where we were able to identify landmarks from the simplest shapes. The repetition of forms and texture in his work create a sense of calmness. Another sculptor I appreciated was Aly Brown and her piece Parvati, a slender torso, whose sinuous curves continue as they reflect into a natural pool dotted with lily pads. Aly said that a recent comment she had overheard was, “How does she make stone bend?” When you look at her work it is hard to believe it is stone as it flows like liquid. Then there is Adrian Gray, a stone balancer, and David Worthington’s Experiment in Colour VII who dared to add colour to marble – perfect against the red poppies.

Not only is there sculpture, but ponds, wild flowers, a dramatic swing, a tree house to die for and the connection the manor holds with the Mitford Sisters who lived there between 1919 and 1926. There are many events to enjoy too: Aly Brown gave free carving workshops to children which Isabel loved and on the 18th June you can watch Adrian Gray balance rocks.

I can’t recommend On Form highly enough as a day out whether you are passionate about sculpture or see it as a backdrop for a social occasion – our friend Jon’s words not mine!Asthall7 lrAsthall5 lrAsthall10 lr

Asthall12 lrOn form is at Asthall Manor from June 8th to July 6th, 2014.
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 12 noon to 6pm
www.onformsculpture.co.cuk

About this post: My 2014 resolution is to visit a creative place every month.
January – The Ashmolean: Malcolm Morley
February – Oxford School of Photography
March – The Ashmolean: Cézanne and the modern

April – The Jam Factory
May – Art in Ardington

 

There are so many free foods during spring that I want to introduce three of the most accessible and common ones. And here’s the challenge, if you have never foraged before, pick one and use it this month of May.

wild garlicWild Garlic: This is my favourite and the unmistakable garlic smell makes me think of Cornish holidays and woodland walks. Look for it in damp woods with its broad, spear-like leaves and white star-like flowers in a rounded umbel. It starts popping up in March and in April to June it is in flower. You can eat the leaves and the flowers, just chop them up and add to omelettes, risottos and salads or my favourite – wild garlic pesto. Click on this link for the wild garlic pesto recipe.

jackbyhedgeJack-by-the-hedge: This is a very unassuming little hedgeside plant which can be mistaken for a weed but it is perfect if you like garlic in moderation. It can grow up to 70cm in height and its leaves are bright green and slightly toothed. During April to June it has small white flowers. I like to eat it with cheese sandwiches or roughly chopped on a frittata. You can also throw it into a salad.

nettlesNettles: Easy to identify and very prickly! I love eating them as I can take revenge on all the times they have stung me. Wear gloves to pick them and to wash them and eat them early in the season as after June they don’t taste so good. Before cooking them, remove the rougher stems and then make nettle soup.

Nettle Soup from Hedgerow Harvest

  • 1/2 carrier bag of nettles – tops or young leaves
  • 2oz butter
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 1 crushed clove or garlic
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 pints of good stock – vegetable or chicken
  • 2 medium chopped potatoes
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons of cream or crème fraîche
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:
Wash the leaves thoroughly.
Melt the butter in a pan and sweat the chopped onion and garlic until soft but not brown (approx 10 minutes).
Add stock, potatoes and all leaves.
Bring to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are cooked.
Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and add the cream.
Put the mixture into the blender and blitz it.
Return to pan, reheat and serve.
Garnish with a swirl of cream and chopped herbs e.g. parsley or chives.

Let me know which green you tried this month. And if you are inspired, I can highly recommend the Hedgerow Harvest courses.

Please remember never to take plants from private gardens or communally owned areas and just take a few from woodlands. Never pick something you can’t identify and don’t pick wild foods from hedgerows near heavy traffic or if agricultural sprays have been applied to fields. It is sensible not to pick low-growing leaves along paths popular with dog walkers!

artinard2 artinard3 artinard4What I love about sculpture is the way in changes the surroundings and itself is changed depending on where it is placed. Ardington, a village in the shadow of The Ridgeway in Oxfordshire, has been transformed over the last two weeks with about 70 sculptures positioned near its streams, lakes, beautiful houses and Millennium woods. My friend and I met for a walk to enjoy time together, to catch up and also to appreciate the art. Some were good and some indifferent, but it was always exciting to spot the next one on our treasure hunt of sculpture as we shared our news. My favourite was the tall tall woman with a rusty, crusty texture by Pam Foley. It reminded me of Giacometti’s thin figures or the way our shadows become elongated and heads pin-shaped in the setting sun. The glass lozenges by Jenny Pickford made me smile as the colour glowed with joy. Some sculptures were not to my taste but still created beautiful shapes, textures or reflections that they gave us pleasure. What a pleasant way to start the week – talking with a dear friend and enjoying the familiar countryside subtly changed with the addition of sculptures.

Sadly Art in Ardington ended yesterday, so we were just ahead of the removal men who were taking the sculptures away, but if you are quick, you may still catch a few!artinard1 artinard5 artinard6About this post: My 2014 resolution is to visit a creative place every month.
January – The Ashmolean: Malcolm Morley
February – Oxford School of Photography
March – The Ashmolean: Cézanne and the modern

April – The Jam Factory

 

jam factory2 jam factory3I could say that the fourth excursion was back to the Cézanne exhibition as I returned to enjoy his art with my three children where they became quite animated in their discussions. But that felt like cheating so this month I visited The Jam Factory in Oxford to take pot luck in what was being exhibited. There are so many layers of pleasure here from interesting art to quirky décor to the story behind the building as this was where Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade was made until production moved away in 1967. It is now a café, a meeting place and an art venue. As I wandered around, a group of mums with young babies gathered for coffee looking very NCTish which sent me down my own nostalgic path. But on with the art…

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Wait ’til it settles by Sarah Craddock

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Wait ’til it settles by Sarah Craddock

There were three exhibitions being held and my favourite was ‘Inspired by the Canal’. It is an exhibition of children’s art, professional artists and art from the community using Oxford’s canal as their inspiration. Starting in Banbury, the canal to Oxford wanders through Wolvercote ending quietly at busy Hythe Bridge Street in Oxford and is a secret byway waiting to be explored. I enjoyed the children’s boats, the hilarious tea cosies, the excellent etchings and found the contemporary installation thought-provoking.

Sarah Craddock had bottled and ‘packaged’ canal water from different spots that had witnessed stories – a birth, a drowning, an attack, a draining. The labels on the water provide a tantalising hint to the history and stories that the canal could tell. If the containers were not in an art gallery they would look like rubbish but their situation makes you think deeper and harder about water and the canal. As the water in the containers settles the good rises to the top and yet the history and sediment is also there to be acknowledged. Allowing situations to settle helps you to see things clearer and to extract the good from a situation. Even our English language alludes to what water teaches, “Don’t muddy the waters”.

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Tea cosies inspired by canal boats

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Etchings by Caroline Maas

The Canal Exhibition is only on until the 27 April 2014 but there is always something interesting to see and do at The Jam Factory – ‘Anyone for scrabble?’jam factory4jam factory1

About this post: My 2014 resolution is to visit a creative place every month.
January – The Ashmolean: Malcolm Morley
February – Oxford School of Photography
March – The Ashmolean: Cézanne and the modern

 

Easter blog

Wishing you all a very happy Easter. Click the link below to see the Easter story in Lego using stop-start animation by my son Nicholas (aged 10). It is well worth the click!

http://youtu.be/3pfksAkZMcE

We have recently returned from a glorious week in Cornwall. It is definitely one of my favourite places with rocky coasts, dramatic scenery, pebbles, sea and quirky shops. This week my mum joined us for a few days at the cottage Mill Farm and created some artworks with my two daughters Izzie (age 8) and Hattie (age 5). I am so impressed with the results and can’t wait to frame them to remember our holiday. Below is my mum’s artistic story from her blog – www.limetreesstudio.com

15-03-14- Izzy & Hattie painting72jpg15-03-14- Izzy's painting4-72 15-03-14- Hattie's painting2-7215-03-14- Hattie painting2-72 Lin Kerr: I arrived for the long weekend in Cornwall with two sheets of sturdy paper which had been rollered with gesso. 2-3 layers on the front and 2 on the back is ideal. Izzy helped gesso them and this gave her some enthusiasm for the idea of painting the cottage before we left. The sheets are masking-taped to boards and acrylics are at hand.

First we talked about all the details, counted the windows, kept running up to look behind the wall etc. Then they were each given a waterproof marker and began to draw. I left them alone for this although now and again we chatted about what we could see. Hattie asked me to draw the lock on the green door on the far right.
We used really diluted acrylic for the roof and wall. (I mixed all the colours as it wasn’t practical to let them loose with my artist quality acrylics.)

15-03-14- Izzy's painting3-72The girls cut up a gardening magazine for the grass and flowers. Izzy insisted on no flowers. We discovered that if you glue sideways with the PVA against the grain it gets wrinkled. I painted more glue over all the magazine bits to waterproof them. That evening I stuck masking tape over all the windows and doors and around the house for the next stage. I used my scalpel and the paper is so strong that you can cut and peel off the excess masking tape in situ.
15-03-14- Izzy's painting2stage 3-72We added some salt and a touch of colour to the white and painted the walls, going over the marking tape edges. We carefully peeled the masking tape off together. Then the girls helped mask the roof and edges to paint the sky. The sky was done with a cut-off bit of kitchen sponge with very watery acrylic. Dabbing it with kitchen roll created clouds. Izzy needed to add a bit of hedge on the left. We did the paintings in stages over three days.
15-03-14- Izzy's painting1-7215-03-14- Hattie's painting1-72Hattie added the yellow lichen to the roof and painted the doors green.

Some thoughts about children’s art:

  • A lot of the ‘teaching’ is talking about the subject and observing details, differences in colour etc.
  • The other major aspect is providing fabulous materials and interesting techniques as the work progresses.
  • I always start with drawing using a tool that can’t be erased. Then they just have to get on with it and can’t rub out, ending up with a sad child, and a grubby, otherwise blank sheet with a hole in it!
  • It’s important to snatch it away before it gets overworked (in the nicest possible way of course).
  • Artwork can also be made to look beautiful by taking care and being creative with the display, or by framing it at home.
  • Children really respond to having their work appreciated.
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